Thursday, 24 May 2012

Authors Behaving Badly #4

Authors Behaving Badly: When Authors React Badly to Negative Reviews and Criticism!

Or: How NOT to Handle Bad Reviews!

When an author puts a book out into the world they must know it's not going to get completely positive feedback. All books, throughout history, from Hamlet to The Da Vinci Code, have people who love them and people who hate them. And most authors handle the negative reviews pretty well (even if they're crying inside).

However, some authors decide that they want to fight their critics. Some get personal. Some get downright nasty. Did someone say car crash?

I was originally going to post one article on this but so many authors have behaved badly that I thought I would make it a weekly feature! I bringz you all the drama every Thursday from authors who have been a little naughty.

4. Eoin Macken Wrote Something. Something Bad. Maybe?

Up until this point, my 'Authors Behaving Badly' posts have been quite light-hearted and fun and just been a way to display a few horribly mis- judged rants from disgruntled authors. This story is rather different and I apologise for putting a downer on the partay, but this one really fascinated me. I think everyone should read Eoin Macken's short story and judge for themselves how they feel about it. Warning: may induce powerful reaction.

I was first made aware of this story from the amazzzing blog that is 'Requires Only That You Hate'. Everyone should read dat by the way, it's an awesome blog. Anyway, here is Eoin Macken's story 'Airplane of Sexuality':

I KNOW. Hard to read right? But it's fiction so it's fine...isn't it? Debate has raged in the comments below the story with Eoin Macken defending himself thus:
Erm, [this] is a story, a tongue in cheek satire, you should read David Sedaris..... There is an eminent problem is writing sometimes because people take things as literal. I have many gay oriented friends, and it is not even about that, it is a small commentary on a certain aspect of life and the character of 'I' is a creation, not a reality.
I took it down to not offend people, as that is not my attention, and I yearned to explain it...what I don't want is to be seen as bigoted as I said; for clarification, the piece is entirely fictional, has no grounding in reality, never remotely happened to me, and is actually about a narcissistic paranoid homophobic, possibly repressed male, because I found the concept funny, as did people I know who read it. I realise now I cannot please anybody, and my next piece will probably be about sunsets and clouds and shit to be honest. It's just momentary pastings of thought like the poetry etc....
I don't fly Ryanair by the way anymore cos their air hostesses are crap.....nice people funnily enough outside their job whom I've met subsequently, but good grief on the job they are tyrants....I would have preferred the gay air hostess, we would get on much better than those bigoted narrow minded, only one handbag

Hmm. That last comment is the one I'm unsure about. Lolling because he said he might actually get on better with a bigot than a homosexual. Scandal.

Winnershtriangle sums up the other side of the argument really well:

Hmm, Eoin, I'm not really sure that you can just throw up your hands and say 'it's harmless' - it really isn't. I won't point out the specific instances of homophobia (it's not unfree of misogyny and a fear of femininity, either) - you wrote them, you deliberately put them in, so I hope you know where they are. Sure, you can point to subversions of the stereotype (you don't, at all, but you do at least offer a few possibilities that it's happening only in the narrator's head), but I'm really not sure that a short story format is appropriate for that kind of device and turnaround. There isn't enough time, depth, or wordcount to adequately explore this notion of homophobia; not enough time to challenge it and undermine it properly. We don't get to hear why the narrator is the way he is, we don't get enough information about the 'air hostess' (host*ess*? Really?), except what's actually reported - whatever authorial intent was, you've produced a piece of work that lazily ticks off all the attributes of an 'effeminate gay predator', never undermines it, and pushes us into sympathising with the main character. Perhaps if you wanted to subvert homophobia, 'strip it naked so we can see it in its ugliness', to quote MargaretR above, and taken apart the narcissistic homophobe, you could have focused on that character rather than trotting up the same old shit that a lot of us have to deal within a regular basis. If this was written from the perspective of the old woman, for example (a nice and enigmatic touch, btw), it could have been much more effective at achieving its current purpose.

The way you've defended your Magnum Opus on twitter doesn't help either. So, this is tit-for-tat for (admittedly terrible) Merlin slash fiction? I'm not defending it, and tbh I haven't read all of it, but does your thought process really run along the lines of 'oh, people are writing stories about Merlin characters in an ~icky gay relationship~ [what about heterosexual fanfiction - is that OK?], so I'll write an offensive caricature of gay people too'?

Also, to everyone saying 'it's a joke/it's a satire/it's fiction/it's harmless' - fuck off. Seriously. I'm a gay man myself and have to deal with people who regard me like this - no matter how I present myself. All of you privileged people saying that 'oh, it's only fictional' will never have to live through this particular kind of treatment. Not to start playing the Oppression Olympics, or anything, but I think that you'd (quite rightly) be up in arms about this if Macken had written an oh-so-insightful story describing a stereotypical, monstrous black person, or an evil, controlling woman. People have an idea of some prejudices, and recognise some privileges, and call out people who invoke them to write hate-filled writing - but why is it that the equivalent predatory queen-y gay guy gets a pass? The circumstances of the prejudice are different, of course, but I still don't see why one apparently doesn't merit getting cross about. At least, with a charitable viewpoint, one could argue that Eoin was trying to write against homophobia - everyone dismissing it as 'jeez it's just fiction, :rolleyes:' are genuinely supporting homophobia.

I could, of course, not read this - could ignore this completely. But it did cross my path and I did have this reaction to it. And besides, do y'all really need a 'safe space' in which you can be homophobic and read not-particularly-well-written stories about your fear of ~gay men~


Eoin Macken responded thus:

  1. Winnershtriangle, while I appreciate that you are upset by the piece, and if it has hit a nerve then I apologise for that, if you read my responses then you will have seen that. But with any comedy, or observational satirical piece the subject matter, in my opinion is most amusing if strongly felt emotionally. View tommy tiernan and how he routinely abuses all segments of society.
  2. You cannot say that anybody who likes this piece has never experience prejudice because you don't know their backstory, their histor and who they are, nor do you know anything about me. Again you are not dissociating the writing from who you may think I am. So to state that out loud is without merit.
  3. Regarding merlin slash fiction- again I must re-iterate that you, like some people have simply not read the tweet properly, I read one merlin slash fiction, have no problem with it, but said that since there were disclaimers on the slash fiction to make certain stories palatable why did my own disclaimer become invaliadidated.
  4. You're statement at the end is unfair, and defeats the entire purpose of any of my comments back-'need a safe space in which you can be homophobic' etc. I understand that perhaps you may have experienced a lot of prejudice, but so have some of my gay friends who found the pice amusing. That is not to say that it is beyond criticism, it is not, and I am happy to accept any, and if certain uses of words and references were too offensive, then as I have said I do apologise for that, my aim was not offend, but to criticise me for explaining the piece, my 'magnum opus' as it were it a little bit
  5. Reply

  1. Is a little bit unfair and irrelevant to the discussion which has taken place. If anything, the opinions of many people to ths piece have been informative. Some are offended, some aren't, the over riding wave seems to be that it would have been amusing and not offensive if written in a different manner. That is more important as a critique, then simply starting it shouldn't have been done.
  2. If anything the piece has shown that there are, and always will be, divisive opinions on sensitive subjects, and I agree here should be, but if not else this piece has allowed you to have an opinion and express it, as others have.
  3. I am sorry that you are offended, and I'm sure I will have to defend myself on numerous occassions again, and my next forays in controversial comedy may get into me more trouble, but I hope won't, as they will judged for what they are in isolation, and not as a crude or veiled dismissal of anything or anybody. Thanks for writing, i'm glad you have, and I hope that my explanations satisfy you, if they don't...
  4. Reply

  1. If they don't, I just hope this hasn't offended you too much, and I wish you all the best.
  2. Reply

Who am I to judge really? People write morally ambiguous fiction all the time. Naked Lunch anyone? Is there a difference? 

Excerpt from 'Naked Lunch'

Squatting on old bones and excrement and rusty iron, in a white blaze of heat, a panorama of naked idiots stretches to the horizon. Complete silence - their speech centres are destroyed - except for the crackle of sparks and the popping of singed flesh as they apply electrodes up and down the spine. White smoke of burning flesh hangs in the motionless air. A group of children have tied an idiot to a post with barbed wire and built a fire between his legs and stand watching with bestial curiosity as the flames lick his thighs. His flesh jerks in the fire with insect agony.
Let me know your thoughts cause this is a strange one! I definitely believe in freedom of speech but does this story sit uncomfortably with you too?

Previous Authors Behaving Badly:


  1. ...I'm speechless.
    I read the small bit that was copied onto the other blog but I couldn't bring myself to read all of it.
    If I didn't already have a headache I would be slamming my head against my desk right now.

  2. No. It made me think after the initial recoil. Then I read this analysis: I ended up feeling sorry for protag for living in such a narrow, paranoid world.

  3. OMG this story is such an OUTRAGE! Why can't writers do what their duty is, to open up people's minds to accept all nuances of this world, because that's how people should live! Writers have an obligation to further this cause and must adhere to this agenda! And even though writing a story about someone narrow-minded might serve exactly that, it also bears the danger that someone actually LIKES the protag and his mindset, and we can't let this happen! That's one of the occasions I really wish we had a censorship that gets rid of everything that can be deemed hate-speech, I mean, yeah, we're making progress on that but it's still a long way to go if we want to make the world a better place, to create a society like we envision it to be!

  4. I do find it always slightly amusing when people involved in TV shows and the like make underhand comments about fanfic. The people who write fanfic are usually the biggest, most devoted fans of the show: not the people you want to piss off.

    With a show like Merlin, the irony/amusement is magnified, because BBC's Merlin fits many of the criteria of fanfic. It's filmed not written, and it has a big budget, but... it's transformative of the original stories, it reinvents many characters and situations, it brings in new situations, characters etc that weren't in the original... Are these not regular featurs of fanfic?

    Eoin is throwing stones in a proverbial glass house, if you ask me!

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