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Wolves

5 March 2019

From Slate:

Until recently, Kosoko Jackson was considered an expert in the trapdoors of identity-related rhetoric. Jackson worked as a “sensitivity reader” for major publishers of YA fiction, a job that entails reading manuscripts and flagging them for problematic content. His own debut novel, A Place for Wolves, was promoted as an “#ownvoices” book, a hashtag attached approvingly to books in which the author shares a particular marginalized identity with his subject. (Jackson is black and queer.) He believed that, for example, women shouldn’t “profit” from writing gay men’s stories, as he tweeted last year. And he was part of a small and informal but intense online community that scolded writers who ran afoul of these values in their work or online. Now, Jackson has been demonized by the community he once helped police.

A Place for Wolves, Jackson’s first novel, was scheduled for publication later this month. The romantic thriller, set in the late 1990s during the Kosovo War, follows a relationship between two American teen boys. The book looked poised to succeed: It received several early starred reviews, which influence library purchases and bookstore placement, and had been named a “Kids’ Indie Next” pick, suggesting an early interest from independent booksellers. Last week, however, Jackson released a statement addressed to the “Book Community” that apologized for the “problematic representation and historical insensitivities” in his novel. He wrote that he had asked his publisher, Sourcebooks, to withdraw the book from publication. Sourcebooks quickly complied.

The backlash seems to have begun on Feb. 22, with a long review posted to the community-review site Goodreads, a favorite site of YA agonistes. “I have to be absolutely [explitive deleted by PG] honest here, everybody,” the review opened, in the hyperbolic voice of its genre. “I’ve never been so disgusted in my life.” She objected to the book’s use of a recent genocide as a backdrop to romance, the way some early fans fetishized it as a “cute gay love story,” that it was not written by a Muslim, that it “centers” privileged Americans, and that the villain is an ethnic Albanian, among other concerns. “Are you able to confidently justify supporting this book despite all of the above, despite the harm it can and will do to real people?” she asked in conclusion.

. . . .

The criticism snowballed from there, with other readers chiming in: “How could you take a beautiful LGBTQ love story and [explitive deleted by PG] on genocide victims like that?” one asked on Twitter. Heidi Heilig, an author who has participated in many online skirmishes and provided a positive blurb for Jackson’s book, hastily revised her Goodreads review of A Place for Wolves. She suggested the book’s content may have changed since she read an early draft, apologized “to those I’ve hurt by my blurb,” and promised to “work harder.”

. . . .

In January, another first-time author, Amélie Wen Zhao, asked her publisher to pull her to-be-released fantasy novel, Blood Heir, because of early reader critiques about racial insensitivity. The novel featured a storyline about slavery and a character whom some readers interpreted as black, who dies so a white character can live; Zhao explained in her statement that as a Chinese immigrant to the United States, she was inspired by trafficking and labor issues in Asia, but apologized nonetheless for causing pain.

. . . .

Both Jackson and Zhang are people of color who now see their careers hobbled in an industry that claims to be laser-focused on diversity. Jackson has already been dropped from the lineup in at least one literary festival, though it’s not clear if he withdrew or was ousted.

. . . .

[W]e’ve gotten an increasingly toxic online culture around YA literature, with evermore-baroque standards for who can write about whom under what circumstances. From the outside, this is starting to look like a conversation focused less on literature than obedience.

. . . .

None of this has to do with whether Jackson’s book is any good, or even in good taste. (I haven’t read it.) But it was written by an author exquisitely attuned to identity issues, and presumably vetted by his agent, the staff of a publishing house, and other early readers, including some who have now turned against it.

Link to the rest at Slate and thanks to Shelly for the tip.

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Video, YA

51 Comments to “Wolves”

  1. Ask not for whom the bell tolls…

    • Desmond X. Torres

      Two words and a link:
      Jordan Peterson
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMcjxSThD54

      • I’m not sure if you’re the one who previously posted a link to one of Jordan Peterson’s YouTube videos, but I want to thank whoever it was who did. I’ve found his viewpoint refreshing in a world gone mad.

        • Desmond X. Torres

          Yeah that was me. His voice and take on how to be in the world has had a profound impact on my life. Yet, he’s been excoriated by main stream media.

          The good news is that five years ago that kind of character assassination used to matter. But w/all the cord cutting and people turning away from the post-modern ethos they’re becoming less and less relevant.

          Thank you so much for saying what you did; I really appreciate it.

      • I’ve seen that one. Jordan Peterson is the left’s worst nightmare. They can’t make him mad enough to say anything stupid, so they keep trying to twist his words and he patiently corrects them every time.

        I loathe the state of “debate” as it currently stands. People think that they get to say whatever they want and not back it up with facts. “Feels” are more important than facts.

        • Desmond X. Torres

          The crashing irony is that HE’S A PROGRESSIVE! No kidding. He’s Canadian, (pretty much a pinko country- relax, I live here! LOL) and has progressive / left leaning views on many, many topics.

          The label he’s put on his detractors is ‘post-modernists’, which I think is more accurate. His angle is more philosophical than political. And man oh man… when you dig deep into this debate it’s pretty wild.

          • He isn’t particularly progressive, but he is also not alt-right. So many try to pin him to a side instead of discussing his stances.

            He mostly gets grief when he goes from his specialty into politics, economics and other topics. The main problem is for a scientist he doesn’t back up most of his statements with research but uses his feels when arguing a lot of it.

            For example he argues for Christianity as a means of moral control and useful archetypes to understand humanity, not as a believer in God.

            If you really are interested in him then watch uncut things like his home broadcasts and things like the Joe Rogan podcast. Most of the cut things and interviews are people trying to make points not really discuss things.

            • Desmond X. Torres

              You’re right about how Peterson’s a little bit at sea when he leaves his wheelhouse. In fact, I got a charge out of his appearance on (get this!) The Jim Jefferries Show. Jim interviewed him and I watched Peterson’s mind change over a stance on a topic when that foul mouthed comedian (who’s really funny to me!) asked a question.

              OTOH, when JP dives into other topics he does bring a lot of meat to the table: a brilliant intellect, a strong character, and a willingness to be open.

              Joe Rogan has the most watched podcasts on the planet. I watch/listen to him quite often. His interview w/ Tulsi Gabbard was pretty good. As was his interview w/ Bari Weiss of the NY Times. THAT interview showed how flawed MSMedia is in its process of developing opinons which then shape the framework of national discussions. This is a cut from it, but it really demonstrates my point:
              https://youtu.be/jS-sxJFn6O0

              Getting back on point about Peterson- those lectures on archetypes are powerful; for me they demonstrate how we’re hard wired to look out to the infinite and wonder.

              I never found any of this information until I cut the cable cord a year ago.

              • Ye gods, JP is a toxic contradictory nightmare, avoid at all costs. Or at least do due diligence. He is pretty awful, for the most part, even though he manages to sprinkle in homespun “conventional wisdom” here and there and present it as his own, he’s pretty bad.

                • Terrence OBrien

                  What has JP said or done that is a contradictory nightmare, and why should we avoid him?

                • “You told us he is a toxic contradictory nightmare. What has he said or done that is a toxic contradictory nightmare?”

                  As I also said, you can google and do your research yourself, it doesn’t take that long, really. I told you he was toxic and contradictory. And a nightmare. that’s why he should be avoided. You can find out why if you do due diligence, as I suggested. I don’t know why that was somehow unclear to you, but let’s make it absolutely clear. Do your own homework. Or don’t, doesn’t matter, in the end.

                  And like I said, I don’t know why you’re posting toxic propaganda from a self help guru who is a poster boy for the incel movement on this site, but it comes off as very inappropriate.

              • “I never found any of this information until I cut the cable cord a year ago.”

                You reduced your noise to signal ratio. 😉

                • I explained why you should avoid him (his view of females alone should be enough, and the fact he’s been embraced by the toxic incel movement)… in terms his contradictions, a google search should give you what you ask for. Do your own work.

                  Plus, I don’t think this site is meant for the promotion of self help propaganda. He has nothing to do with the topic and it doesn’t belong here.

                • Terrence OBrien

                  I explained why you should avoid him…

                  Can you tell us where you explained why we should avoid him here? I see only one previous post in this thread from “Joshua.”

                  You told us he is a toxic contradictory nightmare. What has he said or done that is a toxic contradictory nightmare?

                • Why do I have the distinct feeling that Jordan Peterson’s “toxic” view of women is that, like men, they are people, but that they tend to be wired slightly differently and in a way that does not make them better or worse?

                • Terrence OBrien

                  JP cites lots of research that shows the more egalitarian the society, and the more we have equality of opportunity, the greater the self-sorting into career fields by sex. That freedom leads to greater domination of various career fields by one sex.

                  He doesn’t advocate for the self-sorting. He observes and reports on it. Citing such research is unacceptable to some.

                • How dare facts come into the argument. Like a lot of speakers, I haven’t heard anything JP has said that is the least bit hateful to anyone…. But I’m told it is all the time.

  2. Meet the new Klan, same as the old Klan.

  3. Petard:

    A petard is a small bomb used for blowing up gates and walls when breaching fortifications. It is of French origin and dates back to the 16th century. A typical petard was a conical or rectangular metal device containing 2–3 kg of gunpowder, with a slow match for a fuse.

    Because of the poor quality of early fuses, it was not unheard of for the soldier responsible for deploying a petard to have it explode before they could get safely away. They were then thrown into the air, thus “hoist by their own petard.”

    (It always drives me nuts to see this phrased as ‘hoist on their own petard. That’s just wrong.)

    • Felix J. Torres

      Wowee!

      Obviously the only safe path is to only write stories about AAA characters (asexual alien androids).

      • Gee, I guess it’s a good thing I went with aliens and 300+ years into the future! 😉

      • Terrence OBrien

        Perhaps the safe path is to just publish the book as planned.

        • Felix J. Torres

          Where’s the fun in that?
          I want to see what excuses the sensitives come up with against AAAs. And you know they will.

    • Ah, if only some Moses could introduce these writers to the Promised Land of KDP.

      No amount of “validation” is worth a minute of this garbage.

    • Desmond X. Torres

      Or better yet, stay off twitter?

    • The third part is now out.

      https://jessesingal.substack.com/p/ya-twitters-victims-and-critics-speak-4b5

      And there is apparently a fourth (and final) coming.

      • Interesting comment in the post about the role of ARCs in all this. I think I’d stop sending ARCs. Then a shit-storm like this can only help. Because we all know when people start a controversy over a book, lots of people go out and buy it to see what it’s all about. So maybe a career tanking mess if not enough people stand up for the book at that point, but a little money on the back end to make it feel better.

        Or just indie publish. I vote for that.

  4. Meet the new Nazis, same as the old Nazis.

    • This affair did take on a “Night of the Long Knives” flavor, with one of the administrators of the apparatus of hate getting ground up by it, didn’t it?

  5. Maybe they should have had a veteran who fought in the wars over there, vet the product. Any Army vet who had served over there could’ve told them what an awful idea that was. There were pits filled with people. Giant pits. Makes for a great backdrop for a gay romance.

    • That probably would have been a good idea. However, do you really think any of these people actually know a veteran?

    • I’m not disputing how awful it was in Serbia but if we’re fair, in real life romance happens in response to horror. Often. Because we’re human and our response to horror is to search for a refuge from it.

      And also to be fair, fiction in the context of war isn’t exactly… unknown.

    • ou don’t need a vet for that. Common sense should be enough. The moment I read “Kososvo war and two American teen boys” I went “Oh no. Really?”
      If he’d chosen two local boys, maybe one Albanian and one Serb, it would have been a completely different thing and might have worked, although he then would have had to address the issues of the war and that is a tricky can of worms.

      Of course, looking at the #ownvoices-thing, then one would have to question how an African-American writer can write about two Eastern European youths caught up in a horrenduous war.

  6. If you’re going to handle difficult subjects in a novel, the worst thing you can do is handle them badly.

    No doubt there were gay romances during the war – but it sounds more like the objection is to the plotting quality given the choice of setting. Funny none of the people buying the book thought it unsuitable.

    • Felix J. Torres

      It never made it to market: the guanostorm was triggered by the ARC.
      Apparently they didn’t fly it by the right kind of sensitivity reader.

      We need to see a few more of these.

    • I think that an author doing something badly is about at the very bottom of the bad things that might happen when attempting a difficult subject.

      Worse would be to not attempt the difficult subject.

  7. I learned a new word today: agonistes

  8. and yet, when I finished reading this story, I had Nelson Muntz’s voice in my ear … “Ha-ha!”.

  9. I notice a lot of these people are on Twitter, and in DaveMich’s link, one agent asked for the writer’s Twitter handle.

    What would happen if the writer said “I don’t do Twitter?” Even if she’s lying, because of course there’s no reason for the agent to have that info. Promotion is the publisher’s job, and for over 90% of the royalties and the entire copyright of the work, promotion is not too much to ask of them. It’s minimal.

    If some random strangers on the internet lose their minds, and you’re not there to see it, does it still matter? I’d say no. And if you are there to see it? Still no. They don’t matter. Random strangers need to establish solid reasons that you should care what they think. Set that threshold high and don’t look back.

    • I’d have to agree with that last bit. I was going to say it, but deleted my post. Didn’t want to step on anyone, I’m not a web warrior (anymore), but these mobs only have the power you give them. Ignore them and nothing happens.

  10. I know I’m largely preaching to the converted here, but this story has so much wrong with it. Cultural appropriation, young adults being hurt by reading these books, Twitter pile-ons. It wasn’t that long ago that a novel about two teenage boys in a homosexual relationship aimed at young adults would have zero chance of publication let alone recommendation. On the basis that these poor innocent teenagers may be harmed by it! How much more patronising can you get? We don’t need people telling us what we can or can’t read and/or preventing books from being published. As other’s commenting have posted, meet the New Clan same as the old clan, or meet the new Nazi’s, same as the old Nazi’s. Perhaps we should crowd fund to provide all members of the Ya Twitter group their own copies of the Gor books. Should keep them so occupied with their shared outrage for years, during which time they would hopefully leave authors alone.

    No one is entitled to be protected from being offended. Even if it was desirable, and it is not, we end up with laws mandating it, and our freedom takes a big hit along with any intellectual debate.

    • ONLY offensive content needs protection. The unobjectionable is, by definition, not objected to. Which makes safe spaces, free of offense, highly censorious.

      Crap. Here I am spouting my politics on the web again. BAD Uncle JO! Bad!

      • Sorry, Jo, but I don’t think it’s possible to ‘say’ anything that some id10t won’t twist/take out of context just so they can be offended by it – it’s the only way they know how to feel good about themselves.

        The trick I think is to give them plenty to ballyhoo about – while we sneak better stuff under their radar. Our POTUS is showing us how it’s done – what our government is doing is mostly missed as everyone watches him do his little song and dance. If it looks like the news might look at something he wants to keep hidden the twit just fires off another crazy tweet. 😉

  11. True of course Jo. The problem being that whether content is offensive is highly subjective. Those sensitive little zealots on Ya Twitter seem to be offended by anything which does not fit within their isolated little thought bubbles. As the well deserved (some may say karmic) fate of the author concerned here shows, even this censorious group can’t agree on what is offensive. Though of course they have little trouble offending others. Fundamentalist Christians and Muslims are no doubt very offended by books aimed at children which seek to normalise homosexuality. Yes, many of these people are religious bigots, but then so are the censorious fanatics on Ya Twitter. I am very offended by their opinions. But very happy that they are allowed to offend me. If only they would extend that same courtesy to me and to the authors they attack in mobs.

    • The interesting thing here is they’re jumping on one of their own for not toeing the invisible line that keeps on moving. This isn’t an outsider getting blindsided: this is one of their anointed sensitivity readers.

      If there ever somebody who should’ve seen it coming…
      …but then, nobody expects the spanish inquisition.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=klIeEvqgd68

      • So true Felix. Another very important point is that the standards applied are not only changing constantly but are inconsistent even within the group concerned. And, of course, when someone even more extreme comes along they all agree and apologise for not meeting the new even loonier benchmark and fall on their swords. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so sad that people in this group enjoy a book, perhaps give it a good review and are not the least offended by it. Then, some lunatic comes up with some way of taking offence and suddenly they are amending reviews and apologising. Taking offence retrosectively.

        Great Monty Python Clip. I think this one is also relevant to the retrospectively offended apologists.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YgYEuJ5u1K0

  12. He was a sensitivity reader to begin with, so I feel little sympathy (not none, but little).

    Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

  13. I can’t help paraphrasing Cyndi Lauper: “Folks just wanna have fun.” This stuff is disgusting, but it is all sorts of people of every ideological, moral, and philosophical bent putting on the high hat and spats to dump on everyone else. A stiff bourbon helps.

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