Mar. 11th, 2011

naomi_jay: (moon in clouds)
There's an interesting review/discussion going on over at Dear Author right now. Jill Sorenson reviews The Midnight Hunt by LL Raand and rates it a DNF (did not finish):
.
The raw animalism and overwhelming masculinity of the characters, disturbed me. About halfway through, I quit reading.

Sorenson opens her review by noting that I’m not a lesbian. My opinion on your character’s sexuality or how you choose to portray it carries little or no weight,

As a straight female writer who's best known (if known at all) for SILVER KISS, a novel featuring a strong gay cast and starring a lesbian werewolf, I find this comment fascinating. The implication seems to be that unless you're gay yourself, you can't offer any constructive criticism on a gay novel. It's like apologising in advance and giving the author permission to dismiss everything Sorenson says.

 In the comment thread, one commenter says that I think if you don’t like lesbian sex then you really shouldn’t be reading and reviewing the book, which hits me as drastically unfair. Leaving aside that I've read plenty of straight sex scenes that squicked me (Anita Blake, I'm looking at you), since when did being a lesbian become a requirement for reading lesbian fiction? Anymore than, say being American Indian was a requirement for reading books about American Indians or (pushing the point, I know), being a vampire was a requirement for reading a vampire novel?

Another interesting comment from the thread:

...as a straight reviewer of lesbian for a long time now, it is hard to review a book in which sexuality and gender roles are not a personal experience. I’ve felt the same as you in that I’ve wondered if I’ve had the right to review lesbian as a straight person. And I’m sure I’ve gone off the mark or said some things that a lesbian would be like, “what?”

I don't want to dismiss anyone's opinions here, but it irritates me to think, whilst there's a massive market for m/m romances read largely by straight women, that there's an apparent feeling that lesbian books should only be for lesbian readers. For one thing, that would mean I shouldn't be writing any more Urban Wolf books and that would make me sad. For another, I like to think anyone could pick up SILVER KISS and enjoy it, regardless of who or what they are.

In any case, it seems to me that Sorenson's reasons for disliking The Midnight Hunt are nothing to do with the characters' sexuality (she frequently reviews lesbian fiction for Dear Author), and all to do with the execution of the premise and the flaws she found in the plot:

I also thought Sylvan’s characterization was weak. Weres are hypersexual beings, needing constant physical release. If they don’t mate, or at least copulate, they can become violent and unstable ...Sylvan is reluctant to see to her own needs ... Sylvan decides she’d rather be alone forever than risk losing a partner.

The Alpha’s sexual frustration is bad for the pack. Her needy scent can trigger a snarling hump-fest by sending all of the females into heat and causing dominant members to fight for mating rights. I had trouble believing that Sylvan would continue to deny herself release and jeopardize the safety of her pack.

And whilst she does say that she struggled with the portrayal of sexuality in the book, again I don't think that means she's measuring all lesbian fiction by this one novel, and that all lesbian fiction is squicky to her. And the "don't like it, don't read it," mantra just pisses me off. It's decidedly unhelpful.

Someone else asks:

... where is that line between other-ing a character because you come from a certain POV and honestly speaking about your ability to empathize with a book?

Now this is an issue that I've seen before. Anyone remember #racefail? The YA Whitewashing Affair? It's so hard to take a sensitive subject of any kind - be it sexuality or race - and bring it in a public arena where personal opinion comes into play. A book is subjective. People will bring their own experiences and expectations to it, and there's nothing a writer can do about that except write the best book they can and hope. But if you comment negatively on a book that contains one of these sensitive subjects, it seems that people will immediately assume your issue is with that subject, not the writing, the characterisation, or whatever. They assume you're saying "this gay book didn't work for because it's a gay book," not "this gay book didn't work for me because I couldn't connect with the protagonist."

It feels like an impossible problem to solve to me. One of the things I've worried most about with the Urban Wolf books is whether my gay characters will ring true, given my own sexuality, and whether I'll be judged as the author because of my sexuality. In the end I kind of made peace with it by deciding that all I could do was write characters who felt true to me and let the readers judge the job I'd done. So far, the response has been great, so I guess I did fine.

I was delighted to see The Midnight Hunt up for review on Dear Author, A) because it's on my TBR pile, and B) because I'm very interested in reading lesbian UF/PNR, and I don't see the genre given a lot of exposure on mainstream blogs. It would be a massive shame if reviews like Sorenson stopped reviewing lesbian fiction because she feels, as a straight woman, she can't offer a fair review.

*I tried so hard to come up with something snappier than that for a title

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