Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Cultural Confusion


 The 49 victims of the Pulse massacre


 for the continuing recovery of the 53 survivors

 for the victims' families & First Responders


My glorious Gloriosa Lilies are in bloom again. 

Update on Florida's Rainy Season:

This year we went from drought to monsoon in a single day. On Tuesday, May 30, our unusually long drought broke with a vengeance. The "rainy season" usually means that it rains nearly every day from June 1 to late September, sometime between 4-6 p.m. A brief shower or thunder shower, with the sun shining brightly both before and after. This year, we've had all-day clouds and almost unremitting deluges. Today, even the newspaper delivery person was caught short. My plastic-wrapped paper was soaked through from top to bottom, and still unreadable at three in the afternoon. (Rain at night is rare during the rainy season.) We are promised that things should settle down to a more normal pattern by the middle of next week, but meanwhile Longwood is at 10+ inches in ten days, and counting. My garden is positively quivering with joy!

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I've had some bad luck with my reading lately, enough so that I gave up on at least three books and struggled through one only because it was so bad I was taking notes for this blog. Sigh. Even then, I gave up twice, only to limp back when other books I was reading proved too off-putting to continue. 

So how did I do this to myself? Hmm - I guess my favorite authors aren't writing fast enough for my voracious reading habits, or perhaps I was making a commendable effort to try new authors, to see what's out there besides the tried and true. All I discovered was that some highly touted books and authors just aren't my cup of tea. And the unknown new author still had a great deal to learn. Except . . . perhaps there were lessons my blog readers could learn from yet another highly flawed attempt at what should have been a fascinating read.

As is my practice, I am going to avoid mentioning the book's title, author, or setting, as it is my goal to help authors learn, not suffer from direct criticism, even if it's justified. So pardon me, if I have to circle around the subject here and there.

I chose this particular book - advertised on Amazon - because it sounded like a good action plot and a setting that was unfamiliar to me. But I immediately encountered: wrong words (words that did not mean what the author obviously thought they meant), really bad punctuation (particularly in dialogue), poor sentence structure. (There were so many messed up sentences, I could only assume the author never heard of self-editing.) 

There were also many places where both narration and dialogue were contrary to the social manners and mores of English-speaking peoples of the book's era. For example, calling a baronet Sir Last Name instead of Sir First Name, a female referring to an older man by his last name only (as a man would).

More importantly, there was a vague reference to an event in the past that needed explanation. There was also a general lack of identification of certain characters - possibly because there had been a previous book and the author did not realize he/she had to put everything readers needed to know in the new book and not assume they had read, or remembered, what was in the first book.

Continuity was off. The plot had holes a mile wide. But the worst sin, from my point of view, was appalling characterization. The hero acted "holier than thou" with his friends about their treatment of women, while his own behavior was worse. Definitely not the attitude of an English gentleman of that period, particularly the hero of a novel.

And then, something amazing happened. The book moved into an all-male world, and everything changed. The narration and dialogue perked up, started to sound real. The story became interesting, the characters intriguing. The action sequences were good . . . Uh, what was happening here? 

Now, instead of putting the book aside, I read on, to see if I could puzzle it out. Perhaps the author just made a hash of the beginning and was one of those who never read over what they wrote, because - wow - I was actually interested in what was going to happen next.

And then, with the return of females to the story, the book crashed and burned. The manners and mores of these people (in a time period which is a specialty of mine) were so totally wrong, I cringed. Not just the attitudes of the women but of the men when interacting with the women. What the author wrote was simply outside the bounds of reality for male/female interaction of the time. (Even for interaction between James Bond and his many women two centuries later, the attitudes wouldn't work.) From both male and female point of view, they were totally alien.

And finally, I figured it out. Or at least I think I did. And my horrified reaction mellowed - at least a bit. For the technical mistakes were explained, and perhaps the odd interactions between males and females as well.

1) I began to suspect that this was a book written by someone for whom English was a second language. Certainly, a major accomplishment, if that is so, although the author should have realized he/she needed a native English speaker to edit it before publication.

2) The author was likely male and from a non-European culture, where women - their thoughts, aspirations, and actions - are a complete mystery. A culture where women in general are considered "insidious," dangerous to men and perhaps to themselves. Certainly, none of the women in the book could be called heroine material, or even likable. I was thoroughly disgusted by what I read. And insulted on behalf of females everywhere.

3) There is also the possibility the author was simply an narrow-minded gay, unwilling to edit, who could write about men all day long but should never have thought himself capable of writing from the female point of view.(With apologies to the many gays who exhibit empathy with both sexes, no matter their personal preferences.)


The book in question is part of a series. Its plot and unusual setting have great potential. But the author shoots himself/herself in the foot by trying to delve into a culture he/she knows nothing about. STICK TO WHAT YOU KNOW! Don't write from the viewpoint of the opposite sex or about sex in a different culture, unless you know what you're talking about. I recently edited a book set in India at the time of Buddha. Would I attempt to write such a book? Of course I wouldn't. I have NO idea of the customs of the times, of the proper interactions between males and females in that culture. It would be absurd for me to choose such a setting. 

Yes, most romance writers write from the viewpoint of both hero and heroine. But in our own culture. And we are married, or have been married. And yes, some of us are male. And they too are married, or have been. They know what is the expected thing for a hero or heroine to do. And if their characters deviate from that norm, the writer knows this must be explained, a reason given for not following the manners and mores of the times. 

DO NOT, under any circumstances, plunge into writing about a culture foreign to your personal knowledge. You're Caucasian but raised in Japan? Okay, you may know enough to write in depth about Japanese characters. But the line is thin. Don't cross the cultural gap unless you really know what you're doing. And it's always a good idea to have a native of that culture check your work. Don't emulate the author who created a "hero," plus a variety of female characters, whose behaviors turned my stomach. Frankly, I ended up not caring what happened to any of them.

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Thanks for stopping by,

For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.

For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.



1 comment:

  1. You've hit upon one of my pet peeves. There was, still is for all I know, a Canadian TV series we found (via Netflix) called "Murdoch Mysteries." We love detective stories -- it's about the only thing we watch -- and this show has a wonderful premise. It's set in the 1890's, with a detective who solves mysteries because he is ahead of his time in his use of forensic science. There's much to commend the show, from the music to some of the characters. Alas, however, not the two main characters, who after a few seasons began to turn my stomach. And the CGI is awful.

    But back to the point: Having the characters be "advanced" in the application of scientific knowledge is a good thing; giving them at the same time 21st century attitudes and dialogue is unforgivable. If you want your viewers/readers to suspend their disbelief over an anomaly in your setting, it's critical to get the rest of it right.

    Can you imagine a man of 1890 approaching a grieving widow with the hackneyed but modern, "I'm sorry for your loss"? That was just the beginning of the nails-on-the-blackboard feeling for me. As the seasons progressed, the characters repeatedly, in word and action, expressed attitudes about women, marriage, divorce, abortion, and homosexuality that are simply cut out of the 21st century and pasted, incongruously, onto the 19th. It's especially weird since the main character is supposed to be such a devout Catholic. I'll happily swallow the idea that Murdoch is slightly ahead of his time, scientifically. But a century ahead socially? No.

    We gave up on the show. Reluctantly, because as I said, it has a great premise. But being jerked back and forth through time like that only left us queasy.