Alexander Chee on child prodigies:
I remember thinking I’d started writing fiction late for having started at age 19. I remember joking when I turned 29 that I was having a mid-youth crisis because I wouldn’t publish my first novel by 30. The mystique of the child genius storyteller is hardwired into our national psyche, as is the longing to be one—whether it’s Salinger and the Glass family child prodigies, or Carson McCullers, or Truman Capote, or Ender from Ender’s Game. One of the only stories I remember of Jesus in the Bible from my lackluster Methodist churchgoing as a kid involves the time he was found telling stories to adults, who all listened, enchanted by his wisdom. Wherever you go in American culture you end up near this myth about a talented child and a story.
Today is Ireland’s referendum on marriage equality, best of luck and support to our Irish Toasties.
You should not need subway etiquette guides BUT I GUESS YOU DO?
I’m very, very enthused that the president of the Boy Scouts is suggesting it’s time to end their ban on gay leaders.
On the question of reviewing your friends’ books:
I don’t believe there exists in this world a single thinking person without biases, aesthetic or otherwise. It’s good to declare them when there is a fear they otherwise may not be demonstrated in the piece itself. Because the overlap between book and media circles is large, I give the following guidelines. You should be able to give an honest review of a book by someone you know in the context of parties and social media, but if you share an editor, parent, or child you are certainly too close. Between those extremes, it’s usually better to err on the side of disclosing too much rather than too little.
Mark Kishlansky, one of my favourite profs, has died. He was a great scholar and writer and teacher, but I remember him MOST clearly for a day we ran into each other in the history department. He didn’t know me from a hole in the ground at that point, but I was taking a big survey class for which he had assigned his own, excellent book, which cost almost two hundred dollars, and I said something awkward about it because I could NOT stretch my books budget that far, and he tossed a shrink-wrapped new copy at me, literally tossed it, with a smile, and told me to enjoy the class. RIP.
I’m enjoying this chat about writing and belonging to “minority” religions in the US:
Aisha: I can relate to that but from a writing POV. Like, I don’t mind reading swearing and sex scenes in books at all but I don’t like writing sex in my books. That doesn’t mean I’m against it in YA or in books in general just to be clear, but since my characters usually have at least one MC who is Muslim it just doesn’t feel comfortable to me. That doesn’t mean Muslim teens don’t have sex of course but it just makes me uncomfortable personally to write about. There’s a story I’m writing where it’s an Afghan refugee and his relationship with a girl he works with, and its hard because the story seems to want to go towards them becoming intimate and yet it’s not something I wanted to do so I’m considering making them friends and platonic. It’s a tough line to balance personally with wanting to write in a way that is true to me but also how the story wants to be written.
Even though Nikki counts as an IRL friend by now, we have many of our conversations over Twitter, and yesterday we had a lil chinwag about what we do with racist pitches and racist deleted comments. I get a lot of requests for us to publish more deleted comments, and a few people were asking for a roundup of rejected pitches, and there’s a reason we don’t really do that! More than one reason, I guess?
When I run a deleted comment, I try to make it something really outlandish and stupid or totally misguided, but I deliberately do not run really racist ones. Even if we’re all going “tee-hee, this bigot!” together, people still have to, y’know, see that someone said [use your imagination] about [group who already knows people say stupid shit about them.] White Dude Book List? Let’s just say we left out a LOT of comments I didn’t want POC to have to see.
With racist pitches or submissions (we don’t get a ton, for the record), it depends so much on how the person comes across. If they’re just a dick, we reject without commentary and don’t bother getting into it. If the person is clearly just clueless, we’ll often say something like “we’re sure this wasn’t your intention, but this could come across as [way it obviously comes across.]”
[Note from Nikki: Our general policy against running pieces about racism by white people, about transphobia by cis people, etc., prevents a lot of this from even being an issue, and I’m really glad that Mallory and Nicole established said policy. It’s not necessarily an editor’s job to educate pitching writers about racism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, etc., and the pitch email/editorial response isn’t the sort of interaction that lends itself to long heart-to-heart chats about weighty topics! I’m more likely to say something if I know the writer a bit and feel pretty sure of their intentions. If we actually accept a piece that has, say, one problem line but is otherwise fine, of course we’ll address that with the writer during revisions, prior to publication. In my experience, writers are usually very happy to work with us if we have any concerns.]
And, too, pitch emails are not MEANT to be read by anyone but an editor, as opposed to comments, which are obviously meant for a bunch of people to see, so I prefer not to interfere with their expectation of privacy, as a courtesy.
Nicole is an Editor of The Toast.