Thursday, February 5, 2015

Generosity economy, feudalism in Hild, women's agency, and more

From: Robert

Just wanted to email you and let you know that I just finished reading Hild and I absolutely loved it.  Just to give credit for the recommendation, I went to an event at Kepler’s in Menlo Park, CA and watched a panel discussion with several science fiction/fantasy authors, and two of them had read Hild and raved about it, so I bought it rather than any of their books.  Personally, I blame them - they made your book sound so good, I really didn’t have an option.  If they had wanted to sell their own books they should have hyped their own books, rather than yours.  One of the panelists said it wasn’t just the best fantasy (if that’s what it is) book they read in 2014, but the best book period, and now that I’ve finished it, I have to agree.

The research you did was evident, but it was immersive rather than intrusive.  I also think you did a great job balancing how much and when you explicitly described major plot points and how much you left to the reader to figure out through context and later events.  In my experience as a reader that is a difficult balance to achieve, but you handled it perfectly.  I also really appreciated getting what seems to me a more accurate and balanced view of the role that women had in feudal (if that’s the right word) society.  It is all too common for fantasy authors to pretend that women in those types of societies were oppressed and largely powerless, and so it’s a sign of authenticity when they replicate that oppression and lack of agency in their own worlds.  I’ve never agreed with that view.  It always struck me, at best, as a lack of imagination and research, and at worst as a justification for their own biases and ignorance.  I was really pleased to see that you handled things differently.  In a sense you kind of had too, given the subject of the book, but you didn’t have to pick Hild as the subject, and you could have written a bad novel. 

I’m holding out hope that you will be traveling for some book signings or other events when the sequel is published so I can get my copy signed.  It seems like publishers don’t send authors out on traditional book signing tours too much anymore, I guess that’s just one of the many ways the industry has changed, but I do see other kinds of events like the panel discussion I attended at Kepler’s in San Mateo.  Borderlands in San Francisco also holds similar events, just in case you were wondering. (Feel free to take that as a polite and hopeful suggestion.)  Maybe I will be able to say hi and thanks in person one of these days.   

Thanks for writing such a compelling novel; I can’t wait to read the sequel. 
Well, bless those authors! Art is a precarious existence, sometimes, and what makes it work is mutual generosity--the generosity economy; it sounds as though they were generous. If you feel so inclined I'd love to hear their names so I can thank them in person.

I haven't had much opportunity for that kind of generosity--recommending others' work--lately because I haven't had time to read much fiction. And then, sadly, the fiction I do read is distorted by my focus on Hild II: I'm finding fault with everything. It makes appreciation difficult. For the last year or so my generosity has mostly been geared towards practical help for other writers--joint appearances to boost attendance, sharing behind-the-scenes contacts, advising on cover letters, that sort of thing. My own reading has been largely Hild-related research, and poetry. (Which, unhappily, I also seem to be unable to properly appreciate at the moment. Huh.)

Some old fiction standbys have helped: listening to Lord of the Rings, reading Watership Down aloud, and spending many happy hours talking about what worked, and why, and how.

So, anyway, I'm delighted you liked Hild but, no, I won't be travelling for a while. However, given that I haven't a clue when Hild II will be out, it's entirely possible I'll be travelling by then. I wrote a recent blog post about what goes into accepting/declining invitations, and how people might best go about it.

I wouldn't call Hild's age feudal. As there are more definitions of feudal than you can shake a stick at, I'm not going to parse it too closely. But--if we accept the term at all--it seems to me to be an institution requiring a certain level of literacy, clarity of legal roles and responsibilities, and social stratification--not to mentlon size of the state, and stability at the top. The early seventh century in the north of Britiain fails on all counts. There were groups living under different world views, using different languages, with zero literacy. Might was right: law was the edge of a blade. Kings were ousted with extreme prejudice sometimes on an annual basis. No king of Hild's youth (or none I can think of offhand) died of old age.

That will have started to change by the end of Hild's life. But the operative phrase here is started to... 

Women and agency in fiction. Ah, yes. One day I really will write an essay about this. But today is not that day. Let me just say that it infuriates me when writers treat women as chattel. Women, as I've said a hundred times before, as I've been saying since my very first novel, are human, we are people first and always have been, in every era.

Perhaps it's a conversation we'll continue one day when we meet in person at some bookshop or other when there's another Hild book in the world.
This blog has moved. My blog now lives here: