Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Words, Words, Words

I remember using the "n" word as a child (the 1970s) with my friends when "eeny, meeny, miny, mo" had different words than it does today. Yes, I'm white. No, I did not live in a white supremacist community/family. At the time I didn't understand the history or the impact; now the word gives me the creeps. As a teacher I've dealt with students who have used the word to hurt, knowing full well the impact, but having no empathy for the recipient. I like to think caring will increase with age (hooray for optimism).

Today I used the word "tinker" and the woman with whom I was speaking winced. Based on my life experiences, tinker was a commonly used word and, at the time, didn't seem negative -- as far as I knew, it's just what the travelling people were called. I gather by the reaction today that the word's connotation has changed. Or, perhaps, the word always was offensive and I wasn't aware (innocent ignorance - the same could be said of the word in the first paragraph). Either way, I was embarrassed by my usage today.

In my historical manuscripts I strive to use accurate words for the times. If I question something's historical authenticity, I look it up just to be sure I'm correctly representing the era. That said, values have changed since the fifteen seventies and the significance of historically accurate terms to the modern reader may seriously impact the reading experience. My most recent research was on the terminology for early condoms (one nickname: scum bag.... ewwww).

Bearing in mind the reaction of the modern reader, I do not put faggots on the fire. I do not call ladies wenches, but nor do I use the term to imply a woman of ill repute (wench meant female and was not rank or morality specific). As much as I avoid addressing the hygiene norms of time in order to maintain reader buy-in to the romance, I keep obsolete, though era appropriate words to the minimum. As far as words go, black people in Tudor England would have been referred to as Moors or Ethiopians (to name a few examples) and were present during this time, not only in a slave capacity. I wonder if, at that time, there was objection to the generalization and massive grouping of a people comprised of many tribal identities. Either way, during those times, they were certainly considered more socially acceptable than those known as Gypsies or Romany. That said, I would never disparage the Gypsy people, even in a historical when that would have been the attitude of the day. It could alienate the reader.

The question this brings to mind is: should I? Should I aim for historical accuracy despite the potential for reader reaction? I think the answer lies in whether I'm writing historical fiction or historical romance. I addressed abortion in my second manuscript, but I did so keeping in mind the modern reader response rather than the Elizabethan attitude toward it. I did this to be safe, if not true to the era (and worked it into my main character's arc of self acceptance). Today, abortion is controversial and involves the question of when life begins. All my reading of Queen Elizabeth's court shows there was no such moral quandary.

These same issues were prevalent when I performed in a living history group. How much history do you sacrifice to the need to be entertaining/non-offensive? It's a delicate balance that can be upset by a single word.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Dear Blog

 Dear Blog,
          I've been working on an alternate project lately and can't really tell you about it. Rest assured that I am still writing, but I took a left turn at Albuquerque and who knows where I'll end up.
          I've been mulling over a question. I strongly believe that a writer should be true to themselves. That said, how smart is it to keep being true to yourself when rejection after rejection tells you that you are on the wrong path? There are only so many times you can tell yourself that you just haven't found the right agent yet before you come to the conclusion that the problem is with yourself.
         I know, dear blog, that you are on my side. I know you think I'm a great writer with manuscripts the world has been waiting to see. Thank you for that. I just think that, perhaps, it may not be the manuscripts that I have already written. That leaves me with the problem of figuring out where I go wrong. The latest rejection told me there was a problem with the pacing. Does that mean it's too fast? Or too staccato? That I don't give enough breathing space? I don't know.
        This brings me back to my first point. I'm taking a break from querying, pitching, or putting myself out there at all. I need to focus on my craft and find my voice. I also need to confirm whether my voice is in genre fiction or literary fiction and go all in.
        As for you, blog, I think I'll return to the premise of building my craft in my posts. Does that mean you'll still hear about Irish dancing? Well, I don't think that I can avoid including that. I hope you don't mind.  But, for the time being, there will be no conference/pitching posts because that's not where I am right now.
        Are we cool?

         Erin Spock
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