Well, it’s been a torrid couple of weeks on Facebook, particularly among the historical fiction sorority. I don’t mean to ignore the few men who have had their say, but it has been predominately between women. What it boils down to, for me, is that some people react strongly when challenged. They might claim that there are two-sides to an argument, but their actions don’t in any way support this. They are defensive in the extreme and resort, sooner or later, to the personal. Well, I’ve had enough. And I’m not the only one.
First, in a discussion about the Akashic Record, those of us who dared to question the validity of this kind of thing, who talked about cold readings, who suggested that the little insights ‘discovered’ by the Akashic reader were in fact prompted and supplied by the writers themselves, who did all this politely, dispassionately and intelligently, were accused of making ‘personal attacks’ and being close minded. To cap it all off, the person who began this discussion deleted the thread from facebook, moved it to her blog and made access to it by invitation only.
Next came the attacks on a writer of historical romances, Katharine Ashe. Her books might not be my cup of tea, but they sell well, from the bits I’ve peeked at seem to be written well and, as she’s a history teacher, I’m guessing she pays close attention to the historical background. I don’t read historical romance, but I don’t look down on those who do, or those who write it. This woman’s work was, publicly and often, referred to as ‘trash’, she was accused of ‘churning’ it out, it was assumed that her books are full of anatomically correct, graphic sex. Now I don’t know if they are and, frankly, don’t care. The reason for this deeply uncourteous behaviour? Katharine Ashe has the temerity to have a name very similar to another writer. That writer doesn’t like this, not one little bit! Katharine Ashe has no reason to exist and, because of her and (apparently) Rupert Murdoch’s publicity machine, the work of the other writer of similar name was being ‘suppressed’. Harden up, princess! Try having the 8th most common British surname for a while, try scrolling through page after page of google searches to find yourself. That’s what I have to do, but I don’t bitch about it or take it out, viciously, on someone else. It’s just the way things are.
Then there was the well known internet troll who screeched at me, swore at me, called me a liar, told both me and a friend of mine that we were ‘ugly pigs’, continued to screech and swear despite being asked not to, and destroyed what was a very nice post from a rather nice person. Here’s a little sample of his work: “I almost forgot, you silly women are the most b-o-r-i-n-g group of writers that I have ever seen. No wonder that you don’t sell anything and I haven’t heard of even one of you.” Here’s another: “Then don’t make snottyassed statements aimed at demeaning my ancestry. You know nothing about me and you make yet another smart assed remark. Who in the fuck are you anyway? Just shut your yap and you won’t be bothered. You started this for no fuckin reason so don’t cry about me lady!” Charming!
I almost entirely forgot one bizarre response to our Don’t Defame the Dead! campaign. Someone (one of the people who got quite personal on the Akashic thread, as it happens) suggested that it was but a small step from this to banning and burning books. Yes, that’s what the microscopic fine print on all those cards says… Burn Books Now! You might have missed it… The Don’t Defame the Dead! campaign wasn’t any kind of deliberate decision. Kathryn Warner made a card and I made a card and before we knew it there were Don’t Defame The Dead! posts on at least five blogs. All of them were prompted by some of the nonsense we come across not only in novels but occasionally even in works of non-fiction. The leap from there to suggesting that we were advocating banning or burning books was breathless and spectacular – as leaps to entirely erroneous conclusions often are. We’d just like it if writers were a little more careful, that’s all.
The latest bout of insanity, for which I and several other people were Banished Forever from the facebook presence of another writher, is still echoing across cyberspace. A claim was made about the parentage – specifically the father – of an English king. Those who know about that time questioned this person. “What is your source?” they asked. Now, you’d think that, of all the questions in the world, this one wouldn’t be particularly problematic. I’m more than happy for people to ask me for sources and I’m happy to provide them. If I make an assertion that’s contradicted by the sources, or isn’t in the one I thought it was in, then I accept that I got it wrong. I don’t get defensive and try to shout the challenger down. And I don’t unfriend and block them. But that’s what happened to me and several other people. It’s quite simple really – if a writer isn’t prepared to defend their work, maybe they should stop pretending it’s historically accurate. “I made that up because it fit my story better” might be a blow to someone’s histcred, but at least it’s honest.
A lot of discussion about history is debate. Debate isn’t someone saying something to the ooohs and aaaaahs of those who hear it. Debate is about backing up what you say, defending your assertions, conceding ground if necessary and learning something. Debate is about having ideas that can be confirmed, supported, altered or discarded as the case may be. For instance, I am currently of the view that the illegitimate daughter often ascribed to George Nevill, Archbishop of York, may in fact be the illegitimate daughter of his uncle, George Nevill Lord Latimer. My reason for this… yes, it’s a guess right now… is that future archbishop George would have been around 14 at the time of her birth. Not impossible, but unlikely. Now if someone shows me a source that clearly shows that future archbishop George was her Dad, I won’t be furious that I’m wrong. No, I’ll be delighted to finally know the truth of it. So, I’m always surprised when people attempt to shut down debate when asked for a source. There is a connection between knowing how to engage in a debate and academic experience. Not that those with none are incapable of it, but those who have studied or taught in a university really ought to know how to. Looking down your nose and saying, “Just believe me, challenger, as my fawning fanpoodles do!” isn’t any part of debate as I know it. And if a writer sets themselves up to be better than others, then they sure as hell had better back that up.
So, politely challenging the nonsense of ‘psychics’ and the con that is the Akashic Record is ‘disrupting the conversation’; having a similar name to another less successful (but more ego driven) writer is grounds for being publicly insulted; stating something that you know to be true (and can back up) gives trolls the right to swear at you and call you names; asking a writer of historical fiction for a source to back up an extraordinary claim is to ‘pillory’ that person; and the way to win an argument is to block everyone who disagrees with you… So many new things to learn about the world of facebook. And writers of historical fiction. And trolls.
An important contribution to this discussion from Hannah Stewart, can be found here.