Foreign Climes in the Slush Pile

I spent the rest of the day today trying to think of a way to make money for the Agency – fast. But other than winning the lottery, I haven’t been able to think of anything.

Loraine sent the nonfiction book about the Highland Gordons to a publisher she spoke with at the Fair who seemed quite keen. So let’s hope for an unprecedented advance on a nonfiction book about the War.

I have a bit of a theory about something I’ve noticed in the slush pile, but I can’t figure out how to transfer it into sales. I’ve noticed a lot of stuff coming through the slush pile about ‘exotic’ lands. Unfortunately, the pieces are a bit rubbish and not worth publishing, but I got to thinking. If people write what they read, then maybe, since so many people are writing about foreign climes, people want to read about foreign places? Kind of like Paris’ ebook company idea?

However, here’s where I’m going to go into a little slush pile rant. If you’ve not immersed yourself in the foreign culture do not write about it. An extended holiday, or even a gap year, to India, Brazil, or any where in Africa does not make you an expert on the culture. Anthropologists spend their entire careers studying cultures in hopes of understanding them, so a two week cruse up the Nile does not make you an expert on the Cairo revolution of 2011.

An alarming number of queries start with something like, ‘After seeing the aboriginal peoples of Australia perform their native dance on a street corner in Sydney, I was moved to write about their plight. The attached manuscript is from the point of view of a little Aboriginal girl named Xylophone and her struggle for education in the bush. I saw a Channel 4 documentary on the subject and took a trip to Ayers Rock.’ The attached manuscript is usually an offensive, and often colonial, series of stereotypes about the ‘wise’ natives, one of which who falls in love with the white saviour.

To all you out there writing these sorts of books, please stop.

I lived in New Orleansfor a few months. I lived with people from the area, I worked in a local bar, and I was fully immersed. But I could (and would) NEVER write a book ‘from the point of view of a little girl named Tabatha as she struggles to come to terms with the effects of Hurricane Katrina.’ I was in New Orleans for a Katrina anniversary. I’ve read articles and even excellent books on the matter. Friends have told me first hand accounts of ‘the storm’ and the whole thing is absolutely tragic. There is no other way to describe it. And I can never EVER put myself in their shoes.

So, here’s my suggestion to everyone who still insists on writing about foreign cultures. Do not write it from the point of view of the people there. If you must write about that culture, write it from your point of view – a foreigner looking in. Oh, and do so much research you could get a doctoral thesis on the subject.

Granted, there are people who can write about foreign cultures. Just look at Arthur Golden who wrote Memoirs of a Geisha. In no way was he a Japanese woman Geisha who lived through the first half of the twentieth century. But he’s a good researcher and the type of writer who can get into the heads of others. This is a rare talent, and I haven’t come across anything even remotely noteworthy in the slush pile.

You may even be thinking ‘I’m just as good as Arthur Golden. I can get into the minds of these foreign creatures.’ If you are thinking this, send your manuscript to one of the people you claim to represent — someone you don’t know (as a friend from this other culture will likely be unhelpfully nice as that person is your friend) – and ask them if you got it right. Then if they say ‘yes’, then put in a drawer for several months, then pull it out and show it to another ‘native’. Then if that person says it’s not colonialist twaddle, then, and only then, should you submit it to a slush pile.

Wow. That was a longer rant than I had anticipated. I think I shall end things here.

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4 responses to “Foreign Climes in the Slush Pile

  1. Good point. I’ve lived in New Orleans a few years and I struggle with writing about “the real New Orleans.” Eventually, I figured out the only way to do it was write about MY New Orleans. There are a lot of different true versions of this city. Some people will recognize mine, some people won’t.

  2. Sweet of you to say. 🙂

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