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Question of the Week: Controversy

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Has your writing led to controversy? What was the topic that brought on the firestorm, and was the controversy ultimately helpful or hurtful?


Wednesday, Lauren Baratz-Logsted will tell you all about controversy because she’s had plenty – without even trying. I wonder if there will be some controversy surrounding her new YA book about abortion? Hmmm, we shall see. As you wait for Wednesday, you can “friend” Lauren on MySpace. See you then!

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  • Simon Haynes
    February 12, 2007

    Someone accused me of being a bad, bad man after reading a portion of my latest book. I went to their blog and defended my reputation, so hopefully that’s left me untainted by unfair accusations.


  • mattilda
    February 12, 2007

    Oh, wow — controversy! Isn’t that the point?

    And it’s funny how people think that’s the point — the point is to say what you need to say, and if there’s controversy… well, let it roll!

    I remember one review that slammed my first novel, Pulling Taffy, for glorifying barebacking when the point was exactly the reverse — to honestly portray struggles to stay alive (sexually and otherwise), to stay safe (sexually and otherwise), to stay sane and splendid in a world that wants you dead.

    Mostly, though, due to my work exposing the violence of gay assimilation — the ways in which the dominant signs of straight conformity have become the ultimate signs of gay “success” — I get slammed for “infighting” or “dividing the community.” The point is that mainstream gay people with power and privilege are using the illusion of a monolithic “community” to oppress other people and get away with it, like gay bar owners arresting homeless queers for getting in the way of happy hour or gay landlords evicting long-term tenants with AIDS so they can make more money, etc.

    I guess challenging this kind of violence will always be controversial.

  • Robin Slick
    February 12, 2007

    Yeah, I’m always full of controversy. When I wrote Three Days in New York City, I ran into the label thing bigtime. Mainstream publishers told me to lose the graphic sex but it was important to the story. I tried going the ripped bodice route, but, much to my shock, I learned that it was all forumalatic and a book about a married woman having an affair was against all rules in romance world. I could have been published anywhere on that circuit if I would agree to make my heroine/narrator a widow or divorced. But a married woman having sex with someone other than her husband? NEVER.

    So I then I found an indie company with an erotica imprint just getting off the ground and I went with them, because they had no rules — I mean, because they publish erotica they wanted sex, but they didn’t care if it was m/m, bsdm (I always get those letters messed up…did I just give the Hebrew greeting instead?), married women cheating on their husbands… whatever…the only thing they insisted on was strong plot, good story telling, dialogue and characters. Gee. Just like a real mainstream publisher.

    In theory.

    I still get the occsasional “You immoral slut, you” emails but I love those and save them and plan on publishing them someday.

  • Bruce Hoppe
    February 12, 2007

    As a reporter for a small town newspaper, I was once issued a subpoena by the town’s attorney to appear in district court and reveal my sources for an investigative journalism piece I did about a fishy land deal the city fathers had encumbered taxpayer with. I’ve alway considered the subpoena a badge of honor. I mean, for a little country weekly to go from articles that usually ended with, “and they all had chocolate pudding for dessert,” to one that generated a subpoena from the good old boys, was, I thought, a quantum leap in coffee klatch journalism.

  • Jim
    February 12, 2007

    My short stories set in Appalachian Kentucky have sparked some local controversy, touched a few sensitivities about how I portray people of the region. It’s inevitable if you’re honest in your writing, though. Chris Offutt writes the region as he sees it, as do Ron Rash, Chris Holbrook, Lee Smith, Silas House, etc. Each version is shaded differently, each true in its own way.

    When you sit down to write, you always face this choice: do you write the world as you want it to be? Or do you write it as it is…or at least as it seems to you?

  • Ronlyn Domingue
    February 12, 2007

    Of all the contents in my novel that SHOULD generate controversy (from relatively blatant sex to abortion rights to questions of religious faith), the one thing that readers take me to task on most often is that the men in the book are “too good.” And that’s bad?!

  • Gail Siegel
    February 12, 2007

    Controversy. Hmm. Have to think this one out. I don’t think so.

    On the other hand, at Susan’s urging I’m putting in this link (in a non-linky way, sorry). If you feel like a bedtime story, I’m the guest reader on Tothworld this week. There’s a man-from-uncle-ish musical intro, then me.

    If you take a look at the right hand bar on Litpark and scroll down, you’ll see the link to Susan at Tothworld from a while back.

    Paul Toth is a lovely guy (and a fine, gritty writer) and if any of you have a chance to do his podcast, by all means, do it!

    Oh – back to controversy. A friend of mine did write a bestselling, VERY controversial book about the Cook County Jail system (Steve Bogira). The first story on the podcast — the Telemarketer’s Point of View — I think that’s his favorite story of mine.

    So, controversy by association?

  • Lance Reynald
    February 12, 2007

    (even the comments are fun today)

    so, looking at the title today now has an old Prince song playing on a loop in my head…and that is gonna be hard to get past.

    congrats to all for their assorted scandals.

    Funny thing is that I never consider my writing to do that controversy thing, I write what I’ve seen…sometimes that causes a reaction. What strikes me as normal or just the way it was upsets some people. and I never seem to know or see it the same way… Much in the way that I think I write from a very open place and others think me mysterious (which I don’t get at all.)
    but controversy; not so much 😉
    and Mattilda- those are all boats that need to be rocked…BRAVO!

  • n.l. belardes
    February 12, 2007

    I’ve been reading Lauren’s book, Vertigo. It’s one of the most well written books that I’ve read in regards to reviews on my site…

    I’ll answer the controversy later today. Youch.

  • Greg
    February 12, 2007

    I’ve almost been sued twice, I think.

    The craziest one happened when I was an editor/writer for a shitty magazine in Cleveland and the Gravity Games were in town. Since this magazine paid me almost nothing, I asked if it was okay to freelance a story to a couple of the free weeklies in the city.

    My publisher told me that the Gravity Games gave our magazine (the now-defuct Hip Pocket Magazine) $50,000 to throw an after party for the athletes, and so I went with that lead in my query. Apparently the weeklies contacted the Games immediately to ask who this schmoe was (me), and why they were giving us so much money.

    My publisher called me to say the Gravity Games were threatening a lawsuit against our magazine unless I personally wrote a letter of retraction. Needless to say, it was a stressful 24 hours. And a frustrating one for me to take so much blame…

    Apparently a sponsor (Sobe) was the ones sponsoring the party, but I was given the wrong information. I was pretty pissed because I asked my publisher several times for the details of the event and if I could freelance it, and he consistently gave me half-answers and generic logistics.

    Maybe this isn’t what you were looking for as it wasn’t something I wrote that was responded to by the public…

    Oh, and I’ve had a lady demand I retract an article about her – claiming slander and that I lied… but it all worked out and I didn’t edit the piece at all. She was in the wrong.

  • Aimee
    February 12, 2007

    I think this interview sparked the most talking. But I cannot take credit for the impact or the things that it caused. Credit goes directly to the woman I interviewed.

    However, I did get the right-wing stirred up on campus when I gave speeches depicting how my white male son benefited from affirmative action. I was even nominated for, “Miss Bleeding Heart Liberal 2000,” By the right-wing newspaper. I lost to a follower of Trotsky but I wear that nomination as a badge of honor.

  • Kevin Noel Olson
    February 12, 2007

    After I wrote my children’s novel, the movie Superman Returns came out. There was a letter to the editor complaining about the part where one of the toy-dogs ate the other ostensibly because it was starving to death. I thought this was entirely realistic.

    Although nobody has yet complained, there is an incident in my book where a Chihuahua mysteriously disappears. The incident may or may not be related to the main character’s eight-pound spider named Eightball. No controversy over the passage as of yet, but the question continually comes up of, “What happened to the Chihuahua?” I just tell people that I don’t know, and I understand sometimes small dogs are carried away by eagles. One thing is for certain-there is no connection between the toy dog eating the other toy dog in Superman Returns and the disappearance of the Chihuahua in Eerey Tocsin in the Cryptoid Zoo. Eightball wasn’t even in Metropolis when something ate the toy dog.

  • Mark Bastable
    February 12, 2007

    I wrote a humorous piece for Esquire – a sort of extended rant, really – about how much I dislike Mexican food. (To be fair, I meant European adaptations of Mexican cuisine, but there’s no laughs in making nitpicking qualifications of your own premise.) I said, amongst other things, that all Mexican food conspires to the consistency of babysick, and that the only thing guacamole has going for it is that it doesn’t taste quite as disgusting as it looks. Like semen.

    Esquire received the most wonderful hate mail suggesting that I was a rabid racist, that hanging was too lenient for the likes of me, that I probably had a very unusual relationship with my aged mother and that, anyway, who would take the word of anyone who was prepared to admit in print that he knew what semen tasted like?

  • dennis mahagin
    February 12, 2007

    I like the term subversive.

    It equates with originality, I think– on many levels: sylistic, thematic, textural, and socio-political.

    Controversy, as long as it does not become “self-serving”–as in the James Frey affair etc– ought to exist right in the sweet spot of a good writer’s wheelhouse.

    Mattilda summed it up very well, indeed:

    “Let it roll.”

  • Kimberly
    February 12, 2007

    I’m working on a project right now that has, on a small level, made my relationship with my father extremely tense.

    It’s akin to Jim’s troubles in Appalachia (writing the world as it is truthful to me) and I ended up hurting my father’s feelings pretty badly.

    Some of his side of the family knows what the script is about and has stopped talking to me, because it’s stirred up some deep-seeded (seated?) truths about our family (thinly-veiled, of course) and I’ve been sternly warned not to write about our family anymore.

    Which of course, spurns me onward, willful child that I am!

    But controversy is at the heart and soul of drama (aka human existence) and how placid and dull the world would be without it, eh? It feels a little tougher when it’s controversial on this small, intimate level vs. having the world know you’re a man who knows what semen tastes like (is that controversial?) or when you can laugh a little louder about it, but I still wouldn’t change a word or a thing I’ve done.

    Controversy’s too juicy…

  • Aurelio
    February 12, 2007

    I would love to be controversial. Where do I sign up?

    The best I’ve been able to garner is, “He’s weird.”

    I’m looking forward to hearing what has to share.

  • Aurelio
    February 12, 2007

    I meant “What Lauren has to share.” Sheesh, Susan, what about an “edit post” button, hmmm???

  • LaurenBaratz-Logsted
    February 12, 2007

    Egads, I hope people aren’t disappointed! And of course now I can’t say anything controversial to contribute to the discussion today – that would be tipping my hand.

  • Shelley Marlow
    February 12, 2007

    Yes,we do what we have to do. A few instances come to mind:

    I was asked by a woman at an art opening what was the title of my first novel. When I told her, she just walked away without a word. I read from that first novel, Swann in Love Again in the Lesbian Arabian Nights at Zinc bar and one person in the audience fainted. The scene included a fetish-stistically described chocolate bar and sex positions impossible in physical reality.

    When I was an art student at Calarts, a group of us put together a student magazine called the Walt. A number of printers refused to print the Walt because of the gay content, including my story. A number of Los Angeles newspapers covered this controversy, causing more interest in our student magazine.

  • amy
    February 12, 2007

    Once, I wrote a blog post where I flippantly (because I do live to be flippant) declared that God had to be both male and female. Unbeknownst to me, I had a regular, silent reader (translation: stalker) who just so happened to be a Bible banging fundamentalist as well. He decided I was a heathen going to hell for declaring God to be anything but a man and let me know this–loudly–in my blog comments section. I attempted to reason with him by saying things like, “I’m right and you’re wrong,” but that didn’t seem to work (I was younger, greener, and less wiser back then). Later, I think he did some internet searches on me and threatened me with all kinds of things. He was actually quite a frightening individual. Jesus Christ would have given him a very long parable/lecture about camels and needles, or sewing what you reap, or maybe even forced him to do some charity/volunteer work with some lepers.

    That experience didn’t make me exactly temper what I say now. But I find I am more reluctant to give out a whole lot of personal information about myself online–I know, I know! You’re thinking: Well, Amy! That’s just common sense when you’re online! There’s all kinds of psychos out there!

    But I still think that’s kind of sad, because it’s not the kind of person I am offline and also I’d rather people know who they’re talking to than hide behind a screen name like “Crazy Bible Bob.”

    What was the question? Oh, yes! Controversies. I like ’em. But only when I’m not a part of them. For me, they’re like boxing: I’d rather watch than participate.

    I suppose if I ever do have something published, I might start something with someone else out there. But I only write fiction and I mean, honestly. Why would anyone get all worked up over a fake story (she said, intently ignoring famous controversies surrounding novels like THE SATANIC VERSES and THE DA VINCI CODE)?

    Hoo me! People can be so weird!

  • Robin Slick
    February 12, 2007

    forumalatic???? I actually typed that?

    See, the thing is, I had my mind on Penthouse Forum this morning for reasons I cannot disclose.


    I’m boycotting LitPark until you give me an edit button. All day I’ve been cringing over this!

    And if you believe that…

  • mikel k poet
    February 12, 2007

    I’m very bland and middle of the road. No ups no downs. I m like the middle class is supposed to be: docile. Controversy is not me and, not really conversely, I am not controversal. I drink cappechino. I pay bills. I walk my dog. I feed my cat. What I am melts over into my writing.

  • Richard
    February 12, 2007

    In 1984 was in a scandal called Legislators in Love.
    I was an English and creative writing teacher at Broward
    Community College. One evening, to demonstrate the provocative power of words, I used some college
    stationery to write to members of the Florida State

    ‘As you know,’ my letter began, ‘the Florida
    Endowment for the Humanities regularly funds projects of interest to scholars.’ That’s it. End of paragraph.

    The unstated transition to the next paragraph was
    an exercise in cognitive science. Paragraph two began: ‘I am doing a survey called Legislators in Love.’ Nowhere did I claim the FEH was funding me, but most people of average intelligence — and even state
    senators — probably would assume there was a connection. I asked the senators if they would please
    take the time to fill out the enclosed questionnaire, which asked their opinions on a subject of interest to all Floridians: love.

    The 15 questions were as innocuous as I could make
    them. A sample:

    ‘Have you been loved while in office?’

    ‘Have you ever loved a member of another political

    ‘Do you think love is important to the future of our

    I made a dozen photocopies of the letter and survey
    and mailed them out in Broward Community College envelopes (I sprung for the postage stamps) to 12 of our upper-chamber legislators in Tallahassee.

    Then I sat back and waited.

    A week later I found myself summoned out of
    class by one of the Central Campus’ top administrators, who said it was urgent I call BCC President A. Hugh Adams’ office.

    President Adams’ office was in downtown Fort Lauderdale, away from any of the three BCC campuses. Apparently I’d really wreaked havoc, because Adams had actually phoned the Central Campus himself, a rare event, I was
    told. He had summoned the provost to Fort
    Lauderdale. It was crisis management time at BCC.

    When I called the president’s office and asked to
    speak to Dr. Adams, I was told that I should go home and await a call from the provost.

    When I put my key in my condo’s door, I could already hear my phone ringing. I let it ring while I changed my clothes, had a can of soda, checked the mail. When I finally picked it up, the provost, sounding as if
    he’d rather be sticking needles in his eyes
    than dealing with this, explained that a powerful member of the Senate staff had seen the survey and was appalled that a BCC faculty member would waste taxpayers’ dollars on such garbage. He called Adams and said if the college could afford to handle state money so cavalierly, maybe they could afford a big funding cut
    when the Legislature convened in a couple of months.

    Thus we have the elements of a scandal: money and
    sex. Except the total cost of my survey — to me, not taxpayers — was about $6 in postage and Xeroxing (though I admit taxpayers did kick in a dozen envelopes).

    Similar surveys by social science professors are sometimes funded by $25,000 grants.

    And nobody had sex, either. Of course I knew
    everyone would equate ‘love’ with sex. Another exercise in cognitive science.

    Anyway, I was told that I should come to a high-level meeting the next day. I told the provost that I was ‘steamed’ that ‘some stupid politicians’ would take my survey and use it ‘to besmirch the good name of
    our college.’

    ‘I’m going to call this Senate staffer and give
    him a piece of my mind,’ I said.

    The provost said that wasn’t necessary.

    ‘OK,’ I said. ‘Do you want me to give some sort of
    statement to the media?’

    The provost sounded nervous and said no.

    But a scandal, even a sex-and-money (almost) scandal,
    isn’t a scandal unless it’s in the media. So I called the folks at the Tallahassee bureau of the Orlando Sentinel and told them that if they wanted the scoop on a
    new scandal, they should call the office of the state
    Senate staff and ask about Legislators in Love.

    Meanwhile, I called the office myself and spoke to the
    offended staff member, convincing him that I was a lunatic and that my ‘egregious mistakes’ shouldn’t reflect on BCC.

    But I defended my survey, which he called ‘the
    worst [he pronounced it ‘wust’] example of scholarship I’ve ever seen from anyone on the state payroll . . . It’s ridiculous.’

    ‘Do you think love is ridiculous?’ I asked.

    ‘For state senators, it is,’ he said.

    The next day, I met with college administrators,
    several of whom took me aside and said the situation was ‘hilarious,’ but that none of the
    others would see it as they did. I agreed to write a
    letter that disavowedany BCC or FEH funding of my study. I alsoapologized for signing myself
    ‘Professor Richard Grayson,’ since I did not hold that
    title (although in aP.S. I explained that I planned to legally change my first name to Professor). The survey was to go on, though; on that everyone was agreed.
    Nobody wanted a pesky case about stifling
    academic freedom along with everything else.

    I took full responsibility and also blame.

    The next day the banner headline across The
    Orlando Sentinel was PROF’S LOVE QUIZ STIRS ONLY A WHAT’S THAT?!

    My brother had predicted it would be called
    ‘Prof’s love quiz.’

    Headline writers are pretty predictable. So are
    newspapers in general. I knew that they’d love this little scandal. It also made the front pages of
    local papers.

    People assumed I’d been ‘found out,’ not realizing
    I’d hoped things would turn out as they had.

    Broward Sen. Ken Jenne was moved to make a statement
    on the lack ofrigorous intellectual standards in my research. Callers to radio talk shows took sides for and against me. Letters to the editor debated whether I’d
    been irresponsible. A morning deejay did a
    sketch about me asking legislators smutty questions. The scandal lasted about a week and a half.

    After the scandal waned, I decided to give my
    superiors a break and resign from BCC. I was ready to move on, anyway.

    When I wrote a sarcastic letter to the school newspaper (which had printed an editorial titled ‘Grayson’s
    Antics: Abuse or Amuse?’) saying I had made a
    terrible mistake and was ‘paying a heavy price for my indiscretion: forfeiting the right to teach the grammar that I dearly love,’ many of my students, and some of my colleagues, thought I was being serious.
    Responding to my statement, ‘I don’t know what will become of me, but I am thinking of starting a rock
    group called Men Without Work,’ one math teacher
    told me that the scandal would probably preclude a successful musical career.

    Only one state senator sent the survey back. He or she
    did think love was important but had never been in love with someone from another party.

    However, a couple of months later, Dade state representatives Ileana Ros, a Republican, and
    Dexter Lehtinen, then a Democrat, announced plans
    to marry. They later moved into a house that straddled the borders of two state Senate districts and got elected to the upper chamber from adjoining districts. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen became a Republican and has served as a Congresswoman for many years, while her husband became the county prosecutor.

    As a result of the notoriety, I was asked to write
    a column for a pornographic magazine and declined. A conference at Miami-Dade Community College invited me to take part in a panel discussion on censorship. I
    argued for censorship, on the grounds that all
    comedians need straight men.

    But the best memory I have of this sordid scandal
    is the support I got from a dear lady in Winter Park, who wrote me that she’d read of my ‘plight’:

    ‘Sure they were shocked, up in arms, and assumed you
    were nuts . . .Love — that is, divine Love — is always refuted or rebuffed. Florida needs you! Stand your ground! Do not apologize! Keep up the good work! If
    you are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, what care
    you? Christ also was persecuted, and so was Paul. My prayers attend you as you proclaim Love . . . ‘

    Happy Valentine’s Day.

  • Noria
    February 13, 2007

    I was pretty sure my book would generate some controversy when it came out–I imagined some irate fuddy-duddy threatening to boycott Wal-Mart for stocking it. Never happened. Then, when I was selected as a Seventeen Magazine summer must-read, I thought I was in for a good ol’ book-burning–surely some puritanical parents would object to their fourteen-year-old daughters reading about ass-fisting. Nope. I also thought thought the book might create some friction in my family. But they all read the book and, to my surprise, they all still love me.

  • Terry Bain
    February 13, 2007

    I think the only thing I ever wrote that caused any controversy was in the form of email, because I’m not so bloody careful with email as I am with everything else.

    Sigh. Perhaps I’m doomed. To be boring. Sigh.

  • n.l. belardes
    February 13, 2007

    I’m positive I get more hate mail than anyone at LitPark. I wrote a scandalous book that gets ex-cops creeping around me, strange emails of murder in my inbox, and people telling me I’m going to end up in a gutter.


    I took an online jab at a DA recently. He’s linked to my novel in an unproven way—tales of his alleged debauchery float around Bakersfield air like a virus. He was written about in the Rolling Stone, in newspapers, in blogs and Edward Humes book, Mean Justice. My book fictionalizes a past the DA might be a part of: men leading hidden dualistic gay lives and preying on young boys. It’s a tale that includes a fictional account of the once publisher of the Bakersfield Californian. He was supposedly one of the “Lords of Bakersfield”. His sister now runs the paper. Did he commit murder in real life? What does my book say?

    Should I be afraid?

    My novel is mostly told through the eyes of a young boy, the fictional account of a man who is now in his 40s, in prison for life, for murder—he wants really bad to be on Oprah.

    The DA was messing with one of my filmmaker friends. So I fought back on my blog yesterday.

    I took a swipe at the city of McFarland, CA recently. They’re running a scandalous school board. They’re doing untold favors they shouldn’t be doing.

    I took on two major social networking websites and the media giant behind them in another recent blog article. They’re not paying a guy they should be paying. Ask Susan, it’s not easy to run a blog community.

    Sunday, a user of the social networking site representing a small local paper had his entire profile erased by the product manager, not for calling me a “tabloid blogger,” I don’t mind that bullcrap, but for harassing me online. Some people don’t like that some bloggers don’t candy coat the truth.

    And that’s just within the past few days.

    Yet, my site is isn’t all about scandal. It’s very much about the arts, community, and silliness. People just need doses of reality here and there.

  • Kevin Noel Olson
    February 13, 2007

    The rant below is something I just mailed to my publisher concerning not the content of my work, but the formatting by my publisher. I was taken aback, but recovered enough to tell this individual that all I’d called her for was to give her money (at least implying I didn’t care about her opinion on the matter). It’s not that she was completely wrong, it’s that she was entirely rude to my perception of the incident. I’ll leave the rest to the reader.


    I called this lady (we’ll use the word for now) to ask about doing the Pacific Northwest Booksellers show in Sept. She goes way off on me about starting page one on the left-hand side of the page and not leaving blank pages at the end. I told her I was just calling to give her money for the show, and that formatting was the publisher’s domain. Well, she just about harangues me, and I pull a book off my shelf published by Little & Brown, a big book publisher. It has like six pages of blank pages! Then, I additionally pull down Frankenstein by Koontz, which has a ton of blank pages at the end! After that I pulled down Frank Beddor’s Looking Glass Wars. Guess what? Six blank pages at the end!

    Yes, some books don’t have any blank pages at the end, but everyone who’s published anything knows that when a book is being printed a certain number of pages are required to print a book cheaply and reasonably. I did not explain, nor should it have been necessary to explain that fact. As far as starting on the left hand side rather than the right hand side, that saved 19 pages by my reckoning and kept down overall costs. It’s not physically impossible to print a book that way, and it’s not aesthetically displeasing. All this was fine, but the haranguing I felt I received from her seemed entirely unnecessary. Needless to say, I won’t be going through her to get to the book show.

    Eerey Tocsin is a beautiful book, and nobody else even mentioned (or cared) the fact it starts out on the left page! Not the ladies at the bookstores, nor the college professor, nor the New York Times #12 best-selling author on their list. All these individuals read and enjoyed the book. Nobody cared that it started on the left-hand side. So what if it does. If its never been done before (which I highly doubt), it seems to be about time someone stopped wasting space between the title page anyway. If it’s odd, it seems befitting that a book about Eerey Tocsin would be that book!

    What was most insulting was the fact she did not mention anything about the book’s contents. I hope you understand that none of this is aimed at you, I’m entirely happy with the way the book came out. Just my rant about what a pain certain publishing ‘professionals’ can be.

  • Kevin Noel Olson
    February 13, 2007

    I’m in total agreement with the person who wants an edit button. I’ve posted twice today, and left enormous errors in both posts. If it becomes controversal though it might be appropriate for the thread. Be that as it may, it would be nice to be able to edit in case of any airors.

  • Anneliese
    February 13, 2007

    I wanted to “show, not tell.” I was tired of labels and wanted only to describe the characters, leaving it up to the reader to visualize my description and move on through the story, or, if they preferred, leave it to the reader to label the characters.

    I wrote: “Up ahead, with their bikes dropped across the sidewalk, are three boys: one skinny little white boy in a striped t-shirt and jeans, one dark skinned boy with a humongous afro, and fat Carlo.”

    I received comments by two people that calling the one boy: “…dark skined boy with a humongous afro…” was racist.

    I tried to explain that my intention was anything but racist, that I was wanting to provide a visual. These people told me that I should have wrote, “African-American boy.”

    I tried to explain that I did not know the boy was African-American, that, as the narrator, I could only describe the scene. The boy could have been Cuban for all the narrator knew. I tried to explain that genealogy was not the point here. I tried to explain that if I used “African-American” then perhaps I should have used “Irish-American” for the skinny little white kid and “Mexican-American” for Carlo. And if I indeed wrote that PC-route, then I’d have a scene better suited for an article in Scientific American Magazine than a short story.

    I tried to explain but the two were determined to see me as racist.

    I hate being misunderstood. 🙁

    On the other hand, more readers loved the story and never read anything into the description. However, I never let that majority override the few who provide criticism. Instead, continuing years later, I still resent the few who misunderstood.

  • Juliet
    February 13, 2007

    I caused my own controversy.

    What is now my book was originally nothing more than some journalling on my blog which led into the story it now is (edited significantly). Problem was, I failed to properly draw the line for readers (got a lot more than expected) and couldn’t, in many ways, draw the line for myself between what was mine in terms of my history/present situation, and the lines I’d drawn in terms of hiding identities etc.
    My writing, as I think everyone’s is, comes from the mix of my own feelings/history and no matter what, is always a reflection of something I know… something I’ve tasted.

    At the time, I never intended to publish anything. I’d just come through a time where someone who had sexually assaulted me years earlier had been sending video and audio clips to my home. The crisis of that had ended and for once the question of crisis workers and police and all such was quiet.
    And so I was just blogging out some feelings, changing identifying features of friends etc. adding the component of trying to love someone romantically during the course of all that, and sadly, unintentionally setting up myself and others to be hurt.

    After a friend of mine found out what I was up to, (the fictionalization of self) she used my site and killed off the main male character. Such act didn’t bode well in the web world, and I ended up hurting many more people than I could ever apologize to; nor in my real world, where that character was based on someone I was desperately trying to do relationship with.

    I ended up coming in a day later to see all the damage and knowing that while she had ended things badly (nothing like a whole host of strangers thinking my husband had died) I was the one who had let the line get blurred in the first place.
    After seeking advice from those I respected, I shut down all sites, packed all the writing away and mourned for lives I’d hurt.
    (If you’re reading this and thinking I was/am a jackass, I assure you, the year or two I spent not writing was punishment enough for me.)

    A few years later, someone came to me asking about the things I’d written and asking if I had ever thought of using the writing again—using it as I’d originally intended: a way to get the feelings out, to work through trying to figure my way thorough sexual brokenness and answering the question: what do you do when you’ve destroyed everything and don’t know how to stop.

    I said “nope, too screwy/scary” until that same friend (now re-united) told me that her main reason for “outing” me was the fact that my writing had made her feel all the things she never wanted to admit to… but that also, she had found hope in the story.

    So, in the end, I did some rewriting, and once published, found that the story DID bring hope, did build up what was broken…

    and so both in terms of my own history and those I know and have met who suffer the aftershocks of sexual brokenness, and in terms of the pain I caused in the writing of it…

    In Spite of All the Damage seemed to be a great title.

    (Again, to those I hurt, I am sorry. You know how to reach me, should you need/want to hash this out.)

  • Juliet
    February 13, 2007

    Reading through everyone elses’, I don’t feel so alone.
    Funny how shame works its way in…

    Lance, you are everything scandalicious.

  • Ric Marion
    February 13, 2007

    I used to write a regular column for the local daily on a freelance basis – a feel good, maybe smile, maybe get teary, about growing up on a farm, and sometimes my family and neighborhood.
    Was quite popular, and, since it had my picture on it, folks would stop me at the drugstore and such.
    Oddly, right wing fundelmentalists and bible bumpers would automatically assume since I wrote about family and tradition, that I shared their beliefs and would try to enlist my platform to champion their causes.
    I asked my editor if I could write just one column – let them know I was pro-choice, pro-gay, progressive and die hard liberal.
    She said, No – let them think what they want – and if they call you, try to persuade them to your side.
    Some of the best advice I ever got.


  • Susan Henderson
    February 13, 2007

    Wow to all of you for your stories and your bravery and the lives you’ve lived. And to think I almost switched the question because I thought this would be too hard to answer.

    A bunch of things are going on behind the scenes, [I JUST ERASED A BUNCH BECAUSE I FEEL I’M INVITING THE POWER OF THE JINX]. Just wanted you to know I’m reading along and I think the world of you guys.


    Oh, and p.s., I love that I have an edit button and nobody else does! It’s almost my favorite thing in the world!

  • Tish Cohen
    February 13, 2007

    I once started a tongue-in-cheek office tabloid called The Tattler that skewered every last employee, including myself. The staff gobbled it up and everyone wanted to be part of it. Except my nastier-than-nasty boss. Turns out she had very little sense of humor about herself. Huh. Who’d have thought…

  • LaurenBaratz-Logsted
    February 13, 2007

    “A bunch of things are going on behind the scenes.” ??? I don’t want to jinx anything, but I’m naturally dying to know what this means!

  • n.l. belardes
    February 13, 2007

    Susan: Yeah, quit hiding all the goods. Share and share alike.

    Juliet: Wow.

    Ric: I know how you feel. Folks keep thinking I’m super-liberal. But I’m more moderate and conservative. I just let people think what they want…

    Tish: Now that’s some funny shit… hahaha…

  • Robin Slick
    February 13, 2007

    I’m going to send you 50 emails an hour until you tell me.

    Or, in the alternative, I’m going to send you 50 emails a day until you tell me or get me an edit button.


    (My family is away until Monday and I have nothing but time on my hands)

  • Robin Slick
    February 13, 2007

    Arghh..I meant 50 emails an “hour” both times, not “a day” as I typed the second time.

    You are a sadist, Susan Henderson. I just wish there was a way I could erase the edit button from my blog when you post! I even offer you the option of deleting!

  • Susan Henderson
    February 13, 2007

    Ooh, but I can’t because I have to run Green-Hand to Brecht practice. Today’s a racing around day.

  • Juliet
    February 13, 2007

    What a day! Sex positions, fraud, harassment, rockin’ on… drugs… the makings of a great book.

  • teresa
    February 13, 2007

    My art casued controversy in University. I did a show of Landscapes From A Dark Continent. Harmless, eh??? I thought so. They were of landscapes but the kicker was that they were composed of penises, ofr example, a beautiful sand dune, but if you looked closely at the two rocks in proximity of the jutting sandbar, you saw A Dick. I wanted to avoid the stereotypes of penis imagery as hard driving hammers and showed a kinder, gentler, more of a peaceful penis. Patrons went nuts and wrote me all kinds of hate mail in my guest book, calling it obscene and filty, and this was from my fellow students!! –teresa

  • n.l. belardes
    February 14, 2007

    I think it’s funny when writers are paranoid about typos.

    Yes, Robin, I was talking to you. Hehehaha.

  • Lance Reynald
    February 14, 2007

    Juliet- thank you for dropping in, I knew this one was one you just couldn’t miss. and You went so far past what I expected … always a pleasure and always impressed. XO!

  • Lise Winne
    February 14, 2007

    I just got through watching Frontline on PBS about the government subpeoining jounalists to cough up their confidential sources and notes (some are being jailed for not complying). It would seem that having a confidential source is controversial and recalcitrant (at least to the government). But journalists feel that to force the issue of compromising confidentially is putting news and journalistic integrity in jeopardy. How do you all feel about this? Anyone else see this program?

  • n.l. belardes
    February 14, 2007

    I just used an anon source in a Korn/Buck Owens blog. I wouldn’t give up an anon source for a fun article, or for a controversial blog… People would lose trust.

  • Bruce Hoppe
    February 15, 2007


    I’ve been there, see my post (#4).

    Didn’t see the Frontline piece but, from my own experience, I think there are a couple of things at work, worth some thought.

    First, the protection serves a good purpose to the extent that it encourages sources, who have information about matters of public concern but who fear of retaliation, to come forward. Think government and corporate whistle blowers. That was the case in the series that I wrote on a shady land deal the elected town officials were involved in. So I can say, from my experience the protection worked.

    Second. The protections, which by the way are not blank checks by a long shot–they vary with state statutes and other considerations like whether national security or criminal issues are involved–also serve to reign in abuses of power by overzealous government and corporate entities. They would use the power to compel reporters to reveal as an intimidation/retaliation tactic against both reporter and source ie., the source is exposed and the reporter’s credibility as a guarantor of confidentiality is ruined. Again, in my case I felt that was what the Town attorney was after, to threaten me with jail via a contempt of court ruling and get me to back off further pursuit of the story. (It didn’t work since the judge dismissed the preliminary hearing onto which the subpoena had been attached.)

    As is always the case there is another side to the issue. And this is one I admit I’m still working on in terms of where I stand. It involves the Scooter Libby trial in progress and currently in the news. Here the situation is reversed. The informants, Scooter Libby and company, did not function as whistle blowers i.e., coming forward with information for the purpose of enhancing the public’s knowledge, raising public awareness on matter of public policy. Instead the informants leaked information to reporters to support their political agenda, which was to retaliate against political opponents who had gone public with information that was damaging to the White House’s credibility on Iraq. So here the system was turned on its head. Instead of functioning to promote public enlightenment, the confidentiality protection was used by the leakers to conceal knowledge from the public of a dirty tricks campaign against political opponents. The leakers “used” reporters who, under the confidential source tradition, would be bound to secrecy, as their smoke screen to execute a political ambush. There has been much debate about whether the prosecution’s pursuit of breaking reporters’ confidentiality in this trial will discourage future potential whistle blowers. The jury is still out on that one. My hope would be that some good can come out of it. It seems to me that what is needed is for the definition of a “protected source” to be more clearly defined by both the courts and reporters “on the ground.” If the results are that distinctions wind up protecting legitimate whistle blowers and not political operatives than we’re money ahead. Of course, whether reporters will continue to allow themselves to be used is another matter. In an era of the journalist as celebrity, I’m not all that optimistic that some reporters, being handed a juicy scoop, would turn it down, because it compromised their judicious application of confidentiality protections.

  • Paul A. Toth
    February 15, 2007

    While I can certainly understand being misunderstood (nothing is more debasing than getting a bad review from Publishers Weekly, then noticing that just below it lies a glowing review of a freaking Star Wars novelization), I have to agree the lit world could use some controversy. By that, I don’t mean the veracity of memoirs or accusations of plagiarism.

    To me, the biggest controversy in publishing ought to be why no one can figure out how to sell novels in this country, rather than screenplays disguised as novels. Hint: It isn’t the sole strategy of readings to which travel is paid for by…the author. Until that problem is solved, even negative controversies are probably the best promotion we can expect.

    So go ahead, Norman Mailer, take a swing at me; I *might* be able to take you down now.

  • Bernita
    February 16, 2007

    It doesn’t take much sometimes.
    I found that having a character say “Jesus Christ” when confronting a zombie can give rise to mild controversy.

  • […] Lise Winne started an interesting topic in the controversy Question of the Week comment thread, so if you want to share your thoughts on the government subpeoining jounalists to cough up their confidential sources and notes, feel free to keep that conversation going. […]

Susan Henderson