Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Literary Friends and the Spectre of Nepotism

Virtual book tours. Great publicity tools (I think, or at least hope, after all the work I'm putting into mine!), and more: opportunities for in-depth literary discussions; certainly I'm finding my own to be. But from under my Fictionbitch hat I don't find them unproblematic.

Today my tour goes to the blog of novelist and short-story writer Charles Lambert (where he asks me about my political consciousness - with a small p - as a writer, the differences between writing for a radio and a short story audience, and the reasons for the variety of the stories in my collection). Charles Lambert, I am pretty thrilled to say, is complimentary about my work, and the reasons I'm so thrilled are that I admire his writing greatly in turn and see in it some resonances with my own, and also - perhaps because of those resonances - he pays me the particular compliment of understanding my work on such a level that he is able to invite me to discuss the issues that are most important to me as a writer.

But here is the problem. What does this look like from the outside? Especially if you know the other, extraneous circumstances: we are published by the same publisher; we became friends via our blogs (and more latterly FaceBook); we have met twice, if briefly, at our publisher's book launches. And last year I hosted his book tour, expressing my admiration for his collection, A Scent of Cinnamon, and on another occasion wrote very positively about his novel, Little Monsters. Isn't this just a question of literary buddies bulling each other up? How can the outside observer take seriously any positive critical comments? This is of course the time-honoured complaint against reviewers, but the situation here is even more potentially dubious, since - although, as I say, I have discovered they can be far more - virtual book tours are fundamentally promotional tools.

Here at Bitch Towers I have historically distanced myself from promotion, and for this reason I tend to host book tours on my other, 'cuddlier' blog, as one publisher recently called it, and to promote there the books of my friends.

But the fact that is often overlooked is that our good opinions of the books of our literary friends most often precede our real-life friendships with them, and that the friendships only arise precisely because of literary resonance. One's writing, after all, is an expression of one's personality, and more often than not if I have been moved or impressed by a person's writing, then the odds are that when we meet in the flesh we will get on together and consequently become friends. Yet once we are friends, others may suspect that our claims for each others' work are not to be trusted.

This whole problem rears its ugly head when it comes to seeking cover quotes for a book, which I'm currently doing and which I wrote about last year, charting my somewhat ridiculous bid to avoid all accusations by searching for a quote from someone I didn't know.
Post a Comment