Even if I tell you, you won’t know.

That raspy, too-sweet voice. Lil was in my home, making me breakfast, after eating some Orderkeepers that Shiny had murdered.

“What in the Maelstrom are you doing here?” I demanded. “And show yourself, damn it. Don’t hide from me in my own home.”

She sounded amused. “I didn’t think you liked my looks.”

“I don’t, but I’d rather know you’re not standing there slavering at me.”

“You won’t know that even if you see me.” But she appeared, facing me in her deceptively-normal form.

(A bit from The Broken Kingdoms, chapter 4.)

As I mentioned in the FAQ post a few days back, I sometimes get rather odd questions emailed to me from readers. Most recently I got one from a prospective reader, asking some questions that honestly just made me go Bwuh? At first I thought she was a troll, just yanking my chain. But as I thought about it, I began to think maybe she was legit. Out of courtesy I won’t quote or name her, but the paraphrase is that she wanted to know the protagonist’s ethnicity/race, and the ethnicity and race of her love interest, and whether there was sex in the book, and what kind, and who with, and how graphic, and who the protagonist fell in love with, and whether the protag was straight or not, and what flavor of non-straightness, and, and, and, and. She finished this cascade of questions by insisting that she just wanted to know what she was reading — before she read it.

OK, I understand the economics of the Long Tail. There’s a lot of books out there and life is short, so it helps to figure out which ones are worth your time before you read them. And I get that some people hate surprises. I also get that some people don’t want to run into material they find offensive or traumatic, or at least not without a warning so they can brace themselves. Not too fond of surprise racism or sexism, myself; this is understandable. But there’s a big difference between skimming the keywords, so to speak, and “knowing what you’re getting.”

If, for example, I were to judge Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn solely by its keywords, I might conclude that it was chock full of that whole surprise racism thing, and go elsewhere. But given that HF is in fact a critique of racism, and in fact serves as a valuable and necessary reminder of American sins past present and probably future, I would be wrong. See, the plain truth is that not all information can be absorbed in easily-digestible bites (or bytes). Text, especially fiction, is meant to be read in context. Looking at a few sentences can’t give you an accurate feel for what a whole book is trying to do; you need to read a good-sized chunk for that, and even then you might miss something important. This kind of information must be contextualized and contemplated, grokked and cherished, spit back and cud-chewed and then swallowed again once the taste changes. That’s the only way to really know what you’re getting. You have to take a chance. Sometimes that chance will pay off.

I mean, really. You want to know Yeine’s race? She identifies as Darren, though she’s biologically half Amn. Eventually she joins a third race, the gods, because that’s how gods are socially constructed in the series. What’s all that mean? Read the damn book.

I also get that some of us have trouble finding books that give us something we badly need to see. Female protagonists in fantasy, for example, or people of color who aren’t stereotyped, or gay people who don’t die tragically, or poor people who don’t marry wealth by the end of the story — believe me, believe me, I understand the craving to see Something Different. That’s why I wrote the Inheritance Trilogy, frankly — I just wanted to read some fantasy that didn’t bore me or piss me off, and there wasn’t enough of it already out there. So I wrote my own. I know not everyone can or will do this, so instead they look at the keywords to find what they’re missing among stuff that’s already written. But here’s the problem with sorting simply by Author, Race or Love Interest, Affectional Orientation or Sex Act, Explicitness, or whatever — it doesn’t work. I’ve read books by black authors, with black protagonists, that were so stuffed to the gills with racism that I had to throw them across the room. I’ve encountered ostensibly sexy books that made me yawn. You can’t know what you’re getting before you read a book, especially not if you’re going to use such a piddly sorting algorithm in the first place.

(And lest you think I’m only talking about sorting by demographic stuff like race or gender or orientation, no. I think that stuff contains some extra-strength WTF, true, but I think it’s silly to sort by any broad-brush measure — including genre. If you’re the kind of person who dismisses all romance as poorly-written wish fulfillment, or all poetry as incomprehensible gibberish, or whatever, I’m talking to you, too.)

So to that reader with all the questions: sorry, this is as much of an answer as you’re going to get. For one thing, you can find all the information you’re looking for by looking at your library’s catalog page for my book, or its Amazon listing, or in any database that uses keyword searching; please don’t waste my time by asking me to tell you something that’s readily available elsewhere. For another thing, even if I did answer, you still wouldn’t know what you were getting, so it’s a waste of your time too. But good luck in your search for… whatever it is you’re looking for. Hopefully someday you’ll read my books, and figure out whether they fit.

4 Responses »

  1. There seem to be people in this world that feel they need to control everything. The ideas they are exposed to, the people they talk to, the books they read, etc. However, in the greater scheme that is Life, we are drawn to things that we need to experience. So if I need a good laugh or a good cry, I am drawn to different kind of movies or books, depending. And sometimes I don’t know what I need and if I were to try and control or edit what I read, I could miss out on important experiences. So blessings out to this inquiring person. I hope they find what they are looking for, in spite of themselves.

  2. FWIW, I just put your books on my to-buy list on the strength of that opening snippet and “You want to know Yeine’s race? She identifies as Darren, though she’s biologically half Amn. Eventually she joins a third race, the gods, because that’s how gods are socially constructed in the series.”

    Can’t wait to read them. :)

  3. I really like this post and agree with you that a lot of fantasy follows this archetype/formula that makes it boring for those who have read tons of fantasy (not all but it takes a lot of sifting through crappy fantasy to find the diamonds in the rough). This is the mistake I’ve seen with some breakout artists and certain publishing companies. I also really respect you because you took the same approach that I did when I couldn’t continue to look for new fantasy that didn’t exist: write my own! And you made it, which gives me hope that if I just keep writing, I might get published. One top of that, a lot of black authors either go the sex-book route (Zane) or the “Drama High” route (I think that’s the name of an actual series) that easily become dated and pushed to the back of the shelf.

    Anyway, I look forward to reading your book!