February 4th, 2008

If I put question marks after everything does that make me a speculative writer?

There's a book review in this week's Sunday New York Times in which critic Dave Itzkoff manages to call the YA fantasy in general and Harry Potter in particular fomulaic, undignified, and unartistic, all in one sentence. He also wonders "how any self-respecting author of speculative fiction can find fulfillment in writing novels for young readers," and goes on to ponder how another writer (China Mieville, whom he seems to find perfectly respectable) comes to "be given unfettered access to the impressionable minds of children."

Wow. So many places you could go with this. But my main thoughts are these:

  • When adults speak about children like this, it always sounds a bit as if they're the native speaker, discussing the tourist in their native tongue, with no idea that the foreigner can actually understand every word they're saying. I'm sure there are adults who really believe that children need to be sheltered from the endless depths of their own impressionable minds, but thankfully I have never been of an adult to count myself one of them. There's a quote from Madeline L'Engel where she says "write the book that you need to write, and if you find it's too dangerous for adults, write it for children." I am so glad that no one ever told "serious" writers like Charles Dickens, T.S. Eliot, Michael Chabon, Mark Twain, C.S. Lewis, or L'Engel herself that writing for children was beneath them. And that, if anyone did, they never listened.

  • if speculative authors, according to Mr. Itzkoff, ought to be above the gross indignity of writing for teens and children, what do you think he'd say to that horrible spectre, that unthinkable phenomenon: the professional writer who also writes fanfic?