Monday, February 25, 2008

Arguing with a reviewer

Daniel Ausema gave a passing review of Wind Follower on Fantasy Forum. He says the book was heavy-handed. Interestingly, he's the only one who thinks this. Other christian reviewers haven't thought that at all. Strangely, secular writers don't think it is.

In fact, the book is seen as so unusual that a noted feminist, atheist academic will be presenting a paper on it at Swancon, an academic conference on Speculative Fiction...and at Wiscon, the feminist, alternative annual speculative conference. Check out the title of her paper: Out Of Egypt: The Palimpsest Of Speculative And Other Fiction(S) In Carole Mcdonnell’s Wind Follower. She sees Wind Follower as a book which innovately deals with and plays with different kinds of genres including slave narrative, romance, missionary testimony, high romance, interracial romance. But then again, she's an academic and secular -- therefore well-read-- and understands what I was trying to do.

Heck, the book has been read by a Yemeni-muslim, by several atheists, by narcissitic teenaged kids, by my angry-with-Christians-Orthodox neighbor and no one else saw the book as heavy-handed. So, what's going on?

Maybe he's ashamed of the gospel or getting his cringing moments mixed up with thinking that I'm being heavy-handed. Trust me: I know the feeling. I've been known to cringe when some musician walks up to receive an award and says, "I thank my Lord and savior Jesus Christ." I then realize the musician isn't being heavy-handed at all. He said what he felt was necessary to say. So I suspect that Mr Ausema thinking I was heavy-handed had more to do with his own issues of what was allowable in a Christian novel than with any heavy-handedness on my part. His heavy-handedness-gauge and cringe-o-meter are way too sensitive. Besides, the book is about a pagan conversion. I was just as heavy-handed in depiciting the religion of the pagans as I was with depicting Christian spirituality. Wind Follower is a multicultural Christian high fantasy novel which tells the story of First Peoples as they encounter imperialism mixed with religion. That is an important issue to People of Color who are Christians. White Christians have written books for centuries but never have they written stories from a pagan's point of view which showed the spirituality of pagans. Perhaps, like Mr Ausema, they just are so inured in their white reality they don't care about the lives and loves of non-whites.

Once thing that is really dawning on me is how individual tastes are affected by region, race, and culture. So far immigrants, folks with strong immigrant backgrounds, white folks who deal with black culture, and minorities immediately like andn understand the book. The Carl Brandon Society has recommended this book as one of the twelve books by Speculative Fiction writers that should be read during Black History Month 2008. And several atheists in that society have read the book and truly liked it. So if atheists don't think it's heavy-handed, and if most Christians don't think it's heavy-handed...what is Mr Ausema's problem? The folks who tend to like it least are white Christian men who live among other white Christian men. Something about not having to learn to deal with other cultures going on there, i think.

Mr Ausema also stated was how uninterested he was in the love story. In C S Lewis essay, "On reviewing," Lewis stated that a reviewer should not review a genre he neither likes nor understand. Those who love romance love it immediately. Those who don't...well.... Why read a paranormal romance if the pages with the romance bores you or if you are not interested in how love grows between a man and a woman? In addition, if one isn't interested in anthropology or the study of religion and only wants a stereotypical Euro-fantasy then one should not pick up the book either.

Another reviewer....who was more open-minded had no problem with it.

I often forget that although conservative Christians are a large part of the population, this is one of the few countries where Christians tend to be pretty uninterested in social change. Abortion yes, but other than that, there are no conservative Christian groups against racism, etc. I have found that many Christians, like Mr Ausema are very provincial. Perhaps even shallow. As a culture our newscasts are filled with news stories about ourselves. If it weren't for the foreign news programs I watch, I sometimes wouldn't know about the latest flood catastrophe in India or the latest uprising or disaster in some other country. And talk about being shallow in his committment to story. He didn't even enter into the story well enough to spell my name correctly (McDonnell, thank you) or to state the book's title properly (Wind Follower, not Windfollower). If the guy couldn't read closely enough to know my name and the book title -- which are on every page-- I don't think he knows how to read closely to understand the book.

Daniel Ausema stated the first 150 pages of my book which is there to help the reader understand the marriage rituals and pagan spirituality of a world that is non-Euro well... is not of interest to him. Sometimes a reviewer simply doesn't understand a book and is afraid to admit that the book is a little above him. Or maybe that he thought the book was beneath him.

But I suppose what really annoys the heck outta me is that God and my friends and family know what I went through and that Wind Follower is a prayer to God. Those who suffer will understand that it is not heavy-handed in anyway. It is a plea to God to heal me, to heal my son, to help me to endure. But those who live at ease can always mock the prayers of other people. And that is what Wind Follower is to me...not a work of art, but a prayer to God.

-C
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