This is all a little bit of inside baseball, but not too much, so bear with me if you will ...
Surviving the Workday posts in response to the blog of the literary magazine Virginia Quarterly Review, which posted some of the comments made by their editorial reviewers on ... shall we say, unsatisfactory submissions to the magazine. Examples:
* Planet of the Apes fan-fiction! Have we no standards?
* Narrator/murderer describes how he is going to kill his victim and dispose of the body by mixing it into the fillings of eclairs. Then he talks about himself. God this is awful.
* Federico the cat is put to sleep. Boys wait for him to “wake up.” Guess what? He doesn’t.
StW's Ms. Theologian thinks this is uncivil and unfunny, and in the comments section of her post, the editor who posted the comments disagrees with her.
My feelings are mixed. I respect the need for civility, but I do enjoy literary snark. (The reviewers' comments aren't really the best examples of it, unfortunately; it's so much easier to defend incivility that is actually funny, a point I wish someone could explain to Christopher Hitchens.) Also, my husband publishes a small magazine, and the fact is that deeply inappropriate submissions are themselves discourteous. Editors are almost universally overworked, especially at small-press publications, and it's rude to take up their time with a submission that may as well state up front, "Hi, I just wanted to make it painfully obvious that your magazine isn't good enough for me to actually read and become familiar with, but might be desperate enough to publish my work! Have a nice day!" I can understand the desire for revenge.
So I'm mixed. And a few things on my own blog, recently, also open the question of what communications are private and what are not, and what courtesies writers owe one another. In a recent post, I linked to a Cary Tennis advice column, and said I found his response "as usual, meandering and bizarre," Rather to my surprise, Mr. Tennis found my blog and posted a comment saying, "Man, that hurts." I wondered if any of my readers would call me out for discourtesy toward Mr. Tennis, but none did. Had anyone done so, I would have responded that for writers to publicly critique each others' work is a longstanding literary tradition, and that while I would never use such language to in critiquing the work of a friend, or even to Mr. Tennis's face, to do so to a fellow professional in a public forum is an accepted mode of conduct. Manners are about context.
But in the blog world, context can rapidly shift from private to public. The Virginia Quarterly's reviewers never shared their snarky thoughts with the writers themselves; rejections were always phrased in more tactful language. The blog made a private conversation--between reviewers and editors--public, though they kept it anonymous to spare the writers embarrassment. (Although there can't be all that many people submitting "Planet of the Apes" fanfic to literary magazines, I perhaps naively hope. UPDATE: As you'll see in the comments, identifying details were changed by VQR.)
I was outed myself recently, although for more benign purposes. When I was blogging about money mores, I e-mailed Boston Gal of Boston Gal's Open Wallet and asked her if she'd link to my post in her blog. She did--and she published the entire text of my e-mail to her, as well! I had not intended that for publication. I wasn't offended, exactly; she did it because she thought I'd made the request in a good way, and wanted to analyze exactly what made it work, so it was very complimentary, and I was and am grateful to her for her kind words and for giving me space on her excellent blog. But I was slightly embarrassed because I'd used the word "blogwhoring" in my e-mail to her. This is a well-known term among bloggers, but it's a word I'd only use in private; it's a little too pop-vulgar to be an appropriate part of the official Miss Conduct lexicon. (Well, until now, anyway.) I was using a more informal, blogger-to-blogger register with Boston Gal, and it was a bit disconcerting to see my private register suddenly made public.
I wonder if anyone who has written to me was surprised to see their letter pop up in this blog. We newsies (I say in my hardened-journalist way, tilting my fedora back and taking a nip from the whiskey bottle in my bottom drawer) assume that every letter we get is for publication unless it is specifically noted otherwise. But I wonder if our readers and letter-writer-inners know that?
What are your thoughts about privacy, civility, literary discourse, blogwars, assumptions, O dear readers and letter-writer-inners?
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