Saturday, June 06, 2009

BEA Roundup

Officially, I did not go to the BEA. I went into the building on Sunday, the only day I was available because of Shavuos, but I didn't have a badge and I went to meet with my editor, who was in town for the convention and pre-scheduled it. At that point I could have gotten a free badge from her, but the convention was over in about an hour and I have no more room in my apartment for free books. From my editor and my boss (who attended on Friday), I learned the following things:

(1) There were less people this year. Some booksellers didn't show up at all, or sent very few people. It was not a wasteland, but it was no 2007.

(2) There were a lot of panels on e-books, as nobody knows how to price them and is mad at Amazon for arbitrarily deciding how books should be priced for the Kindle. Whatever the price is, in the publisher's opinion, it's always too low. About a year ago I went to a talk where I publisher said he thought e-books should be priced the same as regular books because they were the same, which had to have been the stupidest thing that came out of anyone's mouth that evening. Obviously they're not the same, and the lower price is a discount because of the production saved in creating a physical book and the money spent on the reader.

(3) Whatever company that decided to send drummers and dancers to promote their new e-Book deserves to die a fiery death of flames, or at the very least get some acid in the face. In other worsd, the people who had to be at the BEA for 3 days (or even 3 hours, really) did not appreciate their ear-pounding presence.

If you have interesting tales from the BEA, feel free to share them with the other readers here.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Travel Writing

I'm back. You probably figured that out from, you know, a new post being up, but I feel like it's the thing to say. For years I haven't traveled abroad because of illness, except to go to Israel, but this year I said, "Screw it, I'm doing okay" and went to Asia, and surprised everyone by not getting sick. Of course I mainly ate trail mix, so that probably contributed to it.

If you're a writer, you should really travel. If you've been saving up for years and you're not dipping into that savings to pay rent, do it now. My plane ticket was cheap, my tour was like half their regular cost, and there were all kinds of free upgrades at hotels because they were deserted. Of course now I have to be really careful with my spending, but I'll manage. As they say, "You can't take it with you." But really, it's important to get out and see something completely foreign, which opens your eyes to so many different things that contribute to the creative process. Man, I hope this is the last time I ever use the words "creative process."

Every once in awhile we get a travel memoir at work - today was one of those days - where the traveler is obviously racist. You can tell because they talk at great length about how open-minded they are and how they're really throwing themselves out there, and then go on to say how like every Middle Eastern guy tried to rape them. You would think that extensive international travel would broaden horizons, not limit them. Of course stereotypes are based on fact, and there is horrible shit out there that will harden your stance on things, but usually if you come out of a place with no respect for its culture and a bad opinion of its people, it's justified because something bad happened to you.

For example: I have friends I met through the SCA who were shot at by a Palestinian sniper on a regular basis, and knew people who had died because the windows of the car weren't bulletproof. They could point to the sniper site, actually, from their backyard. The problem was, they lived on the border with Gaza (a lesser border, with just some chicken wire up), and a blue-topped UN car would drive up and down the road every once in a while to make sure that the Jewish townspeople weren't violating Palestinian territory by, say, arresting or killing the one sniper. Or just destroying his nest. Nope, the UN is there to safeguard the Palestinians. Thank goodness.

Now obviously that's an isolated situation, and the politics are vast and complex and the Palestinians are really suffering, not entirely but mostly because of Israel, but I would see a lot of situations like that, and they would harden me, whether I wanted them to or not. Like seeing a blown-up bus or having a friend who was on a bus that blew up, but she got off just in time because she was in the back. These things are events that shape your perception because they're just so terrible, and if you happen to write about them, you should probably do so with every attempt at perspective (that sniper felt the Israeli community had stolen his home even if it wasn't true, he was given a gun by the government but not food, he sincerely felt that the situation was desperate enough to call for violence, and if he had his own home and good plumbing and and a job, maybe he wouldn't pick off kids walking from the school building to their houses with a rifle, i.e. some of this is our doing for not helping him). People have called me a racist for telling the sniper story, though people have also called me a racist for saying that Scientology is a dangerous cult, so I feel that word is just thrown around a lot. Also, Scientology is a dangerous cult.

It bothered me that this writer, who was talking about the 1970's when she traveled around Asia Minor and the Middle East, discussed her various fears based on ignorance (she wouldn't be allowed in mosques, she would be raped, she would get involved in some Arab honor killing somehow) and then described a trip where none of those fears manifested into reality, and she had no attempt to justify her early assumptions or say something like, "How foolish I was to think that all Turkish men are gay." It just astounds me that a person could be that way, and then have the gall to write about it as if she did a great thing by traveling to these horrible countries where the food was all bad because she didn't know what it was and so she ate bread and onions the whole time.

So, travel. Then consider what you actually want to say before you write about it. We will judge you.

Note to commentors: I am not interested in turning this into an Israeli-Palestinian political discussion; I was just using that as an example. I will reject comments that are about that and not writing or travel writing and instead are attempting to inform me of how racist I am.