13. August 2008 · Comments Off on Memo: Telling Stories · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, History, Literary Good Stuff, sarcasm, That's Entertainment!

To: Professor Denise Spelburg,
From: Sgt Mom
Re: Clarifying Matters Literary and Beyond

1. According to the story here (which may need registration to complete the link – sorry!) you are painting yourself in colors of victimhood, now that you are being righteously criticized on line and have received a ton of so-called hate-mail, for your part on kicking up an all-mighty fuss about a bodice-ripping historical novel about the youngest wife of Mohammed. (Or would that be a burka-ripping historical novel?) Welcome to the real world, professor… it’s that place that extends somewhat beyond academia, where reactions to words and ideas can sometimes get wild and woolly.

2. In this real world, we have writers – sort of like myself, as a matter of fact – who like to tell stories to people, sometimes quite lengthy stories based on historical characters, facts and incidents. This is a whole genre out there, loosely known as “historical fiction”. At one extreme, the best of them are carefully researched and stray no farther from verifiable and researched historical fact than anyone in your own university department. Then there is the other extreme, in which practically anything goes. In either case the operative word is “fiction”… which means, my dear Professor… that stuff is made up. Created out of whole cloth. Imagined. Clear so far on that concept?

3. At least, you are well-enough acquainted with enough of that world to know that provoking the adherents the so-called religion of peace can have occasionally fatal consequences. I am cynically amused to note that in your academic world Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses” is worthy of defending against threats of violence because he can, according to the story “…claim he was raising an existential, theological query, however impertinent. Jones’ book is a mere burlesque.”

4. Ahh, we see – some ideas and authors are more equal than others. A piece of light and fluffy historical fiction is not worthy of the protections afforded to the heavyweights of the intellectual world. Duly noted, Professor. You are a self-important snob, as well as being a tattle-tale and a bit of a coward. If doing a nice little blurb for “The Jewel of Medina” was beneath the dignity of a heavy-weight intellectual and scholar such as yourself, then wouldn’t a polite note to the management at Random House, declining to comment have been sufficient, with or without the back-up from your lawyer. You didn’t want your name and credentials attached to Ms. Jones’s book in any way. I – and hardly anyone else has a problem with that.

5. The breathless warning to your friend at the altmuslim discussion group was in the long term, neither helpful or necessary. In fact, it seems rather malicious; “Ohhh, she is talking such trash about you… and what are you going to do about it?” is the way that it comes off to those of us who remember junior high school pretty well. Professor, we didn’t like that kind of nasty, passive-aggressive manipulation then, and we like it even less now. Perhaps that is how the game is still played in academia these days – but again, in the real world, it doesn’t go over well. Take note.

6. Finally, I can’t help wondering if this is a little bit of unseemly possessiveness about the subject on your part. I would assume that you have a great deal invested in your visualization of Aisha, and did not take very well to another writer picturing something different. There is one other historical researcher who has done a great deal on the Stephens Townsend Party, the subject of my own historical novel. I got a very odd, hostile vibe from him, when I communicated with him – it was as if their story was his exclusive property and I was trespassing on it by imagining something different. I am grateful that I did not ask that particular researcher for a blurb for Truckee – at least he did not sic the forces of the Oregon-California Trail Association on me for my trouble!

7. I do think Ms. Jones ought to be grateful to you, however. “Jewel of Medina” will now probably sell in quantities several times over what it would have, if you had just quietly given a pass on blurbing it to begin with.

Hoping you will find these remarks helpful
I remain the unrepentant scribbler of historical fiction,

Sgt Mom

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