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Sticks and Stones May 19, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, education, history, Texas, VIPub, westerns, Wild West, writing.
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I just finished reading James Reasoner’s most excellent Diamondback and appreciated how the book’s trajectory had finally ended in publication. For lots of reasons you can read about in the afterword, the book was marketed around in ‘84 but never found a home until now, when James did it VIPub.

This is a perfect example of a professional quality book being published by the author because legacy publishers passed on it (for myriad reasons). In a way, the book fits a sub genre that no longer exists, at least among legacy publishers. Men’s adventure fiction has a market, just not one big enough for mass distribution. But a few thousand readers, which I hope this will garner, can find the kind of fiction they’ve been missing for so long.

But I wanted to touch on something else in the book and publishing in general. Times certainly change and what legacy publishers find acceptable changes, too. I had a book rejected because the protagonist was a racist–neutrally racist, not actively discriminating but not too bothered when he saw it. Set in the 1880s, West Texas, building the railroad from El Paso to San Antonio, it deals with what the Chinese railroad crews faced. The character arc ran from Jack being as described above and finding both friendship and love as he came to understand the crew working for him. In other words, he changed. A character arc has to start somewhere and go somewhere–it seems to me this is the proper direction to go. But without a starting point of racism, what’s the point? Jack starts by defending them and ends by defending them? Not much drama or anything to root for there. The reader should want to see him change, and for good reasons.

In Diamondback James uses language that has become completely, totally verboten in polite company. The characters using it are not the good guys and you don’t *ever* want them to win. Their language defines them and gives the protagonist, Tom Sloane, serious adversaries. You can cheer when he triumphs because the antagonists are such racists. But I doubt the book would ever be considered by a contemporary legacy publisher without changing the language and emasculating the true evil of the bad guys. Such words cannot be used now.

I worry that some sales venues, such as Nook, have a hyperlink to report objectionable content. To some, Diamondback (and my own China Jack) would fall into that category because of language. These are the same people who demand Tom Sawyer be bowdlerized because of its language.

It’s hard to overcome racism if you’re not allowed to portray true racists, even in fiction.

Expurgated Tom Sawyer

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