Should I Have Agreed to This Interview?

August 2, 2012
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My goal in creating and launching The Bookcast has always been to introduce you, the reader, to quality indie authors and their work. I am working hard to earn your trust, by presenting books I think you will find worth reading.

A disclosure: I rarely get to read an entire book before I interview the author about it. This is one reason I do not represent the output of The Bookcast as a “review” of a given book. It is an interview with the author, and should be taken as neither endorsement nor criticism.

Having said that, I do set criteria that authors and books must meet before I will agree to do an interview. After a minimum level of literary competency, I advise authors I am not interested in interviewing them if their book is “pornographic, hate-spewing, racist, homophobic, etc.”

Now to the interview in question, the one I did recently with Victoria Foyt, author of the YA novel “Revealing Eden: Save the Pearls Part One.”

The portion of Victoria’s book that I read prior to inviting her to be interviewed consisted of the first ten pages. It struck me as an interesting futuristic, dystopian story that attempted to offer a fresh twist on questions of race and the environment.

But perhaps I should have checked the reader reviews on Amazon before I made my decision. There is a broad and passionate backlash against Victoria’s book, from many readers disgusted by what they see as its racist tone. The vitriol continues on the book’s Facebook page.

Over on Goodreads, the negative comments – including unwarrwanted personal attacks on Victoria Foyt – triggered a backlash against the backlash on stopthegrbullies.com.

Victoria Foyt has now responded with a post on Facebook that also appeared on the Huffington Post, in which she said, in part:

“…this book is meant to provoke the white community that has never experienced racism or been oppressed because they have been in the majority in this country.”

For the record, I do not believe Victoria Foyt is a racist. But many readers have made the point that, intentionally or not, her book is racist.

It was my error, that I didn’t do my due diligence before offering Victoria an interview. But I am still not sure I would have turned her away. I think it would have been a better interview if I would have asked her directly about the issues raised by her readers.

And my failure to see, in the excerpt that I read, that many readers would be offended, well, that is on me, too, and I apologize to you.

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7 Responses to Should I Have Agreed to This Interview?

  1. Lola
    August 2, 2012 at 7:10 pm

    Non-racist writers write racist characters all the time, and that can create a racist story. If it provokes thoughtful discussion it can be a great benefit. Sadly the wrong crowd dug their nails in first and turned it into a drama against the author personally, instead of taking their emotions and using them to do something productive. Obviously the emotions of those who actually read the book were provoked. Instead of say, “The author is racist,” why not say, “what does this story say about our society, what is, and what needs to change?”

    Sometimes writers write things that portray a message, or character that hold beliefs different to their own, and they do so with hopes of showing the harsh realities the rest of us wish to ignore. People can get very angry when they are forced to confront these realities, and sometimes their anger ends up being misplaced, as was the case here.

    I feel for the author, while at the same time this had to be an expected outcome. I hope people can move past this and onto the important discussions regarding racism, instead of hyper-focusing on the author and how they can hurt her personally for making them experience these emotions.

    I’ve also often found the people who cry “racist” so readily are angry about something they see in themselves and are trying to avoid acknowledging. Being faced with themes of racism makes them uncomfortable, and they can convince themselves THEY aren’t racist by crying “racist” at those who forced them to face their confusing emotions surrounding the subject.

  2. Lola
    August 2, 2012 at 7:13 pm

    As for the 1-star reviews on amazon, I wouldn’t give them any weight. The majority of them come from what appear to be troll accounts. Non verified buyers that haven’t reviewed anything before, and all posted within the space of a few days (even bestsellers don’t get reviews that quickly). Hopefully Amazon will investigate and delete the troll reviews so customers can have a fair depiction of the reception of this novel by those who actually read it.

    • August 2, 2012 at 7:24 pm

      Lola, that’s a good point about the Amazon reviews. I hope that if they are found to be trolls that Amazon will remove them.

  3. Ari
    August 3, 2012 at 2:02 pm

    Bill, I am thankful for your acknowledgement that you dropped the ball on really considering whether this book and interview was worth discussing and giving publicity on your platform. Obviously it’s your website and that decision falls to you, but I wish you had reconsidered further and pulled the interview itself.

    I find it a little bit concerning, because many of the people I have spoken to, who have read the book as I have, found plenty to be alarmed and horrified by in the first 10 pages. You might look at some of the more in depth reviews available– it’s more than “vitriol.” It’s passionate, intelligent and articulate people presenting exceptionally clear and precise breakdowns of several flaws with the book, and why they are so offensive and hurtful. XOJane has a good review, http://www.xojane.com/issues/save-the-pearls-revealing-eden-ya-novel-racist and http://screwthepearls.tumblr.com/ is doing a chapter-by-chapter break down (as are others.) On top of that, there is plenty to find just frustrating in Ms. Foyt’s work, given the shoddy world building and “science” that doesn’t make any kind of sense, stereotyped characters and storytelling that just isn’t compelling or interesting. Or the bad romance plot that really isn’t new and doesn’t present anything insightful or thought provoking that would make parents actually want their teens to be reading.

    I’m also pretty unimpressed with Lola’s comments regurgitating the same weak deflections and excuses that have been used elsewhere to attempt to discredit and silence valid criticism.

    The backlash against “Save the Pearls” isn’t because a few people “got their claws in” and made it a spectacle– the book itself is a spectacle of racism. It isn’t because people are “uncomfortable” dealing with the realities of racism– the people speaking out are both people of color, who are actively hurt by the reality of racism everyday, and white allies who work very hard at deconstructing the white supremacist paradigms that we’re all indoctrinated in from birth. And regarding the point that people should take their emotions and do something constructive? We are. We do. All the time. The fact that people also use the internet is not any kind of proof of what we do or don’t do otherwise in our free time to combat oppressive systems.

    Ms. Foyt herself has used that same, “Calling this book racist” or even and “asking whether all the suspiciously positive reviews came from white reviewers” means that “YOU are a racist” argument, and it hasn’t been true from Ms. Foyt any more than it’s true now. Pointing out racist paradigms does not make someone a racist, and that will never be true. It’s just another silencing tactic.

    And so is accusing all of the 1-star reviewers of not having read the book. Firstly, as I said, the problems with the book become readily apparent within the first few pages, and it doesn’t get any better by the end of the book, I can assure you. There are excerpts available of either one chapter or the first three chapters of the book that many reviewers have made use of and concluded that the book wasn’t worth reading. There’s nothing invalid about that sort of review. (Especially since, many of us who have forced ourselves to read the WHOLE thing, found it an extremely painful and odious task only accomplished through sheer stubbornness.) Second, I can make the same argument for most of the books 5-star reviews on amazon as well. Almost all of them came from reviewers who were sent the book specifically asking for reviews, and while there’s nothing wrong with that per se, it becomes suspicious when that’s the ONLY source of good reviews. And many of them are only rewordings of the synopsis from the promotional materials. How is that a legitimate review…?

    All of these deflections are just red herrings and ad hominems about how the reviewers giving negative feedback on an extremely flawed book somehow don’t have the “proper authority” to give that negative feedback. And that’s just ridiculous.

    I don’t know Ms. Foyt personally, but it’s an undeniable fact that a white person raised in the United States will be raised in a racist white supremacist ideology. That’s not a personal attack on her or her parents, it’s how racism works. Whether Ms. Foyt is an intentional racist of the style of Neo-Nazis or just your average unexamined privileged white person who just doesn’t recognize the harm of everyday microaggressions in the things they do that they think are “nice”… She’s created a work that quickly and clearly demonstrates prejudices that the rest of us recognize, including her claims that “colorblindness” is a solution to racism (it isn’t, and that in it of itself was an indication to many that she probably had no business trying to write about racism.)

    Yet, she chose to place racism and racial tension at the center of her book’s plot, and that makes the book itself as well as the author’s choices in story crafting equally legitimate targets of critique. There may be some reviewers who have gone more vitriolic than others, but in my observations the thrust of criticism has been entirely on point and valid in what it is saying. Ms. Foyt is a privileged white woman who doesn’t understand how racism affects those it oppresses and all the complex ways that it’s upheld. And her continued defenses posted on her FB page and on Huffington Post where she has called those negative reviewers “reverse racists” and such, only demonstrates how much that is true.

    I am a little saddened by your statement Bill, that you feel that you might still have gone through with the interview even if you had known the full scale of the backlash… But perhaps some more direct and pointed questions about her topic and the premise and science behind her writing would have been … more interesting, at least.

    In your interview Ms. Foyt states “that’s a fact,” regarding the premise of her book, that whites were more susceptible to radiation because of their lower melanin levels and that’s why they died off and that’s how the darker skinned races took control of the planet. … That’s… Not, even remotely plausible. Moreover she predicates the entire concept of whites being oppressed simply on being a numerical minority, something that the history of South Africa pretty starkly refutes, as does the persistence of racism and oppression of people of color in “majority minority” areas.

    Ms. Foyt also states in your interview that a good starting place for a book is a fear that people already have. I wonder, what her answer would have been, if you had asked her if she considered at all the repercussions of writing a book about whites being oppressed JUST as soon as they’re no longer the majority, when that is a fear that is already very real and present among some people in this country. And it is a fear that is very dangerously motivating a lot of hate and discrimination, like the legislation in Arizona or the profiling and illegal surveillance of American Muslims, as well as outright violence.

    It would have been interesting I think, if you had asked her more questions about her choice of the words “coal” and “pearl” and why she uses them so casually yet in the book’s universe they’re racist slurs. Or how much time and energy she put into really thinking about how oppressed minorities actually experience oppression, and who she talked to during her writing process about how to characterize oppression in a real way. I wish you could have asked her why she chose to use black face, and why it was necessary that it be something the ruling class would INSIST on, rather than a compulsion brought on by internalized racism of a white minority… I wish you could have asked her why there is such an age gap between the mandatory “mating” age of women vs. men in her book, or why there is a cap on how many couple can produce in a society that is trying so desperately to survive…

    Sigh. So, yeah, I wish if you had to do the interview, that you had read the whole book and could have asked more critical questions about it. I’m sorry you didn’t. I know this comment is really long, but I was very frustrated with Lola’s comments standing unchallenged.

    • August 3, 2012 at 3:00 pm

      Ari, I find little to disagree with in what you have said. I simply didn’t do my homework in this case, and I won’t make excuses for that. Had I dug deeper, I would have either declined the interview in the first place, or would have confronted Ms. Foyt with the objections so many people have raised.

      I appreciate your taking the time to listen to the interview, and to compose such a thoughtful comment. I promise to work harder to earn your trust.

  4. jbridger1313
    August 8, 2012 at 7:30 pm

    I feel that it might be a good idea in the future to read a book in its entirety if you do a podcast and check the criticism from sources so you can ask questions in a balanced review.

    It’s unfortunate that you didn’t find the first ten pages upsetting. Many people, myself included, have read the whole book in order to offer detailed and exacting reviews on Goodreads and on Amazon.com. There have also, by now, been excellent essays on its issues which include:

    1) Deb Reese’s essay here from the perspective on an expert on indigenous people studies – http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2012/08/indigenous-peoples-in-victoria-foyts_5.html

    2) Alicia McCalla’s blog post as an author of color in the sci-fi and fantasy genre – http://www.aliciamccalla.com/index.php/110-from-white-racial-superiority-to-mother-of-an-evolved-species-a-critical-analysis-of-save-the-pearls

    3) A critical review of the book’s advertising and stereotyping – http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2012/08/07/will-criticism-stop-white-authors-writing-black-characters/

    4) A critique of why rewarding this book sends a bad message – http://www.clutchmagonline.com/2012/07/the-problem-with-awarding-victoria-foyts-save-the-pearls/screen-shot-2012-07-29-at-9-17-11-pm/

    5) Finally an essay about the problematic nature of the anti-bully group at Goodreads – http://fozmeadows.wordpress.com/2012/08/03/racism-revealing-eden-and-stgrb

    6) finally an essay on the racism from Legendary Women, Inc. to be followed this week with comments about its sexism – http://www.legendarywomen.org/content/racist-issues-victoria-foyts-save-pearls-revealing-eden

    I’m willing to forgive and I understand it’s hard to run a blog, but it is definitely best, I think to read most of a work and its honest press before interviewing an author to avoid these issues in the future :(

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