Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Editorial Lie

A common complaint I often hear among the Nigerian literati is that there are no good editors in Nigeria. We say this because our markets are flooded with too many poorly-written tomes that move straight from a writer’s pen directly to a printer’s press. These would-be authors are in such a rush to publish that they barely sit down long enough to properly punctuate their work. When taken to task many of these writers will complain that they couldn't find a decent editor. And our literati – the critics, authors and intellectuals – have jumped on this bandwagon.

It is true that traditional editorial structures don’t exist in Nigeria. In the West, a brilliant author could submit their manuscript (through an agent) to a publishing house and find themselves assigned to a brilliant editor. Together, the author and the editor would work to make the manuscript shine. This would take months of bickering and rewriting. It would be hard and it would be painful – for both parties – but in the end the final book would be the best book it could be. In Nigeria, most publishing houses are no better than one-man operators with printing presses. Those that aren't are under enormous pressure, and often can’t afford the time or the cost of an in-house editor. A writer looking for important editorial feedback doesn't have a lot of places to go.

However, I think the bigger problem is the attitude of many writers themselves. Too many Nigerian authors are going into the world of letters with dreams of instant stardom. For them, it is more important to see their book published than to make sure it is a quality product. They are approaching writing the same way one would approach the selling of second-hand shoes – with an eye to quick profits and a big launch with lots of deep-pocket donors. They have no desire to go through the pain and hassle of a thorough editorial process.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Speculative fiction spreads its wings

I got the loveliest Christmas/birthday present this year: A bound volume of the three books of the Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant trilogy by Stephen R. Donaldson. I haven't read Donaldson since I was in high school when I read the first three books of his Thomas Covenant series as well as the two books of his Mordant’s Need series and it was a real treat to be taken back. He represented my first real introduction to fantasy that sought to go beyond genre conventions.

Now, mind you it hasn't been quite the same. I find his language a little too florid and his plot a bit too plodding for my current tastes, but reading him again, I realise that he was always more interested in characters – in their struggle for redemption and acceptance – than in the magic of the world. And I think that as I get older, I am too.

See, I believe good literature cannot be circumscribed by genre. Even though right now literary fiction tends to win the biggest prizes, Some of the best speculative fiction I've read recently didn't rely on a special “hook” to drive their stories forward. In fact,  some of it – like David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas – would be indistinguishable from the best literary fiction.

And it’s nice to know that I'm not the only one who thinks this. In a Guardian article last month, Damien Walter predicted that Science fiction would continue to move into the mainstream, an acceleration of a phenomenon that caught the Guardian’s attention in 2011 as well.

I'm going to jump on Damien’s bandwagon and predict that speculative fiction will also continue to get “browner” as well. More non-Western writers are showing a growing interest in the genre, challenging the notion that it is the home of the “bearded white male”. In December, I was privileged to be featured in the first anthology of African Science fiction, AfroSF, a collection put together by writer and editor, Ivor Hartmann. And as an editor, I'm seeing some exciting science fiction and fantasy coming out of Africa and the Middle East that’s making me super excited.  Blogs like just warm my heart.

It’s going to be an exciting 2013 – I can’t wait to read all about it!