The World SF Blog

Speculative Fiction from Around the World

Clarion Brazil Nut Fail?

Nick Mamatas links to a blog-post from the Clarion West writers workshop in the US. Stereotypical Behavior is a post from a Clarion attendee who has written a story that, during a critique session, met with some opposition.

While we focus on international SF, the on-going discussion on race in the US context is important to follow, and this episode should be of general interest to our readers:

Before heading to Seattle, I promised I would challenge myself by trying new subjects, playing with different styles, things like that. Having never successfully written a military science fiction story before, I threw my hat into the ring and pounded one out. Crack military strike unit, tough, capable, fighting in a near future scenario where the tech and political situation were close enough to where we are now that we could see the story from here. I fully expected it to be a rough, crunchy draft. I’m not a military expert, I don’t know squat about weapons or tech, but I had a few informed aces up my sleeve and I managed to crank out a piece that was a challenge to write, gritty and, I hoped, realistic. More than anything else, I wanted to learn from the experience.

One of the characters was a large black man. Who carried a big gun. He had a hyena thunder laugh. And liked to eat brazil nuts. His nickname was slang for brazil nuts. And I used said nickname in the second sentence.

You see where this is going, don’t you? I didn’t. My writer’s vision was fuzzy, and I failed to realize that to some people, a cigar is more than just a cigar. – read the rest of the post.

If you’re not familiar with the American slang for brazil nuts, just click on the link.

So what do you think? Comments welcome, as always.

July 11, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

8 Comments

  1. At first, I wasn’t sure how slang for Brazil nuts could be offensive then I clicked the explanatory link and all was revealed. How sheltered is this author that they didn’t realize that the phrase they chose was offensive as hell?

    Comment by dunmurderin | July 11, 2010

  2. Yikes. Saw it. Still didn’t believe my eyes.

    Oh good lord…

    Comment by Joyce | July 11, 2010

  3. Yes. Not sure how anyone could not have worked out for herself that the term is highly offensive (and to echo Nick Mamatas, in this case, undoubtedly unearned.)

    BTW, since the blogger is in Seattle, she is attending Clarion West, not Clarion (happening concurrently in San Diego).

    Comment by John Chu | July 11, 2010

  4. A bad writer. The funniest bit is that she just had to blog about it too. The Internet sucks sometimes.

    Comment by rreugen | July 12, 2010

  5. My whole family’s been Army, and if you guys think this is insanely wrong, you’re just unfamiliar with how real men in the Army talk. They deal in a world of high stress, fatigue, blood, bone, tears and sweat. They’re conditioned to kill other human beings and obscenities and slang is ALWAYS used. You guys are a bunch of niggling wilted violets if you think “Nigger” has never been used in the Army.
    So, have any of you actually been in the Service?

    Comment by Sgt. Lee | July 14, 2010

    • I’ve got no trouble believing that real soldiers talk like this. If the writer was relaying a non-fiction story about a real guy called Nigger Toes by his buddies, I wouldn’t have an issue with her use of the term. I’d wonder about a bunch of guys calling someone they consider a friend by such a name but hey, the real world is a strange place that doesn’t have to make sense.

      But for a writer to name a character Nigger Toes and take that story to a critique session and then claim that they didn’t realize the name would be offensive? I call bullshit on that hot mess.

      Comment by dunmurderin | July 15, 2010

    • I have a family that’s been in the military too. Like the above, I can absolutely believe stuff like that happens. I’ve read novels, and watched movies and plays, where such words were used in an appropriate context that made them feel both organic to the story and true to life. I can still hate the word and not hate every book/movie/play where it’s used.

      The issue lies with the authors claim to be “unable to understand racism” and therefore have no idea that anyone in the audience would be offended! It’s either incredibly disingenuous, or strikingly clueless. She has in this, and other posts, displayed a shockingly low level of understanding context, which suggests to me the word was not properly framed (that she included cliche/stereotype descriptors for the same character probably did not help). It all implies poor writing, *at best*. You cannot use a loaded word and not expect a reaction from it. Worse, though, is that when the reaction came, she describes the people in such hysterics as to paint her as some victim. A victim for reactions a reasonable person would have anticipated. And *that* is why people have a hard time feeling sympathetic for this woman.

      Comment by Lynn | July 20, 2010

  6. Of course you are right, Sgt. Lee. Nobody says that soldiers (or fishermen, or garbage cleaners, or maids, or pheasant hunters, or landowners, etc etc etc) do not curse. Sure they do, just like every person shits and pisses, for example.

    So, there is a lot of shit, piss, AND obscene behavior in the world.

    An artist is required to create Enlightenment and Catharsis, not MORE shit, piss and obscenity.

    And it is possible to do it even using slang, or specific language, but you need talent and craft for it. Some have it, some don’t. This is all, and it is a discussion about writers and their failings, not about soldiers and their manner of behaving.

    Comment by rreugen | July 14, 2010


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