Quickie with Judith Ivory/Judy Cuevas

Rif on Politically Correct Writing

August 1997

Judith Ivory aka Judy Cuevas has been a long time reader of Laurie's News & Views and long-time visitor to this site. Upon reading the forced seduction portion of Issue #31 of my column, she sent this to me and I'd like to share it with you:

No one told Nabokov not to write about pedophilia and, voila, Lolita. No one tells Norman Mailer not to write with some sympathy of killers, yet he did so and well. These and other writers have produced truly fine works while answering to their own vision; hang any moral responsibility. Romance writers - if they are to be real writers - must be free to do the same. Granted, some writers in every genre will write dreck. But this is the price you pay while hoping for a great book. More importantly, dreck is dreck because of poor execution, not because of the subject matter. Any subject matter in the hands of a great writer can be fascinating.

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As to good writing, you can talk about the quality of the prose, the structure, what makes the writing work or not - the writer's ability to make her vision vital, real. But to discuss the subject matter as if it had something to do with the quality of the writing only ties an albatrose around romance writer's necks - an albatrose no other genre is expected to wear. To accept that we carry a moral responsibility to society is to admit we have nothing to give society in terms of art itself. Art is about honesty. It's about an individual's expression of her own, unique vision. You don't tell another adult what she sees. She stands at a different vantage point from you. If she wants to write about rape or forced seduction, I say, let her. And judge her on how well she does it. If what she writes transports you or any reader into her world, she has succeeded at least to some extent. If she takes you vividly where you don't want to go, well, for heaven's sakes put the book down--but if it's vivid, even unsettling, then graciously admit another might find it interesting. If, on the other hand, it falls flat, seems trite, ho-hum, cardboard, then she's failed to find the right words and images for her vision. If a writer express perfectly the ideas society deems "appropriate," what have she really done? Perhaps only turned out very very nice propaganda pieces, the party line, what we're "supposed" to think. Because no one has all wholesome, "right" thoughts. Like Annie Dillard says, "He who has clean hands and a pure heart has never crawled to the back of his cave." Write what is wrong if it seems true to you and hang the critics of romance who would have it otherwise.

Meanwhile, the Dodd book did brilliantly on the USA today list, if I'm not mistaken. A lot of people sure think the scenes in it sing. As a writer, I would only be willing to discuss the technique of the book's words, scenes, overall structure. And since I haven't read the book yet, I can't even discuss that at present--only Ms. Dodd's right to write about whatever seems appropriate to her own muse. I know she is an intelligent woman. I assume her eyes are open, and that she is writing what she sees as romantic. I assume she's done it well enough to sell a lot of copies of her book in a tight market, and my hat is off to her.

--Judy

Judy will be expanding on this theme in her section of a book coming out from American University in a few months called North American Romance Writers, edited, in part, by Kay Mussell.

Judith Ivory/Judy Cuevas at AAR
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