Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Tempest in a wine glass


      The word storm generated by writing sessions at the national wine bloggers' conference in Santa Barbara this summer (https://grapecollective.com/articles/5-reactions-to-the-panel-of-professional-wine-writers-at-the-2014-wine-bloggers-conference, http://thedrunkencyclist.com/2014/07/22/wine-bloggers-conference-in-defense-of-old-white-men/, et al) is both unexpected, and unfortunate. Steve Heimoff, Mike Dunn and I were invited there to talk about writing, and consequently denounced by some bloggers as old, white, male and... short. Thus in one oft-repeated assertion the complainers revealed themselves to be sexist, agist, racist, and vertically discriminatory. That's quite a literary achievement.
      Well, I want everyone to know that I'm six feet tall. That's a couple of inches above the national average and I worked hard for every one of them. Not easy getting to six feet in Memphis: too many glasses of  milk to get down, reins on bourbon and Camels, standing up straight in endless heat and humidity. Yes, it's absolutely true that I'm a man, older than the average American, and pitifully Irish, Welsh, English, Dutch, and probably Cherokee (my grandmother, bless her heart, never really explained).
       Not much I can do about any of it, but I can say that good writing does not depend upon these things. It depends upon having a clear vision of what you want to say, an acceptance of what's good writing and what isn't, and an honest assessment of one's own work. All these things are missing in this fight, replaced by an insistence upon being praised for writing badly in a silo resounding with the complaints of the equally aggrieved.
       The truth is that writing well requires not just practice but also what Hemingway (yes, that ultimate old white male of indeterminate height) called a good, built-in shit detector. Most of the aggrieved lack one. My advice to them - and to any aspiring writer - is: "Develop a sense of humor. And look beyond yourself." 


  1. Hey Jim-- I hope the storm does not keep you from future WBC's. I would love to see a session on investigative writing and the interview techniques you used in your excellent books on Napa. I appreciate your advice that writers should develop a sense of humor. Readers should too. For the record, my post about the workshop did not mention race or height. But I did mention hats and dogs. ;-)

  2. Ah, you poor thing. Some racist wine blogger pointed out that you were white? How cruel! Maybe Steve will let you pet his purse dog until you feel better.

    Or maybe you could pay attention to the criticism and learn something.

  3. James...regarding the above comment....It's exactly what a lot of good folks have pointed out and are shaking their heads about.

  4. Great comment about good writing. There was a time when notice of the writer's identity, race class gender etc., was surprising and sometimes enlightening -- if, of course, the critic could explain how the identity factor affected the writing. But now it is not surprising, and the burden is huge, to show how this is relevant. I myself am a short person, and this has affected my writing considerably -- for instance, I pay much more attention to shrubs, whereas tall people are more attuned to trees. I think. I'm sure it affects my wine preferences as well, but I need some expert help as to how.

  5. Hi Jim, sorry for finding this so late, but I hope to set a couple things straight. First, as I mentioned in my post, I was (and remain) very appreciative that the three of you came to the conference and put forth the time and effort to help us improve our writing. Second, I was the one who made the reference to height, which was intended to be lighthearted. It seems (and I hope) you took it that way. Last, the point of my critique was simple: it seems to me that print writing and blogging, although perhaps similar, are different genres of writing. Those differences (and similarities) were not seemingly addressed as such. Perhaps that was not under the purview provided by the organizers (and therefore my criticism should more rightly be addressed at them), but I was hoping to hear more about the distinction.

    I echo Marcy’s statement that I hope in no way my comments would deter you from attending another conference. Instead, I hope my comments are received in the way they were intended: as feedback for future panels and workshops.