Reading Authors


The customary idiocy is doing the rounds of Facebook again.  All about reading authors that aren’t white males.

I don’t know about you, but not being a roman augur, I don’t read authors, I read books.  I never learned to read entrails, and besides, it’s probably illegal.  Or at least would get me an angry letter from the SPCA.

Seriously now, don’t I think that the author’s biography and his and her background influence how and what they write? Don’t I want to read new and fresh things?The answer is sure, but not that much. And sometimes.  Also for both, ask the magic 8 ball.

I don’t talk about it much, but I have a degree in Languages and Literature (technically in Portuguese “literatures.”  It’s complicated, but it’s basically a year past the MA and a year short of the Phd.)  I don’t talk about it much, because, you know… I was in it for the languages which was the “hardest” thing I could take in liberal arts, and the literature just sort of came along with it.

I find it funny and a little odd that the left — since these quests to not read white males come mostly from the left — has gone back to the status quo that they displace in literary analysis and criticism.

To explain: in the nineteenth century, and to the extent it was done before, literary analysis was the author’s biography. You looked at the book, and at the author’s life and tried to figure out what in the author’s life made the book so powerful.

In the early to mid twentieth century this was replaced by what was eventually actually called explicitly Marxist analysis.  You looked at the social-political forces, inserted it int he Marxist matrix of literary analysis and spit out why the book was powerful or significant.

This, btw, doesn’t seem to plug in well into the book selling, but it’s still largely what’s at the back of the left’s considering some books good and others bad.  It has nothing to do with the book or the feelings it invokes, but does it further the revolution of the proletariat? Does it slot in easily with class struggle, enough to make it relevant.

Beyond the fact that this analysis is incredibly easy to do and can save you reading some turgid and uninteresting books (I once based an entire paper on a three page prologue.  Aced it too.) and beyond its pushing an ideology that gets tiresome after a while, it’s a lousy method of evaluating a book.

For the record so is biography.

The truth is that neither the biography nor the “what was going on at the time” explains the truly powerful, lasting authors.

Sure, we can read Shakespeare and kind of know he didn’t know a heck of a lot about say diplomatic negotiations — maybe — but part of the reason he annoys the crap out of people and that there is a dispute over his biography is that the man wrote everyone and everything and did it powerfully.  And also made some boneheaded absurd errors of, say, geography that wouldn’t be hard to inform himself on, even then.

As for Marxist class and race and whatever the heck consciousness?  Okay, so Alexander Dumas was 1/4 black.  Which should be much more important in those days than now, btw, in terms of lived experience.  His father was a slave.  Okay, his grandmother was his grandfather’s slave, and is grandfather only released his older son from slavery when hitting France (this might have been a stratagem to save on fares. Also, you were automatically freed in France.) Said grandfather also sold his for lack of a better term common law wife and HIS OTHER CHILDREN to pay for his passage back to France when he inherited the earldom.

If Marxist analysis were right, Dumas would show the consciousness of his oppressed father, etc.  Does he?

Hell no.  The one thing you can say he got form his father’s horrible life experience was his father’s chivalrous and gallant attitude and the tendency to fall in love with pretty ideas.  The ideas, though?  Well, his father was an ardent French Republican.  You cannot read Dumas and think he was.

And I can tell you why, too, because I have perhaps more experience with it than most other authors: because the times weren’t right for revolution or republic in France when he was publishing. There was a nostalgia in the reading public for the stability of monarchy.  That’s what they wanted to read and that’s what sold.

Which is why neither bio nor social terms are right.  It’s somewhere between.  Sure, this will be different with indie. at least you can GET to the public.  But the public will still only buy that which resonates with them.

Let’s all take a deep breath here, shall we?  I KNOW.  My first short stories, that I sent out were authentically Portuguese, mostly because I knew zero about living in America. I’d been here for less than a year.

They were universally rejected, but the funny thing is HOW they were rejected: all of them accused me of knowing nothing about… Portugal.  Or of being a bigot.  Or of never having left the US and needing to broaden my horizons.

That’s because each culture has an image of the other culture in their head. They vary across the world.  None of them have anything to do with the truth. Until I knew the American image in the mind of Portugal, I couldn’t communicate.  What came across, and was actually authentic, was read by Americans as either incomprehensible, bizarre or a slur (btw, the xenophobic accusations were mostly about things like Portuguese — then — not refrigerating cream pastries.  I still don’t GET that one.  I mean, I get it.  Americans have a fetish with refrigeration (old battle with my kids “no, the eggs don’t go bad because I left them out for an hour” but I still don’t GET it at gut level.)

Even if you’re not from abroad, it’s the same with your biography.  PARTICULARLY if it’s a different/rich/interesting biography.  If your biography doesn’t match the categories in people’s heads it won’t sell.

So good selling books are a negotiation between the reader and the writer, and come out somewhere in between.

For most of the 20th and at least 10 years of the 21st century this negotiation was done through NY editors — graduates of the best universities, that is to say very well grounded in Marxist analysis — which meant what came out as fresh and self-consciously different was almost exclusively predictable Marxist cant.  A lot of it written by white males.

Which is part of my problem with this idiocy.  Look, there are white males who had fresh and different experiences, compared to the run of the mill of books in the US.  Given his upbringing and place where it took place, Dave Freer is one of them.  Does this make him easier to sell?  Well.  No.  In fact we periodically talk about it.  Even indie, he has a harder time reaching US readers, because though he’s an excellent writer, he doesn’t know what’s in most people’s heads here.  The “cultural signposts” so to put it.

There are other males, white and US born who will have similar issues because they grew in small and strange subcultures.

And don’t we want fresh and different perspectives?

Well, kind of.  We want fresh and different perspectives we can slot into with not too much trouble. That’s kind of like “I want something fresh, like the last fifty fresh things I read.”

Also, by and large the reading public doesn’t want “new and fresh.”  Sure, sometimes, particularly for well pushed, well reviewed books.  But super-readers, where the meat and drink of publishing is are mostly readers of “popcorn books.”

I know, I am one of them and fully exploit the KULL program on Amazon, because I read — on a slow week, when installing floors and refinishing furniture — about a dozen books.

And while I love and adore well done “niche”books, say books saturated with early 20th century life in some NYC neighborhood, where the entire story can only happen there, or Barry Hughart’s tales “of a China that never was”, mostly I read “popcorn books”digested and forgotten, just something to read while eating, or while doing crochet. Heck, if I’m tired I read almost exclusively Jane Austen fanfic or interchangeable cozy mysteries.

Besides all this, what IS the obsession with “male” in “don’t read white males.”  No, seriously.  I’m 56 years old an my early influences as were almost exclusively female: Enid Blyton, (who was the one that made me want to be a writer) the Countess of Segur and Agatha Christie.  Dumas and Shakespeare fell in there somewhere along the way, but so did Austen.

And in science fiction Anne McCaffrey was a major influence in my teen years.

So…. really?  What is this exclusively male voice that we need a break from.  Hell, given that I read a lot of cozy mysteries and most of those are women, reading a male now and then IS a break.

Anyway, again, and for once: I don’t read authors.  I read books.  And authors being strange creatures (hence the SPCA joke) no, it doesn’t seem that our bio, or our social circumstances explain our writing.

Yeah, I love to read a new and fresh voice. And when I find it, I’ll devour all his/her work in a week.

But I have yet to find that this trends one way or another in race and/or sex.  In fact, boxing authors by race and sex almost by definition means you’re looking for people who slot into your image of what “this content of melanin, this equipment” is.  Which means they might give you confirmation joy, but they won’t challenge you.

I’m not my color, my sex or my orientation. I’m CERTAINLY not my biography.  Being a writer means you can play dress up anywhere, anywhen and anyhow forever.

Don’t box me in.

97 thoughts on “Reading Authors

  1. This author would prefer not to be read like *that*. I stay clothed in public, thankyouverymuch. I am a lady, not that kind of female.

    My books, you can read all you want. Good luck categorizing them as mainstream American though.

  2. SJW: Read Only Female Authors

    Me: Like Sarah Hoyt?

    SJW: NO! She’s Not A Real Female Author!


        1. I always have this image of Sarah in a corseted spacesuit with a bubble helmet, rocket-boot heels, and a zap gun on her belt…

            1. Heh. Larry C has been the model for his last two awesome covers for Target Rich Environment. I don’t see why it shouldn’t work for our hostess. Something with huge bad-gluteus-maximus-ness. (Was that an acceptable euphemism?)

  3. I’m 56 years old and my early influences were almost exclusively female…

    LOL! Great point! I’m 58 years old and my early influences were also female: Madeleine L’Engle, Frances Hodgson Burnett, L.M. Mongomery, Louisa May Alcott, Johanna Spyri, Sylvia Engdahl. (Of course, for me, male C.S. Lewis was also huge.)

    Later, Jane Austen, Robin McKinley, Diana Wynne Jones, and Lois McMaster Bujold came along and beguiled my reader’s heart.

    Like you, Sarah, I’ve read a lot of books written by women. But not because I sought them out especially. Bottom line? I just want a good book to read! No matter who wrote it.

      1. Andre Norton, Leigh Brackett, Dorothy Sayers, Marjorie Allingham, Elizabeth Barrett Browning,…

  4. *warped-kitty giggle* I was skimming through some of the fora on the NaNoWriMo page. Several of them are about “What new and exciting thing are you doing in your fantasy/sci-fi/mystery world?” The number of “my characters are gay/trans/LGBTQ positive” answers made me shake my head a little. That’s not new. But I suspect these writers have not read LeGuin, Lackey, Delaney, Drake, and other writers with major characters who are, um, not cis-hetero-normative-whatever.

    There are two writers I cannot read because of their personal lives. Those personal lives spilled far too much into their writing. Those books had been “ew, something’s icky” for me before I learned about the writers’ relationships and pet causes.

    1. Year Zero effect. They need to ignore what came before, or they realize they aren’t nearly as significant as they thought.

    2. I vastly prefer this to whatever authors with delusions of literature get up to in order to be “edgy”. At least the NaNo’ers are likely to write something that doesn’t make you feel like you were violated in the process.

    3. I’ve been reading a lot of YA from the library and you can always tell when an author thinks they’re being edgy by having LGBT characters. This is as opposed to certain other authors—there’s one author I like whose books are saturated with LGBT characters, but it seems that it’s because that’s the author’s lived experience, and she puts them in that way because those are the people she’s surrounded with. (For one thing, the LGBT is not the defining characteristic, and certainly not the only characteristic.)

      When I run across one of those people, I think “dear, you’re not being edgy. You’re being boring and predictable.”

        1. Clarification: you have characters who happen to be gay. You don’t have characters who suddenly have a mind-blowing realization in the midst of a retold fairytale that they’re attracted to someone of the same gender, and now it all makes sense, and SO FEMINIST MUCH WOW.

    4. I occasionally write stories with LGBT characters. But it’s only when the character TELLS me that’s who they are (yea, my characters generally tell ME who they are and what to write. I just start with a vague idea in my head and see where it goes). I always seems to me that if you try to force that kind of thing, it comes across as fake.

          1. Because for trad publishing it mattered. Also, it rarely has nothing to do with anything. Take A Few Good Men: part of the motivation is the relationship. It’s also part of the background.
            It’s not without reason. I just don’t focus on it.

            1. I get your drift. I think if I had to write the TradPub way, I would just give up. I’ve known enough LGBT people to know that in reality, you don’t always (or usually for that matter) know what someone’s thing is until you get to know them. Hell, sometimes THEY don’t really know. Sure, you can get a sense if you pay attention, but you don’t really KNOW. I try (with my poor skills, but I’m writing every day to improve) to write that sense. It’s a difficult balance between not enough, and too much (beating the reader about the head and shoulders with it).

              Sure, there are people who are more sexually overt, but I don’t tend towards characters that are like that. That’s not to say it won’t happen, characters usually tell ME what they are rather than me telling THEM.

              My “current story”, that I’ve put on hold for NaNoWriMo has a MC that even I haven’t figured out. She could be gay, or she could be non-sexual. She might have a mommy fetish, but I haven’t figured out if it’s sexual, or just that she doesn’t remember her mother, and is desperate to fill that void (which sometimes turns into to the same thing). All of that is important to the feel of the character of course, and it’s all in my head as I write. But, it isn’t important to the plot of the story itself. The story isn’t a story about finding love, it’s a story about an experimental cyborg who is trying to figure out who and what she is, in a world where OTHER cyborgs are barely sentient things. All while also trying to head-off a war with an alien race that doesn’t communicate, but everyone thought was harmless for the last 1000 years. Only something has riled them up, and the MC may have an idea of what that was.

              My NaNoWriMo story, on the other hand, is flat, boring, and I hate it. Writing it is a slog. I like the characters, they have the potential to be fun and interesting. I keep writing bits of them onto paper, hoping that they will come alive, but they are still just ink on paper. THE MOST plotting I’ve ever done for a story, I actually wrote an OUTLINE! I haven’t done that since a high school writing class where it was a required hand-in assignment. AAANNNNDDD it’s flat. Nothing. Sigh…

              Sorry about complaining. 😦

    5. If I was doing NaNo, I would not be doing something new or particularly exciting. I may need excitement to want to write something, and tension to get the reader through the book at a good pace, but that does not make anything I want to write particularly exciting.

      Yes, the seed of a project has to excite me somehow. But whether a story succeeds in being particularly exciting is in the execution, and depends on skill.

      1. Wise. The one I didn’t win (thus far) was when I tried to do something new. (Mostly involving structure.)

      1. Interestingly enough, I get the feeling that that describes the protagonist in the current WIP. I’m not certain why, but he has that sense to him. *shrug*

      2. I got about halfway through writing book 1 of my epic fantasy and realized one of my three protags was… not blind, just completely uninterested, and that was why he was kind of a loner.

      3. I have one. He’s also painfully shy. Which is hard for me, because I do not know that feeling whatsoever, and he’s not talking to me.

        1. I laugh, hollowly, at the how-to-write books that tell you to interview your characters. That they all come from cultures where interviews are unknown, but they are all sidling from the door by the third question, not having answered the first two. . . .

          Except for the vaguely Mongolish raider whose response to the question, “Why do you raid civilization?” is “What a womanish question.”

          1. many of my characters are either going to reply “Are you with the government?” “I’d like to have my lawyer present” “This is covered under the amnesty agreement, right? or ” where exactly are you in my chain of command?”

    6. I have a story I want to tell that happens to have one gender fluid POV character and one gay character, but I worry that I’ll be accused of cultural appropriation + getting LGBTQ-ness wrong, so that project keeps getting pre-empted by others that are less risky.

      1. I have one of those too. Actually a civilization of gender-fluid characters. It was my first book, and now I know how to do it.
        Eh. Let them come, the tigers, with their claws. I say, you have to experience the awesome power of not having any f*cks left to give.

        1. I say, you have to experience the awesome power of not having any f*cks left to give.

          LOL! You are right, of course. And, although that project hasn’t yet made it to the top of my To-Be-Written list (which is mammoth: how will I ever manage to write them all), neither have I removed it from the list. I do hope to write it at some point, despite my expectation of taking flack.

      2. I had a comic bit where the leader of a trope of entertainers is a woman and their King. Unfortunately, although it’s a classic bit of topsy-turvey, I think it would be read too wrong.

        1. A “trope” of entertainers, eh? In this day and age that makes entirely too much sense…

    7. I’ve read a few authors I bounced off *hard* before knowing what their personal issues were (yeah, the elephant-in-the-room one, plus a couple others). One horror author squicked me out so hard that I not only passed on any further books of theirs but never tried to research WHY, though there wasn’t any particular gore or ick in their stories.

  5. I like books that have just the right level of “newness” feel to them. I think that science fiction is best at that and attracts readers who want it. But the right level still hits all the buttons that resonate. Watching foreign film or reading books by foreign authors is the same. It’s possible to become accustomed to some of what doesn’t “fit” and enjoy more of it, but there’s often the moment when something just doesn’t make sense and throws you out of the story, something that just doesn’t work. Or food, too! Even just fruit we never had as a child often tastes awful, though there’s usually other strange fruit that hits the right notes and is immediately your new favorite. (And I will never learn to like the fermented bamboo shoots that smell and taste like rotting barn straw. Never.)

    But be all of that as it may… “read this, not that” on the basis of the attributes of the author really isn’t about some inherent differentness of culture and ideas, which in turn are valuable on the basis that they challenge your assumptions and beliefs and make you a better and more open minded person BECAUSE if that were true… the authors that ought to be read would be different for different people and they are not.

    Not ever.

    There may well be some benefit to expanding the breadth of your reading, to go outside your comfort zone, and also to experience the point of view of someone very unlike yourself.

    Which would mean, if that was actually the goal, that my book (and author) list would look very very different than the book and author list of most people who make those sorts of recommendations.

  6. Lela Buis today has a blog post where she describes current practices by the publishers:

    “One of the gals in the guild is an established novelist who writes research-based historical-type fiction, and she mentioned that she’s having trouble finding a publisher for her latest work: a story about a civil rights riot that took place in 1919 and includes African American characters.

    Far be it from me to judge the racial heritage of others, but the writer looks pretty German. Her agent has told her the problem is the African American characters in her book. According to Agent, major US publishers are no longer interested in works from Caucasian writers that feature African American characters—not just lead characters, mind you, but any kind of prominent characters at all.”

    So she’s scrubbing all racial identification from her submissions today. Because if publisher’s ain’t taking brown/beige/off-white characters written by pearly-white authors, best to remove them all.

    One more data point.

    Good thing I already decided not to bother with the publishing universe. The more I learn about it, the more it looks like a con game.

    1. That’s worse than a con game. A con game involves the honestly of being profit motivated and is less likely to be a defacto racial purity measure.

      I know this gets into politics a bit in this day and age but I object to this sort of thing because it is divisive and racist and it hurts people. No one who has a desire for equality and peace would support something designed to force us all to maintain and police our careful divisions.

    2. I read the post and then I went and read the post about Halloween costumes… Phantom… My sarcasm detector is broken. I’m left confused and stressed by the experience.

      1. I look at it this way: Megyn Kelly’s contract, that was vacated by the network over Halloween costumes, was $65 million bucks. That is huge money.

        NBC did -not- give away that much money over Halloween costumes, no matter what they say about it. There has to be some other deal or income source worth FAR more that they are protecting.

        Likewise publishers must be working to a template that brings money/influence/stuff they want over and above what the sales of the books bring in. Or they think it will, anyway.

        Because let’s face it, given the horde of #MeToo revelations from the publishing and TV worlds, these guys are not very moral and they’re not very bright either. Fishing off the company pier is DUMB, but there they are doing it.

        So there’s a combination of stupid people and “backfield in motion” shit going on that we can’t see. I simply assume that they’re worthless pricks who want to steal my money and beat me up, and act accordingly.

        1. John C. Wright has said one of the many things that made him stop being a libertarian was realizing how often economic motives failed to explain peoples’ actions.

          The latest riff on that was in the comments on his epic LAST JEDI rant. One of his conclusions has been that Disney’s SJWs destroyed the franchise for *religious* reasons.

          1. I agree that economics does not explain an awful lot of human behavior. Humans consistently do things at odds with economic cost/benefit analysis. That’s because we’re not machine learning algos.

            “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”

            Last Jedi being destroyed for religious reasons? An argument could be made for that, but I think a better argument is “never attribute to malice that which can be explained by stupidity.”

            The people running it just aren’t that clever, bottom line. They think they’re smarter than George Lucas, but they’re not. He chose the Hero’s Journey because it is a powerful tool for telling a story, and it forgives a lot of mistakes. (Like not knowing what a parsec is. Idiot.) The new guys wrote their script from focus group data. Dumb!

            1. Destroyed for religious reasons using a socialism as religion model. His argument is convincing if you expect that stupidity might possibly get something right by accident.

              I think George Lucas is not as smart as George Lucas. I think his non-technical good decisions in 4/A New Hope were probably not deliberate ones he was responsible for.

  7. Quite so. I’m a white Anglo male from Alabama but lived many years in other countries, speak 3 languages. Never thought of reading books sorted by sex of author. LeGuin Kress Mcaffrey etc are all worth following, but not because of their sex.

    1. In fact, I find it insulting to be reduced to my reproductive organs and place of origin. Oh, and ability to tan (now hypothyroidism is fixed.) I’m a writer, not a widget.

  8. The egg thing. I am told that “over seas” eggs are not washed, so they still have a natural coating on them that helps keep them fresh. Whereas here in the US, the FDA DEMANDS that eggs are washed, thus washing off that protective coating. So while eggs won’t generally spoil if left out for an hour, if they aren’t refrigerated they don’t last as long.

    1. Makes sense to me. Since I have hens I only wash the eggs if they’re actually dirty and then only with a little dish soap and a scrubby sponge. They aren’t disinfected or sanitized. In all likelihood the dried chicken-butt juices are still on them.

      (Honestly, we don’t eat the shells… and the shells are designed to breathe and yet keep microbes out… they only need to be clean enough that straw bits or poop doesn’t drop off the shell into your food when you break them open.)

  9. I have an ugly temptation, perhaps from Ferengi genes, to write under some clearly minority name, implying that I am going Caitlin Jenner one better. Greed knows few bounds among the bounders.

    1. “Transracial” makes them froth at the mouth. There is only one delusion that we must grovel before. Thus far.

  10. It comes to mind that I haven’t read much in the way of radical outspoken explicit white nationalist fiction. Should I be remedying that oversight?

    1. “Should I be remedying that oversight?”

      Message fic is message fic. All the same idiocy of SJWs is to be found in the ravings of the hard-core white nationalists. Allowing for different jargon words, the themes and plots are nearly the same.

      There’s not a lot of difference between them, really. (The sound you just heard was a Lefty’s head exploding.)

      1. The half-cured. Exact same mindset, but with the values flipped.

        They know they’ve been lied to, but don’t manage to walk away from the paradigm

  11. Nasty Thought.

    If somebody tells me that publishers shouldn’t publish books from White Males, I’m thinking of saying “I don’t listen to racists & sexist bigots”. 😈

  12. Like TXRed, I also ran across something interesting on the NaNo forums, though in my case it was a discussion of “The Tiffany Problem” in historical romance. Basically, if you write a Medieval romance and name your heroine “Tiffany,” you’re on perfectly solid grounds historically: Tiffany was a Medieval name, often given to girls who were born on epiphany. However, no one will believe that you’re being historically accurate, and you’re going to get mocked for giving an obviously modern, 80s valley girl name to someone from a time when clearly no one would ever have heard of that name.

    So like Sarah said, when you’re righting about not only other places but other times, you have to be conscious of not only how things were, but how your readers believe things were. This isn’t an in-class test, and you won’t be able to argue with the teacher about your grade later.

    (Though I’ll admit that ever since I read that fact, I’ve had an urge to find a way to write about a Medieval girl named Tiffany…)

        1. And then she bows her head demurely (so he doesn’t see her rolling her eyes). The whiles wondering why *everyone* seems to do that. To the point that some people *spell* it that way.

          Or something.

            1. The idea of phonetics is baked into alphabetic writing. I suspect most spellings of “Tiffany” would be different enough from most spellings of “Theophania” to be noticeable.

              Or all the village “spring girls” are called “Tiffany.” Except the cloth merchant’s daughter. She thinks she’s better than he rest of them. Only answers to the Latin…

          1. That would require a number of people who could spell it — regardless of how — and her being one of them. I can believe it for a noblewoman or a merchant, but would not assume it for anyone in that era.

  13. As a kid (3rd grade through about 6th grade) I worked my way completely through the children’s section of our small public library (all the Nancy Drews, Bobsy Twins, Little House…I read pretty much anything). By 7th grade I was on to the YA stuff and some of the “older” stuff (Elric of Melnibone for example) much to the horror of the librarians (this was 1972 or so). I told them I had read everything in the children’s “room” and was looking for more. I think they convinced themselves I wasn’t really reading them because I’d check out about 8 books and bring them all back in a week. My influences were not really authors, they were different worlds.

  14. Have a time traveling girl named Tiffany and… The people who are chasing her through time (I have in idea why) think finding a girl named Tiffany will be easy in the year whatever so they chase her to medieval times and ….

      1. I thought it was in Buena Park, a tad north of Anaheim. (I used to occasionally have work trips to Buena Park and always got put up in the Courtyard across the street from it.)

        Or are we doing the “nearest large city” thing? The Medieval Times I worked at was in Schaumburg, IL, but everyone calls it “the Chicago one.”

          1. When you wrote “Medieval Times is only in Anaheim” it took me a bit to realize that you probably meant something like “Medieval Times isn’t all that far away” rather than “There’s only one Medieval Times, and it is in Anaheim.”

            1. yes, especially with the discussion of Tiffany as a ‘Valley Girl’ name, which would denote the San Fernando Valley.

    1. I do think time travel will probably have to be involved. As Synova said above, you have to explain it, and I’m not sure you could work in an explanation without it seeming incredibly forced. “My name is Tiffany, which as you know Bob, is an incredibly common name for people in this time and place.” OTHO, a time traveler or two could work in a reasonable expression of incredulity combined with a decent explanation.

      1. You might be able to do something about unusual circumstances. Like how Jane is NOT naming her daughter born on Epiphany Tiffany but Avice. Or someone grumbling about a freakish number of Epiphany daughters.

        Then, of course, you would have to ensure that it either logically dropped out or was carried through the work.

      2. I was thinking of something like having the person not like their name because it’s so common and why couldn’t she be Bromund instead? But NOOOO her father was religious so he named her after the Epiphany, just like every other father in town had done when a daughter was born in the spring.

        “When did you stop insisting that everyone call you Bromund?”
        “Oh, I got over that before I was old enough to put my hair up. Tiffany isn’t a bad name, even if it’s not very special.”

        1. Tiffany is a later form and pronunciation. Tiphaine is period (but notorious as a witch name). There are other historical pronunciations and spellings, but you have to pick the right one for your stuff.

          Many medieval setting romances also tend to use the wrong nicknames, although this is something one can look up.

          That book on Puritan naming practices by Bardsley is also superb about medieval English nicknames and names that suddenly died out, and about Royalist and Tudor naming.

          And what are people doing in April, to have all those Tiffanies and Theophanuses?

          1. Okay, there is the spelling Tiffany in 1315, according to the guys. But there is more attestation of Tyffany (15th c), Teffan and Tiffan (1379), Tiphina, Tiffania, and Thiphania (all 1300’s). Epiphany as a unisex name shows up later. Tephania and Tephanie are in the 1100’s. Theffania is in the 1200’s.

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