It took a small amount of additional work, but my manuscript for Earthworm has passed the Content Evaluation phase. The evaluators found three potentially objectionable fragments of text, all of which had something to do with stereotyping Jews.
The message I received highlighting those fragments was both amusing and enraging. Now that I have sent replacement text and the manuscript has been deemed adequate, I can look back with far more amusement and less rage.
What do I have against persons of Jewish heritage? Absolutely nothing, and I believe any semi-intelligent reader would see that.
If I had included some text expressing my opinion of Israel's persecution of Palestinians and other non-Jewish minorities, would they accuse me of anti-Semitism?
There are characters in this novel representing a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds, just like the characters who adorn my real life in Houston. Some of these characters are benevolent, some are not. Even the cops in this novel aren't all bad. Characters may exhibit some traits and behaviors typical of their cultures and subcultures, but never without a sense or irony. I go out of my way to avoid creating stereotypical characters.
The first fragment was in Chapter I, which is actually the second chapter; the first chapter is an introduction to Hungarian pronunciation. This is subtle, so bear with me. Reverend Steve Szombat is looking meditatively out the window of his office in the Unitarian Universalist Church of Santa Cecilia (Texas), tuned into the mood of the ideologically divided people of America, and there's this right-wing complaint about "those Jewish fag-lovers in Hollyweird" contrasted with the left-wing's "those censorious, Christo-fascist, anti-science motherfuckers." The former had to be changed, but not the latter. I made the change without complaint, while pointing out that this is neither me nor Steve speaking.
Second, in Chapter XXVII, Dr. Dora Perlstein, a professor of economics at Santa Cecilia's Fannin State University offers to buy sociology professor Dr. Stephanie Zeleny's lunch. The two have never seen eye to eye on anything, so Zeleny expresses her incredulity. Perlstein replies, "What, you don't think an old Jewish broad capable of such generosity?" The line plays to a stereotype, but the Jewish character rebuffs that stereotype. Still, it didn't pass muster. This one I changed under protest.
Most perplexing of all was the fragment from a blog entry posted by ministerial intern Isabella Truxillo Cleburne (yes, named after streets in Third Ward, Houston, as are several of the characters). Izzy mentions that she has crypto-Jews from New Mexico in her ancestry: descendants of Jewish refugees from the Spanish Inquisition who converted publicly to Catholicism but maintained their Jewish rites and customs. The word "crypto-Jews," which I first heard in a story on All Things Considered more than 20 years ago, could be offensive. I guess it has the flavor of accusing these folks of concealing their Jewishness for malicious purposes. Srsly? Oy. Fortunately, I was able to switch to the Spanish term, conversos, and add an explanation.
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