Quality and Doyle in Dresses

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Title: Quality and Doyle in Dresses
Date(s): January 9, 1994
Medium: online
Fandom: The Professionals
External Links:
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Quality and Doyle in Dresses is a 1994 Professionals essay.

It was posted to Virgule-L, and quoted here anonymously with permission.

The topic is fannish taste and how one person's treasure is another person's trash.

Also see Meta Essays, List Surveys and Notable Discussions on Virgule-L.

Related Essays

The Essay

It's obvious, just from reading everyone's posts, that quality really is largely subjective, and frequently has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not we *like* a story--case in point: Island Innocents, a Pros Circuit novel, has just been recopied so that it is not only legible, but it even has an author's name on it now! Several of us agreed that we really love this story, going back to it again and again, even though we recognise lapses in 'quality' (research, geography, unlikely coincidences, the sort of thing I do myself so often). Yet, there are also stories where there is nothing *wrong* with them--they simply lack any spirit or vitality, and we are left with a perfectly well-done and completely un-involving story. Or at least, the story won't hit *everyone* on the right button.

Then there is the lack of information on the reader's part that often equals the lapses of writers. Sometimes a writer will really goof for no reason other than that they made a mistake. Or they forgot a particular fact, or misremembered a detail. Or because they interpreted a piece of data differently from a particular reader, which is very possible in non-delineable matters, such as an atmospheric description (I describe my home town as 'vibrant', some people describe it as 'a cauldron of violence waiting to boil over'). To use personal examples here: there are also times when I, as a writer, assume that the reader knows certain things--such as how common it is for men to dress (not in frilly dresses in *my* stories anyway! Anyway, the majority of crossdressers are utterly heterosexual, which would defeat the purpose as far as I'm concerned!) in women's sexy underwear as a sexual thrill. Not everyone does it, otherwise I'd be buying shares in Lily of France, but it's far from unheard of, and the sort of thing I expect readers of sexual and esoteric fiction to know. Yet a few people, after reading my Doyle-in-drag (actually, he was in a corset. And high heels.) story said that I should have done more explication, set it up more. Fair enough. I think they should stop living such clean and undebauched lives! But seriously... I do not regard my stories as being an education for people, nor do I see them as anything but yet another variation on an unending theme, so I see no reason to preface an s&m story with several pages or paragraphs explaining *why* Bodie or Doyle or Cowley or Frank or Vinnie or anyone else could possibly be into this sort of thing. They're humans. Human sexuality knows no bounds--and precious little of it is worn outdoors for all the world to see. After all, look at the current publicity around child-molestation by priests.

But to get back to pure quality as a topic: there are certain writers and zines out there that I won't touch with a bargepole, because *I* don't think they produce quality. But those zines sell, and the writers are popular, and the buyers and fans feel that *this* is quality, this is great. Case in point: I have friends who simply *adore* Harlequin Airs. Think it's the best thing ever written. They love anything and everything by Jane of Australia. I, on the other hand, haven't bought a J of A in years, and hate Harlequin Airs --for precisely the same reasons that these friends love them, and those things I criticise most heavily as being of poor quality are the same things my friends regard as being proof of how skillful and wonderful these writers/zines are. When it comes to quality, I look to Sebastian first and foremost, and also to writers such as Jane Mailander, Jane Carnall (what *is* it with the name Jane and Pros? Maybe we can blame all those Dick and Jane books from childhood. Think about it...), early HG, Gayle F, Sylvia Knight, that sort of writer. And again, my reasons for thinking that they are real quality writers may completely contrast with someone else's reason.

I don't think we can any more define quality than we can define slash. Oh, we can say that the story has to be well constructed, well characterised, well plotted, with any number of other criteria. But let's face it, most of us will put up with holes a Mack truck (or articulated lorry for the Pros fans!) could drive through sideways, diabolical punctuation, absurd plot contrivances/coincidences--if the story has that indefinable something that touches us.

Of course, that doesn't stop me expressing a very disparaging opinion of those who call themselves 'editors' but are actually only publishers, or of writers who consider themselves too good to be edited. But just to play devil's advocate to myself: sticking a big 'editor' sign to a forehead does not an editor make, and there are editors out there who aren't worth spit. And worse, editors who don't understand the difference between a writer's style and middle-of-the-road by-the-book (so to speak!) journeyman plodding. There are times to break the rules, and an editor who insists on always following the rules and taking no chances in either content or style could easily clip the wings of a new talent. I *do* think that much of what's out there is crap. But I also think it's worth wading through the crap to find the gems. Expensive, but isn't that what friends are for--the borrowing of zines?