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Ask the agony editor: on lazy prize jurors and author snobbery

Brian Francis

(illustration: Evan Munday)

In this month’s readers’ advice column, Brian Francis muses on lazy jurors and author snobbery in the produce aisle

I’m on the jury of a prestigious literary prize. One of my fellow jurors pretends she’s read all hundred-plus entries, but I can tell she’s only looked at about half of them. Should I confront her or pretend I don’t notice?
Judge and Jury

Dear J&J,
Juries are complicated environments. There you are, a small group of strangers, charged with reaching a consensus about what makes one person’s work “better” than another’s. No doubt you’re dealing with some distinct personality types, as well. There’s the Strawberry Shortcake (who just wishes an award could be given out to everyone); the Wet Noodle (who agrees with everyone to avoid conflict); and the Fuck Y’all, who has already determined the winner and screw you if you’re not on board.

Sounds to me like you’re dealing with another juror type: the Lazy McLaze (“How many entries do I have to read?” and “Dude, I just got Netflix”). While jury duty may be difficult, it’s important to remember the people on the other side of your deliberations: the contenders. The award you’re about to hand out will mean recognition, validation and, in the best cases, cash. There’s no way you can prove your fellow juror hasn’t read all the works (unless you play a trick by asking, “Didn’t that story about the guinea pig rip your heart out?” and when she says, “Oh, totally,” you scream, “It was a duck!”)

Having said that, being on a jury carries important responsibilities. By saying nothing, you’re responsible for handing out a prize that hasn’t been properly adjudicated, and you’re letting someone think she can get away with doing a half-assed job. It’s clear to me that you care, so stand up and address your concerns. The contenders are counting on you.

Why won’t [name withheld, but a bestselling Canadian author] talk to me anymore? I bump into her in the produce section of the grocery store and she pretends I don’t exist. What’s up with that?
Clean Up in Aisle Five

Writers are unpredictable folks. Sometimes they’re friendly and sometimes they’re mean and sometimes you see them skipping around downtown dressed like Hagar Shipley. (Okay, maybe I’m the only one who does that.) This unpredictability is a side effect of spending too much time thinking about people who don’t exist in real life. I don’t know how close you were with this author, but I suspect a few different scenarios:
1. She is a very intense carrot shopper.
2. She’s not sure if you’re real or one of
her characters.
3. She thinks her writerly shit don’t stink.
4. She’s embarrassed that a best-selling Canadian author still has to do her own shopping.

There’s a slight chance she’s assuming you’re avoiding her. And that would be a Lifetime movie-of-the-week-sized tragedy (“You mean, all this time, we could’ve been friends?”). If this woman’s friendship or, at the very least, her acknowledgement of your presence, is important to you, give her the benefit of the doubt and strike up a conversation. If, on the other hand, it isn’t important, let sleeping dogs lie. It will serve as a sobering reminder that success and grace don’t always go hand-in-hand.

Brian Francis is the author of Natural Order and Fruit. He teaches creative writing­ as part of the International Festival of Authors.

Have a question for Brian? Email info@quillandquire.com.