Tag Archives: foolishness

Respectful Submission

I’m not talking about anything kinky here, but about addressing editors respectfully when you submit or pitch a story, poem, or article. You’d think this would be a no-brainer–wouldn’t you want to start off on the right foot with the people you hope would publish your work?–but apparently not, according to SF poetry zine Stone Telling co-editors Rose Lemberg and Shweta Narayan. In a series of blog posts that are well worth reading, Rose explains how to address submissions to the zine, discusses correspondence with an SFPA representative who addressed important award nomination announcement emails only to Rose and then told her it was because Shweta’s name was hard to find on the Stone Telling website (where both are listed quite prominently as co-editors), and talks about the underlying assumptions and attitudes that lead many people to address letters only to the editor with the three-syllable Jewish name and not to the editor with the five-syllable Indian name.

Now I wonder how many people will address Long Hidden submissions just to me because my name doesn’t have accented characters in it, or just to Daniel because he has a masculine name. Something to add to our submission guidelines, I suppose. (And I will take a moment here to squee that we’ve made our initial funding goal and then some, and are now pushing toward awesome stretch goals like more stories and interior art! It’s really going to happen! Eeeee!)

It irks me that Daniel and I have to think about this, and that Rose and Shweta have to think about this, because addressing a submission correctly is at the same basic level of courtesy, professionalism, and self-preservation as making sure your resume doesn’t have typos on it. When I addressed a submission to Stone Telling, I opened my email with “Dear Stone Tellers”; super-formality is not always required. But I knew it wasn’t required in this case because I already knew the editors and had read past issues of the zine, so I was pretty sure they wouldn’t stand on ceremony–and also I wasn’t 100% sure who handled submissions, so I erred on the side of caution by not naming someone who might be the wrong person. This is because I wanted them to actually read and consider my poem rather than rejecting it out of hand. I’m stunned that anyone goes about things any other way.

I understand having internalized and subconscious biases–we all have them, try as we might to uproot them–but I don’t understand letting them get in the way of careful professionalism in business correspondence. The whole point of the concept of professionalism is that it provides helpful guidelines for putting one’s best foot forward.

Just remember that editors are people with feelings and opinions, and that you want to approach them in such a way that their opinion of you will be positive. Everything else follows from that.

SFWA vs. Random House, Round Two

Previously: SFWA announced that Random House’s Hydra digital-first imprint was not a qualifying market and denounced its contract terms.

Random House responded that Hydra “offers a different–but potentially lucrative–publishing model for authors: a profit share.”

SFWA’s board of directors replied, “You extol your business model as ‘different’; the more accurate description, we believe, is ‘exploitative.’” SFWA also de-listed Hydra’s Alibi imprint (digital-first crime fiction) and warned, “If the egregious features of Hydra and Alibi’s contracts begin to make their way into the contracts of Random House’s other imprints, particularly Del Rey and Spectra, we will be required to act, up to and including delisting Random House as a whole as a qualifying market for SFWA.”

I’m not sure how Random House will regard that last bit. On the one hand, being a SFWA qualifying market probably doesn’t affect their bottom line very much one way or another. Del Rey and Spectra publish very few debut authors, who are the ones who care most about making sales that will qualify them for SFWA membership. (A quick visual check for those distinctive Random House ARCs on my desk finds books by Elizabeth Moon, Terry Brooks, Connie Willis, Karen Lord, Chris Moriarty, and Peter F. Hamilton, all of whom have plenty of SFWA-qualifying work to their name.) If debut authors take their books elsewhere–not guaranteed by any means, since debut authors are also not very likely to limit their options or turn down a firm offer on principle–Random House might be willing to tolerate that if it means they can keep their digital-first contracts as they are.

On the other hand, this is a lot of negative publicity, especially with words like “exploitative” being thrown around, and if some of those top-selling authors were to decide they no longer want to be associated with Random House, that would be a much bigger deal. There’s also the pending Random/Penguin merger to consider. Of course there’s no such thing as a good time for there to be a stain on Random House’s reputation, but a merged company means that stain could spread from Hydra and Alibi not only to Del Rey and Spectra but to Ace, Roc, and DAW. (Which makes me wonder how many of those imprints will survive the merger, but that’s a separate question.)

I really have no idea how this will play out. In the meantime, pass the popcorn.

(Full disclosure: I’m a non-voting SFWA affiliate member.)

SFWA Slaps Random House’s Digital SF Imprint

Naming an imprint after a league of supervillains might not be the best idea, because here comes Captain SFWAmerica to smack them down, according to this email that just went out to SFWA members:

SFWA has determined that works published by Random House’s electronic imprint Hydra can not be use as credentials for SFWA membership, and that Hydra is not an approved market. Hydra fails to pay authors an advance against royalties, as SFWA requires, and has contract terms that are onerous and unconscionable.

Hydra contracts also require authors to pay – through deductions from royalties due the authors – for the normal costs of doing business that should be borne by the publisher.

Hydra contracts are also for the life-of-copyright and include both primary and subsidiary rights. Such provisions are unacceptable.

At this time, Random House’s other imprints continue to be qualified markets.

That last bit is important, not only for Spectra and Del Rey authors (who are breathing a sigh of relief right now) but in the context of history. When Harlequin launched a vanity press imprint in 2009, SFWA temporarily removed all Harlequin imprints from their qualifying market list. Random House’s sins are apparently not grave enough to warrant such tactics.

Writer Beware’s Victoria Strauss discusses Hydra’s terms in more detail, concluding, “It’s hard for me to imagine even moderately successful self-publishers finding a deal like this attractive.” SFWA president John Scalzi is sharper: “Dear Random House: It’s clear you’re targeting new, unagented authors here because no agent who is not manifestly incompetent would allow his or her client to sign such a terrible contract.”

Important note: Random House’s Hydra imprint is not the same as Hydra House, a small independent SF/F press.

(Full disclosure: I’m a non-voting SFWA affiliate member.)

3/8/2013: A riposte and a counter-riposte, with SFWA upping the stakes.

Unpleasant Allegations, and a Response

A post by a woman alleging that she was emotionally abused by an SF/F author pseudonymized as “C” is making the rounds. Be warned: it’s long and pretty emotionally wrenching. (I have removed the link and the author’s identifying information out of concern for the post’s author.) The post was first made a couple of years ago and recently updated.

The information in the post suggests very strongly that “C” is China Miéville. (A few people have told me that the original post named him and included a link to his website, though I haven’t been able to personally verify that.) I asked him if he had any comment on the post. He replied:

When I met the writer several years ago, I liked and respected her greatly, and we were very briefly involved. I was in an open relationship with my partner, of which I made the writer fully aware. I quickly came to understand that I’d made wrong assumptions and errors of emotional responsibility. I regretted and apologized for these at the time, and subsequently. Much of what’s said in the piece, however, is simply untrue, and my interpretation of the events is very different.

I wrote to the post’s author asking if she wanted to make any further comment but have yet to get a response on the record. If I do, I’ll share it here.

My friend Liz W. provided some interesting context for Americans like me who aren’t familiar with the current UK political situation:

The SWP (Miéville’s party) is in the middle of tearing itself apart over its handling of rape allegations. Miéville has been one of the people pushing for them to get their act together and deal with them properly. A lot of rival groups would love to see the SWP break up – it’s a bit notorious in UK politics for its entryist tactics, opportunism and other antics, and of course the left is pretty prone to factionalism anyway – and some of them are now using the post as ammunition against him and the SWP in general (lots of identically-worded comments on various blog posts).

I can’t make any comment on the politics or people involved, nor do I have any way of knowing the truth of the allegations, but this context might be useful to those seeing the link and wondering what’s up with that.

Disclosure: I know China somewhat (he’s referred to us as “friends”, I’d say “friendly acquaintances”, but that’s one of those blurry lines), and don’t know the post’s author at all.

Link Roundup

Money Flows from the Writer

As of January 1, most of the services on Duotrope, a popular site for tracking submissions and getting information about literary markets, will only be available to paying users. The site is currently donation-supported. According to Duotrope’s announcement, “We haven’t met any of our monthly [fundraising] goals since 2007. Quite simply, we can no longer afford to run Duotrope this way.” The new fee structure is $5 per month or $50 per year for writers.

After this was announced, a predictable wave of “Why Wasn’t I Consulted?” commentary ensued. Access to the site will remain free for editors, leading many writers (and a few publishers) to suggest that Duotrope is looking in the wrong place for funding. “We would ask @Duotrope to put the burden of cost on publishers, not on writers,” tweeted small press @CrossedGenres. “More submissions=more diversity/choice=better titles/publications. That’s the value for us.” Others suggested holding big auctions or crowdfunding pushes as one-time fundraisers.

Even those who think asking authors to pay is reasonable feel $50 is awfully steep. “I don’t see the benefit to Duotrope’s users at $50,” author and editor Michael Nye wrote in a Branch conversation. “Established writers don’t need the info on the site – we know what journals have poor response times – so this is mostly on the back of the uninformed.” Richard Flores IV blogged similar thoughts: “Let’s put this in perspective here. $50 a year means selling 5,000 words a year at one cent per word…. I don’t always get 5,000 words sold in short stories each year.  And considering the bulk of Duotrope’s listings don’t pay anything, there is not much chance of making any money on your $50 investment.”

A few people compared Duotrope to Ralan’s SpecFic and Humor Webstravaganza, a donation-funded site that offers extensive short story market listings completely free of charge, or Writer’s Market, which charges $40/yr for author access. I was surprised not to see comparisons to the Wooden Horse Magazine Database, which charges writers $149 a year. On the other hand, Wooden Horse lists plenty of high-end trade and consumer magazines that might pay $500 or more for a single article. A quick search on Duotrope for science fiction markets in the “pro” pay bracket brought up 39 markets, most of which I could have listed off the top of my head–and most of which can be found on SFWA’s list of qualifying markets, though SFWA’s site doesn’t have all the information that Duotrope does.

Some of Duotrope’s users who already know the markets are planning to switch to other methods of tracking submissions. “As the days go by, I find myself thinking that this is just the excuse I needed to put together my own spreadsheet,” writer Devan Goldstein said in reply to Nye on Branch. Flores agreed: “Duotrope offers little more than you can already track yourself. After all the most valuable feature to the writer, is the submission tracker. To be honest, all you have to do is make an Excel spreadsheet to do that. I admit that the response stats, acceptance rates, and ‘Top Market’ lists are fun.  But you really don’t need any of that information to be an author.”

As of this writing, Duotrope is standing firm. “We have always known this decision meant parting ways with some of our users,” says a post on the company’s Facebook page. “If you will not be joining us, then we thank you for all the support, promotion and participation over the last seven years, and for helping grow Duotrope from an experiment into a mature company and service. If you have already subscribed or are planning on subscribing, we can’t wait to have you along for the ride!”

The Demise of Horror is Greatly Exaggerated

Today’s bit of ridiculous bloviation is a piece in the Guardian asking whether horror is DOOOOOOMED because it’s not literary enough. To which I say: What?

Of course literary authors are writing horror. Victor LaValle’s The Devil in Silver is on PW‘s top ten best books list for 2012, and it’s very much a horror novel. Justin Cronin’s The Passage is post-apocalyptic horror, complete with jump-and-startle moments familiar to any horror movie fan.

Of course authors who come from within the genre are writing superbly creepy horror novels that are of equal quality to any “literary” title. Some names off the top of my head: Glen Hirshberg. Ted Kosmatka. Sarah Langan. Robert Jackson Bennett. Laird Barron. Lee Thomas. Peter Straub. I omit Caitlín R. Kiernan only because she hates to be called a “horror writer” but she writes wonderful dark fiction that any horror fan would love and any New Yorker reader would appreciate.

Also, how exactly is a commercial genre doomed if it stays commercial? Isn’t the whole point of commercialism that you sell a lot of books? Is this some new meaning of “doomed” with which I was previously unacquainted?

Prose quality is not the only measure of a book, or of a genre–but if it were, horror would measure up just fine.

Hat tip to Andrew Porter for the original link.

In Praise of the Implausible

Going back to last week’s post about that jaded feeling that’s crept into both SF and fantasy, I wonder whether part of the problem is that many authors and publishers are too focused on the believable and the plausible.

I’ve been reading Fish Eats Lion, an anthology of Singaporean speculative fiction edited by Jason Erik Lundberg. American and English reviewers tend to describe SF/F from other countries as “fresh”, which is sort of the new “exotic”, but what it really means is that these authors are not bound by the increasingly restrictive notions of what will get white Western readers to suspend their disbelief. For example, in Ng Yi-Sheng’s story “Agnes Joaquim, Bioterrorist”, orchids foment populist revolution:

For indeed, not only was [Queen Victoria] in peril: the very building she had been housed within had been taken prisoner by an explosive growth of giant purple orchids. These vegetable horrors penetrated every storey of the edifice with an excrescence of creeping tendrils. Guardsmen openly wept as they attempted to penetrate the foliage, hacking with their parangs at the greenery.

…The Hamidian massacres had ended, for Sultan Abdul Hamid II had been found dead in his palace. Officials claimed he had choked on a fishbone, but the people knew better. They said he had collapsed across his chamberpot, mysteriously asphyxiated by a creeper that had slowly grown throughout the interior of his body, a sprig of purple blossoms sprouting from his mouth.

There is a certain sort of reader who will encounter such notions and start muttering things about rates of plant growth and photosynthesis and of course the Sultan would have felt something awry and gone to a doctor, the sort of reader whose disbelief is weighty and anchored. I think these readers are in the minority, and yet the Anglo-American SF/F canon is increasingly geared toward their demands for plausibility. We make fun of epic fantasy where you can “hear the dice rolling”, but the point of rolling dice is to emulate the real world, where certain things are more likely than other things. It makes fantasy more plausible. Compare your average dungeon crawl to, say, Bob Leman’s “Instructions”, which is entirely implausible and also one of the best and scariest stories I’ve ever read.

Ng’s orchids are implausible. They’re also beautiful. I think we need more startling beauty in our speculative fiction, more giggling, more wonder. And plausibility is in the eye of the beholder, too; after visiting lush, tropical Singapore, where enormous plants really do grow practically overnight, I find Ng’s imagery only a step or two removed from reality, whereas if I’d never left the northeastern U.S. I would struggle much more with the idea. As Western SF/F publishers become more aware of their diverse audiences, they also need to realize that catering to one culture’s idea of “plausible” is just as restrictive as saying that protagonists need to be white English-speaking men.

Diversity of attitudes in SF/F readers is also very obvious in what’s selling. Steampunk and paranormal romance are hotter than Singapore’s sidewalks, and notably unfettered by realism. How does your dirigible work? It just does!

Verne: You can't just "make things up"! Wells: Why not? Mine works just as well as yours!

I’m with Wells. Credit: Kate Beaton, Hark! A Vagrant. (Click the image for a larger version.)

I don’t actually think blueprints are boring. I’m also reading Peter F. Hamilton’s Great North Road right now, and near-future murder mysteries are about as fact-heavy as SF gets; in that context, it works. But I think genre gatekeepers need to stop catering to readers who insist on all speculative fiction being plausible, because after a while that starts to mean predictable and stale. The New Weird is a big step in the direction of gleeful fabulism, but we need more. No more rolling dice. Bring back Things from Beyond. To hell with the square-cube law. I’d love to see more science fantasy, for that matter. Ray guns! Why not? It’s a big genre with lots of room; there’s no reason to crowd ourselves into one tiny corner of it. If we want to revitalize speculative fiction, we can’t just speculate–we need to have dreams and nightmares and random flights of fancy too. Some readers love doing the heavy lifting of disbelief-suspending; it feels good, like pumping iron, and while big credulity muscles may be out of fashion in this cynical age, I say that what surprises me makes me stronger. So go ahead. Just make it up.

What Conventions Are and Aren’t

A glossary moment before I begin: In this post, I use “harassment” as a catch-all term for one person deliberately inflicting unwanted touch, commentary, or intense attention upon another. In the real world things are considerably more complicated than that, and I’m not for a moment advocating treating all harassment incidents equally; but I do think it is worth addressing general cases before moving on to the specific. English doesn’t have good one-word terms for people who have been harassed: “harassee” and “victim” define a person by something that’s happened to them, and “survivor” is wonderful but only for those who survive. Throughout this post, I use phrases like “people targeted by harassers” to emphasize that these people are people, putting them front and center in their own stories and counteracting the tendency in this culture to dismiss and objectify them.

A disclaimer moment: I volunteer with Readercon, and have volunteered with other conventions in the past. The following post expresses my personal views only.

Finally, please read Genreville’s comment policy before commenting, especially if you would like to comment anonymously or pseudonymously, and be aware that ALL comments are held for approval. I will go through them as quickly as I can, but that may not be very quickly over the weekend.

There has been a lot of conversation lately about harassment and other reprehensible behavior at science fiction conventions. As the program chair of Readercon, I’ve been following that conversation with considerable interest, not least because the latest round started when one Readercon attendee harassed another at the convention and the convention’s governing body did not handle it well. Discussions about building and enforcing safety policies have encouraged me to think very hard about the philosophical approaches that those policies might be founded on, and my personal conclusion–which, I would like to stress again, is mine alone–is that the following words do not belong in any such policy, nor in descriptions of how those policies are implemented:

  • punishment
  • consequences
  • reprisal
  • deterring
  • ostracizing
  • apology
  • recompense
  • redemption

Conventions are not communities in the traditional sense of the word. They are not townships. The conchair is not the mayor; the head of safety or security is not the chief of police; the concom and the board are not tribunals or juries. The organizing bodies are not directly or representationally elected and are almost never demographically representative of the convention-attending population. I think that treating conventions as in some way parallel to real-world communities governed by law is a really bad idea, especially when we get into these crime-and-punishment discussions. Conventions are not in the business of dispensing justice. They aren’t designed for it or equipped for it, and no one–especially not anyone involved in running a convention–should behave as though they are, even for a moment.

What conventions are designed for and equipped for is helping people to have fun. That’s the business model! And I think that is what conventions should stay focused on when someone pops up and starts making their spaces less fun for their customers.

Take a moment and look back at that list of words. What they have in common is that they are focused on perpetrators. We do this all the time. All the time. When someone does something we find noxious, they become the focus of attention: how will they be punished? Will they apologize? Can they be brought back into the fold? Meanwhile, the person they targeted with their noxious behavior is forgotten, dismissed, or scorned. Harassers are often charismatic, which is how they get close enough to harass, and they often target the shy and vulnerable, who are that much easier to ignore if they manage to speak up at all. We are all intimately familiar with the narrative of sin-repentance-redemption, and it’s startlingly easy to try to follow someone through it while all but forgetting that they wouldn’t have even started down that road if they hadn’t treated another person badly.

As for popular, commonly understood narratives for people who have been targeted by harassers: well, we don’t really have any. We notice them only long enough for them to accept an apology or teach the transgressor a lesson. The closest we get to a complementary narrative to sin-repentance-redemption is victimhood-struggle-triumph, and that still focuses the person’s entire story on the perpetrator’s behavior: experiencing it, coping with it, learning from it, being made stronger by it. These are all just different kinds of objectification, of the person as acted upon rather than active.

It’s clear that cultural programming teaches us to minimize and ignore people targeted by harassers at conventions (and elsewhere, but conventions are my focus here). I believe that the most immediately effective way of overcoming this programming is to focus on conventions as businesses providing services, and on convention attendees as customers. Specifically, conventions are in the business of providing safe, enjoyable environments where fun things happen and people have a good time. And that means conventions need to feel entirely free to oust any individual customer who’s causing problems for others, without focusing on where that person will go or how they will feel afterwards. (It also has implications for other aspects of convention-running, such as selecting sites and designing spaces and materials to be universally accessible, but that’s beyond the scope of this post.)

The narrative that conventions should care about is not sin-repentance-redemption or victimhood-struggle-triumph. The narrative is purchase-enjoy-repeat: that is, “I went to a convention, I had a good time, I plan to go back.” It is the narrative of a satisfied customer, which makes for a healthy business. Anyone who perpetrates harassment at a convention is disrupting that narrative, and convention organizers should not hesitate to write them out of it.

That’s the business side. Now for the personal side.

It’s very easy for the organizers of an individual convention to dwell on how someone might feel to be denied access to that particular space, because when you run a convention it becomes your world. I know that feeling well; I am passionately devoted to Readercon, which is why I put endless hours and effort into helping to make it happen every year. If I try to imagine what it would be like to be kicked out of an individual instantiation of Readercon, much less banned from it for life, it’s absolutely devastating. But we need to step away from that habit of putting ourselves in the harasser’s shoes (and what does it say about our culture that we do that more easily than putting ourselves in the shoes of the person they harassed?).

Taking the broader view, every convention is just one convention that happens one weekend a year. There are hundreds of other conventions, just like there are hundreds of other stores. There are online communities as well. (And let’s be honest: rape culture being what it is, in the vast majority of those conventions and communities, harassment and even rape aren’t going to be seen as good reasons to kick someone out.) And there are a billion other ways to spend a weekend. So quit worrying about the poor harasser! They have lots and lots and lots of options.

I have seen occasional concerns that if we kick out everyone who behaves badly, there will be no one left to come to conventions. This is farcical and insulting. The vast majority of congoers comport themselves well within acceptable parameters. Many people stay away from conventions for fear of being harassed; oust one harasser and you might get ten or twenty new attendees who want to show their appreciation or simply now feel safe enough to attend. Thoughtful, well-behaved fans are really not in short supply.

What is in short supply is safe space for people who have been harassed. Again, rape culture being what it is, in the vast majority of both online and offline communities, speaking up about being harassed only leads to being harassed even further. Making a safe space for someone who’s been harassed, and pledging to them that within that space they will never have to encounter the person who harassed them? That is a big deal. That is an amazing thing to do. Offering any kind of help at all to someone who’s been harassed, even a moment of listening and support, is a glorious bounty of kindness compared to what they get from most people. Going a bit out of your way to make a little oasis of safety for them is pretty high on the mitzvah list.

So to run the cost-benefit analysis from this perspective, with all numbers on a scale from 0 to 10:

Cost to the ostracized harasser: .0001
Cost to the convention (investigating and verifying the accusation, having the awkward “you can’t come back and this is why” conversation, making sure that person really stays away, one fewer attendee to contribute funds or volunteer time): .01
Benefit to to the convention (knowing they’ve done the right thing, making the space safer, promoting the convention as a place that takes harassment seriously, gaining attendees who feel safer): 4
Benefit to the person who was harassed: 1000

The conclusion is obvious.

“The customer is always right” obviously is not 100% true, but it’s still a useful starting point because it reminds businesses that customers are people, not just sources of funds. Well, if there’s any situation where we need to be reminded that certain people are people, it’s the situation where those people have been harassed. Imagine the cultural shift if we started from “the person who has been harassed is always right” instead of “the person who has been harassed isn’t worth thinking about, or is probably lying, or was asking for it”. Just take a moment to sit with that. I don’t know about you, but I get a little teary-eyed trying to imagine that world. It wouldn’t be perfect, but it would be so much better than what we have now.

I know conventions have decades of history as people throwing parties for their friends. I know it’s hard to make the shift from that mindset to the mindset of being a business and offering a service. But it’s worth doing, and it’s necessary if these businesses are going to survive. “I went to a convention, I had a good time, I plan to go back”: let’s write those stories, hundreds and thousands of them, every weekend around the world. And let’s not let a little nasty cultural programming and a handful of creeps get in our way.

 

(Thanks to Marie Brennan for starting a conversation that helped to crystallize a lot of these thoughts, and to the many people who have discussed these matters online and off. It is tremendously heartening to see so many people taking harassment seriously and working out ways to decrease it in fan spaces. We may not be a formal incorporated community, but we are a community and I’m proud to be a part of it.)

Back from Chicago

And boy are our arms tired: Josh transcribed 6500 words of interview and I wrote 3500 words of article and blog post on Monday (holiday, shmoliday) and we’re still recovering! But it will be worth it when the SF/F focus issue comes out this coming Monday, September 10, and you can read the profile of Seanan McGuire, the feature article on genre-blending, and the nifty little sidebar on Christian inspirational epic fantasy, plus a Q&A with Iain M. Banks. PW subscribers get instant access; the rest of you will have to wait three weeks.

In the meantime, some links to tide you over:

  • Justine Larbalestier is brilliant on “Racism in the Books We Write”. If there’s been a theme for this year in my part of the world, it’s taking responsibility; Justine’s post is a great example of how to do that without defensiveness.
  • Aliette de Bodard is equally brilliant on the scale and scope of engineering projects.
  • ChiZine is launching a YA imprint, ChiTeen. Agented subs only at this time. First books will come out in 2014.
  • There are some complaints that Worldcon could have done a better job with accessibility, even given a convention center that was an absolute maze (and probably not ADA-compliant).
  • Ustream apologizes for cutting off the Hugo ceremony; apparently once the automatic ban went into effect, they couldn’t turn it off, but it could all have been avoided if the Hugo administrators had just paid for the service. Apparently that post got a number of angry comments before commenting was turned off altogether.
  • PW reviewer John Ottinger III is part of the movement to make September 7 (today!) National Buy a Book Day in the U.S. Will you #buyabook today?

Worldcon Breaking News

Josh and I are hard at work on turning Worldcon news and interviews into articles for the SF/F focus issue of PW (September 10! Mark your calendars!) but here’s some breaking news for you in the meantime.

Worldcon-related:

  • The Hugo Awards results, of course.
  • During Neil Gaiman’s acceptance speech for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form (for his Doctor Who episode “The Doctor’s Wife”), he let it slip that he’s on the third draft of another Doctor Who script. Cue much squeeing.
  • …except from those people who couldn’t see his speech because Ustream cut off the awards ceremony webcast, citing copyright violation. That would presumably be because the broadcast included clips of the Best Dramatic Presentation nominees; the clips had been provided by the studios and were used and streamed legally, but that didn’t stop some DRM-hound program from blocking the transmission. Cue much outrage.
  • The London in 2014 team won its unopposed bid to host the 2014 Worldcon, which will be called Loncon 3 and already has a sterling line-up of honored guests. Josh and I promptly upgraded from “friend of the bid” to full membership. I have so far dodged all attempts to get me to volunteer, though I did offer to make myself available as a consultant on programming matters. That’s totally different from volunteering, right? Anyway, I expect it will be an excellent convention and I’m really looking forward to it.
  • The 2015 bid is hotly contested by Orlando, Spokane, and Helsinki, plus a Phoenix AZ bid for the 2015 NASFiC if Helsinki gets the Worldcon the 2014 NASFiC. (Apologies for the error.)
  • LoneStarCon 3, the 2013 Worldcon in San Antonio TX, has announced that it will have a Spanish-language programming track–presumably not just about Spanish-language work but actually conducted in Spanish. That would be very exciting.

Publishing news:

  • Harper Voyager is “actively seeking new authors with fresh voices, strong storytelling abilities, original ideas and compelling storylines” to submit manuscripts for consideration for a new digital-first line. Submissions will be open for two weeks only, October 1–14, at www.harpervoyagersubmissions.com (link not live because the site isn’t up yet). Distribution for accepted, published titles will be worldwide (world English rights). Executive Editor Diana Gill says they’re looking for “novels, novellas, short stories, interstitials.” Get those manuscripts polished up!
  • Patty Garcia of Tor Books tells me that Harry Harrison turned in the manuscript of his memoirs just two weeks before his death in August. “We had originally scheduled it for spring but we are trying to move it into late fall,” she says.
  • A source I cannot name informs me that Jim Butcher is supposedly about to turn in the manuscript for Cold Days, the 14th Dresden Files novel, currently slated for a November 27 release. The series pub dates have been creeping later for a while, from a year-long gap between volumes to nearly a year and a half since Ghost Story came out last July. Fans will be very relieved to see this one hit the shelves.

Speaking of the Dresden Files, I’ve been quite enjoying getting to walk around Chicago, but it is a little disappointing to encounter neither mobsters nor monsters. Any suggestions for Dresden-related landmarks to visit before we head home?

Weird Tales: From Frying Pan to Fire

At the end of the previous episode of Weird Tales: A Sad Decline, publisher John Harlacher had taken down editor Marvin Kaye’s offensive editorial, made an announcement that Revealing Eden would not be excerpted in WT, and said that Kaye was traveling but would “make his own statement shortly”.

Instead of doing so, Kaye is apparently responding directly, and defensively, to subscription cancellation requests. Lisa A. Grabenstetter reprints one such email, which addresses her criticism of Hamlet’s Father (first published in Kaye’s anthology The Ghost Quartet, as longtime Genreville readers will recall from this blow-up last year) as well as Revealing Eden:

Your wishes will be respected; I believe the publisher will handle that, I regret your decision, and can only say that after reading the book, I found it a powerful attack on racism, just the opposite from the charges leveled at it. However, I only recently saw the marketing of this book, and find it in terrible taste; had I seen it, I would not have read the book. As it is, we have decided not to publish the story.

Regarding Scott Card’s story, I did not see any homophobia in it, or I would have objected, but for the record, I did not want to buy anything from him; the publisher, Tor Books, made it clear that if I did not include his story, they would not publish the book at all.

MK

(While the ethics of reprinting personal emails are debatable, I would consider this a corporate response to a business-related request–though obviously Kaye is taking it on himself to inject the personal into the professional–and I see nothing wrong with sharing such a response with the business’s current and potential customers.)

Kaye had previously made similar statements about Tor bearing responsibility for the Card novella, but here he gratuitously takes the additional step of saying he “did not see any homophobia” in a book that has the blatant premise of a gay man molesting boys and turning them gay and/or insane. The homophobia in it is precisely as obvious as the racism in Revealing Eden–which, as Debbie Reese points out in this article, is extensive and continues throughout the book (h/t to Grabenstetter for that link). Kaye also clearly hasn’t read the many comments on Harlacher’s statement asking why there’s all this focus on the marketing materials for Revealing Eden when the book itself is so obviously problematic.

Like many people, I continue to await Kaye’s official public statement, but at this point I’m not really sure why. It doesn’t seem likely that he’s going to realize just how oblivious he is, or how tragic it is that he’s turned a reputable publication into a laughingstock.

Weird Tales Goes Back in Time

This editorial by Weird Tales editor Marvin Kaye, defending Victoria Foyt’s widely criticized novel Saving the Pearls: Revealing Eden and promising to print the first chapter of it in the magazine, has a lot of people up in arms. It’s a tragic turn for a magazine that’s up for a Hugo this year thanks in great part to the leadership of Ann VanderMeer, who was ousted by Kaye & co. when they purchased WT almost exactly a year ago. (VanderMeer remained on board as a contributing senior editor; she announced her resignation today following the publication of Kaye’s editorial and the subsequent outcry.)

Foyt’s “discrimiflip” novel, in which dark-skinned Coals oppress light-skinned Pearls and a white woman who wears blackface falls in love with a black man who is literally described as bestial, has been widely criticized for both its extensive use of racist stereotypes and the poor quality of the writing. Foyt’s response to the criticism has been defensive and often contradictory. And as Kaye notes, it’s SF–not fantasy, not horror, not New Weird or slipstream, not the sort of work that has always given Weird Tales its name. Given that Revealing Eden would not generally fall under WT‘s genre purview and that the prose and story are hardly so transcendant as to justify making an exception, it’s impossible to read Kaye’s decision to reprint the first chapter as anything other than a defense of racist writing. It is just barely possible that Foyt may have had the best of intentions and been genuinely taken aback when her book was called out for displaying her unconscious racism. Kaye, however, has no such excuse. This is a calculated statement of scorn for non-white authors and readers and their allies, and it stinks.

WT turns 90 next year. As Andrew Ti of “Yo, Is This Racist?” is so fond of pointing out, 90-year-olds shouldn’t get a pass on espousing racist nonsense just because they grew up thinking it was perfectly fine. VanderMeer did a wonderful job of bringing WT into the 21st century; it’s tragic to see Kaye (who already had a dubious reputation for publishing bigoted trash) dragging it back down.

 

EDIT: Welp, that was quick. In a new editorial, WT publisher John Harlacher says that the book excerpt will not be published in WT and that he personally found several elements of the book (which he has not read) “goddamned ridiculous and offensive”. He adds:

Marvin [Kaye] says if you read the whole book, she explains her use of this imagery, and it ends up as a plea for tolerance. I say, so what. And that is the position of Weird Tales — and upon reviewing the video and other materials, Marvin is in full agreement.

I deeply apologize to all who were offended by our association with this book. I am offended by it. I fully respect those who have been writing negative things about us today. You are correct.

Harlacher has taken down Kaye’s statement, which is unfortunate; I firmly believe that such things should be allowed to stand, with appropriate addenda, especially since taking down the statement also takes down all the comments that were left on the page. Fortunately Google cached it (thanks to Aishwarya Subramanian for that link) and Nick Tramdack has screencaps.

In a comment, Harlacher adds, “Marvin changed his mind after I showed him the video and other marketing materials. He only read the novel, and did not see how it was presented. I will let him respond further in his own statement.” So apparently Kaye is still willing to support an offensive novel but not offensive marketing materials. Glad to know that’s cleared up.

In response to the original WT announcement, Shimmer has announced that it is now paying pro rates (underwritten by Mary Robinette Kowal, a former staffer for both Shimmer and WT), specifically so that authors who are no longer willing to submit to WT will have another pro-rate magazine to send stories to.

 

EDIT 2: Jeff VanderMeer reports on a conversation he and Ann had with Kaye and Harlacher back in June, wherein the book was described and Ann said unequivocally that it sounded terrible and shouldn’t be published in WT. That makes Harlacher’s “it didn’t occur to me to read it” defense look even weaker than it already did.

Anyone who subscribes to WT through Weightless Books and wants to cancel their subscription can transfer the value of their remaining issues to any other magazine subscription that Weightless carries.

You Will Work in This Town Again

Jeff VanderMeer has a great post up on why no one should put up with harassment from “big names”, no matter what they say about advancing your career if you tolerate them or hindering your career if you don’t. I want to add something personal to that–not about harassment, though I’m tremendously glad that it’s being talked about and deprecated this way, but about genre career trajectories in general.

When I was a high school student, I interned for a major SF/F imprint. If I named them, you’d know them. My high school had a great internship program and many of the other people who interned for this imprint went on to work for them during and after college. It was expected that this would be my first step on a smooth path to a predictable career. Instead, I pissed off an editor and got fired.

I want to let that sink in a moment. This was my big break! My golden opportunity! And I got fired. Summarily canned. My internship advisor refused to stand up for me, which I still resent, but I expect she was in shock; people who entered that internship program didn’t get fired. Certainly not smart people with bright prospects, like me. This reinforced my perception that this was a Really Big Deal.

I was absolutely certain that I would never work in the field again.

I knew just how much people talk to one another in genre circles, because I’d grown up hearing endless gossip about authors and editors and publishers. I’d read fanzines. I’d heard stories of conventions. My immediate assumption was that one angry influential person would spread the word far and wide and make sure I never got my foot in another door. I set aside my dreams of being my generation’s Terry Carr, and I went off to college and majored in computer science and mathematics because there was no point to even bothering to major in something like English or publishing. I was through. My tiny little career had been squashed before it ever had a chance to grow up.

In case it isn’t obvious, I was completely wrong. Not only did I end up working in this town again (via a hilariously circuitous route), I occupy a moderately prominent place in it. I’m even on passably cordial terms with the editor who fired me. Looking back, I suspect it never occurred to that editor to badmouth me beyond maybe a few grumbles to friends; I was only that terrible and that important in my own head, the mindset that I’ve heard described as “the turd at the center of the universe”. To the rest of the industry I was a blip, a little stone that sank instead of skipping merrily across the pond. While I was bemoaning the death of my dreams, they got another intern and life went on precisely as usual.

So the next time you annoy someone in the industry, as you inevitably will because we’re all imperfect people and we all get on one another’s nerves sometimes, don’t panic. Our incestuous clan has tolerated and even welcomed a great many people whose behavior should earn them nothing except epic quantities of side-eye. You have vanishingly small odds of being the very first person to make the entire genre publishing world so angry that it closes ranks against you. This isn’t license to be an unrepentant, unremitting jerk–asinine behavior is generally neither enjoyable nor practical, and while no one is entitled to threaten you, people are quite entitled to individually decide they don’t want to work or play with you–but it is certainly license to take a deep breath, let it out slowly, and not let yourself see disaster in every personality clash.

If that perspective gives you the courage to stand up to ludicrous claims that any one person can make or break your career, so much the better. The only person who can make or break your career is you. And if this town is the one you should be working in–as it is and always was for me, even when I had given up–then you may find your career is rather less breakable than you thought.

Giving SF a Bad Name

This newspaper clipping is making the rounds:

A newspaper clipping showing a letter to the editor that predicts the legalization of same-sex marriage will lead to enforced polygamy, nuclear war, starvation, and the election of an "American Indian" president who puts all whites on reservations.

What appalled me the most when I read this was not its complete sociopolitical wrongheadedness but the giant logic holes. If all whites have been put on reservations, why is Chester’s grandson (who identifies as white) still living in the family home in California? Why can we afford shuttles to the moon but not food for the starving nation? Why is there more food on the moon than on Earth? Why do people on the moon not know who the U.S. president is or what’s happening on Earth? Why would the legalization of plural marriage mean that someone would be forced to marry people he didn’t want to marry? What sort of rotten grandfather would miss not one but all five of his grandson’s weddings? And that’s a classic “as you know, Bob” paragraph of expository dialogue there–cut and reword, please!

I think it’s pretty funny that I can so easily look past the stupendously flawed premise to critique the way it’s developed, but it’s also sobering. I wonder how many other editors and critics out there let content problems slide, or miss them altogether, while hammering on structural matters. That would explain how a lot of problematic books get published, come to think of it. This is a good reminder to those of us who edit and critique SF/F to dig down below comma placement and character development, and make sure the heart of the story is sound.

(While we’re checking our credulity at the door, let’s not forget to verify our sources. This letter does indeed appear to have run in the June 14 edition of The La Jolla Light; you can see the whole paper on Issuu here, and find the letter on page A19. A complete transcript is at the Gawker page linked from the top of this entry.)

Eastercon Followup

  • BSFA apologizes to everyone regarding the recent unpleasantness.
  • John Meaney doesn’t seem to feel the need to apologize to anyone but Lavie Tidhar.
  • Nicholas Whyte on the best parts of Eastercon.
  • Alex Dally MacFarlane on the less nice parts of Eastercon. Mirrored from her blog; the two links have quite different sets of comments.
  • …and a follow-up post regarding some of the criticism she got for daring to say that Eastercon was not 100% perfect. In the comments: “I’m willing to apologise for not caring about racism today, in favour of caring about the the way the criticism of the event comes across. I’m willing to care about racism tomorrow though.” I… wow.
    • Tangentially related: Tori Truslow on the word “exotic”, including some very good discussion in comments. A while back I adopted a policy of excising that word from any prose I edit, pretty much for the reasons given there. If you can’t replace “exotic” with “foreign” and keep the sentence’s meaning intact, then the sentence is almost certainly laden with unpleasant cultural baggage and needs to be reworked entirely or omitted altogether.
    • And tangentially related to that, Charles Tan on “World SF”. Quite long, and worth reading in its entirety.
    • And in case you missed it, Saladin Ahmed on Game of Thrones‘s blinding whiteness. Do not read the comments. (h/t Aliette de Bodard for most of these links)

What Not to Do, Toastmaster Edition

At the introductory remarks for the BSFA Awards at Eastercon on Sunday, John Meaney dismissed gender parity panels as “babes in SF”, went on at length about Lauren Beukes’s looks, and joked about violent Israelis and African games with funny names.  Apparently there was also a part involving Irish people and leprechauns that wasn’t caught on video. There were numerous complaints on Twitter and several people walked out, missing the closing in which Meaney claimed Charles Stross was actually Osama bin Laden. (Not to be confused with the earlier part where he put up a picture of Lavie Tidhar labeled “Not Philip K. bin Laden”. Why make a terrible joke once when you could make it twice?)

Martin McGrath, a BSFA committee member, responded with a blog post where he said that a) the speech was in poor taste because it insults individual people, b) it was absurd to think of it as insulting groups to which those individual people belong (because had Lauren Beukes been a gorgeous man, Meaney would totally have talked about standing in the golden radiance of her aura! her being a woman is irrelevant!), and c) Meaney (whom McGrath barely knows) surely meant well and his heart is pure, so any responses to him should be made in an appropriate tone. McGrath fights for equality all the time, so when he says that being offended by sexist and racist comments is “hysterical”, you know it’s not worth worrying your pretty little head over. He also not only emphasized that he doesn’t represent BSFA but claimed that in fact it is impossible for any individual to do so, explained that it is BSFA policy not to have policies (er…), invited people to come chat with him at the BSFA booth at Eastercon, and wondered what the point was of continuing to volunteer with BSFA. Reactions to this screed were predictably negative.

This awfulness unfortunately rather overshadowed the BSFA Awards themselves, which went to Paul Cornell for short fiction, Christopher Priest for long fiction (he redeemed both himself and the ceremony by making two genuinely funny jokes in under 60 seconds), Dominic Harman for cover art, and The Science Fiction Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition for nonfiction. Prior to Meaney’s turn at the mike, the James White Award was also presented to Colum “CJ” Paget, who very generously donated his prize back to the award fund, and a special commendation was given to Tori Truslow. Congratulations to the winners, and sympathies to them and the other nominees, who had little choice but to sit through that excruciating half-hour and the subsequent rehashing.

The Content of Their Characters

NOTE: If you’re already up on racism and The Hunger Games and kind of exhausted by the thought of reading another post about it, you may be interested in reading about sexism and The Hunger Games instead.

Everyone’s buzzing about Hunger Games Tweets, a Tumblr that collects and discusses tweets from people who are shocked and upset that Rue, a character described in Suzanne Collins’s book The Hunger Games as having dark skin, is played by an African-American actress in the film. The link started making the rounds a couple of days ago, and after Jezebel picked it up, the hits went through the roof. Cue a great deal of head-shaking.

But why is everyone so surprised that some of Collins’s fans are having indisputably racist reactions to her books? When the movies were first cast, the excellent Racebending site covered the controversy over white, blonde Jennifer Lawrence being cast as olive-skinned, dark-haired Katniss. That led to a pointed question in an Entertainment Weekly interview with Collins and director Gary Ross, and an interesting response:

EW: In the books, Katniss is described as being olive-skinned, dark-haired, possibly biracial. Did you discuss with Suzanne the implications of casting a blond, caucasian girl?

GR: Suzanne and I talked about that as well. There are certain things that are very clear in the book. Rue is African-American. Thresh is African-American.

“Very clear” to Ross and Collins, perhaps, but not to all of their fans. A blog post that went up on EW about six months before the interview took place asked whether Rue was black, and–as a separate question–whether she should be played by a black actress. The comments immediately, inevitably, filled up with exclamations like “RUE IS NOT BLACK NEATER IS THRESH READ THE BOOK AGAIN!” and the slightly more considered “I feel like a jerk for not noticing she was black in the book”. And when African-American actors were cast for the parts of Rue, Thresh, and Cinna, Racialicious reported that the Hunger Games Facebook page was inundated with exclamations of surprise and dismay; those comments sound exactly like the recent tweets about the movie.

So I’m surprised that anyone’s surprised about the latest round of complaints. Sure, not everyone reads Racialicious and Racebending, but Jezebel covered the casting controversy back in 2011 too. More broadly, I’m trying to figure out how insulated one has to be from the wider world to be shocked! shocked! that racism is pervasive in American culture, and among American teens. Those wide-eyed tweets about Rue’s death being less sad because she’s black clearly come straight from the brains of adolescents (nearly all of them white, presumably) who have bathed in subtly and overtly racist culture since birth, absorbed far too much of it, and not yet learned to second-guess or even censor themselves when they parrot its tenets. They’re surprising only if you haven’t noticed that when real people of color are killed, there’s always an immediate attempt to justify or downplay the deaths. Art imitates life; reactions to art likewise imitate life.

On the bright side–and I am trying mightily to find a bright side here–this many surprised people might mean that more of those people are starting to pay attention, and will keep paying attention even after the latest furor dies down.

It’s Not Racist, It’s Just… Racist

Regarding the recent Belgian court decision that the indisputably racist Tintin in the Congo should be published without warning or introduction, China Miéville writes a deliciously scathing takedown of pretty much every pro-racism argument out there. There are an astounding number of ways people defend racism or attempt to dismiss it as irrelevant, as he notes:

(This – It’s Not Racist It’s Just Not Very Good – is a sort of evil-twin variant of the more common How Can Little Black Sambo Be Racist I Read It As A Child & I Loved It & What’s More I Understood Sambo Was The Hero (cf also How Can I Be A Sexist I Love Women In Fact I Prefer Them To Men aka How Is That Racist Having Natural Rhythm Is A Good Thing) position.)

He also dismantles claims of censorship and suppression (“Quick, conjure images of book burning!”), attempts to shift the focus to the author’s intent or the book’s historical context (“The question here is whether or not Tintin au Congo is racist. Which it is. That may perhaps in part be because white supremacism was less contested back then – just as well we’re not back then, then, isn’t it?”), and more. Read the whole thing. It’s good. I just wish it weren’t necessary.

Link Roundup

Some very good and very sad news today.

  • A couple of years ago, I wrote, “If I could subscribe to a publisher like a magazine or a book club—one flat annual fee to get everything they publish—I would subscribe to CZP.” Today ChiZine publisher Brett Savory wrote to me to say that I (and you) can do just that: they now offer e-book only, trade paper + e-book, and limited hardcover + e-book annual subscriptions, all with heavy discounts. Details here.
  • Author Spider Robinson’s daughter has been diagnosed with stage IV metastatic breast cancer. Spider’s wife and longtime collaborator, Jeanne, died in 2010 after her own battle with cancer. I hope that family catches a break very soon. (h/t to James Nicoll)
  • Over on PWxyz, Peter Brantley smacks Penguin into the middle of next week with a brilliant essay on the importance of e-book lending.
  • Paul Cornell pledges to evict himself from any convention panels he’s on where men outnumber women, and to invite a female audience member to replace him. Reactions predictably vary. (h/t to Graham Sleight)