Tag Archives: foolishness

How to Suppress Women’s Writing, Part N

This post of Mely’s has been linked around a lot, but it deserves all the exposure it can get:

The Locus Roundtable on Genre Accessibility has a lot of things going for it, although much of the discussion is at cross purposes: many of the participants have different notions about whether the topic is commercial success or critical respect, and do not realize this needs clarification until fairly late in the conversation. One of the things it has going for it is a reasonably even gender breakdown; seven out of seventeen participants are women, as is the moderator. And yet.

I do not have the patience to perform a comparative word count, but it is fairly obvious which sex is talking the most.

[data]

9/24, or a little over a third, of the writers women mentioned were other women.

[more data]

10/60, or one-sixth, of the writers men mentioned were women.

I am not suggesting that the participants are consciously sexist or intend to suppress or erase the existence of women writers. I am saying that this conversation follows a typical social pattern in which (a) men talk more than women in mixed company; (b) men promote male writers significantly more than they promote women writers; (c) the criteria which determine value or worth inherently favor men’s contributions over women’s, which are deemed trivial or inapplicable; (d) women’s contributions to the critical or cultural canon are systematically devalued, forgotten, or erased.

There’s much more; I highly recommend reading the whole thing.

(The mention of Twilight in Mely’s post reminds me to also highly recommend Ana Mardoll’s ongoing deconstructions of the Narnia books and the Twilight books.)

Night Shade Returns to the Fold

Remember back when authors complained about Night Shade Books’s publishing practice and SFWA put Night Shade on a year’s probation? (If you don’t, context is here and here and here.) Well, it’s been a year–a bit more than a year, actually, but SFWA was waiting for numbers from the end of the year to be crunched–and according to this letter from SFWA, the probation has had its intended effect: Night Shade has shaped up and is back in good standing.

Dear SFWA members:

As many of you are aware, on July 8, 2010 the SFWA board of directors voted unanimously to place Night Shade Books on probation for a period of one year, following concerns about contractual issues with their authors.

SFWA asked Night Shade to meet a series of benchmarks as a measure of a good faith effort to return to a solid standing. After a review of Night Shade Books and after requesting information from our members about the publisher’s activities during the period of probation, based upon the information currently available, the board believes that Night Shade has met the following conditions for it to remain on the qualifying list after its probation period:

  • That it examined its catalogue to ensure it is no longer offering fiction in formats for which it has no rights, and makes whole those authors whose rights it has violated;
  • That it instituted procedures and hired sufficient staff to ensure accurate record keeping for contracts and payments, both for previously published and future authors;
  • That there are no instances of contractual violations on the part of Night Shade Books against authors signed to publishing deals after the start of the probationary period.
  • Night Shade Books fulfills its contractual and financial obligations to the authors it has already published, including full and accurate accounting of royalties per contract, with payment of any royalties outstanding.

Therefore, the term of probation for Night Shade is lifted. Fiction contracted during that term is acceptable for qualification for SFWA membership. It may remain on the list so long as it continues to fulfill its contractual obligations to its authors and meets SFWA’s qualifying market standards. SFWA remains interested in the health of Night Shade books and will act at any time to deal with a member complaint against Night Shade.

We look forward to working with them and are glad that SFWA is able to retain Night Shade Books as a SFWA qualifying market.

I’m very pleased to see that the Night Shade folks are getting their act together; they put out a lot of great books and work with a lot of great authors who deserve to get paid and otherwise treated well. It’s also a feather in SFWA’s cap, and a testament to the power of whistleblowing. I’d call it a win all around.

“Womanspace”

Every once in a while, I’m reminded of how far the SF field has come. For example, I would be genuinely surprised these days to find one of the major SF magazines publishing a story as sexist, plotless, and generally poorly written as Ed Rybicki’s “Womanspace“, which appeared in Nature‘s Futures section a few days ago. (Yes, Nature publishes SF. They’ve even published some very good SF. I hope they’ll consider going back to publishing good SF instead of this nonsense.)

If you’re in the mood to read outraged letters, The Contemplative Mammoth has collected links.

For Books Are Not Absolutely Dead Things

From John Milton’s Aeropagitica:

I deny not, but that it is of greatest concernment in the Church and Commonwealth, to have a vigilant eye how Bookes demeane themselves as well as men; and thereafter to confine, imprison, and do sharpest justice on them as malefactors: For Books are not absolutely dead things, but doe contain a potencie of life in them to be as active as that soule was whose progeny they are; nay they do preserve as in a violl the purest efficacie and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. I know they are as lively, and as vigorously productive, as those fabulous Dragons teeth; and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men. And yet on the other hand, unlesse warinesse be us’d, as good almost kill a Man as kill a good Book; who kills a Man kills a reasonable creature, Gods Image; but hee who destroyes a good Booke, kills reason it selfe, kills the Image of God, as it were in the eye. Many a man lives a burden to the Earth; but a good Booke is the pretious life-blood of a master spirit, imbalm’d and treasur’d up on purpose to a life beyond life. ‘Tis true, no age can restore a life, whereof perhaps there is no great losse; and revolutions of ages do not oft recover the losse of a rejected truth, for the want of which whole Nations fare the worse. We should be wary therefore what persecution we raise against the living labours of publick men, how we spill that season’d life of man preserv’d and stor’d up in Books; since we see a kinde of homicide may be thus committed, sometimes a martyrdome, and if it extend to the whole impression, a kinde of massacre, whereof the execution ends not in the slaying of an elementall life, but strikes at that ethereall and fift essence, the breath of reason it selfe, slaies an immortality rather then a life.

cc: Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly

In a desperate attempt to look at recent events in some vague sort of positive light (because for the most part I’m sitting here absolutely heartbroken and scared and angry), I’m heartened to see that the destruction of books is still a cause of outrage. Tonight the National Book Awards are being announced just a few blocks from where the NYPD is reportedly continuing to confiscate books from people in a public park, and Ron Hogan and Edward Champion are hotly tweeting about both Occupy Wall Street and the NBAs (it sounds like Ron won’t be satisfied until the audience and presenters collectively abandon the ceremony to deliver books to Zuccotti Park). McNally Jackson is offering discounts on books purchased as donations. A friend told me today that her husband wasn’t keen on OWS but was absolutely horrified by the dismantling of the library. Whatever you think of our current book culture and our current political climate, in all their turbulence and uncertainty, it’s indisputable that books still matter, all these centuries after Milton spoke so brilliantly and fervently in the defense of the unrestricted press.

Now I’m going to go turn off Twitter and eat comfort food.

Gay and Innocent and Heartless

Maria Tatar, the chair of Harvard’s folklore and mythology program, has written a terrible NYT sequel to Meghan Cox Gurdon’s terrible WSJ op-ed. Learning from Gurdon’s mistakes, Tatar does not offer a blanket condemnation of children’s/middle grade/YA literature with grim themes. Instead, she complains that kids these days authors these days won’t get off her lawn write unrelentingly grim children’s literature, unlike the Good Old Days when there might have been a bit of occasional grimness but it was leavened by humor and joy.

Specifically, she writes:

Children today get an unprecedented dose of adult reality in their books, sometimes without the redemptive beauty, cathartic humor and healing magic of an earlier time.

By way of example, Tatar compares The Hunger Games with Peter and Wendy (better known as Peter Pan because I guess at some point it became unfashionable for a girl to get star billing).

Let me just make a few small points here.

1) The Hunger Games is very clearly aimed at older readers. Peter and Wendy was published long before the current children’s/middle grade/YA categorization system came into existence, but it’s pretty clearly aimed at younger readers. You might as well compare Unwind with Uncle Wiggly.

2) Tatar declares that modern books, such as The Graveyard Book and the His Dark Materials trilogy, “frequently offer expansive meditations on mortality, with heroes on crusades against death… It’s hard to imagine Carroll or Barrie coming up with something like that.” But Peter and Wendy is very much a meditation on mortality; it is a model for science fiction stories about the horrors of living forever, a parable about the unbearable weight of adulthood and its inevitable progress toward death. All children, except one, grow up… and eventually age and die. Peter doesn’t need to go on a crusade against death. It’s clear that he has already faced down death and won–and, in the process, doomed himself to eternal miserable loneliness in a decaying world built out of other people’s abandoned dreams. (I maintain that Peter is Hades and Wendy is a very peculiar Persephone, but that’s a separate post.)

2a) While Tatar is complaining that The Graveyard Book opens with the description of a murder, she would do well to remember that Peter ruthlessly does away with any Lost Boys who dare to show signs of growing up, and Michael, barely out of infancy, is thrilled when he gets to kill his first pirate.

2b) The Graveyard Book is an homage to, and in some ways an adaptation of, The Jungle Book, a contemporary of Peter and Wendy and easily as grim and bloody and existentially dire as anything being written today. Mowgli is the antithesis of Peter Pan; he grows inexorably older, gets evicted from his wild, magical home, and then explicitly rejects his surrogate mother. Not much leavening in there either, unless you count “The White Seal”, which, uh, at least has a happy ending except for all the seals who are brutally slain in front of their families.

3) According to Andrew Birkin, who adapted Barrie’s play Peter Pan for the French stage, Barrie’s working title for the play was Peter Pan, or, The Boy Who Hated Mothers. Again according to Birkin, Barrie suggested that the actress who plays Mrs. Darling should also play Captain Hook–which makes sense, as Mrs. Darling is the real-world antagonist. (At one point in the narration, Barrie snipes, “I had meant to say extraordinarily nice things about [Mrs. Darling]; but I despise her, and not one of them will I say now.”) Here’s just a handful of ways motherhood is treated very oddly in Peter and Wendy: mothers rummage through their children’s dreams, the best mother is a dog, a young girl is recruited to be a surrogate mother to a host of young boys (including her own brothers), and when that young girl grows up and has daughters of her own they are recruited in turn, interchangeably, with their duties summarized as “spring cleaning”. It may not be what we currently think of as an issue book, but it sure is a book with issues.

4) Peter and Wendy is bluntly racist as well as misogynist, and no amount of “redemptive beauty, cathartic humor and healing magic” can make up for that or balance it out.

Tatar, a scholar of no small accomplishment, must know all these things. (Well, maybe she didn’t know about The Graveyard Book‘s connection to The Jungle Book.) So why would the editor of The Annotated Peter Pan be so willing to overlook the book’s obvious faults, flaws, and grimness in order to hold it up as a model of…

…oh, I see. Perhaps I have answered my own question there.

(It’s possible that Tatar’s agenda does not include selling copies of her book, I suppose, but I think it does not look particularly good for either her or the Times that she has written, and they have published, the op-ed equivalent of “Well, in my novel…” the same week that said book hits the shelves.)

The rest of the essay falls apart under its own weight. Most tellingly, only two sentences after complaining about those overdoses of “adult reality”, Tatar quotes Suzanne Collins as having based the Hunger Games books in part on “[Collins's] anxieties as a child about the possibility that her father might die while fighting in Vietnam” (emphasis mine). She goes on to say that no one since Carroll and Barrie has “fully entered the imaginative worlds of children–where danger is balanced by enchantment”. If Tatar thinks that all children’s imaginations–and all children’s lives–have sufficient enchantment to balance the danger, I’d say that she is the one living in Wonderland.

#YesGayYA Winds Down

It’s been ten days since the original “Say Yes to Gay YA” post went up, and a lot has been said and done since then. Probably the best of the wrap-up posts is Cleolinda Jones’s. If you’re attempting to explain the whole conversation to someone who wasn’t in on it from the start, that’s the link to send them.

I also wanted to note a couple of other link lists, one by holyschist and one by qian, that highlight some long, thoughtful posts on QUILTBAG representation in YA and related matters. Once you’ve caught up on the general conversation, take some time to read those posts, especially the ones by oyceter and Alaya Dawn Johnson.

Finally, crucially, Malinda Lo has done an absolutely heroic job of compiling statistics on queer characters in U.S.-published YA fiction. The most depressing stat is the one that’s been quoted a lot elsewhere, but it bears repeating:

Finally, according to Harold Underdown’s YA Books Are Booming–but not That Much, there were approximately 4,000 YA titles published in 2010. That same year, only 11 LGBT YA titles were published. That amounts to 0.2% of YA books. That fraction is frankly too small to make a pie chart out of.

The numbers aren’t much better for this year. If we assume no growth and stick with 4,000 YA titles, we have 25 LGBT YA titles within that, which amounts to 0.6%. That means:

Less than 1% of YA novels have LGBT characters.

So we have our work cut out for us. I hope readers, writers, agents, publishers, librarians, booksellers, and critics will take a serious look at these numbers and the outpouring of support for YA with QUILTBAG characters, and will collaborate on creating wonderful books featuring queer teens–including books that aren’t “issue books”, including books where those queer teens aren’t white cisgender American boys, including romances with happy endings–and getting them into the hands of anyone and everyone who might appreciate them.

Riposte and Counter-riposte

Monday’s “Say Yes to Gay YA” post contributed to PW‘s highest-ever one-day website traffic. It has been viewed nearly 40,000 times. I am tremendously proud of the conversation we’re having in the comments there and of the many people in the industry who have spoken up in support of authors who write YA with queer protagonists. I hope to see readers and editors voting with their purchasing power as well. Readers especially: the more of these books we buy, the more editors will be able to get approval for buying them and the more agents will be able to afford to rep them.

Speaking of agents, yesterday evening, Joanna Stampfel-Volpe of the Nancy Coffey Literary Agency contacted me about posting a rebuttal to the “Say Yes to Gay YA” post. I said I was willing to post it but suggested an alternative to the statement she sent me. After some discussion, she decided to post her rebuttal elsewhere. You can read it in full here, hosted by my friend Colleen Lindsay, one of the staunchest advocates I know for QUILTBAG representation in publishing. A key excerpt:

We had read the manuscript, and had spoken to the authors to learn more about the story. Later, when this article was posted, we discussed in-house how awful it was they’d had to go through this.

Then we got a surprising call from an agent friend who had heard that this article was supposedly about us.

 Initially we thought it was just an unfortunate rumor.

Then the emails started pouring in

Did we know what people were saying about us?

Why were they saying this?

This can’t be true!

Well. It isn’t true.

Let me repeat this: there is nothing in that article concerning our response to their manuscript that is true. [...]

So let’s continue this conversation, and let’s base it on the truth, which is:

There are not enough mainstream books that depict characters of diverse race, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, and physical and/or mental disabilities.

Changing this starts with the readers. Scott Tracy has a great post about this on his blog. If more people buy books with these elements, then publishers will want to publish more of them. Sounds simple…yet, it’s not so simple.

How do we reach the readers who are looking for these types of books? And more importantly, how do we reach the readers who aren’t specifically looking for them?

We would love to start this conversation. It is one that our agency believes in and feels strongly about. Let’s discuss.

In response, Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown posted the following in their personal blogs:

The unnamed agency in our previous post has chosen to come forward to present their perception of our exchange. We confirm that it was the agency we referred to. We stand by every word we wrote in our original article.

We did not wish to name them, because we preferred to focus on the larger issues. We did not spread rumors about them, and we don’t know who did.

This is why we went public: After the initial exchange a month ago, we spoke in private to a number of other writers, without mentioning the name of the agent or agency. There was an overwhelming response of “Me too!” Many other writers had been asked by agents and editors to alter or remove the minority identity of their characters, sometimes as a condition of representation or sale. Sometimes those identities had been altered by editors without the writers’ knowledge or permission.

That response, and posts like Malinda Lo’s recent statistics make it clear that the problem is much larger than a couple of writers and one specific agency.

We urge you all to continue focusing on the bigger picture.

As comments are open on all of those posts, I am closing them here. (I’m also still moderating a steady stream of comments on the original post, which is about all the comment moderation I’m capable of doing at the moment.) I encourage anyone inclined to comment to keep the larger societal issues here at the forefront, as everyone involved has requested.

And since I see some commenters are already impugning both Genreville and Publishers Weekly (no apostrophe, please), I will add that I do not for a moment regret hosting the original post, any more than I would have regretted hosting the response from Joanna. I am perfectly happy to provide a platform for this conversation and encourage its continuation. In addition, Genreville is hosted by PW, and I am employed by PW, but a blog post is not the same thing as an article or even an op-ed in the magazine. Please don’t conflate them.

Authors Say Agents Try to “Straighten” Gay Characters in YA

Editor’s note: The text of this post was written by Rachel Manija Brown, author of All the Fishes Come Home to Roost, and Sherwood Smith, author of Crown Duel and a great many other novels for adults and young adults. I am posting it in order to provide a pseudonymity-friendly space for comments from authors who have had similar experiences to the ones that Rachel and Sherwood describe. I strongly encourage all authors, agents, editors, publishers, and readers to contribute to a serious and honest conversation on the value and drawbacks of gatekeeping with regard to minority characters, authors, and readers, and to continue that conversation in all areas of the industry. –Rose


 Say Yes To Gay YA

By Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith

We are published authors who co-wrote a post-apocalyptic young adult novel. When we set out to find an agent for it, we expected to get some rejections. But we never expected to be offered representation… on the condition that we make a gay character straight, or cut him out altogether.

Our novel, Stranger, has five viewpoint characters; one, Yuki Nakamura, is gay and has a boyfriend. Yuki’s romance, like the heterosexual ones in the novel, involves nothing more explicit than kissing.

An agent from a major agency, one which represents a bestselling YA novel in the same genre as ours, called us.

The agent offered to sign us on the condition that we make the gay character straight, or else remove his viewpoint and all references to his sexual orientation.

Rachel replied, “Making a gay character straight is a line in the sand which I will not cross. That is a moral issue. I work with teenagers, and some of them are gay. They never get to read fantasy novels where people like them are the heroes, and that’s not right.”

The agent suggested that perhaps, if the book was very popular and sequels were demanded, Yuki could be revealed to be gay in later books, when readers were already invested in the series.

We knew this was a pie-in-the-sky offer—who knew if there would even be sequels?—and didn’t solve the moral issue. When you refuse to allow major characters in YA novels to be gay, you are telling gay teenagers that they are so utterly horrible that people like them can’t even be allowed to exist in fiction.

LGBTQ teenagers already get told this. They are four times more likely than straight teenagers to attempt suicide. We’re not saying that the absence of LGBTQ teens in YA sf and fantasy novels is the reason for that. But it’s part of the overall social prejudice that does cause that killing despair.

We wrote this novel so that the teenagers we know—some of whom are gay, and many of whom are not white—would be able, for once, to read a fun post-apocalyptic adventure in which they are the heroes. And we were told that such a thing could not be allowed.

After we thanked the agent for their time, declined the offer, and hung up, Sherwood broke the silence. “Do you think the agent missed that Becky and Brisa [supporting characters] are a couple, too? Do they ever actually kiss on-page? No? I’M ADDING A LESBIAN KISS NOW!”

This Is Not About One Bad Apple

This isn’t about that specific agent; we’d gotten other rewrite requests before this one. Previous agents had also offered to take a second look if we did rewrites… including cutting the viewpoint of Yuki, the gay character. We wondered if that was because of his sexual orientation, but since the agents didn’t say it out loud, we could only wonder. (We were also told that it is absolutely unacceptable in YA for a boy to consensually date two girls, but that it would be okay if he was cheating and lying. And we wonder if some agents were put off because none of our POV characters are white.)

We absolutely do not believe that all our rejections were due to prejudice. We know for a fact that some of them weren’t. (An agent did offer us representation, but we ended up passing due to creative differences that had nothing to do with the identities of the characters.)

This isn’t about one agent’s personal feelings about gay people. We don’t know their feelings; they may well be sympathetic in their private life, but regard the removal of gay characters as a marketing issue. The conversation made it clear that the agent thought our book would be an easy sale if we just made that change. But it doesn’t matter if the agent rejected the character because of personal feelings or because of assumptions about the market. What matters is that a gay character would be quite literally written out of his own story.

We are avoiding names because we don’t want this story to be about one agent who spoke more bluntly than others whose objections were more indirectly expressed. Naming names can make it too easy to target a lone “villain,” who can be blamed and scolded until everyone feels that the matter has been satisfactorily dealt with.

Forcing all major characters in YA novels into a straight white mold is a widespread, systemic problem which requires long-term, consistent action.

When we privately discussed our encounter with the agent, we heard from other writers whose prospective agents made altering a character’s minority identity—sexual orientation, race, disability—a condition of representation. But other than Jessica Verday, who refused to change a character’s gender in a short story on an editor’s request, few writers have come forward for fear of being blacklisted.

We sympathize with that fear. But we believe that silence, however well-motivated and reasonable from a marketing point of view, allows the problem to flourish. We hope that others will speak up as well, in whatever manner is safe and comfortable for them.

The overwhelming white straightness of the YA sf and fantasy sections may have little to do with what authors are writing, or even with what editors accept. Perhaps solid manuscripts with LGBTQ protagonists rarely get into mainstream editors’ hands at all, because they are been rejected by agents before the editors see them. How many published novels with a straight white heroine and a lesbian or black or disabled best friend once had those roles reversed, before an agent demanded a change?

This does not make for better novels. Nor does it make for a better world.

Let’s make a better world.

What You Can Do

If You’re An Editor: Some agents are turning down manuscripts or requesting rewrites because they think that the identities of the characters will make the book unsalable. That means that you, who might love those characters, never even get to see them.

If you are open to novels featuring LGBTQ protagonists or major characters, you can help by saying so explicitly. When agents realize that LGBTQ content does not lead to a lost sale, they will be less likely to demand that it be removed.

The same goes for other identity issues. If you are interested in YA fantasy/sf with protagonists who are disabled, or aren’t white, or otherwise don’t fit the usual mold, please explicitly say so. General statements of being pro-diversity don’t seem to get the point across. We ask you to issue a clear, unmistakable statement that you would like to see books with protagonists or major characters who are LGBTQ, people of color, disabled, or any combination of the above.

If You’re An Agent: If you are open to manuscripts with major or main LGBTQ characters, please explicitly say so in your listings and websites. Just as with editors, simply saying “we appreciate diversity” could mean anything. (In fact, the agent who asked us to make our gay character straight had made such mentions.) You can throw the gates open by making a clear and unmistakable statement with details. For instance: “I would love to see books whose characters are diverse in all or any respects, including but not limited to gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, disability, and national origin.”

If You’re A Reader: Please vote with your pocketbooks and blogs by buying, reading, reviewing, and asking libraries to buy existing YA fantasy/sf with LGBTQ protagonists or major characters. If those books succeed financially, more like them will be written, represented, and sold. Your reviews don’t have to be positive; any publicity is good publicity. Review on blogs, Amazon, Goodreads, anywhere you yourself read reviews.

An annotated list of YA sf/fantasy with main or major LGBTQ characters is available here, with links to Amazon. Please bookmark this list for reference. It will continue to be updated as new books are released.

Characters of color/non-white characters are often also relegated to the status of sidekicks in YA sff, and are depicted as white on the covers of the few books in which they do star. Please vote with your pocketbooks and blogs to support novels in which they are protagonists.

An annotated list of YA sf/fantasy with protagonists of color is available here, with links to Amazon. Part I: Author surnames from A – L. Part II: Author surnames from M – Z. Please bookmark these lists for reference. They will continue to be updated as new books are released.

The usual protagonist of a YA sf/fantasy novel is a heterosexual white girl or boy with no disabilities or mental/neurological issues, no stated religion, and no specific ethnicity. Reading and reviewing novels whose characters break that mold in other ways would also be a step forward.

If You’re A Writer: If you have had a manuscript rejected because of the identity of the characters, or had an agent or editor request that you alter the identity of a character, please tell your story. Comment here, or leave a link to your own blog post. If you would prefer to use a pseudonym, feel free to do so; see this post for more information on Genreville’s pseudonymous comments policy and credibility verification option.

If You’re Anyone At All: Please link to this article. (If you link on Twitter, please use the #YesGayYA hashtag.) If enough people read it and take the suggestions, enormous and wonderful changes could take place.

Who We Are

This article was written by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith. Rachel Manija Brown is a TV writer, poet, and author of the memoir All the Fishes Come Home to Roost: An American Misfit in India. Sherwood Smith has published more than thirty fantasy and science fiction novels, including the adult fantasies Inda and Coronets and Steel, and the YA fantasy Crown Duel. Together, we created an animated TV series, Game World, which we sold to the Jim Henson Company.

Our YA post-apocalyptic novel, Stranger, remains unagented and unsold.

—–

Editor’s note: Please see the follow-up post here.

Official Statements

In my post about “Hamlet’s Father”, I said I didn’t expect Marvin Kaye or Tor Books to disavow or apologize for publishing it in The Ghost Quartet. I was half wrong! Kaye posted this comment:

For the record, when I put together “The Ghost Quartet” for Tor Books, Scott Card was not my choice to be one of the four contributors. Not because I do not respect his work; in the past I have bought an original dragon novella from him, and reprinted his horror classic, “Eumenides in the Fourth Floor Lavatory.” However, Tor insisted that Scott be one of the contributors to “The Ghost Quartet.” When approached, he tried to beg off because he was under such deadline pressure that he warned it would take him a very long time to write something new for the book.

However, Tor Books insisted that he MUST be one of the quartet. Tor made it clear they would not publish “The Ghost Quartet” unless Scott was part of the mix. As a result, he was over a year late delivering his manuscript, by which time one of the other authors was very angry at me.

So that is something like a disavowal, sort of. Meanwhile, Tor sent me this statement:

Orson Scott Card is a very successful author for Tor. We do not attempt to censor the political or religious beliefs of any of our authors, and make our acquisition decisions based on commercial potential.

Finally, Card himself has posted on his website calling the PW review “dishonest” and responding to other “false statements”:

[T]here is no link whatsoever between homosexuality and pedophilia in this book. Hamlet’s father, in the book, is a pedophile, period. I don’t show him being even slightly attracted to adults of either sex. It is the reviewer, not me, who has asserted this link, which I would not and did not make. [...]

[S]ince I have become a target of vilification by the hate groups of the Left, I am increasingly reluctant to have any gay characters in my fiction, because I know that no matter how I depict them, I will be accused of homophobia. The result is that my work is distorted by not having gay characters where I would normally have had them — for which I will also, no doubt, be accused of homophobia. [...]

I’m as proud of the story as ever, and I hope readers will experience the story as it was intended to be read.

I conclude with a link to the response from Subterranean Press again, just to have all the official statements in one place.

James Nicoll quotes “a source” with access to Bookscan numbers as saying that The Ghost Quartet sold around 100 copies. I guess that commercial potential wasn’t as thoroughly fulfilled as anyone involved with the project might have liked.

The Offensiveness Grenade

In 2008, the Science Fiction Book Club Tor Books published an anthology called The Ghost Quartet, edited by Marvin Kaye, which contained a novella by Orson Scott Card called “Hamlet’s Father”. Tor Books reprinted the anthology. (See comments for discussions of the struck-through text.) No one appeared to notice that the novella rather painfully rewrote Hamlet to postulate that Hamlet’s father was an evil gay child molester who preyed upon the youth of Denmark.

Among those who missed the memo were the folks at Subterranean Press, who published the novella in a stand-alone edition in April of this year. Yes, this is the same Subterranean Press that publishes books by authors like Caitlín R. Kiernan and Poppy Z. Brite–hardly a bastion of homophobia. They kept the print run to 1000 copies, perhaps realizing the book would hold little appeal for anyone other than Card’s die-hard fans. PW‘s review was less than complimentary, and explicitly called out “the focus… on linking homosexuality with the life-destroying horrors of pedophilia”. Nonetheless, Hamlet’s Father almost entirely escaped the notice of the SF/F field’s queer activists.

On September 5th, William Alexander reviewed the book in Rain Taxi‘s online summer 2011 edition, calling it “as horrifying as it is ridiculous” and “a failure of narrative craft on every level”, and after three years of sitting there with the pin pulled out, the offensiveness grenade went off. Outraged blog posts, comments, and tweets sprang up. Felix Gilman suggested that the book could be followed by Unambiguously Antisemitic Merchant of Venice, while Arthur Hlavaty said he was waiting for “the one where that Muslim sumbitch Othello deserved to die.” Scott Lynch posted a “so much less gay and not written with gay big words” version of Henry V. Even @HAMLET_HULK weighed in. Outraged letters began arriving at SubPress; publisher Bill Schafer posted an official response bravely asking for more comments and promising to share them with senior staff and take them into consideration when making future acquisitions. Perhaps this request will redirect the ire from blogs and Twitter to the SubPress inbox; perhaps not.

Schafer professed surprise at the sudden and vitriolic response, given that the novella has been in circulation for years and was originally put out by much bigger publishers in much bigger print runs with much lower price tags. Not mentioned but relevant is Card’s long-established reputation for homophobic writing. Most queer readers are avoiding his work already, so why would anyone kick up a fuss over one little novella with a 1000-copy print run from a boutique press? But this is the thing about offensiveness grenades: they may look entirely inert for so long that you forget they’re dangerous, but sooner or later, they explode.

I expect a lot of people will be vexed that Schafer doesn’t explicitly disavow or apologize for the book. (I don’t expect Tor, the SFBC,  Marvin Kaye, or Card to disavow or apologize for it either.) It is worth keeping in mind, though, that SubPress has a pretty good track record of publishing queer and queer-friendly work. I know Bill Schafer well enough to believe him when he says they’ll read and respect the comments that come in. So disavowal or no, I’m hoping for the response that matters most: publishing better, smarter, kinder books. And I hope lots of people write not only to SubPress but to all their favorite publishers and ask for more representation and more respect.

EDIT: There’s some good discussion of the book and OSC’s work on Metafilter, and MegWrites is compiling a list of queer books mentioned with the #buyabiggaynovelforscottcardday hashtag on Twitter.

EDIT 2: All comments are now being moderated. I will err on the side of encouraging discussion, but I will be redacting personal attacks, trolling, and other off-topic material.

More Deep Thoughts

Josh and I were idly chatting over the weekend about someday running a Worldcon; he wants to have one in Atlantic City in ’21 (very appropriate) and I said we could call it Ace of Cons. After some thought, we came up with a dream team of guests of honor: author N.K. Jemisin, editors Devi Pillai and DongWon Song, and artist Kinuko Y. Craft, with K. Tempest Bradford as toastmistress. By 2021 I expect Nora, Devi, and DongWon will have cemented their reputations as genre stars; Kinuko Craft is already legendary; and Tempest, the Wanda Sykes of fandom, would run the world’s most hilarious Hugo ceremony. It would be awesome. It would also be a statement that you can have a major genre event where all the deservedly honored guests are people of color and most of them are women. Links like the ones above are the reason I think such statements need to be made, repeatedly and with emphasis.

Deep Thoughts

For a holiday weekend, there’s been an awful lot of introspection and serious thought going on out in the interwebs.

If that’s not enough wisdom for you, have an extra bit of brilliance from Emily Post, writing about social media interactions 89 years ago:

A gift of more value than beauty, is charm, which in a measure is another word for sympathy, or the power to put yourself in the place of others; to be interested in whatever interests them, so as to be pleasing to them, if possible, but not to occupy your thoughts in futilely wondering what they think about you.

Would you know the secret of popularity? It is unconsciousness of self, altruistic interest, and inward kindliness, outwardly expressed in good manners.

Those of you who were at the Worldcon panel on social media may remember me fumbling to remember that quote. Here it is in its beautiful entirety. If this were displayed above the text entry boxes on Twitter, Facebok, and Google+, I think the internet would be a much more pleasant place.

Down with Destiny

While going over my page proofs today (yes, on paper, with a pencil, because we are seriously old school over here), I caught the term “bond-mate” in two consecutive reviews. I took one out and replaced it with an equivalent term, but this got me thinking about how many paranormal romances seem to revolve around the idea of destined partners, much as fantasy epics often revolve around the idea of destined jobs or tasks.

Does anyone else find this idea really disturbing? It’s like all the worst parts of arranged marriage with none of the upsides. It throws us back to a time when women were property and there was no divorce. You can’t even blame your parents; Fate or Destiny or God has made the choice for you, and you don’t get to argue. Initially dislike the other person? Too bad! Fate or Destiny or God has also slipped you a roofie, and you will be so compellingly attracted to your destined mate that your arousal overwhelms your very reasonable concerns. The super-hot compulsive sex will just have to make up for your partner not being someone you otherwise want to be in the same room with.

In anything resembling the real world, this would be a recipe for marital disaster and profound self-loathing. The compulsive arousal/attraction thing particularly makes me cringe. There’s a word for sex you don’t want but are forced to have, and I think that word is applicable even when it’s Fate or Destiny or God forcing two people to behave a certain way rather than one of those people forcing the other. How terrible would it be to be repeatedly compelled to have sex with someone you’re bound to forever, possibly for multiple centuries or lifetimes depending on the paranormal setting, and to have your body aroused by it every single time even when it’s really not what your mind wants, and to know that you can’t escape because Fate or Destiny or God will inexorably draw the two of you back together no matter how far you run? Even if you loved your partner truly and deeply, how could you bring yourself to touch them, knowing that their responses aren’t under their control and that in this setting there is no such thing as consent because neither of you can really say no?

If the destiny is in some way related to race or heritage or gender–all men are fighters, all elves prefer bow-and-arrow to swords, each man gets one woman and each woman gets one man, the prince raised as a woodcutter will be a terrific king because kingliness is inherited, etc.–you get double extra “no” points. Essentialism is bad enough without setting up an entire fictional world that supports and enforces it.

I could be all analytical and muse about why so many readers and writers find these concepts even remotely appealing, but I’m going to keep it personal. The more I encounter destiny tropes, the more they turn me off. Destined love is the opposite of romantic.

Freedom to choose one’s own path in life is such a fundamental necessity that wars have been fought over it and people have marched by the millions demanding it. Let’s stop mining the emotional power of restriction and the quest for freedom by writing endless narratives of people who not only have no choices but whose character arcs begin with defiant struggle and end with giving in. When destined partners fall helplessly in love, it’s no different from “He loved Big Brother”.

Give me protagonists who make choices, even terrible choices, maybe especially terrible choices. Give me all the character development that comes from debating those choices. If Fate or Destiny or God forces them to do certain things, they’re not protagonists anymore; they’re puppets, hollow and voiceless, following their script to its depressingly inevitable conclusion.

An Open Letter to Lambda Literary Foundation Co-Chair Dr. Judith Markowitz

Dear Dr. Markowitz:

I don’t believe we’ve been introduced. I’m the SF/fantasy/horror reviews editor at Publishers Weekly and a past judge of the SF/F/H Lambda Award.

I am equal parts delighted and dismayed by the press release currently being circulated regarding the changes to the Lambda Awards. Delighted, because I was appalled when the 2009 rule change required us to perform bedroom checks on nominees to determine their eligibility, and further distressed when a friend of mine, also a judge, was informed that a good rule of thumb was to check an author’s bio and see whether a different-sex partner was mentioned. This rule of thumb obviously excludes trans, genderqueer, and queer authors who are in different-sex partnerships (many of whom I was pleased to suggest as finalists and winners during my time as a Lammy judge). I withdrew from judging in great part because of these changes, and I’m very pleased to see that the majority of the awards will be open to all authors again.

I am dismayed, however, by this:

“LGBT authors will be recognized with three awards marking stages of a writer’s career: the Betty Berzon Debut Fiction Award (to one gay man and one lesbian), the Jim Duggins Outstanding Mid-Career Novelist Prize (to one male-identified and one female-identified author), and the Pioneer Award (to one male-identified and one female-identified individual or group)”

In other words, non-monosexual debut authors need not apply, and genderqueer and intersex authors as well as those involved in different-sex collaborations are not welcome at any stage of their careers. How can you even think of calling this a new policy of inclusiveness?

I cannot fathom the decision-making process that led to the splitting of these awards along gendered lines, especially since you must be aware of the growing number of queer people who do not identify as gay, lesbian, male, or female. Why not simply state that each award will go to two people a year? Why take such specific and exclusionary steps? Quota systems serve no one, and I say that as an ardent feminist and anti-racist who has long campaigned for more diverse winners and nominees across the spectrum of speculative fiction awards. Enforcing year-by-year equality between two communities while excluding all others only exposes the artificiality of such methods, which have so little to do with who the six most talented and recognition-worthy authors may be in any given year. You may intend these protectionist tactics to keep the awards “safe” from the encroachment of straight authors, but in the process, you’re joining a long and ignominious tradition of queer people who pay lip service to the B and the T while doing everything possible to promote the L and the G.

Saying that only gays and lesbians, and only men and women, are eligible for recognition is really no different from saying that only queer authors are eligible for the awards in general, except that you have made the criteria even more restrictive. You will still need to contend with the deep moral problems that arise from demanding that authors out themselves–in a world that can still be extremely dangerous for overtly queer and trans people, especially people of color, people who don’t conform to gender norms, and people living in repressive and overtly anti-queer cultures–and subscribe to a particular set of definitions. I had hoped for better from the Lammys. I’m very, very disappointed.

I strongly urge you to consider how many talented and worthy authors may be excluded from consideration for these three new awards, and then to update the eligibility criteria to reflect the true breadth and depth of the community you purport to represent and celebrate.

Sincerely,
Rose Fox

(cc: awards coordinator pro tem Richard Labonté, The Outer Alliance, my personal and professional blogs)

EDIT: Dr. Markowitz has responded to me, and given me permission to post her response:

The Debut Fiction awards, like any other funded awards, cannot be changed without the full support of the funders. Those discussion are in process but LLF needed to release the guidelines before September 1 so that authors and publishers could begin making nominations.

I am baffled as to why one would invite nominations for an award whose nomination guidelines might be in flux, but at least they’re talking about it.

EDIT 2: Jenn Reese points out that the named awards mentioned above were previously established. My objections stand, but my reference to them as “new awards” is erroneous.

In Threes

Good things come in threes! Have some good writing advice:

  1. Kelley Eskridge: “Today I am thinking about exposition and voice. There is the voice of the character, and the deeper voice of the writer: if you spend time with the pieces I’m writing every day, I am sure you will notice certain patterns of my writer’s voice, especially since they are not yet smoothed fully into effective stories. But today I am thinking about character voice as a tool for, well, everything.”
  2. David Hines: “When I’m reading, I often play a game called, ‘Who the fuck are these people, and why the fuck do I care?’ The term ‘game’ is something of a misnomer, because it’s not conscious, or hasn’t been until I noticed my brain was doing something and tried to figure out just what that something was. It actually happens pretty deeply, on an instinctual level. ‘Who the fuck are these people, and why the fuck do I care?’ is the best name I’ve come up with to describe what’s happening, and the reason I came up with it is that a while back I realized that I’ve been playing this game when I find that a story has made me confused, or angry, or really fucking bored.”
  3. FILM CRIT HULK: “THE ACT BREAK CAN BE NEW AND INTERESTING PLOT POINT, A POIGNANT CHARACTER DECISION, A PERSONALITY REVEAL, TWO PREVIOUSLY UN-MET CHARACTERS BECOMING FRIENDS, OR EVEN, IF HANDLED CORRECTLY, SOMETHING AS INSIPID AS ‘NO! THE BAD GUYS ARE HERE! RUN!’ … IT CAN  BE ANYTHING AS LONG AS IT HAVE CHANGING NARRATIVE VALUE. THE CHARACTERS ALWAYS HAVE MOVE FORWARD IN SOME NEW REALITY/SITUATION. THE TRUE END OF ACT CREATE PROPULSION. WITH THIS DEFINITION, IT MEAN FILM CAN HAVE ANY NUMBER OF ACTS DEPENDING ON WHAT TRYING TO SAY/DO.”

(Hat-tip to Harry Connolly for the first two links.)

I realize FILM CRIT HULK’s style may not be for everyone, but trust me, if you write stories of any kind and especially if you have ever tried to write in the “classic” three-act structure, go read that post.

Unfortunately, bad things come in threes too. These bloggers explain how not to write:

  1. Shweta Narayan on “The Green Reich”: “So, Star*Line published yet another majorly racefailtastic thing, this time with extra added homophobia, transphobia, and pick-your-bigotry. And that’s the fourth in what, a year? (ETA: more like two years, my bad, the illness has screwed with my time sense. Still not good.) Of course, there’s been the predictable ‘but you’re CENSORING the poor wee bigot by OBJECTING!’ rhetoric. Again. And, of course, if only a few people speak up, they don’t count and nobody’s really objecting, but if multiple people speak up, then they’re a mob. Again. There is simply no original thought involved in the pro-bigotry rhetoric here.”
  2. badparsiqueer on the Dresden Files: “Did you walk along 53rd St and decide that this was ‘the worst a large city had to offer’? What made you think that? Was it the Starbucks on the corner? Or the farmers market that happens every Thursday morning in the summer? The Aveda salon? Treasure Island, the expensive ‘European food market’? Or was it the back door Latino club that sells empenadas and Latinoamericano magazines out of the back door every afternoon? The smoke shop with the cheap weaves on Styrofoam heads in the window? The crappy Mexican food shop that sells huge burritos for a buck? The 24 hour cheap grocery by the bus stop, where I bought my yogurt from because I couldn’t afford to shell out 5 dollars on fucking yogurt? Was it the Black people, Jim Butcher? Did they make you feel unsafe?”
  3. moniquill on “Household Spirits”: “STORIES LIKE THIS HURT ME. They hurt PEOPLE LIKE ME. The especially hurt CHILDEN LIKE ME. They hurt me because they are part of a cultural narrative that erases the reality of my existence. That claims that This is what NDNs were and Now they Are Gone isn’t it Sad? But if our good readers had been there, OH IF ONLY THEY HAD BEEN THERE, they would have been some of the Good White People and would have Joined The Natives. Yes they would. Which neatly absolves them from having to think about the fact that their ancestors didn’t and the lasting ramifications that has on native people living today. Everyone weeps cathartic tears and insistst that they’d have helped the Na’vi fight to keep out the unobtamium miners, but precious few of them then go home and help the REAL FUCKING LIVE Dineh (Navajo, to those playing the white name game) fight the uranium miners TODAY in the REAL WORLD. And why should they? The story already absolved them.”

For extra credit, compare Jim Butcher’s outraged response to #2 with the apologies from Strange Horizons and C.S.E. Cooney in response to #3, and identify which should be filed under “how to” and which under “how not to”.

Tab Clearance

Some miscellaneous links that have piled up in my browser tabs over the last few days:

  • Ursula K. Le Guin on the unwritten rules of fairyland. “The fantastic tale may suspend the laws of physics—carpets fly; cats fade into invisibility leaving only a smile—and of probability—the youngest of three brothers always wins the bride; the infant in the box cast upon the waters survives unharmed—but it carries its revolt against reality no further. Mathematical order is unquestioned. Two and one make three, in Koshchei’s castle and Alice’s Wonderland  (especially in Wonderland). Euclid’s geometry—or possibly Riemann’s—somebody’s geometry, anyhow—governs the layout. Otherwise incoherence would invade and paralyse the narrative.”
  • Michael Dirda on the tyranny and tragedy of the bestseller (or “better-seller”) list. “If one were to magically eliminate every form of the list, in print and online, as well as all those best-seller tables in Barnes & Noble, what would happen? People would spend more time browsing a bookstore’s stock, they would skim a page or two of various interesting-looking titles, and eventually they would plunk down their twenty dollars. In short, they would actively engage with a greater portion of our literary culture.” (via Aliette de Bodard)
  • Reactions to the new Dropbox terms of service, which give them rather broad rights to copy and modify your documents:
  • The hosting of the next Westercon is won by a hoax bid after the only legitimate bid fails to gain sufficient traction. Kevin Standlee offers a pro tip: “When you’re trying to get three-fourths of the people in a room to vote for you, and when you know there’s a pretty good chance that many of them are the people who voted for your opposition back when you only needed a majority and didn’t get it, you are not helping your cause when you say that anyone who voted for your opposition should be ashamed of themselves and start personally insulting the opposition’s leadership.” (via Cheryl Morgan)
  • Jane Litte on what she learned at RWA. “While Courtney Milan says that we shouldn’t make predictions, I have to make one. I think that the most successful self publishing authors will be those who love the business side of publishing as much as they love the creative side. There will always be the exceptions, but generally, I think that the entrepreneurial authors are the ones who we will still see self publishing five years from now.” Interesting reading even if you’re not a Romancelandian.
  • SFWA is looking for information to consider while they review Night Shade Books’s probation status. The probationary period ends July 8, so if you have relevant info regarding your dealings with Night Shade, send it over soon.

There, now Firefox can take a deep breath and relax.

Meanwhile, Back in SFland

While I was off enjoying the company of several thousand women (“and an increasing number of men,” as Sharon Sala graciously noted while accepting her lifetime achievement award) in Romanceland, the gender wars seem to have broken out in SFland again. Some links:

  • The TOC for Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction, edited by Ian Whates.
  • Kev McVeigh: “Oh yes, The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction by Boys volume one has Mary A Turzillo as token feminine contributor. One woman from eighteen listed authors.  Volume Two is obviously the feminist volume with a remarkable three women out of fourteen involved. Neal Asher gets two stories though, to restore the balance. It’s back to normal for Volume Three as fifteen stories allow room for just one woman.”
  • Ian Whates: “Yes, there clearly is an issue here, but don’t blame the awards for reflecting an imbalance that’s inherent in the pool of material they have to judge, nor the editors [...] the rot goes deeper and is far more fundamental than that. It really does lie at the grass roots. If we want to see more female SF authors coming through, the first thing we have to do is alter the way our genre is perceived by the wider public and make it more open, more accessible, to women. Good luck to all of us with that one.”
  • Jennifer Pelland: “This doesn’t surprise me. When I was invited to submit to the Solaris SF 3 anthology, it was because they’d noticed that they didn’t have enough women in it. Imagine my surprise upon opening my comp copies to discover that ‘not enough’ meant ‘none until they invited me.’”
  • Tricia Sullivan: “I’m hard-pressed to imagine another UK anthologist who could have done better than Ian Whates with this book.  Ian is proactive when it comes to women writers.  He goes out of his way.  (That’s one reason I made certain I got my story in, even though it was a real stretch for me with my current schedule.)  Now, in the current climate it may be judged (particularly by USian standards) that he is not proactive enough.  OK.  This then begs the question, how proactive is enough?  To what lengths should anthology editors be going? [...] I want to see change but I don’t want to work in a climate where individual people are at risk of being brought to ground, cornered and shamed for issues that arise out of a much more nebulous problem in society–and in this case, in the peculiarities of the SFF scene in Britain.  I don’t think editors in Britain are chauvanist pigs.  I’ve worked with several book editors in this country and have never had a whiff of old-school sexism from any of them.  Do we live in a sexist culture?  Yes, absolutely.  Fucking yes.”
  • DMS at GeekaChicas: “The 2011 [Hugo] ballot is out, but at the time of this writing, voting is still open. In a year where 43% of novels published were by women, 4 out of 5 nominees in the novel category are women. Before we break out the Champagne or lament the suppression of men, I should also point out that 3 of the last 5 Hugo Awards for Best Novel were awarded based on ballots without women. The 90′s only had one year with an all male ballot. This century, we’ve had 4. That means 40% of the Hugos awarded this century didn’t shortlist a woman for the novel category.”
  • Liz Williams: “A large percentage of the book editors in SF in this country are female. Their hands are tied by the accounts depts of publishers: I don’t think that it’s because they want to fail to commission other women – on the contrary. It’s a numbers game, of which many male authors are also falling foul (in SF – not, e.g., in urban fantasy where women do seem to be on strong ground). I think it is an issue with SF selling at all, no matter who writes it.”
  • Cheryl Morgan: “If you are running a small press (which is something I happen to do) you need to make a choice as to whether you are doing it for love, and hope that your projects break even, or you are doing it to make a living. In the latter case, if you believe that you are operating in a market where most male readers won’t buy science fiction by women — and, let’s face it, that’s what the big publishers in London are telling us — then you would be daft to publish much SF by women. You have to take a conscious decision to risk sales if you want to diversify your content. [...] various women writers have come forward and said that they were invited by Whates, but for various reasons were unable to deliver. If that is the case, a less inflammatory response would have been to suggest that perhaps women writers have more pressures on their time, thereby preventing them from submitting as often as men, rather than suggest that they are no good. (This is a very common feminist response to allegations of, ‘it’s all the wimmin’s fault for not trying!’)”
  • Charlie Stross: “I think there is a problem with unconscious cognitive bias on the part of some male anthology editors — not naming anyone here — so in future my response to an anthology request by a male editor with a bad recent track record (or no track record) will be ‘can you confirm that your list of invited contributors is at least 30% female and 10% minorities?’ I hope in most cases to get an ‘of course’ by return of email, but if it makes just one editor sit up and question their assumptions about who to invite, I’ll consider it a job well done.  I don’t insist that the final outcome should be quota-based, but if a male editor can’t be arsed inviting women and minorities to contribute then I can’t be arsed letting them use my name for publicity.”
  • Aliette de Bodard: “The Solaris Rising TOC (4 women authors out of 16-17 stories) doesn’t strike me as particularly horrifyingly sexist either–there’s just no way you can guarantee you’ll have 50-50% female representation in anthologies, both because of the sample (less women writing SF for a variety of complex reasons), and because of the way things shake out (as an anthologist, you can try invite 50-50% men-women, but you can’t even be sure the responses will be balanced).”

Plus lengthy comment discussions here and here.

I will certainly be keeping an eye on the discussion as it develops, and I’m glad to see people providing solid statistics and discussing market forces (and the perception of market forces–not always the same thing) as well as talking about ideology. I don’t think the ideological conversation is sufficient. We have to talk about real-world factors too.

For example, if Anthologist J solicits a story from Writer K, and K thinks the anthology sounds grand and interesting, what makes K more likely to actually be able to contribute? The obvious answer is: having a suitable unpublished story that could be submitted, or having time to write a story that’s appropriate to the anthology. Is that sort of availability and/or backlog more common among men than among women? Maybe. Women certainly tend to have less free time than men (because women do disproportionate shares of household work and child-rearing in addition to working). More free time over the course of years translates to more trunk stories, too, and maybe a broader range of them. And if an anthologist has to look further afield for women to invite, those women may be less likely to have a story handy that fits the anthology’s theme.

I’ve been putting together the program for Readercon, and I was entirely shocked when two women we invited told me they don’t feel smart enough to be on our panels. I’ve never heard anything like that from a man. [EDIT: A woman has emailed me to say she heard a man once say "Readercon is where I go to feel stupid"--though I wouldn't classify that the same way as withdrawing from the program.] I’m also pretty sure I received more “may I be on your program?” requests from men than from women (I’ll try to remember to keep statistics next year). It’s pretty well known that that sort of behavior is socially gendered. I would not be at all surprised if female authors are more likely to self-sabotage by saying “I’m not good enough to be in this anthology” or “I don’t have anything that works for this” or “I can’t write in that genre”, while men might be more likely to send in a story that’s a little off-topic, or send something unsolicited even if the anthology is supposedly closed to submissions.

I’m taking the Russ Pledge to talk about women’s writing, of course, but talking isn’t enough. I hope anthologists will pledge to solicit stories from as diverse a group as possible and to advertise open reading periods in places where people who aren’t “the usual crowd” will see the ad and submit stories. I also hope female writers will pledge to submit stories more often and more widely, and to find ways to say “yes” when they’re invited to contribute to an anthology. Remember the Slush Bomb? (Did anyone ever keep an eye on F&SF to see whether the number of published stories by women went up after that?) Let’s make every day Slush Bomb Day and see what happens.

Is “Pottermore” a Harry Potter ARG?

According to the Guardian, it just might be:

It is thought Rowling’s new project, due to be officially launched on Thursday, will be a Potter-based treasure hunt entitled Pottermore, after an apparently secret memo emerged.

The new project is reportedly an online game that gives users clues which will lead them to prizes hidden in the real world. Aspiring wizards the world over can hope to find an undisclosed number of magic wands stashed throughout the UK and US, and possibly other countries. It is not yet clear if the treasure hunt is Pottermore itself or a marketing drive for another product, and details about the game remain hazy.

My thoughts, roughly in order:

  1. COOL.
  2. Wait, there are physical objects? A limited number of them? Hm. That seems like an invitation for obsessive wealthy people to devote stupid amounts of money and time to winning the game, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory–style. (“But Veruca, sweetheart…”)
  3. Also, look for a thriving black market in found wands.
  4. I wonder whether any of the wands will be “hidden” in retail establishments, or buried in suburban/rural places that you can’t access unless you have a car. Somehow I doubt they’ll be planted in slums or trailer parks.
  5. If the wands are gendered in any way I will be very annoyed.

It used to be easier to get excited about things like this, or at least easier to stay excited. I guess I’m getting cynical in my old age.

I do think alternate reality games are really awesome and I’m sure this one will be written by the best people in the business (I wonder whether Maureen McHugh is involved), but as soon as you have scarce resources, the wealthy and privileged are going to have immediate and enduring advantages in hunting them down. I will be very curious to see whether the game attempts to compensate for that in any way.

High-Quality Fun

Marissa Lingen:

When you’re defending SF, you don’t have to use that one time that totally reputable writer wrote one book that’s sort of SF except totally not in conversation with the rest of the genre. You can say, “Here’s what’s lyrical in this book,” or, “Here’s what I found interesting,” or relaxing, or touching, or fun. Some of us have fun with dark stories. Some of us have fun with a particular genre type of love stories. Some of us have fun with books that are intensely focused on language or theme. Fun is okay. Do not concede the fun. It doesn’t have to be everybody’s fun, but it can be yours.

Heidi MacDonald, after I linked to N.K. Jemisin’s critique of how X-Men: First Class handles race:

Yeah. I hate to use the Green Lantern/Green Arrow metaphor but it was a fun fantasy film about the blue skins not civil rights

I juxtapose these comments (noting that both should be read in context: the complete blog post in the case of the former and the complete conversation in the case of the latter) because I think Heidi’s tweet makes clear a corollary to Marissa’s stipulation that fun and quality are not mutually exclusive: It is reasonable to want–indeed, to demand–entertainment that is both extremely fun and high-quality.

I don’t think fun should be a blanket excuse any more than it should be a blanket condemnation. As a connoisseuse of escapist genre literature, I want high-quality fun. I want smart fun. I want large-scale and small-scale fun. I want writers to write it and publishers to publish it. I want fun that isn’t predicated on members of a certain group of people doing stupid things, or being the first to die, or otherwise being the butt of the joke or casual collateral damage. I want fun that isn’t set in a place where everyone looks and acts the same, unless that’s meant to be completely unrealistic (as Farah Mendlesohn notes, “If you have to carry out a diversity audit you haven’t been paying attention to your world lately”) and maybe even then. I want fun where there’s someone I can identify with who isn’t a villain and gets a happy ending. It doesn’t have to be good clean fun, but I want good fun.

I want fun that doesn’t put me in the position of saying “but it’s fun!”.

Is that really so much to ask?

Constructing Reality

Benjamin Rosenbaum writes directly about the Amina Arraf hoax. Chally Kacelnik writes more indirectly about James Tiptree Jr. The comparison is instructive.

I’m a little surprised that I haven’t seen more fabulists writing about “Amina”. From a political standpoint, I certainly understand not wanting to give Tom MacMaster more airtime. From the standpoint of being part of a community of professional consensual hoaxsters, however, I think it’s an interesting case study in both the creating of an alternate reality and the consequences of duping your readers without their consent.

Sometimes when I’m reading anthologies, I get a few pages into each story and then I ask myself why I care about the characters and what they’re doing and what happens to them. The answer, almost always, is that I care because I go in wanting to care. I start out credulous. I’d rather go into every story wanting and hoping to buy in than skeptically hanging back and waiting to see whether it convinces me of its worth. Wanting to believe is, I think, a necessary quality in a spec fic reader. It is less desirable when one is reading political blogs, but probably not less common. We are raised from the cradle to believe what we read, to trust that writers are telling us the truth. More than that, we want to care. MacMaster made it very easy for us to care as he carefully invented a world that was just dangerous enough–but not too dangerous–for his plucky heroine.

Credulity only failed when her pluck and luck ran out. Perhaps, as lifelong readers, somewhere deep inside we understood where that story arc was leading; every sympathy-thief I’ve ever seen has been unmasked not when their readers stopped caring but when their readers cared too much. And après ça, le déluge of outrage and pain. We were told to believe, and we believed, and then it turned out we were believing lies! Where does that leave us? What is real, anymore? How can we know or trust anything at all?

I will go out on a limb and say that fans of a certain variety of speculative fiction–slipstream, interstitial fiction, magical realism, and the like–are perhaps better equipped than most to weather these moments when everything abruptly turns 90 degrees from what we thought was true. We have often visited these places where reality is uncertain (or is it? sometimes even the uncertainty is uncertain) and we’ve found ways to be comfortable there. We have exercised the readerly muscles that let us simultaneously accept and doubt what the author is telling us. Does that mean we’re less likely to be taken in by skilled hoaxsters? Probably not. But in the aftermath, we are in a peculiar way on familiar ground. We’re used to rugs being pulled out from under us. Where others are easily bruised, we have calluses. It still hurts, but we know this pain and we know it ebbs, and we know that eventually we can move on to the next story and the next potentially unreliable narrator.

There is a choice here, of course. I choose to be credulous. I choose to set aside my cynicism and sarcasm (when I can). I understand that this means coping with disappointment and betrayal from time to time. Others may make different choices. I mostly wanted to note that for those who continue along the path of frequent belief and occasional pain, reading fiction that centers on uncertainty can help to bolster us against those days when we are so rudely, shockingly reminded of how uncertain reality is, and how much we risk for the joy and privilege of believing what we read.

(A tip of the hat to Aishwarya S. for the link to Chally’s piece, which in turn led to Ben’s piece.)