I was going to write a follow-up of sorts to Dave’s post yesterday but just deleted it because it ranged well over the no-politics rule of the blog. Yes, I’m in that sort of a mood. It wasn’t so much brought on by Dave’s post — and if you haven’t read it already, go do so. It is, as usual, wonderful and thought provoking and it was fun reading the comments as people remembered books that helped make them who they are now.
No, it was really brought on by a facebook post I saw this morning where another author was asking why it wasn’t enough to simply write a good story, one that entertains the reader and makes them want to finish it. This writer was tired of those who identify themselves as being “literary” looking down their noses at genre writers. You know, writers who have figured out not only how to tell a story people want to read but who have also, in many cases, figured out how to add a message to their work without having to beat the reader over the head with it. Sarah and Dave manage to do so brilliantly. Kate has figured it out as well and I hope to have it figured out one day. But, for now, I’m happy with just writing stories folks want to read.
After all, isn’t that really what we’re supposed to be doing? Writing stories that entertain? If a story doesn’t entertain, folks aren’t going to read it — or at least not finish it. If they don’t read it, then what good is any message we might put into it? That message will be lost because it was never read.
But that isn’t enough for the literati, for all too many editors and, unfortunately, for the boards of too many professional organizations these days. No, you have to be socially relevant and enlightened in your writing. You have to promote what is “right” — as is defined by those who have the loudest voice. Heaven help you if you write something that might offend someone else, especially if you are a male of a certain age.
Maybe I’m old-fashioned (and I know that means I have the wrong beliefs and should probably be silenced now. Sorry, I’m a loud-mouthed woman who isn’t afraid to exercise my First Amendment rights). But I still feel that the story is the thing we should be concerned with and not the message. As I said earlier, folks won’t read the message if they don’t read the story. The corollary to this is: why is publishing in trouble? Because it forgot that readers, on the whole, read to be entertained and to forget about their troubles.
Don’t believe me, ask yourself why so many in publishing are trying to convince us that boys don’t read. Oh, I think there are those who sit in their ivory towers in NYC who actually believe that. Why? Because they look at the sales for their middle grade and YA books and see that the majority of those buying their books are girls. So, therefore, boys don’t read.
No, quite the contrary. Boys don’t read, on the whole, about sparkly vampires or angsty teen problems. They want stories that speak to them. Adventure and fun and characters they can identify with. (Sound familiar?) So they turn to other options, manga being just one of them. But the publishing powers that be fail to recognize that fact.
Then we have those publishers and editors and writers who feel that we must address all of society’s ills with our writing and “educate” our readers so there will never be any racism or sexism or any other ism they don’t approve of ever again. We saw one example of it with the Resnick/Malzberg issue involving the SFWA bulletin. Something that should have been handled in-house was taken public by a few very vocal critics and the SFWA board caving and condemning Resnick and Malzberg. Fresh on the heels of that, some of those same people who condemned Resnick and Malzberg were all over social media calling for gender swapping of characters on TV and in the movies — Dr. Who, specifically — and warning anyone who commented not to comment if they were going to offer sexist comments about how it would be against canon to swap the gender of a character who has been male previously. Funny how they never suggest switching a female role to male.
And SFWA continues to empower these folks in order to continue being “relevant”. After condemning Resnick and Malzberg, and basically forcing Jean Rabe out as editor of the bulletin, it has started looking at the SFWA twitter feed and who can post using it and what can be posted. While I agree that there needs to be a clear demarcation between official tweets of the board and tweets from the membership, it’s funny how this only happened after the vocal minority complained about an “offending” tweet.
From the SFWA announcement, the following applies to tweets for the twitter feed @SFWAauthors:
Publication and industry-related news only. Links or statuses under 140 characters. We will not edit your information for clarity; please provide all necessary information.
Racist or sexist material may be removed upon discovery. Threats or personal attacks or obvious trolling will also be grounds for removal. Repeat offenses will be subject to suspension pending investigation and possible removal from SFWA-managed feeds. We reserve the right to clarify, question or refuse any submitted material. SFWA does not endorse or promote any information contained in this feed.
Seems pretty straight-forward, right? But note that there are no attached definitions and also note the possible conflict in information. First, what constitutes racist or sexist material? After what happened with Resnick/Malzberg, I’d be especially worried about posting something that might be considered sexist. Also, it states that SFWA won’t edit tweets for “clarity”, but that sort of implies it might edit them for other purposes. Also, when it says SFWA reserves the right to clarify, does that mean to ask the poster to clarify what they meant or does that mean SFWA can “clarify” the tweet.
Yeah, I’m being picky, but when something is this poorly written as guidance, especially in light of what has been happening with the bulletin, I’d be worried about putting anything up on the feed if I were a SFWA member.
And then there’s the bulletin. If you think they overreacted with regard to the Resnick/Malzberg blowup, just wait. SFWA has suspended publication of the bulletin. Yep, that’s right, they have suspended the bulletin for a period of up to six months. They are doing this so they can “refresh” the magazine, find a new editor and — wait for it — “conduct a membership survey and consult advisors about the Bulletin and its future direction. Many aspects of the Bulletin will be discussed, including but not limited to: its format, its aesthetic, its content, its budget, and its inclusivity.”
All very pretty until you start looking at it closely and start asking questions. First, what about the non-member subscriptions? I may have missed it, but I didn’t see anything in the announcement that addressed what they will do about those folks who aren’t SFWA members but who subscribe to the bulletin. Then there’s the membership survey. Who is going to put together the survey and what questions are going to be asked? We all know how results of a survey can be skewed simply by the questions asked and the multiple choice answers provided to the responders to choose from. Unless they simply send out a questionnaire that asks “what do you want from the bulletin?” and let each responder answer on his own, the results are slanted from the get-go.
Then we get to the advisors who will be consulted. Who are these advisors? What are their qualifications for consulting on a professional bulletin, especially one aimed at the SF/F community of writers and readers? Notice how we aren’t given that information.
But what bothers me the most is the use of “inclusivity”. What does SFWA mean by this? Oh, I have a pretty good guess: they want to make sure everyone is included (as long as you aren’t a white male of a certain age and gentlemanly bent — we’ve already seen what happens then.)
Or maybe I’m just tired of the double standard many of those who condemned Resnick and Malzberg seem to hold. It’s bad to call a woman an lady and talk about how she looked in a swimsuit, but it’s just fine to post half-naked pictures of well-muscled men on your facebook page. Give me an effing break.
Or it could be that I’m just a writer and mother who is tired of being told I have to do more than entertain my readers and who should have taught my son to be ashamed of the fact he’s a male. Sorry, the latter is never going to happen and I write because I want readers to enjoy what they read, not because it has some super socially conscious message in it.
Or perhaps it’s because I believe in TANSTAAFL and wish those in their ivory towers of publishing would remember that and learn from it.
As I said a week ago, I’m a hack and proud of it.
(Welcome to everyone coming over from Instapundit. Thanks to Glenn for the link!
Also, many thanks to The Passive Voice for the link!– June 28th)