The crown of pride


Excuse me! I am sorry about that, but recently I was informed I was part of a group of disgruntled writers, and about this as well as nearly everything else she pontificated on, the writer was woefully misinformed. I definitely need further disgruntlement. I don’t believe I was ever fully disgruntled, and it is thus a lingering problem. It’s an absolute farrago of lies to claim it’s merely because the child refugees I eat after the woman has roasted them on the Amazon rainforest charcoal grill, are under-done and give me gas. I beat her if she undercooks them. My diet is just my modest way of showing how they can be beneficial to the publick.*

Just in case you’re as talented at grasping sarcasm and humor as our critic, Cora Buhlert, who took great pleasure in pointing out we certainly weren’t geniuses** It’s a joke, Joyce. Poking fun at myself***, and thus those who indulge in projection by assuming that anyone who doesn’t fit in their own neat little stereotype is naturally a barbarian, a worshiper of Heinlein and therefore stupid, brutish etc. (And thus spoke Zarathustra. – which is to me is very funny, but possibly less so to anyone else.)

Her little rant (if you really want to read all of it, you can find the link here in here ) was largely about the lack of need to have any respect – to quote her: ‘So in short, I have never gotten this “Respect people because of what they did in the past” or “Respect them, because they are old” attitude. And that fact the petition was signed by many authors whose works I have read and enjoyed and admired over the years (and many I have never read or whose work put me off when I tried to read it)’

Now, I’m sure some of us recall the horrors of being 13 and feeling much the same way. Especially when our peers told us that we should feel like that, or we’d out of fashion, instead of absolutely unique and therefore cool, just like all of them. It’s fairly typical adolescent behavior. Mostly, we grow out of it, and it gets knocked out of you PDQ on a commercial fishing boat, and the army. There are of course those of us who cling to it. You know – the elderly Lothario who tries to comb his three strands into a disguise for a head of hair, and ineptly tries to talk and act like 17 year old. The grandma – whose body shows it, trying to flaunt it in a mini-skirt and a broad belt on her boobs, and with the new belly button stud showing when the pages between the covered bits flap up and down. Shrug. It takes all sorts… but they’re a little sad, and rather funny. At 13 it’s almost acceptable to show a lack of respect for the achievements of one’s elders, for two reasons: 1) You may still actually achieve something yourself. We’ll give you a chance to do so, and to find out how hard it is. 2) You’re ignorant, immature and are going learn some hard lessons over the next few years. Time and the real world will save us the effort of showing you now.

Does it affect your writing? Improve it? Make it worse? Get you more readers? Make you appeal to the ‘unserved’ young?

When you’re in your late thirties (as our critic is) and still there… there are several points based on those two to consider. 1) To the youth, no matter how you behave, dress, talk or even think, you’re a fossil and past it. I was about that age when I had the interesting and amusing experience of taking my kids and friends to a popular rock-climbing cliff, and while they were walking around to the bottom (I was about to drop them a rope on something easy –now they are far better than I was, but has time moved on), chatting to a young 19 year old belaying on a route that I’d been on the first ascent of before he was born. He was a polite youngster humoring a boring old fogey. I introduced myself by first name, and we talked about climbing. I asked if he’d ever done any sea-cliff routes. He went off on a rave about the cliffs at Morgan’s Bay and some of the routes he’d done. I said I was glad he’d enjoyed them, I’d opened (been the first to climb them, grade and describe them) them, and that I’d been back to do the route he found impossible the year before with my kids. His facial expressions, as he figured out the greying little old man was the guy who opened the route he’d fallen off, was an entire movie by itself. His stunned “You’re Dave Freer?” made me laugh so much I was I was in danger of falling off the cliff. The 50% rule seems to apply well if you’re under 30. Anything more than half your age again, is dead or might as well be. At least in a Zimmer frame. So Cora, to the youth, you’re already old, like me. And as I can see no signs of what you did past being particularly noteworthy, even if you do get that faithful spear-carrier or deserve-it-because-have-vagina place on the TOC, very soon, that’ll be old too. I hope you can keep it up. Do you feel the youth should respect you? Or your opinion ought to matter to those who have achieved? It reminds me of my spinster sister telling Barbs and I how to raise our kids, but YMMV. Every now and then she said something sensible, but as source of understanding, not much help. 2) Many authors make very successful starts late in life. But it’s one of those things – where people cut you a bit of slack about respect for elders and achievement when you’re 13, they don’t when you’re pushing towards 40. 3) Ten years is less time than you think it is, and today’s ‘yoot’ will be tomorrow’s old farts (and as far 20 something are concerned that’s 30+ and as far 30 somethings are concerned that’s 40+, and around 40 almost all the writers suddenly start saying age doesn’t matter and finding last year’s old fart is really quite sharp.)

Oddly, I am vaguely with our critic on her lack of respect for people just because they’re old, but in a sort of inverse way. I’ve met, and have huge respect for, young folk carrying huge responsibility and with the life experience of people twice or thrice their years. They certainly have my respect and admiration. I take what they have to say very seriously. It seems a two way street. The school of hard knocks teaches the value of respect for experience. They can often write great books, helped by the fact that they have the experience to write from (it’s not a necessity, but it helps). I know plenty of old folk – including my Scottish dance teacher, 99 and still dancing – who inspire respect too. Got a lot I can learn from them, and lot to write from. And then you have people who have twenty – or fifty, repeated years of the same-again experience, with faithful unthinking regurgitation of the fashion that dictated their lives then and still does… who are still 13 in behavior and attitude. Of course they’re out of touch with real 13 year olds, but perhaps their writing may appeal to other belated adolescents. There is a market there, I guess. Just spare me.

One thing about the crew on MGC is that even our youngest writer – in years, is worthy of respect in experience. Some of the rest of us have bounced our way around so many blocks as to have knocked off all the paint long ago, and are like rusty old hulks with more dents than bodywork, but are still battling forward. Oddly I never heard one of us saying ‘respect me, because I’m old or have achieved much.’ We seem to be too busy writing.

But if you can’t grasp the value of what people have done, especially in context with the era they did it in, hey, run along and do better, and then come back and talk. I’ll be impressed then. I don’t take religious leadership from Heinlein or any author, but those who did stuff (and still do) get more respect than those who have not, or whose achievement – viewed in context, doesn’t come close. Let’s face having read and understood (especially in the context of the time) makes it very hard not to respect many of the writers of yesteryear. Not only does doing so enrich your writing, but they had audiences of orders of magnitude bigger – with a smaller pool to draw from, than today’s darlings. They were a lot more edgy for their time and pushed real limits too, not like most of the current batch. If I was a young author just entering the field, I’d be saying to the new ‘young’ grandees of SFWA ‘Why should I respect you? You shrank our readership by 90%.’ And they’d be telling me to get off their lawn (and to speak when I could do better).

Looking back I find myself in deep respect for Zenna Henderson. For her time, a person who did and who achieved, largely unrecognized. . I am sorry, it is a hardback link and rather expensive if you don’t know her work. There are used paperbacks available, and I’d recommend her books. Let’s have a few more suggestions :-)?

On a separate line, this sad little piece in which we hear the story of poor Emily who gets a $200 000 advance for her series of essays about being a young woman in the ‘right’ (how inadequate language is sometimes, with one word for so many things) crowd and avenue of experience to appeal NY publishing. NY publishing appears to be rather narcissist, which was what the little bit of the book I read, and the linked piece, seemed to be too. There is of course a space for these things, and appealing to the young is a great idea. But sales of 8000 paperback books despite the enormous expenditure that would have gone into publicizing it, shows how big the audience is. And if little snowflake is complaining about JK Rowlings (who added a lot of readers) taking away her chances, just think how many chances that collection of essays took up for no readers added to the future market. A track record of 8000 paperbacks means another offer – at 0.65 cents a book, should have been about 4-5K… she got offered 30K. My sympathy for the tribulations of NY publishing are not high. Wire brush and Dettol called for, for the second patient. (and who will get that reference first?)

And, as a final Monday link, offered without comment (bar that it comes from the Guardian, which is a caveat) this.

*If this floated straight over your head and roused your righteous wrath I suggest you google “A Modest Proposal”, by Johnathan Swift and look at the full title. That’s the sort of assumption we have to live up to here on MGC. I do my humble best.

** While White-out or Tippex may be common on the screen of those who struggle to comprehend that in a computer age anyone who leaves crossed out words on screen intended for you to see them, understanding this does not take genius. If clever Cora can produce the official SFWA transcript of those expulsion proceedings (there are very strict protocols in handling these things that ought to be followed, which largely mirror those in the country – which means that the record is accessible so anyone can see that it didn’t happen as it would in North Korea) or in fact the official SFWA notification of who was expelled and why they were expelled, I would feel she hadn’t missed the point about Vox Day, and that Kate and Sarah had. It’s not about socialists or trade unionists or Jews or incurable patients. Even if you don’t like those people, consider them your enemy, say nothing and eventually they will come for you, and no-one will speak for you.

*** Google is your friend, but if you reject such things you can find out here, that actually if anyone was to undercook anything in our household, it would be me. And while it’s not an object of mine to either preach it or to prove a point, the average inner-city Prius-driving vegan is undoubtedly an order of magnitude worse for the environment than this barbarian.


      1. “When I was a youngster I was studying the violin. Everybody would compare me to Jascha Heifetz. They’d say ‘Eh. A Heifetz he ain’t.'” — Sam Levenson

      2. Since I have heard Kafka compared to… uh… fertilizer, more than anything else; that may not be quite the endorsement they think it is.

      3. You mean Kafka never had a chance in hell of earning out his advance, nor the publisher in netting back the advance? No wonder the industry is dying.

  1. I was flabbergasted when I read A Modest Proposal in high school. And I still don’t understand why Gulliver’s Travels is considered a children’s story. There’s a lot of deep and meaningful in the last quarter.

    1. A sort of question for you: can a book not be good entertainment at one level, and something else at another? Take Madelaine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in time, or Leaf by Niggle (Tolkien) or the Blue World by Jack Vance — all more than one thing, but good reading for young readers.

  2. We tend to assume people older than us have accomplished something, and give automatic respect, until we know better.

    The very young, we assume haven’t learned anything apart from the pap served up in school. Once we talk to them and realize they’ve actually done things, they get respect. if, of course, they’ve actually done things.

    These special snowflakes who think they ought to get the respect for existing–and see no reason to respect those old folk for merely existing longer (after all, they had a head start!)–are mind bogglingly shallow. In our field, to resent the decades of hard work and the production of works with lasting readerships, to expect the people who molded and created the genre to step aside and let the new, modern, improved young writers have their orphaned readers is amazingly . . . well, words fail me. It would take a minimum of eight adjectives before the “stupid” to get even close.

    1. Actually, I suppose my response ought to have been ‘So the old don’t deserve respect. Does that also apply if they’re women, or gay or black?”

      1. Not if they haven’t done anything worthy of respect by the time they’re dottering around . . . gaw, who is that old woman in the mirror?

        Perhaps I should modify that to “Everyone deserves respect, just as an acknowledgment of their fellow humanity. Some people get extra helpings of respect because of what they done.” But when we get to people who think they deserve the accolades and trappings of success, without being successful, well, one is tempted to look and see if the little sweetie’s parents are around the corner, searching frantically for their perpetual child.

  3. Why do you make us scroll down so far for those footnotes, Dave?! Don’t you know how disgruntled that makes me?!

    By the way, thank you (again) for including a link to an author I hadn’t thought about in years. First, you reminded me of Alan Dean Foster and the Icerigger trilogy. Now, you remind me of Zenna Henderson. Unfortunately, not one of the titles on her Amazon author page is available on Kindle. And that really does make me disgruntled.

      1. I only found them after the author was dead. But as an example of someone who did, whose writing was loved by men and women, who broke the way without shouting about it, and didn’t hide her sex – well, she was great.

  4. Actually, she’s a German, that spent some time in university in the UK. Just think of how International you’ve become.

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