Show me

I’ve been showing mine for years. (And as the little Protestant boy said after trying this with his little Catholic girl neighbor, ‘I hadn’t really understood the difference between Catholics and Protestants before.’)

I am NOT talking about human private parts (or even corporals’ parts.)

I am, in a sort of sideways fashion talking about one of the core pieces of advice given to young writers.

Show. Don’t tell.

Actually, I think this a fairly good maxim for life. It’s certainly a good maxim for writing. Yes, there are times and places for telling. I’ve written about them here on MGC. Generally, however, like many of those old beliefs that ‘modernizers’ are always in a hurry to sweep away, there’s a kernel of good sense, and actually, the alternatives are exceptions. It’s something I try to incorporate into my writing about writing, which frequently makes my soft head hurt.

In this case I’m talking about all those folk who have been telling us ‘we’re doing it wrong’. You know precisely the sort of individuals I’m talking about. They’ll tell me I’m an evil cruel man for killing a chicken or a wallaby… but they have never done it. They’ve never been faced with a choice of that, or no food (let alone meat). They buy a product in the supermarket… which magically makes it appear in the freezer. They’ll tell you that you did your book all wrong and that it is terrible and full of typos… but they haven’t written one. Or if they have, they didn’t have to survive the mill of the slush-pile as I did (or self-pub), but thanks to their ‘disadvantages’ and connections had a publisher pay an editor to help, and proof reader to clear some of those typos. They’ll tell you that the puppies efforts are dragging sf back in time (yes, JUST in time), yet they’ve done nothing to alter the catastrophic plunge of sf/fantasy sales from traditional publishers. If you force them to confront the figures showing they’ve been part of excluding anyone to the right of Lenin from traditional publishing and the various awards (which, it seems extremely likely, downgraded the sale-value of those awards, and the popularity of the genre…) they’ll tell you there might be a problem (but of course nothing like as bad as you make it out to be) and we, the puppies just did it wrong.

I’m certainly not saying ‘nothing could ever be done better’. If I was, I’d give up and wait to die instead of believing it worth raging against the dying of the light. Everything can always be done better. I was reading a book by one of my favorite authors, and seeing plot holes and vast missed opportunities yesterday. But please, please, don’t tell me how to do it better.

Show me

Do it.

I looked at those ideas, those plot holes, and, while I might never reach that level of general story-telling skill, I WILL NOT leave those holes, those implausible co-incidences and I will explore some of the ideas, bigger, different…

This is what I do. Whether it is acting on my principles, helping other writers, doing my bit in places where I think it needs doing. Getting out and proving my point in actions… This is what I have done all my life, sometimes failing and trying again and again. Sometimes with mediocre success – but it’s got our family on a farm on a remote beautiful island (and no, this isn’t an easy thing to do. Try it.) making a living by writing, which oddly, is more or less what I set out to do. I could still do better. I’m working on it.

We’ve had a veritable rash of puppy-kickers in the last while. Larry, in his inimitable style took the last one apart here. The puppy-kicking luvvies were outraged that he didn’t know who the author of this piece was. The honest truth is I’d never heard of him either. He’s following a trend of far left-wing luvvies who have written puppy-kicking pieces in the Grauniad (a newspaper with rapidly dropping circulation)… he’s an academic, who has won all sorts of ‘literatchewer’ prizes, had every possible support and promotion from the publishing and literary establishment… NK Jemisin, Damien Walter – they all TOLD us how evil we are.

Why don’t they SHOW us?

I know. They haven’t even been outstanding successes with the entire weight of the Traditional publishing establishment and all its client compliant media and sycophants – because we’re ‘repressing’ them! But here’s the challenge:

Look, it is dead ‘easy’. They can get some of their friends to play along too. They say that women and minorities are discriminated against? That Ancillary Justice was a really, really brilliant read by a brilliant writer? That we’re just nasty -ists to think most of their work crap?

Show us we’re wrong. Don’t tell us. SHOW US.

Pick a pseudonym. Amazon KDP is open to anyone. Do it all yourself – just as so many successful… and unsuccessful writers have done. Keep it a deadly secret from everyone (and be ready to prove you did this). Make it a pseudonym that doesn’t reflect those ‘disadvantages’ you tell us are holding those Hugo winners back. And because it’s skill and sheer raw talent that you’re proving… don’t write message fiction. Make your characters white as folk from John Scalzi’s zipcode, and straight too and conservative. I mean, even a mediocrely competent hack like myself can put himself in someone else’s shoes well enough to write them convincingly. To geniuses who have had to struggle under all those disadvantages, this will be a piece of cake. Don’t use the cliques and networks and promotion on Gawker media that gave you a free ride, that aren’t available to anyone else. Just let that brilliance carry you by word of mouth.

It worked for Larry Correia

It didn’t work for JK Rowling.

Show us. We’re more likely to believe you then. It worked for Alice B Sheldon.

If you can’t… well, maybe those academics teaching creative writing and English should give up telling us what to do, and work instead on teaching their students that valuable and essential skill that young Biologists learn in their first week — How to say: “Do you want fries with that?” like you really mean it.

Talking of changes… I watch the world from my island, because like it or not I am part of that world.

Times are changing. There are shifts in the zeitgeist that were simply unimaginable a few years ago. That’s true in socio-politics as much as writing, and the two do reflect on each other. We are, to my eye, moving in a direction that worries me, one which I believe leads towards Nationalist Socialism (and as a migrant that is very unpleasant.) It’s a symptom of toughening times, and while our establishment ‘friends’ in traditional publishing may long for the authoritarianism a socialist command economy… a glance at history tells me it’s always those away from the center of the herd that get looted and killed first. The ‘special’ ones, the ones the common folk thought were doing better or just different. That’s who TradPub have backed and favored in a time that backed and favored them. They’re the darlings of the puppy-kickers, who complain that we did not favor them sufficiently.

Yet… already the unthinkable ten years ago, and implausible five years ago things are happening in Australia, with migrants… and the children of migrants as the thin edge of that change. Europe and America seem to reflect the same situation. It will spread to anyone who is different. And those TradPubs… they’ll either follow or get crushed.

Take my advice, writers, puppy-kickers, and anyone else who doesn’t do a pretty good job of passing for the middle of the herd. Go Indy, build your own audience, and don’t make yourself a target.

Gee, what a cheerful Monday post. Read Brad’s instead.

We will get into space. People will die. People will take risks. It will be tough. There will the puppy-kickers equivalent whining away and, strangely, not doing anything.

But we can and will.

We’ll show them.

In the meanwhile, get out there and write it.

38 thoughts on “Show me

  1. Many frustrated writers turn their bitterness on their colleagues — we call these people literary critics. They once had the juice to do the work of telling stories, but now they’re just snipers. Taking shots at the craft and production of better people. Why better? Because the producing writer is “in the arena” according to Roosevelt’s words. (S)he might not get it perfect. Hell, (s)he might be getting it wrong most of the time. But at least (s)he’s trying. What do we call people who always try? Who always exert themselves, and strive, and refuse to quit?


    1. Can there be good critics and bad critics? You know, sorta like the SMOF/CHORF distinction?

      Some of it after all is not driven by a need to tear down a competitor. T.A. Shippey’s “Road to Middle Earth” breaks down why it is that there is more to love about Tolkien’s work that you ever realized.

      And of course, a lot of writers dismiss the efforts of reviewers. It’s a primma donna thing with some of them. But a lot of people depend on them to help them find the best way to spend their modest amounts of free time, spare change and attention. Gaining a following as a reviewer and getting people to try new things on the basis of your recommendations… it ain’t easy and that kind of credibility is never developed overnight.

      1. “Can there be good critics and bad critics?”

        Absolutely. There are critics who write reviews to help consumers make decisions like you said, while giving constructive criticism to help authors improve their work. A good critic can identify the shape of emerging genres and spread the language of symbol that sustains culture.

        The prima donnas who just snipe at the folks who actually create things? Those are hecklers. They’re best ignored–or if you have the chops and inclination, mocked.

      2. I forget who first said it, but it’s always made sense to me: A critic tells you whether or not it’s art, a reviewer tells you whether or not it’s any damn good to read.

  2. One of my “on the back burner” projects is based on a book I started to read and walled. The premise was fascinating, the magic system sounded fun, but the story took a hard turn and dove into grey goo a third of the way through, never to return (I jumped to the lat pages. Goo dripped off them and scared my cat.) So I’ll take the neat parts and see if I can make a neat story out of them. If I can, great. If not, I will have learned something and the stuff will go into the electronic filing drawer to serve as teaching material.

  3. My current project is a kind of Texas Lake Woebegon if written by a writer who didn’t secretly despise flyover country small-town Americans. Just a series of short snippets about people and life in small-town Texas, drawn from places I know and from people that I have met doing book talks and historical research. Yes – I used to love Garrison Keillor’s stuff, but the vicious hate for ordinary Americans just became too darned obvious – so like TXRed, I’m taking the concept and doing it my way.

    1. This it’s best hate your readers who do not live and work in NY Publishing is going to bite them on the ass. Do it. I look forward to reading it.

      1. Oh, yeah — it’s gonna be fun. There’s already a couple of excerpts posted at
        Just scroll down, for the story of Berto Gonzales and the strange fare that he collected in his Uncle Tony’s luxury town car and conveyed to Luna City, because the fare was drunk, incoherent and desperate for a refuge.
        Which turned out to be at a campground and goat ranch run by a couple of leftover nudist hippies …

  4. Go right ahead, Dave. Publish a book on amazon under a different name that you keep secret from your fans (be prepared to prove it) and make a go of it. Show us.

    1. Reading comprehension really isn’t your strong suite, is it, Cat? Do you have a strong suite? Idle curiosity on my part I admit. Firstly, I already have (which I mentioned in text, and in your haste to skim and be offended, you missed). That’s how I got here. Back when I started there was no Indy. So as a complete unknown (and yes, I could prove it) I submitted to the Slush Pile (quite a few times) by international post. I had no internet, no contacts and the postage alone was a fortnight’s income (and not very disposable income. Things were tight. It took real faith to spend that much). The book I sold reflects my philosophical ideology – which was not the same, or even from the same culture, as that of my publisher. In that year one book was bought from slush (this was the third time I got to the ‘top’ of the slush pile, different publishers, different books, the other two fell at final Editorial meetings. I have hand-written letters from the editors.) Getting out of the slush was very much harder than just going to Amazon KDP. Now I’ve shown you mine. Your turn. Go on, Cat. You prove you can do that or better. Come back when you’ve managed.

      Secondly, to no one’s surprise, you managed to miss the point, again. We’re doing. YOU- who hasn’t, and, I suspect, can’t – are criticizing.

      So go ahead. Show us. Maybe then we’d take you seriously. Right now, that’s quite hard.

  5. I kind of did the inverse of this once online. Had a bunch of critics of my writing who loved the writing of another author on a site. Thing was, us two authors knew each other. These critics would, every time my stuff was brought up in his story (we’d done some crossover stuff for fun), remind everyone how “terrible” I was, so on and so forth. The internet, so you get the idea.

    So I concocted a plan to see if they really could tell any of the things they claimed, and ghost-wrote one of this other authors chapters. Without credit. At least, for the first four days.

    And these critics of mine loved it. They raved about it. Then came the reveal.

    I’ve not seen one of them since. Because they had no idea that it had been me. Despite all their claims to the contrary about how terrible I was supposed to be, they’d like the chapter I’d written when they’d assumed it was the other author.

    I’d almost like to see some of these insulars put to the test on that same angle. Have a bunch of their favorite targets switch books on everyone and see if those insulars can really tell the difference like they claim (this book is written by a white author, I just know it!) … or, if most suspect, they’re just spouting platitudes they really can’t support.

    1. Max we played similar games with the Heirs books. Mostly they’re exercising their prejudices (big animals, plainly need a lot of exercise). It was particularly funny because it was three authors, and one wasn’t in the piece at all, and the other wrote a couple of paragraphs. I’d written the rest…

      I suspect that at least some of our critics would in fact be very obvious if they tried ‘switch’ simply because – as Prof Haidt discovered, most of the insular darlings of TradPub just have no real idea how anyone outside their circle thinks lives or works – like the if you were a dinosaur woman having working-class men drinking gin…

  6. “Keep it a deadly secret from everyone (and be ready to prove did this).”
    You’ll need to drop a “you” in there.

  7. Something else I’ve noticed about the snipers:

    Many of them fall back on the fact that they’ve read a lot. Usually, they will brag about having read hundreds, or even thousands of books. They will point to apartments and homes overrun with bookshelves. Which, in and of itself, quantity is not a bad thing. People love what they love, and I won’t gainsay another person’s passion.

    The mistake happens when these individuals get it into their heads that simply reading a lot, somehow transmutes their personal taste into an objective fact for the rest of the universe. As if having devoured nine thousand apple pies has revelaed the gnostic secret of apple pie making.

    Of course, when you’ve devoured nine thousand apple pies, chances are you’re bloody sick of the damned things. How many different ways are there to make an apple pie?

    Or, consider the sex addict who needs ever-more-bizarre and outlandish activities to satisfy his libido. Same thing.

    This is why I tend to advise new writers to not pay attention to Those Who’ve Seen Too Much. An aspiring author cannot possibly try to please the eater of the nine thousand. Besides, there are only so many of these jaded souls lurking about. What an aspiring author should try to remember is how (s)he felt as a child or teenager, when (s)he first fell in love with that one book or that one series . . . and write with the goal of becoming that author for new crops of readers.

    That is the train the snipers not only miss, but pretend does not exist. They are too busy obsessing over the latest literary fetish, popping rhetorical viagra and trying to blow on the dying embers of their formerly natural enthusiasm.

    It’s why J.K. Rowling has riches, and the snipers do not.

    1. There are several things the snipers miss. We can each mention something they’re missing, and we likely will have missed something ourselves.

      Reading, and writing, are highly subjective. What our tastes are will be different than the person sitting at the head of the bus. I was lucky when in high school, I had a lit teacher that not only understood this, but wanted to drive the point home. She made the claim that nearly all novels had a message.

      I called that into question. Being that I was already a rabid fan of certain pulp genres {particularly western and SFF}, I thought these it likely that most of these were written with entertainment in mind.

      She agreed that might have been the intent. She also still held to the belief that there was a message in most of the pulp books. She suggested I pick one and write a book report, the thing is she wanted to know the title and author before I did this.

      I chose a Louis L’Amour novel. Long story short, she was right. Things like the Second Amendment, personal liberty, coming of age, and might doesn’t always make right were a few of the messages in the novel. I got an A, even though this wasn’t “literature”.

      This little side trip is just one example of what the snipers are missing. Just as they miss the true messages that the Puppy uprising is about.

      1. They also don’t understand the difference between ‘message’ and ‘theme’. Which sometimes does get missed. A theme is something that threads through the novel and makes a person think. A message is ‘You should think THIS’ often stated in so many words.

        1. I agree very much, and wish more people would differentiate the two items. Indeed, a theme operates at a subtle level, and may or may not be intended. “Message” tends to walk out its front door and thwap the reader over the nose, like a rolled-up newspaper.

          1. And no one likes getting the rolled-up newspaper treatment. I’ve noticed that most of the ‘messages’ that people complain about in adventurous fiction tend to be very broad and subtle. Like the stuff listed above in the L’Amour books. “Freedom”, “Responsibility” etc. While message tends to be much more specific. “The working class is bigoted” (If you were a dinosaur) or ‘Libertarianism is the only political system that will work’ (Atlas Shrugged).

            My usual metric is if I can sumerize the entirety of the ‘message’ in a single word (such as Hope) then it’s probably a theme. If it takes a sentence or more it’s probably a message.

    2. The “I read a lot of books” reminds me of one of my favorite bits from “A Fish Called Wanda”

      Wanda: But you think you’re an intellectual, don’t you, ape?
      Otto: [superior smile] Apes don’t read philosophy.
      Wanda: Yes they do, Otto, they just don’t understand it! Now let me correct you on a couple things, okay? Aristotle was not Belgian! The central message of Buddhism is not “Every man for himself!” And the London Underground is not a political movement! Those are all mistakes, Otto. I looked ’em up. Now. You have just assaulted the one man who can keep you out of jail and make you rich. So what are you going to do about it, huh? What would… an intellectual do? What would Plato do?

  8. Unfortunately I share your vision for the future.
    And I’ve DONE what you suggest in the text, and it made more money than my main name. (And for that reason will remain absolutely secret.)

    1. You did not hide yor tracks that well asthou think, Sarah Hoyt. i know that you are in fact Anne Leckie.

      1. 🙂 OKay, Opus. That wins the internets for the day… um… maybe a far longer period! Oh my aching sides… are you sure she’s not Margaret Atwood? Oh wait, she said selling better…

        1. As I have read Margaret Atwood, I am of absolute certainty that she would not possess such level of cruelty and dishonesty towards her craft to bastardize it in such a level that emulates a third rate hack.

          Wherein Hoyt submission to such pains is just going along a plan concocted long ago as a project of Sad Puppies – after winning three concessecutive Hugos for Ancillary series, she gets on the stage in her Leckie persona, drops the wig and lifts her glorius skirt allowing Kate Paulk to come from hiding and throw multiple copies of Mammoth book of mindblowing sf, abominable issue Realms of Fantasy, detestable SFWA issue and other assoreted items, on the frightened pink haired audience, and as Pykosonik tunes suddenly roar all around them laugh – for the earlier mentioned audience suddenly tweets and liveblogs horrible truths : Freer has warned us – Coockoos egg – pseudonymous authors – puppies puppies everywhere – 10 things I learned while fleeing from Worldcon –

          Knowing so much of you are in military, you did not think people would guess you have secret longtime plans set in motion?

            1. … But would you not think that, knowing you would do everything to protect a secret like that, one who exposes it publicly would have to put measures in place to safeguard wellbeing?

              Thankfully my horde of bodyguards has been personaly trined by Batman herself, Brianna Flynt Wu, and the moment they sense a threat approaching go into defensive mode – emotionlessly reciting selected examples of the most succesful of puppies repelants – Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is – Post-Binary Gender in SF: Introduction – Science fiction needs to reflect that the future is queer

              You see? Just by reading them listed here, you start to feel unease, sweat. Imagine it, now, monotonously recited by a horde of gender dysphoric genetically modulated cats, and know what every wuoldbe assasin would be – slowly slipping of rational mind into utter cosmic terror.

    1. My darling wife bids you cease and desist from swelling my head any further. She’s rather busy at the moment and has no time to adequately puncture my ego.;-)

    1. LOL. Priceless. Damien… (shakes head) the ‘gift’ that never stops giving. Honestly, if he wasn’t writing for the Guardian out of sheer adoration, it would be worth the puppies paying him to do so. He’s the perfect example of someone incapable of doing anything –let alone well– loudly telling those who actually write that they’re doing it badly.

      You know… he could change his life. He could go on that diet reality show. He wouldn’t have to lose an ounce to be the winner. And for once he’d be a winner.

      1. I’m just gonna be roasting some marshmallows over the heat from that burn you just issued. *pulls out a stick and a bag of marshmallows* ROFL!

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