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The Irrelevance of Race – Christopher Nuttall

The Irrelevance of Race – Christopher Nuttall


[Author’s note – I’ve said some of this before, but it really needs to be said again.]

Back when I was 12, or thereabouts, my teacher read us a story.  (I have forgotten the title.)  A group of schoolgirls were visiting an old folks home, where they met a bunch of old ladies and chatted to them.  One girl sat down next to a sweet (and blind) old lady.  Unfortunately for her, the old lady – after exchanging some mindless conversation – went off on a racist rant about black people ruining Britain.  She praised the girl, told her she’d do well for herself and warned her to stay away from blacks.  And then she patted the girl’s hair …

… And discovered that it was springy.

I cannot say the story made a great impression on me at the time.  The boarding school I was unlucky enough to attend was pretty much a foretaste of hell.  Being, as I was, at the bottom of the totem pole, I was more concerned with avoiding discrimination against me than discrimination against others.  I could, and did, sympathise with people who faced discrimination.  But, at the same time, I was always wary about assuming that they were genuinely facing discrimination.  No one seemed interested in doing anything about my problems.

For what it’s worth, I consider the story to be quite believable.  I knew two girls in Manchester, both of whom were of Indian ancestry (but born and raised in the UK).  One of them had an accent that was perfectly Lancastrian, the other had a very pronounced Indian lilt to her voice.  And yet, the former was more wedded to her culture than the latter, who was practically culturally British.

I effectively forgot the story until the Fireside Report sprang into my awareness and its claim, that black writers were staggeringly underrepresented in published writing, sent hundreds of publishers and editors into a flurry of virtue-signalling.

I was not impressed.  And the reason I was not impressed was simple.

I have been writing for over twelve years.  I’ve honestly lost count of the number of submissions, mostly rejected, that I’ve made.  But I can say, with great certainty, that none of the publishers (or agents) I applied to asked for my race.  They asked for my name, address, email … and very little else.  There was nothing in what I sent them to suggest I was anything other than a WASP …

… And yet, I got a string of rejections.

Most of them were useless, from the point of view of an aspiring writer.  “Dear Sir.  Thank you for your submission.  However, we are unable to publish your work.  Good luck.”  Short, pithy, and completely useless when it comes to explaining WHY the book was rejected.   A handful were more detailed, but even they weren’t much use.  It wasn’t until I had been writing and submitting for several years that I got feedback worthy of my time.

And it wasn’t until I did slush reading myself that I started to grasp why this might be so.

The (few) publishers with open submission polices are deluged in pieces of writing that are utterly unreadable.  I started with the intention of giving every last piece of work a serious look and ended by feeling as though it was a complete waste of time.  I saw manuscripts that were unedited, manuscripts that were composed of nothing but MS edits, manuscripts that didn’t suit the publisher at all (or didn’t meet submission guidelines), manuscripts that were openly fan fiction (a big no-no) … I honestly don’t know what some of those writers were thinking.  I never know who the authors were – I never had the time.  All I could really do was write a short note saying why the items were rejected and pass them back to senior staff.

To prove that there actually had been discrimination against non-white authors, all other factors would need to be eliminated.  But the Fireside Report writers were completely incapable of doing anything of the sort.

For example, writers are not created equal.  Writing is a learning process.  A writer at the start of his career is going to make mistakes, many mistakes, while a more experienced writer will avoid them.  Were all the writers who submitted to a given magazine at the same level of experience?  I would be very surprised if the answer was yes.  It would be rather more likely that some of them were newcomers, while others were mid-range authors.  (The truly advanced authors don’t need to send in blind submissions.)

And, even if there was a policy of rejecting non-white authors, how could they be sure they were rejecting non-white authors?  Blind chance?  It seems a little unlikely.

Furthermore, it is terrifyingly easy to get discouraged.  You write a story, it gets rejected … do you give up?  Do you see the rejection as a chance to grow, to study what you did wrong, or do you try to find a way to blame it on someone else?  Writers are egoists, plain and simple; writers need to learn to balance their egos with a realistic assessment of their strengths and weaknesses.  Blaming a publisher for rejecting you because of your race – when said publisher has no way of knowing your race – is utterly unhelpful.

The blunt truth – which anyone outside Human Resources Departments and Social Justice Bully mobs will tell you – is that merit is far more important than appearance.  Publishing is a business.  A wise publisher will not choose his or her authors on race, gender or politics, but on their ability to write.  I have been told (I have no idea if this is actually true) that young black men are disproportionally represented in American basketball, because they are taller and have better hand-eye coordination.  Is there actually anything wrong with this?  Only a complete nincompoop would insist on a racially-balanced team when there are games to be won.

When writing is concerned, merit is a relative concept.  There is a military-SF writer I practically worship, but I don’t care for his fantasy, even though I love fantasy books.  Some writers are simply more comfortable in some genres than others.  And there’s a fantasy writer hundreds of people praise, but I don’t like him.  And someone must have bought all those copies of Fifty Shades of Grey and all the other romance novels published over the last few years, even though I wouldn’t dream of wasting my hard-earned cash on them.  One man’s favourite writer is another man’s despair.  (“They publish this crap, yet I can’t get a publishing contract?”)  No writer has 100% market penetration and no writer ever will.

A writer’s race is utterly irrelevant.  Why?  Because hardly anyone sees the author.

I have been reading science-fiction since I was five.  In all of that time, I have only ever looked up an author’s appearance once.  (I was going to meet him at a convention and I wanted to make sure I spoke to the right guy.)  I couldn’t help seeing a few photographs of various authors, of course, but I never deliberately sought them out.  Why should I?  And if someone asked how many black authors I read, I honestly couldn’t answer … because, at base, I don’t know what most of my authors look like.

No one judges a book based on the author’s photograph on the dust jacket, assuming there is a photograph.  They judge the book by its blurb, by its cover, by the words … by everything that actually matters.

We have been told that the shortage of non-white authors is a problem.  And we have been told that publishers are going to make a greater attempt, in future, to publish works by non-white authors.  And I can honestly say that this, far from being helpful, is going to be actively harmful.

The problem with ‘Affirmative Action’ is that it is corrosive.  It assumes, largely incorrectly (and, in the case of publishing, almost certainly incorrectly), that businesses do not hire non-whites because they’re racists.  People who believe in AA rarely realise that there might be other factors involved in the decision.  Bob might not have gotten the job because he has an arrest record longer than my arm; Jim might not have gotten that promotion because he was beaten by a better candidate.  Instead of working to tackle the root cause of the problem, they attempt to use the law to redress what they see as social injustice.

Their good intentions have completely predicable unintended consequences.  Those who appear to gain from AA are resented by those who don’t gain from AA.  If they happen to be poor at the job, their co-workers start whispering that the only reason they got the job was because of AA.  Those who are promoted above their (current) level of competence don’t get the experience they need to do the job properly (and, if they believe they honestly earned the post, they get a nasty shock when they discover they’re not ready for it).  And, worst of all, a poor AA hire drags down the reputation of everyone else who might have benefited from AA.

Humans are inherently tribal creatures.  As I have blogged before, people have a tendency to divide the world into ‘us’ versus ‘them.’  ‘Us’ is a group of individuals; ‘them’ is a vast hive mind.  This is obvious nonsense, but it’s the way people think.  People who appear to have benefited from AA fit neatly into the ‘AA Tribe’ and whatever negative feelings a person has towards one of them will spill over onto the others.  Why not?  If one member of the tribe is bad, why not the others?

The thing that makes this so dangerous is that it is both an emotional and intellectual reaction and thus extremely difficult to disprove.  Classic racism can be discredited because, at base, it is a purely emotional reaction.  But dislike based on the sense (perhaps correctly) that your boss was promoted because he/she/whatever is a member of a protected class is much harder to dismiss, because when the emotional reaction fades the intellectual reaction is still there, proving that you are actually right.  Your boss is incompetent.  You know you should have got the job.  And why didn’t you?  He’s a member of the ‘AA Tribe.’

And the fact you KNOW this makes it impossible for someone to talk you out of it.

To introduce AA – in any form – to publishing will be utterly disastrous.  If an author is marketed as a ‘non-white author’ (however described) it will convince readers that the only reason they were published was because they ticked a diversity checkbox.  Particularly, of course, if they don’t like the book.  You can market an author, perfectly legitimately, as a SF author, a fantasy author, a romance author, a detective author … you can’t market an author by something that has no bearing on writing skill.  And if you do, a single bad author – in the estimation of the readers – will damage the rest.  This is not logical, but it is often true.

And in an industry that is practically tailor-made to remove race from the equation!

The people who asserted that ‘people of colour swept the 2016 Hugo Awards’ were essentially missing the point.  The Hugo Awards are not (were not?) diversity awards – they’re awarded for excellence in SF/Fantasy.  Or at least they should be.  Skin colour and gender has nothing to do with writing skill – the gloating over the awards going to non-whites strongly suggested that the Sad Puppies had a point all along, that awards were being handed out for factors other than merit, factors beyond the writer’s control.  And this threatens to poison the careers of writers who deserve their awards.

It’s a radical suggestion, I’m sure, but maybe – as fans – we should concentrate on what unites us, rather than divides us.  I am a Babylon 5 and Doctor Who fan.  I have something in common with every other Babylon 5 and Doctor Who fan.  Does it matter, does it really matter, if the fan next to me at the con is black or female or wearing a cosplay outfit that conceals everything?  Of course not!  But talking about diversity only reminds us of the differences between us.  (Just as managers have discovered that mandatory diversity training in large organisations sends racism, suspicion and general discontent skyrocketing.)

I don’t care if a writer is white or black, male or female, young or old or anything else that can be used to draw lines between people.  All I care about is being entertained.  And frankly, I think that’s true for everyone.

Now, if you want to be a serious writer, how should you proceed?

First, write a manuscript.  Set yourself a goal – 100’000 words, perhaps – and write out a story.  The first time is never easy, but keep going.  Try to make sure the book is completely self-contained, even if you do plan a long series.

Second, when the book is complete, submit it.  Find a publisher who takes slush submissions and submit your book.  Follow their instructions to the letter, even if they want you to write everything in an obscure font.  You do NOT want to give the first readers any excuse to reject your book (and thousands of books get rejected because the author didn’t follow instructions) or to dislike you personally.  I was told, once, about a writer who noted that he would sue the publisher if his book wasn’t published.  There is no way such a lawsuit would actually get into court, let alone end in anything other than total humiliation.

Third, write another book.  And another.  And another.  If you’re anything like me, you’ll get your first rejection letter midway through the third book.  Keep going anyway.  The average writer needs to write at least a million words before producing anything publishable.  That’s ten 100’000-word manuscripts.

Fourth, when you reach the fifth or sixth manuscript, hire a consulting editor (there are some links on my site) to do a conceptual edit.  This person will be savage – and that is precisely what you want.  The edit will tell you what you’re doing wrong and how to fix it.  Learn from this.  Then continue writing manuscripts.

Fifth, when you reach the tenth manuscript, you may be getting somewhere with the publishers.  You can also try looking for an agent at this time.  If not, start putting your later books up on Amazon Kindle.  (NOT the first manuscripts.)  Try to use this to build up a reputation as an indie writer.  Prepare yourself for critical remarks because you will get them; keep a lid on your temper and DO NOT reply.  There are no shortage of stories about indie authors behaving badly.  Don’t be one of them.

Sixth … keep going.

It’s easy to get discouraged.  It’s easy to fall in the trap of believing you’ll never make it, or that ‘they’ are keeping you down, but keep going.  It’s worth it.

And no one will care about your race, your gender or your creed … only about your ability to write.

Sinus headaches aren’t my friends

I know I owe a post but it isn’t going to happen until the head stops pounding so badly I want to chop it off. So here is your chance to give me some ideas about what to write about. I’ll check back in later and, hopefully, feel well enough to post.



“A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.”

Graham Greene, The end of the Affair, 1951

Hmm. This is one of those statements which has an underlying truth that doesn’t translate terribly well into what humans want.

And actually that’s the business we’re in: the providing what humans (a category I assume a reasonable number of my readers fall into) want. We can put up with messy beginnings but most of us dream of tidy (and probably happy) endings. Of course: there is a lot of perspective in this – one man’s happy ending is another woman’s utter tragedy. See the recent US elections for a case in point.

I suppose you might say books like Neville Shute’s ON THE BEACH or Margaret Atwood’s HANDMAIDEN’S TALE have endings – there is no more human story anyway, and watching (or reading about) geographical erosion gets rather dull after a few eons. In most other books of course the story goes on, even if the main protagonists are dead, or married. (no they’re not actually quite the same. And even happily ever after is usually fraught at times. Trust me on this, I have experience to speak from.)

Now as I am not a fan of either of the above books (which yes, I have read, so I’m not indulging in the puppy kickers favorite pastime of hating that which they’ve never so much as read a page of, let alone the an entire book) I suppose I am a fan of knowing story goes on, or at least believing it can go on, but like most readers (judging by sales) I like a defined ‘end’. I’m one of the ones who prefers it to hopeful if not outright happy, and my comfort-books, return to again-and-again books, buy the author blurb-unread books, are all unashamedly ‘happily ever after’ in nature. I’m sure according to the literati this makes me a mouth-breathing peasant in need of my betters educating me for my own good or something. Good luck trying to convince me to change those tastes. And – as most writers need readers to like their work, to buy it, and the evidence is strong that I’m with the overwhelming majority here, well I’m going to stick with my writing and reading tastes in endings.

Which rather leaves one with beginnings to think about. And this what I consider Graham Greene to be accurate for the story writer who wants to be popular, as well as reflecting life. Because even merely from the protagonists points of view, unless they’re newborn… they are a continuation of a story, and probably one that isn’t in the book.

Everything comes from something. Actions have consequences, and usually cause reactions. It’s like kids in the ‘who-did-what-to-who-first’ – you’d go back to the initial unicellular algae tracking that one. You can damp these down or grow them: just as in real life they’re basis – added to genetics and chance as to why any character plausibly does anything. That plausibility is why some stories have that feel of veracity even though the setup may be as unlikely as hell. That’s a major factor in the suspension of disbelief we need to carry a piece of fiction.

Which means that the reader and the author need to know the story that came before. And because you can’t start a book with a long, tedious pre-story (or not without losing most readers, that ACTUALLY means that the story really begins in the middle somewhere. At a good point, that enables the writer to capture the reader’s attention… but the writer still has to back-fill that story towards at least where it starts for that character. Now: you may believe in doing it like me (on a need to know basis only) or like Mercedes Lackey (with a lot more). She sells more than I do, so perhaps this works better for more people – YMMV BUT the key thing is to do this either is the author needs to have a very clear idea of that back-story.

Most people take short cuts: For some writers that character is back-built using themselves (or those they know well) as models. This can be very effective… for one book (and possibly sequels), at least. The other common and partially successful short cut is the stereotype. Look, these have their roots in reality –and with small tweaks to give them individuality can work quite well. Of course the current fashion in a PC cast of stereotypes suffers from the fact that the stereotypes are derived largely from wishful thinking not reality – which besides the tedious predictability makes suspending belief hard (unless you desperately wish to engage in the same wishful thinking. That happens too – and not just with PC prescribed character. Let’s face it a lot of romance, and a fair bit of ordinary-guy-comes-good adventure is just that. But then you’re selling to that market).

Then there is long cut – the opposite of the short cuts but very good for reader immersion – and that is the Tolkien approach of developing a back-history which hopefully you don’t publish! This has two effects – it makes the character consistent and plausible, and secondly almost always provides motive.

Ann, who has lived a pampered existence, been to an Ivy League college, married money, and been allowed and encouraged to ‘follow her dreams’ with lots of contacts in the right places… Linda is the hard-scrabble battler who grew up in poverty fighting every inch of the way for the ground she’s made, with no contacts, no opportunity or time to follow her dreams, but lots of grind in deathly-dull hard physical jobs… well put them in the place at the start of your story. Both wanting to get a book published. Now, they’re the same sex (which we’re told makes people near identical in their thoughts and tastes – according to modern politics anyway), the same skin color, the same sexual orientation. They possibly even look alike… Does ANYONE think they’ll follow the same course? Of course they won’t. But as the writer, you have to feed that, unobtrusively, to your reader. And of course it’s hardest at the point you want to start your story – which is not by going slowly, building up the backstory. You’re trying to do two things, fast.

Now once again, YMMV, but this IS the time for ‘dog-whistles’ – clear quick pointers to that back-story. You can get nuanced and fill in the details later. Both women meet famous editor at a conference…

Linda kept her arms folded, covering her hands. Make-up did fine on your face but could not hide the callouses on her hands. “Pleased to meet you,” she said,  trying to keep the hope out of her voice.

“Octavia has told me all about you,” gushed Ann. “When I was at Clarion…”

And we build their back-story in our heads.

It exists, even if not in the book.

Invent your own Genre

Men’s Action-Adventure Fantasy.

This started when my First Reader and I were plotting in the car. It’s a favorite way to pass the time while making the trek over the hills and through the woods to Grandmother’s House, and yesterday as we were on the way home I started talking about what I’m hoping to write in the upcoming time when school is over. I have to finish the science fiction (Jade Star is the prequel, although Jade herself doesn’t show up until two-thirds into the novel), but the next book planned is The East Witch. And yes, that is another book in the Underhill universe I created with Pixie Noir. We’ve actually roughly plotted three more novels, loosely connected, in that world, and I’m really excited about them.

But as we were talking about what the Pixie for Hire series is becoming, my dear husband informed me that he thinks it should be called men’s action adventure fantasy. I protested that technically it’s Urban Fantasy (despite very little of the setting being anything like urban), and I’ve also been told it’s Dark Fantasy. Nope, he told me. Correia’s MHI series, the Dresden Files, and my books are all part of a different genre – action adventure fantasy. I still protest lumping my books in with Butcher and Correia, but he has a point. They aren’t easily encapsulated in an existing genre (except the Dresden Files, which I suspect define Urban Fantasy). We’ve talked before about genres, here at the Mad Genius Club. In the new world of Indie Publishing, we authors are free to invent our own genres. We can mix, match, and crossover. If I want to write men’s action adventure fantasy (and frankly growing up I loved men’s action adventure books, like the works of Alistair MacLean and Louis L’Amour) I can.

The problem comes in helping your reader find your books. Genres are useful to readers. Me? I’m not a fan of High Fantasy – too much Tolkein pastiche for my taste (I loved his work. All else is a pale imitation). However, I do enjoy some Urban Fantasy, except where it ought to be labeled Paranormal Romance (which is fine if it’s written by Amanda Green. I highly commend her recent Witchfire Burning as a good example of that genre). I’m not a big fan of whiny main characters (they aren’t all female, but it seems that way sometimes) so I’m cautious of that genre. And then there is Low Fantasy, and Dark, and Light, and… and what is Sword and Sorcery in all that, anyway? I did decide that Correia’s Son Of the Black Sword is an excellent modern example of that blood and thunder genre, though. I’ve written about Science Fantasy, which isn’t a genre but probably should be.

Which brings me back to inventing your own genre. You can, but you need to be familiar with the existing delineations, so you can tag or categorize your book in such a way that the reader can find it. And it shouldn’t fall so far outside the parameters of the genre as to give your readers mental indigestion – like how I react to Urban Fantasy now. Which of course means you ought to be reading in your genre. I’ve run into writers that insist they can’t read in their genre – or read at all, which just boggles the mind – and frankly, it’s a fatal mistake. Yes, you can stop reading it for a time while writing. I have to, since I pick up ‘flavor’ from whoever I’m reading, and while that can be useful (I binge-read Spillane and Hammet and other pulp authors while working on Pixie Noir and sequels) other times it can mean that your work sounds too much like someone else. Which I don’t want, since I do want my unique voice to come through in my work.

I could sell my books (well, not the science fiction, but you know what I mean) as simply ‘Fantasy’ but that is a very broad brush to paint with. If instead I can find a niche market of readers who like my style, that is more likely to lead to consistent sales of other books in the same vein. And sometimes out of it, since I also write other things, up to and including the Western romance under a pen name. As we were moving and I was shelving books in the new house, I realized we own books by Sarah Hoyt writing under at least three, and possibly four pen-names, for instance. Because if you’re going to go that far out in left field, it helps the readers to have a banner hung over you saying ‘read this, not that! Unless you really want to, but don’t get mad if it’s not what you expected from this author under another name.’

Ok, maybe that’s too long. Short and punchy. Something. I dunno. What do you think about genres, and how would you define your favorites?

Hurts So Good

I dislike holidays during this season of life. Fortunately, this isn’t about holidays. I’m not even sure how to write a writing post about holidays without half a dozen references to Life Day, or Crystal Dragon [deity of choice]. So I won’t.

Today, I want to discuss relationships. Relationships are central to any story of any worth (bring your exceptions. Kick ‘em around; have fun with that) and managing them well (which isn’t to say keeping them smooth, because drama is half of why people read) is vital to keeping a story interesting.

This came up with a text from a buddy, last night. Good writer, him, doing yeoman’s work on holidays. I have littles (which are my excuses for this tardiness), and a black dog with whom I must wrestle. Anyway, he wanted a little advice on the relationship between two of his characters.

The he is scarred from previous trauma, and reacts to a particular stimulus out of that. The she has a peculiar nature that limits her choices. Who makes the first move?

The answer, simply (hah!) is – as with most questions related to story – who is in the most pain? In my buddy’s story, the he could reasonably just step away, and experience only mild regret. While it would be unpleasant, it would be akin to familiar aches, rather than a raw, gaping emotional wound.

The she, on the other hand, is increasingly uncomfortable with the situation. As their relationship continues, she is becoming more aware of just how limited her options really are. Combine this with his inclination to not push anything (unprofessional, etc.), and it seems to me as though she’s far more likely to force his attention than the other way around.

The point though, is that people travel in the path of least resistance. Much like electricity. And like electricity, making a circuit through the heart is key to getting the most pain out of your characters. And more importantly, out of your readers.

While the pain inflicted by outside sources is important to move the story along, the pain characters inflict on themselves (and each other) is key to the ultimate resolution of relationships, at least to the reader’s satisfaction. Basically, the characters need to suffer before they can triumph. Which, while it has little apparently to do with the scenario my buddy is working out, is still going to be core to the story. Relationship have try-fail cycles, just like the greater plot.

So, gentle writer, whenever you reach a sticking point, be it in plot, or the relationships those wacky character inflict on themselves, see who you can most hurt. It’s cathartic, and you won’t face charges for helping fictional persons do to each other what they were going to do anyway.

The Wagging Tail of Thanks

Being as I am MGC’s Thursday writer, I usually wind up writing something about Thanksgiving. It’s rather expected, me living in the USA and all, and particularly meaningful this year, not least because this is my first Thanksgiving as a citizen.

The last two days have demonstrated one of the other things I’m very thankful for: I am unutterably thankful that I am no longer the leader of Sad Puppies.

It was a very valuable experience, and I learned a lot (some of it not the kind of thing one reports openly in public, since a non-stop stream of profanity tends to be off-putting and scares the cats), but it was so far out of my comfort zone I damn near lost the poor thing.

Let’s see… To start with, I’m not a leader. I’m not a follower, either. I just do my thing and if other people like it good for them. I’m also not prepared to sit back and complain when I can step up and do something about a situation which is how I got myself into this in the first place.

I’m the world’s worst marketer. I mentioned in the comments of Amanda’s post that when I die the world’s net marketing ability will increase.

I’m also about as introverted as it’s possible to get; and horribly, cripplingly shy. (Shut up, you. The Internet is different). Frankly, it was terrifying to stand up in front of a probably-hostile audience at the WSFS Business Meeting and say what I felt had to be said. I’m surprised it wasn’t obvious that I was shaking.

Hosting a suite was also new territory for me, and bloody intimidating territory at that. I’m the one who sees a party and heads in the other direction, so semi-permanent open house from the close of the Business Meeting until whenever? That’s hard.

I’m thankful – immensely thankful – that I went ahead and did all these things despite them looking to me like massive cliffs (with overhangs) before I started. I’m also thankful that I was able to make some new friends in the process and learn more about what goes on behind the scenes. And that, yes, most of those I interacted with were people. Fans, of the small-f variety who simply wanted to enjoy their genre (I will admit to taking a little extra care to not get too close to those I knew were rather more… shall we say doctrinaire?).

Above all, I’m thankful that my goals proved to be achievable and that I did make a lot of progress in the places I thought needed movement.

My goals were never to “fight” anyone. I’m not good at that, and it would just look like the lies spread by the uber-doctrinaire were true. More than that, argumentative, political screeds instead of talking about great books wouldn’t achieve one of my main goals, which was to appeal to the people who have been quietly wondering what’s going on, but believed what they were told because that’s all they’ve heard. Not everyone goes chasing contrary perspectives on Facebook, and not everyone has the time or the energy to look past the sound-bite. Being open, honest, straightforward, and doing exactly what I said I’d do made it obvious that there was no generic “puppies”. Standing up at the business meeting and making my point respectfully and politely made it clear I wasn’t trying to destroy the Hugo Awards, even if others there had different ideas about what the best path forward might be.

I saw that policy bear fruit over the course of the four days of meetings: the first day it wasn’t uncommon for references to be simply to “puppies”. By the final day, many more speakers were prepared to make the distinction between Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies, and accepted that the two groups had different goals (despite liking a lot of the same works).

I also wanted to build a list of recommendations – science fiction and fantasy that readers here (and anyone else who chose to participate) thought was awesome. There’s a lot of new stuff published all the time: the only reliable way to find the good stuff is (as it always has been) a combination of reading it yourself and word of mouth. I personally found some wonderful work I would never have looked at without the recommendations, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what bubbles up through Sarah’s list.

So can we please all quit bitching over what’s past, appreciate the good things we’ve got in the present, and work towards improving the future.

And be a Dog

What a long, strange trip it’s been.

I don’t remember Sad Puppies 1.  I’m not saying I wasn’t aware of it, or didn’t follow it.  I’m saying that I was then so ill that I could barely remember my name from week to week.

Sad Puppies 2 I somehow — and d*mned if I remember how — got pulled into discussions about.  But again note the “I was very, very ill.”  I was so unaware for instance of Larry’s attempts to get one of my stories on the ballot, that I didn’t even tell my readers about it.

Because one of the problems with the hypothyroidism is that I wasn’t aware of being sick, it was just a never-end of colds and illnesses, so I would briefly focus, then go under.  My recollections might not match anyone else’s because of that.

However, from my recollection, Larry Correia was the miracle kid.  For years in the field we’d known awards were biased and how to write/act to get one.  Yes, there were ways to game them, including kissing all the right *sses.  But even while in the political closet there were lines I could not cross without disintegrating or being unable to look at myself on the mirror.

Also, frankly, I’m not a joiner, much less a brown-noser.  In fact in any circumstances that required brown-nosing, I tended to go the other way.  I find that, in general, people who require brown-nosing are despicable and I don’t want to associate with them.  I’d rather say with Richard III “I am myself alone.”

Also, the Hugo was not an object, or I could have captured one of the “least voted” categories by enjoining my fans to buy supporting memberships and get me a Hugo.

The problem is that my days of buying anything that said “Hugo” on the cover had ended before I entered college, and my last attempt at reading Hugo collections (I bought three… early nineties?) ended walled, because it felt like reading the assignments for my degree again: pointless, boring and definitely not SF/F unless you stretched the definition to the point of meaning nothing.  They read in fact like a lot of George Luis Borges impersonators without the deep thought or the genius.

But other people took the Hugo deadly seriously.  People who’d never seen the sausage made, including many people on the right, referred to the Hugos as “the awards for excellence in science fiction.”

Oh, the real fans didn’t give it much attention or credit (and by real fans I mean people who REALLY read SF/F preferentially, not people who are using SF/F for social signaling, much less those who came to SF/F in the spirit of missionaries bringing their gospel to our field and trying to make us wear pants, or be literary, or whatever the tight-lipped scolds are obsessing on right now.  I have some vague idea the new hotness, beyond “literary” is “Must write while having a vagina” or various other marks of victimhood. I find this no more offensive, but funnier than their past obsessions.)

I was used to living with this: with the idea that what people outside something considered as being a mark of quality was in fact something people inside rolled their eyes at.  You get the same thing starting in elementary school (not in my day, no, but in my kids’) where the “gifted classes” are not for gifted children, but for those in the “high normal” whom the teachers’ like.  (Not sour grapes.  We had to have both children tested early on, for different reasons, and they were both put in gifted classes, which really didn’t do any good, since they’re more “classes for teachers’ pets.”  Which is why we ended up with an individual learning plan and giving the school a lot of headaches in an effort to keep the boys from being bored.)  It goes on like that, through most professional organizations, and that’s before you bring in politics, either national or office.  And frankly, human is social so there’s a lot of politics of all kinds.

The problem with what happened to the Hugos is that it was objectively bad for the field.  Because having a Hugo allowed books entry to places that rarely carry SF, like supermarkets.  And then people who aren’t into the field will pick one up, casually, and decide it’s atrocious and run screaming.  Which means they’re not going to pick up a science fiction again.  And thus, our readership/printruns/and more importantly the field we love, shrinks.

To make things worse, because our field is small and not in itself overly lucrative, publishing houses were attuning what they bought and what they pushed to what won the Hugos.  (Yes, all except Baen, of course.)

Well, I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, Thank Heavens for Larry Correia!

He wasn’t one of the traditional track into sf/f people, and he’s also a good ten years younger than most people are when they break in.  And he hadn’t spent his time beating his head on the door and learning the rules before breaking in.  Instead he self-published, then published with Baen, then went massive.  (Yes, I know, he was always massive, but I mean metaphorically.)

So he wasn’t going to put up with the situation, and he set out to prove the Hugos were rigged by a small cabal and totally irrelevant to the taste of most fans (if not actually antithetical.)

I don’t remember the first at all, but I know for the second he tried to nominate things of at least as good a quality as what had won, but from people the cabal in power hated.  (Which is why I should have known he was trying to push me into nomination, but again, I was very ill.)

I volunteered to take the third one, because I like stirring hornets nests.

And just as I volunteered, I was diagnosed with (thank heavens, still completely encapsulated) uterine cancer.  This was quite literally a bombshell from nowhere.  I’d gone in and had a biopsy and my doctor (heaven knows why) told me there was nothing to worry about, apparently because they wanted me not to be scared during the holidays.  So we went ahead and rented a house to move into, so we could have work done on our house, so we could sell it (something we’d been planning for three years, that is after younger son was out of high school)  In the middle of the move, I got a phone call telling me they were booking surgery asap.  At which point I called Brad and dropped the whole mess in his lap.   The alternative was Kate, who had just started a new job, and would probably not be able to do much.

Brad is younger than us.  Brad is also a pure halo knight, who thought that maybe he could save science fiction.  To that end, he got nominations from readers of his blog, culled the top ones, and we ended up with an awesome field, and also one that no one should be able to object to, considering it included all sexes and colors, and also two of the most popular writers in the field today, and an editor who has worked with some of the most enduring bestsellers.

I knew it had gone South fast when people were being hounded till they dropped out.  I was sure of it when we were being called racist/sexist/homophobic.  I crawled out of bed the week after surgery to point out that Brad was doing this for me, that the idea was to have a Latin woman lead it, until disease intervened.

Brad, in my opinion, made two mistakes — but hindsight is 20/20 — both of which came from being way too nice.  One of them was to ask people’s permission to nominate them.  The second was to not record every interview (and tell people he was doing so) and put them up on his blog as soon as he was done.  These allowed for the three hour interview, in which Brad talked about how much he loved the field and how it was unfair to have the award belong to a narrow clique, and then the gotcha question in which the interviewer asked something like “So, you think it would be difficult for a white man who is to the right of center to win the award” and he would say “Well, given the current obsession with victimhood, it wouldn’t be easy” and he’d be quoted as saying that white right wing writers were not allowed to win, or something like.  I had to yell at mutual friends to point out “that was a quote out of context from a three hour interview” because reputable publications were playing these games.  With science fiction.  With Brad.

It all ended not just in the wooden assholes at the ceremony, but in supposedly impartial publications all bringing out the same story, at the same time, about how a movement started by a Latin male, and involving at least three females, one of them Latina, was about “keeping women and minorities out of science fiction and fantasy.”  They had zero evidence for this, but they needed none.  As I’ve been observing recently, the left’s default position for “opposes us” is to scream that whoever opposes them is discomfited by the “progress” of women and people of color.  Even if the people they’re screaming at are women and people of color.  (And let’s talk progress sometime, shall we?  Convincing people they’re victims, making them scared, and vote-farming them is only progress if you’re a stone cold racist.)

And then I was going to take leadership.  I was.  Only the move had turned into move from hell, which included a landlord wanting us out two months before we intended to leave (though we were on a month by month lease) and us having to find a place that would take four cats and four bedrooms with a month’s notice.  Thank heavens one of you stepped forward, or we’d have been warehousing everything and living in a hotel.  (We were waiting for a short sale to complete.)

So Kate stepped up.

Look, we are individualists, so each person gets to decide how to do this.  Which is why saying “if Sad Puppies had been run like–” is nonsense.  Each leader of the sad puppies leads this in the direction of what they’re trying to do or prove.

Larry tried to prove the game was rigged, Brad tried to rehabilitate the awards to, again, mean the best in SF, and Kate tried to give the puppy kickers no excuses.  This included having an OPEN SOURCE recommend list.  Having more than the number of slots in the nomination.  AND reading the nominees herself, and saying how SHE would vote, making sure everyone knew it wasn’t a “Slate.”  (BTW “slate” just means recommended for a vote.  It doesn’t mean a list for rigid vote.  How the heck the left thought we’d enforce that is beyond me.  It makes me wonder too if they enforce it on that side, and how.  Is it a matter of one people voting several registrations, to make sure?  And if you don’t hand over your ballot, you’re out of the club?  I’m not saying that’s what they do, but if they don’t, how do they think we COULD enforce voting?  Inquiring minds want to know.)

And this brings us to Sad Puppies Five and me.  This year, the creek not rising, I shall be leading the Sad Puppies effort.

The problem is, I think Larry had the best point: he wanted to prove it was rigged.  This, even with Kate and Brad’s much more appeasing and definitely more hopeful approaches, has been proven abundantly.

Also, there is a new player in town, the Dragon Awards (which might or might not have come to exist without the Kabuki of the Wooden Assholes, and how mad it made people) which promises to be more prestigious and give the field a new face.

I assumed John Carlton was talking about me when he said one of the organizers said she wouldn’t nominate or something of the kind.  I did intend to nominate (no. Really, but this was right in the middle of forced-move-two and I was still suffering from “at nine pm, I find myself in bed without even putting the computer to sleep” surgery recovery, so as it turns out, I didn’t nominate.)  What I didn’t DO was buy another supporting membership to vote again.  I saw what they did with the money we gave them in 2015 and, honestly, fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.  It wasn’t the Noah Award of books they PUBLICLY refused to read, no.  It was the kabuki skits before and the self congratulatory smirks, and their assumption they’d saved the awards from racistsexisthomophobe, which meant they never bothered to read any of the works, or any of the blog posts on our side, either.  I was not going to give them any more money.

I am still not going to give them any money.

But Sarah, you’ll say, how can you lead Sad Puppies 5, when you’re not going to nominate and vote on the Hugos.

Well, as much as I hate to say this, the Hugos as the award Heinlein won, are dead.  There is nothing that can be done.  I’m not a necromancer.  In that sense the Sad Puppies won.  We proved the game is rigged, and we can walk away.

Only not.

We’re still in the middle of a culture war.  And one of the things the — for lack of a better term — other side has is bully pulpits.  Now most of them are in the old paper media, and they’re not really read by fans of the field.  BUT still, they have magazines that publish recommended lists, and interviews with authors, and turn the spotlight on work they think should be read.

We have nothing like that.  Yeah, yeah, Otherwhere Gazette, which might or might not be revived some day (depending on health and a million other things) but even if it is, will have to climb up into …. people’s awareness.

And if we’re going to do that, we might as well tie it to the Sad Puppies effort, because hey, there is no such thing as bad publicity.

This year the Sad Puppies (5) will host a page, on which you can make recommendations, and which will, every month, give you a collated list of the 5 works with the most votes, in each subcategory (if we have that many, of course) and if/what awards they’re eligible for.  The list will also include mystery, where a lot of the indie are quite good and by and large unnoticed.

Before the nominating dates for major awards, I’ll put a notice on the page, and a list of the however many (5 or 10) most recommended books for your consideration.

However, the awards are NOT the point anymore.  Frankly in the hyper-distributed world of indie publishing, they might never be the point again.

The point is to give science fiction and fantasy that escapes the bounds of what traditional publishers encourage — which is often not what the public at large will even read — and to promote the health and popularity of our genre.

Watch this space for the URL of the page (it needs some programming done.)  More coming by early next year.


It has been quite some time since I have felt the need to rip apart someone else’s blog post. Well, except when it comes to politics. Usually, I can step away from a blog I don’t agree with, telling myself that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. However, yesterday my attention was directed to a blog that was so filled with half-truths, inaccuracies and more that it left me no choice but to respond. The source material will be in italics, my comments will follow.

What Happened To The Sad Puppies? In 2015 the Sad Puppies were a presence in SF and in culture in general.  In 2016 the Sad Puppies became almost a nonentity.  All through the year it was the Rabids that drove the show and that hurt both the Sad Puppies And possibly the future of Sf in the long term.

Wow, I guess the OP forgot about the years leading up to 2015, years when Larry Correia led the SPs and had the other side foaming at the mouth. Years when the SPs were much more in your face than they were in 2015 under Brad Torgersen, who happens to be one of the nicest guys around. He forgot that, while Brad did engage with the other side, he did so only after he — and his family — were attacked. The OP also seems to have forgotten that Vox Day and his Rabid Puppies made their appearance in 2015, hijacking much of the movement and muddying the waters for so many who weren’t intimately familiar with what the SPs were after, leading people to think the two groups were basically the same. The OP also forgot that, no matter how hard Brad and others tried to make it clear SPs had nothing to do with RPs, it didn’t work. But, I guess if he mentioned that, it wouldn’t fit his narrative that Kate somehow failed.

Also, how in the hell did Kate and SP 2016 possibly hurt the future of SF in the long term? The Hugos are a non-starter for most fans of the genre. You walk into any bookstore or library and ask readers of the genre, or of any genre, if they could name a Hugo winner (or even a nominee) and the vast majority will be unable to. Those who can will probably tell you that they run from books that have won the award because those stories quit being entertaining years ago.

I think that the problem is that Kate Paulk, when she took over leadership didn’t understand what she was getting herself into. I think that she thought that if she had a more moderate approach that the kind of beating around that the Sad Puppies got in 2015 would be moderated.  I’m not sure what led her to believe that, but there was.

Ah, here we go. The “I think” or “I believe” excuse so many bloggers and journalists — and I use that term loosely — use to avoid having to actually do their homework. Did the OP actually go to Kate to ask her if his “beliefs” were right? Nope. He did not. I guaran-damn-tee you that he not only didn’t talk to Kate but that he didn’t talk to any of the rest of us who know what her thought process was. I know because I am one of those who were involved in the discussions about who would take over the leadership of SPs last year and what tact should be taken. Kate knew quite well what she was getting into and she knew — and discussed with the rest of us — the approach she would take.

Then there was the launch of the Sad Puppies site, the nominations and then, nothing.  For months no reviews, no blog entries, nothing. It’s not as if she was off line either.  Yet for months she left the stage empty except for the Puppy Kickers and Vox.   I’m not sure why but it may be that she was hoping to avoid conflict.  Or she just got busy and could not give Sad Puppies the attention it deserved.  Yet there weren’t even any blog posts on either the Sad Puppies blog or the Mad Genius Club.

First of all, SP has never been a 24/7, 365 day a year obligation. Second, there were posts on MGC. Third, I guess the OP thinks being online is the only way to get the message out. He seems to ignore the fact that Kate went to cons. She used face-to-face conversations to discuss with those who had been sitting on the fence, even those who opposed SPs in the past to get the message across. She showed that we weren’t all frothing at the mouth as we had been depicted. But that, too, doesn’t fit the OP’s narrative. Whether it is because he ignored her posts about what she was doing — as well as the guest post and comments by some of those she spoke with — I don’t know.

Here’s something else OP seems to ignore. The Sad Puppies movement was aimed initially at pointing out the bias in nominating and awarding the Hugo Awards. That takes place over a small portion of the calendar year. Kate announced Sad Puppies 4 officially on May 19, 216. However, a quick search of the MGC archives using only one key term and not the various short hands we have come to use for Sad Puppies, finds at least 2 more posts by Kate about Sad Puppies. But OP says she didn’t blog about them. Sigh.

So, in the interest of accuracy, I went to Brad’s site and looked to see when he announced SP3. His intorductory post is Jan 7, 2015. Kate announced SP4 September 2015. That would be some months sooner, in the grand scheme of things, than Brad.

OP then spends time, after saying Kate didn’t give us reviews, etc., quoting others who take issue with her reviews of the Hugo nominees. Kate did more than most who were telling people who to vote for. She read everything in the Hugo packet and gave her honest opinions. But that obviously isn’t enough, especially since OP quotes notoriously anti-puppy sites to back his stance.

Essentially as result of inactivity the Puppies left the field to Vox and “Raptor Butt invasion.”  Which was funny for a while, but after a while you realize that it’s puppy butt that’s being invaded.

OMFG. I don’t know whether to beat my head against the wall or the OP’s. That statement is not that much removed from that of the other side telling SPs they had to denounce Vox or it proved we were all cut from the same cloth. One thing those of us closely involved with the Sad Puppy movement learned in 2015 is that there is nothing anyone can do to rein in Vox. We would have had Raptor Butt no matter what. Vox will do what he wants, when he wants and he doesn’t give a flying fuck who he bumps against in the process.

The problem is that if there any desire to keep the Hugo Awards as anything other than a pissing contest between the vilest people in SF, we Puppies failed miserably.  The Rapids dominated the noms and the Kickers “No Awarded” every thing in sight, again. Both sides followed by crowing victory, when in fact everybody lost.

See, here is the biggest problem with OP’s post. He thinks that Sad Puppies is about saving the Hugos. It isn’t. I’m not sure it ever was. It was about showing how the Awards have been manipulated and ruled over by a very small group of Fans, folks who don’t want the unwashed masses joining in their little club. The Hugos were effectively dead, at least to most fans, long before Larry started Sad Puppies. It is in its death throes now. Don’t believe it? Look at the rules changes that are being proposed and those that have been passed. Fans with a capital “F” want to to make sure they continue to control the awards. Most real fans aren’t going to pay the price of even an associate membership just to vote. Why should they when they can buy a number of books for the same price?

I don’t know about you, but I would rather buy 8 – 10 e-books than spend money to be able to vote one time for an award where the inner circle thinks I’m not worthy of taking part.

The fact is that when you are in the culture wars you can never let up and you never, ever say you are sorry.  I think that Kates more modest approach and attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable only fed the beast.  The failure to create any buzz or even respond just made things worse.  The biggest issue to me is that, for months, Kate never asked for any help, any blog posts, nothing.  She embarked on no politicking and can’t find any evidence of any activity other than setting up a safe space at Worldcon for the yet again no awarded nominees.  For her approach, in the end the Sad Puppies got nothing tangible, no respect, no handshake and no attempts to meet the Puppies half way. The fact is that in the end as little as I like to say this, it turns out that Vox and the Rabids were right.

Ah, there it is. He drank the kool-ade. Because he couldn’t find something, he assumed it wasn’t there. Again, he ignored the cons Kate went to and all the folks he talked with. He ignored the fact that she did exactly as she said she would and that many folks applauded her for it, people who never would have supported SPs otherwise. Why did they support us? Because we were the face of reason in a sea of insanity. But that doesn’t fit the narrative. Sigh, nothing any of us say will change his mind — as is obvious by his comment that it didn’t gain respect, handshakes, etc., and yet a simple search of comments here on MGC and in social media will show the opposite. But, I guess if you aren’t screaming it from the rooftops, it never happened.

At least the war was not only reliant on the efforts of the Puppies, either Sad or Rabid.  Somebody took the Puppy Kickers advice to heart and with DragonCon, came up with awards that returned the emphasis to fans and readers rather than a small clique of people dependent on the fading traditional publishing and the poor stuff that they had been putting up for awards.

Here’s why I started laughing. OP has spent pages telling us how the Puppies failed under Kate to take the Hugos and save them. Now, all of a sudden, he has fled from the Hugos and is applauding the Dragon Awards. Note how he loves that the Dragons took the awards directly to the fans and away form a “small clique of people”. Yes, he added the descriptor they were dependent on trad publishing, etc., but let’s be honest. Sad Puppies is also a relatively small clique, at least when you look at the greater picture of how many people love the genre.

As far as this goes, the Hugos are dead, The Puppies didn’t kill them, they were dead when Larry started the Puppies. The Hugos were dead because nobody cared anymore.  The Hugos died because the small clique that had expense accounts from their employers and could go to WorldCon after WorldCon nominated the kind of stuff that pulled further and further away from what the readers really wanted.  That is death to an award that is supposed to represent the opinions of the readers.  Unfortunately all the WorldCon types wanted was an echo chamber and little hood ornaments on their shelves to appease their egos.

So, if the Hugos are dead, why has the OP spent so much time condemning Kate? I’m confused.

Maybe if Kate had actually been more proactive things might have been different.

Oh, I get it now. He must think Kate is a necromancer. I guess she had some arcane power to revive an award he said was dead even before Larry started the Sad Puppy movement. Wow! I never knew Kate had that sort of power. Apparently, she could have saved the Hugos in one year when a best selling author and the Powder Blue Care Bear with a Flame Thrower couldn’t in 3 years.

If only she had asked for more help if she thought she needed it, if even to just keep up a weekly Sad Puppies blog post.  I’m sure that there were those of us who would have been willing to do more.  In the end though, I doubt that any minds would have been changed.  So let Vox continue his games, that is if he hasn’t found bigger targets to play with.  In any case, like so much that the progressives have taken over, the Hugos and what was the science fiction establishment are dying. The plain fact is that what they had to sell, nobody wanted to buy.  They should have read their Heinlein and tried to understand what he was talking about when he said, :”We are writing for Joe’s beer money and Joe likes his beer. It’s our obligation to give him at least as much fun from our books as he’d  get from a six pack.”

Ah, here we are again with the vague assumptions and passive-aggressive condemnations. I ask again, if the Hugos were already dead and a best selling author could not save them in 2 years of battling with the powers that be, what was Kate supposed to do in a single year? Why weren’t these criticisms leveled against Larry or Brad for not saving the Hugos?

The puppy kickers have forgotten, in the corporate, commoditized, NYC bubble that they live in, that simple fact.  Science fiction fails when it tries to be something it’s not.  Much of the old pulp stuff is available online for free and before sneering at what the Puppies were talking about, the kickers should read the stuff that already has met the “six pack test.” The fact is that there’s a lot of competition for that beer money and if Joe doesn’t like what you are plumping out at eight bucks a pop, Joe is putting his money some place else.  That’s the essence of the Puppy message and that’s what the Puppies need to  keep repeating.  We need to do better, much better next time.

This one paragraph is something I can agree with, mostly. Yes, the other side should read and figure out why we love those old stories. There is an entertainment factor they have forgotten about, just as they have forgotten that the Hugos were meant to be a fan award. Instead, they want it to be a literary award. They have worked for years to make it one. That is what is killing the award.

Whether the OP wants to admit it or not, the Sad Puppies movement has won. It brought attention to a number of authors who never would have made the Hugo nominee list. SP4 was particularly good about it by opening the process up and letting people post their recommendations to the list — something that went on for months before Hugo nominations opened.

Ask yourself this. What is more important: reclaiming an award that means nothing to most fans of the genre or expanding the awareness of the genre and authors within it to those fans and to bring in new fans in the process?


It is so very easy to sit back and criticize someone when you haven’t walked in their shoes. Kate announced from the beginning what she was going to do. She was going to have an open and transparent process where people recommended works they felt should be nominated for the Hugos. She collected those recommendations on the website and then collated them and presented those with the most recommendations for everyone’s consideration. She used social media to promote SP4 and she took the hits, and there were many, from the other side. She spent her own money to go to cons and make the case for SP4 in person.

No one who has been involved behind the scenes with Sad Puppies thought it would be a quick skirmish. Far from it. The question has always been, can the Hugos be saved with a sub-question of “should they?”. I’m not sure they can be saved, whether we think they should be or not. As long as a small group of Fans think they are better than the fans who put money into the pockets of authors and artists, as long as they refuse to admit indie published works can be as good — or better — than traditionally published works, and as long as they refuse to admit that the Hugos were meant to be a fan award, they will continue to disenfranchise most fans of the genre.

Sad Puppies 1 – 3 beautifully pointed out, and proved, the pettiness in Fandom. Sad Puppies 4 continued what Brad started with Sad Puppies 3, the ourtreach to those fans who didn’t understand what was going on. Fans who had been drawn in by the outrageous rhetoric from the other side started looking closer at Sad Puppies when Brad and his family were attacked. They started listening closer when Kate engaged only when she was forced to. So explain how, when Kate reached out and made connections with people how had never before considered backing the Sad Puppies, she failed in her job?

There is more to this battle than whipping out your dick and proving it is bigger than the other guy’s. Kate understood that. We should be thanking her for taking on the job instead of condemning her because she didn’t do “the job” the way someone else wanted her to.

Before anyone starts throwing stones at this post, be sure you aim them at me. I’m springing this on my fellow MGCers at the same time I spring it on you.

Post is coming

There will be a post later this morning. I apologize for the delay but this one is going to take time and a functioning brain — which means more coffee. Drop back by in a couple of hours. It should be up by then.


Rules and Roolz

‘Now rules are for the protection of the people…’

Sometimes I think we’ve lost sight of why we have laws and rules. Given that if you put any two or more politicians close proximity to each other, and suddenly the dratted things breed in a fashion that makes rabbits look like celibates, well, we’re rapidly approaching the ridiculous point at which no human can possibly remember all the myriad and often contradictory regulations.

Many make little sense to start with, and none at all outside the narrow context of their initial framing. (For example if I want to connect a gutter to a water-tank I need to get a plumber to join the pipes. Maybe that makes sense in the city, who knows? But in the rural farms of Flinders Island… every farmer joins pipes. And you might well have to fly that plumber in. Which is very nice for the plumber, but straight bad in every other sense.) Remarkably few succeed in doing what they were intended for. Criminals ignore them, the ultra-wealthy find them no inconvenience (and ignore those that do impinge). However they’re pretty good at transforming Joe Decentfellow into either into a habitual criminal or harried — and very poor — wreck, trying to comply with them all.

Which rather begs the initial question: they’re not very functional, they hurt those who are the good guys, and they have limited impact on the bad. In theory they may have been for the protection of the people – but in practice they are all too often for the convenience and profit of those power and their cronies (see the plumber making a handsome profit, connecting rainwater tanks.)

But like most roads to hell, they started with good intentions, and indeed, at a certain level do good. Of course that’s never stopped people screwing it up, and using to further their power or improve their own profit. That’s humans for you. It’s at a time like this — when I’ve just been through 134 pages of bush fire rules for buildings – which could be summarized into ‘don’t be an idiot, and if you are, don’t expect anyone else to fix it.’ – that I’m glad to be a monkey, not a human. Yes, that would mean that several hundred bureaucrats were unemployed, various experts would not get to charge large fees (no, they guarantee nothing), town council bureaucrats would make less money, insurers would have less sure bets (no, they charge no less), and materials and building would be far, far cheaper for Joe Decentfellow – who, provided he was no idiot, would lose nothing.

You see law, originally with that good intention was intended to codify justice (or social interaction) and to make that justice affect everyone more evenly and reliably. It made for a more fair, and a nicer, safer society in which Joe knew the limits and knew if he stuck inside them. It was good for Joe and made a good place to be, to live, to do well for himself – better than a place without them.

And, once upon a time anyway, Joe could always leave if he didn’t like them.

So what does this have to do with writing, you may ask…

Not surprisingly if you think about it, a lot. Just about every phase of a writer’s life is hemmed with rules – more every day, many merely there for a relic reason or to benefit those in power. And – as in the wider world – many of these have no positive impact on either writers or readers – they’re either relics or there for someone else’s convenience. Trust me on this: the reader doesn’t care and is not less likely to buy your book if you haven’t followed the rules set out Strunk and White. The reader only cares if they can’t follow the story easily. The reader doesn’t give a flying pork sausage if you haven’t followed whatever formatting rules the magazine or publishing house set. They only care if it makes their enjoyment of the story less. And that of course was the noble intent those rules were set for.

They do actually help… at the basic common-sense level.

But that is where it stops. When a copy editor or proof-reader starts obsessing about the fact that you’ve boldly dared to split an infinitive – it’s time for them to go and soak their heads. If you’re an indy, you can tell them so. The same, for example, goes for head-hopping (multiple points of view). The purpose in the rule was to avoid confusing the reader. That’s ALL. I try to abide by it, for that reason. But there are times when that is a constraint that adds nothing. There are several authors who are wildly more successful than I am – who head-hop cheerfully.

The ‘rules’ for writers extend in many directions. Take the ‘you will only submit to one publisher/editor at a time – unless you have an agent, and then miraculously, multiple submissions are just fine.’ Does anyone in their right mind see that this is good for readers or writers? It was good for publishers and agents (the equivalent of plumbers needed to attach the pipe from the gutter to the water-tank.) And in a small, common-sense way that made sense to avoid gumming up the works and making 15 editors waste time reading something that the 16th had accepted. It was necessary (by virtue of their gate-keeper power) for authors to coddle publishers. It isn’t a rule which has the faintest vestige of sense any more. Yet it is still expected and obeyed…

On the other hand some ‘rules’ have evolved to make things better for writers and readers. Those are worth sifting out, and giving serious consideration to. For example: most books are written in past tense, either first person or third, and – for ease of comprehension, one sticks to either one of those in a book (yes, I know. I’ve done first/ third. One distinct character from first, the rest third. There was a good reason for it and it was clearer to reader, thus). A few people like Chuck Wendig have written present second person. It’s possible. I found it jarring, and hard to read for a while – and then hard to go back to past-tense third of first. This may be the intent or not, but as far as I can see it’s benefits are outweighed by fact that reading feeds reading, and there is 0.00001% of possible books in that style for the reader.

At another level there are clear rules which you have little choice as a writer but to follow: you want to be paid for your e-book– you follow the rules set out by Amazon. Createspace wants it just so… or it won’t work. Likewise – but possibly with less benefit, the taxman takes a dim view of you not following his rules.

And then there are my own ‘rules’ – about which I am personally rigid because they’re the compact I have with my readers. Your mileage may vary – it plainly does for a lot of the traditionally published authors out there, as I’ve seen in the post-election freak-outs. Firstly: I respect my readers. Their politics, faith and ideals are their own. I may not agree with them. My book may reflect that, but I’m not going to tell you not to buy it, or that you’re a racist and misogynist. What you are or aren’t is your problem. Mine is to write books. Secondly: I want readers to come out of one of my books not feeling like they just had a lecture about how vile humans are. Most of us have enough experience of that! My books are the inverse – how great humans can possibly be. Of course monkeys are superior, but you can’t have everything. I want you to come out that piece of escapism I wrote entertained and yes… feeling the world doesn’t entirely suck, and there is hope. We can build a future, humans can overcome.

But that’s more common sense than a rule.