Chilling? Downright Frigid.

Very first thing: if you haven’t read Amanda’s post from this morning, go read it. While this morality clause nonsense is dangerous to writers, and it’s certainly a CYA move on the part of the publishers including it in their contracts, I can’t help but wonder if it’s *also* being used as a means of further gatekeeping. “You’d better stay in the conservative closet, if you want to keep writing in your favorite world.”

Look, today’s kids are growing up in an environment in which everything they’ve ever done is recorded. Parents take pictures on hand-brains (So. Many. Pictures. Which reminds: need to cull through those. Again.) and then they get their own, and with such helpful virtual places as Instagram and the Bork of Faces, and Snapchat and suchlike, they’re trained early to do it to themselves. Privacy? Heh. We’ve already seen high profile firings for things on social media, and that’s not counting the kind of people who wade through the controversy, like comedians and writers.

Humans aren’t pretty (well, we are but that’s biology. We’re supposed to think each other are at least correct, if not downright toothsome) and as soon as you let us go off the rails (I think Wee Dave started that before he was born, if I’m remembering correct) we start to make things messy. Well, the money people don’t like messes. Witness, oh, any controversy that’s the least bit public. I was looking at sparkling water at the grocery, yesterday, and when I looked up the company’s background, I found that the longtime CEO had recently left under a cloud of shame over a #metoo accusation and ongoing internal investigation. SPARKLING WATER.

And that was a person and company that one wouldn’t expect to be hip-deep in controversial topics all the time. Writers and publishers, on the other hand? I mean, it’s basically our stock in trade. Ever read Deerskin? Or how about the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant? Shoot, I’m starting off the new thing (yes, another one. No, I’m not happy about it. Why won’t they leave me alooooone) with the main character a child slave miner. It ain’t pretty, and I’m trying to keep from pure horror.

And that’s just in our books, which any publisher could simply refuse to publish. Imagine, if you will, it’s 1967, and you’re an editor. One of your highest profile male authors does something so gauche as to be photographed in a dress. Now, his reputation may or may not be shot (I don’t know: I wasn’t alive then, but in certain circles I could see a boost in sales, at least), but you get a nasty phone call from your publisher, the Man With the Deep Pockets. Now, he got a call from his aunt, the New York Dame, who suddenly wants to know just what he’s allowing in his company, and how is she going to show her face at the club? And why aren’t you keeping track of what your authors are up to? Now imagine you have a morality clause in the author’s contract, and can definitely show that’s he’s damaging the reputation of the publisher.

Bring it forward to today. You’re a midlister, or even a New Big Thing, and then it comes out that you happened, once, on FaceBook, to mention that you saw there actually seem to be sex related differences between male and female biology. Or, even, that you thought perhaps reparations to the descendants of slaves was a poor policy, as aren’t we all? (And also the descendants of kings and conquerors. And slavers, probably.) And this gets pulled up years later, and suddenly you’re contacted by your publisher’s legal department, and told you need to repay the advance you just used to put a downpayment on the house you’ve already moved your family into, and interest. I don’t know about you, but if my family depended on it, I’d consider long and hard what I’d say or allow on social media.

But that’s going forward. If you can be ruined — and let’s not bandy about: an author who depends on writing can be ruined by getting dropped by a publisher and hit for repayment of advance — for things you said, say, when you were in college, and young and stupid (but I repeat myself), then it’s just a matter of waiting for the axe to fall. If all it takes is someone deciding that something hurts the chances of making money (as though the entire nation is one, monolithic market) then that’s it. No more writing career. (At least, no more tradpub.)

And it doesn’t even have to be something genuinely reprehensible, like openly suggesting that the war in Iraq was both justified and necessary. It could be anything somebody with power doesn’t like. Does that seem far fetched? I don’t know, I mean, the big publishers actually colluded on fixing prices not that long ago, and the above imaginative scenario is simply families doing what families do. The upshot is I’ll be running screaming from any contract that contains a morality clause, which likely means I’ll never be traditionally published.

Sorry: I didn’t mean to go in quite this direction, today, but I’m watching as yahoos on both sides of the aisle are working overtime to curtail my freedoms (I’m looking at you, Rubio) based on nothing more than an anonymous tip, and now this? C’mon, people, do I need to pull up the entire history of literature? So, yeah: it’s making me a little Wilde.

29 thoughts on “Chilling? Downright Frigid.

  1. I grew up on Joan Aiken, so child slave miner sounds like comfort reads from my childhood. More recently, I recall some child slave miner stories by PRC nationals in the Xianxia genre. Those probably would also be comfort reads.

    1. I remember reading about slavery in the Greek and Roman eras. I remember reading about slavery in very modern day eras, and contrary to the common idiocy, it wasn’t limited to ‘Americans keeping slaves’ or ‘white people keep slaves.’ Serfdom was also very common. So I grew up with the knowledge that slavery was a very, very commonplace thing, and was grateful I lived where I was and in the era I was.

  2. Yes indeed – the morality clause is enough to make a writers’ blood run cold – now that we have the many, many, many examples of tantrum-throwing Twitter mobs demanding heads, apologies and jobs from those whom have been declared to be beyond the pale.
    Yet another reason to thank my stars that I am retired with a military pension, and I own the Tiny Bidness that publishes my own books. There’s nothing much the Twitter Lynch mob can do to me, other than protest in front of my house, or something – and since my neighbors all seem to be fond of me – that might not be a wise move.
    But other writers, indy or not, don’t have that luxury.

    1. It doesn’t even have to be real. if they wanted to dump you, they could gin it up with sock puppets.

      How likely are they to? Who wants to be the one to find out?

      1. If they decide to be rid of you, they’ll come up with something. We just got banned from selling at a whole family of conventions, on the grounds that we had been “rude” and “abusive” to staff and hurt people’s feelings. In fact, my husband had just spoken firmly with a staffer about a Major Safety Violation needing to be corrected now, not whenever — but the person who could correct it was sleeping in and took exception to having their sleep disrupted, never mind that the situation was their Responsibility.

  3. And after the Instagram hack a few years ago, that stupid photo a 6th grader or high school students puts up for her buddies? Will become evidence that they are [whatever]phobic haters. To badly mangle Paul of Tarsus, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of [social media and the mob].” Especially when what is “moral” changes monthly or faster.

    1. The “religion” of SocJus has 10,000 Commandments that change at random. And no, there’s nowhere you can look them up, either.

  4. Yep, and this is why I erase my facebook history regularly. Because nobody in the social group I chat with really cares what I said 5 years ago, much less 90 days ago. So no reason to leave loose ammunition lying around for the company to sell to advertisers, and the mob to pick up…

    1. I could erase my Facebook chats; but it’s kind of futile. I have blog posts all over the Internet from the past 15 to 25 years; some of which caused extreme outrage in those who disagreed with me. Thing is, most of those old posting I still agree with what I said. In those cases where I no longer do so, I’ll gladly explain why I changed my mind/position/reasoning, assuming the screaming mob is even interested in hearing why.

      The only times I’m likely to apologize for something I post or say is if I shoot my mouth off saying something is factual when I really don’t know jack about it. (What? Who Me?) And I think I’ve gotten better at differentiating between what’s based on known fact and what’s just opinion.

  5. “Imagine, if you will, it’s 1967, and you’re an editor.”

    In the 1960’s a “morality” clause would have been commonplace. Still bad, but part of the assumed boilerplate.

    But then, in the 1960s “morality” was a known and agreed-upon entity. Don’t be a Communist, don’t get caught sleeping around if you’re female, don’t denounce the Pope and don’t get caught outside your hotel room in your underwear. That pretty much covered your Morality Clause, unless somebody wanted to assassinate your career. Then they had to work at it. Get pictures, etc. Newspapers did things like that.

    If you went to church and didn’t have a penchant for under-aged hookers, you were covered.

    Now? Being a white-ish male and having an opinion is sufficient to get you denounced and run out of a con. See John Ringo and Larry Correia, and most recently Robert Silverberg. There is no longer an agreed-upon morality out there. Most of the country is still in general agreement with the 1960s version, but a vocal minority are actively tearing all that down.

    But, to be truthful I wouldn’t have signed a morality clause in the 1960s either. Its not a good-faith provision.

      1. Oh yeah.

        He took exception to NK Jemisin’s speech at WorldCon accepting her third Hugo, published in a private venue let it be said, and now is officially a Bad Person among the snowflakes.

        So far objections have not risen to the level seen with Jon Del Arroz, John Ringo and Larry Correia, but they will. Once these dogs get hold of something, they’ll never let it go.

        1. Ugh. I just went to Freethoughtblogs to track the commentary down. First impression? Freethoughtblogs is anything but. Only those approved progressives are allowed to post. The NK Jemisin thread read like a bloody echo chamber.

          Listening to the clip of her acceptance speech, I have to agree with Mr. Silverberg. It was kind of graceless and a bit vulgar, and was all about identity politics because of her grievances. I do not disagree that she encountered rejections and resistance to publication; but I’m surprised that she didn’t realize that apparently most writers face the same thing constantly through traditional publishing. Were some of her rejections racially motivated? If she’s reporting the commentary accurately, and I suspect she was, then yes. Is there racial and sexual bias in the traditional publishing world? SP would never have existed if there wasn’t. And for this middle-aged, middle-class, white male at the blastocyst phase of writing, I hear of institutional bias against traditionally publishing anything written by my demographic.

          But back to the comment on Freethoughtblogs that Mr. Silverberg is “a hypocritical prissy prude”. Apparently the blog writer isn’t bright enough, or honest enough, to differentiate between a story written by a writer, and things said in a writer’s speech before a crowd of people. There are things I would write in a story, that I would scrape my tongue raw with a grater and pour salt on it before I’d say to someone in a conversation, much less formally before an entire crowd. Robert Silverberg’s soft porn, and his feelings on NK Jemisin’s speech fall into the same category. It’s not hypocrisy when it’s two completely different situations.

          And this was a heck of a lot more than I originally intended to think about, or say.

          1. Freethoughtblogs seems like a fever swamp. I feel dumber for having looked at it.

            But yeah, that’s what’s going on with Silverberg since the Hugos. Most of those retards have probably never read his work.

  6. Christian fiction.

    There’s some good bits out there, but most of it really isn’t good fiction. At least not what I’ve seen put out there for kids. It’s like me complaining to the Sunday School superintendent that the songs we were supposed to sing in church had awful melodies and were impossible to sing well (and I was just old enough to be morally embarrassed at screeching in front of an audience) and she said… “The words are good.” Apply that to videos and books… sure this *sucks* as art, but the message is so good.

    And someone writing about people in a bad place, even if the end is redemption, have a terrible time finding a publisher because their book has drugs in it, or sex, or whatever.

    And yeah, if you aren’t *personally* pious, publishing in the field is right out.

    That’s what this is… except it’s applied to (or the goal is to apply it to) the whole of mainstream publishing.

    1. That’s a problem with Christian Fiction; there’s plenty of Christian fiction (e.g. Narnia) and music (e.g. Palestrina). BTW, Flannery O’Conner felt the same way as you – her work is very Christian, but not in the way that would get published by the kind of Christian publisher you’re talking about.

      1. Right. And people can seem to recognize the problem when it’s a niche like “christian” fiction. And they seem unable to recognize the problem when it’s mainstream. “Well, we’re insisting on *good* things, so it’s completely different!” ???

        I don’t have a conceptual space for the idea that a writer’s immorality makes their work unacceptable. It’s true that reading Truman Capote’s work made me feel unclean in a way that didn’t fade for a very long time, but it was true crime written in a very bald way, meant to drag you through the horror of it.

        What if Truman Capote never got published because the internet existed and everyone knew he was gay and that was scandalous at the time? (It wasn’t even a secret anyway… he wrote about it.)

        1. Given their history of being unable to see that they are the same thing as the last bunch of Marxists, why would anyone expect them to be able to see themselves in those Christians?

    2. Except that there the rules are stable. There are no equivalents of touting MeToo and then telling women they have to put out or be transphobic.

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