“Ow. Stop hitting me…”

This is ‘being hit on the head lessons’ (with credit to Monty Python). ‘Why would anyone do that?’ Well, ‘the beatings will continue until morale improves’ might be another way of putting it.

I have the WuFlu so am rather more all over the place than usual. I got to 41K on the WIP but I think I may have to cut and redo…

Sarah posted an excellent piece about creativity. It’s both rarer and more common than we think. Rarer… true ‘de novo’ creativity happens… maybe. Because, truly everything humans do has at least foundations in their experience, which unless you were raised remotely by unseen forces, involved other humans. (I know, that about wraps it up for Mowgli) . All of us on the other hand take bits of that experience and weld them onto other pieces, often quite creatively, sometimes exceptionally so.

This of course is what pushed the human race out of some remote cave in Africa and onto achievements like… New York City. So: everyone takes a few wrong turnings along the line. Generally, life is unrecognizably better. It may well get better still – almost certainly not in any approved fashion, or even predicted one. It amuses me (because I have a small and rather odd mind) that the part of society often called ‘progressive’ are horrendously conservative about the very narrow vision of the future they hold. If there is one thing we know for sure, the future will not co-operate.

Anyway – actual progress: Much of that comes down to rarer end of the very common creativity – where people take things ‘which are not meant to go together’ (harrumph!) and create new things which change the world forever. It should be unsurprising that sf and fantasy (Which, harrumph! often puts totally inappropriate things which are not meant to go together, like pickles and chocolate, and occasionally achieves brilliance when something works out (not, so far as I know that combination)) is overly likely to have such creativity. The way sf/fantasy is treated – particularly by the current (‘progressive’) arts establishment kind of brings me to my thesis for today. Creativity which does not fit the model they hold to a narrow but certain path is to beaten down until it sees the error of its ways. Everything the establishment is deployed: from ‘we won’t publish your book’ to trying organize pogroms, purges, deplatforming and unpersoning (so-and-so is a bad man. 44 of you HAVE HIM ON YOUR FRIENDS LIST!) Critics, bookstores, and of course social media (redolent with accusations of racist/sexist/whatever the buzzword of the week is.)

It’s one hell of a tide to stand against. Look, being a writer is fine balancing act between self-confidence and fragility. Too much of either are a disaster, and early in your career, young authors do not want to push against the narrow bounds of ‘acceptable’ futures, because… well, because they are truly FRAGILE about their work. You feel about it as you do your beloved baby. So: yes. It does enforce compliance on all but the strong-of-mind — which is of course not fertile ground for creativity, but there you go. If you’re being compliant, you’re de facto not being very creative.

But, here’s the thing… it’s not just one battle (unless you’re a one book wonder) and it is exhausting. Most of the authors I know have been in this ‘we will not comply’ rebellion have been fighting a LONG war. Book after book – not defeat, small victories, perhaps. There is battle fatigue. And with that often comes a retreat to safe ground. The foe’s resources are huge… the author has perhaps loyal friends and fans, but a lot of us are very isolated — you get to feeling it’s just you. Some authors simply retreat into writing what is safe and approved, and others… it hurts to much. They stop altogether.

But the rest of us: we go on. Creativity requires an outlet, and it does not thrive under prescription or boundaries.

44 comments

  1. Of course Mowgli had human contact; it was in the form of a large anthropomorphised talking cat and talking bear.

    On a tangent, why does auto-correct seem to think a talking car is more reasonable than a talking cat? Cats talk all the time; it’s cars that like to be cryptic.

    1. Even when I was a small child, cars talked.

      “The door is ajar” got a lot of mileage in jokes.

    2. Hey, Mowgli grew up in a loving family with four siblings and a married (well, mated-for-life) mother and father. Communication is key.

  2. “We want something fresh and new and original just like that best-seller on the end cap!” And thus came waves of teen-vampire books, followed by fifty-shades-of [whatever]. Meanwhile, Larry Correia failed to turn left at Albuquerque and we got Monster Hunter International.

    ‘What if—?” A lot of the officially trendy dystopian stuff seems to be either “what if things go back to Manchester, England in 1820 but with worse sanitation,” or “antebellum US South in SPAAAAAAAACE!” The last time I was in the regional Barnes and Noble, I found three of the latter. Oh, come on. As you say, Dave, the Progressives-self-styled seem to be regressive in their imagination.

        1. It never ceases to depress me. Universes are open wide for them to tell stories about literally anything and what do they choose? Critical Race Theory crap. Even worse, there’s unsuspecting readers who’ve been conned into thinking that this is what serious Science-Fiction is supposed to be.

    1. Pratchett had a really neat bit about people not actually wanting news, they wanted olds, that seems very fitting— thing is, if you can do both at once, you’ll get the best success.

      Like, the Heartwarming Stories of animal rescues. (yes, deliberate ambiguous)
      That’s the Olds, the new part comes in with adding enough or changing enough that it’s fresh, too.

    2. I could go for an “antebellum South IN SPACE” story.

      There are whole lot of compelling concepts to work with, and it’s foreign without being incomprehensible. (And the neofeudal aspects and shame-based culture lend themselves to space opera. Not to mention the cavalier porting smoothly into fighter jock, the rampant smuggling, or the intricate etiquette.)
      Then you’ve got the baser aspects. The lechery, the aversion to work as “beneath one’s station”, the bellicosity, the intrigues against rivals, and the complicated horrible mess that was chattel slavery. There’s so much (unnecessary, self-destructive) drama there.

      But somehow, I doubt that bears any resemblance to what’s on the shelves.

  3. Keep on creating! If you are true to your visions, you will have nothing to regret and you will have passed on something of value. Compromising your vision so they stop hitting you, may seem like a reasonable response to life, but you will regret any compromise in the end. On the other hand, waking the slumbering beast of mankind’s unconscious guilt is best done in a caring way. If what you are writing will make people wrong, be sure to give them a way to justify what they have done.

  4. I’m still in the fight with my current novel; I think I’ve written the opening 20k words about five times. Different variations of with and without prologue; with villain first, hero first and so on. Changed location/time of story start twice or more if starting with a prologue in the deep past count as a thing, or not.

    I’ve realized I do need to figure out where the story ends? It’s all a bit timey-wimey, up in the air at the moment, and depends depends a number of variables that are making it hard for me to pin down. Think fast moving critter that defies being caught.

    Still, it is good to write even a few words, even it feels a bit like WW1 and trench warfare.

                  1. Some of this needs to be punished with a cool whip; but Texas is too hot this week, so I’ll just loaf a bit longer…

    1. > Those who support it insist that they’re no different from subject matter experts

      This is the lie of the wokerati. “This thing is just like that thing” – motte & bailey the crap out of every argument, and prove the lie in the action.

      A subject matter expert is a subject matter expert. If I hire a SME I want to know if I’ve got my facts straight. A sensitivity reader assumes that all characters that look like them must act and feel and say exactly what *they* would say – just because it’s distributed racism & bigotry instead of the author’s, somehow that makes it better?

      No. Go straight to hell.

      1. An interesting point to consider — how many “Young Adult” books are bought by public schools for Approved Reading? Makes you wonder how much of an effect *that* particular bureaucratic edifice has on the publishing market. . .

        1. I think it’s a huge part, and probably also a big part of why the sensitivity readers. I suspect a lot of these novels aren’t being written for the “young adults” who will read them but for the 7th grade teachers the publisher hopes will assign them.

      2. An SME will tell you that in the late 1800s, Mick, Paddy, and Brigit were derogatory terms, and to call a man a Mick might lead to a fight. He will also explain why that was so, and where it mattered, if it applies to your historical fiction/alt-history book. A sensitivity Reader will fuss about using those names in a book set today.

        You know, like the [dumb bunny] who jumped up and down about us using the name “Cuffy” to refer to someone because it was racist and was used by slave owners . . . and then discovered that we were talking about Kofi Annan, who at the time was the head of the UN, and from the African continent, and still very much alive. *facepaw*

      3. One of the WIPs that i have been working on intermittently is a novel set in the period just before the American Civil War, with a spinster heroine who is an ardent crusading abolitionist before the war, and a battlefield volunteer nurse during it. I have several chapters centered around her visit to Richmond, c.1847, and her frank discussions with other abolitionists – and arguments with pro-slavery adherents. I am looking forward to trampling all over current sensitivities regarding slavery in America with hob-bailed boots on. If I can make them whimper and cry for mercy, so much the better.

      4. The article brought up a good point that most of these “sensitivity readers” AREN’T subject matter experts, at least if the “subject” in question is the subject of the book. The example sensitivity reader was a Caribbean-born, UK-raised, employee of a literary agency. It seems unlikely she had any special insight into how an American ex-con would think.

        However, I don’t think that was really the subject. I suspect the “subject” she was really brought in to consult on, “How to write a Black character so that he will be the sort that Oprah considers authentic.”

  5. I read the article and agree with the author.

    While I’d be happy to have people from different backgrounds give me their input, I’d run away, FAST, from anyone who identified that as “sensitivity reading.” Yes, you can have a subject area expert on another ethnicity or background. No, your job is not to identify what is or is not offensive, but, if relevant, what is true.

    For example, it is very common for the first born girl of Irish American Catholics to be named “Mary.” That could be useful. It would also be useful for people to actually know something about observant Catholic beliefs before writing about them. But “sensitivity” implies you’re trying not to offend people, not that you’re trying to get objective facts right.

    And if you’re writing sci-fi or fantasy, it can be totally irrelevant.

  6. It became quite apparent to me very early on that “Regular Publishing” was not going to be handling my book. Mostly because none of the “Regular Publishing” outlets I contacted answered their mail.

    Now, this wasn’t just my experience, I also happen to know an author who went through the same thing trying to peddle their mystery book. Said author contacted -dozens- of agents, publishers, etc. with that book. The author finally said “!@#% it!” and self-published the book on Amazon. The book and its follow-on book have both done far over 50K copies. The second book is #400-something in the Amazon store. Both have well over two thousand (2,000) reviews.

    Which tells me something. In a business environment where a “Regular Publishing” author could be selling as few as ~1500-2000 copies in the USA (and might be as few as 300 copies in Canada) all the agents and publishers turned down an author who did way over 100k on their own. It tells me either publishers don’t know their own business, or their profit does not come from selling books.

    For myself, my little book isn’t doing particularly well, but I have certainly surpassed the Canadian dead-tree author copy count. Any Canadian publishing house that accepted the book would have done okay with it, going by what everybody else is doing. But they don’t answer the phone or their mail, so we will never know.

    Long story short, should I be concerned about what Everybody Says regarding ‘sensitivity readers,’ ‘editing for inclusion,’ ‘author diversity (old/white/male/straight I’m out on that category) and all that fabulous publishing universe stuff? I mean, is there going to be any money in that for me? Is it going to help my books get a Real Publisher and sell tens of thousands of copies?

    Probably not. Most likely they still won’t answer their mail.

    Therefore I am free. I can do what I want, without fear of losing the all-important endorsement of my publisher. I don’t have one, and no matter what I do I won’t be able to get one. I can be as creative or as un-creative as I want. If anybody doesn’t like it they can rage away on Twittler as hard as they like, it will be free marketing for me.

    Life is good!

    1. Frankly, ‘What Everybody Says You Need’ is mostly passed-down attempts to get you to spend money on ‘services’ so they can leach off creators. Or justify the amount of money they have spent on publishers that do less and less for authors.

      I read your book, it was good enough to want to read a sequel, which, imho, is probably one of the most reliable indicators for success. Now you just need to work out how to put out 3 or 4 more a year, and you could be a Professional Author in no time!

      (From what I’ve picked up from Larry C, Brandon Sanderson etc, it’s quality + quantity that really seem to be the recipe for success). Success being measured in Mountains Owned and suchlike things.

  7. it’s quality + quantity that really seem to be the recipe for success
    I think there may be a third ingredient, but I’m not quite sure how to describe it. “Novelty” or “breadth”, perhaps? I kept up with Michael Anderle for several years until the next book started reading like the previous book. I love The Belgariad, but the characters are cartoon cutouts (with some “they are not real people, but prophecy incarnate” justification) that got old after a while. I tired of Mercedes Lackey for much the same reason. “Poor young child with seeds of greatness” is not a bad theme, but it gets to be a bit much after 30 books.
    As counter examples, the April (and Family Law) books and Wine of the Gods avoid this (although I’m less than thrilled by the change to mysteries [more Xen, Paer, Ebsa, and Icka! – and I look at that list and think about how I disliked the perspective switch to the Empire; keep writing what you want to write, Pam], at least it’s not repetitive).
    My foray into RPGLit is about quantity. Those folks write fast – probably because 20% of the books are tables and stats, which I barely read. There is some quality out there, too. He Who Fights Monsters gets fairly deep into power and responsibility issues, without ever quite coming to conclusions (yet – I’ve caught up to the author, again).

    1. Third element may simply be ‘who you know’ or ‘when and where you get exposure’. If you get someone like J.K. Rowling to tweet out your amazon book link with a recommendation you’re gonna be hot for a while no matter how good. . .

      But yeah. “Quantity” is easy to.. quantify. 😛

      Quality is not so much so. Not least because some of it comes down to personal preference. But what you’re saying about repetition is definitely one of those things — although it’s an interesting thing because time between books throws something into that mix too. Like, ML might be ok if you read one of the 30 books every .. 8 months, right? The repetition has time to fade. But if you read them in a row it becomes glaringly obvious.

      Breadth might be a good term. Like.. Larry C is pretty damn impressive to be able to go from Modern Day Monster Hunting to Eastern Samurai to WWI With Magic . . .

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