Author Archives: Kate Paulk

Unexpected Findings

Research is a challenge for me. Not the actual tracking down of weird and obscure information: I enjoy that, and do pretty well at it. No, for me the challenge is avoiding the rabbit hole of related interesting tidbits. Of which there are an abundance.

One of the fun aspects of the current work in progress is that I’m working two distinct strands. There’s the founding Teutonic Knights who were abducted by aliens in 1272, and their many-times-over descendants who have shown up in Earth orbit in our near-future. The 1272 part brings in action much sooner as well as providing a lot of worldbuilding – mostly from the perspective of a fifty-something knight who is well-educated by the standards of his era, but knows absolutely nothing about advanced technology or science.

Which leads to the research fun: concepts that weren’t around in the late 1200s don’t appear (or at least I hope they don’t) in their modern forms. Instead, my knight uses concepts he knows to describe things. Leading to (among other things) some interesting automated translator issues where the translator software lacks the context for something and goes for the closest equivalent. Like “fornicator” for “replicator” (which has the added advantage of dropping some much-needed light relief into a rather tense situation).

As part of writing this strand, I’m constantly searching for the etymology of words. If it doesn’t have a first known use around 1300 or less in Northern Europe, I don’t use it. There’s a lot that’s ruled out by this – words like technology, humanity, logistics… actually, just go with most of the big overarching conceptual things and you’re pretty much there. For a man who’s spent most of his life as a knight and a leader, not having the word ‘logistics’ forces him to think of the concept as the proper ordering of men and supplies – which is more or less the way it was considered in that era.

Then, me being me, I have to fight the urge to follow the rabbit trail of documented logistics of the 1200s (there isn’t much, and what there is largely relates to supplying castles), the makeup of supply trains (it varied. A lot), and how much a militant Order of Knight-Monks, all of them sworn to celibacy (as were their men-at-arms, generally known as Half-Brothers because they weren’t full members of the Order) would vary from the documented examples.

Then there’s the question of whether it’s feasible my knight would arrive at the same or a similar word by virtue of his education. Since he’s a younger son of nobility who’s grown up in the Order (as many of the Teutonic Knights did), he’s fluent in Latin and Old High German, has picked up a smattering of Old Prussian from the native Prussians over the past 30 years or so, and speaks the local Vulgate and Germanic dialects. So if there’s something equivalent to the modern term that he’s likely to come up with on his own, I’ll do that.

The end result is the Prussians in the modern timeline don’t use the same terminology we do. Their scientific language originated with two of their member species and has no human basis, so the translations given are close equivalents to what we’d use without being the same. Instead of scientists, they have technologists.

And the author winds up off on even more odd research tangents looking for different ways to say things that feel like they belong in the piece and the culture without being obnoxiously different. Not that this is anything unusual.

Trust me on this: you haven’t lived until you’ve found black supremacist theology via trying to find out how a northern European culture in the 1100s or thereabouts would view someone with albinism. I think my eyeballs tried to crawl through my optic nerves to get away from it.

Research is dangerous. Choose your search terms carefully and try not to get distracted.


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When You’re Lost In The Depths Of The Pants

First, blame Sarah. Her post yesterday started this, particularly the commenters who identified themselves as pantsers (or in some cases, Panzers, which are clearly Germanic pantsers with really big guns. I’m presuming the DD caliber rack-mounted weapons I possess count, and I’m pretty sure there’s Germanic somewhere in the family tree).

Of course, when you’re an extreme pantser like me, you do run the risk of getting lost somewhere deep in the pants, possibly with a bad case of plot kudzu making it impossible to see where you’re going. Some of Sarah’s commenters wondered what to do when they get lost or they run out of spoons and simply can’t make things work the usual way if they’re extreme pantsers who really can’t work from an outline.

I’m definitely one of these, but maybe not the best person to be throwing suggestions out here, given that I’m coming off several years of dry spell (on the plus side, a long dry spell kills off that pants-kudzu like nothing else), but I can give a few suggestions, ranging from minimal to extreme.

I’ll start with the least intrusive ones (and yes, I did try all of these. They all failed).

  1. Try to push through anyway. Even if your pantser intuition has deserted you and you have no idea where the thing is supposed to go now, try some formless middle stuff where things happen without any real definition (you know, kind of like the middle ¾ of the last Harry Potter book).
  2. If that doesn’t work, try some plot diagramming. If necessary, start at the beginning of the book and try to keep going after you ran into the kudzu by working out what should happen. It might unstick you, it might not.
  3. Take a short break to write something else – but make sure you give yourself permission to suck first. Fanfic can be helpful with this, because it’s a lot easier to tell yourself that it doesn’t matter, because it’s only fanfic. Sometimes the change of scenery/pace can be enough to give you a fresh perspective when you get back to the stuck piece.
  4. Repeat steps 1 through 3 a few times until you get desperate. During this stage, it helps to remind yourself that you personally do not suck even if your writing seems to have transmogrified into a supermassive black hole. Personally, I don’t recommend going this far. Even though I did.
  5. Throw it away and start again. This is drastic pants-surgery, but it can work, especially if you’re not writing something under a contract. If you have a contract and need to turn in the book at a specific time, this might be when you start locking yourself in the bathroom or book a library study room (thanks for the suggestion, Brad!) or somewhere else you can guarantee you won’t be disturbed with snacks, your laptop, and no Internet. If nothing else, Internet withdrawal might push you to the appropriate level of desperation. (Leave notes for yourself to do the research you need later).
  6. Write another book. This option is only to be considered if you aren’t contracted and you have the freedom to do it. When things are this desperate, and the pants-kudzu is that overgrown, it can be more important that you recapture the feeling of a story flowing than finishing the blocked piece. The reason this one can work is the psychological one: if you’re stuck badly enough for long enough it starts to eat at your confidence in all the ways Sarah described. Starting – and finishing – something else that isn’t that book can give you confidence to bull your way through that book later.

As an extreme pantser, my experience is that something like 50% of the process is trusting your subconscious. Another 50% is having the confidence to let your subconscious steer. Then there’s 50% figuring out how to turn your conscious brain off, and 50% shaping what emerges so it doesn’t read like that weird dream you had where the talking carrot was utterly terrifying but nobody else in the universe can tell.

You could also do it the hard way: learn the techniques well enough that you can do what Sarah calls painting by numbers and plot it out in an outline then write to the outline.

Personally, I find that more difficult than any other method I’ve tried.


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The Good, The Bad, and the Microsoft

The day job has been interesting in the Chinese curse sense, largely due to a certain software juggernaut’s less than ideal approach to documenting its software. To put it simply (for values of simple that a mostly non-technical audience will understand), after spending the better part of two weeks trying to use the software to do something all the marketing says you can do, in a way that all the marketing and the help documents say you can do, yesterday was the day I discovered that yes, you can indeed do all these things, as long as you don’t try to do all of them in the same system.

This is rather like telling a writer that yes, you can use this wonderful piece of software to write your books and set them up for e-publishing, and monitor your sales, while neglecting to mention that the sales monitoring module doesn’t work if you have the novel-writing module enabled, and you need to subscribe to the online e-publishing service to use that part because it’s not supported in the standalone version. And never actually making this clear in any of the documentation.

Yes, software documentation (otherwise known as “those bloody useless excuses for Help files”) does – or should – have a purpose. Its purpose is communicate. What software documentation should communicate is such things as how the software should be used, what it doesn’t do, and what you should not attempt to make it do lest you open a portal to Dread Ry’leh and the gibbering eldritch horrors contained therein decide to make a little tour of Earth, collecting souls along the way. Yours will certainly be the first one on the list, unless you, like me by the end of the day, have become a gibbering eldritch horror and started a soul collection of your own.

On the plus side, the novel-in-progress is past 50,000 words and still going strong. I’m at the first tipping point, with All Hell about to break loose and the tension is winding up nicely. In a few thousand words at most, an extremely one-sided battle will start, and run across multiple threads for the rest of the piece. It’s going to be a long, difficult ride…

So here’s a recent slice, completely out of context, just for the fun of it.

By the time Zofija walked her from her cabin to the armory to have her environment suit fitted, Lida was beginning to be comfortable with controlling the cabin’s functions through her phone. The link between it and the com meant she could take calls with the phone through a familiar interface as long as both were close.

If she thought of it as Bluetooth on steroids, she could make sense of the arrangement.

Trying to match protocols like that must be a nightmare. Some of the coworkers who worked with the UN software had complained about that kind of thing, and they were working with the same basic assumptions. Zofija’s offhand comment that Prussian scientific mathematics used ssirrissian numeric notation – in either base 16 or base 4 – left her wondering how any human managed, especially since regular mathematics used the typical human forms.

Medicine using tiruler notation and binary or octal did not help. Lida barely remembered how mathematics with different bases worked: Prussian Technologists and Hospitalers routinely converted between all five mathematical systems. The consequences of misidentifying the math system in use was enough to send ice cascading down her spine.

Zofija only laughed. “That is why ssirrissians dominate our sciences, as Brothers or citizens, and why tiruler dominate the medicinal arts. They have been working there far longer than humans.” She gave Lida’s shoulder a gentle squeeze. “We make better fighters and we’re capable of being good at most anything with the right training.”

The encouragement helped give Lida the courage to walk into the armory as though she wasn’t terrified of whatever kind of training Ceslaus would be throwing at her.

He grinned at her, apparently seeing through the facade without trying. “Lady Lida, welcome. I feared you might not wish to return.”

She offered the Prussian style equal-to-equal bow. As she understood things, she outranked everyone here except Friedrich, but this was the Clothier’s realm, and as such, she was silently telling him she accepted his sovereignty here when she did this.

American customs were so much simpler. Assume everyone is your equal as a person, shake hands, call them by name unless they tell you otherwise. She’d never joined the military so she lacked the automatic recognition of rank used there.

“I cannot say I am looking forward to this, Lord Ceslaus.” She spoke in a dry tone, but with as much of a smile as she could manage. “It must be done, so best to have it done quickly and correctly, yes?” That was one of Oma’s sayings, complete with the oh-so-Germanic ja? at the end of the sentence.

“Indeed so, Lady.” Ceslaus spread his hands in a gesture of innocence that failed to achieve anything resembling innocence. Him having the weathered appearance of an old sergeant, complete with faded scars, and the build of a tank rather overwhelmed everything else. “I apologize in advance for any missteps: it has been a long time since I needed to work with someone entirely untrained.”

“Of course.” Lida could understand that: she’d been told by a few people now that all Prussians were taught basic combat as part of their schooling, so that if it came to the worst they could all fight effectively. With an ever-present threat like the Dracaener, they’d likely have the social unity they needed to keep people willing to subject themselves to military training and command – not that she hand any illusions that the Order’s leaders were above using propaganda and indoctrination to keep their population willing.

If there was one thing that overrode everything else she’d seen about Prussians, it was that they were willing to do whatever they had to and atone for it later.

The environment suit looked like light armor, and felt like a mix of synthetic fabric and some kind of ceramic. The stand made it look as though it was a set of overlapping pieces, something she soon found was far from the truth.

Ceslaus patiently guided her through clipping each piece on, starting from the boots – sabatons that wrapped around her boots and left no visible seam where they closed or where they hinged. Those connected to greaves to cover her lower legs, and those in turn to poleyns, then cuisses. Each time Lida added a new piece of the suit correctly, it left no visible seam or hinge. The fit was snug without being uncomfortable.

The explanation, that the components of the suit had evolved from the armor of the founding Knights and the names for each component had simply been carried on to the corresponding pieces of more modern armor, helped Lida to see the point of something that had so many pieces. Apparently it was easier and cheaper to make armor that interlocked seamlessly than to make a single large suit, even though a faulty connection meant a dead wearer.

Not that she expected to be dealing with hard vacuum, but it was better to have the protection than not, especially when it was also capable of resisting Dracaener weapons. Not concentrated fire, of course, but stray shots would have no impact.

Once her legs were covered, Ceslaus had Lida run through a series of flexibility exercises to ensure the suit didn’t impact mobility in any way, then brought her back to the stand for the next phase of learning to put the suit on.


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Responding to Change

As part of my day job, I make an effort to stay current with what’s going on in the world of software development and testing. I’m not going to say this is the kind of thing all the folk here would just adore, because it’s not, but every now and then I run into something that totally nails it.

This article is one of those. The author goes to a lot of effort (and quite a bit of formal logic) to work through and destroy “the fallacy that there is no truth in discourse (or anywhere else, for that matter), but for the multitude of subjectively held opinions that are all equally and to the same extent true and valuable”.

Let’s just say he’s not a fan of moral relativism.

The author is a consultant who is often brought in to help fix broken software development processes, but the problems he describes are the same ones that show up all over the place in publishing (and elsewhere, of course, but I’m focusing on publishing here), so he’s had plenty of opportunity to study the phenomenon.

His conclusion isn’t comfortable, but it fits. It’s a workable theory that can be used to predict how people who stand to lose (or think they stand to lose) from changes will likely respond.

It starts with change. Things change. Circumstances change, environments change. When a changing environment hits a stagnant (or stable) culture, the culture has to adapt or it dies. But when that culture is truly stagnant and the decisions of its various leaders have generated a serious distrust, even hatred, for innovation, the people who most need to change how they do things aren’t going to want to do it.

Think about the traditional publishers and what they think about ebooks. That’s one big fat heaping pile of change-averse before you even consider the antiquated accounting and management systems that decide how much the publishers owe their authors in royalties, the arcane contracts that make signing over your soul and your first-born look reasonable, and the miniscule return offered to the author. Among many other things.

So when it starts to look like change is necessary, they start fighting back with the moral relativism where everything is equally valuable.

That’s about the point where the article hits the formal logic, but my less-form version goes something like this:

You say “there is no absolute truth”. Is that also relative?

Now, if you’re thinking with the correct head and not letting emotions get in the way, that’s a nice little contradiction in terms: to say “there is no absolute truth” is in itself a statement of an absolute truth. So “there is no absolute truth” has to be a relative statement, and so, not completely true.

But if “there is no absolute truth” is not absolutely 100% true, then there must be some absolute truth out there somewhere if only we can find it. Which also means that not all things are relative, and some things may indeed be better than others. And yes, independent publishing and ebooks might just be here to stay.

Go read the article, even if you’re not up for the formal logic. The first half is describing what happens and how people react, so even the least technical among us can do that.


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Making History is Messier than you Thought

For reasons related mostly to my current work in progress (those Prussian Knights I posted a snippet of a few weeks back? 42,000+ words and counting), history in general and what winds up making something worthy of the official history books has been in my mind a fair bit lately. Especially since the Prussians have a soundtrack, called “anything Sabaton recorded”, and for whatever the reason metal history does what this story wants.

(As a digression, kids would probably be much more interested in history if they got introduced to it by metal history geeks like Sabaton – the number of times I’ve stopped what I was doing and gone chasing references on some neat obscure thing they did a song about only to find that the actual history is even more badass than the song says it would totally work. And yes, I am a 49 year old metalhead. For a very specific selection of bands.)

Between this and the events of the last few months on top of the events of the last few years, I’ve been thinking that we’re in the middle of watching history get made, and it’s a very messy, ugly process which will – hopefully – be summarized as something like a “period of turmoil leading to…” whatever comes next (the not-hopeful version involves “elimination of disruptive influences” or similar weasel words and a history that’s outright lies as opposed to the normal bias that’s impossible to keep out of anything. Yes, this is why they say the winners write the history books. Take note of who is writing (and publishing) the history books right now, and draw the appropriate conclusions about who won what).

The forces that have dominated civil (or uncivil) discourse of late are in the process of losing what was once a near-absolute grip on public expression, and they don’t like it. This is showing up in the Big 5 versus Amazon rolling arguments, the repeated attempts to delegitimize and other all things Indie, the Sad Puppies campaigns (and yes, the Rabids as well. Had the reaction to Sad Puppies 2 been less vitriolic, the whole thing would have likely faded off and been forgotten by now. Instead, well… Take note, folks. If you don’t like something, the best way to deal with it is to politely ignore it and let it rise or fall on its own merits. If it really is as bad as you think, it will sink. Of course, if there’s manipulation behind the scenes that’s a whole nother argument).

All of which leads to mining actual history, hell plundering history for awesome, badass, balls-to-the-walls adventure and complicated, messy, realistic world-building. Take, say, some of the more interesting Chinese Imperial dynasties, throw that culture into some far future Empire and play with where it goes (fair warning, it has been done more than once, and you have to really understand bureaucratic wankery to really make it work). Or mutate the Australian penal colonies into some far future prison planet.

Or, may your deity forgive you, American Presidential Elections in Space.

Just remember if you do this, you must also have American culture more or less intact in space, which means that the entire messy, brawling, individualistic, freedom-loving mess has to have survived the attempts to regiment it and make it more European. Which means you need to understand the difference between communistic cultures (in the sense of “the welfare of the community is most important”) and individualistic cultures (“the autonomy of the individual is the most important”) (The USA is the most individualistic culture on the planet, closely followed by, in no particular order, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. Most of the Asian cultures are extremely community-focused. European cultures are somewhere in between but tend to focus more on the community the further East you go. And some are so far on the community-focus that they will punish victims of crime as well as perpetrators on the grounds that whatever the victim did to be targeted by the criminals encouraged social disorder. Personally? Ugh. But if that’s your thing, you’re welcome to it).

Regardless, the best way to rip off history and culture is probably the simplest. Read as many primary documents as you can. If you can’t read the actual primary docs, aim for translations of them. That’s where the clues to the mindset live.

Because one thing is absolutely 100% guaranteed: if you transplant the forms of a culture without the mindset, you’ll have the authorial version of cargo cult fiction.


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Recognizing Mary and Marty

We’ve all seen it. The character who the author clearly adores and is described in glowing terms, but whose deeds fail to live up to the hype. This is the character who is supposedly an innocent victim of everything, the sweetest, nicest person imaginable, and so on and so on (otherwise known as Mary Sue/Marty Stu).

Some of these get published, both trad and indie. The ones that are just good enough to gull readers like me into a purchase get summary flying lessons if purchased in hard copy and the delete button if purchased electronically.

It’s not often they get me, simply because authors who write these characters simply aren’t that good (usually).

So how do you tell? Or rather, how do you recognize that you’re dealing with one of these in a book, and for the writers among us, how do you avoid writing one?

The first big sign (and this is true in real life as much as in fiction) is that with very, vanishingly few exceptions, nobody is an innocent victim all the time. If everyone is always doing your poor character (or, Dog forbid, your friend) wrong, it’s time to take a closer look at what’s going on. In my experience, even people with severe problems dealing with people aren’t always innocent victims of predators using their lack of social ept against them (and don’t take the author at their word here, either. Think of the author as the ultimate unreliable narrator).

If someone is always being victimized, look for signs that person is trying to manipulate or cheat others – or is using “I got no social skills” as an excuse to be an asshole. Observe the interactions between the person and other characters. Chances are good that the sainted one’s halo has slipped a ways and is very tarnished.

Other characters (or Dog help you, friends) might rush in to support and help the poor dear, but somehow never seem to gain much of anything for it. Or – and this one is a guaranteed flying lesson for a book – everyone raves on about how intelligent or good at something the darling angel is, then the darling angel goes and does something ridiculously stupid that proves the author has no idea about whatever it is that dearest is supposed to be wonderful at (yes, I’ve seen this in real life too, but people frown on being given impromptu flying lessons via the nearest window. Imagine that).

Honestly, if you take your emotions out of it, they’re pretty easy to recognize. The ones I call bullet-makers are worst, and I’ve seen plenty in life, and a few (usually inadvertent) in fiction. These are the innocent saintly ones who don’t ever seem to do anything overtly bad, but somehow chaos and confusion erupt all around them, friendships get shattered, and the cause of it all comes out smelling of roses – unless you’re watching very carefully.

How do you avoid writing them?

That’s where “Show, don’t tell” comes in. You don’t tell people so and so is innocent. You depict an actual innocent who is confused and scared by a situation. People who have nothing to do with bad stuff happening (whether emotional, an online explosion, or something else – real life or written, the principle is the same) don’t react the same way as people who were stirring the pot. People who wouldn’t know innocence if it bit them tend to be unable to write it, so if you can’t, ask someone who can to help you and when they tell you you got it wrong, listen to them.

Similarly, if you’ve got problems recognizing chronic liars (many people do, either because we don’t want to believe that someone is going to deliberately lie when we don’t see a reason for it, or because we don’t really believe that people can be evil and do things to cause harm), read up on some biographies of known liars, watch the behavior of public figures caught lying, and take notes (because oddly enough you’re going to have trouble finding someone willing to tell you that yeah, they’re a pathological liar and sure they’ll help you write one properly – and yes, I do recognize the irony here).

It can be done. When it’s done right, you get characters who don’t make you want to go and shake sense into the author.


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Who’s Trolling Who?

The Internet – or the portions of it that I frequent – has lately become somewhat exercised (and among my friends rather entertained) by the news that Simon and Schuster has a quarter-million book deal with one Milo Yiannopoulos, leading to much frothing at the mouth in certain circles, as noted at the Passive Voice

Of course, Passive Guy kindly links to the original Guardian article which – surprise! – wasn’t written by our favorite village person of alternative intellect or whatever the current approved terminology is. No, the Grauniad’s latest effort is by a gentleman who is apparently in charge of the Chicago Review of Books, and who wishes it known to all and sundry (can you say virtue signaling? I knew you could) that his eminent publication will not be reviewing any S&S books.

So, let’s take a look at what passes for Mr Adam Morgan’s erudition, shall we?

My commentary is in plain text (mostly). The original article is in italics. If you want to follow any of the original links, go check the link above, because I’m not trying to take those through the combination of WordPress and my word processor.

Last week, the literary world gasped when one of the largest publishers in the United States, Simon & Schuster, rewarded America’s most infamous internet troll, Milo Yiannopoulos, with a $250,000 book deal.

Presumably all the Grauniad’s readers know who constitutes “the literary world” – namely their august selves. There are some nonconformist souls who happen to think that the definition is a bit broader and includes all authors, all publishers, and even (GASP!) readers. Leaving this question of terminology aside, take note of the description of Mr Yiannopoulous as “America’s most infamous internet troll”. Five words. Damn near as many lies. He’s British, he’s not a troll, internet or otherwise, he’s not infamous despite having a certain amount of notoriety, and he’s certainly not the most infamous anything I can think of right now.

Nice job, Mr Morgan, delegitimizing and othering a gay person of non-WASP extraction – one might almost think you were a disgusting homophobic racist, if you didn’t have such impeccable reprogressive credentials.

But we probably should have seen it coming. After all, 2016 taught us that ridiculing women, people of colour, Muslims and members of the LGBTQ community can make someone immensely popular.

It did? Apparently Mr Morgan was taking lessons from the KKK (who, incidentally, are on his side, but that’s a minor issue) because for the rest of us the lessons of 2016 were that women, people of color (I resent my color being delegitimized, thank you. I did not ask to be born with barely a hint of pink to offset the glaring white), Muslims (who the last time I looked Mr Morgan’s people are carefully tiptoeing around lest they offend the barbarian who’ll cut off his head if he steps wrong where some of us are of the opinion that any humans can learn to accept views not their own), and members of the LGBTQWTFBBQ community included about the same number of sensible adults with the ability to make up their own damn minds as any other random or non-random group of people on the planet.

Of course, I’m not Marxist-in-all-but-nameahem progressive so I apparently don’t have the ability to make up my mind and need the likes of Mr Morgan to make it for me.

Damn. I’m not even onto the second paragraph. Speaking of which…

For Simon & Schuster, it can also be immensely profitable. During Yiannopoulos’s tenure at Breitbart – where he’s told gay people to “get back in the closet” and women to “log off” the internet – he has amassed more than 1 million followers on Facebook.

Subtext: profit bad. Shitstirring bad unless done for The Cause. Lots of Facebook followers bad – how dare this uber-flamboyant gay man get off the plantation we progressives made for him!

Threshold Editions, the Simon & Schuster imprint dedicated to “innovative ideas of contemporary conservatism”, has a hit on its hands.

Oooh, scare quotes. Way to imply that the publisher has no right to even consider having a conservative ideas imprint. Never mind that anything other than Mr Morgan’s beloved perspectives is everywhere else and damn near impossible to escape unless you go indie. I may have a fit of the vapors! Where are my pearls! I must clutch my pearls!

But Yiannapoulos is not a conservative intellectual leader with a political agenda. He’s a clickbait grifter who has made a name for himself spewing hate speech.

Look mama, more delegitimization. So the man knows how to market himself. Big whoop. I’ve seen worse clickbait in the hallowed virtual halls of the Grauniad than I’ve seen from Mr Yiannopoulos. Speaking of which, at least spell the man’s name right. Of course he’s only a gay man who doesn’t know enough to hold the correct views, so he clearly doesn’t matter that much (yes, that is sarcasm. If you hadn’t noticed this post is dripping with it, I recommend a couple of painkillers, some smelling salts, some pearls to clutch, and a really good lie-down).

As the editor-in-chief of a small literary review, I wanted Simon & Schuster to know that broadcasting his rhetoric would have real-world consequences.

Oh the courage! The risks Mr Morgan is taking! Why, someone in S&S might even notice!

So I made a decision that has nothing to do with political ideology and everything to do with human rights and decency: the Chicago Review of Books will not cover a single Simon & Schuster book in 2017.

Oh, bullshit. It has everything to do with ideology, or Mr Morgan wouldn’t be making his ever so brave statement condemning S&S for not just permitting wrongthink but publishing it.

According to thousands of Twitter and Facebook users, our stance is equivalent to censorship, fascism and book-burning. By choosing not to review Simon & Schuster books for a year, they claim we’re contradicting both the first amendment and our own mission to cover “diverse voices”.

My god. Be still my beating heart. I may actually agree with Mr Morgan about something. Attempting to punish S&S for publishing a diverse voice he dislikes certainly does contradict his publication’s stated mission; but it does not contradict the First Amendment (which, incidentally, damn well should be capitalized). It’s a disgusting stance, choosing to punish unrelated and wholly innocent parties for the words of another, but it’s absolutely allowed.

In response, they’ve photoshopped my head onto a Nazi soldier, posted my photo with the caption “WARNING! This man was just accused of molesting young children!” and expressed their hope that the next wave of Chicago shootings might “take out” some of our editors.

Now that is disgusting. It’s the kind of thing Mr Morgan’s allies regularly do to those who disagree with them however mildly, but it’s still disgusting – only they usually follow up with a demand that their target prove they aren’t whatever. It’s not pleasant to have your weapons turned on you, is it sir?

But we aren’t infringing upon Yiannopoulos’s or Simon & Schuster’s free speech. Yiannopoulos has the constitutional right to say whatever he wants. He can call Leslie Jones a “black dude” who is “barely literate”. He can call Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig and Kate McKinnon “fat” and “ugly”. He can call transgender people “mentally ill” and “retarded,” and mock a transgender student during a speech at her own school.

Just as Mr Morgan has the right to lie by carefully omitting context as he’s done here. Of course, he’s done this in the UK, for a British publication, and he’s lying about a British man, which means he’s just made himself a prime target for some British-style libel lawfare – except that Mr Yiannopoulos is probably having way too much fun taking the piss to bother.

And of course, Simon & Schuster has every right to increase Yiannopoulos’s platform by publishing his book. However, free speech doesn’t protect anyone from repercussions in a free market. The literary community – and society at large – has the freedom to respond in kind. That’s why the UK division of Simon & Schuster has decided not to publish Yiannopoulos’s book. It’s why some professionals, such as author Danielle Henderson and audiobook producer Emmett Plant, are reconsidering their relationships with the publisher.

I’m sure it has nothing to do with the way the screaming mimis try to enforce guilt by association the way Mr Morgan is doing right now, either. Of course not. It would be silly to suggest any such thing. Why, it might even be (HORRORS!) true….

Some writers, editors and publicists have pointed out that our decision isn’t fair to hundreds of other Simon & Schuster authors who had nothing to do with the publisher’s decision to sign Yiannopoulos. I agree. It’s unfair. Simon & Schuster will publish some wonderful books in 2017 through imprints I admire, such as 37 Ink, Salaam Reads and Touchstone. But I strongly believe the literary community must hold the publisher accountable.

The publisher is accountable for exactly one thing. Its profits, allowing it to keep publishing. A million Facebook followers stands a chance of translating to rather a lot of sales, particularly with the likes of Mr Morgan promoting dick moves like this. Oh, wait. My apologies. I should not have assumed that someone with the name Adam Morgan actually has a dick to make a move with.

Why? Because rhetoric like his – which targets racial, religious and cultural minorities – invites discrimination. It arguably encourages people such as Omar Mateen and Dylann Roof to think of entire groups of people as less than human. And in his 2012 book The Harm in Hate Speech, legal philosopher Jeremy Waldron writes that hate speech sends a clear message to its victims: “Don’t be fooled into thinking you are welcome here.”

And rhetoric like Morgan’s which treats anyone who even dares to associate with someone who disagrees with him as less than human and worthy of what he openly states is unfair treatment does not invite discrimination? I’m sure Mr Morgan would have us believe it does not because it’s done for a “noble purpose”, but guess what? The dudes who saw your head off for looking at them funny also believe they’re acting for a noble purpose. Quite a few of the freaking Nazis believed they were acting for a noble purpose. So did the Communists who helped Stalin engineer and enforce mass starvation, and many others who have committed atrocities through the years.

A noble purpose does not and never will justify an appalling action – and actions, sir, will always speak much louder than words. Yours, Mr Morgan, speak to your desire to silence any speech you disagree with.

In a statement, Simon & Schuster assured readers they “do not and never have condoned discrimination or hate speech in any form”. But how is handing a purveyor of hate speech a $250,000 megaphone not condoning his rhetoric? And as an editor and book critic, how is giving Simon & Schuster free publicity not condoning their decision?

How does he know it’s hate speech? It must be like pornographic literature (yes, that was actually used in a court case to attempt to ban a book for being porn – I may have the exact quote wrong, but it was along the lines of “It’s hard to define but I know it when I see it”). And he is clearly so far above us mere mortals that we need to trust his judgment.

Excuse me. I think the EPA wants to chat with me. Something about unhealthy levels of sarcasm causing a meltdown somewhere.

After the Chicago Review of Books attracted so much attention for our stance, and writers more talented than me asked us to reconsider, I lost sleep. But on Saturday, when the biographer of a lesbian artist criticised Simon & Schuster, Yiannopoulos responded: “There is only one place for lesbians: porn.”

Apparently the concept of returning mockery with mockery is alien to Mr Morgan. Poor sheltered dear. Sarcasm is one of Mr Yiannopoulos’ tools of the trade, and he is a master of the art. I merely aspire to approach his greatness.

I remain convinced that to protect the victims of discrimination from its traumatic and sometimes deadly consequences, the literary community must stand against anyone – author or publisher – who peddles hate speech for profit.

Oh, sweet lord. Apparently it’s perfectly all right if you don’t make a profit from it. Discrimination is a good thing. It’s what allows readers to distinguish between something they might enjoy and something that will lecture at them, call them deplorable, and fail to even reach the level of tedious pap.

I venture to suggest that poor Mr Morgan has been on the wrong end of that kind of discrimination, and instead of working to improve his skills has chosen to claim it’s all because he’s a Victim.

There. I waded through that tripe so you didn’t have to. Now my eyes are bleeding, I’ve got the FDA claiming that my sarcasm levels are lethal weapons and should be registered in case they accidentally set off a meltdown, and I still haven’t put any wordage towards the fiction for the day.

Appreciate the sacrifices I make for you damn it.


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