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Bring Your Own Goddamned Context, Guys: On The Latest SFWA Scandal - The Watchtower of Destruction: The Ferrett's Journal
February 10th, 2014
03:40 pm


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Bring Your Own Goddamned Context, Guys: On The Latest SFWA Scandal

There’s another Science Fiction Writers of America kerfuffle this time around, and I think CC Finlay sums it up admirably.  Go read what he wrote.

But CC links to a pretty decent essay by David Gerrold – not that I agree with what he says, but I think he’s pretty even-handed and honest as a man can be who stands on the other side of this issue – who says this:

The indignation junkies immediately whooped up an outrage posse to complain that the bulletin was a sexist rag — Malzberg and Resnick’s response/explanation was judged and found wanting. They had to be flogged.

Okay, I exaggerate — but I know Malzberg and Resnick. I admire them. I’ve learned from them…

To which I immediately said:


Look, I don’t know Michael Resnick and Barry Malzberg – nor should I have to in order to parse their essays properly.  As writers, they above all people oughtta know that when someone’s reading you, you should not expect them to understand intent, but rather what you put on the goddamned page.

And I for one am sick of the idea that one can only interpret a given blog post via the rose-colored filter of knowing someone.  As anyone who knows me, I have stuck my foot in my mouth monstrously on more than a few occasions.  And when I have misrepresented myself so grievously, it is not the reader’s fault.  It is my fault for failing to provide my own context.

Am I happy to have friends who’ll defend me when I fuck up and come off as a misogynist asshole?  Absolutely.  Am I glad when they do?  Yup.

Do I use that personal knowledge as an excuse to come off like a jerk in print?

No, no, no.

I don’t give a crap what Barry and Mike are like in their personal lives.  Full truth is that I’ve been on a few panels with Mike Resnick, and he seems like a decent guy.   But would Mike Resnick expect me to know who he is in order to make sense of his latest novel on Africa?  If he wrote a chapter that, in its entirety, consisted of the words “Whoop whoop, the jungles are floppy,” would his friends rally around him, going, “No, no, Mike’s been to Africa, you see!  You gotta know what he means when he says floppy, which you can get by hanging around him at the bar!”

I suspect they’d say “fuck that.” You need to bring your own context with every story, amiright?

Well, that rule applies also to non-fiction.

What Resnick and Malzberg wrote was offensive to me – and worst of all, not particularly useful.  If it had been the “Barry and Mike toss around wimmen-in-bikini jokes while explaining how to break into the Chinese translation markets,” well, sure, maybe I mighta had something to offset the 1960s gags.  But there wasn’t.  And I don’t think it’s “censorship” to make an editorial decision, “Hey, this backslapping column that is routinely offending people while also providing no useful writing knowledge should be cut.”

Look, the SFWA Bulletin should be a place for everybody.  You wanna rail about politics?  You’re a writer, get a blog.  But I think a central place for SFWA’s membership should offend no one – not because I think that debates should not be had, but because I think there are appropriate places for debates.  You’re a dick if you start spouting your Ayn Rand bullshit at a kid’s birthday party.  You’re choady if you start spouting your pro-Obamacare beliefs in the middle of someone’s date.

There are plenty of on-topic debates for SFWA to have – hell, I’d love to see a raucous throwdown between traditional publishers and self-publishers.  But those are all related to the central subject of writing.  And I suppose the SFWA bulletin could be bawdy all the time and start prefacing every mention of Harlan Ellison with “Award-winning and breast-grabbing author Harlan Ellison,” or by referring to the military fiction authors in jest as “toothless gun yokels,” but there’s no sense in it.

If we can not offend our paying members in the central meeting place of our organization, then that is a good thing.

We’re all writers, man.  This is a hard enough goddamned gig without bringing in worthless crap that divides people.  If the bikini-clad woman on the cover gets chucked in the bin?  Fuck it, it’s a cover.  If that cover was a blank white expanse but the inside had Connie Willis telling me how to research on the Internet, a debate between Seanan McGuire and Jim Butcher on the best way to become a best-selling urban fantasy author, Chuck Wendig explaining how to raise your blog traffic and Mike Resnick explaining how to pitch an anthology, by God I’d be so happy with that fucking magazine I’d hug it in my goddamned sleep.

But no.  What we got was bikini covers and two guys taking up six pages to amuse the people who knew them already, and that’s not censorship to take that down, that’s a not particularly useful magazine.

And as for Barry and Mike, well, I don’t assume you’re bad people.  You said something a little dumb, doubled down, and are perplexed by this “negative feedback” you’re getting when you don’t come off as charming any more.  The problem is that this new generation – and we may be ingrates – does not care.  We have no gentle tide of your past charm to surf on.  All we have are the words on this page, right now, and what can you do for us, guys?

As always, the writer starts with a blank page, and a blank audience.  Stop blaming the page, and the audience, and write better.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/378974.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

(13 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

[User Picture]
Date:February 10th, 2014 09:17 pm (UTC)
"Offend no one."

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA! There are too many people in this world that are actively seeking to be offended. I don't disagree with your main premise, but "offend no one" is an unattainable goal. At some point, you have to tell the entitled pity-party trolls to suck it.

Having said that, if the offensive column appeals to a very small slice of the membership, and the ink could be better used to provide actual useful information that doesn't make half the readers want to gag or bitch-slap somebody, then the editors have the right -- nay, the obligation -- to drop them and print something else.

SWFA is notorious for tempests in a teapot, this being the latest in a long, long history of dysfunction. It seems publication does not beget wisdom or maturity. The "big names" often start to think they have some divine right to rule, and every word they produce is golden. They need to get over themselves and realize they're neanderthals, step aside, and make room for the new species of SF writers and readers.
[User Picture]
Date:February 10th, 2014 10:16 pm (UTC)
This seems to fall in line with the io9/Hines/Correia kerfluffle from earlier this month, too. The speculative community at large is battling a few demons, both with its past and with those trying to usher in a new present. Neither side seems realize that the other has some claim and some valid points to make.
[User Picture]
Date:February 10th, 2014 10:45 pm (UTC)
I don't think there's a valid claim or point by the side who is freaking out an circulating a petition because the SFWA took a poll and, in response to member's suggestions, will edit the newsletter more carefully to ensure it contains material the members say they actually want to read. Especially as the guy who wrote the petition isn't a member.
[User Picture]
Date:February 10th, 2014 10:51 pm (UTC)
I think the problem is less with the SFWA leadership acting on the member suggestions and more with a concern about the SFWA membership's beliefs, perceived or otherwise.
[User Picture]
Date:February 11th, 2014 12:18 am (UTC)
Heh. I like the idea of "I think a central place for SFWA’s membership should offend no one" but I'd settle for "I think a central place for SFWA’s membership should offend no one gratuitously."

If the SFWA publishes an article about publishing scams, and you're a scammer? I'd expect you to be offended. And I'd say that is just FINE. I'd expect some print-on-demand folks to be upset with this page. No problem.

Point is, make it about the business. It doesn't matter if the person running a fake contest looks good in a bikini. It matters that the person is misrepresenting their business and preying on writers.

Edited at 2014-02-11 12:19 am (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:February 12th, 2014 09:19 pm (UTC)
Heh. I like the idea of "I think a central place for SFWA’s membership should offend no one" but I'd settle for "I think a central place for SFWA’s membership should offend no one gratuitously."

A better, and more refined, phrasing.
[User Picture]
Date:February 10th, 2014 09:19 pm (UTC)
Excellent, excellent points. Amen.

I'd also wish people would ease up on loaded violent metaphors for internet outrage. David Gerrold may not realize "posse" and "flogging" have loaded connotations, but it doesn't make sense to criticize what you think is excessive outrage by doubling down on the excess.

If someone has harassed those involved, I condemn it, but otherwise the negative feedback I've read is not even metaphorically a posse out to flog. Maybe if one expects people to know you personally before they criticize you, such things seem like an online mob beating.
[User Picture]
Date:February 10th, 2014 10:40 pm (UTC)
It's probably impossible to offend no one (that throwdown between self-publishers and traditionally-published, for example, seems to be a hatefest for the other side in a lot of places on the internet), but in general, for fuck's sake YES.

(I could even see news about science being something you might want to include, seeing as it's the SFWA, or even newly-discovered history for the fantasy authors.)

But, for starters, they seem to be relying on 'the author can't/shouldn't be separated from their work' (i.e., "we're good guys just having fun and you should know that!"), but not getting that actually, they're coming across as boorish in their work and also their response to the criticism of it, and so burning bridges left right and centre with people that don't have the cushion of "oh well I knew them before they published this and so I'll give them a pass".

It's kind of like, "well you never knew that I ran into a burning building to save a baby one time, BUT NOW THAT I HAVE TOLD YOU, you should totally forgive me for hitting you with my car and driving off".
[User Picture]
Date:February 10th, 2014 10:56 pm (UTC)
those last two sentences? that's what the whole thing boils down to. your words have to stand alone, not stand there with you (or your groupies) pointing at things and saying "see that? i know it says this, but what i MEAN is another thing," because that is WHAT YOU ARE KNOWN BY.

your buddies may know you as the guy who can belch out the alphabet in Klingon...but all i want to know is the words on the page. if those words are not anything that move me, that inform me, that instruct me? you lost me.

(ferrett, i may occasionally DISAGREE with you, but your words don't LOSE me entirely.)
[User Picture]
Date:February 10th, 2014 11:07 pm (UTC)
Oh oh oh icon love!!!
[User Picture]
Date:February 10th, 2014 11:08 pm (UTC)
thank you! feel free to snag it :D
Date:February 11th, 2014 01:21 am (UTC)

The reason one blogs

I for one am sick of the idea that one can only interpret a given blog post via the rose-colored filter of knowing someone.

Isn't the whole point of most blogs to reach people? People you've never met? After all, if you just want people who know you to read and understand your blog, you can just talk to them. Or send e-mail.

I have never met you, but I think I learned from your journal. Facts about bee-keeping, if nothing else.

Edited at 2014-02-11 01:22 am (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:February 12th, 2014 09:21 pm (UTC)

Re: The reason one blogs

Isn't the whole point of most blogs to reach people? People you've never met?

Yeah, but that person should not have to read all thirteen years of my blogging to pass a judgment on one terribly-worded essay.

Occasionally we all stick our feet in our mouth. That doesn't mean I get to say, "You strangers should have known!" It means I'd better design my blog to be, largely, stranger-proof.
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