Fear and Loathing at the Awards Table, part 6

It’s rhetorical pogrom season, in the Peoples Republic of Science Fiction.

The 2016 Hugo award selection list (aka: final ballot) has been released, and we seem to be taking a trip down a familiar path. It’s Hatfields vs. McCoys, for yet another year. Or as one reader observed (last season) it’s just Campbellian vs. New Wave, for the umpteenth time. I’ve had several dozen e-mails cross my transom, all showing me what the “other side” is saying (behind both closed and open digital doors) and very little of it surprises me. The same personalities are involved. The same people are lobbying for the same result: NO AWARD for anything deemed to be part of Unfandom, so that Trufandom can rescue the Hugos from those nasty Unfans and their Unfannishness. Just gotta get Worldcon to Europe, so that rules changes can be cemented, and the Hugos will be even better insulated against Unfannery. Meanwhile, another bottle of vintage NO AWARD will be uncorked, to ensure that no rocketships are given to Unfannish types who aren’t properly bred and vetted.

I confess, the NO AWARD result (from 2015) was the only thing that truly surprised me, because not even I thought there would be enough resentful Trufans, all willing to cut the baby in half. But, not only was the baby cut in half, the ones wielding the blade cheered themselves doing the deed. They also handed out wooden CHORFholes, and thought that covering their wooden CHORFholes with a fig leaf of charity, would mask what was — beyond any shadow of a doubt — a complete and total dick move. Yeah, sorry, no. I realize that in the era of virtue-signalling slacktivism, charity is supposed to make dick moves bulletproof. But I am not sure that trick works anymore. That’s the problem with fig leaves: they cover so very little of the actual dickishness behind them.

But really, all of this has been talked to death in past iterations of the same conversation. Everyone knows its madness, and everyone also has an excuse. Everyone expects everyone else to admit wrong, and apologize, but everybody finds him or herself blameless. It’s not any single person that’s wrong with the Hugos, its the entire culture and concept of F/fandom (caps f, small f) that’s rotten. Oh, sure, there’s Scalzi and Beale, hammering away at each other with their egos, but that’s a bit like saying Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump invented the present 2016 Presidential mess, when they did not. Hillary and The Donald — two utterly self-serving narcissists — are merely emblematic of a deeper, much more pervasive problem in American culture. We (the nation) have lost our touchstones. We no longer have unifying identifiers, just as F/fandom (caps f, and small f) no longer has unifying identifiers. There are merely circles on a giant Venn diagram, not all of which overlap. And where there is no overlap, there is no commonality. No place in which to reach consensus. There is simply the jostling and friction of competing paradigms.

Which is what the Hugo Wars (or whatever we end up calling them) are all about: the F/fandom (caps f, small f) has ultimately fractured beyond repair. And the Hugos — the former totem for all — has been similarly fractured.

None of this happened overnight. None of it was the invention of a single individual. Just as dysfunctional families do not invent themselves from whole cloth. While the favored son stares in shock as his n’er-do-well sibling sets the drapes on fire, there’s much more going on than meets the eye. The burning drapes are merely the dividend of a thousand slights. And the favored son has the ignorant nerve to act surprised.

Don’t be shocked, then, that the Hugos are in turmoil for another season. There is no longer any unified agreement, about what the Hugos are for. Just as there is no longer any unified agreement about what science fiction is for, much less which types and kinds of science fiction are “worthy” of recognition — above and beyond publication or sales. Similarly, the Oval Office is in doubt. What is it for? What good does it do? Who is qualified to sit in that Oval Office? Some people want to use that office to inflict themselves and their ideas on other people. Some expect the Oval Office to be a single-shot solution to all the universe’s problems. Others have given up entirely on placing any faith in the Oval Office, and openly despise whichever man or woman sits there.

One of my favorite authors of all time — a man of considerable accomplishment and pedigree — remarked to me that he hated winning a major science fiction award. Because winning brought out all the worst, in so many of the people this author formerly considered his colleagues.

Maybe it’s for the best, that the Hugos self-immolate? We (of the Peoples Republic of Science Fiction) are evidently perfectly capable of manufacturing plenty of reasons to hate and despise each other. Do we really need another one? Especially with so many oily and competitive personalities involved? Catch the man who has fallen in love with his own mirror — with his self-perception of propriety — and you will typically find the worst sower of rancor. Because he doesn’t openly shout epithets at you across the length of the bar. He quietly poisons the well, with a thousand little shavings of rhetorical and emotional arsenic.

And the science fiction field has a surfeit of such individuals.

It’s enough to make any decent person GAFIAte, permanently. Especially since the emergence of the new Dragon Award, basically puts the Hugos into a place of permanent twilight.

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A Christmas Noun: The Unauthorized Spinoff – teaser trailer

CUE: soundtrack by John Williams.

ATMOSPHERICS: Camera viewpoint soars through space, eventually coming to focus on a single, fragile-looking planet — white cloud formations and blue oceans, decorated by brown land masses, which are in turn mottled by green forests. Camera viewpoint drops quickly down through the sky to the night side of the world, punctuated with the glowing light from towns and cities, eventually reaching a darkened mountain range.

Modulated voice of Torgers0n: There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?

SCENE: Brad Torgers0n is cloaked in a use-worn, black shroud. He is standing at the rocky base of the CorreiaTech fortress, on formidable Yard Moose Mountain. His back is turned to the camera. It’s mostly dusk, with snow falling loosely around Brad Torgers0n’s shoulders.

Modulated voice of Torgers0n: Nothing will stand in our way . . . .

ACTION: the cloaked shape of Torgers0n stoops over to peer at something in the rocks. It looks like grass. Camera zooms in to reveal bits and pieces of crumpled straw, covered in ranch dressing. Brad Torgers0n reaches out and reverently picks up a small handful of the vanquished remains of Straw Larry. Cut to a close-up of Brad Torgers0n holding the remains before his mask-covered face. The black-gloved hand slowly clenches; reverence turning to anger.

Modulated voice of Torgers0n: I will finish . . . what you started . . .

ACTION: Cloaked figure of Brad Torgers0n suddenly rises to his feet, throwing the remains down, and snapping out his opposite hand. The Log Saber™ deploys into Brad Torgers0n’s black-gloved hand, a tremoring beam of evil red energy springing instantly to life from the Log Saber’s™ hilt. A thrumming sound echoes around the base of the CorreiaTech fortress.

Modulated voice of Torgers0n: I will show them the power of the Darkness!

ACTION: Cut instantly to a pastiche sequence of exploding TIE fighters, rubber nipples, soaring X-Wings, Powdered Toast Man jumping to light speed, the Millennium Falcon zooming over a desert landscape, and Mr. Horse declaring, “No sir, I don’t like it!”

Kindle Paperwhite

It’s Friday, very early morning. My wife mailed me a Kindle Paperwhite (Voyage) for my time on deployment. It’s my first ever e-reader. Since I barely got to Qatar, I haven’t been able to do much more with the Kindle than sync it to my laptop, and load a few e-books that I downloaded from Amazon. I already have a mess of Monster Hunter International books (on paper) so I decided to pick up some L.E. Modesitt, Jr. and some Michael Z. Williamson. I’ve never read the Imager series, but Lee is a mentor as well as a friend, and I’ve always liked his Hard SF very much. So I am going to give his fantasy a try too. As for Mike? Hey, it’s Mad Mike, y’all! And the cover has a rhino taking on an MRAP! How is that not awesome? Also, note the previously-purchased stuff from my friend and author Amanda McCarter, and mentor Dave Wolverton. I can already tell it’s going to be difficult not to get “click happy” with this thing. I also want to say again how much I adore my paperbacks! But this far from home, when every pound I have to put on my back is a pain in the butt, a Kindle just makes sense.

Musings, not necessarily sorted

I’ve noticed that some people (who were opposed to the Sad Puppies effort) are actually reading the contents of the Hugo final ballot, and are shocked to discover that a) some of the work really is Hugo-worthy, and b) none of it is the product of bigoted, evil, white, hateful male minds.

Golly, I am pretty sure the point of Sad Puppies 3 was to make the final ballot more inclusive, not less. Didn’t we say that? I’m pretty sure we said that. More, not less. Big tent, not small tent. Nobody can tell anybody they don’t belong. Isn’t that what I personally have been banging my pot about for years now, even before Sad Puppies came along?

Oh, SP3 pointedly criticized affirmative action — which makes demographics paramount over content and quality — but then we’re allowed to criticize tendencies (and political policies) which make what a person looks like, or what a person has between his legs, or who that person likes to sleep with, more important than that person’s skill, talent, drive, integrity, and work ethic. I guess I am old fashioned in that I still take Dr. Martin Luther King’s words to heart, regarding content of character. They are timeless words. Because King clearly understood that for any group to rise above the obstacles placed before it, everything boils down to the unique dignity and quality of the individual.

And that’s what the Hugo award is supposed to be about, right? Isn’t that what the purists have been so concerned with, these past six weeks?

Now, nothing SP3 actually said or did stopped the clownish bum rush (at the beginning of April) to paint everyone and everything attached to Sad Puppies 3, like we were all KKK, Westboro Baptists, and Hitler, rolled into one demonic entity. But then, that specific angle of falsehood said far more about a particular crop of critics, than it did about SP3. Those people knew they were spreading a lie, and they did it deliberately, and they didn’t care. Even when the lie was shown to be a lie, for all the world to see.

I am glad there are readers who are willing to let the works on the ballot do the talking, as opposed to a stupid narrative.

And let’s be clear: the narrative is stupid. That Sad Puppies 3 is sexist, racist, etc. It was stupid when it was concocted. It remains stupid. It was stupid the second Entertainment Weekly stepped on its own tongue, after being spoon-fed an uproariously amateurish and error-festooned hit piece, by parties who have no regard for facts, and who were eager to smear Sad Puppies 3 and everyone associated with it. Those individuals involved in the concoction and dissemination of the narrative are utterly without scruples, and also without spine, in my opinion. But then, cowardice is something I’ve noticed is in no short supply in the field of literary SF/F these days. Just look at how we (in the field) run around in a tizzy trying to be “safe” from ourselves.

Speaking of people demanding “safety,” it’s occurred to me many times lately that the so-called Greatest Generation — born in the Depression, coming of age by defeating Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany, standing off with the Stalinist Soviet Union, and putting men on the Moon — wasn’t fantastically concerned with being “safe” in the way the word is used today. In fact, no great and memorable thing was ever accomplished by any civilization that put “safe” at the top of its priority list. Slavery was not ended by men who wanted to be “safe” and neither was Jim Crow. Boat people fleeing communist Vietnam or Cuba did not put “safe” ahead of their desire to be free. It seems to me that the more we think we can trade off liberty, for security, the more Ben Franklin will be proven right: we’ll get neither. So, be “safe” if you feel like it. Just don’t try to be taken seriously; as a grownup. Being a grownup is about principles. And risk. And the weighing of the two. Err too far on the side of avoiding risk, and you will discover that the principle has been forfeited.

On that note, Larry Correia and I both recently sent some signed contracts back to Baen; for our next books. A few of our critics (of SP3) made a lot of dire noise to the effect of, “You’ll never work in this town again!” I think it’s safe to say that Larry and I are thankful to be working with a publisher who correctly understands the balance — principle, vs. risk. As always, it’s a pleasure to be publishing with a company that truly does (in the words of bestseller John Ringo) understand how to find and print a rip-roaring good story. Because that’s what this whole thing is about in the first place. That’s what Science Fiction & Fantasy was always about: the rip-roaring good story. For all definitions of “good” that include, “Keep the audience coming back for more.” Notice I did not say, “Keep the critics happy,” nor did I say, “Please the aesthetes who sit on their thrones of taste-making.”

To repeat myself: bold tales, told boldly. That’s the mission.

Not that I expect this sentiment to be shared by individuals who’ve made it their job to kick out the “wrong” fans for having the “wrong” kind of fun while enjoying the “wrong” sorts of SF/F.

Right now there are two hazy movements working hard to change the Hugo award. They overlap to a certain extent, but their net effect might be the same. The first wants to vote “NO AWARD” on everything that made the 2015 Hugo final ballot the “wrong” way, and the second wants to change the voting rules (for the future) so that the “wrong” people aren’t allowed to participate in the creation of the final ballot, much less vote on the award proper. For these two groups, their final destination may be the submerging of the Hugo and Worldcon altogether — because you can’t run a big tent while actively erecting barriers to entry and participation. People will go elsewhere. Devote time and money to other things. That’s already been true for decades. If the reaction (of Worldcon, to having the actual world come into the tent) is to pitch a fit and kick people to the curb, then I think it’s a prime example of the old adage: be careful what you wish for, you might get it.

Worldcon’s relevance — indeed, the relevance of the Hugos — was already tenuous. Sad Puppies has been an attempt to change that. Not everybody thinks it’s been a change in the “right” way. A lot of people are clearly wrapped up in Worldcon being a specific kind of place for a specific sort of person who likes a specific range of things produced by a specific group of individuals. Small tent is, as small tent does.

It’s an art argument. It’s a taste argument. It’s a political argument. And it’s a culture argument.

Sad Puppies 3 looked at the argument and said, “Goose, it’s time to buzz the tower.”

And again, for a field that endlessly writes stories about mavericks who cut against the grain, break the rules, go against tradition, defy authority, push against the status quo, etc., it’s kind of amusing to see so much hand-wringing and apoplexy when someone actually comes along and shakes things up. Especially when the shake-up was conducted 100% in the open, democratically, using a democratic process. There was nothing secret being done. Nothing underhanded. No hoodwinking was engaged in. All of it was above-board. So that the chief source of outrage — when you cut down through all the miles of rhetorical bullshit — seems to be, Sad Puppies 3 is terrible because Sad Puppies 3 was effective.

I think George R. R. Martin is right: if you want to change things in a democracy, you get out the vote. Sad Puppies 3 got out the vote. So much so, we’ve got complainers crying about how it was the “wrong” voters with the “wrong” intentions, etc. Okay, whatever. In a field that produces thousands of books every year, and tens of thousands of stories, how the heck does an author or an artist get any traction with an award? Simple: put the word out, or have buddies and fans who put the word out for you. Up until now, the “right” people were putting the word out, and then Sad Puppies comes, and we’re accused of being the “wrong” people who are putting the word out? Who gets to decide when “putting the word out” is right, or wrong?

Better yet, who gets to decide who the “wrong” and “right” voters are?

Because I can tell you — based on mail — that every time a snob or a purist or an ideological opponent of Sad Puppies 3 has put his or her foot down, about the “wrong” people coming to the table, it’s merely increased interest and activity on the Sad Puppies side. There is a finite number of individuals who want to keep Worldcon and the Hugo “unsullied” by the proles. The number of proles is endless, and the proles have money, and time, and the willingness to put their hand in. Now, perhaps, more than ever before in Worldcon history.

And oh yes, for those who are permanently bent about Vox Day, here’s a bit of news for you, from someone at Abyss & Apex who interviewed the Deviantart artist who donated the Sad Puppies 3 logo:

Q. How did you come up with the concept for the Sad Puppies 3 logo?

A. It was my idea. I’m a friend of a friend of Brad (Torgersen) and I did it on a whim, and donated it. I liked what Sad Puppies stood for: good stories.

Q. So it was not made to order? Not paid for?

A. No, I did it as a volunteer. For free.

Q. Were the three puppy astronauts your idea?

A. You mean the puppies on the logo named Frank, Isaac and Ray? I was thinking of Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov, and Ray Bradbury. I came up with that. They all wrote good stories, so I thought they were good representatives for Sad Puppies.

Q. Is the logo trademarked?

A. I didn’t trademark it; maybe Brad Torgersen did, but not me.

Q. I notice that the Sad Puppies 3 logo is on display on your site at Deviant Art but the Rabid Puppies logo was not. Did you draw that one, too?

A. Yeah. (pause) With all the controversy, I wish I hadn’t.

Q. You mean about Vox Day?

A. Yeah.

Q. How did you come to draw it?

A. After the Sad Puppies 3 list came out, Vox Day contacted me. Wanted a rush job for a similar logo to Sad Puppies, for Rabid Puppies. Wanted it in 48 hours.

Q. Were you paid for this one?

A. Yeah, he paid.

Again, the pushing of narratives can backfire when the facts come out. I thought the artist did a smashing job on the SP3 logo, and I think the furor over logos (Sad, vs. Rabid) is one of the silliest red herrings in this entire thing. It’s an attempt to paint all Sad Puppies enthusiasts with the Vox Day brush. Something I know some of the Sad Puppies enthusiasts have not appreciated, and it’s certainly not won very many hearts and minds (from the SP side, to the anti-SP side) precisely because this is such an unfair red herring. Leave the red herring arguments at the door. They’re simply side-stepping the core issue.

Because ultimately this isn’t even about Sad Puppies, or what we said, or did not say, or what we did, or did not do.

This is about the Hugo award, and Worldcon, and decades of seeping stagnation, and the ossification of the mindset of the so-called “keepers” of the field’s self-proclaimed “most prestigious award.” An award that seems to too often deliberately avoid what’s actually happening in the marketplace, has become the personal toy of a self-selected crop of individuals who are happy to play at being large fish in small fishbowls, and does itself and its legacy a disservice by catering to taste-makers and taste-shapers. Both for reasons related to art, and for reasons related to politics. As I said above, the number of people in this group is finite. The actual fans (small f) are legion.

Sad Puppies 3 is an effort to bring fans (small f) to the table. No matter how much people have bashed it, lied about it, or tried to paint it as something it’s not, Sad Puppies 3 is “open source” and egalitarian. We asked for suggestions in the run-up to the formation of the slate, and we encouraged everyone to buy, read, and participate with an open mind. No expectations. No tests. No rules. We demanded nothing. We threatened nothing.

Certain histrionic people (among SP3’s opponents) have demanded and threatened a great deal.

I am content knowing SP3 never had to badger anybody, to get them to climb aboard. Badgering is for the small tent. SP3 is big tent. We cranked the radio-full blast, put out the ice chests with drinks and food, and said, “Come to the party! Everybody is welcome!”

Why do it?

Over the past three weeks I’ve received many hundreds of communications — from authors, readers, fans, editors, artists, and even professionals and interested parties beyond the publishing world. The vast bulk of these items have been supportive. A few have been critical. Almost all of them have been constructive in one way or another. I’ve even been engaged in an over-the-transom debate with minor Star Trek writer alumnus David Gerrold, who has been doing his best Andrew Jorgensen to my Lawrence Garfield. Because this isn’t just about some award, it’s about how the field (of Science Fiction & Fantasy literature) regards itself; and how it proceeds into the future. Years of uncertainty — papered over by shouts of surety — have bred an undercurrent that is roiled, confusing, and difficult to parse plainly. Feelings are very close to the surface. Enough so that a democratic system exercised democratically (and returning the “wrong” answer) has resulted in an internal explosion that’s blown out all the windows and doors, and which now involves the wider world.

Good. I think it’s overdue. This whole thing. Even the tabloid slander and the fashioning of false narratives — something the opponents of Sad Puppies 3 have excelled at. All of this has forced people to sit up and pay attention again. It’s made the otherwise sleepy and predictable Hugo selection process mean something. Nobody’s nodding off at the wheel anymore. People are giving a damn.

But one neutral party asked me a good question today: Why do it, and risk your professional standing?

That’s a great question. I’ve asked myself similar questions every year I’ve been publishing in the field. Why? Why speak up, or try to make a point? Especially if it means getting backlash?

I think one of the big reasons why Sad Puppies 3 has brought out the sharp knives, is because everyone is feeling their belts tightening. The SF/F reading audience is going away. It’s been going away for over two decades. Year by year, the numbers tell the story. That’s not rhetoric. That’s the business bottom-line. And whether people want to admit it or not, the field of SF/F literature is a business. Lovingly tended by devout fans (back at the tail end of the pulp era, and up through the 1970s) some of whom went on to become publishers and editors who helped grow the enterprise into a bona fide money-maker (Judy-Lynn del Rey) which peaked at roughly the same time movies, television, and video games were elevating SF/F on a world-wide scale.

Since the turn of the century, though, SF/F has slowly been splitting from the audience it attracted — people who picked SF/F up from the late 1970s through the mid-1990s. As with the Futurians — who all mostly agreed that SF/F ought to be a tool with political and social application — the 21st century mindset of two out of every three SF/F professionals has been to apply the literature to the question of real-world social and political concerns. Which in and of itself is not new. The field’s various authors and editors have always been doing this, to one degree or another. But they were doing it with respect for the readership’s expectations. Not in spite of those expectations.

In the words of Larry the Liquidator, the surest way to go broke, is to keep getting an increasing share of a shrinking market. Down the tubes. Slow, but sure.

Well, that’s the state of the SF/F literature field in 2015, whether you want to admit it or not.

And since I am an entrepreneur — all commercial writers are, when you get right down to it — I am not thrilled by what’s happening right now. Especially since so many of my colleagues are not only not concerned by what’s going on, they are happily cheering it. The further diminishing of the reader pool. The “refining out” of the “impurities” in the audience, so that we have a smallish, monocultural, properly progressive and thoroughly dead thing to work with. A closed circle. Conversing only amongst ourselves.

Dave Freer wrote a very apt piece about battlers — the little guys who are too stubborn, too obstinate, even too stupid to let their betters have the last word. When I look at my own history, I certainly identify with the battler mentality. Even my many characters in my books and stories tend to be battlers. I don’t write about the elite. I write about the Mike Rowe Dirty Jobs folks, men and women alike, of all persuasions, colors, and creeds, who manage to dredge victory from the jaws of defeat. Even if it’s merely personal victory — the kind of thing you can go to your grave with, knowing you were your own man. Because those are the heroes of actual history. At least the kinds of heroes I esteem: individuals who managed to do remarkable things, with pluck, courage, a willingness to cut against the grain of expectation, and who never asked anybody for permission — before going off half-cocked and doing something crazy, which ultimately made a positive difference to the lives of decent folk.

Again, I was never one to have much sympathy for the elite. The power brokers. The taste-makers. The ruling class. The people who think they know better than you or I do, about how we ought to live our lives. Or what we ought to think or feel. My general response to that kind of attitude has always been best expressed with a defiant middle finger, aimed proudly. Which maybe makes me a coarse chap? A ruffian? A n’er-do-well?

Certainly David Gerrold has classified me as a man of the street — uncouth, unmannerly, and unwanted.

Despite my best attempts to be the genteel ambassador of Sad Puppies 3 — the grass roots movement which gave voice to thousands of individuals who all more or less felt marginalized by the status quo. Not always for precisely the same reasons, mind you. But people generally floating down the same, wide river. Like a flotilla of scabby-kneed inner-tube riders.

Has my career been threatened? Oh yes, dozens of times. “You’ll never work in this town again!” has been brandished at me by people who seem to believe they have the power to back up the threat. Either because they claim to be able to control the awards (wait, I thought nobody gamed the system until Sad Puppies?) or they claim to be able to control some aspect of publishing, or because they are buddies with “powerful” people who will punish me sight-unseen; simply for being branded a troublemaker.

And if this were still 1995 and my whole livelihood — the matter of putting food on my family’s table — depended on me “playing nice” in the face of such threats, I’d probably be a little more hesitant to overturn the apple cart.

Until very recently, traditional SF/F publishing did hold a kind of trump card. He who controls the Spice, controls the universe! If you wanted to get into print, you played nice with the ruling class.

But this is 2015. My editors aren’t glowering at me over drinks in the con bar. They’re saying, “Go, you.” And even if those editors did not exist, the advent of reliable independent publishing has made it so that a good storyteller can achieve a five, six, or in some rare cases, seven-figure income; all without ever bending a knee to the Spacing Guild.

In a world without monopolies, threats to run a guy out on a rail don’t register like they used to.

Because even if Worldcon bans me for life and I get a drink dumped in my lap by every stalwart member of Fandom (caps f) I can still go to my local Comic Con and enjoy a packed room filled with fans (small f) and compatriots, none of whom ever gave a damn if I brought the “wrong” people to participate in a democratic process (Hugo voting) in the “wrong” way. Hell, I can go to the local professional symposium (LTUE) and get smiles and handshakes — all from people who never cared if the taste-makers or door-watchers gave any of us their blessing.

I’ve said it before: there is the massive, astoundingly huge “circle” that is the totality of fandom (small f) and there is the much, much smaller, more insular, and in many cases, out of touch world of Fandom (big f) which proves its love for the field by having a spectacular meltdown when the “wrong” people speak up and speak out. “Turf it!” the self-selected guardians of Absolutely-Real-Forever-Correct-And-Pure-Fandom yell. “Turf it all! The whole thing! We are being overrun!”

CHORFs are, as they do.

I remember back when I was the 2012 triple-nominee for the three major awards in SF/F: the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Campbell. I received a few communications from people who said, this is your big chance to have a seat at the elite table, and become part of the club! Rather than be excited by the prospect, I was disheartened. Because I never wanted to be one of the “behind the curtain” betters who slowly made his way among all the inner circles and schmoozed all the right people and took his proper place; never speaking out of turn, with my pinky aimed in the precise manner. I didn’t seek entrance to Skull and Bones of Sci-Fi. I didn’t care if I was always on the Hugo ballot every year, like clockwork, because I’d played the game the way you’re supposed to play it. Said the right things. Professed the right beliefs. Made the right people think I was one of them.

I’m way too much of a flyover-country hayseed for that kind of atmosphere.

So I fell in with all the other blue-collar people who simply wanted to write and read stories without being accused of doing it wrong. When Sad Puppies was invented — on a lark — I approved of the sentiment. And happily came aboard in the second year, only to become the front man in the third year. It was a chance for the field’s betters to hear from the peasants. For the proles to shout at the bosses. For the taste-makers and the dwellers-behind-curtains to have their cages rattled.

That the field’s betters went full-force destruct-o-matic on me — because I invited the proles to the democracy — was not a surprise. They (the betters) had a media apparatus tailor-made for their bogeyman narrative, and they used this apparatus according to the playbook. Sad Puppies 3 got unceremoniously shoved into the role of Black Hat, and myself along with it.

But it’s worth all the drama, because the betters don’t “own” this field. If they ever did? When David Gerrold holds forth from his Fandom pulpit about “no forgiveness” and all that dire talk, he’s speaking to — at best — a collection of maybe one thousand people. Perhaps the pool of total Keep-Us-Pure-And-Holy-Fans is not even that large anymore? It’s difficult to say. A lot of them are passing on. They’re being replaced by new kids who seem obsessed with identitarian politics — which, not ironically, makes them a perfect fit for the Holy Church of the Peoples Republic of Science Fiction — but the replacement rate may not be enough to make up the difference.

Ultimately, the consumer market votes with its collective wallet. You can’t herd those cats, no matter how earnest and pure your motives. Nobody likes a preachy scold. And right now, that’s pretty much the only face being presented by Gerrold and the sundry opponents of SP3: preachy scolds. Dolores Umbridge!

Are you muggle-born? Is your Wizardry blood pure enough? Do you obey the 191 rules posted plainly for all to see on the walls of Hogwarts?

I was always a proud mudblood. And so are almost all of my friends in the field. Sad Puppies 3 is the defiant rebellion of the mudbloods. It’s gotten the functionaries and apparatchiks of the Peoples Republic of Science Fiction all hot and bothered. So much so that I’m being threatened with a life sentence to Azkaban. And so is Larry Correia. And the many other faces and names explicitly associated with Sad Puppies 3. We’ve been digitally spat on, our names and our families and our associates have been targeted for ritual pillory, and worse.

Again, all because we invited the proles to the democracy.

Maybe the apparatchiks lock us out? At this point, that’s the logical course of action. Make the door iron-clad, with little slots for inquiring eyes to peak through — to see if anyone coming from the outside is worthy or deserving of entrance. This would be the Umbridge Way. To keep the tribe pure.

A more reasonable solution would be to simply keep re-invigorating the democracy. Bring in still more participants. No litmus tests. No screens. No bars to entrance. But that wouldn’t make the Dolores Umbridges of the world very happy. When you invite too many of the “wrong” people — no vetting — you wind up with an unpredictable and unreliable social structure. Oh my God, they’re going off the script!

Maybe I am just a contrarian? Maybe it’s the fact I have three careers, and I’ve never seen the kind of childishness and petulance (being displayed now, in SF/F) in any other serious endeavor I’ve ever been involved with? Or maybe I simply take the words of Theodore Roosevelt to heart — when he talks about the man in the arena?

As writers, we often tend to tell stories about the maverick — the person who breaks the “rules” for a greater purpose. We have so thoroughly glorified this archetype that it’s almost impossible to find any books or stories which don’t employ a maverick, to one degree or another. I find it strangely bizarre that when this field is faced with real honest-to-goodness mavericks — Sad Puppies 3 — the reaction is apoplectic. The rending of garments, and gnashing of teeth! Do we write all these wonderful stories about mavericks, and miss the whole point? Are we simply wish-fulfilling because we don’t have the stones to actually walk our talk?

In the not too distant future, I’ll be serving my country in a foreign land. I won’t be at Sasquan to see what transpires. I hope saner, cooler heads prevail, and that people comport themselves like adults — that the drama we’re seeing on-line stays on-line.

Between now and then, I am going to conclude my use of this space; pertaining to discussion of the drama. It may or may not go on without my input. It has anyway. My moment (as Sad Puppies front man) is already passing. The Hugo selections for 2015 have been finalized. They are what they are. Love them, or hate them. Vote with your taste, your pleasure, your desire. Or don’t vote at all — though I think that’s a bit of a waste. Democracies of all kinds thrive (or fail) according to the participation of the electorate. Sad Puppies 3 was an exercise in energizing said electorate. I think we’ve succeeded. I look forward to many good artists, authors, editors, and fans, being recognized. I will be in the desert when it happens. I will probably read about it long after the fact.

And I will be content with the fact that I stood up, at a moment in the history of this field when it was worth standing up.

Tribalism is as tribalism does

I told George R. R. Martin I’d be writing this post — as a result of some of the polite dialogue we had at his LiveJournal page. His basic question to me was, “How can you, as a guy in an interracial marriage, put up with some of the racist and sexist stuff (a certain person) writes on his blog?” I thought this a valid question. How indeed? I didn’t have the space on LiveJournal to unpack all of my thoughts and feelings on the dread ism topic, so I thought I would do it here.

When I was a teenager, concepts like racism and sexism seemed easy to understand. People who are sexist, think the opposite gender are inferior human beings. People who are racist, think people of opposite ethnicities are inferior human beings. Both concepts are morally wrong. What seemed obvious, was obvious. I’d had this idea spoon-fed to me since I was old enough to go to school, so I went about my life generally trying to be the kind of guy who avoided ist stuff so as to not be guilty of the ominous ism label.

After I got married, though, the actual complexity of racism, sexism, and other, similar things, started to become clearer. Especially since nobody can quite arrive at a consensus as to what constitutes ism. There is no agreement. Simply a spectrum, from hot to cold. At the cold end you have people who give tremendous benefit of the doubt to almost any word or action. No harm, no foul. It takes a lot for such people to begin using the ist and ism labels. Conversely, at the hot end are the people who see ist and ism at the drop of a hat. Everyone and everything is freighted with ist and ism. There are none who are “clean” and all are guilty.

Perhaps ironically — for an interracially married guy — while the social drama of our era has ratcheted toward the hot, I’ve slowly found myself drifting toward the cool. Not because I think ist and ism do not exist — they do. But because I think a lot of what we label as racist and sexist is actually culturalist tribalism. Even America’s dyed-in-the-wool progressives are prone to this one. Ask a Seattle coffee house progressive what she thinks of Alabama “cracker” folk. Or ask a New York socialist atheist for his opinion on conservative Utah Mormons. You will find, often, that even the minds who proclaim themselves to be the most open and the most tolerant, have sharp limits. Because even though multiculturalism is practically an iron-clad gospel at this point, everyone can identify tribes they are distrustful of, if not openly hostile toward.

So, as I enter my fifth decade of life, I strongly suspect ethnicity is — very often — the lesser part of it. Gender too. Ethnicity and gender are flags. Markers. Identifiers. If ever some other flag or marker offsets the original, the equation changes.

One example that leaps to my mind: back when I was an NCO, I had a Small Group Leader (SGL) at one of the Army’s NCO schools who had emigrated out of central Africa, come to the U.S., and joined the U.S. military. He said that he found it very interesting, as a born African, trying to navigate among American blacks and whites alike. Based purely on how he looked, he would be treated one way — right up until he opened his mouth. At which point his accent identified him as something remarkably other than black American. Whites who had been cool to him (in the literal sense) would sometimes warm up. Blacks who had been warm, would cool down. Sometimes, even turn hostile?

Another example: depending on how my wife styles her hair, she can (and does) pass for hispanic, black, or pacific islander. Yet, growing up in Hawaii among a family of all-adopted brothers and sisters, she found herself constantly at war with the children outside her home: white kids, Japanese Hawaiian kids, and full-blooded Hawaiian kids. She experienced constant fist-fights. Brutal stuff. Up through high school. Why couldn’t she pass through all of this unscathed? What made her so different that no ethnic group — save the Chinese Hawaiians — were reliably safe for her?

Getting back to my SGL at the NCO school, something else he said struck me strongly: nobody in America really knows ethnic strife the way he saw it, because he literally witnessed portions of his family wiped out by what essentially amounted to tribal warfare. To white American eyes, there’d have been no discernible difference between the people killing each other. But the Africans themselves knew the difference, and considered it a difference worth murdering each other over.

The SGL in question therefore found 21st century American racial tension to be both familiar, and also utterly foreign. Small potatoes, compared to his experience.

So how do you overcome small-potatoes tribalism? Sometimes, by simply creating a new over-arching tribe from whole cloth.

In the U.S. military, we endure a breaking-in period known as Initial Entry Training — boot camp. It’s specifically designed to make everyone look the same, talk the same, and to a certain extent, think the same. We are thus inculcated (as opposed to acculturated) into the new “tribe” to the extent that prior ethnic, religious, lingual, and other barriers, become offset. Not erased entirely, but offset. We adopt a new tribal identity. One that can become so powerful, men and women from different parts of the country, even different parts of the world, identify so strongly with the single tribe that we find these bonds stronger than almost anything else. Sometimes, even stronger than blood or birth. We wear the uniforms, we share the experiences. We talk a certain way. Look at life through a certain lens.

We can also speak to shared hardship. In fact, there is practically no greater social glue, than to make a group of individuals all go through the same shitty thing — together.

This is usually why U.S. military veterans — any branch, any era — can almost instantly find common ground. Despite all the many things in their lives which might differentiate them.

Folks, I believe strongly that all of this is wired into us. As author and philosopher Steven Barnes consistently says: every person is built to be tribal. We can’t escape it. It’s part of who we are. If you ask Steve, he’ll say that someone is “awake” when (s)he makes a conscious effort to be aware of inherent tribal tendencies, and shape them (or even eschew them) for the sake of nobler sentiments, nobler goals, and a greater self-awareness that goes above and beyond identity.

And make no mistake: identity is at the heart of the social discussion in the 21st century. To include identity politics.

So, when the news makes noise about some racist police officer shooting an umarmed black teenager, or rapper Azealia Banks talks about how she hates white midwestern Americans, I think in the back of my mind: There it is — there is the tribalism. In Azealia’s case, she is merely using words. The cop is killing a person. But in both instances, the root of the problem goes back to tribalism. For the cop, young black teenage males represent a “tribe” of troublemakers, gangbangers, hoodlums, petty thieves, and drug dealers. All dangerous, and all untrustworthy. On the flip side, for many black Americans, white cops also represent a kind of “tribe” which is also dangerous, hair-trigger, not to be trusted, prone to never giving the benefit of the doubt, predictably suspicious, and so forth. Both “tribes” have valid historical evidence for how they feel about the other tribe.

And both tribes key on external markers, when identifying the other tribe. Flags which can be offset by contra-flags.

Consider: black teen male walking down a neighborhood street, when a white off-duty cop steps to the door. The teen is wearing low-hung blue jeans, work boots with the laces missing or untied, the top of his boxer shorts is visible, he has on a hoodie, and a baseball cap with the visor cocked at forty-five degrees. What are the off-duty white cop’s assumptions — regarding the young black male and his potential tribe?

Consider again: black teen male walking down a neighborhood street, this time dressed in a baby blue oxford shirt, pressed cotton slacks, matte-shine black business loafers, wearing glasses, and carrying a book bag. Will the same off-duty cop’s assumptions change? Yes, or no.

Now, flip it.

Black college student walking home from campus at night, sees an old white guy sitting near a lamp post, wearing a tattered U.S. Army surplus jacket, soiled pants, with a long greasy beard on his face, and long greasy hair shrouding his head, while he’s holding a paper sack with a bottle neck sticking out of it. What’s the tribal assumption, on the part of the black college student?

Try again: black college student walks home from campus, sees the same old white guy, but this time the old man’s been washed up, his beard is gone, and his hair is neatly combed and trimmed, plus he’s in a new suit with an expensive tie, and his eyes are alert and sober. Different tribal assumption, right?

See, all of us do this every day without even thinking about it. Who’s in my tribe? Are you in my tribe? And if you don’t look like you’re in my tribe, are you in a tribe that’s cool with my tribe, or un-cool with my tribe? Maybe you don’t seem to be in my tribe, until we talk about a shared interest or a shared experience — something not obvious on the surface — and we instantly discover the tribal bond? What if we think we share a tribal bond, but conversation reveals we’re on opposite ends of something? Like religion, or politics? Does the division strain or sever the tribal identification?

My SGL from NCO school became out-tribe (for some black Americans) when he talked, because his African accent contradicted his physical flag: his ethnicity. He was not “of the tribe” many black Americans thought him to be.

My wife was also not “of the tribe” when young. She didn’t fit. The way she talked, marked her as out-tribe. The way she looked, also marked her as out-tribe. There was no tribe for her. Kids being kids, they made the question it into a physical confrontation. My wife being my wife, she finished every fight they started. Dozens of times. Her childhood doesn’t have many happy memories in this regard. And to this day, there are still ways she (and we, as a couple) are deemed out-tribe.

For instance: No matter which state we’ve lived in, grocery stores are a common place to find we’re out-tribe. If there is a white family at the check-out line ahead of us, and the white clerk is chatty and cheerful with that family, as soon as my wife and I show up, the clerk goes cold. Minimal interactivity. No overt words or actions of hostility. Just . . . a palpable withdrawing. For whatever reasons, my wife and I are suddenly out-tribe. Either because the clerk is making assumptions about my wife, or making assumptions about both of us because we’re together, but we look different.

That doesn’t happen every day. But I’ve seen it happen enough to know it’s a thing. And no, I don’t think these clerks are doing it consciously. It’s tribal.

And tribalism is everywhere. It’s who we are. On every continent.

When I went to Italy with the Army, I discovered that the northern Italians often had certain feelings toward the southern Italians, and vice versa.

Soccer (football) fans in Europe and the UK are notorious for being tribal to the point of death and violence.

Hell, ask Boston Red Sox fans and New York Yankees fans about their “tribes” in the sports world.

And we are all actively working to create tribes amongst ourselves all the time. Sports, music, clothing, enthusiasms like video games and comic books and fiction. Do you love a thing? Do others love the same thing? Are you now a kind of tribe? If you love the thing enough, do you begin to speak a similar language, reference the same touchstones — a touchstone being an object or a concept or an idea that is familiar to everyone? Do you begin to create in-jokes and humor specific to the group? Do you have closeness that cuts across other differences that might separate you?

Yup. Tribalism.

Most of us in the developed West seem to pretend that we’re beyond tribalism, or that tribalism is somehow primitive.

I think it’s part of being human, and helps us to define who and what we are.

In both good ways, and bad.

Consider tribalism in Science Fiction & Fantasy: SF/F.

Moskowitz versus the Futurians? The Campbellians versus the New Wave? Worldcon versus Sad Puppies?

The Fandom (capital f) that created the World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) were a tribe so dedicated to their shared enthusiasm, they formalized it. Gave it rules and expectations. An institution was born. New people coming into the institution had to be inculcated much as anyone joining a religion or the military might also be inculcated. Totems (like the Hugo awards) were erected and celebrated.

And Sad Puppies 3 came to the “tribe” in 2015, wearing baggy pants below the waist, visible boxer shorts, untied work boots, and a hat cocked at forty five degrees. Or, if you prefer, Sad Puppies 3 pulled Worldcon over on the highway: maglite aimed through Worldcon’s driver’s-side window, while Sad Puppies 3 asked for license and registration.

The reaction — especially among certain vocal members of Fandom — was less than enthused.

“The tribe! The tribe is at stake! Invaders have come! Protect the totem! Save the totem!

Now, I’ve tried to explain this before: a huge part of the deal with this whole nerd fight, is that the Hugo awards don’t just brand as “The award of the Worldcon tribe.” The Hugos (and the Worldcon tribe alike) brand the Hugo as the award for the entirety of SF/F: books, stories, movies, television, music, art, you name it. This is not just the totem of the single SF/F tribe. This is the totem of all the SF/F tribes.

But the single tribe (Worldcon) wants the exclusive right to decide how the totem gets distributed — to which tribe members, and for what kinds of work.

It’s the totem of all, but to be decided by only some.

That — right there — is the root of the conflict. Totem of of all, decided by some. Sad Puppies 3 (and to a certain extent, Sad Puppies 2 and Sad Puppies 1) made the audacious claim that the totem for all, should be decided by all. Anyone willing to pay the poll tax (Worldcon membership) should have a say. We invited everyone to the democratic process. We didn’t care who was or was not in the “tribe” of World Science Fiction Society. This is the totem of all! And the rules pretty much make it so that all can participate!

But the Worldcon tribe — or at least certain vocal members within the tribe — have gone full-retard-tribal about the affront to “their” award, and “their” convention. So it’s tribe-vs-tribe. Are you in-tribe or out-tribe? How can anyone tell? Are you “of the body” of the tribe? Were you inculcated? No? Then what the hell are you doing coming to our tribal ground and fucking with our totem? It’s ours, dammit! Not yours! Ours!!

Protestations about propriety are merely bureaucratic dressing for tribal reactionary mud-slinging.

Mud-slinging which was taken to the broader media by a few tribe-members determined to “nuke” us invaders: Sad Puppies.

But not just us alone. We were almost incidental. The partisans of the Worldcon tribe had a more serious foe in mind.

Because of all the things most frightening to the Worldcon tribe, the worst are the Visigoths of Vox Day. Not just an out-tribe, Vox and his fans represent an explicitly war-like and hostile tribe, come to seize the totem by brute means. So, some of the Worldcon tribe said, “No, we will destroy the totem first, before we let the Visigoths have it!” To which the Visigoths and their heathen king Vox replied, “If you destroy it this year, we will most certainly destroy it next year — and there is nothing you can do to stop us!”

Now, the heathen king is terrifying to the Worldcon tribe. He is a literal barbarian. He talks and walks and threatens like a barbarian. He’s not precisely the guy anyone planned on walking through the democratic door. But because the Hugo voting process is democratic, nobody can be barred for purely tribal reasons. You pay your poll tax, you get a vote. The Worldcon tribe stares at both Sad Puppies 3 and the Rabid Puppies with equal dismay.

Me? I’m not in it to destroy anything.

I just want the totem to reflect the wider influence of the big world of various tribes who all have claim to it. Because that’s where I came from. Out there. Not the “inside” Worldcon tribe. I’m from the wilderness tribes who knew nothing of conventions or Fandom (big F) in our youth. We simply liked what we liked, and we were fans — because nobody could tell us not to be fans. And I maintain — still — that there is nobody to tell us we’re not fans. So the totem is ours too. We have claim on it. It is “the most prestigious award” for everybody. And everybody agrees on this.

Either that, or change the branding, and call the Hugos, “The little award, for the little crowd at Worldcon.”

Heck, while we’re at it, stop calling it Worldcon. Any given Comic Con can boast a bigger world-wide attendance than even the Worldcons done outside North America.

And stop pretending you care about “diversity” when the Worldcon tribe reacts with extreme revulsion any time truly different people want to come have a seat at the table.

Maybe call it Legacycon, to reflect that it’s the legacy gathering of legacy fans who trace their roots back to the old days? Before SF/F went big and took over the entertainment world.

Or maybe call it Stuffycon: to reflect the hoity toity attitudes of the taste-makers who want to be sure the “wrong” kinds of fans aren’t voting in the “wrong” kinds of books, art, and stories.

Or maybe just be wholly transparent and call it White American Liberals Con — An inclusive, diverse place where everyone talks about the same things, has the same tastes, votes the same way, and looks at the world through the same pair of eyes. Whitelibbycon. With the trophy: whitelibbyrocket.

But wait, I am showing my tribal ass with these comments. See? See how that happens so fast? It’s tricksy, I tell you! Tricksy.

Because the ultimate question in a polyglot society — or a polyglot field of the arts — is whether or not you (and your tribe) can make room in your hearts and minds for the people from the other tribes. Are the other tribes really dangerous? Or are you simply worried that by letting the outside tribes mingle with the inside tribe, you will lose the authenticity and flavor that you believe makes your tribe special? How much are you willing to sacrifice to preserve your culture, versus allowing your culture to mix with others, and blend? We know these fears. They perk up every time a new wave of immigrants comes. Doesn’t matter if its Irish, German, Japanese, Italian, Chinese, or Mexican. People become very upset with the idea that the new tribe is going to wash away everything about the old tribe. Can the new tribe be assimilated? What if they won’t assimilate, what then? Is there any chance for harmony?

Think on that, oh ye purists of Worldcon.

Steve Davidson and Teresa Nielsen-Hayden talk like anti-Amnesty Republicans!

Now, I won’t speak for the heathen king or the riders of his war elephants. I will only speak for Sad Puppies 3.

Many of us were already “of the tribe”, or are at least capable of passing as tribe members when we want to. We know the lingo, we know the touchstones, we are familiar with the history. Maybe we don’t religiously attend Worldcon — maybe we don’t even do cons very much, because of travel and expenses — but this field is our field. These arts are our arts. We just want a seat at the table. And we want the totem to reflect the existence of all the many venerable pros and fans who have done every bit as much to keep this field alive — over the last three decades — as anyone in the Worldcon tribe proper.

Uncle Timmy? Kevin J. Anderson? Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show? They are entirely part of the fabric of the giant and expanding quilt of Science Fiction & Fantasy. But too many — the people who probably ought to go form Stuffycon — won’t acknowledge this.

You can’t claim your tribe is “inclusive” when you seek a laundry list of excuses to kick people (and their stuff) out of the tribe.

I’m hoping that — once the heat dies down this summer — people can be a little more “awake” in Steve Barnes’s words. A little less apt to let the tribal instinct get the better of their good intentions. And sure, maybe Larry Correia and I are guilty of it too. Certainly the out-tribe experience has created a tribalness and hostility all its own. Larry and both feel like we tried to parlay, and discovered parlay wasn’t possible. A more direct approach had to be taken. So we went to the streets and said, “Come to the democracy, one and all!”

I am sorry if the Worldcon tribe — Fandom — is unhappy. Yeah, I get it about the Visigoths. But even most of those guys aren’t bad either. They’re fans too. And the GamerGaters? Fans. Out-tribe, maybe. But fans. Don’t buy all the scary bad press. In fact, don’t buy any of the scary bad press. The other tribes love this field too. Perhaps not in precisely the same way that you do, oh tender-souled Worldcon long-timers. But then, being “awake” also means realizing that change is inevitable. If Worldcon (and the Hugos) are going to thrive, and retain relevance, the out-tribe folk are going to have to be let in the door, allowed to come to all the parties, and given a full share of the say.

SAD PUPPIES: the march of the straw men

Ever since this Breitbart article appeared, a small legion of straw man arguments have been deployed against the current season of SAD PUPPIES. I was going to type up a very looooooooong rebuttal to the straw men, but Larry Correia and Sarah Hoyt already did the heavy lifting for me. Much of what I might have said, they say with superior gusto and humor. It’s a blessed thing having friends such as these. Not just under the Baen banner per se, but under the general banner of colleagues who’d like to see the field return itself to a more balanced state of being.

What I can add, I will try to add with clarity. But first, I want to frame things with this beautiful analogy, courtesy of Dave Freer:

The reality is this –- According to [Publishers Weekly] the print sales for Sf/fantasy in the last three years have declined catastrophically (and according to the same source, e-books have plateaued). While there is an element of GIGO in the PW figures (they rely on Bookscan, which captures ~30% of my sales, and Bowker, which not everyone uses) the trend in Traditionally published sf/fantasy is clear, and the most conservative estimate would have sales about 30% down in the last 5 years. The actual figure is possibly a lot higher. Given economic conditions –- fiction sales are normally counter-cyclical, like camping gear and seeds, and beer, we should be asking hard questions about what is happening in our genre. It’s probable that Brad Torgersen has a point.

Talking of probabilities: as roughly 10-15% of any population fit on the ‘ends’ of the political spectrum, with the population (AKA readers) tend to be more or less a normal distribution on that curve. The Hugo awards –- pre 1990 anyway — historically have been socio-politically representative, and (in context with their times) considerably more welcoming than other fields to writers of different skin color, sexual orientation and both sexes. Outspoken liberals, and outspoken conservatives and libertarians won or were nominees. Of course the bulk of authors were demographically representative of the possible readership, in that they were not outspoken supporters of any extreme of the political spectrum.

To put this in a simple way, think of the chances of Hugo nomination going to left or right ends as represented by a six sided dice throw.

There is ~ 17% chance of any number –- so if we call left 6 and right 1, we should get an equal chance every time we throw (nominate) of either left or right. About 2/3 of the time it will be neither. If that’s true, the competition is fair. If you somehow get five nominations in one category that are all 6 something is wrong. Any casino would regard the dice with suspicion.

Try it yourself. Count the number of tries it takes to throw five 6s in a row. Try doing this, to simulate multiple years for multiple categories. It is billions-to-one improbable with fair dice. If you threw a fraction of the Hugo 6s in a casino –- they’d ban you for life.

So: There is bias in the Hugos, and it probably isn’t the authors (unless they are lobbying) or the voters, but the various activist lobbies. That is the message from the Sad Puppies. And yes, if a 6 is thrown more than 17% of the time . . . the Sad Puppies prove their point and win. If their being there makes a 1 come up, they also win. And if a 6 wins yet again, it’s a Pyrrhic victory.

The contention has been made (by SAD PUPPIES’ detractors) that SP is nothing but a bunch of spoilsport right-wing whiners who want to turn the Hugos (and SF/F as a whole) into a monocultural mirror which looks and reads and sounds just like us. I guess that’s a natural assumption coming from individuals who are already part of the extant monoculture.

But here’s the truth of it. And I am going to borrow Dave’s eloquently succinct D6 analogy. Once upon a time in this field, at the Hugo awards, you could roll the dice ten times, and come up with something like this: 1, 5, 3, 2, 6, 2, 4, 5, 1, 6. The awards did not skew exclusively to one particular ideology, nor even a particular style, nor a specific artistic and creative sensibility. Beginning in about 1995, however, the dice rolls began to change. Over the past 20 years, the mean representative has shifted so that now your average Hugo winner and nomination list is like this: 6, 6, 5, 6, 4, 6, 6, 5, 6. A heavy skew to one side of the spectrum, both in terms of the types of stories and books that are nominated and win, as well as in terms of the authors (and their ideologies) which appear on that list.

SAD PUPPIES stands accused of wanting a 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1 pattern.

I’ll state for the record right now that this is false. And I can speak for the whole of the SP3 braintrust.

What we want is for the Hugos (and the field as a whole) to go back to being 2, 6, 1, 3, 3, 4, 6, 1, 2, 5. Because not only is a 6, 6, 6, 5, 6, 6, 4, 5, 5, 4 pattern showing spectacular bias, it’s causing two-thirds of the readership to drift away. That’s not a rhetorical trick. The trad pub numbers reflect the decrease, and have been reflecting it for the past 20 years. Literary SF/F is dangerously close to vanishing up its own asshole. And becoming an intellectual plaything for a tiny audience.

As someone who became a reader (and a fan) right on the healthy side of the present trough (1985-1995) I think trying to bring the genre (and the Hugos in particular) back to where they used it be, is a worthwhile project. Not because I want to invert the present monocultural dominance, but because I think monoculturalism itself is unhealthy; and puts the lie to the notion that the Hugos or SF/F pursue “diversity” — by catering to one side of the dice.

I also want to address the whole “Propriety demands that nobody log-roll” argument.

I think that would be a fine sentiment . . . in a vacuum. In a perfect world, every single Hugo voter would be voting purely from a standpoint of singularly-informed enjoyment. But let’s face it. Pushes and campaigns and log-rolling have been happening for a long time. I myself can think of at least a dozen instances of “quiet” campaigning, of which I’ve become aware in the past 5 years. Instances where one particular author or editor has made either direct appeals to friends and cohorts, or there has been a concerted effort on the part of said editor’s or author’s fans and supporters, to boost said editor/author above the level of the white noise that sometimes clouds the nomination and voting process.

There are also “flash crowd” campaigns, such as the one which saw Chicks Dig Time Lords make, and then win, its respective category for its year. There were certainly more sage and scholarly related works competing with Chicks Dig Time Lords, but as one veteran said to me before the final vote, “You’ve got probably thirty women writing and editing in that book, and all of them have lots of friends. Of course it’s going to win.”

So, while I am sympathetic to the notion that pushes, campaigns, and log-rolling shouldn’t be a factor, you have to face the reality that the Hugos haven’t really been free of such things for many years. If they ever were at all?

Then there is present-tense evidence of “what I want to win” slates and crystal-ball wish-fulfillment lists. Some of which spring up before the dust has even settled from the last Hugo season. I liken these to the Nebula awards ballot and winners lists, both of which tend to have an uncanny influence on what will show up on the Hugo ballot, if not the Hugo winners list proper. Because thousands (tens of thousands?) of eligible works are published every year — and that number is growing — many voters will tend to rely on bellwethers to point the way. A prominent media blogger, fanzine writer, or other interested party can post his or her wish list, and have an inordinate amount of influence over the selection process.

So, I think we can dispense with the accusation that SAD PUPPIES is doing something that is not done, or has not been done, for the sake of ethics. There is no ethic. A rule that is endlessly violated, is no longer a rule. It might be a quaint sentiment. But it’s useless. And arguing from a standpoint of propriety — in this context — is either naive, or obtuse. Or just flat out dishonest. Look, just about everybody who cares, is getting in on some form of boosterism. To include anti-boosting, in the form of voting “no award” or otherwise trying to spike a specific work’s or author’s chances come awards time.

In closing, SAD PUPPIES merely follows Orwell’s admonition, “we have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.” SAD PUPPIES points to the skew and bias and says, “See here, there is skew and bias.” SAD PUPPIES points to worthy authors and works who deserve a chance at a Hugo, and says, “They deserve a nomination every bit as much as the guy who got three dozen nominations.” SAD PUPPIES declares that SF/F is not a progressives-only club, and that actual diversity (within the field) requires that the Hugo ballot should, like, you know, be diverse.

Of course, don’t just take our word for it:

Mr. Torgersen,

I have reviewed this controversy from the bald spot to the smelly misshapen toenails and I find your analysis accurate. I therefore let it be known to one and all that you have at least one former Worldcon Co-Chaircreature in support of the… underage dogs.

Ron Zukowski, ConFederation, the 44th WorldCon, Atlanta Georgia, 1986.

SAD PUPPIES: some responses to the fallout

I am on duty this month. I was supposed to be on duty for most of the year, but the mission to West Africa has been off-ramped, and my active duty orders terminate at the end of February. So, for those of you who see me at LTUE while I am still in uniform next week, just know that I am squeezing the conference in around my Army time.

Now, to the matter of fallout; from the SAD PUPPIES 3 slate.

People always get upset when the status quo is challenged. Nobody has to like SP3. Many may even hate SP3, and in turn hate those of us who’ve chosen to participate as “faces of the movement” (though I detest the word ‘movement’ in this context.) What I see happening is a lot of people (loyal to what they perceive to be tradition within the field) standing up from their chairs and demanding, “STOP SAYING THE THING THAT IS BROKEN, IS BROKEN!”

Sorry, folks. I know it sucks having the cage rattled. If I thought some (necessary) freshening of the air (at Hugo awards time) was possible via less confrontational means, I’d happily go that route. But after 5 years of observing how this dog and pony show operates, I’ve concluded that there really isn’t a “nice” way to do this. We (the SP3) can either sit on our hands and pretend the broken thing is not broken — carrying on the with the status quo — or we can speak up; and take the heat.

Others (on the leftward side of the fence) make a great big fat noise about “Speaking truth to power.” Now, the shoe is on the right foot. For a change. Again, you don’t have to like it. SAD PUPPIES peels back the foil on the stale TV dinner. SAD PUPPIES says stuff that many people mutter in confidence, but few have dared speak openly; because they know it’s going to cause an uproar. SAD PUPPIES is specific in its intention: to alter the Hugo awards process such that artists and works which would otherwise be ignored, are not ignored. It’s not a “right wing” thing. It’s a make-the-field-live-up-to-its-reputation thing, by way of the field’s self-proclaimed, “Most prestigious award.”

And here’s the mind-blower: SP3 is not a same-minded collective. We’ve actually had a tremendous amount of internal debate about how to proceed.

For myself, and despite what some of my detractors may claim, I can say without reservation that I am not out to destroy fandom, nor the Hugos, nor do I wish to be an arsonist. In fact, I have argued (within the SP3 brain trust) that being arsonists is a terrible idea. I’d like to see reform, versus destruction. I also knew that being the “it” guy for this project this year (2015) would put my head on the ideological and rhetorical chopping block. Better men than myself have already mortgaged their reputations for the sake of change. I felt honor-bound to take my seat on the dunking machine chair.

Maybe this damages me eternally in the minds of some?

Those who actually know me and my work, know I am not a villain.

And for those who claim I run with villains . . . Larry Correia is my blood brother. I will not throw this man beneath the bus. Look, I get it. Larry is the kind of guy guaranteed to infuriate ideological progressives and leftists, and he makes no apologies. I understand fully that many people can’t stand him. Me? I see this man (in the flesh) all the time. I know his wife and his family. I can think of no one I would want more (in my fox hole) when the chips are down and the bullets are flying. Be they real, or rhetorical, bullets. Larry Correia is a tremendous individual who has taken the bit (of SP) between his teeth, and charged ahead with gusto. I can do no less, during this third iteration of the project.

And Vox Day? I already explained myself on that one, last year. Shunning and ostracisation are the activities of a frightened 13th century village, not the recourse of 21st century cosmopolitans.

Again, if I thought it were possible to freshen up the Hugo situation without ruffling feathers, I’d happily take that path. To echo myself (from 2014) sometimes the expected thing (in this case: going along to get along) is not necessarily the right thing.

Women and combat, the real vs. the unreal

There’s a mini-debate raging in the comments of a different thread, regarding women in combat, and how this is often portrayed in fiction. Ergo, real vs. unreal. Rather than keep that thread going (because it’s a whole topic unto itself) I wanted to branch things off. And offer a few opinions of my own.

1) I don’t think this is an argument that’s ever going to end, because people are heavily invested in their opinions, there are many different points of view, and each and every one of them is convinced that (s)he is right on the matter. So I won’t pretend that I can “solve” the thing. I merely have my own viewpoint. Take it or leave it.

2) From a real-world perspective, combat capability has (I think) far more to do with politics, than it has to do with anything else. Many say putting women into ground combat roles is foolish and dangerous. That it actually hurts (and does not help) the mission. Which might be true. Then again, the U.S. Department of Defense dumps billions of dollars into jet fighter programs (like the F-35) which may or may not give us airplanes capable of performing to mission spec, thereby proving foolhardy and dangerous too. The drag about being a ‘little person’ at the bottom of the food chain in the military, is you’re given what they decide to give you. And you do the best you can with it. Even if you think the people making the purchasing, strategic, and tactical decisions are full of crap. (Regarding the F-35, I don’t know why we didn’t spend the same money developing a 21st century version of the A-10 or even the A1 Spad. Not resurrecting those precise airframes, per se. I mean, creating a new aircraft with similar flight characteristics, loadout, loiter-on-target potential, and combat damage survivability. Obviously I don’t get to make the call.)

3) World War 2 was not won with 6’2″ 230-pound UFC champions. It was won with 5’7″ 150-pound teenagers. Who had minimal hand-to-hand training. But they did have the M1, and were drilled extensively in its proper use. Being able to shoot means a teenager with a rifle is more deadly than an entire formation of 14th century pikemen. Technology invariably changes the way we fight. Note that a 150-pound woman with steady nerves, good eyes, and good trigger-squeeze, makes her more deadly (on the modern field of battle) than those very same 14th century pikemen.

4) Lowering standards (solely to ensure that x-number of women/people pass a combat arms school) is wrong. But like I said with #2, it might be inevitable. I have been in the military long enough to realize that while the military preaches endlessly about training to singular standards, the military is also adept at inventing rules for itself why it doesn’t have to have a singular standard. In a perfect world, the only people who’d ever enlist would be 6’2″ 230-pound UFC fighting champs, with perfect Chuck Yeager vision and the ability to ruck their own weight 15 miles without breaking a sweat. In the real world we get the enlistees we get. There is no draft. So you either have a very small force capable of meeting a very high standard, or you get a bigger force with variable standards. Sooner or later, raw numbers matter. What kind of Army (or Navy, or Air Force) we decide to have, is a decision (in the United States at least) made by elected civilians. Lots of people hate and loathe this. And for good reason. But hating it won’t change it. Some realities, we’re simply stuck with.

5) Some jobs really do require raw muscle. Can two 120-pound 5’4″ females lug an M107 howitzer shell as effectively as two 175-pound 5’11” males? That’s roughly 100 pounds of high-explosive ordnance. Almost as much as one of the females by herself. Physics matter as much as attitude in this instance. So that even two well-trained, gung-ho female troops might find it a lot more difficult (and time-consuming) to wrestle that M107 to the gun breach, than two male troops who are larger and have more muscle mass. This is the reality most feminist arguments wholly ignore, when discussing the “inevitable” penetration of female troops into all sectors of the military–especially combat arms. I say, by all means, let women apply for entrance. But let them achieve the same results, to the same standards. If it takes a 175-pound 5’11” person to do a given job, then this should be true for females too. It will mean far fewer women get to earn the MOS or the slot. But those who do, will know they didn’t have to have a booster seat to do it. And that’s a good thing. For the women, and for the men who serve with them.

6) Everyone has a libido and this is what fucks (literally) a lot of things up. As long as we put young men and young women into the same space, in uniform, they’re going to be having sex with each other. Everyone knows its a terrible idea, and yet everyone keeps doing it. Peace-time, or war-time. It introduces a range of disciplinary and morale problems. The best way to combat it is to segregate: keep the men and the women apart for much of their operational careers. A co-ed military inevitably results in people fooling around. Even though they know they shouldn’t. Again, item #2: our politics (as a country) probably dictate that we just live with the fallout. Because politics dictate that we share spaces (as genders) everywhere else in the world. The military inevitably reflects this too. Lots of people hate it. I think they have solid reason to hate it. But then again, there are a lot of other strategic, political decisions apart from gender-mixing, being made by DoD and civilian legislators alike, which have detrimental consequences. We just have to learn to live with some things. Mixed-gender military is probably one of them.

7) Many women can shoot and fight. I hate to break it to the macho-man contingent in the debate, but there really are women in the U.S. military who can run circles around them when it comes to basic soldiering skills, like shooting. I can’t shoot worth a damn. Minimal aptitude. Bad eyes, bad reflexes. Things that almost kept me out of the military. I have known women who were deadeyes with the M16/M4, and were far more qualified than myself to fight in a front-line capacity. I don’t think those women should be barred just because they have vaginas. Lots of guys do think they should be barred, just because they have vaginas. Being barred from a role merely because of what’s between your legs, isn’t a very defensible policy. It might satisfy a few folks who think women literally don’t belong in uniform — beyond the capacity of secretaries who fetch the General’s coffee. But I say, let the standard be an objective, measurable standard related to combat effectiveness. Not whether or not a person has boobs. (Speaking of which, I’ve known some Army guys on height-weight who needed a bra!)

8) No matter who decides what, or why, there will always be bitching and moaning, plus finger-pointing any time someone gets killed. Most civilians don’t realize this, but even during complete peacetime, the military lose numerous lives every year, just to accidents alone. Both on and off-duty. It may be true that putting women into combat roles is a questionable risk. But this is the norm already. Carrier flight operations involve daily, extreme risk. We lose planes. We lose people. Without a shot being fired. That risk is deemed acceptable (despite the deaths) because the United States wants a large carrier fleet able to project American power around the globe. Some blood and treasure inevitably gets spent, because the American people say it should be so. I suspect integrating women into combat arms is more of the same. There will always be detractors, and any time a death might be blamed on a woman, the critics will come out in force. But as long as the American people want it that way . . . well, “Cost of doing business.” And it has ever been thus.

9) How this all applies to storytelling and fictional portrayal, depends on the sensibilities of the storyteller, and the sensibilities of the audience. Frankly, I had a tough time believing Black Widow kicked butt the way she kicked butt in The Avengers. A woman capable of dealing that much hand-to-hand damage would look more like an androgynous man, than Scarlett Johansson. Because Black Widow is not Wonder Woman. Black Widow does not have superpowers. And really, unless a female character has superpowers, it’s difficult to explain how or why she can lawn-mow her way through scores of bigger, tougher, more heavily armed and armored male opponents. As noted earlier, physics matters. You can decide to make your female character an indomitable fighter. It’s just that you’re banking on the credulity of your audience in the process. Some people (especially those with actual martial arts or hand-to-hand experience) will be rightfully doubtful. So if you’re going to go there, be ready to take some criticism from informed sources.

10) Of course, a woman capable of lawn-mowering a platoon of stronger, better-armed men, need not be explained with magical or fantastic powers. We can amp her up with a technological solution. Maybe she is “juiced” to be as strong, quick, and durable as her male foes? Maybe she has cybernetic implants for the same reason? Maybe she’s normal, but we put her inside a powered armor suit that gives her the fighting prowess of a main battle tank? World War 2 fighter pilots were often chosen because they could fit into the tiny cockpits, not because they were NFL linebacker material. Robotic augmentation doesn’t seem too far away. They’re already working on this concept, for theoretical combat theater deployment before the middle of the century. When both the men and the women are all wearing exoskeletal machines which boost their capabilities way beyond normal levels, the intrinsic biological differences between male and female troops might be insignificant. If Black Widow puts on Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit . . .

11) Suspension of disbelief varies from person to person. Each and every author will find his or her “sweet spot” in this regard. Stray too far, and the audience will let you know. I have less difficulty believing Black Widow can lawn-mower a platoon of toughs, than I do believing a 21st century feminist will exist (and fight) in a medieval European historical context. Even if it’s fantasy. Feminism (as we know it now) simply did not exist at that time, and in that place. So I get a bit annoyed when the women (portrayed in these periods, be they real or fantastic) act and talk and behave just like a 2015 graduate of a Womens Studies course from the local state college. I understand why authors and movie-makers decide to do this. They want to make the audience happy. It’s something I’ve learned to (mostly) put up with, even if I disagree with it sometimes. Again, suspension of disbelief varies from person to person. I should note that I often find my suspension of disbelief tested with male characters too. The human body can only endure so much punishment. Male heroes (in books and movies) often withstand a colossal amount of damage, and keep fighting like it’s a mere nosebleed. My suspension goes twang while the suspension of others goes bwong.

12) Fictional license probably should not dictate real-world employment of mortal battlefield forces. Consider this very long but very astute analysis of the U.S. Army Rangers, by former Ranger John T. Reed. Especially regarding “off brand” use of the Rangers in situations and under conditions that were ill-advised, at best. Reed’s contention is that the mythos surrounding the Rangers has made them out to be literal supermen who can do anything, under any circumstances. This mythos penetrates at both the civilian and the military leadership level. Rangers are not, in the end, bulletproof. No amount of P.R. can make a real soldier invincible. Even if he believes it. Even if his bosses believe it. This belief is liable to make him a very dead troop. And whatever mission objectives he was to have accomplished, become moot. As a culture, we love action, fighting, and war stories. We are steeped in them. To include larger-than-life heroism that defies the odds. When approaching actual fighting and war, it pays to be conservative. Dial back your expectations. Bank on the vulnerability of your people. This is why raw numbers almost always matter much more than our storytelling might indicate. If Hitler had been sane and sensible, he’d have realized that Russia, Britain, and the United States had far, far more young men to send to the fight, than the Reich did. And restrained his ambition accordingly.

When is it okay to quit?

Harshness ahead. You were warned.

There have been a very few instances when I’ve encountered a writer who is clearly wasting his/her time. I know, we’re not supposed to talk about it. We’re not supposed to admit (among ourselves) that any of us could be wasting his/her time. Yet, clearly, there are people in this field who are wasting their time. I know. I’ve met them. They are few in number, but they do exist.

Sure, 90% of the business is work ethic and never quitting. But if you don’t have the other 10% (imagination + style + insight + voice + creativity + ability to learn + yadda yadda) then you’re kind of trying to paddle up the Mississippi with a soggy flap of cardboard.

In each of the these few instances (and they truly are few) the writer in question had been struggling for decades (yes, plural) with no results: no sales, no publications, or at least no publications of serious note (badly formatted, unproofed self pub, with a bad cover, almost doesn’t count.) As a result, (s)he had developed a rather ferocious level of envy towards anybody who had enjoyed some success (YMMV as to the definition of “success”) and there was also a fair degree of conspiracy paranoia happening. Ergo, “The publishing system is rigged against me! The reviews system is rigged against me! Amazon is rigged against me!” Et cetera.

I have come to strongly suspect that such tortured people are far more in love with the idea of being authors, than they are with actually writing stories. No, not in love. Wrong word. Love is a healthy emotion. They are obsessed with having a book (or books, or stories in magazines) with their names on the covers, and with passing through the halls at conventions in the guise of “author”, and with also having fans, and with gathering to themselves all the acclaim and credibility of accomplishment, and warm fuzzies, and all that they believe will come to them, if only . . . if only . . . if only . . .

In one particular instance (because I am sometimes too nice for my own good) I read some of the works proffered by just such a writer. (S)he claimed to have spent the better part of 30 years perfecting them, before putting them up on the internet. In despair. In the hope that someone might read them.

I did. Because I was morbidly curious. And I wanted to see if I could help. I paid my dues. Two decades of toil and effort, no sales. 1992 to 2009. Surely the patient could be cured? Lord knows I’d been brought back from a near-flatlined state myself. I was determined to see what I could do for this despairing individual.

The stories were . . . pale and flat. They were stale. Lifeless. Clearly, they had the abuse marks of having been “polished” into oblivion. And they did not manifest — from story to story — any sign that the author in question was getting any better. Not even a little bit.

I made a few (what I thought) were gentle suggestions; for potential improvement. Not with the stories themselves. They were DOA. In fact, that was the thrust of my advice: let the old stories go, get on with the business of telling new stories. Polishing (or the process most of us call “polishing”) has what I consider to be a rather sharp curve, in terms of diminishing returns. Past a certain point, you cannot improve a thing. You’ve looked at it too much. It’s as good as you can make it. Let it be. Go on to something different. Something fresh.

I also said (s)he might think about trying a new style of voice (1st person to 3rd, or was it 3rd to 1st? I can’t remember . . .) and branching out into a new arena of speculative storytelling, etc. (“Instead of near-future contemporary, try off-world, or maybe even a cyber-fantasy?”) It seemed to me this author was trying very hard to write what (s)he thought the markets wanted; without much consideration for what the author wanted. I of course cited my own trials and tribulations, to make him/her aware of the fact that I knew from personal experience how this kind of uncomfortable change — turning over the writer’s apple cart — had helped me grow, get better, and break through.

Yet, I was rebuffed. (S)he got defensive. Started up with the victim stuff, and the paranoia stuff. I was accused of being both lucky, and knowing how to “game” the system.

So I gently withdrew my interaction, and allowed him/her to return to his/her dark closet of creative despair. I could not help him/her. (S)he did not want help. Even from a fellow traveler who knew his/her struggle in intimate detail. Having secured for myself a life preserver, when I offered to show him/her how to also obtain a life preserver, (s)he preferred to stay submerged.

How do you (gently) tell such a person, that (s)he is running him/herself over the proverbial cheese grater for nothing? That perhaps (s)he simply wasn’t meant to do this thing we call writing? The mantra is that (s)he who never quits, gets published. And it’s true. Especially now that Amazon and CreateSpace have made it easy. But what can you say to a person who has dwelt in a personal wasteland of disappointment for so long, over failing at a thing (s)he was clearly not given any gifts for?

It’s a bit like seeing a cellist who has no musical ear, nor any finesse with the instrument, saw painfully at the thing day after day, over the same dog-eared sheets of rote music, all the while despairing of ever joining an orchestra or getting to play solo at the concert house.

The noble response is to simply smile and say, “Keep trying, you can do it eventually!” The professional arts world is replete with examples of failures who simply pushed one step farther, and the light went on, and success was had by the truckload. We adore and love these rags-to-riches examples. They inspire us all to keep after it. To keep putting our butts back into our chairs. Because we need to believe that we too can be that rags-to-riches (“riches” being defined any way you please) person.

But sometimes . . . sometimes I wonder if we’re also not just enabling a person’s further descent into a paralyzing spiral of fruitless time consumption — for the sake of a dream that probably should have been set down at the side of the road long ago. Really, not everyone who wants to be a writer (or a concert cellist) was given the gift.

That’s blasphemy, I know. And as someone who went the better part of 20 years without any success, it may be wrong of me to suggest that somebody else may not have what it takes to make it. How dare I?

But there ought to be a point of clarity. A realistic look in the mirror. A limit past which sanity tells you that you’re doing something self-destructive. That the void you’re trying to fill (with Passion A) is actually just a process of digging your hole deeper. When what you really need is to go discover Passion B (or C or D or E, ad infinitum) and allow those seed(s) to sprout, and blossom, in the soil of your soul.

Misery, bitterness, paranoia, for years on end . . . these things are just not worth it. There are other ways to be successful. To leave a meaningful impact on the world. There are even better, quicker, more lucrative ways to achieve fame and fortune, if fame and fortune are what you truly desire in the final analysis.

I didn’t quit, because I ultimately couldn’t stop telling stories. To myself. In my brain. On the bus, or while driving, or even at night with my head in the pillow. I couldn’t stop the puzzle-assembly fun of putting characters and situations and settings together, like a cookie dough mix, and imagining where the mixture might go. On the “movie screen” of my mind. Even when the rejections were piled up and the thousands (yes, thousands) of hours spent, seemed waste. I couldn’t help myself. My mind would find excuses to go back to the stories. To the mental bijou. And (ultimately) wanting to share my mental bijou with the rest of the world.

If you don’t have your own mental bijou — if your favorite thing is not getting a soda and a bucket of popcorn, and sitting alone in your personal theater to watch the imaginary movie(s) of your own making — I suspect that you might be trying too hard at the wrong thing. That writing may not be what you were cut out for. Especially if the exercise has lasted for so long, with so much disappointment, that all you have left for the affair is pain and sorrow. It might be time for a divorce: kick your “dream” out of your life, and go find a new dream. Something that actually makes you happy and which brings you joy. Something that makes your spirit light up like fireworks on New Years Eve. If writing doesn’t do that for you, take a close look at what it is you truly need from writing.

And maybe you can fulfill that need somewhere else?