After the Hugos (or: Did I Hear You Say That This Is Victory?)

Last week, fans in Spokane, Washington and around the world gathered to watch the presentation 73rd Annual Hugo Awards, one of the greatest and most notable honors bestowed for achievement in the genre of science fiction. It’s been a tense year. Two separate but linked reactionary movements, the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies, made substantial gains in the nominations, successfully crowding out the sort of nominees that would generally be selected by the community at large. The Rabid Puppies enjoyed particular success due to a cult of personality centered on Theodore “Vox Day” Beale, who encouraged his followers to vote in lockstep. This practice was meant to counter the machinations of an imaginary cabal of liberal elitists who had been corrupting the soul of science fiction. In fact, it succeeded so dramatically because most fans not involved in the slates were already voting their conscience and nominating works they simply liked. Against this scattershot approach, lockstep voters were bound to succeed.

But the practices that allowed the Puppies of both houses to overwhelm the nominations could not allow them to carry the voting on the awards proper, particularly not after a record number of people bought supporting memberships in Sasquan, the 2015 Worldcon, and voted according to their consciences. For some, this meant ranking No Award – always an option, in ANY year – above nominees placed by the Puppy slates, whether because they disagreed with the reactionary politics or because they disliked slate voting on principle. For others, this meant reading all the works and judging them on merit. For myself, it meant rejecting some works that stank of particularly odious politics and personalities, or of obvious self-promotion (I rejected nearly anything published by Castalia House as Vox Day leveraging his political rhetoric to feather his own cap, for example), while attempting to review the rest fairly. I covered the nominees I considered worthy of consideration in The Dogcatcher Post, though due to limits on my free time and revised opinions on some of the nominees, I did not live up to my own standards as set out there.

In the end, No Award was given in five categories, doubling the number of No Awards given out in the entire history of the Hugos. The tension between the Puppies and the community at large did not abate. Victory was declared by some, defeat by others, and bad feelings continue to simmer all around. I have a few thoughts on how things shook out. The short version is that I’m not pleased, and worried about the short term, but optimistic for the long term. I’ll get into more detail, but before I do, I’d like to share my own final Hugo ballot, as registered on July 31st, noting the nominees in the order of my ranking (top to bottom) and the winners in bold.

Best Novel

  1. The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu; Ken Liu, translator
  2. Skin Game by Jim Butcher
  3. Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
  4. The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
  5. The Dark Between The Stars by Kevin J. Anderson

Best Novella

  1. No Award

Best Novelette

  1. “Championship B’Tok” by Edward M. Lerner
  2. “The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale” by Rajnar Vajra
  3. “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium” by Gray Rinehart
  4. “The Day The World Turned Upside Down” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt; Lia Belt, translator
  5. No Award

Best Short Story

  1. “Totaled” by Kary English
  2. “On A Spiritual Plain” by Lou Antonelli
  3. “A Single Samurai” by Steven Diamond
  4. No Award

Best Related Work

  1. No Award

Best Graphic Story

  1. Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal, written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt (Marvel Comics)
  2. Sex Criminals Volume 1: One Weird Trick, written by Matt Fraction, art by Chip Zdarsky (Image Comics)
  3. Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery, written by Kurtis J. Weibe, art by Roc Upchurch (Image Comics)
  4. Saga Volume 3, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics)
  5. No Award

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

  1. The Lego Movie, written by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, story by Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller (Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, LEGO System A/S, Vertigo Entertainment, Lin Pictures, Warner Bros. Animation (as Warner Animation Group))
  2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, concept and story by Ed Brubaker, directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (Marvel Entertainment, Perception, Sony Pictures Imageworks)
  3. Guardians of the Galaxy, written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, directed by James Gunn (Marvel Studios, Moving Picture Company)
  4. Edge of Tomorrow, screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth, directed by Doug Liman (Village Roadshow, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, 3 Arts Entertainment; Viz Productions)
  5. Interstellar, screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, directed by Christopher Nolan (Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, Legendary Pictures, Lynda Obst Productions, Syncopy)

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)

  1. The Flash: “Pilot”, teleplay by Andrew Kreisberg & Geoff Johns, story by Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg & Geoff Johns, directed by David Nutter (The CW) (Berlanti Productions, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Television)
  2. Orphan Black: “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried”, written by Graham Manson, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions, Space/BBC America)
  3. Game of Thrones: “The Mountain and the Viper”, written by David Benioff & D. B. Weiss, directed by Alex Graves (HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)
  4. Doctor Who: “Listen”, written by Steven Moffat, directed by Douglas Mackinnon (BBC Television)
  5. Grimm: “Once We Were Gods”, written by Alan DiFiore, directed by Steven DePaul (NBC) (GK Productions, Hazy Mills Productions, Universal TV)

Best Professional Editor (Short Form)

  1. Jennifer Brozek
  2. Mike Resnick
  3. Bryan Thomas Schmidt
  4. No Award

Best Professional Editor (Long Form)

  1. Sheila Gilbert
  2. Anne Sowards
  3. Jim Minz
  4. Toni Weisskopf
  5. No Award

Best Professional Artist

  1. Julie Dillon
  2. Kirk DouPonce
  3. Nick Greenwood
  4. Alan Pollack
  5. No Award

Best Semiprozine

  1. Lightspeed Magazine, edited by John Joseph Adams, Stefan Rudnicki, Rich Horton, Wendy N. Wagner, and Christie Yant
  2. Strange Horizons, Niall Harrison, editor-in-chief
  3. Andromeda Spaceways In-Flight Magazine, Andromeda Spaceways Publishing Association Incorporated, 2014, editors David Kernot and Sue Bursztynski
  4. Beneath Ceaseless Skies, edited by Scott H. Andrews
  5. Abyss & Apex, Wendy Delmater, editor and publisher

Best Fanzine

  1. Journey Planet, edited by James Bacon, Christopher J Garcia, Colin Harris, Alissa McKersie, and Helen J. Montgomery
  2. No Award

Best Fancast

  • Did not vote in this category, as I did not have time to properly listen to the nominees.

Best Fan Writer

  1. Laura J. Mixon
  2. No Award

Best Fan Artist

  1. Spring Schoenhuth
  2. Elizabeth Leggett
  3. Steve Stiles
  4. Brad Foster
  5. Ninni Aalto

The John W. Campbell Award*

  1. Kary English
  2. Wesley Chu
  3. No Award

*The John W. Campbell Award is, as has been repeatedly mentioned, not a Hugo, but it is awarded with them and selected by Hugo voters. The nominees must be writers who have enjoyed their first professional publication within the last two years.

So. What have I learned? Well.

Lesson One: The Puppies Nominated A Lot Of Garbage

All right: it would, perhaps, be fairer to say they nominated a lot of material I simply didn’t care for. Not for political reasons, mind. What I read was simply…not enjoyable. I ranked plenty of their nominees in many categories regardless, because I wasn’t really thinking in terms of anything beyond the pool of nominees I was given, to be quite honest. But the best I can say about the majority of the slates’ nominees is that they were competently written. I had an awful time even attempting to read through most of them, and while the reactionary politics do them no favors, at this point, I’m mostly angry with the Puppies for making me read that dreck.

The bright spots were the Best Dramatic Presentation categories. Even the Puppy nominees in those areas were generally pretty good, and I actually think both The Lego Movie and the pilot of The Flash were excellent and deserving of awards. I am not terribly broken up about Guardians of the Galaxy and Orphan Black winning, though I don’t feel the episode nominated was the most Hugo-worthy of the lot.

The low point was Best Novella. By a long shot.

Lesson Two: I Should Not Have Given Lou Antonelli The Benefit Of The Doubt

Between harassing a critic of his actions at his workplace, writing the Spokane police about David Gerrold, setting his fans on Carrie Cunin, and generally whining and complaining in the aftermath of Sasquan (surprisingly, if you go into a convention where everyone thinks you’re an utter prat, you should not expect sweetness and light from those around you), he’s shown himself to be an absolute ass who cannot be trusted to conduct himself in polite society. This post goes into more detail on his rather disturbing pattern of behavior. I actually thought his short story mildly interesting, if not the best I’ve ever read, but now that I see him revealed for the bully he is, I shan’t be ranking him again. If he’s nominated in the future, in any category, I will rank him below no reward. Someone who goes around trying to call hell on other members of the SF community does not deserve one of its highest honors.

Lesson Three: I’m Mostly Happy With The Results…

I’m glad that Best Novel went to a worthy author, and that it was a historic award to boot. I’m absolutely stoked that Lightspeed Magazine took Best Semiprozine (and “I’d like to thank the patriarchy” was one of the best lines of the night). I can’t tell you how happy I am that Ms. Marvel‘s first volume took Best Graphic Story, in part because it’s a genuinely good book that I thoroughly enjoyed, and in part because I hope John C. Wright’s face looked like he’d just eaten a whole raw lemon. If anyone happened to snap a photo of him in that moment, I’d pay good money for it.

I love Orphan Black, I love its writers, I love its cast, I especially love Tatiana Maslany, and the show deserves a Hugo, even if that specific episode wasn’t my favorite. Guardians of the Galaxy was, while not my first choice, a great, fun film, and the fact that it won despite being a slate nominee shows that the voters were willing to set their feelings aside to reward quality work. At least in one case. More on that in a second.

The No Award to Best Novella was well deserved. I think the No Award to Best Related Work was, too. The No Award to Best Short Story was, perhaps, slightly less so, though I can see how many voters thought the quality of the nominees sub-par compared to the stories pushed off the ballot by the slates.

Lesson Four: …Except When I Wasn’t Happy At All

In retrospect, I think Best Novelette should have been No Awarded. I hate to say it, because Thomas Heuvelt is clearly so happy about his victory, but I didn’t think The Day The World Turned Upside Down was very good at all. As I look back on the nominees, none of them felt like the best work of the year. There were differences in their relative quality, but I wasn’t thrilled with the choices I was given. That’s my personal opinion, of course, and hindsight is 20/20, but in future years I think I’ll put a lot more thought into whether or not nominees deserved to be on the ballot in the first place.

But the hardest blows of the evening were, to me, the Best Editor awards. I don’t think either of them deserved to be No Awarded, and here, I think, the Puppies have a point about voters voting for political reasons. That said, there were a lot of new voters this year, and Best Editor is a tough category for the layperson at the best of times. It is somewhat easier with short form editors, because they are not only responsible for helping an author improve a story, but (perhaps more importantly) they are curators, assembling material into anthologies and magazines. A short form editor can be judged by their good taste.

In the long form, an editor’s work is invisible to the reader (at least if they’ve done a good job), and they may or may not have been responsible for selecting material for their publisher. The nature, level and impact of their input can vary widely. I make a point of reading authors’ acknowledgements, so I knew that Sheila Gilbert (my first choice) had edited Seanan McGuire’s work, and Seanan had expressed her deep gratitude…but not everyone bothers to read such things. I’ve seen a couple proposals to remedy this, and a couple calls to remove the Best Editor (Long Form) category altogether, but I haven’t made up my mind on the issue yet.

Regardless, though both categories were filled with Puppy nominees, they were worthy nominees who do excellent work. It is not just that no award was given in either category. It reflects poorly on the community. I do not celebrate these results.

Lesson Five: No One Likes Sore Winners Or Sore Losers

I think the cheering and applause for No Award was out of line.

I was shocked the first time I heard it, and mortified as it happened again, and again. I can understand the instinct to applaud each announcement on general principle. I can understand getting caught up in the moment, the feeling of victory as the voters rejected the Puppies’ agendas again and again, and breaking out into cheers and applause. I can’t honestly say that I would have resisted those impulses entirely. But it was obnoxious. It was rude. There were nominees sitting in the audience who, rightly or wrongly, believed in their work, hoped for a win. They did not need anyone to rub their losses in their face.

And, more to the point, I do not see a No Award as a victory. I see it as the least objectionable outcome under the circumstances (with the exception of Best Editor, as noted above). The appropriate response feels like a somber silence.

Fortunately, the Puppies have conducted themselves abominably in the wake of the Hugos. Mike Glyer at File770 has been rounding up a lot of it. Let me address a few arguments.

  • The Asterisks were a slap in the face! So, riffing off remarks that this year’s Hugo winners would have asterisks next to their names due to the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the nominations and voting, ‘official’ Worldcon asterisks were made out of wood and sold at the con for charity. In addition, each Hugo nominee got their own wooden asterisk. Was this in poor taste? Perhaps. But David Gerrold made some beautiful remarks at the ceremony that turned them into more of a tongue-in-cheek symbol of pride at being part of SF history, and fandom has a long and distinguished history of taking the piss out of things, lightening the mood when tension is hanging in the air. This was just another part of that tradition.
  • How dare Robert Silverberg joke about Hare Krishnas when ‘offensive’ jokes made by the ‘wrong’ people are roundly scorned! Robert Silverberg spoke near the beginning of the ceremony about a similarly tense Worldcon back in Berkeley, and fondly recalled stepping outside now and then to seek peace by listening to the soothing Hare Krishna chant. He then produced a tambourine and led the audience in said chant, urging serenity and patience for the night ahead. It was an amusing and oddly reassuring experience. Was he insulting the Hare Krishnas? Maybe. I’m not a Hare Krishna, so I suppose I wouldn’t know. But then, I don’t think any of the people crying foul (particularly the Puppies) are among that distinguished number, either.
  • George R.R. Martin rented a mansion for an exclusive party and left out Hugo nominees and gave out the ‘real’ awards and conspiracy robble robble robble. George R.R. Martin is entirely within his rights to throw any kind of party he likes. He frequently threw parties for those who were nominated but failed to win Hugos back in the old days; these parties, as he himself has explained, eventually turned into a formal reception that he found rather stuffy. In the wake of the Puppies’ giant stinking mess, particularly in light of the people pushed off the ballots by slate shenanigans, he decided to resurrect the losers’ party, and to give out tongue-in-cheek awards named for Alfred Bester (the Alfies) and made quite literally out of hood ornaments of various rocket-like shapes and sizes. It was a way of honoring friends and colleagues he felt had been shafted. It’s true that some Hugo nominees were not invited to the party, that he had a list of ‘assholes’ he left out, but then, at least one of said assholes has demonstrated repeatedly that he is highly deserving of the label, and again, private party. So I can’t fault George there. It wasn’t a conspiracy. They weren’t the ‘real’ Hugos as awarded by the Secret Liberal Cabal of Social Justice. It was George R.R. Martin demonstrating the sort of kindness and good humor that lures you into a false sense of security before he brutally kills off characters you truly, desperately liked, George R.R. Martin, you unforgivable wretch.
  • No Award invalidated my vote! I’m launching a class action suit! I don’t…but…elections don’t work that way…
  • THIS WAS A SECRET VICTORY FOR THE PUPPIES! WE GOT THEM TO BURN IT ALL DOWN! Wiser people than I have already compared the Hugos to the climactic scene of How The Grinch Stole Christmas, where Christmas comes without presents, et cetera and so forth. Yeah. It’s a lot more like that. A couple significant bumps in the road, but quite a lot like that.

Lesson Six: It’s Always Darkest Before The Dawn

The Puppies, both Sad and Rabid, have already promised to pull their crap again next year. They will probably succeed, to be honest. There may be more categories going to No Award. More unworthy contenders. More garbage I’ll feel honor-bound to read. The only effective way to counter them would be an anti-Puppy slate nominated in lockstep. I refuse to do that. I won’t take part. I will nominate stories I enjoyed and editors my favorite authors have praised. I will not vote in lockstep with anybody. Because lockstep slate voting is a repugnant concept to me. It ignores everything that makes the fan community great. It replaces word of mouth and the cultural zeitgeist with an organized political movement.

I will not abuse the spirit of the Hugos on a misguided quest to ‘save’ them. Even if it means I have to vote No Award in every single category next year.

But I’m not going away. I’m grabbing a supporting membership for next year’s Worldcon. I’ll be participating in nominations and in final voting (and in site selection, as I’d quite like a New Orleans Worldcon in 2018). I’m just one person with one vote, but I can be part of the effort to resist the Puppies.

Here’s the thing: I agree with many of the Puppies’ most superficial stated goals. I want science fiction to be fun again. I am tired of dystopias, tired of endings, tired of the apocalypse. I want hope for the future. I want inspiration. I want fun. I want the fandom of today to look to science fiction and see ideas they can incorporate into the solutions of tomorrow. I want us to dream of turning our world into a paradise and sailing outward among the stars. We have never needed the hope and promise of science fiction more than we do now. It is as Isaac Asimov said:

Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers of today — but the core of science fiction, its essence, the concept around which it revolves, has become crucial to our salvation if we are to be saved at all.

The problem, of course, is that few if any of the Puppies’ nominees offered that promise – and that my idea of the utopia we can and should build here on Earth is a place where everyone is allowed room to grow and change as they must, and pursue what happiness they can find in this life, provided they do no harm to others. I don’t think the masterminds behind the Puppies of either camp want a world where I would belong. And so they fight to drag SF back into their idea of a golden age, while the rest of us fight to expand its boundaries into a new one of limitless promise, endless challenges and infinite opportunities. The culture war goes on, and this is just a minor skirmish.

Still. There is hope everywhere, and the Hugos are no exception. Two proposals to change the nomination system were ratified at this year’s Worldcon. If they are ratified again next year, they will be implemented. One, E Pluribus Hugo, creates a multi-round system which should diminish the impact of lockstep nominations. The other, 4 and 6 (sorry I don’t have a link), creates a system where each voter selects four nominees, but six finalists are selected; this could still be exploited by some mildly clever maneuvering, but combined with EPH, it might be quite effective. Though Vox Day in particular insists he has enough support to overcome any effort to block his slates, preliminary data crunching on EPH alone indicates that it would limit the damage lockstep slate voters could do. Data on EPH combined with 4 and 6 is not yet available.

So, in the short term, none of us are going anywhere. We’ll all be watching the entire Hugo process, not to mention next year’s Business Meeting, with great interest. We’re in for another tense and difficult year full of rhetoric. Many suggestions have been made to the Puppies of both camps as to how they might make more reasonable arguments and avoid alienating Hugo voters; I expect them to take none of those suggestions. The new leaders of the Sad Puppy crew seem even more reactionary than their predecessors. This will be unpleasant.

But science fiction is all about the future just beyond our grasp. The best of it is about finding hope there. And I think there’s reason to hope here. The reactionary elements of our community may gain some traction. But, to quote Angels In America, the world only spins forward.

And to paraphrase Firefly, no power in the verse can stop us.

The Dogcatcher Post

It’s been nearly two years since my last post here. Sorry about that. Every time I had an idea and thought about getting back into the swing of things, something came up to distract me. I have lots of updates and lots of ideas for posts, and all of that will follow, but this particular post needs to come first.

In the wake of the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies campaigns, I’ve gone ahead and purchased a membership to Sasquan, the 2016 Worldcon, so I can vote in the Hugo Awards. I’ll be doing this with every Worldcon I can support from now on, because if I have the ability to raise my voice and be heard, I should probably do it. With a bit over a month left before the voting deadline, it’s time for me to decide who I’m going to vote for…and that’s a problem which has required a certain amount of research and soul-searching.

It would be easy for me to vote NO AWARD in every Puppy-influenced category, in protest. Some have called for this. It would be just as easy for me to eliminate all the Puppies’ nominees and vote only for those who were not on the slates; some have called for this also. But I don’t in good conscience feel that I can do this. Not everyone on the slates knew they were on them, or knew what they were getting into. There are works that were on the slates which I personally find worthy of consideration despite the ugly politics behind their nomination. (Skin Game comes to mind; while the Dresden Files books can be problematic, I am a fan, and I thoroughly enjoyed Skin Game and thought it was a real return to form for the series.) So I have settled on threading the needle, and I’ve found a distinct lack of resources geared toward voters interested in that strategy.

I’m a documentation nerd, which has been a useful trait in my professional endeavors. If a document doesn’t exist, I’ll dig in and create it. So here it is: my attempt at a guide to threading the needle. The Dogcatcher Post. An attempt to point out Hugo nominees who actively participated in Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies, or (in the case of works from Castalia House, Theodore “Vox Day” Beale’s publishing house, especially) whose publishers did, as well as nominees who are thoroughly morally repugnant due to racism, xenophobia, homophobia, etc. Anyone highlighted in bold is someone I urge you to eliminate from your consideration, and I’ll explain why at the end of each category. Of course, if you want to use this list to vote only for the nominees I’m calling out for elimination, I can’t really stop you.

This list is constructed based on two principal rules:

The Card-Wright Rule

This is a long-standing personal rule of mine. Simply put, I don’t give money or support to living authors who hate me or mine. I will absolutely not consider people who have engaged in virulent bigotry, called for violence against me or people like me or people I care about, called for us to be openly oppressed and rounded up, and so on and so forth. Am I eliminating all problematic creators under this rule? No. I won’t even pretend to try. This is intended for the worst of the worst, those whose bigotry cannot be ignored or dismissed.

The Beale-Torgenson Rule

This rule is a new one, and in direct response to Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies. I don’t think people who actively campaigned for these slates and used political ideology to get themselves or creators they publish or profit from nominated should be rewarded. Period. It’s one thing to offer up a list of works you were involved with that are eligible for Hugos – many authors have done this, many publishers have done this – but it’s quite another to incorporate your own work into a moral panic and deliberate crusade. Torgenson gets a little credit for treating the Sad Puppies slate as a set of suggestions…but not enough to escape this rule. Beale told his followers to vote in lockstep. No Hugo for him.

Obviously, there may be information I don’t have. If I come across any new information regarding the character (or lack thereof) of certain nominees, or their participation in Sad Puppies or Rabid Puppies, I’ll update this post accordingly.

Now let’s look at the nominees by category.

Best Novel

Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie (Orbit US/Orbit UK)
The Dark Between the Stars, Kevin J. Anderson (Tor Books)
The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette) (Tor Books)
Skin Game, Jim Butcher (Orbit UK/Roc Books)
The Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu, Ken Liu translator (Tor Books)

Ancillary Sword, The Goblin Emperor, and The Three Body Problem were not on either the Sad Puppies slate or the Rabid Puppies slate. This leaves Jim Butcher and Kevin J. Anderson.

I cannot find any evidence that Kevin Anderson directly endorsed the Sad Puppy slate. He is acquainted with Brad Torgenson and has published some of his work, but I’m not going to base my decision solely on guilt by association. I don’t think I agree with Anderson on everything, but that’s not a prerequisite either. I can see no compelling reason to exclude him from consideration.

Jim Butcher does not seem to have been an active participant in S/RP either. He did call Irene Gallo unprofessional for her personal comments on the S/RP crowd (and, well, she was, a bit, but I don’t feel she deserved the goddamned Sword of Damocles crashing on her head), and he’s not without his problems. But I enjoy both the Dresden Files series and the Codex Alera, and I quite liked Skin Game, so I’m going to keep him on my list.

Best Novella

Big Boys Don’t Cry, Tom Kratman (Castalia House)
“Flow”, Arlan Andrews, Sr. (Analog, 11-2014)
One Bright Star to Guide Them, John C. Wright (Castalia House)
“Pale Realms of Shade”, John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House)
“The Plural of Helen of Troy”, John C. Wright (City Beyond Time: Tales of the Fall of Metachronopolis, Castalia House)

All of the nominees in this category were on the Sad Puppies or Rabid Puppies slate. Most of them were published by Castalia House, which seems like a blatant grab if I’ve ever seen one, and John C. Wright is just absolutely awful. However, I can find no evidence that Dr. Arlan Andrews, Sr. was involved in campaigning for either slate, and he seems like a decent enough fellow. Through SIGMA, he’s associated with many people I admire. “Flow” should be read and considered.

Best Novelette

“Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium”, Gray Rinehart (Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, 05-2014)
“Championship B’tok”, Edward M. Lerner (Analog, 09-2014)
“The Day the World Turned Upside Down”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Lia Belt translator (Lightspeed, 04-2014)
“The Journeyman: In the Stone House”, Michael F. Flynn (Analog, 06-2014)
“The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale”, Rajnar Vajra (Analog, 07/08-2014)

Gray Rinehart did accept a place on the Sad Puppies slate and appears to be connected to members of the S/RP community; that said, he does not seem to have campaigned on the slate’s behalf, he did not nominate according to the slate himself, and he does not seem particularly repugnant. I do not believe his work should be rejected out of hand, and I will be considering “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium” in this category.

Edward M. Lerner appears to be casually acquainted with Brad Torgenson and gave his assent to a recommendation. However, he does not seem to have known what he was getting into, he had nothing to do with Rabid Puppies, and, once again, he does not seem actively repugnant. “Championship B’tok” should, in my view, also be considered.

“The Day the World Turned Upside Down” was not on either slate.

I haven’t quite worked out where Michael F. Flynn stands, except that he seems to view the whole brouhaha as a conflict between a ‘settled’ SF community and outside underdogs who have just realized they can buy memberships and vote, and his sympathies are somewhat with the underdogs rather than those who want to condemn Puppy-nominated works sight unseen. Again, however, he hasn’t set off any alarm bells for me. From reading his blog, I doubt I’ll enjoy his work much, frankly, but I’ll read “The Journeyman: In the Stone House” nonetheless.

I’m not sure where Rajnar Vajra stands on any of this. I will note that he’s one of the diverse writers the S/RP crowd are using to counter claims that they were interested in nominating only white, straight, heterosexual men. Nevertheless, I will be considering “The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale”. I quite like golden age SF, actually.

Best Short Story

“On A Spiritual Plain”, Lou Antonelli (Sci Phi Journal #2, 11-2014)
“The Parliament of Beasts and Birds”, John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House)
“A Single Samurai”, Steven Diamond (The Baen Big Book of Monsters, Baen Books)
“Totaled”, Kary English (Galaxy’s Edge Magazine, 07-2014)
“Turncoat”, Steve Rzasa (Riding the Red Horse, Castalia House)

All nominees in this category were on one or both slates. “Turncoat” and “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds” were both published by Castalia House. “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds” was written by John C. Wright, who is a proud and outspoken bigot and has attacked (among others) Marvel for introducing Kamala Khan, the new, Muslim Ms. Marvel, and the creators of The Legend of Korra for making a same-sex relationship canon within the series.

Lou Antonelli has defended the slate, describing himself as proud to be on it, and stating that he doesn’t see any problem with it. He has also characterized critics of S/RP as hateful, scolds, Nazis, and claimed that the S/RP crowd has only been vicious in its own defense. He has described the slates and their supporters as a peasant revolt against an SF elite. Prior to the official release of the nominees, he appears to have plugged only his own work (as is fair), but did mention that he was part of the Sad Puppies slate in at least one context. Frankly he’s raising a lot of red flags for me. That said, he has also criticized those elements of the Puppy crowd who want to destroy the Hugos, and his story “On a Spiritual Plain” has been praised by people outside the Puppy community. So I’m still deeply ambivalent on the man himself, and disagree with him on many of the arguments he’s made, but I personally am going to read his story and give it due consideration.

I cannot find any indication that Steve Diamond campaigned for either slate. He seems like an okay guy. I’ll be reading “A Single Samurai” with pleasure.

Kary English agreed to be part of the Sad Puppies slate. Prior to the official release of the Hugo nominees, she did connect Sad Puppies to her discussion of her own nominated work. I disagree strongly with her characterization of the genesis and intent of the slate and with her continued defense of it. However: she seems like the sort of person I would like very much (even if we might disagree on certain points). She does not appear to be a virulent bigot. Her work seems interesting. So I will be reading “Totaled” and giving it my full consideration.

Best Related Work

“The Hot Equations: Thermodynamics and Military SF”, Ken Burnside (Riding the Red Horse, Castalia House)
Letters from Gardner, Lou Antonelli (The Merry Blacksmith Press)
Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truth, John C. Wright (Castalia House)
“Why Science is Never Settled”, Tedd Roberts (Baen.com)
Wisdom from My Internet, Michael Z. Williamson (Patriarchy Press)

All nominees on this category were on one or both slates. “The Hot Equations” and Transhuman and Subhuman were both published by Castalia House, and there’s our friend John C. Wright again. Hi there, John.

I’ve discussed Lou Antonelli above. He’s an S/RP defender but doesn’t seem as virulently awful as some others (though I disagree with much of what he’s said, and strongly disagree with his characterization of a woman who kicked him off her blog as a Nazi).

Tedd Roberts has defended the slate and attacked its critics (to be fair, he seems angriest at the most outspoken and strident people, the ones calling for categorical rejection for all nominees on the slate). Once again, though, he doesn’t seem awful. He seems angry, and justifiably in my view, that people would reject him for his association with controversy, that they would immediately judge and dismiss him out of hand without even reading his work. Fair enough. “Why Science is Never Settled” is on my reading list.

Michael Z. Williamson seems entirely irreverent and snarky toward just about everyone. I suspect I’d find prolonged contact with him infuriating. I don’t think I’ll like his book very much. But he’s not awful enough for me to strike him from consideration, and he doesn’t seem to have actively campaigned for Sad Puppies – as he tells it, Brad Torgenson asked if he wanted publicity, Williamson said yes, and then he promptly forgot about the whole thing. So I will give Wisdom from My Internet a chance.

Best Graphic Story

Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal, written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt, (Marvel Comics)
Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery, written by Kurtis J. Weibe, art by Roc Upchurch (Image Comics)
Saga Volume 3, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics))
Sex Criminals Volume 1: One Weird Trick, written by Matt Fraction, art by Chip Zdarsky (Image Comics)
The Zombie Nation Book #2: Reduce Reuse Reanimate, Carter Reid (The Zombie Nation)

In this category, only The Zombie Nation Book #2 was on either slate. As far as I can tell, Carter Reid was not involved in campaigning and is not an awful person. I’m not going to endorse him over the other nominees, but don’t feel he should automatically be eliminated from consideration.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, concept and story by Ed Brubaker, directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (Marvel Entertainment, Perception, Sony Pictures Imageworks)
Edge of Tomorrow, screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth, directed by Doug Liman (Village Roadshow, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, 3 Arts Entertainment; Viz Productions)
Guardians of the Galaxy, written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, directed by James Gunn (Marvel Studios, Moving Picture Company)
Interstellar, screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, directed by Christopher Nolan (Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, Legendary Pictures, Lynda Obst Productions, Syncopy)
The Lego Movie, written by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, story by Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller (Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, LEGO System A/S, Vertigo Entertainment, Lin Pictures, Warner Bros. Animation (as Warner Animation Group))

Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Edge of Tomorrow were not on either slate. I’m actually a bit surprised about Captain America, but maybe it’s more subversive than I realized.

The rest…look. Films involve a lot of people. Actors, directors, producers, writers…Brad Torgenson, at least, claims he contacted everyone on his slate and included those who gave him an affirmative response. I don’t know whether or not that’s true (there has been at least one nominee who refutes the story, but Torgenson claims that was an oversight), but I find it difficult to believe that he managed to reach out to everyone involved. And a lot of these movies were very, very good. The Lego Movie was better than it had any right to be. Interstellar wasn’t my favorite film, but it was very well made. Guardians of the Galaxy was tremendous fun. I haven’t seen Edge of Tomorrow yet, but I will. And I’ve heard surprisingly good things.

So I’m not striking any of them. They’re worthy nominees. All of them.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

Doctor Who: “Listen”, written by Steven Moffat, directed by Douglas Mackinnon (BBC Television)
The Flash: “Pilot”, teleplay by Andrew Kreisberg & Geoff Johns, story by Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg & Geoff Johns, directed by David Nutter (The CW) (Berlanti Productions, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Television)
Game of Thrones: “The Mountain and the Viper”, written by David Benioff & D. B. Weiss, directed by Alex Graves ((HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)
Grimm: “Once We Were Gods”, written by Alan DiFiore, directed by Steven DePaul (NBC) (GK Productions, Hazy Mills Productions, Universal TV)
Orphan Black: “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried”, written by Graham Manson, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions, Space/BBC America)

“Listen” and “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried” were not on either slate. I’m actually a bit surprised about Doctor Who, but I guess it’s gotten a bit too socially degenerate for the Puppies. Lesbian lizard women and all.

Again, I find it difficult to believe that everyone involved in these productions gave their permission to appear on the slate. At most, maybe the director or a publicist was contacted. And again, a lot of these episodes were quite good. (I don’t watch Grimm. I suppose I’ll be watching one episode, anyway.) So I’m not striking any of them out without giving them a shot.

Best Editor, Short Form

Jennifer Brozek
Vox Day
Mike Resnick
Edmund R. Schubert (Withdrawn; has asked voters not to consider him)
Bryan Thomas Schmidt

All of the nominees were on one or both slates. Theodore “Vox Day” Beale is the man behind Rabid Puppies.

Jennifer Brozek did not campaign for either slate. She seems like a cool lady who does a lot of great work. I will happily consider her.

Mike Resnick, as far as I can tell, only plugged his own work, as you can expect authors and editors to do. I have my issues with him, but do not feel strongly enough to strike him from my consideration.

Edmund R. Schubert withdrew after the ballot closed. He has asked that people refrain from voting for him. I will honor that request.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt seems…all right. He has stated that he was unaware of his presence on the Rabid Puppies slate and would have demanded his removal if he had known. He was aware of his presence on the Sad Puppies slate, but does not seem to be wrapped up in the politics of it. Bit of an asshole and perhaps unprofessional, at least according to Jim C. Hines (who, to be fair, has butted heads with him), but if I refused to have a thing to do with common assholes I’d never get anything done. So, again, I’m going to consider him in this category.

Best Editor, Long Form

Vox Day
Sheila Gilbert
Jim Minz
Anne Sowards
Toni Weisskopf

All of the nominees were on one or both slates. Theodore “Vox Day” Beale is the man behind Rabid Puppies.

Sheila Gilbert has been highly praised by authors I like rather a lot. She has worked hard at DAW and doesn’t seem like a bad person in the slightest. I can’t find her own take on the S/RP brouhaha but I feel she is worthy of consideration.

Jim Minz has edited a wide range of authors and also done fine work.

Anne Sowards edits Jim Butcher and Kat Richardson, among other people. That makes her pretty okay in my book.

Toni Weisskopf has been a consistent Sad Puppy nominee but, again, a fine editor and Jim Baen’s heir over at Baen Books. I’m not going to dismiss her either.

Best Professional Artist

Julie Dillon
Kirk DouPonce
Nick Greenwood
Alan Pollack
Carter Reid

Julie Dillon was not on either slate.

I can’t find a thing about the other artists’ views on S/RP or, really, anything else. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Best Semiprozine

Abyss & Apex, Wendy Delmater, editor and publisher
Andromeda Spaceways In-Flight Magazine, Andromeda Spaceways Publishing Association Incorporated, 2014, editors David Kernot and Sue Bursztynski
Beneath Ceaseless Skies, edited by Scott H. Andrews
Lightspeed Magazine, edited by John Joseph Adams, Stefan Rudnicki, Rich Horton, Wendy N. Wagner, and Christie Yant
Strange Horizons, Niall Harrison, editor-in-chief

Beneath Ceaseless SkiesLightspeed Magazine, and Strange Horizons were not on either slate.

I can’t find a thing about the views of the Abyss & Apex staff in general or Wendy Delmater in particular on the S/RP kerfluffle, so once again, I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt.

The people behind Andromeda Spaceways In-Flight Magazine have stated that they were unaware of their presence on the slate until the last moment, and would have asked to be removed if they had known. Therefore, I am happily including them in my consideration this year.

Best Fanzine

Black Gate, edited by John O’Neill (Withdrawn; has asked voters not to consider the magazine)
Elitist Book Reviews, edited by Steven Diamond
Journey Planet, edited by James Bacon, Christopher J Garcia, Colin Harris, Alissa McKersie, and Helen J. Montgomery
The Revenge of Hump Day, edited by Tim Bolgeo
Tangent SF Online, edited by Dave Truesdale

John O’Neill withdrew Black Gate after the Hugo ballot closed. He has asked voters not to consider him. I will honor his request.

I’ve already addressed Steve Diamond above. In short, I don’t think I’ll end up caring for him, but I’m going to give Elitist Book Reviews my consideration.

Journey Planet was not on either slate.

Tim Bolgeo has been at the center of at least one convention controversy when he was invited and then disinvited as Fan Guest of Honor at Archon. The Revenge of Hump Day is reportedly full of racist, sexist and generally offensive humor. I’ll take a look at it but I don’t expect I’ll like it one bit. I haven’t been able to find anything from the man himself on this or other matters.

Dave Truesdale seems quite clueless, frankly. He circulated a petition against ‘censorship based on political correctness’ in the SFWA Bulletin last year, following its suspension in the wake of a controversy over some problematic language and a problematic cover. He claims that he’s never seen an incident of sexism or racism in the SF community. But he doesn’t seem to be terribly malicious, and he’s well respected. Tangent seems decent. Truesdale described himself as flattered that Tangent was on the slate, but doesn’t seem to have campaigned for the slate at large. So I’m giving it a shot.

Best Fancast

Adventures in SciFi Publishing, Brent Bower (Executive Producer), Kristi Charish, Timothy C. Ward & Moses Siregar III (Co-Hosts, Interviewers and Producers)
Dungeon Crawlers Radio, Daniel Swenson (Producer/Host), Travis Alexander & Scott Tomlin (Hosts), Dale Newton (Host/Tech), Damien Swenson (Audio/Video Tech)
Galactic Suburbia Podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Presenters) and Andrew Finch (Producer)
The Sci Phi Show, Jason Rennie
Tea and Jeopardy, Emma Newman and Peter Newman

Galactic Suburbia Podcast and Tea and Jeopardy were not on either slate.

Adventures in SciFi Publishing was knowingly included in the slate and had Brad Torgenson and Larry Correia on the podcast to discuss Sad Puppies prior to the release of the Hugo nominees. That said, they seem to have done their best to prevent all sides of this and many other issues in the SF community. I’m going to give this podcast all due consideration.

Dungeon Crawlers Radio was included on both the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies slate, but I haven’t found anything regarding their views on the matter. Plus their podcast seems pretty cool. I’ll be listening to a sample.

Can’t find a thing on Jason Rennie’s views regarding The Sci Phi Show‘s inclusion, either. I will note that he put the podcast on hiatus earlier this year. He has promised to return, but hasn’t yet. Frankly, this makes me less likely to vote for it. but I’ll try an episode or two.

Best Fan Writer

Dave Freer
Amanda S. Green
Jeffro Johnson
Laura J. Mixon
Cedar Sanderson

Dave Freer called for people to put pressure on Tor and its parent company to discipline or otherwise ‘address’ Irene Gallo for her (admittedly inflammatory) personal comments against the S/RP slate. He also called for a boycott of any Tor author who was not either a Sad Puppy or speaking out against Tor’s inaction if they did not respond. This is the tip of the sword. I’ve been reading through his posts on the subject and find his strident defense of S/RP and his refusal to see the slates’ problems absolutely repugnant. So I’m refusing to consider him. I do not believe he has conducted himself well and I have little interest in handing him any accolades.

Incidentally, Freer is also part of the Mad Genius Club blog collective, which also includes Brad Torgenson, and the next nominee on the list, Amanda S. Green. Who wrote her own open letter to Tor, criticized them for keeping John Scalzi (a ‘straw man’) in their stable apparently based not on the artistic merit of his work but on his personal views, said much the same about N.K. Jemisin, and also called for a boycott. I also find her conduct repugnant and her association with Sad Puppy Central suspect. I will not be considering her for an award.

Jeffro Johnson writes for Castalia House and has been pretty goddamned outspoken against critics of the S/RP slates. He does not appear to have called for boycotts, however, which is a point in his favor. His obsession with File770 and his critics there puts me off, but I’m going to read his material in the voting packet and try to judge it on its merits. I will, however, note that he is just barely on the ‘will consider’ side of the line for me, as Freer and Green are just barely on the other side.

Laura J. Mixon was not on either slate.

Cedar Sanderson is associated with the Mad Genius Club, endorsed the Sad Puppies slate (even as she qualified her statement by urging voters to vote for the BEST works and use the slate as a guideline), and chose to highlight some posts by other writers seemingly calculated to piss off the left wing elements of fandom while endorsing the slate at large. I don’t really care for any of this.

Best Fan Artist

Ninni Aalto
Brad W. Foster
Elizabeth Leggett
Spring Schoenhuth
Steve Stiles

This category was not included in either slate.

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (not a Hugo but administered alongside the Hugos)

Wesley Chu
Jason Cordova
Kary English
Rolf Nelson
Eric S. Raymond

Wesley Chu was not on either slate.

Jason Cordova is affiliated with the Mad Genius Club, helped campaign for the Sad Puppy slate, and has been laying on some serious denial about what the slate actually entails. Some of his anger is justifiable. But I just can’t get past his involvement with core elements of the Sad Puppy effort. So I’m not going to consider him.

I already addressed Kary English above, but in short, I do not find her ties to S/RP deep enough or her personal views repugnant enough to strike her from consideration.

Rolf Nelson is a Castalia House author who participated in the call to boycott Tor. Frankly, I consider his nomination to be a direct result of Vox Day’s self-interest and tendency toward self-promotion. I am not going to consider his work.

I have not been able to find anything on Eric S. Raymond’s views regarding Sad/Rabid Puppies. While I do not find his libertarian politics repugnant (though I would certainly disagree), he, too, is a Castalia House author. I’m just not giving Vox Day the satisfaction.

*****

So that’s this year. What comes next?

Well, like I said: I’m going to buy a membership to every Worldcon moving forward, as long as I’m able, as early as I can, so I can participate in the nomination process. I’m going to recommend works and creators that I consider worthy of an award, for whatever good that will do. I’m going to share the recommendations of others. I’m not interested in slate voting. I’m not interested in agenda voting. I’m just interested in good SF. And I’m interested in not rewarding people who grab at political zeitgeists for their own gain, or who want me or mine to suffer.

Look, I agree with some elements of the Sad Puppy crowd on one thing: SF needs to be about optimism again. It needs to be about a brighter future, a better future. Our world sucks. We are murdering it. It may be too late to save it. But science fiction has inspired so much already. Isaac Asimov put it best:

Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers of today – but the core of science fiction, its essence, has become crucial to our salvation, if we are to be saved at all.

I love dystopian fiction as much as anyone. But I’m tired of washed-out grays and browns. I’m tired of oppression and depression. I’m tired of antiheroes and moral ambiguity and shellshock. I want to dream. I want to blast off. I want to soar into an infinite universe full of possibility. And I want the next generation, and every generation after, to dream just as freely.

It’s just that I reject any future that clings to racist, patriarchal standards, and I reject anyone who wants such a future. The world only spins forward. And it should only spin forward.

Writing Wednesdays: Orphans

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about orphans lately.

I don’t mean that in the literal sense. Though, come to think of it, there’s probably a lot to be said about orphans, and I’m writing my share – Maddie from Fall is an orphan, after all; so, too, is Willow, the protagonist of my back-burnered children’s book, Ten Witch Grave. There are a lot of orphans in literature, from Oliver Twist to Harry Potter. We seem to be drawn to them as characters. There’s probably a whole other blog post there. File it under Posts I’m Not Writing for now.

But that gives me a great segue into what I’m actually writing about: J.K. Rowling (as revealed on Pottermore) calls them orphans. My writing group calls them Stories You’re Not Writing (or Poems You’re Not Writing, or Plays You’re Not Writing, or…you get the idea). They are, simply put, the Very Good Ideas (and occasionally the horrifically bad ideas) that, sadly, have no place in whatever you’re actually creating. Because let’s face it: we all have good ideas. Even great ideas. Except, of course, when we don’t – but, for the most part, ideas are everywhere. They can be found in abundance. And the surfeit of ideas can be more of a problem than the absence of ideas.

In previous posts, I’ve used the machine analogy: your novel (or story, or even poem, in some cases) isn’t a simple thing. It’s a machine filled with many moving parts. You have to choose those parts well, and assemble them with the utmost care. As a rule, you can’t afford to waste your time and effort on useless frippery – or, worse, design and build mechanisms that actually interfere with the functioning of the whole device. You may also have heard of the concept of bandwidth. It’s mostly a computing term, referring to the amount of data you can transmit over a given connection at a given time. But human beings have bandwidth, too. Projects have bandwidth. You can only process so much information; you can only fit so much into a given work.

So this is something that anyone working on a creative project has to deal with. You have ideas. Many of them are Very Good Ideas. But even the best ideas may have to be ignored, or cut, or shouted down until they slink away, tail between their legs. You only have so much bandwidth. You only have so much time. And so, sometimes reluctantly, sometimes painfully, you force those Very Good Ideas out of your story. You create orphans. And those elements of your story will never see the light of day, except perhaps in author’s notes, or interviews, or blog posts like this one.

When I think of Fall‘s orphans, I think first of the two bits of Irish folklore that first inspired me. One of them is an old story (with a few different variations) that I’m not going to talk about just yet, as it may lead people to guess the outcome of the novel, and I’d hate to spoil it for anyone before I’ve finished writing it. The other, as I mentioned before, was a charm against the Good Folk that I have been unable to find again – but it went vaguely like this:

Today is Monday, tomorrow is Tuesday, the day after Wednesday. You folk who live in that hill over there, stay over there and don’t bother me.

I’m sure it was much more poetic in its original form (for that matter, it’s probably much more poetic in Irish Gaelic), but as I said, I can’t recall the exact wording and haven’t been able to find the charm again since I first heard it in a folklore class many years ago. But I was struck by the idea of wielding the natural order of things as a weapon against the Good Folk, of using logic and reason and nature against the illogical, the insane, the supernatural. It is not, perhaps, an entirely original concept – see the animated film version of The Flight of Dragons, or certain interpretations of Changeling: The Dreaming – but I found it fascinating nonetheless.

As I think on it now, there is, perhaps, still something of that dichotomy in Fall as it currently stands. Certainly the Fair don’t play by our rules, and their magic is not readily explained or explored through the scientific method. (Sidebar: Isaac Asimov wrote a terrific essay on magic, science, and Clarke’s Third Law in which he argued that, in fact, magic by definition is not bound by rules, where science is – appropriately enough, it’s in his fantasy collection Magic. I did not agree with the essay when I first read it. I’ve come around on the subject.) But they’re not creatures of madness and irrationality anymore. They would generally agree that today is Monday, tomorrow is Tuesday, the day after Wednesday. They would, in fact, point out that today is Wednesday and you’ve actually got it all wrong. The light of reason would not drive them out. It’s a wonderful idea. But there’s no place for it in the story I’m writing.

Actually, a lot of folklore has fallen by the wayside as I’ve streamlined the society of the Fair. As I was researching the book, I drove myself a bit crazy trying to catalog and codify all the fairies in European folklore, chasing down stories of shapeshifting witches and wise druids and talking cats and river monsters. This, too, I’ve discussed before. For a while there, it was enough to make me want to tear my hair out. Finally, for the sake of my sanity, I decided on two rules:

  1. I would only draw fairies from the folklore of Ireland, England, Wales, Scotland, and the surrounding islands, with a particular focus on Ireland.
  2. I would only allow a particular species to join the ranks of the Fair if it filled a specific niche that no other species quite occupied.

With those rules in mind, I sketched out the following list in my notebook. This is taken verbatim.

  • The bòcans became true shapeshifters.
  • The coblynau retreated beneath the earth.
  • The daoine sidhe came to resemble humans.
  • The dullahans became night terrors.
  • The leannáin sidhe adapted to feed on human blood.
  • The murúcha retreated beneath the waves.
  • The spriggans became more like humans, but kept their strength and power to grow.
  • The fir liath became creatures of air.
  • The ferrishyn became diminutive sprites and formed bonds with dogs.
  • The leanaí na gcrann became creatures of the forests.
  • The sluagh na marbh survived by recruiting/preserving the dead. (also consuming?)

Obviously I’ve expanded on that since, and some of it has changed since I sketched out that basic list. But there’s the skeleton: twelve species, each with their own niches, their own parts to play. And it fits the basic ideas of my story well. The Fair are not their ancestors, the legendary Tuatha de Dannan. They can’t change their form on a whim (with the possible exception of the bòcans, but even they have their limits), they can’t move mountains with a whispered word. They are changed. Codified. Diminished.

I had to bid goodbye to so much in the process: trolls and kelpies and knockers, nixies and nucklavees. There are a lot of orphaned fairies out there, and I wouldn’t want to run into any of them on a dark and lonely night. But Fall is stronger for it. The world is more coherent, more defined. The machine is not yet running perfectly, but it’s running well.

Don’t be afraid to make orphans. If something isn’t working, cut it out. Be ruthless. Cut and rearrange and cut some more until it fits – even if you’re losing Very Good Ideas in the process. There will be other stories. Or there will be notes, or interviews, or anecdotes to be told with a small, rueful smile. You don’t have to cram everything and the kitchen sink into this story.

Writing Wednesdays: The Evolution of Fall, Chapter One

Earlier this week, I posted the first chapter of Fall. If you haven’t read it yet, I urge you to go and do so before you continue – this week’s Writing Wednesdays post is all about the evolution of that chapter, so it’s not likely to make much sense to you otherwise.

At this point, Chapter One has been through approximately four and a half drafts. The half-draft is my original handwritten version, which I never managed to finish. At the time, I actually wasn’t entirely sure where the story was going, so I didn’t really know how the chapter should end. Sadly (or perhaps fortunately), that draft was written before I moved last year, and the notebook containing it is still buried in the bottom of a box which is buried beneath a pile of boxes deep in the wilds of the junk room. So I don’t remember a lot of specific details. I do recall that I was still using the characters’ original names at that point, so Kira was Aisling, and Bree was Siobhan, among other things. I also recall that the story did not start with Bree’s dream. In fact, I hadn’t yet hit on the idea of giving her strange, prophetic dreams at all. That only emerged as Bree’s story expanded beyond her romance with Maddie, and I decided…

Well. That would be telling. In the words of River Song, spoilers.

Anyway, that early draft actually begins with Bree/Siobhan already on campus, heading to class with her sister. Kira/Aisling doesn’t have much of a part in that draft at all – Siobhan complains a bit about how perfect (and evil) her sister is, but Aisling runs off pretty quickly, and then Siobhan literally bumps into Maddie, who reacts to her meeting with one of the daoine sidhe with rather more fear and distaste. I had the basic idea of who Maddie was in my head, but I hadn’t yet thought through what that meant.

Really, the point of that very first draft was to get myself to start writing this story. In that, it succeeded. But I hadn’t done a lot of the groundwork, and it shows. In fact, as I recall, I hadn’t yet explored the world of the Fair in full, so at that point in time, I was just writing about the daoine sidhe. I’m not even sure I’d brought Professor Gahan and his family into it yet.

You may be wondering why that initial draft was handwritten. That’s a habit of mine that I haven’t yet fully broken. I got my first laptop at eighteen. Before that, I was primarily using the family computer. Since I was, as you might guess, sharing that computer with my family, I only had a couple hours on it each day, and I didn’t want to waste that time pondering. So I’d write out my initial drafts on hand, then type them up when I got my turn on the computer and start making corrections and revisions from there. If I ended up throwing out the whole draft, I’d write the second one longhand as well, to save precious computer time. I still tend to do this on some projects – particularly when I’m running a tabletop RPG – even though I’ve had one laptop or another available to me for most of the past decade. Further, at the time I had an extremely long commute which involved a very lengthy bus ride, and I was nervous about bringing my laptop along. It seems silly to confess that now, as I am literally writing this during my 30-40 minute commute on the Red Line, but there you are.

I do have access to my first complete draft of Chapter One, though I had to go digging through my writing group’s archives to find it. Strangely, it seems I didn’t save a local copy. Actually, looking at it now, it doesn’t seem so strange – I’ve found myself wincing at several points. But I tend to hoard old files, sometimes to my detriment, so it’s still a little surprising that I didn’t keep this one.

With the first draft, the general shape of the chapter begins to emerge. All the characters have their proper names: Bree is Bree, Kira is Kira. Looking back, I see that I’d even settled on Deirdre as their mother’s name. There was a time when I was going with Gwynn, which ultimately became the name of Deirdre’s late mother. (You haven’t heard the story of Deirdre and Gwynn yet. You will.) That said, a lot of the details differ. Most notably, I hadn’t yet figured out Kira’s characterization. In the first complete draft, she was even more bratty and obnoxious than she is now. In fact, she initially woke Bree by dumping a bucket of ice water over her head. When I put this draft before my writing group, many of them pointed out that Kira seemed awfully immature for someone who was over a century old, and her relationship with Bree was not what they would expect from someone who was already grown when her little sister was born. In the course of that discussion, someone mentioned the idea of Kira seeing herself as a sort of surrogate mother to Bree, and I latched on to that. Kira still has moments of immaturity, but it’s all artifice. We see a little of her deeper nature in Chapter One, and we’ll see more as the story continues. Kira has motivations that go far beyond simple malice.

I was also describing Kira very differently – in fact, I was describing all the daoine sidhe of the Winter Court differently. In the first draft, they tended to be short and slight, and Bree, who stood at least a head above most of them, stuck out like a sore thumb. I ultimately decided to make them all a bit more like supermodels, and that meant upping their height significantly. They’re still slender and pale and coldly beautiful, and Bree, with her healthy farm girl glow, still sticks out like a sore thumb, but the differences are there nonetheless.

Speaking of the Winter Court, Bree’s first day of college was originally much colder – cold enough to make her put a nice thick sweater over her shirt and under her jacket. Here’s the thing about early September in New England: as a rule, summer hasn’t left yet. It’s hot and muggy and actually really unpleasant. So my writing group didn’t really buy that even the Winter Queen’s ambient magic would make the first day of college that cold. In the end, I decided that there was no real point in keeping that detail if it broke the reader out of the story, so I toned down the temperature difference a bit. Crowshead still has an unusually cool climate for Massachusetts, but it’s no longer freezing while the rest of the state is still sweltering.

Crowshead wasn’t Crowshead, of course. I’ve talked about that before – it was originally Tara, which was taken as an allusion to Gone With The Wind rather than the reference to Irish history and mythology it was meant to be. In fact, the town wasn’t even in the same place in that first draft: I originally placed it in central Massachusetts, and Greymont College was actually Greyvale instead. When I was pondering new names for the town, I hit on Cape Clear, came up with some really fantastic visuals for the Winter Queen’s palace (which you’ll see for the first time in Chapter Two), and moved the whole thing to the coast. My writing group didn’t like Cape Clear, either, so I did some research into the history of my home state, looked at the names of some other coastal towns, and finally came up with Crowshead. The name Greyvale wasn’t really working for me at that point, so I changed it to Greymount, which ultimately became Greymont.

Last but far from least, the dream was much shorter, and there wasn’t a single detail in it to indicate Maddie’s possible presence. Someone still grabbed Bree at the end of her dance with the handsome boy from the dream, but I didn’t really describe that someone at all, and my writing group actually wasn’t sure it was meant to be a separate person at all! So I tried to make that clearer in later drafts. Hopefully I’ve succeeded.

So the second complete draft introduced Kira’s new personality, Maddie’s hand, the coastal town of Cape Clear, and Greymount College. One thing it didn’t introduce: Bree’s magic. The fourth draft is the first version of Chapter One in which she actually uses any magic at all. Bree doesn’t rely too heavily on her magic – certainly she doesn’t use it as freely as Kira does – but yes, she has power, she is willing and able to use it, and she uses more of it in Chapter Two. Originally, however, she didn’t use it at all until that chapter. And yet she still noticed fine details like Maddie’s hand and the bracelet around her wrist from a good twenty or thirty or forty feet away. This was something else my group called me on. I had originally thought that the daoine sidhe simply had better-than-human sight, but my fellow writers pointed out that it was very difficult to consistently and convincingly write a character with superhuman powers of perception, particularly if those powers were constantly active, and I ultimately decided that Bree would have to make a conscious effort to see so clearly across such a great distance.

The third complete draft really didn’t differ much from the second at all. At the time, I was actually submitting the first chapter of Fall (along with some other pieces) as a writing sample for a job that didn’t end up panning out, so the third draft was mostly cleanup. I changed Cape Clear to Crowshead, and I believe I made one or two other adjustments, but most of the major changes, such as they are, came with the fourth draft.

And that brings us to the present. Major changes in this draft: Greymount officially became Greymont, I added some more details to the dream, and I tweaked Bree’s conversation with Maddie as well as the scene between Bree, Maddie and Kira. I also, notably, changed Dougal’s name. It had been Doyle, but my friend Katie pointed out that Doyle was the name of a prominent character from the Merry Gentry series, and while I’ve read the first book and my Doyle isn’t really at all like Laurell K. Hamilton’s Doyle, I still didn’t want to invite comparison. Both Doyle and Dougal are derived from the old-form version of his name, which is Dubhghall, and in fact Dougal has turned up more often as the modern form in my (admittedly sketchy) research so far, so after a bit of hemming and hawing, I finally made the switch.

As I said previously, this may not be the final form of the chapter. I may still make some tweaks, cut down on some of Bree’s ramblings, and generally clean things up a bit. But I’m confident in the general shape of it, and more than ready to move on. Truth be told, if I hadn’t decided to post the first chapter on the blog, I probably wouldn’t have bothered with another draft at all – at least not until I had the whole novel sitting in front of me, ready to be knitted into a coherent whole. I have much bigger dragons to slay: namely the second chapter (where I’m introducing a character who walked into the story three chapters late and demanded a place in the narrative) and the third (which has seen two completely different drafts so far and still isn’t quite right) and, well, every chapter afterward. Still, it did help a bit to look back at where I’ve been and come up with a new working copy. If nothing else, it got my head back in the game.

Onward.

If you like what you’ve just read, or if you’d like to see more of Fall, please consider donating to my summer pledge drive. For every $250 I receive before April 30, 2012, I will post either another chapter of Fall or a short piece set in the same universe. I’ve already received a little over one hundred dollars, meaning we’re less than $150 away from the first benchmark. The same deal applies for every $500 I receive after the end of the month: a chapter from the book, or a short story exploring Bree’s world in more depth. If you can’t personally donate, you can still help by spreading the word about the blog and the novel. The more readers and potential donors I reach, the better. Either way, though, thanks for reading.

Writing Wednesdays: Write Now. RIGHT NOW!

As a rule, I don’t like to dish out advice that I haven’t followed. Now, it’s true that we all make mistakes, and we all learn from them, and sometimes that makes for fantastic advice…but if you keep making those mistakes, if you keep failing to take your own advice, that kind of makes you a hypocrite. So I’ll say this up front: when it comes to everything I’m about to say, yeah, I kind of feel like a hypocrite. I don’t think I’m particularly wrong about any of it, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve fallen short of my own standards here.

The secret to writing is this: you have to keep doing it.

You have to do it when you’re nursing a hangover from that party you went to the night before. You have to do it when the cat spent an ungodly hour yowling at your door, destroying the eight glorious hours of sleep you’d planned for yourself. You have to do it when you were at the office until an hour that doesn’t bear thinking about. You have to do it when the black cloud of depression is upon you. You have to do it when it’s a beautiful sunny day and you just want to spend it lying in the grass and you can’t take your laptop because the glare is just awful. You have to do it when you’re staring down writer’s block. It doesn’t matter what’s going on. If you want to actually make something of yourself as a writer, you have to stand up, put on your big girl pants, and then sit back down again and actually write.

If you wait for inspiration to strike, you will be waiting until wolves devour the sun and moon, King Arthur returns from Avalon, and the whole grand host of the sidhe comes riding down from Tir na nOg. Oh, I’m sure that some writers live in a land of milk and honey, where unicorns hand-deliver brilliant ideas on golden platters, outlines and settings and characters hand-written by their muses and sealed with big, wet, sloppy kisses. But the vast majority of us know that our muses are fickle, arbitrary jerks. That nothing comes without a price, and that price is the blood, sweat and tears we pour into turning that thin glimmer of inspiration into something full and vital and real. Writer’s block is not something that merely afflicts us, that comes for a season and drifts away on its own – it’s a dragon to be fought with everything we have, to be hacked at again and again until it thinks better of bothering us and goes back to its cave. And inspiration is not something that descends from on high: it is an elusive quarry, a stealthy beast that must be tracked and hunted and flushed out again and again.

So you have to carve out time to do the work. You have to take it wherever you can find it. And, once you’ve found that time, you have to set down your schedule and stick to it. Writing is work, and like any other work, it requires planning, and discipline, and routine. A lot of writers I know try to get an hour or two in every day. That’s a worthy goal. It’s a goal I’ve fallen short of more often than I care to admit, but it’s what I’m trying for. I do tend to get more work done on the weekends, but I try to get in at least an hour with Fall each day. In the last week, I’ve actually been taking my computer with me on the train – I have a solid forty-minute train ride between home and work each day, so even after I factor in booting up and shutting down, that’s thirty minutes coming and going, or an hour altogether. I don’t have Internet access on the train, and my iPod blasts my Fall-themed playlist straight into my ears the whole way, so distractions are minimized. I have to keep an eye on which station I’m actually pulling into, but I can manage that and still get a fair amount of writing done.

Even if you can’t actually put pen to paper – or fingers to keys – for some reason, you can still do the work. People were creating stories long before we had the luxury of computers, or typewriters, or ballpoint pens, or even movable type. If you really want to feel bad about yourself and all your excuses for not writing, take a look at the backstory behind The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a memoir composed entirely inside the author’s head and dictated to the outside world one letter at a time. I mean, I was in the hospital recently, as some of you may recall. I didn’t have it nearly that bad. I wasn’t nearly that dedicated to the work, either. Even so, I did spend my time in the hospital running through Fall in my head, and by the time I got out, I had a new character who filled in a lot of the gaps in the story. That playlist I mentioned? Well, on top of the 40-minute train ride, I have a 20-minute walk between the station and my house, and a 10-minute walk between the other station and my office. I keep the playlist running and I do my best to think about the book. Even when you’re not writing, you can be laying the foundation.

This isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon. You’re not going to bang out a novel in a single sitting. Neither am I. You have to keep chipping away at it. You have to build up your stamina, find a routine that works for you, and stick to it. If you’re not writing regularly, you’ll never be anything but a wannabe. I don’t want to be a wannabe. Do you?

If you like what you’ve just read, please consider donating to my summer pledge drive. If you can’t donate yourself, but you’d still like to help, please spread the word about the blog and about the pledge drive itself. The more readers and potential supporters I pick up, the better.

Fangirl Fridays: Katniss Everdeen, The Girl On Fire

Katniss Everdeen, as portrayed in the UK edition of The Hunger Games

Welcome to the third and final entry in Hunger Games Week on the blog. I’m sure you all saw this particular post coming – really, is it any surprise that my favorite female character is the trilogy‘s protagonist, Katniss Everdeen herself? After all the time we spend in her head, after everything we see her do, after everything she goes through, it’s hard not to feel a deep and abiding sympathy for her.

Of course, feeling sympathy for Katniss isn’t the same as liking her, and I know that a lot of people don’t – or, at least, they feel that she’s deeply flawed, particularly as the series goes on. To be honest, I agree: she is deeply flawed. She has a serious inferiority complex. She breaks down, here and there, under the pressure she faces, the weight that’s placed on her shoulders from the very beginning and only grows as time goes on. Her confused feelings for Gale and Peeta throw a seemingly inappropriate romantic subplot into the midst of a long, hard fight against an oppressive government and a desperate struggle to survive in a world gone to shit. Too often, she is caught up in the plans of others, in the great crashing waves of history, rather than acting on her own initiative and her own behalf.

And here’s what we’re all forgetting: Katniss Everdeen is a teenage girl.

She’s a teenage girl, for crying out loud! She’s allowed to be silly! She’s allowed to be distracted by boys! She’s allowed to fall short of the impossible goals that have been placed before her! For crying out loud: could you even survive all the crap she goes through? Because I know I couldn’t. I’ve folded in the face of a hell of a lot less. And yes, I’ve picked myself up again and yes, I’ve grown stronger, but I’m also something like a decade older than Katniss and I haven’t been through half the crap she has as of the start of the first book. So, yes, I forgive Katniss her flaws. I forgive her the occasional teenage girl moment. In point of fact, as with Rose Red, I love her not in spite of her flaws, but because of them.

Katniss Everdeen, as portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence: flawed, but not AS flawed.

In fact, if I have one complaint about Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of Katniss Everdeen, it’s this: the film version of Katniss doesn’t seem to have those moments. She’s almost too strong, too capable, too aloof, too stoic. We see her suffer, of course – physically, mentally, emotionally. We see her falter and fail. But where is the girl who forgot herself on stage with Caesar Flickerman, twirling and giggling in her dress and forgetting, just for a moment (and a moment she clearly regretted later), that she had been sent far from home to suffer and die to sate the Capitol’s bloodlust – that every last one of them had? Of course, not all of this can be placed on Lawrence’s shoulders: as I said on Monday, the movie doesn’t put us in Katniss’s head. We don’t hear her thoughts. We don’t see the doubts and insecurities she works so hard to keep hidden from view. And so Lawrence’s portrayal seems to fall short. I still think she embodies Katniss in many ways – but, if anything, she comes off as perhaps too strong. (It is, of course, not fair to blame Lawrence for the lack of giddiness in Katniss’s interview with Caesar Flickerman, either – the scene was clearly just not written to accommodate giddiness or gaiety. The writers and director chose to go in another direction. It’s not a bad direction, but I do feel something is lost.)

But I already reviewed the movie, so let’s get back to Katniss herself, particularly as she’s portrayed in the trilogy as a whole. You know, as I look back on my experience with the books, I can’t help but compare Katniss to other figures central to wars and revolutions and crises throughout history. George Washington springs to mind, of course. Thomas Jefferson, too. Abraham Lincoln. The Roman hero Cincinnatus. One might even draw certain parallels with Joan of Arc. We lionize these people. We make them larger than life. We tell grand, sweeping, epic stories about their deeds. But, in the end, they were simply people. They, too, had deep flaws. In some cases, a close historical reading reveals those flaws; in others, they are lost to time. But all of them, I promise you, were human.

The world will be watching. The world will always be watching.

Katniss Everdeen is much the same way. The generations that follow the revolution in Panem will undoubtedly lionize her, at least to some degree. Certainly they will paint her as a larger than life figure. The finer details of her life, of everything she experienced, of everything she suffered, will be washed away by the relentless tides of history. But we aren’t reading the future history of Panem. We aren’t reading a biography of Katniss Everdeen, the Girl On Fire, the Mockingjay, the fearless leader of the revolution. We aren’t even reading Katniss’s own memoirs – not really. We’re following her present. We’re living her life, moment by moment, as she faces impossible odds, suffers terrible losses, grapples with her own feelings and her own doubts. And that perspective is amazing. That perspective is precious. That is a perspective we so rarely see in actual history. Can you imagine what any historian would give to crack open Abraham Lincoln’s brain and see what he was actually thinking at any given time? Or Washington’s? Or good old Joan’s? In many cases, of course, we have memoirs, we have letters, we have records of conversations…but it’s not the same as actually getting into someone’s head, is it? Even the most impromptu conversation is full of spur-of-the-moment editing and self-censorship. Katniss doesn’t get to edit her thoughts and feelings…and, yes, she comes off just a little worse for it.

One of the film’s taglines is this: The world will be watching. It really will. In truth, Katniss is paraded before two worlds: her world of Panem, and our world that could one day change into something very much like it. To many of the readers of our world, she falls short. To the people of Panem, who cannot see her innermost thoughts, she is a hero, a symbol, something more than a mere girl – or, depending on their particular perspectives, a complete and utter enigma, particularly in light of her actions at the end of the war. Sitting outside of Katniss’s world, we privileged readers see into the very core of her experience. We know better. We know that she’s just a teenage girl.

Too often, we forget that bravery isn’t the absence of fear and doubt – it’s the ability to overcome it, or at least to live with it while you do what must be done. And heroism? We don’t get to define that for ourselves. Others will decide whether or not we’re heroic, and those of us who end up with that label may very well feel unworthy of it. We may be unworthy of it. But, in the end, we don’t get to make that call. Neither does Katniss. The Hunger Games and its sequels show us a heroine from her own perspective. In that, the books succeed brilliantly, and I can only hope that the movies ultimately do so as well. Because I don’t love Katniss Everdeen because she’s a hero – I love her because she’s a human being who does the best she can with what she’s handed, who tries to do whatever good she can in the time that she’s been given. She doesn’t always succeed. But she tries. And that’s what counts. That’s what ultimately leads her to play a central part in the creation of a new future for all of Panem.

So try not to be too harsh on poor Katniss, alright? She did her best. That’s all any of us can do.

May the odds be ever in your favor.

Writing Wednesdays: Complicity, Responsibility, and Rue

Welcome back to Hunger Games Week on the blog. I’ll be honest: I really wasn’t expecting to tie my Writing Wednesdays post into the movie or the book. I’ve already talked about the influence The Hunger Games and its sequels had on Fall – namely, the realization that the present tense could make for perfectly valid and even compelling narrative, and I didn’t need to feel awkward about using it. So when it came time to figure out what else I could say about The Hunger Games and the writing process, I drew a blank.

And then the Internet happened.

As I said previously, I went to see the movie last Saturday, and while I had some reservations, I freaking loved it. Amandla Stenberg, who plays Rue, was a pretty big part of that. I noted in my review that Rue’s story in the book, while sad and compelling, didn’t actually make me cry (I think I did get a bit sniffly, but my full-out sobbing moment came two books later, in Mockingjay). The film was a different story: when the climactic moment came, I broke down completely. During the scenes that followed, I lost it. And I do think it was in large part because Amandla Stenberg so perfectly embodied Rue. She gave a face and a voice to the character. A person I had only seen in the abstract, in the depths of my imagination, became real. If I could give her a standing ovation right the hell now, I would. You know what, let’s call this a virtual standing ovation. Brava. Seriously, fantastic job.

This little girl didn't tug at your heartstrings? Really? REALLY?

Imagine my shock, outrage and sadness when I discovered that countless assholes on the Internet were tweeting and blogging about their anger over Rue’s casting. Colorlines has a great article about this. You can also read about it on Feministing. Or on Alyssa’s blog at ThinkProgress. Or you can just check out the Hunger Games Tweets Tumblr. But to sum up: people were awful about this. There were people on Twitter who said Amandla Stenberg’s role as Rue ruined the movie for them. Others said that they were no longer saddened by Rue’s story – or they were no longer as saddened – when they saw her as black. Still others flat-out denied that Rue was black at all.

All things considered, it put me in mind of the ridiculous, overblown ‘controversy’ over the casting of Idris Elba as the Norse god Heimdall in Thor…except, in this case, the outrage is even more outrageous because yes, for God’s sake, Rue is black! At the very least, she’s clearly a person of color. The Hunger Games, page 98, where Rue is first described:

I […] see the little girl from District 11 standing back a bit, watching us. She’s the twelve-year-old, the one who reminded me so of Prim in stature. Up close she looks about ten. She has bright, dark eyes and satiny brown skin and stands tilted up on her toes with her arms slightly extended to her sides, as if ready to take wing at the slightest sound.

Emphasis mine, naturally. So these jerks are not only openly racist – they completely fail at reading comprehension. But you know what, let’s leave aside the fact that yes, Rue is a person of color. Even if her race wasn’t described in the book – even if she was explicitly described as white – the casting of Amandla Stenberg would be perfectly valid and, in fact, praiseworthy.

We live in a country where Trayvon Martin was murdered in cold blood and his murderer may not even be arrested, let alone prosecuted. We live in a country where Shaima Alawadi was beaten to death in her own home, her body discovered by her 17-year-old daughter along with a note telling the family to go back to Iraq, and the authorities think it might be a hate crime. I love my country. I do. I believe in the promise of the United States of America. But we have a problem with race. The whole Western world has a problem with race.

And that problem becomes especially egregious when we consider Hollywood and all its works. It is damned hard to be a person of color in Hollywood. When the film and television industry deigns to cast people of color at all, they are all too frequently delivery people, waiters, terrorists, criminals, token sidekicks…rarely, if ever, leading men and women. Rarely, if ever, characters with really meaty, vitally important roles (unless, again, they’re terrorists or criminals). And you know what? Popular culture influences culture, full stop. When we’re constantly told that people who look like THIS are criminals, people who look like THAT are terrorists, and if they’re not, well, it’s perfectly okay to ignore them…that sinks in. That’s precisely what at least some of us start to believe. I want to believe that things are getting better. I truly, deeply want to believe that. But I cannot afford to wave these concerns off. None of us can.

As a white person, I have the luxury of ‘not seeing race’. That is privilege in its most basic form. I have the luxury of looking at all-white casts and going, ‘okay, well, race wasn’t specified and those were the best people for the job, right?’ I live in a magical fairyland where people who look like me are the default. I lack privilege in other areas, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean I get to ignore the privileges I enjoy as a white American from a middle-class background. That doesn’t mean I get to fall into the trap of going with the default, where the default is white.

How does this tie back into writing? Well. I’m a big fan of Ursula K. Le Guin. I love pretty much everything of hers I’ve read, but more importantly, I admire her convictions – her determination to break out of the mold, to refuse to accept the white person as default, to include people of color, people of all backgrounds, in her stories. She’s opened up and talked about race here and there. She’s talked about wanting people who are not white, who are not among the people in power, to see themselves reflected in her stories. That’s something I want to do, too. Hell, that’s half the reason I’m writing Fall: I wanted to write a story for people like me. I wanted to see gay relationships reflected in supernatural romance. If I fail to include others in my world – if I fail to show a broader spectrum of human experience – then it’s just that: failure.

I was trying to articulate this to a friend last night. I’m not sure I succeeded, but what I said was this: the world is a mess. And if we all look at that mess and say that we didn’t cause it, that it’s not our problem, that we’re not going to take responsibility for it, then nothing is ever going to get better. I mean, I’m a person of faith, but the cold, hard truth is that we know nothing about this world except that we’re here, now, and it’s kind of screwed up. Our first duty is to make things better. Here. Now. On this planet, in this lifetime. We can’t do that by ignoring the problems. We can’t do that by denying our complicity. We have to take responsibility for what we write, what we put on film, what we draw, what we create in any way, shape or form. As creators, we have to capture some part of a whole big wide world. It is terrifying. But it is vitally important.

And if readers don’t get it? If they reject that? Well, that’s on them. Some minds are bound to stay closed. Maybe we’ll open others, if we do it right. Suzanne Collins included a little girl with brown skin who stirred readers’ sympathies to the point where several of us cried at the end of her story. Some readers rejected that premise – at least once they saw the film and realized that, horror of horrors, they were sympathizing with a black girl. Pardon my French, but fuck them. Fuck that.

The central characters of Ten Witch Grave have brown skin. And while I have struggled with issues of race in Fall, given its white protagonist and its themes of Irish mythology and the Irish diaspora, I’m including people of color there, too, because – surprise! – they freaking exist, and when I deny that, when I ignore that, I am part of the problem. And if ever the books take off, if ever the film versions are made, and my so-called ‘fans’ go off about how they lost sympathy for those characters, how they thought the mere presence of people of color ruined the story, how they don’t believe the characters I clearly and explicitly defined as people of color actually are…then those are not my fans. Those are assholes.

This is a tricky issue. I get that. I’m not perfect. You’re not perfect. And, while including the whole range of human diversity, we have to be careful not to cross the line into cultural appropriation. But God damn it all – we have to try. If we fail, then we pick ourselves up. We listen, and we learn from our mistakes, and we go on and do better. But if we don’t try, then we are complicit. We have helped make the world just a little bit worse.

Try to make the world better. However you do it. Words and images have power, and as someone once said, with great power comes great responsibility. As writers, as artists, as creators, and as consumers of content, be responsible. Don’t be an asshole. Okay?

EDIT: Since first writing this post, I’ve come across Amandla Stenberg’s own statement to US Weekly regarding the racist tweets. I apologize for the omission. And, while a cursory reader might be forgiven for thinking the statement is awfully generic, I read it as a really classy way of pointing out that the people who flipped out over this don’t really deserve to be considered part of the Hunger Games fan community, and the actual fans are the ones who matter here. Way to go, Ms. Stenberg. 🙂