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So I just learnt that both Mr Correia and Mr Torgersen debuted in 2009. I debuted (as a novelist) that year, too. From the sense of ownership and entitlement they express over sff, I had assumed they were old hands, who'd been working and writing for at least a decade, probably more.
I am, frankly, gobsmacked. I cannot imagine the temerity. This is shared space and in the scheme of things, 2009 is very recent. It would never have crossed my mind to expect to control anything more than my own work, and to feel entitled to it -- to feel ownership in that way.
I got nothing. Maybe this is a gendered thing. Maybe this is a cultural difference. I perceive myself as pretty junior, in the scheme of things. They clearly don't see themselves that way.
I'm a decent enough writer, I think. I am, indeed, an award winning writer, though I feel silly saying so. But you know, getting published is a huge privilege. I am profoundly grateful to have been given that chance. I don't feel I need or merit more than that. Awards are nice things to have. I was honoured and astonished and delighted to win mine -- thank you, British Fantasy Society. But at the same time, I'm conflicted about them. The thing is, writing is not a competition, it's not a sport. It's a creative endeavour, a sharing of vision between writer and reader -- it is, as Lewis Hyde says in his perceptive and thoughtful book The Gift an offering. There is an inherent tension between creativity and capitalism anyway -- how do you define value in art, seriously? Popularity? Quality? No-one agrees what those are. Writing -- and painting and poetry and all the other creative arts -- produce objects whose value can be expressed in far more ways that simply financial. There is no pricing-system for the way a book can comfort or enlighten or support or heal a reader; the way a piece of music can induce sorrow or joy or a sense of immanence in those who hear it. Art has multiple values and msot of them are unquantifiable.

Most of Hyde's book -- which I recommend highly -- explores the dilemma of the artist, negotiating these different sets of values. Writers and musicians and photographers have to eat and pay bills like anyone else. They need for their work to have a level of financial value. But at the same time, many of us also value (hah) the other qualities of their work too. When a friend who has been facing serious problems recently told me that my The Grass King's Concubine helped her to feel safer, I was delighted and touched. I want my words to be useful and meaningful to others.

That is part of the function of awards, of course. They are a way for readers to express appreciation to artists. It's nice to be appreciated. And yet, they also set writers in competition with each other. They infect people with the idea that book X is 'better' than book y, because X won and Y came second. They create hierarchies -- and hierarchies create privilege and exclusion. And people start feeling, sometimes, that they are being unfairly overlooked because... Well, why will depend on the particular individuals. (When I feel overlooked, which I do, sometimes, because, well, human, I usually blame it on my own reticence about self-promotion. I am sh*t at self-promotion, and that harms me.) And that creates resentment and anger and culture wars. So I don't know. Because as writers we are all in this together. We are all committed to the same thing, creating our visions and sharing them. We are colleagues, not combatants, or we should be.

Now, of course, not everyone sees it like this. I've just been reading Hillary Rettig on writing (recommended to me by Stephanie Burgess and I am very grateful to her for that, for it is excellent). One of the things she writes about is how invested writers become in our work and its reception. It can sometimes become all tangled up in our sense of identity, and if it is rejected or ill-received, it feels like an attack on our inner, most sensitive selves. I've been in that place and it hurts. But, as Rettig points out, this belief, however natural, is also not the whole truth. We give others too much power over us, and she offers ways of retaining our love of our work without allowing others to destroy us through negative criticism or commentary. Like The Gift, it's an excellent book, and I recommend it -- it's called The Seven Secrets of Prolific Writers, which is the sort of title I usually avoid, for such books are often prescriptive, but this one is not. It's wise and kind and supportive. However -- to return to my muttons -- many many writers are tightly bound to their work and feel personally injured if it does not achieve as they imagined. (I will own up to having daydreamed of a World Fantasy Award nomination for Grass King for lo, I am human and rather romantic and silly [And, in my heart of hearts, I think it's a pretty good and pretty unusual book]. I didn't get one, and I didn't really expect to. But it was a nice daydream, and I was a little sad.) It seems to me that at least some of the so-called sad puppies feel precisely this -- excluded and ignored and unwanted. Which is not a nice space to be in. But, because of the world we live in, because of our narrow capitalist model of value, reducing everything to 'how much money does that make?', because everything is reduced to competition, they also seem to feel that this is someone else's fault. Someone else has cheated, or got an unfair advantage, or special treatment of something. And their solution is to blame those people and try to disenfranchise them. That the people they blame are people with far less privilege is also an artefact of capitalism, at least in part. White men have dominated the world for millennia through the subjection of those they deem non-white, of women, and, often, those who are not straight, not binary gendered, not cis-gendered, and who may face physical or mental challenges. It is also an artefact of cruel and narrow interpretations of religion, of fear and of bigotry created by fear and greed, and of generations of un-recognised social structures which have meant that rewards and recognition come much more easily to some than to others. If you come from an unmarked class -- from that group which is considered the social default -- of course you will tend to feel more entitled to success than others. You were taught that that was the way of the world. Which, I guess, explains the puppies, at least the sad ones, in part. They have been raised with expectations in a society which is changing (very slowly indeed) in ways which mean those expectations are fractionally more likely to be thwarted. But only fractionally. Not getting on a ballot is nothing in a world where young black men are murdered for walking in public. I don't understand the so-called rabid puppies and the only explanation I have is that they are very very good at groundless hate.

But the thing is, if a writer who is not like you wins an award, it doesn't take anything away from you, because we are colleagues, we are all in this together. You work is still valuable, your readers still value and enjoy it. It's still out there. Our genre is not a lesser place because it has got bigger. I loved Ancillary Justice: in addition to its use of pronouns, which seems to have upset some people, it's a wonderful space opera, and I love space opera. I love the works of Poul Anderson, and Edward Willett, to name but two small-c conservative writers. I am honoured to write and be published in a field which contained Clarke and Bradbury, Leiber and Heinlein. It also holds LeGuin and Delany and Russ, Hal Duncan and Roz Kaveney, Nnedi Okorafor and Aliette de Bodard and Ken Liu. We contain multitudes, and I love that. I love our variety, our scale. I want more writers, more visions of new futures and new worlds, not fewer. Because it isn't a competition. It's a universe and a universe has space for everyone, of every race and gender, sexuality and embodiment, ethnicity and culture and yes, political inclination if only we realised that. If only our cultures (some of them, anyway) weren't teaching us fear and competitiveness and greed.

So, you see, I don't know about awards. I don't want to compete with my colleagues, I want to share and learn, support and grow. I want to open doors, not shut them. And, if we have awards, I want them to be open to good writing from every possible culture and background.

I don't know if we can do that in a world that tells us to compete and be afraid. And that, that makes me sad.

Skirt of the day: blue flags, though given the above, possibly I should go and put on the red one!

Skirt of the day:


( 81 comments — Leave a comment )
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Edward Willett
Apr. 11th, 2015 05:30 pm (UTC)
Hey, I don't need a Hugo. I just got mentioned in the same sentence with Poul Anderson. :)
Apr. 11th, 2015 06:59 pm (UTC)
:-) I think as a writer, you are quite Anderson-like. It's one of the things that makes you so good.
Apr. 11th, 2015 05:45 pm (UTC)
My feeling about the puppies is it seems like they never grasped the concept that sometimes "your side" wins, and sometimes it loses, and when it loses it doesn't mean the "other side" cheated. (You know, basic sportmanship stuff.) I also think there's a tendency on their part to think that sales should automatically translate into awards. I think if I was a published author I would definitely want sales, because otherwise why go through all the trouble of getting professionally published, but I would also try to remember that awards don't necessarily go hand-in-hand with sales (Stephen King, for all his sales success, has never won a World Fantasy Award, for example.)
Apr. 11th, 2015 07:04 pm (UTC)
Yes, though I don't really understand the need to think in terms of 'sides' in the first place. People are strange sometimes.
My personal take on the anxierty they express around commercially successful fiction not getting short-listed is a side-effect of this competitiveness induced by capitalism, but then, I'm me :-) Another one of the competitive rivalries out there is that 'commercial' vs 'literary' thing, a lot of which is class-based. But the assumption that all work of any kind is automatically bad (because commercial, or because 'pretentious') is false, by and large. There are good books everywhere. There's just as much snobbery to the claim that 'pretentious' books are obviously bad and boring as there is to the claim that commercial books are all shallow and derivative.
(no subject) - brithistorian - Apr. 11th, 2015 07:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Apr. 11th, 2015 07:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Apr. 11th, 2015 08:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathellisen - Apr. 12th, 2015 05:16 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Apr. 12th, 2015 09:07 am (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 11th, 2015 06:07 pm (UTC)
I don't expect to win an award, but I'm always delighted when my friends, or authors I admire do.
Apr. 11th, 2015 07:05 pm (UTC)
Yes, me too :-)
Apr. 11th, 2015 06:33 pm (UTC)
Only vaguely relevant, but I really enjoyed The Grass King's Concubine
Apr. 11th, 2015 07:05 pm (UTC)
Thank you! That's very nice to know :-)
Apr. 11th, 2015 06:46 pm (UTC)
The whole thing is very strange, though the Boy sometimes talks about the entitlement generation, which really isn't restricted to a single age group, I've noticed.

A friend of mine posted a link about Nick Cave's reaction to an award nomination and it made me happy so I'm sharing it here.


"I have always been of the opinion that my music is unique and individual and exists beyond the realms inhabited by those who would reduce things to mere measuring. I am in competition with no-one."
Apr. 11th, 2015 07:06 pm (UTC)
Nick Cave is fabulous. And that is a perfect response.
It all seems very strange to me, too.
(no subject) - cathellisen - Apr. 12th, 2015 05:19 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Apr. 12th, 2015 09:07 am (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 11th, 2015 06:54 pm (UTC)
I once christened someone 'Mr Entitlement'. (Kari knows why.) I hereby bestow the rights to this name on all the leaders of the Puppies, whether Sad or Rabid. They are all as mad as he was/is. (I got a phone call once from a much larger and more important organisation than the one of which I was chair at the time, asking how the f*ck we got rid of him.)

Edited at 2015-04-11 06:55 pm (UTC)
Apr. 11th, 2015 07:06 pm (UTC)
I have no idea as to their mental health, but :-) on the title.
Apr. 11th, 2015 07:17 pm (UTC)
I love this post. You are amazing. You are the culture I work to create in other spheres of life.

Keep on rocking.

Apr. 11th, 2015 07:36 pm (UTC)
You keep on rocking, too. You are awesome and mighty.
And thank you.
Apr. 11th, 2015 07:36 pm (UTC)
I'd also assumed they'd been around in the writing sphere for a decade or so.
I started doing art for fanzines and con publications in the 80's, it was the 2000's before I was even nominated for any award.

Apr. 11th, 2015 07:39 pm (UTC)
Yes. Recognition can take a long, long time.
Apr. 11th, 2015 08:12 pm (UTC)
Another possible factor comes from the College of the Man Down the Pub, the "knowledge" that early genre SF was "just like" what the Puppies want to promote. It wasn't, always being a lot more varied, but if you get your knowledge of history from non-specialist media, full of brass-bra magazine covers, it's an easy impression to get.

It's then simply a matter of applying "conservative" ideas of the past always having been better and "modernity" being a conspiracy against that, for no reason that needs to be explained.

The Dunning-Kruger effect might be having an influence, too.
Apr. 11th, 2015 08:16 pm (UTC)
Yes, that's probably true.
Apr. 11th, 2015 08:23 pm (UTC)
Awesome post. Thanks for articulating so many of the things that keep boiling through my mind.
Apr. 11th, 2015 08:44 pm (UTC)
I'm glad it's useful.
Apr. 11th, 2015 08:24 pm (UTC)
I think there's also a touch of British reticence in your (and my) attitude to the whole thing. I am interested to see the two threads currently running on my facebook - the Sad Puppies one, which is all about entitlement and bad sportsmanship, and a dog showing one which is all about encouraging newcomers and remembering that, in any competition, playing to the best of your ability is more important than winning (you always 'take the best dog home'). The irony is that, as you say, most writers don't write to enter competitions.
Apr. 11th, 2015 08:45 pm (UTC)
Oh, I'm sure you're right about the British thing. We don't deal well with promotion.
The dog show debate sounds lovely.
Apr. 11th, 2015 08:55 pm (UTC)
I'm wondering whether the reason the Puppies are so invested in winning the Hugos is that if you do a day job for 6 years, you might expect to move up in seniority, and they are equating winning awards with that sort of job recognition.

Some people (and men are more prone to this) make their jobs their identity, and if writing is their job, they want recognition.

I say this as someone who has been in the same job for 10 years, mind you *sigh*.

Apr. 11th, 2015 09:18 pm (UTC)
Oh, that is a very good point. Thank you! You may well be right.
(no subject) - ex_rolanni - Apr. 12th, 2015 01:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Apr. 12th, 2015 03:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - gillpolack - Apr. 12th, 2015 11:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 11th, 2015 09:49 pm (UTC)
I had a major WTF reaction when I saw this year's Hugo nominations. Usually, it is fairly easy to predict the noms because they tend to correlate with the books and stories that have gotten a lot of attention in reviews and the blogosphere. So I decided to do a bit of research and ended up being rather gobsmacked because from my Scandinavian POV it seems that the Hugos have been made into a battlefield of what looks like a decidely American culture war.

Culture wars can happen in all sorts of arenas. A decade ago a culture war was waged in Denmark on the subject of the humanities and the cultural institutions. It was initiated by the liberalist-conservative government and it had a decidedly anti-intellectual bent but it basically boiled down to the fact that they didn't like cultural experts who didn't have the same political outlook as them. Or rather, they assumed that academics from the humanities had a opposed political stance as this particular group was a monolithic entity.
Apr. 11th, 2015 10:24 pm (UTC)
Yes: this all seems awfully similar to current US political debates, which I find sad.
We've been having a similar thing to the one in Denmark here recently, around arts funding. It's sad.
(no subject) - trinuviel - Apr. 12th, 2015 01:13 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Apr. 12th, 2015 09:09 am (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 11th, 2015 09:58 pm (UTC)
A lot of very good thoughts here (a number of which I have not seen explored elsewhere in the context of recent Hugo-related things) - thank you so much for sharing them.
Apr. 11th, 2015 10:24 pm (UTC)
I'm glad it was interesting: thank you!
Apr. 11th, 2015 11:12 pm (UTC)
I am so with you. I do not understand how people can be so entitled that they decide they MUST win an award. I will not likely ever win any awards. I don't fly in those circles. And more and more, I am happy that I don't.

That's sad. Or it should be. But all I feel when I think about the fact that I don't qualify for SFWA membership these days is relief.
Apr. 12th, 2015 09:10 am (UTC)
I am very happy being a minor writer. It's safer and it frees me to be more honest in my work.
But yes, I do see the sadness, too, because we should be free in our heads to aspire and dream.
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