Insensitivity

From time to time the topic of sensitivity readers comes up in my writing circles, and naturally most artists I know in the independent world balk at the concept. I tend to agree — I think it’s a scam of a few people who are telling people what’s okay and what’s not to write, which amounts to a soft censorship. As Big Publishing adopts this more and more, we’re going to get more watered down, monotone sounding books as a result.

What’s occurred in the fantasy and science fiction field over the last decade, and has recently trickled into YA is this: there’s a few active book bloggers who are extremely negative, extremely bitter, and scream at people if the book doesn’t match what their utopia worldview of phony skin-deep diversity looks like. These book bloggers have armies of readers ready to go onto a book’s amazon or goodreads page and torch the author and work with fake reviews without even having read the book.

Publishers, attempting to be business-minded, met this shrieking with a smile, trying to get good reviews out of this cabal for their books, promising and virtue signalling that they will make a “commitment to diversity.” You started seeing calls for women and minority authors more often, and then projects where only women and minorities were invited to work on projects. At first it was a “hey, we’re just giving equal representation” concept, which was innocuous enough, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. As time went on, the innocuous publishers were replaced with some of these more rabid people from the book blogosphere in editorial decisions, and the entire industry came to a point where it actively attempts to blackball and discriminate against white, male, Christian or Conservative authors. If you’re a mix of those, your chances of being published diminish significantly — if you’re all of them, consider yourself blackballed.

In content itself, the conversation shifted in the last year away from one of “you should include a diverse representation of characters”, which I always found to be fine. Depending on your world, it makes sense to have the people you’d see in a day to day environment now in the future extrapolated. I take exception with putting token representation into historical fiction or alt-history, as it comes across as really forced and it’s inaccurate, but for visions of the future, having different characters from different backgrounds feels natural. I feel like Firefly accomplished this without sounding preachy, and created a cool setting with it, for example.

But now it’s “you’re culturally appropriating.” Now a white Christian writer isn’t allowed to put those cultures in the work, but simultaneously their work is constantly being hammered as “not representative enough.” It’s not about actual content anymore, it’s about censoring a certain class of individuals listed above. And that’s where this is dangerous.

A writer should be able to write what they want. If you want to write a message, do it. If you want to write about other cultures, do it. If you want to make the villain in your book an allegory for Muslim terrorists, that is just as valid as every villain being a type-A white male that we see in almost every book and film these days. Most of the time fiction isn’t about a message, and one’s overly-read into it to the point where it’s absurd. I took a lot of flack for being “too anti-corporate” in my debut novel for example, to the point where I had people calling me a fraud for actual my political/religious identity. That’s a prime example of reading too much into a villain (though I mean… big corporations are pretty bad, that’s kinda the point of this article too!).

I don’t believe in censoring myself, and I don’t want other writers to censor themselves either. It’s very easy to see how this creeps in from “you must have representation” to “you can’t write about that culture because you’re appropriating!” These mandatory diversity ploys aren’t concerned with actual diversity at all, but with forcing social justice politics into every aspect of our lives. There’s a reason that in the science fiction elite spheres you don’t see many Hispanic writers for instance. If you think it’s because Big Publishing underrepresents Hispanics intentionally, you’re dead wrong. It’s because the biggest name hispanic authors are all politically conservative, and that doesn’t fit their narrative agenda. The applause for “diversity” only applies to those who play up their identity grievances with the right politics.

The only way to put a stop to this is to mock the concept of sensitivity readers. Mock the concept of cultural appropriation. If you think about it — all cultures appropriate, that’s how culture works. You take what is good for your society from the zeitgeist around you and extrapolate on it. That’s what fiction is. Instead of fretting, openly and unabashedly culturally appropriate and be insensitive in your work.

Don’t care what anyone thinks except for your readers. They’re all that matter. Chances are, if you’re having fun and telling a compelling story, they’ll like it too and won’t give two craps about whether you’re culturally appropriating.

A Moon Full Of Stars by Jon Mollison!

There’s another Jon out there in SF who’s very much worth your while, and his name is Jon Mollison. He writes in the vein of the old school pulps like very few I’ve seen. If you’re into hard action/adventure in your sci-fi, this work’s for you. Fun fact: he’s also an audiobook narrator, most recently known for John C. Wright’s Somewhither (in which he did a stellar job, about one of the best readers I’ve ever heard on a book).  This story looks to be a planetary romance-style book in the tradition of Leigh Brackett. I’m pretty excited.

Here’s the blurb:

All Rome ever wanted was to earn a place in the village as a hunter, so that he could explore beyond the safe confines of the village farm fields, but when monstrous slavers destroy his village he is forced to head west into the irradiated wastelands in search of anything that might give him the power to save his people. Accompanied by his chief rival, his journey takes him farther than he ever imagined.

You can buy A Moon Full Of Stars here. 

For Steam And Country Cover Reveal!

The moment everyone’s been waiting for is here! For Steam And Country is set to be released next month, my second novel, and my first venture into Fantasy. I had an incredible time writing this book, and early reviews are saying it’s even better than my award nominated debut novel. You’ll not want to miss this. Below is the cover by one of the best artists in the business, Shawn King:

Make sure to share everywhere and let everyone know how hyped you are for this book!

There will be some fun giveaways, rewards and more, including a FREE short story for those who help spread the word. Updates are in a facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/519333975122120/  go ahead and join or ping me and I’ll get you in there.

Or my mailing list:

http://delarroz.us15.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=3c0d4761bf596db6605e25975&id=e7c61287b0

Tally ho!

 

#SpaceOperaWeek Geekchats Special: Space Opera and Woldbuilding with Sarah Hoyt

It’s #SpaceOperaWeek and I’m excited to have one of my favorite authors working in the field right now, Sarah Hoyt, on tomorrow to talk about her Darkship series, her inspirations, what space opera means to her and some of the helpful tricks she used to come up with such a rich and imaginative world like Eden. It’ll air live May 19th at 12:00 PM PST:

Tordotcom Celebrates #SpaceOperaWeek By Censoring Popular Space Opera Author

When I first heard about #SpaceOperaWeek, I was excited. It provided a chance to talk about the sub-genre of Science Fiction that I love more than any other, and cross-platform across the internet through the use of the hashtag to where I’d be able to reach and connect with a lot of people.

Unfortunately, the promise that Tordotcom made in #SpaceOperaWeek turned out to be nothing but thin air.  The launch page really didn’t talk about space opera at all, just having some big logo announcing their initiative. The next post wasn’t about space opera or the joys of its fiction — but presenting a false narrative that women are somehow oppressed and erased in the genre (rebutted by the Hugo-nominated Castalia House who’s been active talking about the great women of space opera for years), a post about ponies in space,a post about the “underrated importance of ordinary, everyday life” in storytelling, and then shilling for a couple of Tor authors. Nothing else. No real space opera discussion at all.

I took matters into my own hands. I started using the hashtag, talking about Space Opera in earnest. I am somewhat of an authority on the genre at this point, having written 3 books in it (one published which you may have heard of, the others I’m revising), and read the genre the entirety of my existence. I’ve spoken on Space Opera on podcasts and at conventions, done interviews on it, written essays on it. If there’s one thing I know what I’m talking about — it’s Space Opera. A lot of cool people from the #PulpRevolution joined in the discussion, as many of those folk write space opera and all of us are heavily read in the genre. If you go look at the hashtag on twitter now — there’s no one who’s reading Tordotcom or any authors from Tordotcom talking about #SpaceOperaWeek, it’s only us. Author Yakov Merkin even released a new Space Opera book in the midst of the event.

Naturally the result was a number of fans and friends commenting to Tor that they’d like to see some essays or an interview with me. I produced one of the most relevant Space Operas of the last year, hailed by authors cross the spectrum from Mary Robinette Kowal to Vox Day, which was a Top-10 Amazon bestseller in the genre, so it would be fun to get some perspective, especially given the Tor writers self-admittedly don’t even like the genre (which is why there’s so little discussion).  I came to find out that after the first five requests — Tor deleted the next 10+ of people requesting I write without so much as reaching out to anyone on the matter.

That’s fine, that’s a lot of comments! I understand that though with the overwhelming readership demanding something you’d think they’d take action. I was so flabbergasted by the article about not liking space opera and about how ordinary, everyday life was what was important to write about — the opposite of everything Space Opera is about — that I took to writing a rebuttal article on the Hugo-nominated Castalia House blog. Not only do we now have a highly relevant space opera writer talking on the subject — but writing an article for a site that has garnered such prestige and honor in the genre that it is a finalist for science fiction’s top award. You’d think that #SpaceOperaWeek would certainly care about that. Nothing more could be on topic.

I posted a link to the article, mentioned it’s a rebuttal and how I’d love to further discuss space opera. Very respectful, as always, and earnestly interested in opening up more dialogue on my favorite genre.

Tordotcom deleted it rather than actually talk about the important literary elements of the genre. They censored the leading Hispanic voice in science fiction. They shun the site, contributors and readership of a Hugo-nominated blog.

So if the point isn’t to talk about Space Opera and celebrate together with leaders in the genre what is #SpaceOperaWeek for? Why do they have people who don’t even like the genre writing about it?

A lot of people reading are rolling their eyes and saying “it’s tordotcom what do you expect?” That’s not acceptable as an answer to me. I’m watching our industry and our form of entertainment that’s been a staple of western culture for the past one hundred years go from millions of readers to thousands of readers. The fun’s been sucked out of Science Fiction, and the whole point of Space Opera is that it brings the fun back to it. The term was originally something derogatory used by “real” science fiction writers and readers to talk about this “fantasy in space” that didn’t push heavy scientific or sociological concepts. The term itself is an attack on people who just like to tell fun stories in space.  Sounds a lot like how Tordotcom treats me and the #PulpRevolution crew, doesn’t it? The irony is thick.

Tordotcom hates Space Opera is the only conclusion. They have no real interest in discussing it, but fortunately there’s some places where they are. Do follow me on Twitter at @jondelarroz and look for articles by me and others for #SpaceOperaWeek that actually address the genre at:

http://www.castaliahouse.com

http://www.superversivesf.com  

We’ll have some real talk, and we won’t delete your contributions to the subject either.

The Cult Of The New And Its Destruction Of Culture

 

Here’s a topic I haven’t really touched before, but it’s relevant to the way that culture has been systematically destroyed by a certain group over the last few decades. I’ve seen it discussed elsewhere as “the cult of the new” — where it’s driven by this near thoughtless consumerism of I NEED THE NEW THING NOW!, ignoring everything and anything that’s dated by even a few months, discarding as if it were irrelevant.

This topic struck me in a very personal way today, when I was personally attacked on Twitter by a group (which isn’t abnormal) for the crime of advocating for my forthcoming book, For Steam And Country. What was shocking about it and what got to me wasn’t the attacks, but a certain attack on one of the most revered authors in science fiction history, and one of the most prominent feminists ever to grace the field, one Anne McCaffrey.

It started because I was talking to a Tordotcom reviewer. A Hugo Nominated Fanzine writer chimed in to tell me how irrelevant I am by referencing my last novel, how she looked up “Rescue Run” and found that there was “nothing in sci-fi that returned on a google search”.

I corrected, of course, stating not only is there my extremely highly regarded, award nominated and well-reviewed book, but that I chose the title intentionally as an homage to the late great Anne McCaffrey, who wrote a book by the same name. This work was demeaned by her first as “it’s only a short story” (It’s a novella, actually) and this person who is nominated for the Hugo Award for fanzine work, retorted to that by calling Anne Mccaffrey “old and irrelevant.”

Let me stop right there.

As of my tracking, and I do track this, Anne McCaffrey has 63 published short stories in major SF magazines and a whopping 93 novels. I know this because i have all of them in their first print edition on a beautiful shelf in my living room on display.  McCaffrey wrote on psionics, wrote on genetic manipulation of animals in terraforming, in transplanting human brains into ship computer systems, on strange alien species such as sentient blades of grass. She not only did that but transcended genre with a lot of fantasy and romance books as well. She was not only “a woman science fiction author” as Tor likes to complain as late as today that there’s not enough love for, but THE woman science fiction author for decades. She is looked up to and revered by millions for her work in the genre. I can scarce think of someone more inspiring or relevant for that matter.

And of Hugos? This fanzine writer who writes self-described “feminist” commentary on science fiction is attacking the first woman ever to win the award! For shame! It boggles my mind to see this kind of lack of reverence for her.

Then there’s the fanzine element of this person’s nominations. Fanzines were originally created as content for Star Trek — but Pern in the 70s-80s was one of the biggest concepts out there for fanzines. Fanzines arguably wouldn’t exist without Pern fandom, in homage to Anne McCaffrey. Everything that this hugo nominated commentator does is built on the backs of what she’s dismissing out of hand.

As I’m writing this she followed up by saying “I love Anne McCaffrey as much as the next person who grew up not knowing any better.” Knowing any better? It’s so sad to see this lack of regard for her– no OUR betters and elders that I’m truly heartbroken.

And it comes down to the Cult of the New. Because Anne is no longer with us (may God have mercy on her eternal soul!), there’s nothing “new” about Anne’s work. It’s from an age past, something to be forgotten by the current cultural elite that want to erase history. Older works are things to read “before we knew better” to them. To them, our elders are people to be put into old folks home and forgotten about so they don’t disturb us, rather than revered as they should be. As a consequence, there’s no respect for true greatness because the great works are discarded.

Tor wrote an article on space opera today for their space opera week wondering why no one talks about Leigh Brackett, CL Moore and Andre Norton. Is it because they’re anti-woman? the author posited. No, it’s because of this, the lack of care for anything that didn’t drop to stands this week.

It’s horrible. And this is why the Hugo Awards are in such a tarnished state in a nutshell. Who in Science Fiction would want to be associated with that?  This is another reason why our fandom is dying. We need serious reform not just in the big publishing houses and markets — but in our souls.

Writing Success

I just read a brilliant post by author Tim W. Long (Who is by no means associated with me, probably doesn’t even know me or who I am, and totally disavows me and in no way endorses me even looking at his words, haters!) on writing success, and he’s 100% right. It’s cruder than I would have put it, with some swearing involved, so if that bothers you, don’t read further:

I just read a gloriously ranty post from Michael Anderle and it got me a little fired up. Maybe I’m just a little high on life right now because I have finally moved into the 5-figure a month sales goal as an author. Yeah. 5-figures a month. I’ve heard people say “Wow – you’re so lucky that you get to write full-time.” It’s not luck! It’s busting my ass every day. It’s weeks where I’m doing 14+ hour days at what I love. It’s actually writing instead of talking about writing.

You know the biggest key to success? NOT GIVING A FUCK. That’s it right there and you can quote me on that.

The minute I walked away from self-admiring writer circle-jerks and writing groups who seem to thrive on bullshit drama over actually writing, I was a much happier person. The minute I quit caring about having my ego stroked. The minute I stopped caring about getting books in bookstores, speaking at cons, being invited to panels, or even being recognized as a best selling author, I was a better writer for it.

Authors – ask yourself a question about the groups you associate with as a writer:

Do they ACTUALLY sell?
Do they have any credentials outside of TALKING about writing?
Do they honestly help YOU with your career?

No? Just walk away.

I’ve gone out of my way to help any author who asks for help. Got a new book out? I’m happy to promote it. Need a suggestion for how to advertise something? I can probably share some decent info. Wondering how to build your mailing list? I bet I can offer a few tips. You know what I have asked in return? Nothing at all.

My books have been in best seller lists for 3 years now. I’ve been a #1 horror author on Amazon. I’ve had that fancy best-seller tag on my books.

Big frigging deal!

At the end of the day all I care about is entertaining people, and making a living from the craft. That’s it. The petty people who do drive-by one-star reviews can kiss my ass because I’m laughing all the way to the bank. I’m sitting in my robe, sipping coffee, not regretting for one minute that I’m not fighting an hour plus commute to work every day.

How you doin – petty asshole hiding behind an anonymous name? Having a good day? Yeah?

Great – now go fuck yourself.

Have a terrific day, friends. 🙂

To Message Fiction Or Not To Message Fiction

I don’t write message fiction. In fact, a lot of the actual criticism of my book (when there is any, most folk just love it!) hits when people read it as if they’re braced for some sort of lecture on morality from me… and they don’t find one other than bad guys with lots of power are bad, and scrappy underdogs are good.

Which even that’s not meant to be a takeaway in most instances. I do like to root for the underdog. It seems an intrinsically American way to think, and you see it in our culture all the time. Spider-Man is the nerd weakling who shouldn’t be able to beat up the big bad monsters. We always root against the New York Yankees or New England Patriots because they bought their perennial powerhouse teams and we want the little guy to win. There’s nothing moral or immoral about rooting either way in those instances — but seeing the underdog work their tails off to victory is fulfilling and a lot of fun.

And that’s the key. That’s why I wrote that story — because it’s fun.

When you get into message fiction, you’re intrinsically taking away some fun from your reader as you’re trying to tell the reader how to behave, what good and evil is pertaining to a certain situation, and usually through very thin allegories that are metaphors that are painful. Star Trek: Into Darkness I’m looking at you with your nine-eleven oh noeeeeeeees commentary that made the film unwatchable.

And it varies in degree. The problem is that message fiction, for the most part, talks down to the reader. You are trying to layer in “obvious” things to a reader in a way that almost necessitates insulting their intelligence. Otherwise they would understand the message and be cheering for it themselves, right?  And if they did, you’ve got a boring story to that group of readers as well, because they already understand the message.

I’m currently reading The Black Witch by Laurie Forest, which is certainly marketed as message fiction after some hate reviewer went nuts on it and said it’s not messagy enough. So far though, it’s been very layered in the background and I’m watching more of an underdog adventure story unfold.  And I’m glad for it. If it looked preachy I wouldn’t be all that into it.

As a writer, it’s impossible not to layer some form of message in there. You have your thoughts, and they’re gonna come across. It’s how writing works. Almost weekly I get told by a reader how they’re surprised that I’m so anti-corporatist. My main villains in my book are a mega-corporation that lost sight of what it means to be human in their narrow-visioned lives that are consumed by their near-meaningless work.

Of course I’m anti-corporatist. Big corporations are total train wrecks both in that they stifle creativity and range from inefficient in the way they’re run to downright oppressive. Don’t think that the phone you’re reading this on isn’t built on the backs of some Chinese factory worker who’s barely surviving because of garbage trade agreements that allow companies to operate that way. A lot of my readership wants me to blame the government and not the corporation — but I posit to you that when you get into monopolistic entities of a certain size or oligopolies — you’re getting the exact same thing as a bloated government clutching to power. Remember that the Trade Federation in my book both is corporation and government combined. They wield both powers and that is dangerous.

Now I didn’t set out to wag my finger and give that moral in the book to anyone. That never even crossed my mind once while writing it. Those are just my private thoughts that upon thinking about it, I’m sharing with you, my dear blog reader, who understands this is a personal space where you can get a little sense as to how I think. The vast majority of folk read Rescue Run and don’t notice that or don’t care about that — because I didn’t beat people over the head with it and feature THE MESSAGE. It was just unintentional that it came out in the work because of who I am.

In conclusion, I’m definitely not telling writers to not write about what they care about — you should, and that passion will come through in the work. But you should be very careful in considering your readership and the priority should be a fun story, especially in Fantasy/Science-Fiction. Most readers in this genre are here for escape from the relentless negativity in the news, the drudgery of real life work, the lack of purpose they’re finding in modern society. It’s our duty as authors to provide them fun, and that should be our priority. If it stops being a priority, well, look at the sales decline across the industry. ’nuff said.