Late to the Party: SFWA

Yeah, so it’s been a couple of months since my last post. I should probably do something about that, eh?

The hard part of being a writer is balancing the writing you’re getting paid for against the writing that you do gratis, or on spec. Too often, that means I’m chasing dollars instead of collecting my thoughts here or in my journal.

Complicating matters is the fact that I often want to collect my thoughts, rather than just record my knee-jerk reactions to things. Even big stories, when it’s abdundantly clear who is in the wrong and who is in the right, sometimes require long periods of mulling. Or at least, they do for me.

I’m not sure I have any new perspectives to add to the conversation about the recent SFWA kerfuffle. Actually, scratch that. Kerfuffle is way too genial of a word for that disgraceful situation over at The Bulletin.

In case you missed it, E. Catherine Tobler has a pretty good breakdown of what happened. Also a must-read to get some perspective on this thing is John Scalzi’s heartfelt and completely appropriate apology.

I’m not late to the party in terms of reading about this situation and the thinkpieces that originated in its wake, but I’m definitely late to the party when it comes to putting in my own two cents.

Honestly, the whole situation made me not want to join the SFWA. Not just because of this creepy, aggressive sexism, but because of the other things that came to light in the aftermath of this whole debacle.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia, I think, has had one of the best reactions to the whole situation. Yes, the level of girl-bashing was unacceptable. Yes, it has endangered the perception of the “SWFA brand” with female writers and egalitarian male writers. But what might be more unacceptable is the lack of a useful community for the SFWA, which is kind of baffling in this day and age. I’m gonna block quote the most important chunk of  Silvia’s response post: (full disclosure: Silvia was one of the editors who accepted my work into “Future Lovecraft.”)

When I was a member of SFWA, I joined because I thought it would be a good tool for me. However, I was disappointed with several of it services. The most prominent “perks” of the organization seem to be:

  • Health coverage (does not apply to me, as I’m in Canada, but I can see the appeal for people in the USA)
  • Social media forums (they were not very active and I found few interesting, welcoming discussions)
  • The directory (kind of useless since finding contact info for people is easy online)
  • The Bulletin (its articles seemed very basic)
  • Grievance committee (can’t comment on it as I didn’t use it)

So here’s the thing: I found The Bulletin to be pretty much a waste of paper long before this controversy. It didn’t seem to contain the useful articles and items I find in the trade publications I purchase or get through my day job. A lot of the content was too fluffy or intended for a less experienced audience.

Joining the SFWA was a sort of long-term goal. I certainly haven’t sold enough stories in the right places to qualify for membership at this point in my career, and I’m not even sure “SF writer” is the best label for me or my work. But I liked the idea of being a part of a group of forward-thinking, talented writers. Writing itself is such a solitary enterprise, and I do so enjoy those rare occasions when I can network, converse, and engage with other people who love staring into tiny electric boxes as much as I do. I also, I’ll admit, liked the idea of health insurance, as someone who isn’t in the best of health.

But Silvia raises some good points: if The Bulletin is all, well, BULL, and the other perks are sort of “meh,” then what is the real value of membership? Presumably, the people reading The Bulletin want insightful articles aimed at professional writers, not basic tips, news, and fluff. What do the writers get out of it? I’m sure there are plenty of members who have great, valid answers to that question, but as an outsider looking in, I’m having a hard time seeing it.

All that being said, it seems like from what Scalzi posted on his blog, there are going to be some strong winds of change blowing. Maybe this awful attack on the female gender by a small percentage of SFF writers will have proved to be a good thing, years from now. By rousting out members of the “old guard” and rallying passionate male and female writers around the shared goals of equality and respect for writers of all backgrounds, maybe both The Bulletin and the SFWA will grow into something more worthy of adoration.

Maybe I’m trying too hard to find the silver lining on a shit sandwich, but part of me can’t help but think of this whole thing as forest fire, the kind of fire that makes way for new grasses and trees and animals in its wake. Maybe this whole incident was the lightning strike that this forest needed, the ensuing “firestorm” just the purge the organization needed for foster new growth.


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