Caveat Author

Photo credit: Brickset on VisualHunt.com

I had an email on Friday from the Secretary of the local writers group. He was forwarding an unsolicited email from a ‘publisher’ to writers groups, announcing the opening of a new short story, flash fiction and poetry magazine!

Yay! I thought, how bold and brave and exciting that there are people, in these times of financial restraint willing to make a stand for the arts and help people to share their writing.

Then I followed the link.

Here it is if you want a look. https://shortfictionmagazine.com/

My advice however is to think extremely carefully before doing anything other than look.

A quick look at the website of the magazine’s parent company, Taboo Books https://taboobooks.co.uk/ , might make us think twice about any relationship we, as authors, might have with it. Taboo claims to be:

“Not Like Other Publishers!”

Regrettably it seems all too reminiscent of many people claiming to be alternative or hybrid publishers today.

Taboo has several routes to publication. The first is:

‘Traditional Publishing Route’ – you send them your manuscript and if they like it they will publish it … but with a difference.

They show you how traditional publishers do it: agent, submission contract, and then things get odd – according to Taboo ‘traditional publishers make you pay for proof reading and copy editing, do ALL your own book promotion, and ask you to organise and pay for your book cover to be designed and produced. I’m beginning to think we aren’t talking about ‘traditional publishers’ at all, but old vanity publishing outfits.  Yes publishers are getting ****ing lazy about publicity in many cases, and expect you to social network and if you’re lucky, go on tour to signings and fairs and events, but they don’t normally let authors anywhere near the creative side of the look of the book. And yes they have cut back on editing but there is definitely something odd in the list of things required by ‘trad publishing’ according to Taboo. But…

“Taboo Books is Different!

If we offer you a contract, we’ll:*”

And then they list a whole lot of things you’d expect a publisher to do anyway – bog standard stuff like issue an ISBN, stuff which is either in the other list explicitly like the ISBN bit, or should be – print and hold copies of your book and place and fulfill wholesale distributor orders.

But note the asterisk, which leads us to…

“*Services are offered, depending on the Author membership level you are subscribed to.”

“Membership”? I thought this was a traditional publishing route? You send the manuscript, they publish if they like it?

What is this membership?

They don’t tell you on this page. But:

  1. You have to join the site (free) to submit a manuscript for starters.
  2. There are three levels of author membership:

New Author: £24.00 per month!

Promo Package: £39.99 per month!

Monthly Promo Package: £74.99 per month!

Remember the ‘traditional’ publishing route?

I was told something many years ago and it still holds true (annoying though it is if you aren’t getting published):  “If the money is flowing into your account you’ve got a proper publishing deal. The moment any cash flows the other way, there is something badly wrong, get out!”

Now I’ve no problem with self publishing, done it myself, but I laid out no cash and I made money on the deal thanks. If you want to self publish and pay for services, that’s fine too, but check how much and get the details up front. Companies that promise something with no details of costs or confusing cost packages that keep adding things as you go on, are to be avoided.

Taboo also offer an Assisted Publishing route – which they offer if they don’t offer you a ‘traditional’ contract. Goodness knows what that costs. [Having just followed a few links from that option, they take you back the “Author Packages” above with individual services available as for the “Traditional Route”.]

But that isn’t Taboo’s Short Fiction magazine imprint is it?

No. It isn’t, but the same marketing strategies appear.

You can send stories in to appear online for free (you have to join the site with your email details of course, “keeps the spammers out” and you’ll want to receive updates on prizes, deals and promos won’t you?) but while no overt mention is made of it, it is clear that to be eligible for the £1,000 prize there will be something else required. As I haven’t joined (and am not going to under any circumstances) I can’t be sure what those requirements are but I suspect cash. Similarly to be eligible for consideration for hard copy publication in the ‘anthologies’ you need to do more.

Now I’m sure Taboo and Short Fiction aren’t breaking any laws here, but they are getting free content to fill out their new website (good content costs), and they are advertising cash prizes without making it clear how access to that prize draw (voted for by the readers) is gained. A new prize of  £250 per week is being touted after the £1,000 prize is won.

I may be obtuse but how did ‘Sally from Romford’ get Zoom recorded when Short Fiction told her she’d won £1,000, when the competition still has 104 days to run and the site just opened on 9 September? https://shortfictionmagazine.com/add-a-story/

Now at least she’ll have some money to pay to “copyright protect” her work via the site’s “Copyright Service’, a bargain at only £30 (£29.99 actually let’s not overstate the cost). As they say in the blurb just above the form to get your cash “In the UK there is no legal requirement to register your written work for copyright” Indeed there is no facility to do so as it is not required to prove copyright. Your copyright vests in you the moment you write it. Yes, someone could copy it if it is online, but this “Copyright service” doesn’t look for breaches of IP, it simply claims you’ll have a date stamped record of your work. This may be evidential perhaps if Spielberg decides to film your work someone else has sent him under their name, but Taboo aren’t checking the web to see if it has happened. You’re paying £30 for them to keep a copy of your manuscript with a date stamp. But you have the drafts and the time and date marked original digital files saved already on your computer or USB or disc or whatever you saved it on don’t you?

But it’s another money making scheme from something that worries many first time writers.

I’m not suggesting there’s anything legally wrong with Taboo and Short Fiction magazine’s model of alternative publishing. But it is nice to know what you are getting for your money and what you aren’t. There are many more publishers out there who offer similar packages and some are no doubt more expensive and less transparent about cost creep than Taboo and Short Fiction.

Have a look at https://jerichowriters.com/austin-macauley/#Austin-Macauley-A-Close-up-Look-At-One-Vanity-Publisher for one.

My advice would be to keep looking for an agent. If you want help then use a fraction of the thousands of pounds you might spend on vanity publishers pretending to be something else to get a genuine professional assessment service to read and comment on your work if you want help.

If you want to publish a book for family, friends or yourself, that won’t get a publishing deal because the interest group is too small, then there are genuine self help publishing services who will be open about costs and the likelihood of it going viral (< 0.1%) but will give you what they promise on time, on budget and no hard sell to spend more.

Happy writing!

Brain Fuzz from Editing Down

I was feeling as if I was on something of a roll with writing for this blog again a couple of months back. But recently I have been reworking some other material for sending off to magazines and most of my creative writing tank was being emptied on that. The stuff I was writing for the blog after I’d spent another morning hacking yet another draft down by a thousand words ended up being more of a ‘blah’ about rewriting, life politics and everything. That’s fine, but at the time I didn’t want to write about how much I hate rewriting and particularly cutting down (I may have moaned about this before once or twice! And I will do again!) while I was in the process of doing it. It’s bad enough having to actually do it without reliving the experience in your down time, knowing you’re going to have to do it again the next day and the next day…

The rest of what came to mind as I sat here in front of yet another computer was not creative but whinging, shouting and rage. Yet another computer because I’ve had a series of computer slow downs, clunks and deaths recently which I’ve generally blamed on Windows updates but actually when I consider it are probably down to age, the machine’s not mine, though that can’t help. But enough of chip specs and expanding bloated software. Whinging, shouting and rage at what? Not creative writing or much even tangentially connected. Mostly the state of the world or rather reporting on it, and people’s reactions. This blog is not really aimed at that, despite the ‘and stuff’ part of the title. I put the catch all in as I knew I’d want to write about things around the writing experience and naturally being informed about the world and being engaged with that information is part of the writing process. I don’t mind letting politics sneak in here and there – mostly with a small ‘p’ and not Party Politics as God knows there is enough of that around already. A small pastiche or satire is fine but lately I can’t help remembering with advantages Tom Lehrer’s comment on the fate of political satire: ‘Political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel peace prize.’ It has lingered but recent events have made me realise the line between reality and art no longer exists in this field.

So no satire (Oh you know I’ll give in – there’s too much inspirational insanity out there!) and nobody wants to hear me seriously expounding on what’s wrong with the world today (at least not here).

So has my roll gathered too much moss to move further here? Never make predictions is my motto but I think I may have some impetus to post actual creative writing, you know stories etc. now this splurge of edits and rewrites is done for the moment. I can’t promise they’ll be tight, succinct and punchy pieces. The last editing I finished at the beginning of the week cut 12,000 down to 7,500 and I think it still made sense and said what I set out to say, but it hurt my brain. Whether anyone else agrees it still makes sense I’ll have to wait to find out. Was the short version better than the long one? I think I’m too close to tell. I know there were some things slightly overwritten, but in my opinion, not many. It is hard work to take something you meant to say in a certain way and change it to fit another template of expectation. While that recent splurge of editing made me realise that there are some good points to ‘killing your darlings’ I’m not sure for whose benefit most of it is done. (Told you I couldn’t resist pontificating about rewrites). I know people say most manuscripts need a good pruning and indeed some published books could use a cut, but why? What template and whose attention span are we playing to? And is shorter always better? You can cut Shakespeare plays to the bone and the basic stories are usually pretty good but they miss so much poetry and rhythm. I’m not saying my writing bears any comparison to Bill’s by the way (mine’s much…newer?). The point is I read some stuff that could have done with a good hack but I read other books that have obviously been severely curtailed by hitting a word limit. It’s not in the end I think about length, or sentence structure as a rule that everyone must adhere to. It is, or should be about quality of story and writing style and the right length for what you are trying to say in the chosen format.

Which reminds me: Blog pieces should be short.

I could go back and hack this but – this is a start. I’ll write a shorter piece when I’ve got more time.

TL;DR?

Can people read more than 280 characters?

I was reading an article on the internet this morning:

https://sunilsuri.substack.com/p/gamingforgood

which I had been referred to by a gaming acquaintance. It is a fascinating article (to me at any rate) about using games for purposes other than straightforward entertainment. The obvious additional purposes include education – both in getting children to practice maths, engage with the concept of probability, social interaction and action/outcome ideas.

But there are bigger aims in some games, for example emergency response, planning, disease control, social planning etc. Whilst this is all good stuff, it may not be related even remotely to writing (although writing the scenarios, putting the results of gaming actions into stylised reporting/ narratives surely require authorial skills?). Something did leap out at me however which triggered a little thought regarding current writing practices and received wisdom about length of articles, stories, novels etc.

This is the quote which swapped tracks for me from a games to writing.

‘Consider news consumption. The Reuters Institute found that younger generations “do not want to work hard for their news.” In practice, news is often consumed on smartphones in small amounts to fit around other activities. Such consumption habits do not necessarily lend themselves to deeper engagement with the issues of the day.’

Well yeah. Difficult to get the nuances of anything in 140 characters (now 280, but 140 has a certain ring to it as the limit of human attention span in a digital world). Now most social media content is longer than that, but not by much.

Ah the horror of the modern world! Kids can’t concentrate. Millennials are so needy and have no depth! We’re all doomed.

Well I remember the heady days of proper print journalism and news that contained news on Television and radio.

And hardly anybody bought broadsheets, watched extended news programmes or listened to current affairs on the BBC Home Service.

There are more opportunities to read, hear and see extended, in depth, insightful news reports on thousands of items which would never have made it into the old ‘quality newspapers’ never mind red top tabloids or scandal sheets.

Attention span may have shortened but I remember many people consuming their news from ‘newspapers’ which had pages of hardly any content and masses of filler and still believing made up lies about European legislation which would ban bendy bananas and the British Banger.

The internet and social media may have made such gibberish slightly more available and a few more people than before may not have realised that reality checks need to be applied to anything, wherever you read, hear or see it. That doesn’t mean that any fewer people than before deeply engage with the issues of the day. I suspect there may be slightly more engagement in fact. Young people weren’t that bothered when I was a child/young adult. All those pictures and film clips of protestors on marches and rallies show the active minority, not the majority who were sat at home, or playing sport or working for their exams.

We shouldn’t get suckered in by fuzzy memories of halcyon days when everything was better. Goodness knows I have my doubts about the uses and abuses of digital technology but let’s not overstate them or use the idea as yet another stick to beat younger generations.

As for writing and reading, there seems to be a lot of appetite for reading about. Just because traditional media publishers haven’t always been up to speed on response doesn’t seem a good reason to bemoan the state of modern readers, or writers. Nor is it necessarily a reason to insist on brevity to point of meaninglessness. Yes, micro-fiction is a demanding and entertaining art form when done well, but its brevity is no more likely to get readers on the strength of its size alone than any other length of work. The good thing about reading is you can stop and start at will. Not many of us sit down and read a great slab of a book in one sitting no matter how good or engaging it is. I am however quite capable of remembering where I left off and resuming. I am sure ‘young’ people today are quite as capable of that feat if they wish as anyone else.

BIN IT?

Photo credit: <a href=”https://visualhunt.co/a4/d54738″>Harry R</a> on <a href=”https://visualhunt.com/re6/e79a6dbd”>Visualhunt.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”&gt; CC BY-NC</a>

 

 

What do you do with something no-one wants?

Don’t worry – not the cat.

But seriously, what do you do with a story nobody will buy?

I know the obvious answer is: bin it.

After all if no-one wants to read it what is the point of it?

I confess I find that to be impeccable logic, and yet there remains a part of me that is reluctant to just put a story I really like, and think is worth reading, on the rubbish heap.

The subject of this particular dilemma is a Science Fiction story I wrote five and a bit years ago. I’m sure I have rattled on about it before on this blog, in general terms if not by name.

It started out life c12,000 words. Too short for publication as a standalone novella, and too long apparently for the adjudged attention span of most of the SF readership as a short story. I sent it out to the few SF magazines that still take stories of this length, though nearly all make it obvious they prefer shorter stories. There were a couple of very quick rejections, a couple of days, which at least removed the agony of hope and allowed me to move on to other submissions. Some took well over a year to get round to declining but a couple of these gave encouragement to try elsewhere and at least one sent a very helpful set of readers feedback comments. These buoyed me up quite a lot although it made me wonder why, if the majority of the readers liked it so much, it hadn’t got the nod. I was never clear precisely why the story wasn’t ‘quite right’ or ‘not what we are looking for at the moment’ beyond that niggling suspicion that what they were really saying was; ‘This is b******s’.

I cut it down to below 10,000 words, which probably didn’t hurt it. It remained the same story and was I suppose tighter for the effort, and I sent it off to the next batch of mags that had the 10K word limit. Similar experience, if somewhat faster rejections. Quicker to read I guess.

Trawling through the magazines I read or know about, and looking at online market compilations has made it clear that the market, perceived or real, for SF stories is geared to stories below 6K with a preference for 2-3K. There is no way I can cut a 12,000 word tale by three quarters and retain anything I thought was worthwhile. I don’t think. I might try just to see but I think there are so many of the interesting ideas that would have to go that it isn’t worthwhile. I might try and cut it down by half and see what happens.

If, as I suspect, it loses too much of what I wanted the story to say, what then?

It would work in an anthology of different authors, but access to one of those is going to be no easier.

I have a reluctance to consider the self publishing route – the money is flowing the wrong way for me.

I think a 12k or even a 10k piece is too long for blogging – unless I go the serial route again but I still think this is good enough for a single shot paid outlet which would be better suited than the blog format regardless of the money.

The time angle concerns me as well. I have of course been a good boy and submitted this in accordance with the requirements of the magazines – mostly no simultaneous submissions. I don’t mind this too much, especially with quick turnarounds but many take months to reply. I know the old publishing adage: ‘if you want a quick answer, the answer is “no”’, but this speaks to a different age when publishers controlled everything and could be like that. Can they still? I suppose they can do what they like but the world is moving on.  Some are very good and encourage simultaneous submissions as long as you let them know if you get accepted elsewhere. I am reluctant to do this or go behind anyone’s back however inadvertently because I have been caught out before. I sent a piece, not fiction but an article to a magazine and the editor sat on it for a couple of years. I wrote and said if he didn’t want to use it I would send it elsewhere. No response, so I did. I got it accepted by another magazine and sure enough the next month the first guy published it – no communication about it before hand. I had a lot of explaining and backpedalling to do with that one but fortunately the second editor was very understanding and I sold him several articles subsequently. So no matter how slow or awkward people are I generally stick to the rules as stated these days.

This does mean five years have gone by and I have nothing to show except greyer hair, a fixed unnatural smile and a horror of publishers’ emails.

So for the moment I guess I will hunt down the one or two c10K word limit mags which haven’t had a chance to say “no” and send it off again. I will continue to work hard on other SF stories (several running at the moment) to see if I can put an anthology of my own work together and perhaps concentrate on other genres.

In the meantime I could perhaps learn to write shorter stories, or longer stories.

Or maybe just better stories!

DES MANNAY ‘SOD ‘EM AND TOMORROW’

sode'em and tomorrow

I went to the Newport Writers Group Open Mic night at Hortons in Newport again last night (thanks again Andy).

Poet Des Mannay was there, as he was last month and I should have mentioned this in my write up of that visit. He is a very exuberant and outgoing performance poet originally from Adamstown in Cardiff, now based in Newport and it is a pleasure hearing his work.

It is particularly good to be seeing and hearing him at the moment as he is about to have his first collection of poetry published this week.

The book is called ‘Sod ‘em and tomorrow’, published by LIT-UP, an Arts Council England-funded mentoring and publishing scheme for emerging poets of colour.

The launch will be in London on Saturday 29 February at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre, in Tottenham Green, London.1430-1730hrs  entry £3-00 redeemable against purchase of the book.

If you’re in London why not go along, meet and hear Des and buy the book. If you can’t make it on the day, you can still enjoy his work and buy the book at good bookshops or direct from Waterloo Press for £12.

Good luck Des, have a great day.

BETTER GET ON WITH IT (ORIGINAL DRAFT)

I have as I think I said recently,  been trawling through some old electronic files. These normally turn up a combination of ideas that were abandoned, and quite rightly in many instances, first x number of drafts of things I eventually liked and were used or are still being peddled, and occasionally weird finds like this.

This is my original version of an idea written for an exercise someone suggested. As I said when I posted the finished version here I don’t normally like that type of thing, as for me it feels artificial, but I can do it if needed.

What surprised me here was that the version I found and offer here is hardly recognisable – certainly not in tone – as the same basic story.

I put it here as a sort of amusement and possibly as an encouragement or a warning. Which, and about what you’ll have to decide.

If you want to compare with the original go to Flash Fiction and read the Better Get On With It in that section

 

 

Under the cover of fading twilight Piers Lomond narrowed his eyes against the drizzle coming up river from the west. North and south banks sprouted orange lights that twinkled in the rain. Piers knew that in the darkness of night they would blossom into glowing displays marking the warmth of humanity behind them. They were trying to tell him something. He didn’t want to listen.

The lights were like dames, clamouring for attention, sparkling in the darkness, leading you on and then snapping off when you needed them, when they found someone else to impress.

Out west was another world, a glitzier ball of light, the biggest, the brightest in the heavens, but now it was sinking into the waves that marked the horizon. Even that was lost in the darkness of the coming storm.

Lomond shook his head flicking water like a dog shaking its fur. It wasn’t going to bother him. He wasn’t planning on being around for no storm.

If he had any regrets it was the rain he guessed. He’d imagined beams of sunlight through fluffy clouds when it finally happened. Even the end was going to be grey and downbeat like a slow Sunday in Pontypool.  Out west was the land of eternal youth. He guessed that boat had sailed. He laughed. He didn’t need no boat where he was going. Below the bridge the second biggest tidal reach in the world turned and began dumping millions of gallons of water into the Irish sea. The biggest was in the Bay of Fundy almost two thousand miles due west of where he stood. Everything bigger and better was out west. He snorted , well he was coming to join them. Onwards and upwards he guessed. He stared down at the black troughed waves, not yet blown into white caps. Well onwards at any rate.

He turned and leaned back on the safety rail, wishing he had a cigarette. He wasn’t sure why. He didn’t smoke but it seemed like something you should do at a time like this. He stared north and west up river. All he could see was the carriageways crossing the bridge. He shook his head. He couldn’t even get to stand on the right side of a bridge for a dramatic gesture. He wondered who was writing the scene. Some schmo out of writing school he guessed, too lazy to go back and change the beginning so this scene would work better. He shrugged into the belted raincoat and turned up the collar against the rain that was dripping from the brim of his fedora down his neck. He hadn’t noticed he was wearing a raincoat and hat before now. It seemed a strange thing to be dressed in under the circumstances but he was feeling less comfortable about the whole deal by the sentence.

Somewhere up there, he nodded across the four lanes of motorway He needed a better agent. And quick.

BAD PERSON? PAYING TO PUBLISH

Interesting concept, paying to have your book published.

I know I have said before on this blog that that seems to me like the money flowing in the wrong direction.

This bumped up against my consciousness again recently because I read an article which suggested that paying for publication didn’t make the writer a bad person. I didn’t know anyone had ever suggested such a thing. I certainly wouldn’t. It might suggest they are a bit needy, and in this case, short of perceived time. Age can focus your mind quite strongly on the mills of the publishing world.

But a bad person? No.

The frustration element I can understand and I suppose one of the reasons the article sprang off the page at me was empathy.

I have a collection of short stories that have not seen the light of day and probably won’t by the look of things. Getting short story anthologies into print, hard copy or eBook for hard cash seems to be one of those Sisyphean labours of the modern age. My short stories tend to be of a length suited to an older interpretation of short, at least for the online platforms and even many of the remaining traditional hard format magazines. One particular SF story I wrote came out at just over 12 thousand words. I edited it down in successive submission formats to below 12 and then below 10 and then below 8 thousand words. I confess I thought the below 10 one was better than the initial version, but the last one was a cut too far for me (and still didn’t land a publication slot). I have lots at c3-4 thousand, a few around 5 thousand and a couple over that. Below 2k seems the standard requirement for online stuff now. Assuming the platforms are still running. A quick run through online lists of openings for short story writers, both online and hard copy mags is a sad journey to dead links, optimistic holding pages stating ‘will be accepting new submissions again soon’ –  dated five year ago and the whistling blackness of the internet ether.

So what do I do? I could put them up here, and that still seems like the most likely end result. However, if I do, that immediately disqualifies them for most other purposes. It counts as publication for competition entries (not too much of a problem – not a fan of paying for the lottery of publication), and for submission to magazines. And publishers of anthologies may take them if I were A L Kennedy or the ilk who have taken blog posts and published them in more traditional form, but I am not one of them.

So pay to publish?

I don’t think so for me.

I have been published in magazines before and have e-published things myself and been in traditional hard copy anthologies, and at no stage did money flow from me. I never made a fortune but I have never been out of pocket at the end of the deal. I hope that doesn’t come over as arrogant because we are definitely talking small potatoes here. But if I just want people to read my work I am more than happy to put it on here and people can read it for free. Or publish it online and take a small remuneration. Readership will be small, but that is true of most traditionally published books as well. Independent E-pub in spades.

I was talking to a publisher some months ago and he suggested to me some figures for sales for new authors that scared the living daylights out of me. Now the worst figures were for poetry and self published at that, but c20 copies seems unbelievably low. Traditional route hard copy was better but not by much for new authors without the heft of a big publishing effort and a hook into an established publicity base. Perhaps a few dozen books in the first quarter sales, with a few hundred copies over the lifetime of the book!

Sure, some big authors, who were first time authors once, sell tens of thousands of copies, but not many writers fit that bill these days despite the hype you see in publicity material.

The main initial push for an unknown, or little known author used to come from publishers. That seems to have largely gone. I’ve seen publishers blurb seeking new authors that basically leaves you under no illusion that they want the author to have an almost cast iron interest group following them already and a solid commitment to tours and appearances and festivals that make you wonder what the ****! they are doing for their money. I mean if you just want to print the book and do the publicity yourself – you might as well and keep the percentage the publisher would take.

Back to the article that sparked this moan down memory lane for a moment. It ended suggesting that paying for your book to be published made your book available to read and enjoy, which was what every author wants. I suppose the last bit is true, but given the evidence suggests that hardly anybody will buy it if I do pay for it to be published in traditional format I’d rather put the work out there for less or no cost on here or online and reach a bigger audience.

Of course I still rather like the idea of the labourer being worthy of his hire.

AMERICAN DIRT Who is allowed to write what?

The concerns that have been raised, including the question of who gets to tell which stories, are valid ones in relation to literature and we welcome the conversation,”

The above quote came from Flatiron Books, the publishers of ‘American Dirt’. The book is a novel that tells the story of a Mexican mother who crosses into the USA with her son. It involves a murderous attack on her family and supposedly encompasses something of the undocumented immigrant’s travails in the US.

It has been hyped of course, by those with an interest in seeing it succeed, into something which it apparently isn’t – i.e. possibly the new Great American Novel, the inheritor of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath mantle, the definitive work on populist anti-immigration feeling.

It has, as a result, received a lot of criticism. Not because it is badly written, but because it is supposedly inauthentic and trivialises the immigrant experience. The author, Jeannine Cummins is not a Latina and cannot therefore, the argument goes, represent the experience of one.

There is so much verbiage flying around about ‘pity porn’, ‘cultural appropriation’, ‘damaging stereotypes’ that I have no intention of trying to dissect them all piece by piece. Suffice to say that I am certainly prepared to accept it is not the great new Great American Novel, but…

Look again at that statement by the publisher in response to the virulent attacks on the book:

the question of who gets to tell which stories. This could be read as accepting a need to open the way for those who do not have ready access to publishing contracts to get a slice of the cake – and I have some sympathy with that. But it smacks more of a cowardly response to purity spirals – that concern of self selecting groups to be more extreme than nuanced about any ‘ideal’ in their cultural norms. It isn’t the same as being ‘woke’ or ‘virtue signalling, but it is close, and not a million miles away from online mobs.

And right at the bottom line what it means, if we take everyone at their logical word, is that only someone who is from a group, or has experienced a situation, can write about it. That is: write a novel about it, a piece of fiction. A piece of writing that is inherently MADE UP.

Read the label on the tin. This isn’t reportage, not non-fiction.

If that were the criterion of eligibility to write a work of fiction then no-one who had not been a murderer or a detective could write a detective thriller – bye bye Miss Marple. Nobody would ever be allowed to write SF or Fantasy and Horror would be a very restricted genre.

I’m not trying to diminish the experience of Latino immigrants to the US, or anybody trying to make their way against the cultural elites who rule our world, more power to their elbow. We need more of that voice. But the way to get more of the stories of this resistance out there is not to fight amongst ourselves because somebody who isn’t ‘qualified’ writes a story.

Sure there may be authenticity problems, the author may not be a Latina, she may not have faced the trials of the people she is trying to depict, but she is trying and from what I understand this is not a novel that is punching down against immigrants. It may be flawed but it at least tries to bring the idea into a wider white culture, even if it is through the vehicle of an entertaining crime novel.

Would critics feel happier if we were discussing the great success and sales of a novel by a white supremacist about how they helped ‘Build That Wall’ and took down a busload of refugees from Nicaragua? I sincerely hope not. But I am not sure that wouldn’t fit their agenda better.

I wish the minority US groups all the best in getting their message across in all its authenticity, but the best way to further the cause is not by attacking those who are on your side.

This isn’t white knightism either.

Sure, it’s someone making a buck, but that is writing. If it doesn’t sell no-one gets to read it.

Embrace the opportunity, don’t ban books.

Write more, better, books to explain the plight and of course, publishers…publish them.

SF STORY REDUX

The editing of my SF short story (HACKING – cut from from 11.8k to <10k) last week was to no immediate result. Whether it lost vibrancy, character development, story thread or was just a load of rubbish in the first place remains moot.

Whatever the reason, it wasn’t for them.

That’s the bad news.

The good news?

Possibly none, but there is an opportunity to place it with someone else, so the time and effort wasn’t entirely wasted.

As well as paring it down ( I suspect a ‘good thing’ in itself) it made me re-read it, first with an eye to where it could be trimmed. Second I read it again with a general eye to deciding whether it was an interesting, entertaining story with something to say about the human condition and incidentally the nature of truth and perception. In these days of ‘fake news’ and deep fake activity it was surprisingly apposite given I initially wrote it about four and a half years ago.

The upshot of all this revising, re-reading, hacking and re-jigging was that I still enjoyed reading it. Not something I can say about all the things I write.

I will be sending it off later today, confirmed in my belief (and whilst I confess to being biased I can generally see why some things don’t sell on reflection) that it is definitely worth publishing and reading. That’s incredibly modest isn’t it?

But if there weren’t a tiny bit of ego involved would anyone ever send anything off to a publisher or agent?

I suspect I need more ego and a thicker skin but I’ll try and carry on with what I have.