Three and a half years ago I got my first tattoo. A few months before that time my father had fallen very ill, and while his condition eventually stabilized, at that time I was thinking a lot about things I’d wanted to do, things I’d put off doing and the danger that a life could end, incomplete.

I’d also been progressively putting on weight since I’d left university, and since my father’s illness was a complication of diabetes I was growing worried that I didn’t want to start down the same path. I stopped drinking pop. Bought a bicycle. Failed to lose weight.  I got more tattoos, traveled to Cuba and back to China, had a daughter, published a book. Reassessed my health needs, started using calorie counter apps and measuring exercise. Lost sixty two pounds.

For three years I frantically ticked off things I’d always intended to do and made sure I got them done. In part because, at the age of 33 I’d felt the first breath of mortality in the frailty of a man who’d been a constant in my life.

It’s been a rough winter. At the start of it, a casual friend, who was a very close friend of some of my close friends died suddenly and unexpectedly. I’d dealt with sudden death before, a few of the friends in my youth committed suicide, but this wasn’t somebody deliberately ending their life. This was illness claiming a peer. Then Lemmy Kilmister died, David Bowie died,  Alan Rickman: artists I’d followed to one extent or another for my whole life. It was a kick in the teeth.

Today I heard about David G. Hartwell. I didn’t know him that well. We’d met. I was one of probably a multitude of emerging authors who he provided some personal advice to at World Fantasy Convention. I’d seen him around on panels and in room parties a few times. He seemed like a good guy. I have friends who knew him much better. And for them I feel the deepest sympathy.

We are, none of us, immortal. And that’s terrifying. But I learned something through this bitter season of grief and pain. It was something hovering around my consciousness for the last three years.

We have the capacity to carry things on for those who pass before us. When Bowie died Choir! Choir! Choir! brought together hundreds of people at three events to sing re-arranged versions of his classics. As tribute to an artist, who constantly re-shaped his image and his art over a decades spanning career, other artists helped a group of people create new art.

A form of immortality can exist, though it’s a tenuous one. A lot of people suggest it lives on in the memories of people who knew them. But even that fades in time. Rather it lies in the deeds a person inspires.

So what I want to do, what I hope we can take away from this season of grief, is that we can build something beautiful even on a foundation of pain. We can create art. We can sponsor a cause. We can try to build something, accomplish something with our own lives. Life is brief and fleeting, and loss hurts whether it’s a close friend, a friend of a friend or a revered celebrity. So let’s build something lasting on foundation of that loss as a bulwark against the erosion of time.

Fandom is not a family

happy-family-1316701-639x797Ok, I know this one will probably get me some flack but it needs saying, because it’s an idea which has impacted the frames of reference for our current conversations: Famdom is not a family. What this means is that it’s a cop-out to say, “I put up with homophobe uncle John and besides he doesn’t know any better,” as a justification for why we should just accept that our sub-culture will always include bigots.

But what is Fandom if not a family?

Fandom is a loose-knit collection of communities

Seriously, even calling Fandom one community, let alone one family, is a misnomer. There is a professional organization called SFWA, another called the HWA, there are various convention boards and membership lists, and each of these things could be called a community. And some people cross between these groups, some people might be in dozens of these groups, but that doesn’t mean the groups are all one polyglot community.

And this is important, because people can choose who they want in their communities. Part of the core of all this year’s kerfuffle was when, a while back, a certain individual was invited to leave one community (SFWA) after a public meltdown.

Fandom is a sub-culture

With specialized language (mention a SMOF to one of your non-fannish colleagues and see the look of complete unrecognition), dress (not just cosplay either, the ribbons, the pins, they’re dress markers), and interests (obviously) fandom is almost the textbook definition of a sub-culture. And, looked at in this sense we don’t have much choice about who adopts those cultural markers. Anybody can like genre fiction if they want. Anybody can learn the Turkey City Lexicon and the acronyms that get tossed around at cons. Anybody can learn what the in-jokes are and what those damn ribbons mean.

But here’s another example of a sub-culture: punk rock. Now both Jello Biafra and Michale Graves are very much part of the punk rock sub-culture but they probably have almost entirely different takes on politics, philosophy and well… everything. There’s probably nobody who would suggest that the former lead singers of the Dead Kennedys and the Misfits are not real punks; and yet Biafra is a left-anarchist, while Graves is a staunch conservative.

And yet, I doubt anybody would try to talk those two into touring together either.

Fandom is a workplace

Not for everybody, but for lots of people: writers and actors, makers and booksellers. For these people Fandom is where they work. It’s simultaneously built of their suppliers, colleagues and customers, sometimes all in one body.

Now here’s where we can make some progress between the wide-open, anybody can sign on nature of a sub-culture and the much more exclusive nature of specific communities. Because we have a pretty strong understanding of what is acceptable and not acceptable reasons to invite somebody to leave a workplace. And it’s not because you don’t like their politics. But when it crosses a line from, “I disagree with this person,” to, “this person is harassing their co-workers,” then we’ve got a pretty good reason to exclude them.

And this is a pretty good litmus for how to decide what people we want in the Fandom tent. We want the people who don’t:

  • Touch inappropriately, stalk and sexually harass people
  • Threaten people with violence or incite other people to violence
  • Advocating for the extermination of a sub-set of people or for discrimination against people on the basis of inherent traits
  • etc.

And I’m going to say right now that there’s plenty of conservatives who don’t do any of these things. And there are leftists and centerists who do some or all of these things. And how we treat them should not be dependent on their position on a political spectrum but on their actions.

And besides, why do you tolerate bigotry from your relatives?

My relatives are pretty cool so I don’t have much experience with this, though I have to remind certain relatives on occasion that Conservative does not equal stupid or evil; and the thing is I do that even though I disagree entirely with everything Conservativism stands for, because I understand that it’s possible for decent people to disagree wildly.

But if a relative told a racist joke at Thanksgiving dinner, I’d say, “that’s racist. Why would you say that?” Progress depends on us, personally, having the courage of conviction to confront outmoded and harmful discourse.

If you say, “Oh, that’s just Aunt Jane, she’s from another time / some specific place / this or that faith; she doesn’t know any better, bless her heart,” you’re letting that particular thread continue unchallenged. And bigotry should be confronted by all decent people wherever it’s found.

Fandom is my workplace. I come there to network, to sell and to buy. I come there to learn and to teach. Many of my friends are members of the communities that compose fandom, and I’m happy to use the elements of material culture that signify membership in the sub-culture. But it’s not my family. So while I’m happy for the big tent to include communists, anarchists, socialists, liberals, centerists, conservatives and libertarians, I won’t tolerate harassers and unrepentant bigots. A big tent is great, but we can choose what is acceptable behaviour in our group. And if somebody violates that behaviour we can invite them to leave.

Puppies in Stasis

Brad Torgersen writes most honest article about the Sad Puppies movement to come out of their camp

Sad puppyWhen I delivered my presentation at the Toronto SpecFic colloquium at the beginning of march, I put forward the hypothesis that when you got beyond the arguments about politics, the disputes over SFWA membership, and the arguments about literary merit at the awards, what the Sad Puppies really wanted was for SF/F/H to never change from what they believed it to once be.

And now Brad Torgersen, one of the key organizing influences behind the Sad Puppies has written this.

I have to say, as much as I might violently disagree with pretty much everything he said, and his entire premise, it’s at least more honest than I have come to expect from the Puppies. Gone are the claims of trying to de-politicize SF/F/H. Gone are the rallying cries of: “censorship!” “pink shirts!” “reds under the bed!” Gone is the defense of Vox Day’s purulent behaviour or complaints that SFWA is being unfair to the Real Men of SF/F/H.

And that’s good because what Torgersen has provided is a basis for discourse, a reason to actually engage with him and his fellow Puppies, rather than just to dismiss them out of hand as sour grapes.

And that is, in turn, good because I do think he’s misguided – and through that process of engagement perhaps some of those Puppies can be peeled away from what is largely a toxic movement.

The cereal metaphor

Torgersen describes SF/F/H as being a box of “Nutty Nuggets.” He describes himself as a fan of the taste of these hypothetical nuggets, who has, seemingly overnight, found the flavour to have transformed entirely. It’s the same package, the same brand, but it’s not the same nuggets.

He describes trying box after box: some are more like his beloved memory of cereal and some are less. But none of them are his dearly departed nuggets of nuttiness.

Now this is a flawed premise.

First off, SF/F/H was never a homogeneous brand. Even if you go aaaaallllllllll the way baaaaack to the pulps, the gulf between say, Lovecraft and Howard was vast.

But, ok, perhaps Torgersen was raised on a steady diet of Robert Howard, Doc Smith and Robert Heinlein. Does that mean that SF/F/H should never grow beyond a barbarian swinging an axe and a space ship flying past a mysterious planet?

Think for a moment on Moorcock, his Elric stories built upon the traditions of Howard (and of Tolkien) but challenged them. He interrogated the work of the people who came before him and made something new and different in the process. And Elric was a product of the 1970s!

I was born in 1979. To me, there has never been a world where SF/F/H didn’t include both Conan the Cimmerian and Elirc of Melniboné. These two diametrically opposed ideas of what sword and sorcery stories could look like were available to me, from birth and I’d be shocked if literature hadn’t evolved in the meantime.

To me, SF/F/H literature isn’t a box of cereal. It’s the Grand Magic House Buffet. Yes, there are some fried foods there that you KNOW aren’t any good for you but taste SO good. And there’s the old standards: the roast beef and bean salad of the book world. But this buffet is huge, and the chef who runs it can become easily bored. So in addition to the standards there’s an ever-changing, ever-growing abundance of dishes to try.

And so, when we get past the identity politics, when we get past the inside baseball bickering over use of SFWA accounts and how people self-select to vote for awards, when we push that all aside, what do we find?

People at the buffet of genre, who really only want to eat roast beef and bean salad, upset because they put a bit of a new confection on their plate once, didn’t like the taste, and erroneously believe that because they’ve been coming to the restaurant for umpteen billion years, that dish should be expunged and replaced with more roast beef, more bean salad. In fact, anything but roast beef and bean salad must go! The buffet must serve nothing but roast beef, bean salad.

And that’s just kind of sad.

The post in which I count fucks

Bleep Gentle reader, as you likely know as a subscriber to my blog I am an author. I write things, make, to a certain definition of it, art with my words.

And now these fuckers over at Clean Reader want to go in and change my words with ones they find less objectionable.

So let’s talk a bit about my book, the Black Trillium. It’s a new adult novel. That means I’m gearing it toward an audience basically from 16 to 25, with the possibility of people older than 25 might also like it.

The Black Trillium is 117,100 words long. Here’s how I swear:

  • Shit: 15
  • Bitch: 11
  • Fuck: 10
  • Asshole: 2
  • Ass: 1
  • Dick: 1

Total instances of foul words: 40, or roughly 0.034% of my words, probably somewhat less than the foulness of the average late-teenager.

And most of the alternate words I could think of don’t occur, although the word “witch” appears twice.

So you might say, it’s unlikely that anybody would get confused by the word replacements, your story will remained intact.


I write in multiple first person. The language I choose throughout the entire book is designed to reveal something about the character of the narrator for that chapter. These revelations of character include things like the circumstances under which the characters swear and the sort of swear words they use.

The character who castigates two other protagonists for “waving their dicks around” wouldn’t be the same if she instead criticized them for “waving their thoughts around,” or whatever else Clean Reader decided was less objectionable.

Likewise it’d be a substantial change to character if somebody always cursed by saying “poop.”

Characters are central to story. The story can’t exist without them. And when you mess with the characters you are fundamentally altering the story.

Now recently I delivered a discussion regarding Gamergate and Sad Puppies where I pointed out that all art enters into the realm of political discourse by way of being public speech.

When Clean Reader interferes with the characterization of my characters, and thus muddies my themes, they are making a change, no matter how subtle, to the nature of that public speech.

It’s not censorship, not from the definition I use of what constitutes censorship, but it is academically dishonest, blatant and deliberate misquotation; and that’s a dangerous garden path to dance down all of its own.

Writing a book is a deliberate process.

So is reading one.

And I’ve always been of the opinion that one should think carefully about what they read and why. Certainly the language the author uses is a fair consideration.

When you let people bleep the fucks out of stories you are facilitating a lack of deliberateness in reading, a laziness regarding content.

So what do we have?

Laziness, dishonesty, political interference, interference with the artistic vision of the artist.

Clean reader: go fuck yourself.

Maybe start painting bras on all those old paintings by Titian. Oh wait, I mean “Mammary”ian. I wouldn’t want to swear.