In the Service of the Creative: Thoughts on the Hugos and Other Things

I've been struggling with this blog entry for over a week now, but in the wake of Mary Robinette Kowal's excellent post, I decided it was finally time to collect my own thoughts and write about the controversy around this year's Hugo awards. I'm not terribly certain how all of those thoughts will come together here, so I hope you'll be patient with me as I muddle through.

First, I think I should clearly indicate that I've wanted to win a Hugo since I was fourteen, the year Isaac Asimov won the award for Foundation's Edge. I knew nothing about his private life back then; I simply loved his work and wanted to write something that might someday be counted in the company of books I treasured so much. So this year's controversy breaks the heart of the fourteen year-old girl inside me who wants for the Hugos to be about the merit of the stories nominated for them.

Then again, that heart has been broken before. I've known for years the Hugos were political; in fact, I've known the whole speculative fiction writing community was political since 2006, when I attended the last Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers' Workshop held in Michigan. I went to the workshop a new writer only to learn that some of the students and instructors already knew one another and had already created an insider circle the rest of us were not welcome in. When one of those student insiders - a volatile personality and friend of two instructors - behaved abusively toward me, I was blamed for his behavior. Thereafter I was further ostracized and ultimately humiliated by his instructor friends, women with so much clout that I felt sure any casual conversations about me with their peers would be enough to ruin my career before it began. It was an extraordinarily traumatic experience that left me scarred for many years, and I still have a righteous disgust for the people involved.

And before you go there, I call bullshit on the blasé opinion that no professional writer has that kind of power and no professional writer would use it. I've been present for those sorts of conversations, I've heard about them from others and I've seen what happens to writers who find themselves on the receiving end of a "punching down". This is a real phenomenon in the speculative fiction writing community, and it does exclude writers, especially new writers whose popularity isn't sufficent to push them to the top of the slush pile (which is another kind of exclusionary behavior that does happen). So this problem with the Hugos? It doesn't sit with liberals or conservatives alone. It sits with a sick community that does indeed have an inside and an outside, is indeed exclusionary and refuses to admit it.

Why? I'm not sure, but I have some ideas. First, as a liberal nerd myself, I've encountered people from my tribe who have 'done the work' or 'suffered the thing' and believe themselves incapable of ignoring, excluding or shaming behaviors. I think something of that exists in the speculative fiction writing community. There are people among us who believe themselves the good guys by virtue of their values or their nerd cred, who have significant personal and professional blind spots. Second, I think there are people who recognize the difficulty of making a writing career in the contemporary publishing climate and use whatever means are available to succeed - even if they hurt others in the process - along with successful people 'at the top' who are perfectly willing to participate in that paradigm. Finally, I think there are ideological divisions in the community with extremists on both sides who care more about advocating their political positions than they do the community itself. Each of these groups has a greater vested interest in the rightness of its position than it does anything else, and so the real work of creating an equitable writing meritocracy is often lost to factionalism.

For the record, I have been well-treated by successful writers and editors, people I hold in high esteem. And for the record, I do believe it's possible to make the major leagues on the swing of my bat alone, so I'm working hard to do just that. I also don't think my speculative fiction writing community is dead, nor do I think the Hugos are ruined. I just believe there are sicknesses here we all need to be addressing from our respective places of power. For my part, I plan to vote in the Hugos going forward. I should have been doing that already, and it's time I stepped up. I'm also going to write about my experience of being a writer and help to foster equity for other writers where I can. Finally (and most importantly), I'm going to attend conventions, read my work, write more and sell it, because that's what I came here to do.

Which leads me to the title of this piece. I was in meditation last week with a local Buddhist group while this matter and its relationship to my career weighed heavily on my mind. As I meditated, it occurred to me that the only way for me to succeed was to act in the service of the creative. In other words, it was better for me to serve the written word itself than it was for me to serve the drama in my professional community. It was a game-changer for me; it helped to put things in perspective. So while I'm sad about what the Sad Puppies have done, and while I have my own scars to bear, and while I believe (rightly or wrongly) there are bigger problems than puppies to address in our community, I'm still here, at my desk, making up stories and writing them down. It's the most important thing I can do professionally, and I would argue the same holds true for all writers.