Out in the Open (A SFWA-Related Post)

Patrick (not of the Nielsen Hayden persuasion) has this to say about the recent SFWA-related posts:

Honestly, at this point, you boys need to take this inside. As fascinating as it is for me to watch and provide pointless distractions, this is now an internal issue.

Two things:

1. This is my site and I get to decide what goes here, and if y’all don’t like that, tough;

2. I disagree that this is now an “internal” issue.

Which is to say: Yes, SFWA is a particular group with particular aims that are of interest to only a relative small number of people — i.e., science fiction writers (and more particularly science fiction writers who are members of SFWA and those writers who would like to be members), and its elections and etc are not generally open to public purview. However, I don’t think that’s either needful or wise. SWFA is a group that in my opinion needs to grow; SFWA is also a group that in my opinion is viewed as increasingly irrelevant by a generation of up-and-coming writers, not in the least because so much of what goes on in SFWA is opaque, either intentionally (private newsgroups, etc) or unintentionally (a navigationally difficult Web site).

I think there are certain things about SFWA that may need to be discussed privately by SFWAns alone — current sensitive policy debates, for example. Nor would I deny SFWAns their private forums to bitch and moan, even if I personally prefer to bitch and moan in public. However, I think the default setting for SFWA should be set on “open”; there needs to be transparency in the process so the people that SFWA is for can see that it’s useful, and can see that they can be useful in SFWA as well. There ought to damn well be a compelling reason not to do things openly, and “well, we’re not comfortable with that” is not a damn good reason.

My aim is to have this election process as open as possible; at the very least I intend to be open about it as possible. I’m not worried about it losing me the election; frankly, I’m worried about it winning me the election, and then I’ll have to go from spouting high-minded ideals to actually trying to implement them, and we all know what a pain in the ass that can be. It’s a risk I’ll just have to take.

If you don’t want to read the SFWA-related posts, do what you do with other posts you don’t like: stop reading them when you realize you couldn’t care less about them. Another, non-SFWA-related post will be along shortly, I assure you.

17 Comments on “Out in the Open (A SFWA-Related Post)”

  1. SFWA is also a group that in my opinion is viewed as increasingly irrelevant by a generation of up-and-coming writers

    As one of those up-and-coming writers, I truly appreciate the recent public dialogs. It shows there is some life in an otherwise very opaque (to steal your word) group.

    I honestly saw the SFWA as the group that picks the Nebula winners, and very little else. It’s nice to see a little more from the outside.

  2. As someone who aspires to join SFWA one day, this is useful for me. While I have enough friends involved to have some idea of what SFWA *could* do and intends to do and talks about doing, it’s nice to see someone kicking the organization in it’s collective arse and suggesting it get on with *doing* rather than thinking about doing.

    Default set to “open” makes a *lot* of sense. But then I’m just an old Berkeley reprobate :>.

  3. changterhune – Before you hear lies from Chang Terhune himself, we thought we’d tell you the truth: without us, his old action figures, he’d be nowhere. He loved science fiction from way back and began reading it at an early age, but it was through us that he acted it all out. That’s what led to the writing. He watched a lot of science fiction shows like Star Trek, U.F.O, and movies, too. But we were always there to do his bidding. And it’s like they say: you always forget about the little people on your way up. Oh, the 70’s and early 80’s with him were good times! He’d use these blocks and make all the crazy buildings for us to be in his stories. I gotta say the kid’s imagination was pretty damn fertile. Oh, he had friends, but they just weren’t into it like him. He was like the Lance Armstrong of action figures. And of science fiction. At first, when he began writing in the eighth grade, we didn’t mind. He still made time for us. And we knew that when he was holding us in his sweaty little hands and he got that far off look in his eye, he’d come back to burying us in the back yard or - god forbid! – blowing us up with firecrackers. But it was worth it for a part in one of those stories. We loved him for it. He kept us around even when we were minus a leg or two - or even a head. In that mind of his, he found a use for all of us. Then he discovered girls. October, 1986. It was like the end of the world. One day we’re standing in the middle of this building block creation he’d pretended was some marble city on a planet near Alpha Centauri and the next we were stuck in a box in the closet. Not even a “See ya later!” Nope, it was into the closet, then we heard some high-pitched girly-giggles then silence. We didn’t see him for years. We got word about him once in a while. Heard he took up writing, but it was crap like “The Breakfast Club” only with better music. We couldn’t believe it. Not Charlie. What happened to those aliens with heads he’d sculpted out of wax? Spaceships? Those complex plots? All gone. For what? You guessed it: Girls. Emotions. “Serious fiction.” I tell you, it was like hearing Elvis had left the building. During our two decade exile in the closet, we heard other things about him. He went to college. He wrote a lot, but not much he really liked. We knew it even then. It was like he didn’t dare write science fiction. Some of us had lost hope and just lay there. Others kept vigil, hoping for a day we didn’t dare speak about. Then we heard he’d stopped writing in 1996. Did he come to reclaim us? No. He took up music for ten years or so. He took up yoga. Once in a while, he’d visit us in the closet. But it was half-hearted. His mind was elsewhere. Then one day, he really did come back for us. One second we’re in the dark and the next thing we know we’re in a car headed for Massachusetts. Suddenly we got a whole shelf to ourselves out in broad daylight! Then he bought a bunch of others form some planet called Ebay. He’d just sit and stare at us with that old look. But why were we suddenly back in the picture? He had a wife now, who didn’t mind that he played with us. So what had happened? Turns out he’d never forgotten about those stories. He’d been thinking about all of us and the stories he’d made up and then remembered he’d been a writer once. From the shelf we could see him typing away. Before long he’s got a whole novel together! Then he’s working on another one. Word is there are two more in the planning stages! Some short stories, too! It’s good to see him using his imagination again. Its good to know he never abandoned us. He returned to his true love of science fiction. We hear the stories are pretty good. Someday we’ll get one of the cats to score us a copy of the manuscript. Man, it’s good to be out of the damn closet! --- I'm smarter than you I'm harder than you I'm better than you I'm just raw I'm hotter than you More popular than you More clever than you And goshdarn it, people like me I'm smarter than you I'm harder than you I'm better than you I'm just raw I'm hotter than you More popular than you More clever than you And goshdarn it, people like me
    Chang, for rizzle.

    Here, here. Or is it “Hear! Hear!”? Anyway, i agree. It’s relevant to those of us entering the field and for those who are not interested, well you already said it best.

  4. fromtheheartofeurope – Husband, father of three, Irish, European, UK citizen, liberal, political analyst, science fiction fan, psephologist, lapsed medievalist, aspiring polyglot.
    Nicholas Whyte

    There is one respect in which this affects those of us who are not SFWA members but are SF readers. The current lack of credibility of the Nebulas detracts from the credibility of the genre as a whole. Whether or not you win, I hope you have achieved something simply by opening that debate.

  5. John, that first comment wasn’t nice. Patrick is going to be shattered to learn that other people do not maintain blogs and engage in conversations purely for his entertainment.

  6. I’ve got to second all of the above. For those of us “wannabes,” this is surely a lot more information about SFWA than I’ve been able to gleen in the past five years. It makes me want to belong, again.

  7. I, for one, welcome our new election-discourse overlords.

    No, seriously: I think I’ve learned more about the SFWA, what it does, and how it runs from the posts here over the last couple of days than I’ve ever gotten from the website. Reading comments from members and current and former leadership has been extremely enlightening.

  8. I think you should keep it here. While the specifics are boring, the discord is enjoyable.

  9. clvrmnky: SFWA stands for “Stilts For Wobbly Antelopes.” It’s one of those hippie tree-hugger things to help lame antelopes better avoid packs of hyenas. Details here. Disclaimer: I’m not a member, just an interested observer.
    And I noticed that site doesn’t even have a favicon. Tsk.

  10. Wow! A post because of me. I must be especially cute today.

    While I am honored by the naming, I do find it sort of cumbersome to say “Patrick (not of the Nielsen Hayden persuasion)”

    The simple “M.” should do.

    I hope my comment wasn’t read to imply point 1. Meaning, I wasn’t saying that you shouldn’t post this on your site or that I was saying what does or does not.

    I think there are certain things about SFWA that may need to be discussed privately by SFWAns alone — current sensitive policy debates, for example. — This is exactly why I made the comment. I would think the driving issues of a presidency would be of that persuasion. I’ve been wrong before and it has never dented my ego, so this is no big deal. I’m still cute.

    My other thought is that you were simply turning this into a popularity contest. You know, come to my site and defend yourself from my numerous friends and fans type thing. That’s also your prerogative. Silly if you don’t really want to win.

    I agree that the visibility is great. By making it public it may help bring back many who have left and many who have felt no overwhelming need to join. Do carry on. I’m being entertained and enlightened and misinterpreted. That’s pretty much what I strive for.

  11. Count me as a lurker who has no aspirations to be eligible for SFWA membership, but who, nonetheless, finds this series of posts and the ensuing threads interesting and useful.
    The specifics may be exclusively SFWA, but the concepts John is addressing and opening for discussion apply to all non-profit, more-than-one-person organizations.
    All organizations have, or ought to have, conversations which touch on all these issues: how open are discussions, how transparent are the workings of the governing body, how does the group define itself, what are the group’s goals, how will those goals be manifest?
    Go for it, John. Lead by example as you are so capably doing.

  12. Ann S., that’s exactly right. I said to another member of the household not five minutes ago that while this discussion is germane to SFWA, it could easily be transferable to almost any other membership organization.

  13. Oh, thank you!

    As a hoi polloi specimen, this pleases me greatly. I don’t think it’s ‘dirty laundry’, any more than any other form of open source.

  14. Martyn Taylor – Northumberland – A writer exploring what lies beyond our peripheral vision. Published by various small presses and now considered to be nearly a Proper Author. Can be found lurking around the frozen North of England, happily herding a small family of recalcitrant adults who may once have been children and a woman who may very well be the fulcrum upon which the universe turns. Available for hire for very reasonable prices.
    Martyn Taylor

    I am not now, nor have I ever been a member of the SWFA (for obvious reasons) and when it comes to almost any organisation ‘je suis Marxiste, tendence Groucho’. That said, your view extends to any and all organisations – if it ain’t open it ain’t democracy.

    Good luck, whetever the outcome. Vote, vote, vote for… just vote.

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