Read today’s earlier piece from me instead, thanks.
(And also today’s Big Idea, because, hey, a Big Idea.)
So, I’ve spent a day giving myself a small ulcer trying to write this thing well, and it hasn’t been working. So fuck it, I’ll just go for blunt and see where that gets me:
I have some friends who have fucked up in how they’ve been treating women. Specifically Myke Cole and Max Temkin and Sam Sykes and (as an online acquaintance who I’ve been friendly with) Warren Ellis. Variously they’ve fucked up and it’s the first time I’ve heard of it, or they’ve fucked up, been given one strike (by me and others) and then fucked up again. Some have owned up to it and accepted that they’ve fucked up; at least one (as far as I can see) has sort of slunk off.
I’m not interested in excusing or mitigating their fuck ups. When you fuck up, you own your karma. I like and have liked all these guys to a greater or lesser degree, and also my personal feelings about them are irrelevant with regard to how they’ve treated other people, and specifically women (and, additionally, people they’ve identified as women who might be non-binary).
It’s hard and sad when friends fuck up, because they’re friends; you like them and you have a relationship with them. You have friends in common. You have at least a little bit of a life in common. It hurts when your friends fuck up. But when they fuck up, you have to be clear about it.
My friends fucked up. Not accidentally, to be clear. They made choices.
They are responsible for their wholly intentional fuck ups.
Also, I am responsible for my fuck-ups in relation to them — to what extent my friendship implies complicity with their actions, or provides cover, or has allowed me to overlook things I should have been paying attention to, or has allowed me to excuse what they were doing. This is one reason I feel like I have a small ulcer at the moment; the gnawing feeling in my gut that wonders how much of their fuck ups are at my door. In some cases, not much! In others: well, more.
(You should also know right now I definitely have that exasperated part of me that is all, like, look, I haven’t been in the same room as this guy for a couple of years! I don’t have a body cam on him! I don’t see every goddamned thing he does as he does it and to whom he does it! My brain is very full of defensive frustrated whining right now! Which is also a thing I have to work through.)
(And while I’m at it, I’m going through my own interactions with people, especially women, at conventions and other places where it turns out the power differential slides toward me. I can admit that this power differential wasn’t something I truly clued into for a while — I think it took being SFWA President to get it drilled into my head, because that was a big fuckin’ neon sign, wasn’t it — but it was there fairly early, so, uhhh, yeah. I’ve seen people commenting “well, at least we still have Scalzi,” and there’s part of my brain going, oh, man, I sure hope you do! But I also know that I have fucked up before in other places where I didn’t understand my power (see: RaceFail, now a decade back), and because of that what I did or said hurt people. That’s also a thing.)
So, yeah, I have to sit with and work through all of that.
I’m angry at my friends right now. I’m sad for my friends right now. I’m even more angry about and sad for the women who they have made feel unsafe, and who they have harassed, or groomed, or otherwise harmed, because it is unacceptable. I want to be a friend to my friends and I also want to chuck them off the side of the fucking boat and be done with them. I want to think there’s a way back for some of them, for the same reason there was a way back for me when I’ve fucked up before. That’s on them, and right now I don’t know how much, if any, of my personal time and credibility I want to put into helping them. I’m frustrated and I’m tired that we keep having to do this, and I’m ashamed that some of the reason we keep having to do this rests on me. I understand and accept why I need to write this piece and I also fucking resent having to, and that resentment rests solely on my friends, and me.
I’m well aware of how much this piece I’ve made about my reaction, when at the end of the day what it should be, simply, is this:
Women have a right to be safe and secure, and to have full participation in the cultures and communities that they create and work in.
My friends fucked that up. And me too.
I’m sorry my friends fucked up. I am sorry for fucking up too.
I’m going to work on my shit. I hope these men I’ve called my friends work on theirs.
Writing has always been a way for me to express myself creatively. Ask me to draw, you’ll get stick figures. Color, not so great at that either even if I do stay in the lines. Decorate my living room, it’s as plain as when I moved in. But write a book, I can actually do that. So, when at a gathering with a bunch of friends, many of whom happen to be veterans, the topic of conversation came to dating, divorce, and marriage an idea sparked for a story.
After doing some research (mostly to make sure some of the high figures friends had mentioned were actually true), a big question stuck in my mind over and over: After hearing over and over that if the military wanted you to have a wife, they’d issue you one, I began to wonder what if they actually did issue spouses? Who would actually sign up for a program like that and why?
In doing some research, I found out there were many reasons people married into the military. I remember coming across a story about two friends who got married because one of them needed insurance, another where the military member had gotten married because of increased salary and other perks. But I wanted to go deeper. So, I started asking myself what would make me join a program like that.
One thing came to mind right away. Community. While I have close cousins who’d grown up with a father who was away all the time, aunts running their households and hosting holidays without their husbands present, they always had a built in community. And I loved that. It’s something I have found is hard to find in my own civilian life.
My heroine started to develop and take shape, because belonging is something we can all relate to. Sometimes I think people forget that belonging is an aspect of life adults deal with as well as teens and younger kids, especially as our circumstances change. It’s also an area that some of the veterans I know had mentioned being a reason they missed the military as well. They hadn’t found a comrade, a tribe, like they had when they were active duty.
Once this concept of belonging took hold, it also steered how I wanted to approach my novel. It needed to be focused on home life, not a romantic suspense where the military member and the love interest got caught up in a mission of some sort. One of my favorite TV shows came to mind—Army Wives. And what better reason for a Netflix (or maybe it was Hulu) binge than research. Well, it wasn’t my favorite show when it was actually on TV, it was my mom’s favorite show. And I used the opportunity to spend more time with my mom as we watched it together at her house, something I wished I had done more of with my father before he died.
The hero came together a bit easier for me. Sure, he’s a bit surly like two of my uncles, and is stubborn when it comes to his health (like my dad had been. I mean, he had lung cancer and would “take walks” to “secretly” smoke a cigarette, yet the neighbors would rat him out. Not to mention smelling like cigarette smoke the moment he came back home). I am smiling now as I remember the ways he would come home acting all innocent, the same way I had when I incorporated that part of my dad into the hero. My dad was quite the character.
Writing Issued also forced me to take a look at relationships, including my own. This was probably the toughest part of the book for me, because it caused me to face some of the not great parts and even to examine where I had faults. Like what does it mean to truly accept your spouse? How do you trust someone to see you at your weakest, especially when society dictates you should be strong? And how do you forgive, especially forgiving yourself? For someone who doesn’t trust easily like me, at times this book became hard to write emotionally because I felt like I wasn’t “practicing what I was preaching.”
Overall, I wouldn’t trade the experience I had writing this book for anything, even if it meant I didn’t have to do half of the rewrites my editor asked of me. I came out of the experience having spent more quality time with family members, learning more about their struggles and good times. I got to remember and incorporate my father in some ways into the book. And I came out with a deeper respect for active duty members of the military, their spouses and their families.