Friday, December 21, 2018

We're Mad as Hell and We're Not Going to Take it Anymore (Or Something)

Lot of outrage going around for the holiday season. I’ve been pretty good at staying out of it for the most part, but I don’t maintain a blog so I can keep my opinions to myself.

The biggest recent furor focuses on the Mystery Writers of America naming Linda Fairstein a Grand Master. Then un-naming her. (Or un-mastering her. Whatever.) I pretty much kept my head down over the whole Central Park Five ruckus, mainly because I found a more fundamental reason she should not have received the award: I never heard of her before that day. Not that I should be the official arbiter of who’s a Grand Master, but I am pretty well engaged in crime fiction writing; I’ve heard of a lot of people. When my first thought is, “Who the fuck is Linda Fairstein?” and half a dozen more deserving names pop into my head, that’s a tell.

I’m not going re-litigate the whole Central Park Five thing. Fairstein was the prosecutor, the people she (wrongly) convicted got a $41 million settlement, she’s expressed no remorse, maybe she is prohibited from expressing remorse by the terms of the settlement, maybe she should then have just shut the fuck up and not defended her dubious record there, MWA should have known this about her, why would MWA look if they felt her body of work was deserving, should non-writing actions be disqualifying factors in award giving out…it’s a long list and both sides have been argued to death.

I’ve taken no pro-MWA or anti-MWA position because my interest pretty much died with the “Who the fuck is Linda Fairstein?” question. What she did interests me less in this context than what she didn’t do, which was to earn the award. What has struck me over the past few weeks is this: the vast majority of people arguing either side have been assholes about it.

Those who don’t think the MWA should have revoked the award have called the board everything but pussies for rolling over for a vocal minority, not knowing whether the protest comes from a minority or not. Those who had protested Fairstein’s award then turned on this group with the attitude that anyone who sees any nuance here at all are at best racist apologists who can go fuck themselves. It’s like watching a bunch of permanently adolescent gamers argue about whatever it is gamers argue about. (I have no idea what gamers argue about and I don’t want to know, I just know they do, and they are generally permanently adolescent, especially if they’re arguing about gamer shit.)

Here’s some advice that will serve both sides well: shut the fuck up. There is nuance to everything. Nothing is exactly and completely as it appears on the surface. Did MWA fuck up? Maybe. In my eyes, probably. Did they fuck up again when they revoked the award? Maybe. Saying they should have stuck their guns, right or wrong, is hardly taking an objective look at the situation. Nor is demeaning those who disagree with you because the purity of their progressiveness is insufficient. I’m learning a lot more about the antagonists on both sides than I am about Linda Fairstein and MWA, and very little of it is good.

Todd Robinson posted a video on Facebook the other day talking about the fiction of a writers’ community and how the writers at most conferences fall into two categories: those who will cut your throat to get your little niche of success and those who will cut your throat to protect their little niche. I have as much respect for Todd as I do for anyone in the business, but that hasn’t been my experience. I go to Bouchercon and Creatures, Crimes, Creativity mostly to hang with my tribe (to borrow Reed Farrel Coleman’s term), people who know what it’s like to spend so much time in a room alone and hope some acclaim will come two years down the road. (Maybe a few shekels, too.) I learn about my craft and spend time with people I genuinely look forward to seeing.

Maybe my situation is different because I pretty well dismissed the notion of writing for a living quite a while ago. I’m as close to following Todd’s prescription of why one should write (“to tell your stories”) as anyone, so the potentially vicious networking he refers to passes right by me and my too small to bother with footprint. Yay me. What I do see, though, is that there are people in the industry—I’m not crazy about the term “community,” either, for reasons of my own—who are more interested in telling you why you’re a piece of shit for disagreeing with them than in talking to you about it, and this is on both sides of any argument. There are a couple of writers I don’t read much anymore because they were so virulent and dismissive of legitimate but contrary positions, and a few people I’d probably prefer to spend less time with the next time I see them.

So it goes. It just seems to me that people who spend their lives writing stories to share points of view as a way of broadening their readers’ horizons might want think about the narrowness of their own.


Dale T. Phillips said...

Dana, it does seem like a lot of people find it difficult to have a discussion anymore, like everything has to be a fight. Have they been watching too much television, social media, or whatever? Are we so fed up we're constantly uncivil and have to yell at everyone, on every point, all the time? Yeesh.
My fellow writer experience has been vastly different from Todd's observation. At conferences like Crime Bake, Bouchercon, Maine Crime Wave, and Killer Nashville, I've found fellow writers to be warm, welcoming, helpful, and supportive. I'm astounded at the generosity displayed.
My baseline is I assume someone is okay (even if I don't prefer their work), unless they do something to prove otherwise. I'm friends with agents, publishers, and writers big-trad and small, though as a Indie, I support views contrary to much of the trad industry, and others' way of making a living. YMMV I guess. Let's celebrate the good parts of the writing community!

Dana King said...

Good points, Dale. My experience has been similar to yours. Yes, there are assholes in the business and among the writing fraternity*, but I not only find them few and far between, but easy to avoid.

*-- Apologies for the use of fraternity, but even a Roget's search failed to turn up a gender-neutral term for what I was going for. Suggestions welcome.