Saturday, October 22, 2016

Quick Thoughts - New Kids on the Block

Things have happened. I dislike saying that SFF needs a lot of work, but…well, it kind of keeps getting proven to be the case. I'm not close to the situation and I don't really want to write about it. Other people have written some brilliant pieces things and I don't want to step on that. I believe the people who have spoken out. I want to write something else. Something about being new to SFF. Or perhaps about being outside of SFF looking in.

Maybe that will seem like a weird thing to say coming from a person who is best known as a SFF reviewer, as I am. But then, my inroads into SFF as a fandom, as an institution, has been rather strange and rather defined in part by rather abusive people and situations. Yay. And I still don't really feel in SFF. Not really. Maybe on the fringes, but still definitely looking in instead of really a part of it. I'm…what? An up-and-coming writer? A sage reviewer? A new face in SFF? An…introvert? Well, that last one is something I've been called. The earlier ones? Eh...not so much. Which is not to say that I've been wholly unsuccessful as a SFF short fiction writer and reviewer. I've sold stories. I will hopefully continue to sell stories. And some people seem to like my reviews. But my debut in SFF, such as it was, went largely unnoticed and since them my sales have been rather spread out and at publications that are outside what many considered "the core of short SFF." Which…I cannot tell you how grump I am about people only paying attention to certain publications because "those are the only ones that win awards." There is grump, readers. Such grump.

And okay, I'm rambling a bit because this is hard. This is hard. Refocus. Take a breath. Write. When I first wanted to really get into SFF, and short fiction in particular, I knew nothing about it. The mechanics of the business were obscured behind the veneer of names and book deals and my own hopes. I wanted so desperately and so blindly that I was very, very vulnerable. I don't think this is uncommon. Education in the formal sense rarely goes into the business of writing. And especially the business of short SFF. And there are so many places out there having so many different opinions on the "right way" to do things. The fast way. The best way. All I knew starting out was that I wanted. Wanted to write. Wanted to be a part of something. I wanted. And I let that want guide me. Now, it wasn't all bad. I found places to submit stories to. I found communities to join. I thought…this must be how it works. I imagine I was an easy target.

It's really easy to get tricked into believing you're doing something "for your career." You meet someone and they talk about the people they know, the names that you've only seen on the spines of books. You hear how you might help them out, or be a part of something, that you might do something that will earn you some gratitude. That maybe will give you some SFF cred. So you volunteer. You leap up and you give your time and your effort. And if you're uncomfortable with anything you tell yourself, who are you? Who are you next to these names? If the work seems too much you think how can I not? How can I say no when it might mean someone will hate me? Or someone won't want to help me? You get this weird idea that the business is this network of people doing favors for each other and if you do good enough, ingratiate yourself enough, then maybe someone will do a favor for you in return.

This, by the by, is a paralyzing thought. Is a toxic thought. If you buy into it, are you buying into the idea that the only way to get published is to know someone? To call in a favor? If you sell a story, is it because it's good or because you were nice to a person? Because you did something for them? From the outside, I remember thinking this at times. That my stories were just as good as the ones I read. Why not me? It must be that other people are part of some conspiracy to keep me out. The game wasn't fair. I mean, I get why the Puppies feel the way they do. Why people get angry and disillusioned and hateful. I understand it. I don't agree with it at all, but I understand those feelings. And I understand that those feelings, that fear and insecurity and anger, make a person easy to manipulate. I was, and contributed to harm being done. Made decisions that I wasn't comfortable with. Sacrificed my time and my effort in ways did not benefit me and that did not reflect what I believed in. I was bullied and I was used, and I am ashamed of that.

People will do a lot to not feel alone. To feel like maybe they're just a little bit closer to their dream. And other people will take merciless advantage of that. The truth as far as I can find it is you have to find a way to make the work worth the effort. Meaning in some ways it can't be about the goal. The dream. It has to be about the work, the moment. If you want to write stories, then the writing has to be worth it. Not the selling. Not the praise. And that's…hard, because there are times when it seems like everything is pointless and you're on the outside looking in and you'll always be on the outside looking in and I can't guarantee that you won't be. I can't guarantee that I won't be. And some days, when you see the time you spend on writing and the bills that need to be paid and the starved, struggling hope that looks like one of my houseplants that I seem to either water too little or too much…

The work has to be worth it. And if you don't feel it is, then you might have to ask yourself why and what you can change. For me, it wasn't a quick decision or a painless one. It's a question I'm still asking and still answering. I can say that I'm happier now than I was before I made certain decisions. Before I started asking that question. Not because I'm selling more, but because I like the work I do. I believe in it. I own it without hesitation. I am no longer ashamed. Or at least no where near as much as I was.

Being new in SFF is hard. It is also dangerous, especially if you aren't of the most dominant group. So take care of yourself. You are valuable and you are worth so much. You deserve respect and decency. Always. Thanks for reading.

All the best,

Charles Payseur



  1. The myth about SFF and being a geek has always been that it *meant* being on the outside, hasn't it?

    I have only gradually come to realize how large the divide is between those of us who take this as liberation from the kind of peer pressures you allude to, and those of us who experience it as deprivation and are anxious to create something they can be inside of.

    Both responses are natural, but it seems pretty obvious by now that SFF folks are no better at creating communities than the people who have traditionally excluded them. At this point, I treasure my 'outside looking in' status, and the only change I would make in it is to perhaps stop looking in.

  2. Thank you for writing this! I'm new to SFF, the fandom, the writing, all of it. I'm forming some friendships now, but a year ago I felt like I was intruding.