Science-Fiction & People of Color; Rejection Letters

Sometimes when I tell people I’m into SF/F and that I primarily write in that genre I get this weird look and the statement “Black people don’t like Sci-Fi” or something similar despite the fact that I’ve just told them at least one black person loves it. Then of course I state how plenty of POC that I know love Sci-Fi. Now if I’m talking to someone who is a white SF/F I often get the “Then why don’t I see them at conventions?”

Well if you want my opinion on one big reason (not the only one by far) for both why POC don’t attend conventions and why we need POC space head over and read Tobia Buckell’s post: Asimovs Forum Ickiness on what’s going on in the Asimov’s forum in regards to Sanders and Helix. When POC see this kind of blatant white privilege and refusal to acknowledge our pain or anger over bigotry and racial slurs in the industry that doesn’t exactly make us feel welcome. And that the posts that decry us as “oversensitive” and “PC Nazis” are full of sexism and racism within themselves especially when they’ll only attack Tempest (a WOC) but ignore anyone else talking about the Helix issue.

It’s even worse that it’s in Asimov’s forum because Asimov is considered one of the “big three” in Sci-Fi magazines and one of the main commenters, Dave Truesdale, has his own online column at F&SF (another big mag) where he talks about how SF/F is “too gay” and other Limbaugh-esque intolerance. So – I’m a Person of Color who loves SF/F, and decide to head over to Asmiovs forum to talk to other fans and join the SF/F community and this is the kind of vitriol I see then I’m going to assume all SF/F fans are like this. So am I then likely to head to a convention full of these folks? Hell, no.

Just go read the post and I suggest you read all the comments to because they’re really enlightening.


Also related to the Helix debacle but not rage-inducing and actually really funny Shaun CG @ Nostaligia for Infinity has declared today Post A Rejection Letter Friday!:

Apropos of the ridiculous focus on whether or not posting rejection letters is common practice/professional/legal/cuddly/appropriate/blue rather than on the exposure of crude and offensive racist language, I’m officially declaring it Post A Rejection Letter Friday.

Mine aren’t that interesting because #1 I haven’t gotten that many because I haven’t submitted that many place, which will change this summer I have 5 or 6 stories I’m gonna submit in the next month and #2 all the rejections I’ve gotten have been short and kind of standard form letters. You know the whole “not right for us” thing. But I want to join in so here’s mine:

Thanks for your submission, and I’m very sorry for taking so long to
respond to it; we received over one hundred stories for this anthology,
and it took us longer than we had expected to give each the consideration
that it deserved. Unfortunately your story is not quite what we’re
looking for at
this time. I wish you the best of luck in placing this story elsewhere.
Take care!

23 responses to “Science-Fiction & People of Color; Rejection Letters

  1. As I noted in Tobias’ blog, these authors are actually lowering the amount of folks who will read them. Eccentricity, conspiracy theories, differing political views off color jokes I can take from authors. Outright hate? Not so much.

  2. I burned all my rejection letters.

    As always, Toby’s post is excellent as usual (but then, I read it regularly anyway).

  3. Pingback: Post a rejection letter Friday at Tobias Buckell Online

  4. Nothing more than the typical white boy SF club that so many of us are working against. All I can hope is that these guys will either eventually learn, or like the dinosaurs before then they will simply become as extinct in the industry as thier ideas are.

  5. Can’t say it better than Moon, so will only say ditto.

  6. You know, when I bought the big anniversary issue of F&SF year before last, I didn’t sit down to read it looking to be offended, I wasn’t expecting to be hit in the face over and over and OVER again with Skeezy Race Issues, Whiny White Guy Whining about loss of white/male privilege, and colonized-mind promulgation of sexist stereotypes by other women.

    Sometimes I *do* buy things to tear them apart, but this time, no, I was looking for good stuff, trying to support the genre, etc etc. I expected to be bored by some of them, mildly diverted by others, and entertained the hope of finding at least one, maybe two gems I could rave about and pass on and go hunt other things by the same authors.

    Seriously. That’s why I chunked out an hour’s pay for the thing, which I could have spent on a novel, or eight at the dollar table, even.

    Instead, it was so full of the above-mentioned offenses that I started making notes while I was reading it in the dining court of the mall, and it only took me about a year to finish my rant because I got so overwhelmed with the amount of skeeze that I couldn’t take enough showers, so to speak.

    And when I finally got round to posting my rant on it, I (and my regular commenters) got lectured by various Luminaries of the Field for daring to dislike what we were served, and told that we just Didn’t Appreciate Our Betters and were obviously Clueless N00Bs and so on, and how *dare* we say these Shining Lights of Fandom were sexist or racist or expressed reactionary views in their stories or magazines?

    (Which, as you may imagine, went over real well with me and my flist. We tend to be an ornery lot, whose motto might as well be ‘a cat can look at a king”…)

  7. So, I have a question for those of y’all who write sci fi and/or fantasy. A wee bit off topic maybe, but inspired by Moondancerdrake’s remark about working against the old white boy SF club… when you write, how do you do this?

    Specifically, do you care about reaching a large audience and introducing more variety, POC, women, etc., into the mainstream eye, even though it means you may have to make some compromises (not having an all-female or all-POC cast, for example)? Or do you just write what you please regardless of whether or not it will be considered “mainstream” enough to be published and marketed towards a broad audience?

    In full disclosure, I do the former.

  8. Ico,

    I was going to say I do the former, but it’s not entirely cut and dried for me. I write what I want, and yet because I’m publishing in mainstream sff there is always a part of my auctorial mind that is dealing with audience.

    My most recent series has an all-POC cast except for a single non-POC character, but because it is immersive fantasy (and secondary world, not our own world) and written from within the culture(s) in question, I don’t red flag it (in a region where brown skin is normative, people will not constantly note that they or their friends and neighbors have brown skin), so some may project their own ideas onto the characters’ looks; forex, one (white) reader mentioned that she assumed while reading that everyone looked like her (i.e. was white).

  9. Craig-
    You’re exactly right, they’ve lost me as a potential reader and I’m sure many others plus I’m sure they’ve lost respect from others in the business if not for their hate then for their complete and utter lack of professionalism.

    Kate-
    I would burn mine, I think it would feel cathartic but they’re all in email form. Hmm…maybe I’ll print them out adn then burn them…

  10. but they’re all in email form

    Okay. Now I feel old.

  11. Moondancerdrake-
    the typical white boy SF club that so many of us are working against
    Ain’t that the truth!

    bellatrys-
    Do you have a link? I’d really like to see your break down of the issue. I really find it funny in a way when these luminaries of the genre roll in to defend themselves and inevitably end up showing thier ass in a way that just confirms the accusations. It’s like their motto is: We defend ourselves by making it worse!
    Also I totally understand, there have been a couple of books and films (Sin City, in particular) that I could only get through by taking notes on all the problematic issues. I don’t know if it’s the same for you but for me I think it has to do with my time in Academia and that by deconstructing the piece I create as little bit of distance so that the problems don’t traumatize me the way they normally do. It’s almost as if, if I’m reading/watching to critique (or switch halfway through) instead of for pleasure I feel less connected to the work and have to take less showers to get the slime off, not none but less.

  12. Ico-
    For myself personally I just write what I want but I generally think that my storylines and such are more mainstream than my characters so it balances out a bit…or I like to think so. I don’t know if I’m the best judge of my own work but that’s how I see it most of the time.

  13. Thanks, Kate and Naamen, for your perspectives. It’s a question I probably spend too much time on. But unfortunately it’s also kind of an unavoidable one.

    And Naamen, what you wrote to bellatrys about deconstructing the stuff you read/watch and how that makes more of a distance so all the crap doesn’t sting so much? So true, so very true for me too… That distance is important.

  14. Naamen, here you go – sorry, I’ve been crashing early due to asthma/heat prostration & didn’t get back to you earlier.

    (I guess maybe I’m not so impressed by Big Names because I was raised an Authoritarian Conservative Catholic, and after being threatened with Going To Hell/Contributing To The Collapse of Western Civilization™ for dissent, just WHO do you think you are to challenge Aristotle and Aquinas and the Magisterium and all the hundreds of thousands of Church Fathers AND GOD!!!? pretty much *anybody* is small beans…not that I don’t have my fannish squee and shyness moments in person like anyone else, but hey, we all put on our pants one leg at a time…)

    Also I totally understand, there have been a couple of books and films (Sin City, in particular) that I could only get through by taking notes on all the problematic issues. I don’t know if it’s the same for you but for me I think it has to do with my time in Academia and that by deconstructing the piece I create as little bit of distance so that the problems don’t traumatize me the way they normally do. It’s almost as if, if I’m reading/watching to critique (or switch halfway through) instead of for pleasure I feel less connected to the work and have to take less showers to get the slime off, not none but less.

    Definitely the same for me, too! It’s kind of a defense mechanism, and it works on the same glamourie analogue : the teller of the story is weaving a spell, constructing a virtual world with their words/images/sounds, and if the world is too horrible/inimical to you, your act of analyzing it is kind of a counterspell, to dispell the illusion and render it powerless – and if you make the analysis public, it frees other people as well, reveals the gold and the feast to be just dry leaves and bones, as it were.

    Needless to say, the other side is going to fight back to defend and maintain their illusion and its power, (even us amateur hedge-wizards and village griots don’t take flyting lightly!) and so you get these rather heated arguments going on, which don’t make sense to total outsiders who are not (so far as they realize) the target of the worldbuilding.

  15. Ico,

    I think Naamen’s point is a good one.

    If your plot has a mainstream feel, then maybe you have more leeway with your characters. If your characters have a mainstream feel, then maybe you have more leeway with your plot. (this is not only limited to questions of diversity in fiction)

    I’m speaking here specifically of writing to a relatively mainstream publishing goal. Obviously, that’s not the only reason to write by a long shot, and no writer (in my opinion) should feel they have to write in a particular way except the way they want to write. But writers who want to push the envelope as well as publish in a fairly mainstream venue could do worse than figuring that they can push in one direction while keeping other elements more familiar.

    And actually, I think Tobias Buckell does this: he is writing pretty straightforward space opera with a far more diverse cast of characters (and worldbuilding setup) than most.

  16. bellatrys-
    Excellent breakdown, I think it was well done.
    I haven’t gotten up my courage to look at the comments yet because I feel they’ll be truly horrifying.

  17. Actually it got kind of funny, because my regular flist wasn’t impressed by the Big Names (authorial or editorial) – mostly wasn’t sure if they were real them or not, but equally didn’t care – so there’s a lot of Big Name Personages yapping at us like angry Pomeranians in the thread, not realizing – apparently not capable of it, either – that The Argument From Authority Is The Weakest Of All, and just going over and over again, “Don’t you know who we ARE?” to which we either went, “Um, no,” or, “Yeah, so? How does that address the points raised in the post?”

    I mean, I’ve won awards for some of my fic, and it’s been posted on request in multiple archives and linked by quite a few fans, but I don’t consider that to be, you know, an *argument* when it comes to debating literary theory…any more than “I am TOO a feminist and racially-progressive person, yah HUH huh!!!1!” is.

    Also, some long-years-of-reading fen in that thread point out that “if you really are X, that means you presided over the demise of magazine Y, which isn’t really something to brag about it is it?” But it became very quickly clear to me that these Big Names’ self-importance was sooooo great that we were never going to be able to convince them that “I AM OZ, THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE!!” was not a logical argument, and that they were worse than Freshman Humanities students when it came to Not Getting The Subjectivity Problem!

    So yeah, it’s kind of depressing, but at least you get to see some Big Names puffing themselves up and freaking out when mere Readers and Technopeasants cocked a snook at them, which is funny in a morbid and schadenfreudy sort of way.

  18. bellatrys-
    I read a few before I got kind of sick of their sanctimonious attitudes. Being a “big name” is not a freakin’ appropriate response to a critique of a story! It’s really sad when you think about it, that people have become so focused on their own fame and greatness that they can’t stand to have their stories critiqued? I mean maybe it’s because my school days are so recent and I’m going right back in in a few weeks but being criticized for your work for any reason is something that was beaten into us as something you sit back and think about.

    Going on the defensive and being so sure that your story is or isn’t “this, this and this” and not listening to anything that folks have to say is a great way to write a crap story. I mean don’t change according to what others think but all legitimate criticisms should be thought about and explored.

    Technopeasants 4EVA!

  19. It’s really sad when you think about it, that people have become so focused on their own fame and greatness that they can’t stand to have their stories critiqued?

    Not only that, but it all followed on the heels of the ongoing lamentations that “genre is dying, the young people aren’t subscribing the way they did in the Glory Days of SF” (when those Glory Days were always subject to the speaker’s own personal timeline) and exhortations to fandom to go, buy the Grand Old Magazines and Support the Genre! and so here was *exactly* the kind of market research that editors and authors should have *welcomed* – a diverse in age and origins bunch of us who spend much of our discretionary income (even when we don’t have much – your remark about $40 being food money even if nothing to Sanders made me punch the air) *on* SF, talking about why we found the offerings on the shelves not worth spending $$$ on.

    Instead of going, “Hey, maybe this *does* explain some of our downturn, maybe we need to stop and think about who we’re trying to appeal to, and how we can avoid driving off the younger generation (and the non-white-Middle-American-guy oldsters) to increase our attraction to readers,” they just went into full metal denial mode. “No, YOU suck!” (which, yeah, was *really* going to make us run out and buy the next edition of F&SF, there…)

    Which is pretty typical of corporate America, I know – I used to pass on customer suggestions all the time and hear “Pah, customers! What do they know?” from the upper management even while they were floundering around for revenue, at more than one company. But still. Easier to blame it on the Superior Mad Skillz of the Competition, or The Failings Of Society Today (in not appreciating Us) than to retool…

  20. The Glory Days of SF. How glad I am to have missed them!

  21. bellatrys-
    Instead of going, “Hey, maybe this *does* explain some of our downturn, maybe we need to stop and think about who we’re trying to appeal to, and how we can avoid driving off the younger generation (and the non-white-Middle-American-guy oldsters) to increase our attraction to readers,” they just went into full metal denial mode. “No, YOU suck!” (which, yeah, was *really* going to make us run out and buy the next edition of F&SF, there

    That’s exactly the problem! They keep insulting already disenfranchised groups, plugging their ears and shouting “lalala I’m totally a big name, I’m not wrong I’m never wrong, I can’t hear you.” when confronted with the things that offend people and then they whine loudly and at length theorizing on why such-and-such group “doesn’t like SF” or doesn’t come to this convention or whatever. It’s completely cyclical and insane but very few of them seem able break out of that and realize part of the problem is the way they behave.

    They all seem to expect women, POC, differently abled folks, folks of lower socio-ecomonic levels, etc. to just take their insults, bow our heads and then come groveling over to be let into the club. And to some degree I think that was the case decades ago but especially with the invention of internet and the ability to find each other without any help from the establishment. We’ve started to form our own support networks and systems so that when the bullshit goes down we have people who say “No, you’re not crazy, I see it too.” and people who can add their voices to ours. Now they don’t know what to do because we’re not playing their game anymore and are calling them on their shit and they’re way to stagnant and unable/unwilling to change the way they do “business”.

    Whoa…somewhere in there I think I slipped from reply into manifesto but yeah that’s how I feel about folks like that.

  22. Kate-
    The Glory Days of SF. How glad I am to have missed them!

    Me as well!

  23. Whoa…somewhere in there I think I slipped from reply into manifesto but yeah that’s how I feel about folks like that.

    That’s why i have an icon that says “I think, therefore I rant!”

    They all seem to expect women, POC, differently abled folks, folks of lower socio-ecomonic levels, etc. to just take their insults, bow our heads and then come groveling over to be let into the club.

    Exactly – or they don’t even think of us existing at all, until we object to the insults! Then they get outraged.

    That was the thing about the F&SF anniversary issue – they chose to lead off with that Cowdrey story, it was like being socked between the eyes with a tennis ball for me, your sf-addicted-since-childhood under-40 white female ex-conservative reader. Minimal SFnal content and that something that might have been original 70 years ago, but *could* have been well-handled regardless, only instead it served as the “hook” for the real meat of the story, a multi-page “You goldurn kids get off my lawn!” against the Civil Rights and feminist movements, and well, Young People Today generally. –Why is this in F&SF? was pretty much my ongoing thought, as in Why isn’t this in the fiction section of ‘National Review’ or ‘First Things,’ right next to one of Judge Bork’s screeds?

    Seriously, if I wanted to read faux-Walker-Percy/Tom Wolfe rants about how Real True Academia was getting “mau-maued” by The Left(TM), or angsty “ZOMG! The Left is gonna force us all to be sterile selfish hedonists in a Childless Future full of Godless Liberal Concentration Camps!” hyperventilating, or “Modern women are all self-centered, shallow monsters motivated by sexual jealousy instead of principles,” cautionary tales, I’d buy something out of the Ignatius Books catalog, where I’d at least a) get my money’s worth, and b) know what I was in for.

    They ought to advertise F&SF on the NRO website, imo – obviously their target audience is a) crochety older white guys like Brent Bozell III and self-othering women and minorities like Phyllis Schlafly and Dinesh D’Souza, and b) crotchety younger mostly-white folks who have been raised to think that Brent Bozell III, Phyllis Schlafly and Dinesh D’Souza are the height of brilliant social commentary.

    …Meanwhile, B&N adds another row to the Manga shelves so they can fit in more new Korean titles, being more interested in the bottom line than in maintaining some ideology…

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