What We Talk About When We Talk About Lying Crazypants Liars Who Lie

One of the most frustrating aspects of dealing with my irrational anxiety attacks is the way they have kept me largely shut up when it comes to long-form electronic posting. My social phobia concerning short, sharp things like Twitter or Tumblr was pretty well broken back in 2012, following a glorious bit of impromptu shock therapy in which my girlfriend got me thoroughly tipsy and encouraged me to livetweet the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics. My issues with more involved forms of display have been less cooperative, and though a more rigorous new therapy regimen has borne some fruit, it’s obvious that blog and website updates from me have been scarce for some time.

This was especially frustrating in the wake of the 2015 World Science Fiction Convention, after which the ponderously self-important blowhard John C. Wright publicly accused veteran editor and lifelong fan Patrick Nielsen Hayden of both assaulting Wright’s wife and masterminding the long-term “corruption” of the Hugo Awards, to which the SF/F field largely replied: “Meh.” Now, some of that is certainly due to Wright’s tireless self-marginalization and frothing bigotry, but regardless, I think Patrick deserved better of his friends and colleagues. He deserved to have someone stand up and state plainly what he could not– that John C. Wright talks a big game about truth and courage, but that he is demonstrably full of shit.

I wanted to be that person. I prepared a lengthy post to that effect. And then anxiety did its usual crushing, grinding thing, and days became weeks, which became months. It is now the new year, Hugo chat has started up in earnest, and Wright is once again plying his mealy-mouthed combination of false civility and vicious nonsense on the subject. I have decided to weigh in with a reminder that the narrative Wright wants to push is an absolute full-blown fabrication.

Shortly after Worldcon, Wright posted a rant titled “Smeagol Nielson Hayden,” which you are encouraged to read (though do take a strong drink with you as an escort). You can find it at:

http://johncwright.livejournal.com/964882.html

Everything I’m going to be responding to is taken from it, and Wright’s statements appear in bold text below. Wright begins by describing his attendance at the 2015 Worldcon:

I was asked beforehand more than once if I thought there would be any unpleasantness or insults from the few but vocal pests in jest I call Morlocks who have been steadily infiltrating and corrupting the science fiction community in general, and the Hugo Award process in particular, over the last twenty years. I answered in the negative. The Morlocks are a cowardly lot, and would not dare say to my face the foolish lies they say behind my back on the internet. Besides, like me, they came to have a good time and to celebrate our mutual love of science fiction, and applaud in the fashion of good sports what we each severally take to be the best the genre offers. I thought there would be no incident.

Note the striking way in which the tone of Wright’s rhetoric veers wildly from one paragraph to the next. One moment, his “Morlocks” are a dire threat from outside the field, “infiltrating” and “corrupting.” Three sentences later they share a mutual love of science fiction with Wright, and the circumstances of his disagreements with them have acquired a trivial hale-fellow-well-met sort of cast. Oh, what gentle shenanigans! This tonal shift is a constant tic of his; the opponents that are part of a “silly kerfluffle” will, just a few lines of text later, be described as willing Satanic defilers who must be fought with prayer, fire, and sword unto the ending of the world. You’d think there wouldn’t be much ideologically consistent wiggle room between these two extremes, but what the hell. Magical thinking pants always come with an elastic waistband.

Why was Wright at the Hugo Awards ceremony? He secured five nominations on the final Hugo ballot for 2015, and in this respect he was the most egregious beneficiary of a premeditated and publicly coordinated slate-voting campaign run by the people fandom has come to know as the “Sad Puppies” and the associated/overlapping “Rabid Puppies.” That’s not allegation, or conjecture, or opinion. It’s what happened. This campaign wasn’t even technically against the rules, though it was fueled by a baseless sense of paranoid entitlement and was certainly shepherded by a number of vocally antagonistic jackasses.

Now, any writer with the self-awareness of an eggplant casserole would have known to tread lightly in fandom following this clusterfuck, which, let me repeat, was a result of vote engineering by a dedicated minority rather than of general acclaim from the field. Instead, according to Wright’s very own account, he strolled good-naturedly into the Hugo Awards in the blithe expectation that everyone else would conveniently ignore the chicanery that had brought him there.

I am sad to report that I was mistaken. The Archmorlock himself displayed his courage against the short and girlish figure of my meek and gentle wife.

At the reception just before the Awards Ceremony itself, my lovely and talented wife, who writes for Tor books under her maiden name of L Jagi Lamplighter, and who had been consistently a voice of reason and moderation during the whole silly kerfluffle, approached Mr. Patrick Nielsen Hayden at the party to extent to him the olive branch of peace and reconciliation.

Before she could finish her sentence, however, Mr. Hayden erupted into a swearing and cursing, and he shouted and bellowed at the tiny and cheerful woman I married.

This is a load of crap. Having heard Patrick’s (hereafter also referred to as “PNH”) version of these events directly, and the version reported by several others, I say without hesitation or qualification that John C. Wright is a liar. PNH did not “erupt” into anything, and there was no shouting or bellowing. PNH and Lamplighter were at a reception attended by roughly ten dozen people, including a number of notable SF/F creators, editors, and fans. Isn’t it curious that none of them noticed an alleged shouting fit by one of the most instantly recognizable editors in the field? That none of them reported or commented on such an immediately newsworthy incident? That Wright himself, who was physically present at the reception, did nothing there or afterward, but was perfectly happy to take his story to the web a day later? What was that about other people not having the courage to “say to your face the foolish lies they say behind [your] back on the internet,” John?

The encounter between PNH and Lamplighter took place within arm’s reach of a small group of witnesses, including Laura Mixon, from whom I received a recollection of events before writing this. According to Mixon, she turned away from PNH and Lamplighter after Lamplighter’s initial approach, and took a seat that placed them directly behind her. The first notion Mixon had that the conversation had ended was when PNH sat down beside her a few moments later. That’s how much “shouting” and “bellowing” were involved.

As PNH told Mixon: When PNH realized who Lamplighter was, he said (closely paraphrased): “I’m a practicing Catholic, and I found your husband’s comments about me hurtful. His comments about Moshe Feder were the next thing to Blood Libel. I don’t want to talk to you, and please tell John C. Wright to shove his opinions up his ass.”
After PNH sat down, Lamplighter attempted to re-engage him in conversation twice despite his repeated declarations that he didn’t want anything to do with her. Mixon finally said, “Can’t you understand that he doesn’t want to talk to you?” and Lamplighter took the hint at last.

I should mention that during the last few months of the Sad Puppies kerfluffle, I once upon a time accurately described him, Mr. Moshe Feder, and Mrs Irene Gallo of Tor Books as ‘Christ Haters.’ The support of abortion, sodomy, and euthanasia rather unambiguously put a soul into the position of open rebellion against Christian teachings. In addition, any man who bears false witness against his neighbor, delights in poison-tongued gossip, and destroys writing careers of anyone who does not support his politics not only disobeys Christ, but violates the ordinary decency of ordinary men of good will of any faith.

That would indeed be the very comment that PNH found hurtful, except the full and actual quote is “Christ-Hating Crusaders for Sodom.” Isn’t that lovely? Ha ha! What a “kerfluffle!”

Wright’s casual allegation that PNH “destroys the writing careers of anyone who does not support his politics” is another flat-out lie. Who are these writers disenfranchised by PNH for reasons of politics? What is the process by which PNH was able to work this scheme upon them? This is an allegation that would shake the field to its foundation… if only it weren’t total bullshit. Patrick has in fact worked as an editor for writers whose politics are avowedly, publicly at odds with his own, and they would be very surprised to learn that he had destroyed their careers. As Beth Meacham, another veteran Tor editor, has said many times in public: “We edit books, not people.”

Also, isn’t that a cute bit about “any man who bears false witness against his neighbor?” Wright cleverly finds a means for authorial self-insertion even in the middle of a polemic.

It seems that Mr. Hayden is a Roman Catholic and was so deeply moved to offense by my words that he could not retain a levelheaded and professional demeanor while speaking with my short little wife. He shouted filthy words at her and stormed off. I do not know if there were tears in his eyes.

Except that, as we’ve established, PNH did maintain such a demeanor, and he did not shout at Lamplighter, nor did he “storm off,” unless moving three feet and taking a seat counts, in which case I would suggest that Wright needs to recalibrate his dramatic sensibilities. As for whether “shove it up your ass” qualifies as “filthy words,” your mileage may vary. My total lack of concern for Wright’s histrionic aesthetic prudery should be pretty clear at this point. The salient facts remain:

1. Patrick Nielsen Hayden did not verbally or otherwise assault L. Jagi Lamplighter at the 2015 Hugo Awards reception.

2. Patrick Nielsen Hayden does not destroy the writing career of “anyone who does not support his politics.”

3. John C. Wright is a liar.

And that’s it, right? What more is there to say? What more could anyone–

Before I continue, I should explain to the reader that Mr. Hayden, and no one else, was the driving force behind the corruption of the Hugo Awards in these last fifteen to twenty years.

Holy sweet fucking corn muffins from Mars.

I must at this point apologize to the reader for understating my case. John C. Wright is a lying hysteric. Full stop.

When he began his lonely detached recon mission from the rest of reality is anyone’s guess, but with this he’s vanished so far up the river that even Colonel Kurtz would come out of his mud bath long enough to note that that Wright badly needs to consider the benefits of modern psychopharmaceuticals. Precisely how a single Tor editor, acting alone, could arrange “the corruption of the Hugo awards” is left to the imagination. Let’s take this utterly bugfuck fantasy and condescend to put it under the lens of a few reasonable questions:

• How would this campaign of corruption be funded? Do you imagine SF/F editors as a career class are rolling in cash? If so, incidentally, how long until you start kindergarten?

• How would it be coordinated? Other people would, sooner or later, need to be suborned or at least consulted. How would messages be sent? How could fifteen to twenty years of necessary notes and e-mails remain completely hidden? How is it that in all that time, not one person approached by this alleged conspiracy would have felt uncomfortable with it, refused to participate, and then made its existence public?

• How would all the non-Tor publishers and authors be induced to cooperate with Patrick’s plans?

• Even if Patrick were to dispense with controlling the voters and go straight to fudging the results, how would he have been able to suborn the Hugo vote-counting process that is overseen by a different group of people in a different geographic location every single year?

I know Patrick. I admire him greatly. He is a brilliant ambulatory living history of SF/F and its fandom, and yet I am fairly confident that he forgets his own phone number about once a week. The notion that he has been masterminding the corruption of the Hugos, Blofeld-like, from a cluttered office in the Flatiron Building for twenty years requires a reality scaffold big enough to occult the sun.

It was he who spearheaded the infiltration what had once been the fans’ award and expression of love for the most excellent work in the field.

Here you see unfettered psychosis, dancing in the moonlight, naked of any last stitch of evidence. Read the implication– SF/F fans whose Hugo opinions are not congruent with John C. Wright’s are illegitimate SF/F fans. They do not actually belong to the community or within it. They were “infiltrated.”

Again, treating an insultingly shitwhacked notion with far more logical due process than it deserves, let me ask– where’s your evidence, John? Where’s your evidence for your public accusation that PNH has unilaterally and deliberately “infiltrated” illegitimate non-fans into the SF/F community for political reasons? Where did he find them? How did he recruit them? See again my bullet points above– how did he coordinate with them? Where did he find the time and resources to stage this operation?

(Readers, anyone willing and able to provide documentation for Wright’s assertions is invited to mail me however many Big Chief tablets are required to contain their crayon scribblings on the subject. If I receive multiple submissions, I will pick a winner and offer, in exchange, their choice of either the true location of Atlantis or the GPS coordinates of the vault containing Walt Disney’s cryogenically preserved head.)

Once, the Hugos were the popular award given to the best works by Frank Herbert, Robert Heinlein, Issac Asimov, Bob Silverberg, Ursula K LeGuin and Harlan Elison, and Roger Zelazny. After much patient effort, the Hugo Awards, together with the SFWA (the Science Fiction Writers of America) were controlled by a small clique of like minded creatures loyal to Mr. Hayden.

The Hugos were also the quirky popular vote that gave mysterious acclaim to yeast vat accidents like Mark Clifton’s They’d Rather Be Right, and delivered an inexplicable landslide for the fourth Harry Potter novel a decade before Tumblr was a thing. They also gave a There, There Isaac Asimov Hugo to Isaac Asimov for an infinitely belated fourth Foundation novel that left a flaming bag of dogshit on the philosophical porch of the previous Foundation novels. In more recent years, they have occasionally delivered rocket statues to what I think of as some real talent mausoleums. However, anyone who isn’t a thrashing self-absorbed pee baby understands that the Hugos are a crap shoot born at the intersection of popular tastes and ever-shifting geographic adjustments to the pool of eligible voters. As Oscar Wilde, or perhaps George Bernard Shaw once said, De gustibus non est disputandum, you pestilent fucking cockbag.

Thereafter, the Hugo voters awarded awards to the Tor authors Mr. Hayden selected based on their political correctness, and expelled those whose politics the clique found not to their taste.

If you look at the actual evidence from the Hugo results dating back to 2000, you’ll see that Patrick’s inexorable PC blitzkrieg has been so devastatingly effective that it has delivered best novel Hugos to Tor books a whopping five times out of fifteen. If you examine Wright’s larger figure and count back twenty years, you’ll see that Patrick’s all-consuming Social Justice Shoggoth has crapped out even worse, delivering a mere six out of twenty. If Patrick were running the sort of well-oiled secret machine conspiracy Wright alleges, that’s a spectacular shitshow. And as anyone who knows Tor Books and loves it well knows, if Patrick were running an actual conspiracy using Tor’s actual resources, six out of twenty is a success rate that suggests far more effective coordination than is remotely plausible.

Either way, John, that dog just won’t hunt.

None of this was done on merit. Editors and writers in the field have been silence or shoved to the sidelines thanks to the action of the clique. I mention no names in public, but those in the field recall the various false accusations leveled against numbers of people, both working for Tor and outside.

Wright names no names because there are no names to be named. There is no work to be shown. There is no evidence to be offered.

Look, John C. Wright is, in all modesty, a tediously pious moralizer, one of the most tediously pious moralizers shitting indigestible paragraphs today. Wright has rarely met a sentence to which he didn’t want to add twenty-three words and just a soupcon of plausibly-deniable Blood Libel. The most striking feature of John C. Wright’s religiosity is that it is indistinguishable from a professional troll’s deliberate attempt to discredit John C. Wright’s religiosity. Even an atheist can spot the thinness of Wright’s “Christian” ethos, smeared atop the fluff like the molecule-thin film of petrochemical butter on movie popcorn. Wright confuses concrete-dry levelness of tone with actual decency and civility, just as he confuses the Christianity of Christ with a viciously masturbatory conviction that God is his bigger, meaner cellmate who is going to pound every other inmate in the ass SO HARD in the showers, they won’t even believe it.

But that’s not really terribly important. Wright makes these points clear over and over again on his own time, and the fact that he’s a bigoted goofball is hardly a state secret. What is important is that nothing he’s tried to push about the Hugo Awards or about Patrick Nielsen Hayden has any scintilla of truth to it, and anyone who tries to tell you differently in the coming months is either a liar or a water carrier for a depressingly stupid conspiracy theory spun by liars.

The Right Way to Buy My Books is Your Way

I have received a number of Tweets and e-mails asking a very flattering question, namely: What version(s) of my books should someone buy if they wanted to maximize my royalty on that sale?

I appreciate this. I really, really appreciate this. It’s a kind and generous impulse and I want you to know it means a lot to me.

But.

Please don’t ever buy one of my books in a format you think will send me a maximal percentage of money. Please buy the format that is most desirable or convenient to you. Buy the format that will enable you to have the most enjoyable reading experience. After all, if I encourage you to buy an inconvenient or uncomfortable format for my own sake, I’m basically telling you to endure unnecessary bullshit for the sake of a few extra pennies or dimes in my pocket. I can’t stand that… no sane writer wants to achieve financial success by scraping it painfully out of their readers, one person at a time.

As I see it, I make my money in the aggregate. It’s why we’ve been doing these “get an e-book of The Lies of Locke Lamora for 99 cents/pence” promotions recently. I earned a respectable advance for a first-time novel on Lies, and it earned out before it was even published. Lies has been delivering regular royalties for seven years now. It’s sold about 300,000 copies in the US and UK/Commonwealth, and I don’t have up-to-date figures for the rest of the world. So… it’s done its job! It’s made its money! Everything since and henceforth is gravy… now the game, as I see it, is about trying to attract new readers and make them comfortable, not gouging them for every last possible penny.

So.

Buy my work in the format that works best for you. The format that will be least distracting. Buy it with yourself in mind, not me. I assure you I’ll be okay. The easier and more comfortable your reading experience is, the more okay I’ll be!

However.

If you are truly interested in seeing the Gentleman Bastard sequence kick in all the doors it can, and in rewarding my editors for their long-suffering patience and hard work, and in tickling the folks holding the purse strings at the various publishing HQs so they’ll cry “More! More Bastards! More Bastards for everybody!”… well, there is a thing you can do, if it’s all the same to you.

Buy a physical copy of The Republic of Thieves. Buy it soon.

There are these lists, you see. Amazon bestseller… NYT bestseller… Locus bestseller… Sunday Times… and so forth. Some of them are silly and archaic and incomplete and maddening, but some of them are worth the trouble to claw one’s way onto. And the more books are sold, and the sooner, and (sadly, for now) the more physical copies are moved… the greater the chance I have of finally nudging my way into the bottom rungs of some of those lists. And that will mean good things, if you want to see more books, and if you want to see them given decent marketing budgets, and pleasant quantities of Advance Reader Copies.

So if you have a mind to do something generous for me and my brain-droppings, don’t aim for getting me a few extra cents. Aim to bump these books up in the numbers game. Like I said, it’s silly. It’s an incomplete portrait of the bookselling market. It’s not something I would pursue for its own sake. But it can’t hurt the future of Locke and Jean one tiny bit. It can only help.

The Republic of Thieves is now available on store shelves (and in e-format) in the United States and the UK/Commonwealth. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all of you who’ve waited for this day, and to all who’ve pre-ordered or already purchased it. May the book deliver something you’re hoping for.

Being good can be a shortcut. There is no shortcut to being good.

The give-and-take with the audience at any bookstore or convention appearance I make usually comes around sooner or later to the topic of publication. How to get published, how to stay published, what it’s like working with publishers; all that inside baseball. It’s probably a dreary subject to the folks that just love the stories or the genre, yet it’s like Kryptonite-laced catnip to those who want to write professionally. I know the feeling intimately. I was hungry to be published from about the age of five, and none of my less realistic career fancies (Air Force F-15 pilot long-haul trucker cartoonist!) ever truly displaced that yearning.

Most of the publication-hungry folks I’ve ever met have struck me as honest, receptive, and realistic, but there’s always a tiny minority I can spot by the nature of the questions they ask and the statements they fixate on. They’re not interested in hearing about hard work, study, or self-improvement. Their eyes glaze over when I talk about concepts like effort or practice. They want nothing to do with developing actual skills, and in a few cases they don’t even want a damn thing to do with me or my work. They just want me to tell them how to duck under that imaginary velvet rope.

It doesn’t fucking exist, this shortcut. This magic steam-catapult to perceived stardom. This underground railroad for misunderstood slacker geniuses. It’s just not there! Yet these people keep on renewing their memberships in the cargo cult and imagining that all they have to do is catch a published author in a particularly off-guard or generous moment, and they’ll receive The Secret. I don’t know exactly what they envision. Some kind of handshake? A special phone scrambler? A certain Masonic arrangement of manuscript pages that slush readers can detect with their activated third eyes?

Cripes. Once I spot them in an audience, I’m pretty sure I can see them actively translating my words to their sub-reality. “I’m not saying networking isn’t useful,” I might say, “but you’ve got to have something worthwhile to sell before you start selling!” In their heads, this transmutes to “ZOMG! THERE REALLY IS A SECRET CLUB!” And don’t even get me started on what happens when I talk about work or discipline; I can see my advice turning into the noise the adults make in a Peanuts cartoon: “MWA MWA MWA MWA MWA, MWA MWA.”

Look, read this next bit very carefully: Famous useless idiots get book contracts all the time. Let us assume that we are not famous useless idiots, you and I. Therefore their situation is not germane to ours. Terrible, terrible writers also get book contracts all the time; this is because there’s no accounting for taste and because there is no accounting for taste and because, if you dig, there is no fucking accounting for taste. I can’t teach you how to get hit by a meteorite; I can only tell you about the “actively try to not be a terrible writer” approach, because it’s how me and most of my peers end up on the shelf at Barnes & Noble. This situation, which is my situation and, not to put too fine a point on it, YOUR situation if you’re unpublished and want to kill that ‘un-,’ is defined by the following equation:

Hard work + self-awareness + perseverance = MAYBE

“Maybe?” you say. “What the hell do you mean, maybe?”

What I mean is welcome to the universe, kid. No guarantees about anything, and the clock is already ticking. Try the potato salad. But that MAYBE is a golden result compared to the way the equation turns out if you subtract hard work, self-awareness, or perseverance. When you do that, MAYBE becomes NEVER. In fact, it becomes NEVER in bold followed by THIS MANY EXCLAMATION POINTS. !!!!!!!!!!!! 

So I suppose it’s only natural that a tiny but aggravating minority of wannabe writers out there prefer to keep putting their chips on:

Fucking around + resentment + begging for mercy = SHORTCUT!

And they keep coming to my readings and convention panels! It’s just too damn bad that shortcut doesn’t exist.

(“But Scott,” you might be saying, “you’re talking about traditional publishing! How is this applicable to the bold new world of self-publishing and e-publishing?” Well, the answer is that not a damn thing changes. I don’t look down on self-publishing. I admire it! And if you’re the sort of non-trad-publisher who works diligently for years to hone your craft, understand your markets, broaden your literary comprehension, and generally avoid being an asshole, then you have as solid a shot as anyone at that bright golden MAYBE. But if you’re the sort of person who wants to self-publish the first and only ten pages you’ve ever written because HA THAT WILL SHOW EVERYONE AND THEN YOU’LL BE A MILLIONAIRE, you’re still looking for the imaginary shortcut and you’re totally going nowhere at the speed of uselessness squared.)

How long does the process of hard work + self-awareness + perseverance take? I don’t know; how long is a string? There is no RIGHT path. There is no IDEAL way. There is no PROPER length of time. There is only your right path, your ideal way, your proper length of time.

I sold my first novel in 2004, to an editor I’d never met, halfway across the world, on the strength of about sixty pages and an outline. That doesn’t happen very often. I don’t have an office wall papered with rejection slips (which many superb, successful, award-winning authors do), because I have never received one for my fiction.* I’m not trying to be egotistical, I’m just stating bare facts: There was no secret handshake. There was no clandestine society ritual. An editor saw something worth cultivating, worth publishing, worth taking a chance on. He took that chance. The rest is my Wikipedia entry.

Wasn’t this a shortcut? Not even having a finished novel? In a way, sure. My editor, may he be blessed and protected from paper-cuts forever, thought the unfinished fragment was so good it was worth securing before someone else could notice it.

However, the part you didn’t see before that “shortcut” was the long span of years I spent writing miserable, pretentious, silly, derivative nonsense before I became capable of writing those sixty crucial pages. I went through a Lovecraft phase. I went through a Poe phase (Gah! My Poe phase. Welcome to Farcetown, population ME). I went through a confused Clive Barker-y phase. I wrote a looming shitstack of Vampire: The Masquerade fanfic and character fic that made later Anne Rice look respectable. I wrote and desktop published a series of roleplaying games. I wrote marketing crap, memos, and business letters. I did freelance editing and PDF self-publishing. I wrote hundreds and hundreds of pages of stuff that had to be presented with a modicum of competence and clarity. In those days, a modicum was about all I could manage. An older friend once took me to a Disney animated film, and as it started he whispered “Dude, you really need to pay attention to this. I’ve already seen it, and I brought you because you need to learn how basic story structure works.”

I was also reading. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of books across the years. In the months right before The Lies of Locke Lamora sold, I was knocking back two novels a week, dissecting them, hungry to learn everything I could.

And that’s the secret behind my “shortcut.” I decided to pursue serious writing around the age of 15 and I sold my first novel at 26. Eleven years filled with piles of books and thousands upon thousands of pages, most of which were tripe and bullshit. Eleven years filled with a ludicrous amount of youthful time-wasting… but just enough hard work, self-awareness, and perseverance. Just enough by a narrow margin.

Being good is a great way to get noticed. But you can’t simply dance past the work it takes to get good. Would you expect to be invited to play first base for the Red Sox without the need to go through that tedious training, scouting, and development process? Of course not. So why the hell would you ever expect that I (or anyone else in my position) could just sort of hide you in a coat and smuggle you into a publishing career?

Still, some people do. If you read all of that and saw actual words, you’re probably not one of ’em. If you read that and all you saw was MWA MWA MWA MWA MWA, please be advised that I’m fucking bringing garlic, holy water, and a shovel to my next convention appearance near you. Truly I am. Because mere words don’t seem to dissuade you and I’m more than willing to try burial at a crossroads.

Now, people don’t just go shortcut-stalking in person. These days, I’m a Free Special Secret Bonus Guest Lecturer and Stevedore at the Viable Paradise writing workshop on Martha’s Vineyard. VP is an emotionally intense, mentally and creatively demanding experience administered by a bevy of zero-bullshit fully-credentialled pro writers and editors. VP is not a Writing 101 sort of affair, and the staff and instructors spend weeks in unpaid and largely unheralded examination of manuscripts submitted by prospective students, winnowing applicants down to a maximum annual class size of 24.

I can’t tell you anything specific about this process, but I will tell you that the scrutiny is intense and the discussion is quite involved. What the instructors are looking for is evidence of the three qualities I cited above: hard work, self-awareness, and perseverance. That’s it. That’s the secret. That’s all it takes to make you the “right sort” for this kind of literary boot camp. A willingness to learn and grow and toil on your own behalf. Viable Paradise is not about fluffy generalities. It’s about learning how to command and harness your creative skills to produce an original, working story on a very tight schedule.

The applications that are marked for rejection most quickly are the ones that are clearly fishing for that mythical shortcut. What boggles my mind is that people imagine they can actually get away with this shit… that they can send text plagiarized straight from published works (hint: professional SF/F editors have read a lot of books), or keep offering up something that was rejected in a previous year, without alteration or improvement, in the hopes that the instructors will suddenly drop their standards or experience total group amnesia.

If Step 1 is “write something,” Step 2 is “write something new while you shop it around,” not “sit on your ass for the next twenty years and keep petulantly holding out the Only Thing You Ever Wrote.”

If you want to be a writer who occasionally sells to professional markets, that’s one thing. But if you want to be a professional writer, you must understand that this is not a one-time gig you’re applying for. You will be expected to do this hard, lonely, brain-bending thing, and then do it again. And again. And again. Imagine yourself as a bright little kid who comes home with a graded paper, which your parents pin up on the refrigerator for everyone to admire. Then they roll out a clean new refrigerator and stand there waiting for you to decorate that one, too. Your life is now an endless line of refrigerators, kid. If you’re lucky, it rolls on all the way past the horizon and into the graveyard.

You can’t fake the ability to meet that challenge. You can only train yourself up to it. So don’t talk to me or anyone in my shoes about shortcuts, because the concept of the shortcut is like the Easter Bunny– something cuddly and reassuring and totally fictional.

*****

*I did receive a firm but gentle e-mail rejection from Steve Jackson many, many years ago, in response to a proposal to write the introduction to a certain GURPS book. A proposal I only belatedly realized could be used as an object lesson in how to NEVER EVER structure a proposal. Still, I was chuffed. Rejected by Steve Jackson himself! I wish I’d printed a copy of that e-mail.