Guest Post: Sunny Moraine on the Importance of Non-Fiction

Sunny Moraine, friend of The Radish and all-round awesome human being, has a collection of essays out today–and they were kind enough to write me a lovely essay about the importance of non-fiction in genre.

A Brief History of the Future, Sunny Moraine

I’m not sure what actually made me decide to collect two years of essays and blog posts into a book. It’s not that any of the content is exclusive – it’s all online already. It’s not that I expect an essay collection to do fabulously well, because I know they tend to be a tough sell. I think it was more that I just wanted to see if I could, or at least if I could without hating myself and life and word processing and Adobe Acrobat. Turns out that was possible, and now I have a book. That I made all by myself.

In some ways, compiling two years of nonfiction writing turns out to be very different than surveying a collection of short fiction. There are challenges that fiction does not, I think, tend to present. Blog posts can contain massive numbers of hyperlinks, and indeed mine often do. I puzzled over what to do about this for a while. In the end I decided on footnotes, which is massively clumsy – I’m in graduate school, and in five years of that I learned to despise footnotes – but which seemed to be the most approachable solution at the time. I puzzled about how to arrange the pieces – chronological, or no? Chronological didn’t seem to work at all; thematic organization made a lot more sense to me, and in the end I came away with four sections (writing, games, technology, and life in general) that bleed into each other in some ways that I personally find useful.

But perhaps most significant, at least for me, was the difference in how I relate to my nonfiction writing versus the work I do that’s arguably fictional. When we talk about writing in this community, it’s easy to overlook everything else in favor of fiction. The idea of collecting a bunch of blog posts into a book and calling them essays – even when most of them could be said to adhere to that format – seemed a bit pretentious. Wasn’t my fiction what I should be focusing on? I published this book under my SFF writer name, which is not the name I often blog under – was that confusing? Are the clear lines of connection I’m drawing here too clear? Is this something that might not work in my favor, in ways I can’t foresee?

Nonfiction writing does matter. Blog posts matter. Blogging matters. Among those of us in genre, the last few years have been fraught – let’s face it, things have pretty much always been fraught for the people who have the audacity to argue that SFF shouldn’t be almost entirely straight and white and cisgender and male – and our blogging has been part of how we make our voices heard. It’s been part of how we work through ideas, how we call out the bullshit, how we form community with each other. How we share news. For many of us, I think, our blogs have served as our supply lines and our communication with the front. We need them. The writing here is every bit as important as our stories, because really, it’s all our stories. Fiction doesn’t have a corner on the transference of knowledge. That much should be obvious.

But in this book and in my writing, I also have a foot in the academic world, and there blogging still has an even harder time of it. In many circles, it’s still regarded as not only mostly useless but something to be actively avoided, something you shouldn’t put on a CV because people will wonder why you indulged in such distractions. Too many people don’t see it for what it is: a way to do academic work publicly, to engage with people we might not otherwise talk to, about theory and research and teaching and everything. It’s a way to fumble through concepts, to make conceptual leaps and connections without having to slog through the ponderous, frustrating, and increasingly morally bankrupt process of academic publication. It’s a nimble, fun way to do the work I’m in grad school to do, and of all the work I’ve done since I got here, it’s actually been the most intellectually rewarding.

So in the end, what I took out of this process was a new respect for this kind of writing, for my writing, and a public stance that it’s something valuable. That it literally has value, in every respect. I can do this. I did do this. And now it’s out in the world, and I’m proud of it.

If you pick it up, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did over the two years in which I produced its contents.

For more of Sunny’s non-fiction, pick up A Brief History of the Future in paper or electronically. Or check out their fabulous blog And if you’re interested in their fiction, check out Line & Orbit (more) or Crowflight (disclosure: I am acquisitions editor at Masque Books, publisher of Sunny’s Casting the Bones trilogy)

Links: 06/27/14

“Half-Sick of Shadows”: WisCon

There is absolutely no excuse for this level of organizational failure. None.

WisCon must do better.

It should not be on the people making reports of harassment to make sure their complaints are acted on in a timely and appropriate manner. It is on the organizations to which we have all given our trust to do this as a matter of course.

To delay action and to misplace key documents is unfair to all parties.

I  wonder how many other complaints have been misplaced or not acted upon over the years.  We have two three documented instances. How many more?

WisCon’s been on my list of conventions to go to someday for many years.

It’s not on that list any longer. Not until I see that they’ve addressed and changed this aspect of their culture. Silence and excuses and hoping things will blow over are no longer an options.

We must shine a light in the dark corners of our community. We must.

ETA: to change the number of lost or misplaced incident reports to three. My apologies to Lauren Jankowski.

Links: 06/20/14

Silence is Complicity

Here be trigger warnings. And horror. I’ll talk about both–because this is one that the community cannot look away from.

And by that, I mean they can’t look away from it anymore.

First, some history, It was widely known–in some circles–that Marion Zimmer Bradley was complicit in the sexual abuse of children by her husband, Walter Breen.

Deirdre Saoirse Moen on Walter Breen and Marion Zimmer Bradley:

There’s also been discussion at MetaFilter and File 770 and RPG.net.

So, basically, Walter Breen wasn’t just a missing stair. He was an entire missing flight of stairs.

And, as is clear from the Breendoggle documents, everyone in their vicinity knew what was going on. What is even more clear, because of the years involved was that many people knew for a long time. And, for a long, long time–the time it takes to ruin a generation of lives–the community still did nothing to stop him.

Let me repeat that. EVERYONE KNEW IT.

Adults. Knew.

And did nothing. Nothing. To stop it.

Let us take a small but important detour and in order to review the geek social fallacies:

  1. Ostracizers are evil
  2. Friends accept me as I am
  3. Friendship before all
  4. Friendship is transitive
  5. Friends do everything together

When translated to the community of child abuse and serial harassers, these fallacies are poison. Every single one is a missing stair. Enough missing stairs and the house falls down.

Friends, we have a problem in the science fiction & fantasy community. A big problem.

We have a culture of silence around our missing stairs. We expect the whisper network to warn newcomers about them–except the whisper network only works when people are connected. And a newcomer is, almost by definition, not connected.

And children–especially children–have no choice but to rely on adults to protect and warn them. Instead, there were children abused in front of adults and it was only stopped because it wasn’t “aesthetically appealing” or it was allowed to continue because no one liked the child very much. I don’t care if it was Berkeley in the 1960′s, that is unequivocally wrong. I have seen, first hand, the damage that is done when children are abused and to look the other way because you think the child is a “little bastard” is morally bankrupt.

We have serial harassers and abusers who come to our conventions and get away with their predatory behavior because we don’t believe victims who step forward. Because the predators are canny enough to do their predation in subtle and plausibly deniable ways. Because they choose victims they believe or know to be weak or not-connected. Because predators have made themselves valuable to our organizations and made us believe they can’t be replaced.

Fandom is not the only community in which predators have entrenched themselves. There is a long history of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. There are hints that there is a similar history within various Protestant organizations. And then there’s Penn State.

The idea that it’s worse to kick a predator out of a community or limit their participation than to protect vulnerable people is geek social fallacy number one.  Number two is the idea that we must accept everyone as they are and three is that if you call a friend out on shitty or predatory or abusive behavior that you’re not actually a friend.  Four and five are encompassed by the fiction that at conventions everyone likes each other and that everyone is friends–this is not true.

These social fallacies and the ability of predators to exploit them is what enables the Walter Breens and Ed Kramers and Jim Frenkels and René Wallings to get away with it for years and decades.  It is what allows for unreasonable demands of proof from survivors.

I believe the survivors.

Being a part of this community? Is not a God-given right and certainly not something covered by the Constitution here in the US. If you deliberately prey on vulnerable members of our community and continue to do so after you’ve been caught, I believe that you forfeit the right to be a part of our community.

Apart from the horrifying descriptions of child abuse and flippant tone of the entire document, the heart of the Breendoggle document is this:

And they swung between two points of view. “We must protect T—-” and “We’re all kooks. Walter is just a little kookier than the rest of us. Where will it all end if we start rejecting people because they’re kooky?” So they swung from on the one hand proposing that if Walter wasn’t to be expelled, then the banning from individual homes should be extended so that club meetings were only held in such homes, and on the otherhand calling the whole series of discussions “McCarthite” and “Star Chamber”. “I don’t want Walter around T—-, but if we do such a horrible thing as expelling him, I’ll quit fandom.”

This is prioritizing comfort over safety, over the truth. This is prioritizing the status quo over generations to come. Fuck that.

We must confront this history and bring it to light.

I don’t know how we can make this right to the hundreds, if not thousands, of people who have been injured by our complicity in these horrors. And yes, I am including myself in this because I have been part of fandom for more than a decade now and I have not spoken loudly enough, if there is even one person still standing who thinks this is okay. Our community must become an unwelcome place for predators.

Susannah Paul on this issue in her community:

We are kicking at darkness, and daylight is breaking through. Abusive patterns and oppressive systems, once hidden in plain sight, are being named and dragged into the light, and this is a big deal! There is so much work yet to do, but what happened this week is no small thing, and we should celebrate that victory.

Silence is complicity.

We have to try.

What will you do?

——

Some organizations that help survivors–these orgs are often also underfunded. This list is by no means comprehensive. Please feel free to add additional orgs in the comments.