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Lovecraft Apologists and the World Fantasy Award

About three years ago, World Fantasy Award-winning author Nnedi Okorafor wrote an essay about Lovecraft’s Racism and the World Fantasy Award Statuette. Earlier this year, author and editor Daniel José Older started a petition to change the World Fantasy Award trophy to Octavia Butler. There’s been plenty of other discussion, but those are two of the pieces that stood out to me, and seemed to generate a lot of awareness and debate.

There is now a counter-petition to keep Lovecraft and fight back against the forces of the Social Justice League, or something like that.

I’m not sure we should make Octavia Butler the new WFA statuette, in part because I’m not sure any specific individual is the best image for an award meant to represent the world of fantasy. But I am 100% on board with getting rid of the trophy we have now.

WFA TrophyFirst of all, I’m sorry, but I find the trophy to be almost obscenely ugly. I get that it’s intended to be a caricature, and artist Gahan Wilson is obviously a skilled sculptor and artist. But Wilson’s style is described as “fantasy-horror” and “playful grotesque,” and I just don’t think one of the top awards in our field should be embodied by the word “grotesque.”

As numerous others have pointed out, there’s a deeper level of grotesqueness. Lovecraft undeniably influenced the fantasy and horror genre. He was also undeniably racist. In Nnedi’s blog post, she quotes Lovecraft’s 1912 poem “On the Creation of Niggers“:

To fill the gap, and join the rest to Man,
Th’Olympian host conceiv’d a clever plan.
A beast they wrought, in semi-human figure,
Filled it with vice, and called the thing a Nigger.

This isn’t the only example of racism in Lovecraft’s work, though it’s one of the more blatant. Phenderson Djeli Clark has an essay examining Lovecraft’s racism at Racialicious.

Steven Stevenson disagrees, and posted a counter-petition to “Keep the beloved H.P. Lovecraft caricature busts (‘Howards’) as World Fantasy Awards trophies, don’t ban them to be PC!

The very first sentence describes Lovecraft’s “racism” in scare quotes — because sure, the guy’s writing was full of references to “subhuman swine” and the “negro problem” and “sneering, greasy mulattos” and how blacks are “vastly inferior” and “negro fetishism” and a cat called “Nigger Man” and so on. But let’s not leap to conclusions and label such things racist.

Stevenson admits that some of Lovecraft’s personal views were “less than ideal.” But he quickly explains that Lovecraft was a product of his time.

This excuse is, to use the technical term, bullshit.

Lovecraft was a product of his time, and spewed an awful lot of hateful, racist shit in his fiction and in his personal writing. There are a lot of other authors who were a product of that same time, and they somehow managed to avoid dousing every page in fetid, over-the-top racism.

This isn’t to say Lovecraft’s contemporaries were perfect. L. Frank Baum wrote a nasty editorial regarding the Sioux nation. I could barely finish Edgar Rice Burrough’s first Tarzan novel. But while it is important to acknowledge historical and cultural context, Lovecraft’s bigotry is pretty extreme, even when examined within that context.

Samuel Bowers co-founded the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and was convicted of murdering several civil rights leaders. He was a product of his time. You know who else was a product of that exact same time? Mister Rogers. Any given time will produce a whole range of people, from amazing, kind, compassionate human beings to frightened, hateful cowards.

There’s no need to deny that Lovecraft was an influential writer. And nobody’s saying you’re not allowed to read or even enjoy his stories. (Though you might want to check out How to Be a Fan of Problematic Things.) But let’s not pretend the man didn’t hold and espouse some despicable views on race.

Stevenson hits other tired buzzwords and phrases in his petition. It’s just the “humourless PC crowd” who want the trophy changed. Arguing for that change is suggested to be a “fascist act.” He also throws in an attack on “the misandry … promoted by many self-described ‘feminist authors’.” Because if you’re going to play Defensive Apologist Bingo, you want to fill the whole damn board!

The complaints about Lovecraft and the World Fantasy Award aren’t about “diminish[ing] him for being male and Caucasian.” It’s about wanting something other than the bulging decapitated head of an over-the-top racist to embody one of the highest honors in our genre.

So yeah, if I haven’t made it clear before, add my voice to the crowd calling for a change. I don’t know that the trophy should be any specific individual, but at this point, I think just about anything would be an improvement. (Please don’t take that as a challenge to come up with something worse.)

Perfection vs. Art

On Saturday, I took my wife out to Painting with a Twist as part of our anniversary celebration. They offer 2-hour and 3-hour sessions where the group all paints a 2′ x 3′ canvas with a particular picture. I signed us up for what was called “Blue Phone Booth” (presumably so they didn’t get into copyright or trademark trouble).

I was nervous going in, mostly because I haven’t tried to paint anything remotely artistic for about 25 years, since art class in 9th grade or so. And I wasn’t terribly good at it back then, either. But I’m rather pleased with Saturday’s results:

Tardis Painting

They had penciled in the rough outline of the TARDIS, but everything else was verbal instructions and guidelines from a woman at the front of the room. And one of the very first instructions was to relax and not worry about making it perfect.

It’s a lesson that took me a long time to learn with writing, and I was amazed at how it’s carried over into other areas of life. With writing, it’s so easy to get caught up trying to make each paragraph perfect. I remember struggling to write Goblin Hero, and never being able to get through the first draft because it wasn’t right, and I knew it wasn’t right, and I couldn’t let myself write the next part until I fixed it.

With the painting, the two-hour time limit helped a bit. I wish she’d slowed down a little in the second hour, but on the other hand, I didn’t have much time to obsess over imperfection. (And the few times I did, trying to fix my mistakes generally just made them look worse.)

She said something else that stuck with me. As she was reminding us to not worry about making it look perfect, she added that getting all of the lines and colors and such “perfect” would actually make the end result look weird and wrong.

I’ve said for years — ever since I figured out how to write Goblin Hero — that it’s important to give yourself permission to write crap. Perfection is the destroyer of art. It’s paralyzing. Art, whether it’s writing or painting or anything else, requires risk. And risk means you’re going to make mistakes. Sometimes you’re going to fail.

Consider this your periodic reminder that it’s okay to fail. You have permission to write crap, to make mistakes in your art and to laugh them off, because those mistakes are a vital part of the process. And because when you keep working through the mistakes, you might just end up creating something amazing.

Rape Statistics

Earlier this week, I referenced a CDC study on rape statistics as part of my post about tiresome mansplainers and harassment. It was pointed out that this particular study was potentially problematic in the narrow way it defined the rape of men. Fair enough — and I agree that from my reading and experience, the actual number of male rape survivors is significantly higher than the CDC found in their study.

So let’s bring in some additional data. Looking through these statistics, please keep in mind that no single study is perfect. Also remember that rape tends to be underreported, due to a combination of factors including shame, fear, lack of support from friends & family, aggressive victim-blaming from law enforcement and the judicial system, confusion over rape myths and the definition of rape, and more.

  • “9 of every 10 rape victims in 2003 were female.” (Source)
  • A U.S. Department of Justice study in 2005 estimated 15,130 male victims of rape/sexual assault, and 176,540 female victims. (Source)
  • “The first and most inclusive set of measures we present are the number and percentage of undergraduate women who reported being a victim of attempted or completed sexual assault of any type before entering college (15.9% ) and since entering college (19.0%).” (Source – study did not examine male victims of rape)
  • “1 in 6 women (17 percent) and 1 in 33 men (3 percent) reported experiencing an attempted or completed rape at some time in their lives.” (Source)
  • “In 1994 victims reported about 1 rape/sexual assault victimization of a female victim for every 270 females in the general population; for males, the rate was substantially lower, with about 1 rape/sexual assault of a male victim for every 5,000 male residents age 12 or older. Overall, an estimated 91% of the victims of rape and sexual assault were female. Nearly 99% of the offenders they described in single-victim incidents were male.” (Source)
  • Another U. S. Department of Justice study found that 95.4% of single-offender rapes/sexual assaults were committed by men. (2.9% were committed by women, and in 1.8% of cases, the gender of the rapist was unknown.) When multiple offenders were involved, then the offenders were all male in 89.6% of cases. (Source)
  • “In a single year, more than 300,000 women and almost 93,000 men are estimated to have been raped [in the U.S.]” (Source)
  • “[E]stimates for the percentage of false reports begin to converge around 2-8%.” (Source)
  • The U.S. Department of Justice has consistently found that only about 1 in 4 rapes are committed by strangers. (Source)

I could go on all day, but I’ve got a doctor appointment to get to. My takeaway from everything I’ve read over the years, as well as my personal experiences and interactions, is that:

  1. No single study is perfect.
  2. Rape is too damn common.
  3. Women are far more likely to be raped/sexually assaulted than men.
  4. Men are also raped and sexually assaulted. This is a real and valid problem too, and male victims are just as deserving of support.
  5. Men are far more likely to commit rape/sexual assault than women.
  6. Most rapes/sexual assaults are committed by friends, romantic partners, or family members, not strangers.

And of course, no matter how many studies you cite, no matter how many people share their stories and experiences, there will always be people — often but not exclusively guys, in my experience — who get extremely defensive and refuse to believe it.

Another Day, Another Mansplainer

A friend of mine posted something about catcalling and street harassment. To the absolute shock of … well, pretty much nobody, the very first comment on her post was a guy explaining why women shouldn’t be afraid of catcalling, and isn’t it funny how the women complaining aren’t the ones experiencing the “privilege” of being catcalled in the first place? Also, women wouldn’t be afraid if they carried guns, and the real threat are guys “in a dark van with no windows parked next to your car in the Walmart parking lot.”

His suggestion? “Now what would happen if a woman who’s the center of the cat call took the power back, walked up to the offending rake and asked for his number and told him to show a little respect and maybe if he was lucky she’d let him earn the opportunity to do some real cat calling?”

This is the point where I facepalmed so hard I gave myself a concussion.

Guys, is it really that hard to shut the hell up and listen instead of immediately trying to tell women why they’re wrong about their own lives and experiences?

It’s pathetically predictable.

  1. Woman complains about harassment.
  2. Dudebro feels uncomfortable.
  3. Dudebro tells woman why she’s wrong to feel that way.

Because Dudebro’s discomfort at women complaining about harassment is somehow more important and valid than women’s discomfort about actually being harassed.

The CDC put out a report this year about sexual violence, after completing more than 12,000 interviews. They found that one in five women have been raped in their lifetimes, and 99% of those rapes were committed by men. (The report states that about two percent of men were raped as well, which I strongly suspect is an underestimate. They also found that approximately 80% of those rapes were also committed by men.)

“But I’m not like those other men,” says Dudebro, waving the “Not All Men” flag with righteous pride.

Then stop acting like them.

  • When a woman says she’s uncomfortable with something and wants you to knock it off, stop arguing. Stop telling her she’s wrong, and stop making excuses to keep doing it.
  • Stop pretending it’s about complimenting women. (Here’s a tip: Compliments don’t go from, “Hey baby” to “Fuck you, you stuck-up bitch” in the blink of an eye.)
  • Stop treating women as objects you’re entitled to instead of people.

You seriously want women to believe you’re not an asshole and a potential threat? Start by shutting up for a minute and actually listening to what women are saying.

Spider Goddess Giveaway

Look what came in Friday’s mail:

Spider Goddess ARC

I only have a few print ARCs for Rise of the Spider Goddess, but I’ve managed to set up a Goodreads giveaway for one of them. Click here to enter.

This one is U.S. only, but I plan on doing something else soon for a worldwide giveaway.

In the meantime, I spent some time Friday afternoon chatting with the cover artist about ideas, and he’s planning to have a few sketches for me by the end of this week. I also went through the book to note and correct any problems. There weren’t too many — a handful of typesetting and kerning glitches, and I needed a better dagger graphic. I also had a typo with the release date on the back cover. But so far, I think we’re well on track for that December 2 release date.

I guess I’ll have a novel out this year after all :-)

Saying Goodbye to Eugie Foster

Author Eugie Foster passed away earlier today.

I never had the chance to meet her in person, but we had known one another online for a long time. I thought of her as part of my cohort, the group of authors who all started writing and breaking in together.

Eugie was an excellent writer. I had the honor of publishing her story “Honor is a Game Mortals Play” in Heroes in Training back in 2007. I remember how excited she was to get into her very first DAW anthology (but it certainly wasn’t her last). I’ve still got her email about that, which included a literal “Squee!” :-)   In her 42 years, she had more than a hundred short stories published, and won a Nebula Award for her writing. She was that good.

She also devoted a lot of time and energy to reviewing and helping to promote short fiction in the genre, and to working as a director at DragonCon.

I remember her departure from Tangent Online. Without dredging up the details, I admired the honesty and determination she showed throughout an ugly situation. And I cheered when she launched The Fix, which swiftly became a strong and important new short fiction review site for the genre.

Eugie + HobkinAnd then of course there was her pet skunk Hobkin. Her blog posts about Hobkin were some of the earliest things I remember reading from her, and I always thought it was awesome that she had a pet skunk. I grew up with an interesting menagerie, thanks to my mother, but that’s one kind of pet we never had.

When Eugie announced last year that she had cancer, I was convinced she would recover. It wasn’t a rational belief. I just … I guess I just refused to believe there was any chance of her leaving us.

I hate the fact that we never managed to be at the same event at the same time so I could meet her in person, but I’m glad to have known and worked with her over the years, and the SF/F field was incredibly lucky to have her.

Her husband Matthew wrote today:

We do not need flowers. In lieu of flowers, please buy her books and read them. Buy them for others to read until everyone on the planet knows how amazing she was.

Eugie’s bibliography is here.

We’ll miss you, Eugie.

Reddit AMA

Back in mid-2012, I cancelled an AMA (Ask Me Anything) over on Reddit. That was an interesting few weeks. Basically, at the time, Reddit was hosting a discussion inviting rapists to tell their side of the story. My feeling was that as long as that discussion was going on, I wasn’t comfortable participating over there.

This generated a large number of comments, from people calling me an free-speech hater and an idiot who doesn’t understand how Reddit works to others thanking me for drawing attention to some of the nastiness over there. It also generated my first rape threat, though it was a rather pathetic one on the scale of things.

For that reason, I was rather torn when earlier this year, Redditor and generally awesome person Steve Drew invited me to do a Fantasy AMA again. I know there are a lot of great people at Reddit, and a lot of wonderful conversations. Steve has been wonderfully positive to work with, and he clearly loves the genre. But I wasn’t about to go back on the position I had taken two years ago…assuming I was even still welcome.

So Steve and I chatted a bit. It turns out that the rapist discussion had been taken down, though I’m not sure exactly when. And then Steve put me in touch with Reddit’s Director of Communications, Victoria Taylor. She and I exchanged a few emails, and then talked on the phone so she could listen to and respond to some of my concerns.

I was very impressed with both of these individuals. While they might not have agreed with 100% of what I thought (who does?), they were both eager to listen to those concerns, to talk about what they’d been doing over the past few years to try to improve Reddit.

Some of the things Victoria talked about were:

  • Reddit has a larger team of people monitoring and moderating the communities. They’ve also added additional reporting options for inappropriate content.
  • They’re actively working toward inclusiveness and diversity. One example she pointed to was the growth in women’s topics on Reddit, including many that focus on building support.
  • She also pointed me to a study showing the decline of hate speech at Reddit.

This doesn’t mean Reddit is perfect. You had people posting stolen celebrity nudes in a Reddit topic called “The Fappening,” which apparently earned Reddit enough money to pay for their servers for a month. On the other hand, Reddit did try to remove the individual postings, and eventually took down the entire “Fappening” topic when that failed. Was it handled perfectly? Probably not. But I believe it was handled better than it would have been 2-3 years ago.

After thinking it over, I’ve gone ahead and accepted Steve’s invite to do another AMA. I imagine there are still people who are pissed at me for what happened in 2012, and that’s fine. There may be people who think I’m caving or compromising my principles to try to sell books, and that’s fine too.

But the specific board I was objecting to is gone. A lot of people have been working to try to make Reddit a better place. And I think that’s awesome.

So we’ll see what happens, and I’ll post details once everything gets sorted and scheduled.