Posted in Off The Top Of My Head

The Generation We Deserve, Not The One We Need

Sometime in the early 1990s a movement started up in youth sports to do away with keeping score. It was, so they said, to help build the self-esteem of the players. They were far too young to deal with the soul-crushing concept of losing a game. So everyone got a participation trophy so they could all “feel like winners!”

Over time, we’ve seen this grow to where several high school coaches in football and basketball have lost their jobs or been suspended. Why? Because their teams scored too many points and won their games by too wide of a margin and hurt the feeling of the losing team. (Note: In every case, the losing coach had no problem with the outcome, understanding that the other team was simply that much better than they were.)

In some cases, teams forfeit games rather than play the better team at all to avoid a large defeat. What a lesson that is. Well, we have no chance so why even bother trying. Ugh.

I am a child of the 1960s. The lessons I learned were these: If you lost, you didn’t look for excuses. You didn’t blame it on something that had nothing to do with the game itself. Even if you went into a contest overmatched, you gave it 100% because, ever so often, the underdog managed to pull off the upset and win. And even if you still lost, playing against superior competition improved your own ability and helped you win games later on. And these lessons learned in sports carried over to all aspects of life, building character and giving you the tools to succeed off the field of play.

Sadly, we stopped teaching those lessons and we are reaping what we have sown for the last 20-30 years. And not just on the field of play either.

I see it when I look at what is going on in writing and in fandom. A younger generation that was taught you should get whatever you want, the way you want it every time. And if someone tells you no, or if the dislike something that you like or if someone better gets something instead of you, then you have somehow been cheated out of what is rightfully yours and you should throw a tantrum over it until you get your way. And for the cherry on top of the sundae, you get to lead a campaign against the person who “wronged” you until they are properly punished – either by losing their job or by being run out of the industry in shame.

What is even more distressing is that some in my generation are starting to buy into this mindset as well.

A recent example followed the passing of SF/F legend, Mike Resnick. His body temperature hadn’t yet dropped below 90 degrees than a young woman, Jaym Gates, dragged up an old incident she “claimed” happened. Nice timing, considering the accused can no longer offer his side of the story, and blamed him for her failures as a writer.

I vaguely recall the incident back when it was first brought up. I won’t claim to remember all of the particulars, neither do I care to go back and review them. I’ve never met either Resnick (much to my regret) or Gates (who blocked me on Facebook and Twitter despite – to the best of my knowledge – the fact I’ve never interacted with her on either platform. To be fair, I have over 22k tweets and God only knows how many Facebook posts so I might have, but I truly don’t recall doing so.)

But from what I know about Resnick’s history of working with young and up and coming authors and the hateful posts and blatant misandry I’ve seen from Gates I have a pretty good idea of what probably happened.

Gates is not a good writer. I checked out her work on Amazon the other day. She needs an editor and more time studying the craft. Does she have potential? Yes. But she needs to work on her craft and study it some more. Is she a good editor? She has edited a few books. Nothing in my reading taste, but I’m not seeing any reviews pointing out any glaring issues, so she probably is. Her bio says she is into gaming. I haven’t played anything she has published so I refrain from further commentary on her abilities in that field.

So, lets stick with writing. I imagine she approached Resnick with a request for a critique and got one. It wasn’t the “wow, this is amazing you’re the best (insert activity here) ever!” her generation was raised to expect. He likely pointed out where she needed to improve, what to fix and as he was wont to do gave her some encouragement to keep on working at it.

She probably didn’t hear a word he said. Instead, she went with the default setting many in her generation have been taught: He is an evil old white man. Evil Old White Men are the enemy. Evil Old White Men have privilege, ALL of them have it. Evil Old White Men scheme to keep POCs down. Evil Old White Men hate womyn. Evil Old White Men must be destroyed!

Sigh. This “Evil Old White Man” would like to know exactly where the official Office of Evil Old White Men’s Privilege is located, because this Evil Old White Man reckons he’s owed about 40 years of back dues. This Evil Old White Man was actually told back in 1995 that he was the wrong gender and wrong skin color to be promoted up the ladder at a national newspaper chain. This Evil Old White Man was offered a promotion if he would check “Native American” on a form so he would qualify as a minority hire. This Evil Old White Man declined, my last full-blooded Native American ancestor was born in 1810 in Virginia, because this Evil Old White Man was not going to use race to advance his career. So no, dears, this Evil Old White Man has no such “privilege” that has made his life what it is today. This Evil Old White Man has earned it based on his abilities and on his abilities alone. You should try that sometime. But I digress…

It is easier to blame the “Evil Other” rather than take a hard look at where you yourself have come up short. That is the lesson learned by losing, and sometimes by losing badly. Examine why you lost and find out how to improve, to become better and eventually succeed. It works in sports and it works in life.

The first fiction story I ever wrote and submitted got a harsh rejection letter in return (so much for that alleged privilege, eh?) that included a line that read “you should never again insult the craft of the English language by attempting to write another story”.

I’m betting if Ms. Gates had received such a letter she would have claimed the editor was a racist, sexist, etc., etc. POS as she does today with anyone who dares disagrees with her. She would never have done what I did. I didn’t blame the editor. I didn’t lead an outrage mob against him or the publication he worked for. No one got fired.

I, however, got fired up and went to work on improving my craft.

Forty years later, I’ve got a body of work that I take great pride in. A long career as a sports writer. Several published (Traditionally and Indie) novels, non-fiction books, two comic book issues and short stories. I received a note from one short story editor who said he always knew he was going to get a great story from me. I take great pride in that.

Because that has been my one and only goal in my fiction writing: Tell a great story that people enjoy reading. That is the only thing that matters. (As an aside, I still get rejection letters. Its not always a yes, kids, even for this Evil Old White Man. I don’t throw tantrums when its a no, I just start writing the next story.)

What else matters? Not being “woke” like Ms. Gates and her crowd. Not tearing down the old masters for perceived sins by today’s questionable standards like Jeannette Ng did at the 2019 Hugos last year.

Not using the race/gender card to excuse sub-standard writing, excuse blatant racism and misogyny/misandry and sell sub-standard work. I accuse two people of being the standard-bearers for this kind of garbage in SF/F, while certainly not being the only ones who do so: Vox Day and N.K. Jemesin.

These two are two sides of the same coin and products of a generation of brats. They have in fact used attacks against each other to sell sub-standard work. Both showed promise in their early works, but both have let hate creep into their writings, rendering them both unreadable, as well as their lives.

They both knew exactly what they were doing when Jemesin, an unknown writer, attacked Day. She knew Day would respond in kind and she could use his counter-attack to propel her career. It worked. She was gifted three Hugos her works were not worthy of. Day knew what she was doing and knew that by attacking her, he could form his own outrage mob. He has turned that into a profitable book-selling organization.

They used each other to sell books. And everyone on both sides fell for it. And they both knew it because they understand that a generation has been raised to throw a tantrum to get what you want is easier than putting in the work to earn it.

And they are both still doing it. Jemesin recently attacked Stephen King for having the nerve to state the obvious: When judging a book for an award the quality of the writing should be the determining factor. Jemesin countered that the race/gender of the writer cannot be separated from the quality of the book.

That kind of sounds racist/sexist to me, to be honest. We are to judge a book by the race/gender of its author and not by its quality? I’m old enough to have heard Dr. Martin Luther King say he dreamt of a day when his children would be judged by their quality, not by the skin color. Perhaps Nora should find that speech on YouTube and listen to it a few times until the lesson sinks in.

As for Vox Day, Theodore Beale by legal name, he’s still out there stirring up the pot in his own way. I used to think he was fighting the good fight back when he and Scalzi were running for President of the SFWA. But, eventually, I saw through the facade.

I have as little use for Theo as I do Nora and for those of that generation who unquestioningly follow them. They are no friends to SF/F or even to society. They are spoiled brats who never grew up because they never learned the lessons that winning and losing, between being told yes or no, teach. They are vital lessons that must be learned at a young age.

They are lessons a majority of an entire generation were never taught and now we are dealing with that generation – from the Woke Warriors to Antifa – all dead set on burning everything down just to get their way.

Not the generation we desperately need. But the generation we rightfully deserve.

 

Posted in Writer's Life

It Isn’t Always A “Yes”

The rejection letter/e-mail is the bane of every writer. We all get them, some more than others and only the rarest of the few can say they no longer get them. The great Louis L’Amour got one for a book that I consider his best work, The Walking Drum.

s-l300His daughter was a guest of my podcast recently (Episode 41: Angelique L’Amour  / Audio Only ) and she recounted the story that every publisher he took the manuscript to wouldn’t touch it. It wasn’t a western (even though it really was, just one set in medieval times and in the Eastern Hemisphere) and though L’Amour was already an established best-seller, he couldn’t get it published.

He finally found a way, by persevering and by agreeing to write two other books in exchange for getting The Walking Drum to print, but he had to hear the word “No” quite a lot first.

For my part, over 35 years of sending out manuscripts by mail both snail and electronic, I have heard many a “No!” myself, although lately it seems like it has been happening less. But, it still happens.

Like today for example. I had submitted to a very interesting anthology a few months back, one I would have very much enjoyed being a part of. Sadly, it was a no.

“Mr. Paolinelli,

Thank you for submitting you story, “XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX,” to our XXXXXXXXXXX Anthology. Yours was a unique approach to the theme, and the editorial staff enjoyed the originality. The desperation of the main character’s attempts to bring his son back by XXXXXXXXXXXXX was quite scary, but well characterized. The editorial staff appreciates your talents as a writer.

We received over 400 stories, and more than 300 were dropped in the first round. The editorial team kept your story for a second round of consideration, and we enjoyed the chance for another look, but unfortunately it did not make the final round. Best of luck placing it elsewhere and with your future writing endeavors.”

I X-ed out the title of my story, the anthology and the plot info for obvious reasons. Besides, the point of sharing this was to show we all get these rejection letters – most are very professional as this one was.

I also wanted to share it because I see a lot of newer authors posting that they are on the brink of giving up after getting another rejection letter. I hate to see that because sometimes you have to get a ton of these and keep honing your skills in the craft before the acceptance letters start rolling in.

And rather than seeing the “No” in the letter above and getting depressed, take a look at a lot of the positives that lay within. Over 75% of the submitted stories were cut in the first round. Mine was not among them. My story got into the second round and who knows how close it came to making that final cut?

red spiritual smoke on black background with copy space

Having recently edited Planetary Anthology Series: Pluto, I can tell you the difference between the last story to make the cut and the story that just missed is razor-thin. About half of the submissions got in. The others that didn’t? They would have made an excellent collection on their own right. I can’t think of a story in the rejected pile that was so bad it got cut before I finished reading it.

But look further in that first paragraph. They were impressed with the story, its originality, how it fit the theme of the anthology overall (it was scary!) and the characters were well developed. Not bad for a slightly-over 5,000-word short story, eh?

So yes, I was disappointed that it was a “No”, but I walked away from reading this e-mail feeling very good about the story and my writing. And that is what I want every writer to keep in mind whenever that rejection letter arrives. Find the positives to build on, use any negatives as constructive criticism to improve on the next story.

And, most importantly, don’t ever let the “No” letters stop you from writing.

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