Dave Truesdale Comments at Black Gate
Jun 5th, 2014
- John, thank you for the tone of your open letter and kind words—sincerely appreciated. Which makes it difficult for me to attempt to set the record straight on several points, but which must be done. John, this is very awkward for me, not pleasant.
- Your repeated use of “we” made me squirm in my seat more than once. As slush reader I was taking all my cues from you as to what you told me you wanted in the fiction department. Sword & sorcery, fantasy adventure, heroic fantasy, all those sorts of stories. I had nothing to do with the decision making process when it came to the specific genre or sub-genres of fantasy fiction you wanted for your magazine. My job as first reader was to try to choose those stories that best fit that bill. Yes, I was billed as Managing Editor for that first issue of BG, but let’s be honest, that job consisted primarily of reading the _fiction_ submissions. I was the slush reader and nothing more. _You_ were the only driving force behind what you wanted to see. Not “we.” I came home from work every day from my non-stop delivery job, tired, and read slush all night for nearly a year. I didn’t have time to go out and solicit material from anyone, save for the rare con or two I went to. And at one con in particular I solicited stories from authors I knew (Jeff Ford for one), and you bought another from a gay writer from whom I solicited a story. But as far as promoting BG to all and sundry, that was your job as publisher/editor.
- While I sent you stories from both men and women I think it should be noted that at least one—and I think a couple more—did indeed have female heroines; they weren’t just stories written by women but otherwise in the “male” mold with male protags, but had actual female protagonists. They were good stories and I’m glad we saw eye to eye on them and you published them.
- So I sorta rankle at all the times you said “we” in your open letter to me. Please don’t acknowledge your own sexism and then tag me with it by using “we.” I think this is extremely unfair. At the start, reading the slush, it was a back and forth process for both of us. You were trying to refine to me what you wanted from the stories I sent your way, and I was trying to refine my selection from what you told me you wanted. Therefore it was natural at first that I would send you pretty much all kinds of fantasy; from them you could winnow it down and let me have a better understanding of what would fit with your vision of what you wanted in BG and what wouldn’t work. It was a very normal process.
- That said, in that exploratory startup process I sent you the best of the slush for your approval or rejection. Stories of all stripes of fantasy (Ellen Klages’ “A Taste of Summer,’ a Nebula nominee and very much a Bradbury-type story and not s&s at all—and with a young female as the lead; and Jeff Ford’s bizarre surrealistic award-winning “Exo-Skeleton Town” which was definitely not s&s or adventure fantasy, either) I sent your way, some written by women and some by men, and some with male protagonists and others with female protagonists. Where does this “we” come in when it comes to this statement (which I use a representative example; a stand in, for all of the other instances where you used “we”): “We certainly didn’t make any special effort to attract women writers (or readers, for that matter). We were sexist by gross omission.” Attracting writers and readers was your job, John. I was busy reading slush. From the slush I gave you female writers and female protagonists where I found them—if the stories were good enough to pass on to you. And several of them _were_ good enough because you published them. I did my job—sometimes going _outside_ of the kind of fiction you said you wanted because the stories were just too good to pass up without letting you see them (again, Klages’ “The Taste of Summer,” Nebula nominee featuring a young female protagonist as the prime example).
- Moving on. You took the next lines out of context: “science-fiction hasn’t a racist or sexist bone in its body… Not once have I personally seen a smidgeon of racism or sexism.” You left off the first two words, words making all the difference in the world. The sentence reads, “The _field_ of science fiction hasn’t a racist or sexist bone in its body.” I purposely emphasized the word “field” to draw a distinction between the greater body of SF and _individuals_ who commit sexist acts and should then be dealt with accordingly. Because SF as a field is one of the most open, diverse, welcoming genres of fiction there is. All groups have problems with a few individuals, but I don’t think it’s fair to tar the entire organization with a sexist or racist label as _some_ are more than wiling to do. That’s all I was getting at. Wasn’t trying to say there was no sexism, racism, or homophobia in the field, but that it centered on a few individuals; the genre of SF by great majority has a fewer number of bad apples than does the “outer” world. This is all I was trying to say. Agree or disagree, but this has been my personal experience. Yet you chose to clip two lines, place them together (…) to present another visual of what I said. That’s not fair.
- Another line from your Open Letter: “How could we attract women when the subtext of everything we did told them they weren’t welcome?” I didn’t tell them anything except, in essence (in 99% of the cases) “I’m sorry this story doesn’t meet our needs,” or “I liked your story very much and am passing it on to the editor for his decision.” No subtext to those statements. And there was no “we” involved.
- This has gone on too long and I don’t have the energy to go through your letter line by line, but I think you get the gist from my examples of where I think you missed the boat. Again, and sincerely, thank you for the kind words. As for the rest of it, speak for yourself and please don’t include me in your own personal admission of sexism when all I did was read the slush, and send you the kind of stories you said you wanted to see—except for those few times when a story I knew wouldn’t fit was so good I had to let you see it anyway; one of which was, again, written by a female, with a female protagonist, and an eventual Nebula nominee (and an early feather in BG’s cap). As publisher/editor you were the head honcho and promoter of BG. It was your baby. You set the tone and atmosphere. I read the slush and did the best I could. I didn’t promote any sexist attitudes by _reading the slush_.
- And here’s one last line I take great issue with: “You didn’t see the sexism in science fiction because, like me, you were part of the problem.” Horse-hockey. Speak for yourself. I never bloody said _instances_ of sexism never occurred at any SF function, but if you factor in that there’s been an SF con of some sort or other pretty much every weekend in the U.S. for a good 3 decades, and all of the hundreds of thousands of fans (easily millions by now) who have attended them, the odds are that 99% of _everyone_ hasn’t spotted any sexism either. It doesn’t _make_ one a sexist or “part of the problem” because one hasn’t seen or experienced any, for ghod’s sake. What kind of sane logic leads to that conclusion?
- It was a lot of work but also a lot of fun being first reader for BG, and I do thank you for the opportunity and experience. It was a great experience to have been a small part of, and I certainly enjoyed reading the stories. You and BG, the writers and fans all gave BG a good run and you have earned a lot of well deserved credit for it.
- I’ve said pretty much all I needed to say in this post, so I doubt if I’m up for any protracted back and forth. My full opinion on these issues can be found at the special Lightspeed review Tangent Online has posted.
- Be well, John. You’re a sincere, well-meaning man at heart, and this is a very good thing.
- PS: I ask that anyone wishing to reply to any of my comments, please read the Tangent Online special Lightspeed review first, and my “Closing Thoughts by the Editor” before posting here. It will save all parties immeasurable amounts of time, energy, and frustration. Thanks.
- Comment by DTruesdale - June 5, 2014 7:01 pm
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