SFWA and me: why I’ve renewed my membership

I wasn’t going to say anything about the SFWA Bulletin sexism issue. Many other people have already said plenty of stuff, and said it better (or maybe just earlier) than I could. However, in the midst of the breaking waves of the scandal, my renewal notice arrived.

Up until the scandal, I wasn’t going to renew. I have found the organisation ridiculously behind in the matter of self-publishing, which is where I get most of my writing income, and in general not very relevant to me as a non-US writer. If I could actually go to the cons and Nebula weekend, it would be different, but (shhh, don’t tell anyone) I’ve come to realise that I’m not a great fan of travel and would probably only make the effort of going if there was a strong reason for doing so.

And then there is the forum, which is something very special indeed (not in a good way).

But.

I decided to renew, and give them one more chance to become better and more relevant. Surely the scandal will not just ruffle, but pull out some feathers (it already has, by the way, not sure how much of it is public). Surely something good will come out of it. Or maybe I’m too naïve about it, but…

1. Our genre needs and deserves a decent professional organisation, dammit. Since there are no viable alternatives, THIS IS IT.

2. The whole thing is appalling. Not so much that mistakes were made initially, but in the way those mistakes were allowed to compound. If someone is offended, you do not go and tell them that they have no right to be offended, or “it’s not so bad”, even if YOU are not PERSONALLY offended, or if you don’t get why people are offended. It’s a professional organisation, and we expect a professional standard of conduct. This is not it.

3. I’m equally appalled by the level of name-calling in many of the complaints. Sorry, but if you call people “old fogeys” or “dinosaurs” how the hell can you expect them to not get defensive and not want to engage in further discussion, or worse, dig in even deeper. That is also not professional conduct. Surely there are ways in which we can let people know that something they’re doing is not OK without disparaging their entire personalities.

4. Similarly, many people have prefaced their reactions with “I’m not a member, but…” and have gone on to paint the entire organisation as sexist. Well, since they’re not members, what do they actually know of what many dedicated volunteers do behind the scenes? Many of whom are women. And are outraged.

5. The only reason everyone knows about this is because MEMBERS were upset and started to blog about it. Most members are furious. Members want change. I’ve voted with my credit card to be one of those members for at least one more year. I *want* there to be a good SF/F organisation.

All I ask is that people respect other people. That is what I expect in a professional organisation. I accept that at times, respect will be broken by private individuals and they can rant on their own blogs for all they like, but I expect an organisation not to drop its guard.

I have renewed because I’m curious to see what will rise out of this mess, and I’m willing to hope that it’s something good.

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Guest post: Nicole Murphy – The Canberra SF/F/H Writing scene

I realised recently that for all the sneering at our national capital, Canberra actually has a pretty awesome SFF writing scene. One of the people instrumental in this group is Nicole Murphy, so I’ve asked her to tell the rest of us what goes on in the national capital, and of course to pimp the events she’s helping to organise.

People who are used to thinking of Canberra only in terms of politics may well be surprised to hear that Canberra has a thriving community of science fiction, fantasy and horror writers.

We’re doing pretty well too. Some of the more notable writers include:

• Jack Heath – author of bestselling action novels for children
• Daniel O’Malley – author of The Rook, one of this years most talked about debuts
• K.T Taylor – her Griffin books have sold internationally
• Maxine McArthur – Aurealis and George Turner award winning author of science fiction
• Kaaron Warren – award winning author of horror and dark fantasy – her most recent achievement was a nomination for a Bram Stoker award.
• Matthew Farrer – Matthew is a superstar in the Warhammer 40k universe.
• Ian McHugh – overall winner of Writers of the Future
• Tracey O’Hara – internationally published author of urban fantasy
• Gillian Polack – Ditmar award winner writer of the fantastical
• Simon Petrie – Sir Julius Vogel award winner for best newcomer

Canberra’s long had a history of connection with science fiction. Acclaimed US writer Cordwainer Smith lived and studied here in the 1960s. Aussie SF royalty Garth Nix and Simon Brown both lived in Canberra for a number of years. The Canberra Science Fiction Society has been running since 1971. I can’t say too much about them since I’m not involved, but they’ve just started up a blog here: http://canberrascifi.wordpress.com/

For me and a lot of writers, the Canberra SFFH writing has two main outlets – the Conflux science fiction conventions and the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild.

The Conflux conventions started in 2004, based on the Canberra Science Fiction Conventions held the two years beforehand. The conventions are generally organised by writers and so there is a definite thrust toward supporting and encouraging writers at the conventions. There are international and national writer guests, editors and multiple workshops that educate and inform. You can find out more at the websites for the two upcoming Conflux conventions – Conflux 8 (2012) and Conflux 9 (2013 Natcon).

The Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild (CSFG) began at Aussiecon 3 in 1999, when a group of Canberrans met each other and realised they should take the special feeling of the convention and use it to create a force for writing in Canberra.

Since then, the group has published seven themed anthologies, one special anthology (Gastronomicon – stories and recipes) and a single-author collection (Kaaron Warren’s The Grinding House). There will be a new themed anthology announced any day now. These anthologies are open to non CSFG members as well, but all the editing, proofing, typesetting and so on is done by CSFG members and helps create a great skill set.

The CSFG has four different meetings every month. The main meeting is the general meeting, held on the third Wednesday. We share news, help each other out, and do activities aimed at improving our writing such as story generation, reading aloud and informational nights such as science talks.

The first Wednesday of the month is the short story crit group, which has been running since 2003. Half a dozen people put up a short story, and then all gather at someone’s house and crit it. There’s a range of experience and genres and you get excellent feedback.

The first Tuesday of the month is the novel writing group. This started last year. The members meet up and talk their writing, share things they’ve learnt, and encourage each other to finish the novel.

The final meeting, on the second Wednesday of the month, is the novel crit group. It’s running this year for the third time. Everyone puts up a novel – we read one a month and critique it. Your work gets a thorough going over and while it can be confronting, it helps a lot.

I put Secret Ones through the novel crit group when it was first held in 2007. It was through that group that ideas such as the overaching storyline of Asarlai that held the entire trilogy together were developed.

Both Conflux and the CSFG have been important parts of my development as a writer. It wonderful to have these opportunities to work with other writers, both more experienced and less, and learn from all of them.

You won’t meet all the writers I’ve mentioned at the groups, but over time you will. And the rest that I’ve not mentioned (including myself) are wonderful, warm people who are supportive and encouraging.

So if you find that you’re going to be moving to Canberra, do so with enthusiasm – you’ll find a fabulous group of people. And if you don’t move – come to Conflux so you can catch up with us all.

***

Nicole Murphy has been a primary school teacher, bookstore owner, journalist and checkout chick. She grew up reading Tolkien, Lewis and Le Guin; spent her twenties discovering Quick, Lindsey and Deveraux and lives her love of science fiction and fantasy through her involvement with the Conflux science fiction conventions. Her urban fantasy trilogy Dream of Asarlai is published in Australia/NZ by HarperVoyager. She’s just commenced a new venture, In fabula-divinos (http://thetaletellers.wordpress.com) which is aimed at mentoring up-and-coming writers. She’s recently self-published her fantasy romance novella ‘The Right Connection’, available here She lives with her husband in Queanbeyan, NSW (which is right across the border from Canberra). Visit her website http://nicolermurphy.com

A two-way interaction

This should really not need to be said.

Writing, publishing a magazine, blogging or providing a service is a two-way interaction. Whenever you go to a site, there are people squirrelling away behind the scenes to provide content, to make the site look pretty, to give feedback or all of those things. And although many places use volunteers, there is a point at which real money has to change hands to make things happen. Website designers need to be paid, server space needs to be hired, hosting fees need to be paid.

When you’re a private individual, you can get by with cheapskate plans, but as soon as people smell the word ‘business’, you have to fork out big time. Business is anything that makes money, including an author site, a magazine site or service for writers. Hosting plans are more expensive, design is more expensive, even bank accounts are more expensive. Everyone wants a piece of your business. And that’s before business has started to generate income.

So, the no-brainer is: someone has to pay to make it worth the ‘business’ owner’s while. In writing terms ‘make it worth their while’ means breaking even.

Another no-brainer is that if people enjoy whatever is on offer at a site, the best way to ensure the site’s existence in the future is to support them financially.

If you enjoy a magazine, donate a small amount every year or buy their products.

If you like an author site, for crying out loud, buy their books.

If you like a service, give them a small amount each year, as if it was a subscription.

I don’t particularly care who you support, as long as you support what you enjoy. Because if you don’t, and many other people don’t, they might well consider the venture not worth the effort.