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Making Light & Todd James Pierce

I probably shouldn't be writing this, because it's always a good idea to take a breath when one's annoyed. Or several. Or in fact, a night's sleep. But then again, if I were a sensible person, I wouldn't be a writer.

I don't know how many of you have followed, or regularly read, Making Light, the excellent, varied, intelligent and oft pungent blog of Teresa Nielsen Hayden. I was pointed at it by two friends (Chris Szego, for whom I work, and another, as yet unpublished writer, Graydon Saunders, who also lives in Toronto) many months ago, and have lurked more or less frequentIy since then, but I do my best, having learned over time that this is wise, to lurk and keep my opinions in general to myself. This is less hard -- for those of you who know me -- than it might initially appear, because there are some pretty darned smart people who regular post there, and they usually say anything I might say, but with more cutting wit.

This self-imposed silence came to an end (try to look surprised, Stewart) when the Writer's Collective became the topic for discussion -- or rather, when the woman who started it showed up and laid out her reasons for starting it, and her plans for the books she handles. (I was also doing galleys at the time, which makes me a bit squirelly). Although I'm embarrassed by the number of typos that show up in those early posts, I felt that I had a few things to contribute to that particular discussion that hadn't yet been contributed; things about PR budgets, placements, the general importance of cover art, the importance of bookstores to midlist writers, etc. After these things were said, I went back to lurking, posted in one other thread about things that were not publishing related, and was, again, good.

But -this- second bought of Being Good came to an end when the second thread about Todd James Pierce reared its head. That thread is here: http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/005218.html. It was not, in any way, a kind thread, and to make a very long story short, it came out of bad advice for cover letters which TJP had posted on his site for writers. In particular, he advised writers to lie about their credentials in a way that wasn't so obvious they'd be caught, in order to make them stand out in some way.

This is generally not good advice, reasons for which TNH made perfectly clear. I didn't add anything at that point.

But the second thread was one that questioned his credentials and his CV. To me, this seemed harsh and justified; if you're going to encourage people to lie about their credentials, it stands to reason that you should expect that people will then examine yours more closely. Some mockery was made. I was still quiet. John Scalzi invited TJP to read & join in on the thread, but he failed to do so until over a month had passed, and the discussion had branched off into other things, as is inevitable in discussions of that, or any other nature. He did show up. He was offended, hurt, and furious, and threatening lawsuits for slander.

It was only when he showed up in person that I made my first post in any TJP related thread, and it was to question the use of his explanation of why he'd offered the advice in the first place, and the accuracy of it as well. I wasn't personal, but was pointed (no one could probably manage to look surprised at this point, so I'll let it go <g>). I wasn't all that fond of his reply to my comments -- because the only reply he made was to lump me in with a list of Tor authors, and accuse me of supporting my editors. Yay, me. News, I imagine to my -actual- editors, but I digress.

None of this particularly surprised me; if anything did, it was the extent to which he felt he'd been unfairly discussed or mocked. If you encourage people to lie about their credentials, and then defend this in a room full of people in that profession, it shows clearly that you don't expect that your own credentials would ever be under scrutiny. Which makes no sense to me. Had I given that advice, I'd at the least not be surprised if it incurred that reaction.

Okay. The part that's picking at me now: Two women joined in the discussion. One, to point out that we were all unnecessarily mean, and that we all owed TJP an apology. Pardon me? She said she took care not to notice who said what because she didn't want to be prejudiced should she ever be reviewing our submissions as an editor. I'd rather she'd taken that care. I -hate- to be lumped in with a group, and I actually don't like the condescension implied. I called it Class Detention -- and I didn't stay for those if I hadn't done anything wrong. To be fair to her, she also had similar harsh words for TJP, and a very good example of why his advice incurred the initial reaction it did. She had a point, I think, but made it broadly and a bit too sweepingly. And I responded initially to the first half (about the least I owed this stranger) rather than the latter; I responded to the latter half later, when I had cool-off time.

The next person did a drive-by post, one in which she said the same thing: that we were mean, personal, and etc., and that she wasn't going to stick around to defend that judgement; she just wanted to be on record as supporting the first brave woman.

Now hear the sounds of Michelle buttons being pushed (although it took me some time to figure out what the buttons were.

I don't actually like bullies. Never have. Don't generally put up with them. The idea that this poor TJP person is the misunderstood victim of our collective cruelty clearly paints me, as one of the participants, as a bully. Except, damn it, I've reread every word I've written in that topic, and I don't see that it applies to me. Or to many of the other posters.

But it's bugging me, now. As I said, the topic was unkind in inception, but I think that the unkindness was not random; it was a natural result of encouraging others to lie about their credentials. However... I'm perhaps not the most tactful of people, and I'm now wondering if I handled things poorly.

And am perfectly willing to be told that I did, if someone can be clear on why. I won't bite, because I'm asking and I want to know. andpuff is off the hook here; I think that it would take an hour for the discussion to actually load on her connection <g>.


( 28 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 29th, 2004 05:45 am (UTC)
Your posts seem reasonable to me, and I don't know you. They did get lost though, so I'm not surprised Mary Anne didn't notice them or address them.
Jun. 29th, 2004 06:17 am (UTC)
I oculdn't keep up--that blog, fascinating as it is, gets so much traffic I just can't read all the comments all the time, though I always read her postings.

But I do remember the guy's assertions, and it seemed to me that everyone who questioned him was correct to do so. If you tell people to lie, then you must expect to be regarded as a possible liar. That seems simple to me.
Jun. 29th, 2004 08:48 am (UTC)
It's one of the two non-journal blogs I read for months, the other being The Whatever, by John Scalzi, because I was so taken by his advice for writers I hurt myself while drinking (those, andpuff, because she stopped emailing anything At All, and also ohiblather's blatherings, because I can keep up with what's happening to many of my real life friends. You know, the ones I don't actually have time to see .). I read some threads more than others, but as I spent most of my time there lurking, it didn't matter whether or not I skimmed.

I probably should have kept lurking. But page proofs make me crazy. They really do.
Jun. 29th, 2004 06:32 am (UTC)
not even sarcastic
"No hurt I, I cute!" isn't actually a defence; neither is the deplorable assumption that niceness is due the deference of virtue.

You yourself weren't even sarcastic; I might have thought you were quite restrained in your locutions.

The "you were mean!" posts are coming from a place which insists that niceness is so due the deference of virtue, its ornaments and its antecedents, and indeed an escort of cherubim with trumpets, and which will not permit anyone to be tasked for their conduct, lest they become upset.

So I would say you didn't handle anything poorly; you're just dealing with people who go blank and horrified if anyone is upset for any reason. (It's the same tribe as thinks that you can win an argument by being more emotionally invested and starting to cry, at which point the other party has to do what you want.)

-- Graydon (not that it will take Michelle more than one of those sentences to figure that out. :)
Jun. 29th, 2004 08:09 am (UTC)
Re: not even sarcastic
LOL! It was the first sentence; I thought, oh, that's Graydon <g>. Nor, it appears, from the signature, was I wrong <wry g>. You have a very strong, very polarized set of axioms, so I -know- what your response would be.

(Deleted comment)
Jun. 29th, 2004 05:26 pm (UTC)
Re: not even sarcastic
I think, in some ways, she was brave; she knew that it wouldn't be popular, but really and truly felt that this was beyond the pale; that it was mob-like and uncivilized, and more than that unprofessional behaviour. It wasn't TJP that she was defending, so much as us that she was disappointed in. I don't, as Judy doesn't, do group disappointment, but I don't, as Judy doesn't, follow a herd.

I can understand where she is, in general, coming from. In this case, I think I'm much more acerbic, and I don't think that things were as terrible as all that. I don't know. Old cynic. I've seen mean, and I think people were, with the possible exception of 2 and a half, restrained. In their context.

But... on GEnie, there were some topics that were parlours, some that were little old lady knitting rooms, some that were salons, and some that were tavern brawls. You didn't like tavern brawls, you didn't go in. This strikes me as walking into a pub and exhorting people to stop that sinful drinking -- but again, regardless, it did take courage.
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 29th, 2004 08:40 am (UTC)
Actually, her first post drove me -nuts-. It was the first thing posted that actively annoyed me <rueful g>. So while I consider my response to TJP to be pointed, I consider my response to her to be heated.

I will 'fess up, for those of you who only really see me at conventions when I'm trying really hard to mime social: I can be a bit overbearing. It's the napolean complex. I don't do it on purpose. Simone, the teenager with whom I work just calls it my 'scary face'. It is, unfortunately, the face that occurs when I think someone has just fallen below the lower boundary of human stupidity, and is still somehow ambulatory.
Some people therefore find me intimidating.

Some people don't like to argue. I spent four years doing nothing but slightly free-form debating with the man I eventually married, and they were heated on both parts, but always on topic, and we were always forced to acknowledge logic, even when used successfully against us. I understand that many people aren't like this, and I don't insist on it.

But... it does mean that my form of stating facts clearly probably can be seen as bullying or brow-beating. In real life, I'm short enough that that's not always the way it's taken, and I try very hard not to do this among most of the women of my acquaintance who are not also writers.

And you know? I don't want to be the bully :/. It's a worthy thing to struggle against being. Curmudgeon, otoh, is right up there with worthy goals. I just have to make andpuff give me her secret Curmudgeon badge.
Jun. 29th, 2004 10:06 am (UTC)
Wow. Quel timesink. And quel classic! It's like a comic opera--it plays on all the elements, right up to and including the Nice ladies coming in and smooshily wishing everybody would just be Nice.

I haven't seen one of these in a while. Avoiding timesinks and moderating flame-free lists can sometimes result in a life of deprivation.

Ultimately you're in Energy Creature territory, complete with little mewing minions. Did I enjoy the pileon (new word for me, too)? Sure. The guy earned it. He should never have talked through the nether end in the first place--and god help us he's TEACHING this nonsense.

Michelle, you argue like me and that's your downfall. You get provoked by idiots and then you stick to the facts. That drives them straight screaming around the bend. Also you hate to be Lumped In. Best thing to do, said this weary warrior of the same persuasion, is figure there's no educating the uneducable, and save your energy for them as are worth talking to.

Right. I'll be this reasonable right up until the next idiot comes along and pushes my buttons and then Lumps Me In. Then I'll be gnawing my leg off, too. I'm sorry these overbaked blueberry pies came along and messed up your head.
Jun. 29th, 2004 10:56 am (UTC)
<voice style="Homer"> Mmm — blueberry pie ... </voice>
Jun. 29th, 2004 06:19 pm (UTC)
I have noticed that when you're putting facts down, there's a similarity of style between us; it's why I've never actually found anything you've said brusque or offensive; I think it's so similar to what I would do, it just feels natural. I really do hate being lumped in, and my husband is saying that this particular dislike is simply not worth the time.

But I honestly did just walk out of class when school had ended, if we'd been handed a class detention and I hadn't done anything. I explained, in my serious and slightly annoyed way, that the teacher could call the principal or better, my mother, to explain that I wasn't staying for detention because I hadn't done anything wrong, and see what lasting effect that had.

I realize now that this was probably bad for his general authority. Ummm, and it wasn't very civic minded of me. But the idea behind class detentions -- that everyone then gets mad at the people who did cause the trouble -- has never in my opinion worked.

Of course, that would be my opinion <rueful g>.
Jun. 29th, 2004 10:14 pm (UTC)
You have very good opinions. So There.

My big peeve with the Mary Annes and Whatzizfaces of the world is that they have no reasoning faculties as such--it's all emotional. They are incapable of separating fact from feeling, and they take everything personally. I hate that. There is no way the factual debater can get through to these people--everything has to be about them. They hate arguing with me, and since it's all personal, they end up hating me--because I won't crawl down to their level and start ranting at them for being ugly and their mothers dress them funny.

After I blathered about letting it go, I picked up messages from a horse list, and lo and behold--hot-button time. It was sort of similar, in that it was all about not very bright people getting personally involved in impersonal matters. It was also about another peeve of mine: newbies and wannabes who come to lists demanding advice for specific problems. List experts relay advice, very carefully and considerately. Newbies get all snarky and snotty and "I don't want your stupid advice!" because it's not what they want to hear. Because of course it always adds up to, "If you want to be successful in any field of study, from equitation to writing, you have to be willing to work hard and subsume your ego--and not incidentally, you also may have to make fundamental changes in how you approach whatever it is." After several rounds of this, with experts being extremely patient and newbies getting progressively snarkier and starting to say they never said what they said in the first place, some Mary Ann type invariably comes in and scolds the experts for "jumping on" the newbie. Usually with some slighting reference to the experts' right or qualification to give advice. Today's Mary Ann stopped just short of calling me a liar because I'd said something I know from experience and observation to be true but she has had no experience of it (therefore naturally it does not exist).

I swear it's a script. They hand it out when newbies get their first ISP's, along with the Neiman Marcus cookie recipe and a slew of "VIRUS WARNING!!!! SEND TO EVERYONE IN THE KNOWN UNIVERSE!!!!!!!" spam.

So much for good intentions on my part. Is it something in the air? I got a message from yet another listowner at about the same time, asking for help with a brangle on her list that was playing out in pretty much the same way. I swear these things come in waves, like epidemics.
Jun. 30th, 2004 10:19 am (UTC)
I remember this happening to Jane Yolen, of all people -- and on GEnie, on the children's writing board. Exactly the same thing -- someone would post or ask for advice, she would be kind enough to answer, and they would have a large, loud, completely out-there fit at her 'heavy-handed authoritarian stance'. She went away quickly. I think they tried this to Bruce Coville there as well, but, well, I think he was a tad more argumentative than Jane at the time.

I will admit that I didn't always agree with everything a published professional/editor/agent said on the boards. But if I was going to disagree, it was on the basis of those facts that I felt were either too narrowly represented, or not represented at all (mostly bookselling stuff, discounts to rack jobbers, etc.). I didn't attempt to call them martinets for wielding a greater public authority than I did.

Terry Pratchett said, in an interview, something along the lines of "When opportunity knocks, it usually shows up at the door in dirty overalls and looks a lot like work." I'm mangling that. I'm sorry. I just have so much Pratchett, I'm not entirely certain where it all is; it's dispersed over the whole house, like a protective shield of humour. Which is my way of saying, too lazy to turn the entire house upside down to find it.
Jun. 30th, 2004 11:32 am (UTC)
I remember those snarks at Jane. Then there was the child who was praising Terry Brooks in another topic, and Jane commented that he is not the best writer she's ever read, and the child lashed out like so: "You're just jealous because he makes a lot of money and you don't!"

A definite classic of the "if you hit her over the head with a clue would she ever get it?" genre.

I notice that the people using this kind of argument, or the kind that got you going yesterday, are always low on the professional totem pole, if they're on it at all. "I'm not looking to see who you are because I might reject your story" maketh me to quake in my bootth, yeth it doth--considering the source and all. Ditto the alleged creative-writing professor with the ahem flexible ethics--even the lawsuit threats. That kind of thing always withers before a real lawyer--and pales before real, high-end professionals.

The real thing doesn't need to tell you your mother dresses you funny, or threaten to sue because you told them truthfully that their fly is down.
Jun. 29th, 2004 08:12 am (UTC)
I never did post in either TJP threads (because eveyone else was saying what I would have said) but have followed them from the start. I concur with the reactions of the majority of posters, that until TJP showed up, there was nothing out of line, and after that, while some comments were heatedly personal, he stirred up the hornet nest himself.

Jun. 29th, 2004 08:33 am (UTC)
The funny thing is that I thought the initial comments (well, and the parodies, but I admit that I don't read those; they're long and I have No Sense Of Humour, so I'm unlikely to take out of them the entertainment that justifies the time) were perhaps unkind, but very clever. Questioning his awards and his credentials is, on the surface, extremely unkind -- but if you (as a hundred people have said) encourage people to lie about their professional credentials, you'd better be prepared to have yours examined.

So I consider the comments that occurred -after- he showed up to be more germaine, and therefore less desultory; more heated, but less snide. In general. I'll have to step back and view it again, though. I had expected something like a defense when he first started posting. Or something like a debate. Which, of course, didn't occur.

I don't mind a fairly heated debate, though.
Jun. 29th, 2004 08:39 am (UTC)
The only comment I thought out of line was the person who suggested TJP was a "spousal hire" at his current university.

Otherwise, everyone seemed reasonable, except TJP himself.

Personally, I'm kind of amused for being accused of Tor toady myself. (He had to look hard to find his toadies, through quite a few posts, if he wound up with me. :->)
Jun. 29th, 2004 08:42 am (UTC)
He just took names and did a search on them. I was annoyed at the quality of his discourse, and his ability to go into battle swinging wildly and making gross and inaccurate generalizations; I was slightly amused at the idea that he thought my quiet, reasonable post was a defense of my editors; had he been attacking Betsy or Sheila, I would have tromped him flat without hesitation.

Ummm, and I mentiond your name in my post because you'd sold Mike -one- story, for pete's sake.
Jun. 29th, 2004 09:06 am (UTC)
Ummm, and I mentiond your name in my post because you'd sold Mike -one- story, for pete's sake.

I appreciated it, because it took me a while to realize I needed to show up back in that thread at all.
Jun. 29th, 2004 06:04 pm (UTC)
I think he went through all the posts, so it was some effort. I agree about the spousal hire comment (which was one of the few that TJP actually mentioned), but the person who posted posted once, and that's it. He was somewhat snide, but not definitive, and I didn't take out of that post the assumption that this person actually knew much about TJP.

I think being a toady is possibly a privilege in this case, and am leaning toward the "write-ring conspiracy" t-shirts, myself. But perhaps that would be ... unkind.
Jun. 30th, 2004 08:15 am (UTC)
Given how many people post there, the fact that he could find only like 10 or 15 people he could link to Tor at all was kind of low, really.

I was a Write Ring T-shirt, too. :-)
Jun. 29th, 2004 08:56 am (UTC)
Yay, me. News, I imagine to my -actual- editors, but I digress.

*splutter* *wipes tea off keyboard*

I file all these sorts of threads (the one being discussed, not this one) under "do not feed the energy monster." I spent two years in HWA trying to be the voice of Reason and Experience*, and all it got me was an ulcer and a renewal on my Cynial Observer membership card.

* HWA is, um, notorious for the members who Have No Clue about professional standards or behavior, to say nothing of making logical and sustainable arguments.
Jun. 29th, 2004 09:00 am (UTC)
er, Cynical Observer. Loss of caffeine results in inability to proofread, apparently.
Jun. 29th, 2004 10:57 am (UTC)
But a cynial observer is such a lovely image. I must use that someday.

Jun. 29th, 2004 06:14 pm (UTC)
This was a less obvious "energy monster" to me.

I learned on GEnie, for instance, to avoid certain topics (anything political that contained, say, Daffyd, whose name I may be spelling wrong). I never entered duelling modems. I avoided pretty much anything where conflict was almost the point of the discussion.

So, yay, brain cells have fizzled, memory has faded, and I'm wearing hip-waders and looking like... well.
Jun. 30th, 2004 08:33 am (UTC)

I admit, I had fun sysoping the dueling modems topic. Handing out scores (on the Olympic 10-point scale) for quality of flameage is not only wonderfully cathertic but effective at creating civility, both in the flamewar and the community at large.

Jun. 30th, 2004 09:55 am (UTC)
I was happy that it existed; I was fine with the idea that over-heated conversations would be moved, rather than killed. But I was also very comfortable with the idea that a single person would set the tone for their own space, and people would abide by that. Alis Rasmussen's topic? I loved her topic. And it was the only place on-line where I could read John Barnes being the academic instead of, well, John Barnes <wry g>. But everyone's space was slightly different, and some were downright edgy.

I admit that I didn't venture into duelling modems much, though -- who came up with the point system?
Jun. 30th, 2004 12:07 pm (UTC)
The idea of rating flames was stolen (I don't know by whom) from either alt.flame or alt.flame.recreational. I wish I could claim credit for it.

I kinda had fun managing the anything goes area, recurrant gun-control debates and all. It helped that I'm pretty good at being disengaged, and didn't have to join in. It also helped that I had free rein to decorate liberally with wimsey. "Non-sequiturs do not rub the egg-roll." Not to mention the sensitive thinking man's babe and words of one beat.

Jul. 1st, 2004 05:52 am (UTC)
Oh. Well. Daffy. There are some folk the killfile button was created for.

( 28 comments — Leave a comment )