Actually, fuck it, I’m ranting

Every now and then publishers I respect a lot go and do something stupid, and this makes me a little sad. This weeks’ case-in-point comes courtesy of the writer’s guidelines for Ticonderoga’s latest anthology, which I read through and had a complete WTF kind of moment when I stumbled across this.

A masculine tone will be favoured but not sought exclusively (i.e. avoid becoming bogged down with intricate descriptions and fancy window dressing in your world building; save your word count for a solid scene – or 2 or 3 – of conflict, action, aggression, etc). (see the addendum below)

I mean, yeah, seriously, what the fuck?

Setting aside the fact that anyone’s daft enough to phrase their preferences like this in an online world where x-fail has become part of the dialogue and there’s a new generation of readers (and writers) sensitive to gender issues, I actually found this kind of disappointing because it runs up against one of the things I really like about Ticonderoga – they’re a left-leaning press whose anthologies have tackled issues such as work choices/industrial relations reform and the cultural identity of immigration. They’re the press that published short fiction collections for  Angela Slatter and Kaaron Warren – two writers I’d argue do intricate description and fancy window dressing that will fucking blow you away as a reader rather than bogging down – and they’re setting up to publish a bunch of other writers who do the same in the coming year (see the forthcoming collection by LL Hannett, for example). If you’d ask me to find three words that described Ticonderoga, progressive would have been high on the list. So would awesome.

To see them resorting to some pretty blatant gender stereotyping in their writer’s guidelines is rather disappointing and incongruous. It’s like going out for a drink with the head of your local Greenpeace chapter and hearing them start going off about all those damn women coming in and taking over the workplace.

I get what they’re trying to say here, I really do, but the phrasing of it terrible and contains all sorts of implied value judgement (compare the implied frippery of the “intricate descriptions” and “fancy window dressings” that will get your story “bogged down” to the “solid action scene”). It hearkens back to the bad old days of literature when men were men and wrote terse, masculine,  Hemmingway-esque fiction of worth and women were safely quarantined to the flowery world of romance . It even nails the implied passivity of the feminine writing as a contrast to the active, aggressive nature of the masculine. It may not be intentional, but they’ve slipped into a nice comfortable misogyny with very little effort there, and devalued a whole bunch of work that don’t fit into the narrow guidelines set out. This is not a statement that says “please send me action-oriented horror stories”, it’s a statement that falls into the old trap of saying “girly writing sucks, boy writing rocks.”

And I say, heartily, FUCK THAT SHIT.

You want your submissions to consist of terse, action-oriented horror stories full of aggression? Then how about this – take away the word “masculine” and say “we’re looking for terse, aggressive, action-oriented horror stories.” There’s no real need to gender the distinction, nor to hang shit on the opposite side of the gender dichotomy you’re setting up.

So, in summary: I like Ticonderoga, I own a bunch of the books they publish and would love to own more if finances stretched that far, but these writer’s guidelines make me fucking sad (and, lets be honest, look like a gender-fail flamewar in its nascent form).

Addendum 1(25/1/11): So it looks like Ticonderoga has taken down the guidelines and made steps towards addressing the concerns above, to which I can only say bravo. This is the step of the Ticonderoga I know and love, and gives me hope that the problems were a one-off thing that are destined to be quickly corrected.

  20 comments for “Actually, fuck it, I’m ranting

  1. 25/01/2011 at 6:43 AM

    Gotta agree with every word of this.

    It's lazy, it's inaccurate, it's alienating, it's ill-thought-out.

    I hope they take it on the chin and change their wording and say "our bad, sorry" because, like you, they're a press I want to support.

  2. 25/01/2011 at 6:43 AM

    It would certainly be a turn off to me, as a writer. It's a great big 'no girls allowed' sign on the treehouse, which seems particularly bizarre (though sadly not entirely rare) coming from a female editor. Surely there are better ways to describe a particular type of story without resorting to such out-dated ideas, that are likely to offend or alienate many of the people they are supposedly trying to reach?

    I wonder if they've really thought what kind of message a paragraph like that sends to people? Because the description of what masculine writing "isn't" is pretty damn insulting to women.

  3. Karen Miller
    25/01/2011 at 6:47 AM

    Excellent rant, Peter, and I second you on all counts. Like you, I expect better from this press and am hard pressed to understand how sentiments like this can still prevail.

    Or did we morph back into 1954 when I wasn't looking?

  4. 25/01/2011 at 6:58 AM

    @Ben – I doubt this'll be enough to stop me supporting Ticonderoga, assuming it's an isolated incident, but it sure as hell stops me from supporting *this particular book*.

    @Tansy This doesn't actually turn me off as a writer – I mean, honestly, I so rarely submit to Australian markets that there's no real threat if I start saying "well, no stories from me 'cause of this." The low pay rates and the slow rate at which I'm writing new work are more than enough to keep me submitting to most Australian anthologies unless I've got a story kicking around that'd suit.

    It does piss me off as a human being though, and as someone who spent seven years trying to combat this thinking among writing students.

    @Karen: I believe that when horror showed signs of moving out of 1954, they quarantined it and called it urban fantasy, literature, or paranormal romance depending on its inclinations.

  5. 25/01/2011 at 7:12 AM

    @karen, I agree, it's hard not to read a certain amount of intentional reactionary nostalgia in that kind of terminology. Almost Howard-esque. I'm sure (I hope) it wasn't intended to be.

  6. 25/01/2011 at 7:13 AM

    @Peter Well to be fair I was probably never going to submit either, but I do think a lot of female writers (and readers) are going to be put off by this, and I don't just mean to the anthology. It certainly suggests to me that there's not going to be anything in this book that will appeal to me as a reader or a reviewer, much less as a human being.

    I agree with everything you say in your post, and I am very pleased to see that there are plenty of men out there being insulted by this too because frankly it's insulting to both genders.

    The whole thing stems from LAZY WRITING which is ironic, I suppose.

  7. 25/01/2011 at 8:03 AM

    Yup. Real double take when I read it, followed by an evening of frowny-face.

    "We're looking for fast-paced, action-packed stories with plenty of conflict" would have sufficed.

  8. Ju
    25/01/2011 at 11:46 AM

    Dear Peter,

    I love your ranting, I love this rant.

    I really couldn't have said it better 🙂

    Hoping also that they take the criticism as intended and make amends, but I don't tend to hold my breath for things like that.

  9. 25/01/2011 at 4:45 PM

    Hadn't seen the guidelines, just went and read them and – yeah. Wow. That phrase 'masculine tone' is not at all fit. It seems to me a bit like the editor was trying to come up with a description of what she wanted, had that as a stop-gap and then it was reported as is.

    The fact it was the stop-gap reaction has me thinking that I'd definitely not ever have something to submit to her, even though there's no way my stuff would be called passive or descriptive.

  10. 25/01/2011 at 8:42 PM

    Fucking YEAH, Peter. THANK YOU.

    I already made my thoughts clear when this was raised on the Southern Horror mailing list yesterday – I'm shocked and disappointed, and if this sexism remains in the guidelines, I am not submitting.

    The bit that has really stuck in my craw is that this could've been swiftly and easily remedied yesterday with a "shit, sorry, I take your point, I didn't mean it like that, will fix, kthxbai" from the editor. The editor was trying to convey something, and did so very poorly, with no malice intended. I get that. I do. They then asked for a critique of the guidelines (not, funnily enough, in regard to the "masculine" bit, but in regard to another area of the guidelines) and they got it – the issues with the use of "masculine" in this instance were raised very clearly and thoughtfully by numerous people. At that point, it should've been case closed, no harm, no foul.

    But then the editor defended their use of "masculine" in their guidelines (at length, in the process saying a lot of things equally or more offensive than the original "masculine" bit itself – "political correctness" WTF?!), and the publisher adopted what boils down to a line of public neutrality (though they did say they had privately expressed the view that the editor should reconsider their use of "masculine", they also said they'd stand by her if she didn't reconsider it). I feel that neither reaction is appropriate in this instance and this compounded my initial shock and disappointment.

    So, yeah, now it's a shitfight that is spreading like wildfire over teh interwebs. And it didn't have to be.

    I still hope for resolution, with the "masculine" bit removed from the guidelines and some genuine consideration of WHY we're all so angry about it (beyond the "geez, settle down everyone" tone going on right now that ALWAYS gets wheeled out when people react to misogyny – cos we're all hysterical overreacting angry feminists, dontcha know), and then that can be that.

    I was excited about this anthology, and I have a lot of respect for the editor and publisher. I'm really disappointed this is happening.

  11. 25/01/2011 at 8:50 PM

    This is a fantastic response to a disappointing foot in mouth.

    Do you mind if I re-post this on FB?

  12. 25/01/2011 at 9:12 PM

    Totally agree with this and have expressed my views on Southern Horror. It is bound to alienate female writers and exclude them from submitting.

    This is especially bad in the context of debates in recent years around women's lack of representation in some award short lists – as well as the much longer issues of horror being seen as misogynistic or a 'boy's club.'

  13. 26/01/2011 at 12:20 AM

    @Tansy What can I say? I *like* fiction that is all about the fancy worldbuiding.

    @Jess I spent about four hours frowning at it, going back and forth about posting.

    @Ju Looks like the guidelines have been taken down for revision. I live in hope of a better approach in the near future.

    @Felicity I've gone back and followed the Australian Horror list discussion with a mixture of hope and dread. Earlier this morning it was mostly hope. By this point, it's mostly dread.

    @Kev I'd prefer links to it rather than reposts – as I've noted in the edit, it looks like Ticonderoga is attempting to fix the problem, so I'd rather not have them coping flack from old information.

    @Benjamin 't's not just alienating the female writers 🙂

  14. 26/01/2011 at 9:01 AM

    Erg – my bad explanation.

    Linking is what I meant by repost. Bad word!

    (much rather point people at the conversation than have it over on FB)

  15. Kate
    28/01/2011 at 3:42 AM

    lol, Iain M. Banks, you big girl. XD

  16. 23/03/2011 at 6:30 AM

    Huh — reminds me of the time an editor said that I (a man with a gender ambiguous name) hadn't successfully captured the point of view of the other gender in my male protagonist. And went on to explain why:


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