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.