Archive for the ‘Life/Stuff’ Category

Twitter, Truth & Apologies

Posted: September 11, 2022 in Critical Hit, Life/Stuff
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The problem with being me – or one of the many problems, rather – is that I seldom if ever know what the fuck is going on in my brain. There’s ongoing roadworks in there, and the signs are all written in wingdings, and also stowed away in chests hidden within a series of cunning hedge-mazes, like bonus treasure in OG Spyro the Dragon levels. This means that, when my emotional-mental equilibrium takes a hit, it can be… difficult, let’s say, to figure out exactly what’s happened. Annoyingly, there also tends to be an inverse correspondence between the size of a setback and how difficult it is to pin down – meaning, I can generally figure out the inconsequential shit, but when something actually matters? Hoo-boy.

All of which is a way of saying: I’ve been kinda fucked up for months now in some extremely non-trivial ways, and it’s taken me ’till this point to get anything close to a handle on why. Oh, sure: I’ve known what the inciting incident was, but not helpfully so, in the same way that knowing you dropped your laptop in the bath doesn’t clue you in as to which parts of its delicate innards, precisely, are now malfunctioning, and to what extent. And unlike with a soaked laptop, I cannot simply take my brain to some sort of Geek Emporium, flourish my debit card and say, “Here are some money dollars. Please unfucken the thing,” even in an extremely laboured metaphor where the Geek Emporium is a therapist, because therapy cannot actually give you new thinkmeats to replaced the burned-out bits. Or waterlogged ones, in this case. Whatever.

The point being, it’s finally dawned on me that, actually, the kind of personal fuckedness I’ve been experiencing lately isn’t new, but rather an iteration of something I’ve dealt with before: being lied about, or at the least, being spoken of with a degree of hostility so steeped in bad faith as to be indistinguishable from lying, in such a way as to render me fearful of existing or speaking authentically, lest those parts of me, too, become subject to distortion. And you might think, but Foz, that’s silly! Anyone who would lie about you clearly isn’t worth your mental energy, and you’ve certainly been online long enough to know that, sooner or later, participating in discourse leaves you subject to hot takes. To which I reply: I know this, and intellectually I agree with you, but my subconscious brain absolutely refuses to be wrangled on certain points, and one of them is anything it parses as false accusation.

Which leaves me in a really shitty bind, coping-mechanism-wise; because online, the immortal wisdom re: dealing with a certain type of bullshit is to simply not engage. And I have tried this! I have! But in such particular instances as these, where the bullshit I’m not engaging with is someone lying about me, personally, my subconscious brain – fully without my consent! – parses that non-engagement as a species of abnegation. If I cannot assert the truth of who I am, however subjectively – if I am made to fear to do so – then a critical part of me functionally shuts down and fucks up everything else, like a sort of emotional power outage. I don’t know how else to explain it, except to say that, at a fundamental level, I am a person who processes my identity through writing, and if I don’t feel able to do that – if something fucks me up to the degree that it makes me fearful of being perceived – then I suffer for it.

If all this resulted in was me no longer wanting to blog or do social media, I could cope with that. Hell, I might even be healthier for it; at this point, I’ve been on the Cursed Bird App for goddamn thirteen years, accruing regular psychic damage as a result. But no: instead, it fucks with all of my writing – you know, the thing I do for a job – and with my ability to focus on other forms of narrative, while also rendering me socially paranoid to an unsustainable degree. While also, in this specific instance, causing me to self-harm, because my brain is garbage! It is a garbage brain, but it is mine, and as Raccoon-in-Chief of this particular psychic dumpster, it falls to me to try and sort my shit out. Annoyingly, on the basis of past experience, what this means is Talking Publicly About The Thing That Fucked Me Up, even and especially when I’m terrified of doing so, which is really just the worst.

Speaking of Twitter – and, spoiler alert: this whole thing pertains to Twitter – I’ve been thinking recently about what makes the Bird App so uniquely Cursed, and have tentatively concluded that the Cursedness derives from three separate factors: the lack of distinction between public and private speech; the structural incoherence of its conversations; and the lag between replies. The first point is something of a double-edged sword, as there are plenty of instances where eroding the public/private distinction has been not only significant, but culturally game-changing. When it comes to speaking collectively about systems and institutions whose deep-seated, widespread problems are overlooked within traditional channels, for instance – as per the #MeToo movement, or #BlackLivesMatter – Twitter’s ability to let private individuals speak publicly about their shared experiences has been an immensely powerful, positive thing. But in other contexts, there’s a reason to maintain the traditional barriers between public and private speech – because, put simply, not everything needs to be A Thing.

It’s human nature to react to the world around us, and when those reactions are private – which is to say, contained in some way, by virtue of happening in person or over email or in a closed group – we express our feelings without growing them in others: we speak, and the echoes die out. But when we share our feelings publicly, collectively, en masse, those reactions, no matter how poorly reasoned or irrelevant, become new things for others to react to, such that we then react to those reactions, and so on and so forth, until the hot take engine of the internet is steamrolling ceaselessly forwards like a darksided Katamari Damacy. Nobody wins when this happens – we know this, too! And yet we react, because engagement is human nature – and because, to my second point, we don’t always know the size of the discourse to which we’re contributing until after the fact.

This is what I mean by the structural incoherence of conversations: recommended tweets notwithstanding, our timelines are constructed on the basis of who we follow individually, and yet there’s invariably enough overlap between conversational/social circles that, a lot of the time, we might reasonably assume that certain people are seeing the same things we are. Except that, actually, this is a bad assumption to make, and worse still to rely on. Even if our friends are following many of the same people as us, those tweets aren’t appearing on their timelines in the same order as ours; and even if they were, that’s no guarantee our friends will see them when we do, or framed within the same context, on account of how parallel conversations – and, indeed, completely unrelated conversations that nonetheless touch on similar themes – are a thing.

We might, for instance, encounter a piece of discourse complaining that Movie X contains problematic themes, such that, when we see what looks like a subtweet about problematic narratives made by Person A, who we think would reasonably know about Movie X, we instinctively put the two things together and conclude: aha, Person A is tweeting about Movie X! When in fact, Person A is yet to encounter any discourse about Movie X on their own timeline, and was rather thinking about the wholly unrelated Book Y. An easy mistake to make! But if, in our zeal, we quote-tweet Person A in a way that expressly links their comment to Movie X, and our quote-tweet spreads, then suddenly Person A’s criticism of Movie X becomes a matter of record in a way that is maddeningly difficult to correct. Person A might reply to their original tweet with a clarifying remark, or make their own quote-tweet in turn, but if nobody clicks through to find the clarification, or if the QT spreads as a screenshot, then the truth remains invisible. Or, worse still: some people will see the clarification, but find the idea that Person A could have made such a comment about something other than Movie X while Movie X discourse was so visibly ongoing to be utterly implausible, and therefore claim that they’re lying to avoid taking responsibility for their comments.

In other words: Twitter provides its users with the illusion of a shared discursive context while in fact consisting of billions of diffuse, only somewhat overlapping contexts, in which there is no clear, easy, accessible way to identify a conversation’s origins, the timeline of its development, or which claims made in the course of it are true, false, or a matter of opinion, or which such opinions are well-researched vs spurious, and whether any of them were later clarified or retracted, or which were taken out of context in order to generate new, only tangentially related conversations. And this is all exacerbated by the fact that, unlike any other social media medium, Twitter’s post length is capped to significantly less than a paragraph. Brevity might be the soul of wit in Hamlet, but on Twitter, where the hot take engine is constantly looking for new reactions to generate, the inherent impossibility of encompassing and accounting for every possible interpretation of a single tweet within the tweet itself – no matter how bizarre or bad faith those interpretations might be – is frequently viewed as an intellectual failure on the part of the person writing it. Returning to the prior example, Person B might critique Movie X for its portrayal of a specific marginalisation, only to be disparagingly quote-tweeted by Person C for failing to mention how it also fucked up a completely different marginalisation, thereby contributing to the erasure of that type of fuckup in the public consciousness. Of such bad faith engagement is Twitter criticism frequently built, even when the participants ostensibly both want the same thing, in service of the same politics. Rationally, we all know that tweets are inherently short, and yet, time and again, something in us reacts to their length as if the only reason the person didn’t write more or bother with a thread is because fuck you, that’s why.

And then there’s the time lag in replies, which at best represents a problem of muddled discourse and broken threads – for instance, replying to an interlocutor’s first tweet without knowing they were still typing out a second, such that the first reply becomes redundant, or being asked by multiple people to clarify a point we’ve already explained upthread – and at worst becomes a form of psychic bombardment. When people are angry with us, it’s one thing to anticipate being shouted at; it’s quite another not to know when the shouting will come, or if the volume will suddenly increase, or when it might stop. On every other form of social media, interaction comes primarily in the form of reblogs, threaded replies and comments – meaning, what’s being said to us is overwhelmingly attached to a specific thing we’ve said, the better to keep it cordoned off from everything else. Other users might be able to tag us in particular posts or send us private messages, as on Tumblr or various forums, but not as a primary mode of engagement, and certainly not with the expectation of real-time conversational responses. On Twitter, however, the primary mode of engagement is your notifications, where the most you can do is separate your mentions – that is, tweets in which you’re tagged – from details of retweets and likes. You have to click through to see if your interlocutor is replying to a particular tweet, or if they’ve just tagged you in for whatever reason, and while it’s now mercifully possible to mute tweets or untag yourself from unwanted conversations, if multiple individuals choose to @ you directly in a hostile way, not only can’t they see how many others are doing likewise (which is often how dogpiles form), but unless you want to mute potentially friendly interlocutors also – which some people, understandably, do not want to do – your only recourse is to block or mute each new aggressor as they come.

What this means in practical terms is that, if any part of Twitter takes umbrage with us for whatever reason, it isn’t always obvious why. We only know that, suddenly, alongside the friendly engagement we were having with friends and mutuals, we’re now being yelled at by strangers who, aside from anything else, assume we know exactly why they’re pissed at us, and want an accounting of it – the same accounting, over and over, because none of them can see what the others are asking.

In June, my mother was visiting from Australia – the first time we’d seen each other in person in the four years since I moved to the US. Thanks to the pandemic, it was also the first time we’d seen each other since my father died in 2021, as Australia’s borders were closed at the time; I had to watch the funeral online. We were out to lunch together, and in an idle moment, I checked Twitter and found my mentions were full of strangers accusing me of, among other things, having defended the harassment of Isabel Fall; which was, as a trans person, terrifying. That particular discourse is a horrifically poisoned well, and the prospect of being subjected to it out of the blue was legitimately chilling. I’d tweeted about Fall before, but not recently, and not in the ways of which I was suddenly being accused; I didn’t know where the accusations were coming from, or why they were happening now. I replied to the first couple of strangers out of pure startlement, thinking it was just random happenstance, but when the engagement persisted, I realised there must be something driving it – I just didn’t know what.

By that point, my mother had realised something had upset me; not wanting to explain several different levels of extremely terrible internet discourse to her, I waved it off, put my phone away and waited until we were home again to deal with it, frantically asking friends in one of my groupchats whether they knew what the fuck was happening and why. Eventually, we were able to piece an answer together: I’d tweeted a thread about moral policing in SFF criticism, and Gretchen Felker-Martin, a trans writer, had taken issue with it, saying that, “I did not think I could feel more insane about the harassment of Isabel Fall, but that was before I saw one of the chief apologists for it make a gigantic stupid thread about how important it is not to make and police moral judgments of art.”

The idea that I am “one of the chief apologists” for what happened to Isabel Fall is… let’s go with both untrue and viscerally upsetting. However, now that I knew who’d brought it up and why, the origins this particular accusation were at least clear to me. Late in 2021, several months after the now-infamous Vox article detailing the horrific, harrowing impact the internet backlash to her writing had on Fall came out, Felker-Martin, who came armed with assertions but no actual receipts, claimed that Neon Yang, another trans author, was “one of the instigators of the wave of harassment and transmisogynist criticism of Isabel Fall’s short story I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter.” The topic was raised because Yang was announced as a contributor to an anthology about queer mech fiction, and as Fall’s story had involved both machines and queerness, albeit in a military SF context rather than the mech genre specifically, Felker-Martin took issue with it. With the irony of the dogpiling of a trans writer being used to justify the dogpiling of a different trans writer evidently being lost on far too many people, and with the relevant people seemingly uncaring that Yang was not someone Fall had ever considered a ringleader, I made the stupid decision to engage.

From memory – which I’m reliant on here in terms of knowing what to look for, as Twitter does not have anything so handy as a ‘search your own archive’ function – I tweeted two threads: one, the shorter, was pointing out the existence of multiple evidence-based threads showing that, counter to Felker-Martin’s claims, Yang didn’t spearhead anything, and in fact barely commented on Fall’s story, with their tweets coming after the bulk of the discourse and damage had already been done. The other was long, a stream of consciousness attempt to process what I was feeling in the moment around queerness, art and criticism, as well as the cyclical nature of the abuse directed first at Fall, and then Yang. Parts of the thread, which was mostly about queer reactions to queer art and the weaponisation of Own Voices as a movement, I think had some merit; where I specifically fucked up – and I know I fucked up now, though at the time it took me a few days to properly understand how and why, at which point I apologised for it – was in attempting to describe one aspect of what had happened to Fall, beyond the general horror of it all, which had hit me personally. Spread over multiple tweets, what I said – which I now profoundly regret saying – was this:

For me, the most heartbreaking aspect of what happened with Isabel Fall is that, in publishing her story, she decided to make its public acceptance or rejection the yardstick by which to validate (or not) her transition. She didn’t need a yardstick. She was already trans. But precisely because the world is so hostile to trans people, and especially trans women; because transition is so hard – because we as queer artists throw our work into the world in hope of the mortifying ordeal of being known, perceived, validated – Fall wanted a yardstick. But when her story entered the world, it did not do so with a label attached saying, “how you react to this will determine the future of my transition.” And so the world did not know to consider this aspect of how their criticism would impact the author.

Now: we could have an entire separate conversation about the extent to which the life and hopes of the artist should influence public discussion of their work, and I have no doubt that it would be meaty, relevant and fascinating. But that’s not the point here. The point is, rather, that because we know now what the story’s reception meant to Fall before anyone ever read it, certain parties have developed a post-hoc belief that those who criticised the story must have, from the outset, been committed to harming Fall’s transition. And this is not true. At the outset, nobody reacting to the story had any idea who Fall was – but because the story riffed on an anti-trans meme, and because we have collectively warped the importance of Own Voices writing into something sharp and painful, people wanted to know. Which means that the speculation about Fall’s identity can be split firmly into two categories: those who wondered who she was at all, the better to asses if, in their view, she was qualified to write such a piece; and those who, after hearing she was trans, thought it a lie.

It would be easy, convenient even, to claim that everyone in the first group gets a pass, while only those in the latter did something wrong. But this would mean accepting that the weaponisation of Own Voices as a means to force writers to out themselves or their trauma is valid. Which, to be brutally clear, it isn’t. It wasn’t OK when Yoon-Ha Lee felt pressured to come out as trans so as to not be included on lists of female SFF writers, or when people demanded authors prove their trauma credentials re: rape, DV & CSA, and it’s not okay now. Which is why, to circle back to the point I’m trying to make, it’s so very, very important that we acknowledge the plurality of queer experiences and perspectives, not just in making art, but in reacting to it. We contain multitudes, and always have, and always will. Because when our first impulse, on reading a story about queerness that makes us flinch, is to demand to know if the author is one of us? The unspoken rider is that, if they are, they should’ve known better than to present a version of queerness that we, personally, didn’t like.

With the power of hindsight, I know exactly why people were deeply upset by this: my shitty wording comes across as saying that the worst of what happened to Fall isn’t what others did to her, but something she did to herself; as though I’m victim-blaming Fall for being somehow complicit in her own dehumanisation. It reads as if I’m saying that there was no salient distinction to be made between the people who reacted critically to the work itself, and those who questioned her transness, her gender and her morality in the grossest, most fucked-up possible ways; as though there was no way for anyone wondering about her identity to have known not to speculate, attack and otherwise behave horrifically towards her on that basis.

What I was trying to articulate here, and manifestly failed at articulating, was that, in addition to the utter horror of what happened to Fall, I felt a profound sense of grief at how the fundamental disconnect between an artist’s hopes for their work and the critical reception of that work functioned, in this instance, as a tragedy within a tragedy; that Fall had put her whole heart into a work, and had that heart not only dismissed, but brutally misunderstood. I thought it went without saying that what Fall was subjected to was horrific, which was a deeply irresponsible thing to assume, as it came across as treating her abuse as irrelevant. I quoted Fall in defense of a point I should never have tried to make, and if I could go back in time, punch myself in the face and knock my goddamn laptop out of my hands, I would do so, but. Well. Here we are.

So: do I understand why Felker-Martin thinks of me as she does? Yes. She’s not obliged to like me or to accept my apology; nobody is. But when a fuckup to which I’ve admitted and for which I’ve apologised is thrown back at me, repeatedly, by strangers told that my evils are ongoing, as if I not only acted in malice towards Fall, but continue to uphold an actively malicious position, then I am left squeezed between a rock and a hard place. Because, yes: I caused harm. I regret that deeply. I’m not defending it, I’m not proud of it – but if I try to explain this, I’m called a liar and an apologist, as though malice is the only possible explanation for anything I might say or do on the subject. And if Felker-Martin was the only one involved in this instance, then we could leave the post here, and gladly. But when people started to show up in my mentions, they’d also taken their cue from R.S. Benedict, who was tweeting in concert with Felker-Martin – and it is Benedict’s tweets that have most profoundly fucked with me.

Seemingly inspired by Felker-Martin, Benedict proceeded to tweet a call-out thread about me, featuring three different accusations. One, naturally, was the aforementioned long thread about Yang and Fall, which she categorised as “a 47-tweet (!) thread defending the harassment mob that misgendered Isabel Fall and called her a Nazi based only on the title of her story,” which… look. On the one hand, me saying “only some of those tweets were extremely bad, and I apologised for them” comes across as downplaying a real, genuine fuckup, which I do not want to do; on the other hand, given that the bulk of the thread was about needing a plurality of queer perspectives, the weaponisation of Own Voices and problems of mob justice online, it feels like purposeful bad faith to claim, inaccurately, that the entire thread was nothing but cruelty and malice. But, again: the fuckup was mine, and I did indeed say those things – I can only reiterate that they were badly worded, that I’m sorry, and that I understand saying sorry doesn’t magically entitle me to forgiveness.

This does not, however, explain or justify why Benedict has also chosen to straight-up fucking lie about me.

Her two other claims are, firstly, that I “forced a gay man out of the closet by accusing him of homophobia in a review of his book written after hastily reading only the first two sample chapters.”

This tweet, as you can see, is accompanied by a screenshot of a blogpost I wrote seven years ago, with both the name of the book in question and the title of the post conveniently redacted, presumably because including them would immediately reveal this claim for a lie. Why? Because the book was The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson, who – and I cannot emphasise this enough – is not a gay man and has never come out as such, least of all because of my review. I cannot begin to fathom why Benedict felt the need to lie about this – or, if she didn’t deliberately spin the lie out of whole cloth, where she got it from – but she made the claim so definitively that I actually emailed Dickinson to double-check whether it had actually happened and I’d somehow forgotten. (It hadn’t.)

Here’s the thing, though: that review, that seven-year-old review where I angrily professed my feelings about the first two chapters of Baru Cormorant? That review haunts me, because it’s something I’d never write now, but which I’ve thought about regularly in the intervening years. At the time, I was some few weeks or months away from realising that I wasn’t cis, still struggling with postpartum depression plus several other issues and experiencing some extremely painful feelings around being perceived as female. The visceral reaction I had to those first two chapters, whose emotional throughline centers heavily on the evils of homophobia, disgust at female queerness and forced feminisation (to a particular, narrow set of feminine standards) was triggering in a way I didn’t yet know to process as triggering, and as such, I reactively mistook my own visceral upset for an objective measure of the story’s skill in handling those topics. In other words, I did exactly the thing I decried elsewhere in the Yang/Fall thread, assuming that a depiction of queerness which unsettled me must therefore be a bad depiction of queerness, and for this, too, I apologise, however belatedly.

But Benedict didn’t know about any of that, nor was that why she was holding me to account. Instead, she was accusing me of a lie. Likewise her third and final accusation: that I “forced a gay literary critic to take his account private by stirring up a big ugly dogpile on him by accusing him of queerphobia because he had the temerity to suggest that it’s nice to read older books sometimes.”

Benedict included no link to this claim, also presumably because doing so would immediately also prove her false. The thread in question was – brace yourselves – a QT of a QT of a QT of a QT, where the original conversation was begun by fantasy author Alan Baxter. Baxter was writing about how and why, in his opinion, it isn’t necessary to read the classics of the genre. “The same applies to fantasy,” he said, mid-thread. “You don’t have to read Tolkien. Want to write SF? Great! And you don’t have to read Heinlein or Aldous Huxley. You can if you want, but a lot has been written in the almost one CENTURY between that stuff and now. Read what YOU want to read. Consume books like food. Like fuel. Power your mind with stuff you love. Then write what’s in your soul.”

These two tweets were then screenshot and shared – rather derisively – by the SFF Audio Twitter account, saying, “Don’t want to read Heinlein? No worries, “just read Scalzi!” Brave New World? Pish posh, don’t bother, just drink Soma™ Books are food. Here, eat this new book, it’s fine. No, don’t look at the ingredients. Just eat it, you fuck.” This take was then QT’d by SF critic Paul Weimer – whose account has been locked for some time due to his being persistently targeted by trolls – who said, “I disagree with Jesse. There is a FUCKTONN of good SF out there, and recent SF at that. If that’s what you want to read. If you don’t want to read Heinlein or Huxley, you don’t have to. Reading SFF for pleasure should NEVER be an exercise in homework.”

Weimer was then screenshot – presumably due to his locked account – by Chris at The Bookish Cauldron, the person I’m accused of dogpiling, who replied with: “I hate how these conversations get so obviously twisted. Yes of course read what you want. You have a finite amount of money and time. Spend it how you please. But if you want a full understanding of a particular genre, you do have to read the roots. Like, I’m so sorry but it’s just true. Classics are classics for a reason. Equally there are plenty of fantastic older books out there that have never reached “classic” status due to a myriad of reasons that are also worthy of consideration. So yes – read what you want. But also, if you truly want to have a certain deep understanding of a field of literature, it will require you to, on brief occasion, step boldly outside of your comfort zone. And no one talking about the importance of reading classics and older books is trying to police them reading populace en masse.”

It was the first of these tweets that I quote-tweeted, and you can read my take for yourself, as well as a follow-up thread I wrote that referenced the first without linking to it. But here’s the thing: at no point do I accuse Chris of queerphobia, or homophobia, or anything of the sort. In fact, I say nothing about Chris-the-person at all – I only address his argument, which was already part of a lively back-and-forth involving multiple people across SFF twitter, and to which various other people were already responding before I weighed in. This is, in fact, how I came across his post in the first place: because the conversation was ongoing. I can’t recall if he ever took his account on private or just blocked a lot of people; he certainly blocked me – as is his right! – but as far as I can tell, his account is now open again. Either way, the idea that I accused a gay man of homophobia so badly that he retreated from public twitter is a blatant fucking falsehood, as is the claim that I led a dogpile against him on that basis.

Benedict QT’d my thread on criticism and then blocked me immediately, while Felker-Martin referenced my thread without linking to it; hence my initial inability to understand where the criticism was coming from. In combination, this very much did result in strangers showing up in my mentions for the express purpose of accusing me of several things I’d never done, mixed in with accusations about one thing I did do, but for which I’d apologised. Benedict also retweeted a random QT accusing me of having “clutched my pearls” about Fall’s story, implying that I’d been one of the people to originally critique her work – another signal-boosted lie.

I said before, at the start of this post, that my brain does not do well with false accusation. This is, perhaps, an understatement. To be lied about is bad enough; to have multiple lies spread, claiming that I’d accused gay men of being homophobic – of silencing them, of outing them – and to have those lies taken as truth by virtue of being propped up by an actual fuckup, which was to this purpose being cast as an act of ongoing malice rather than a thing for which I’d apologised – broke me in a way I didn’t know I was capable of breaking. I self-harmed as a direct result of it, something I haven’t done since I was a teenager. Worse, it left me with a profound and crippling paranoia that any friends I had who I wasn’t actively talking to must now hate me, because if I could be lied about so easily, the lies made digestible by a seed of truth, then who would care to hear my side of things? If I was believed to be that sort of person, then why would anyone bother? It didn’t feel possible to explain that I’d been lied about without coming across as downplaying the very real harm I’d caused at the heart of it all; to say, yes, I said this one bad thing, but in hubris and ignorance, not the malice that’s being claimed, and I know that nobody is obliged to accept my apology or talk to me ever again regardless, but don’t the lies matter, too?

In the same thread where she liedabout me, Benedict said, “People make mistakes. People can change and grow and learn. But you have to own up to your misdeeds, and apologize, and attempt to atone. You can’t build a career out of viciously, dishonestly attacking others and then cry for civility like the fucking GOP.” And I just.

Reading this now, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, because at the time she was writing, I already had apologised. I’d spent seven years reflecting on how I fucked up with my review of Baru Cormorant, working to be a better queer critic, a better person, but even if I’d specifically made clear the relationship between my personal growth and particular at some point, I have no faith that Benedict would’ve cared, or cited it, or done anything other than what she did, because with the best will in the world, I cannot find a better explanation for her lies about me than a malice which is at best lazy and at worst deliberate. Regardless of where she got her ideas about me, it would’ve taken all of three seconds to Google Seth Dickinson to see if he’d ever come out as a gay man, and to learn that he has not; she didn’t bother, and instead took steps to redact his name, so as to make it harder for others to fact-check her accusation. A simple glance at the thread she claimed was a dogpile in the name of queerphobia would’ve easily shown that nothing of the sort took place; she didn’t bother. The most charitable reading of her actions is that, unaware of my apology and genuinely convinced that I’d acted with malice in the first place, she half-remembered some things I’d said, interpreted them through the lens of Foz Is Clearly Terrible, and posted in a fit of passion. Which would be deeply ironic if true, because I, of all people, can understand tweeting a fuckup thread, unaware of the harm it caused until after the fact – it is, after all, exactly why Benedict took issue with me in the first place.

Which brings us back to the problems of Twitter, and dogpiling, and callouts, and the persistent nature of this bullshit. Because no good will come of people showing up in Benedict or Felker-Martin’s mentions yelling on my behalf, which is one reason why it’s taken me months to write this all down in the first place: the whole thing is a cycle of hurt, and I have no wish to perpetuate it. But the hurt has already happened: my silence won’t make it go away, and I’ve been fucked up enough by the consequences that not talking about it has started to exacerbate the problem. Recently, a friend sent me a playfully-worded DM asking whether I was open to criticism of my takes re: something I’d tweeted about a K-drama, and when they didn’t reply right away, I had a panic attack, convinced that I’d said something horrific that I was too stupid to realise was horrific. I spent half of Worldcon braced for old friends to refuse to speak to me or call me out in public because they surely must’ve seen the lies, they must’ve believed them, and that’s an anxiety which, on top of everything else, plays badly with my existing mental health issuse.

The problem is that growth, real growth, isn’t performative. We can express it publicly, sure – that’s often an important step – but our actual, innermost selves are not what’s displayed on social media. And all too often, even when social media professes to want growth from those it accuses of wrongdoing, what it really wants is a new culprit to feel vindicated about shaming, because that’s easier than weighing up whether you think so-and-so deserves another chance, and whether all your mutuals will agree with you, and if saying so is worth the chance of being called an apologist in the event that they don’t. Being reactive is simpler, easier, but at some point, we have to accept that not all takes require responses, and that if they do, they don’t necessarily have to be ours. If there’s one positive thing I’ve taken out of all this, it’s a desire to be more judicious about how I speak online: to be less knee-jerk, to give less space to opinions that don’t merit discussion, and to try for kinder readings of the works and people around me. Who knows if I’ll succeed – I am, after all, only human – but at least for now, it’s a start. I just… had to talk about this, in my stupid, rambling way, and once again: I’m sorry for the hurt I caused. I am trying to be better.

I haven’t been blogging much, lately. I’ve wanted to at times – the ideas have been there, the impetus to say something – but I’ve bled it off in Twitter threads rather than coming here, because that’s felt easier. Blaming the pandemic is convenient insofar as it’s largely true, but it’s also not the whole story; I was already struggling to blog before it started, and once it did, there wasn’t much bandwidth for considering why. We’re still in the pandemic now, almost (god) three fucking years later, for a variety of reasons that make any sane person want to walk into the sea if considered too closely, and things are still bad, but they’re also a different, slightly more hopeful flavour of bad, or at least more resigned, by which I mean we can go outside now and see people and get vaccinated, but – well. Well.

Anyway, the point is that, pandemic aside, I’d been having a rough time of things re: mental and physical health since, oh, let’s say 2012, which timeline not-so-coincidentally lines up with getting pregnant and having a child, who is now five days off from turning nine (!) and is in every respect a wholly wonderful person. It’s just that, as boring and gross and as gauche as certain people think it is to mention What Pregnancy Does To The Body (and hence to the brain), it’s actually quite a lot, and when some of those people are doctors who think that discomfort and sadness are a sort of AFAB baseline to which giving birth should natively acclimate you, such that raising any medical issues without, in their eyes, an obvious cause is just a hypochondriac complaining, it’s hard to get those things diagnosed, let alone fixed.

So: let’s say you’re me, a genderqueer-leaning-slightly-more-masc-than-hitherto-realised person who, prior to pregnancy, has been keeping all those feelings in a careful mental box without ever quite acknowledging them. All of a sudden dysphoria is a Real Goddamn Thing, because even more than your body changing, you’re suddenly being publicly, consistently, insistently gendered in ways you never have been before, and you realise oh, I really don’t like that, but feeling sad and gross and confused is, again, considered a fairly normal part of pregnancy, so it takes a couple of years to sort that all out, and in the interim, you contract a nasty viral infection postpartum that leaves you feeling shitty for months – and again, you are not listened to, not about the tiredness, discomfort and not-rightness in your body and certainly not about the excruciating pain that comes with breastfeeding, except to be told that you must be doing something wrong and either way just to push through it – until you finally collapse in a fever and have to be hospitalised for a week on powerful IV antibiotics.

Eventually, on your own recognizance – because, again, no one is listening to you, or at least, no one who’s a doctor – you do some research and determine that, regarding breastfeeding, you have an atypical presentation of Raynaud’s Syndrome, which is why it feels like someone is slowly pulling a hot wire out of your nipple when you feed your child (breast is best, the nurses say repeatedly; just push through the pain, are you sure you’re latching him properly? no? well, just keep at it, don’t switch to formula). You take this finding to a doctor who, for a miracle, agrees to prescribe you the relevant medication, and the pain goes away for a blissful week before you get a plugged duct and are once more in agony, at which point you switch to formula and, finally, are able to relax.

But your body still doesn’t feel right. You’re fatigued, not just tired but bone-pressingly exhausted all the time, so that some days you can’t get out of bed; it feels like there’s a giant hand physically pressing into the mattress, insisting that you need to lie down even when you already are. Your back starts to hurt. You explain this to doctors, but the best they can do is shrug and suggest it’s purely a mental health issue, as though your depression is making you hurt and tired instead of your hurt and tiredness making you depressed, and you don’t think that’s right, but you have to try something. So you go on antidepressants – a mild dose, of a drug you later find out is being discontinued in places because of its many unpleasant side-effects, with which you soon become intimately acquainted. They help a little, but the fatigue remains. Everything is hard.

You do more research. After a while, you wonder if the viral infection fritzed your immune system on its way out, as sometimes happens, making you more prone to inflammation. Tentatively, you ask your doctor to prescribe some anti-inflammatory meds. The doctor obliges; you take one, and have more energy than you’ve had in the four years since your child was born. Briefly, beautifully, you think you’re cured. But still, the tiredness comes back, stronger and worse, and now your back is hurting all the time, and one day it just goes twang! and leaves you barely able to walk for a fortnight. You blame the terrible Ikea couch you’ve been working on and try to sit more at a desk, which is uncomfortable in a different way, and keep on doing your best.

By the time your child is six, you’ve moved from England to Scotland to Australia to America and are now thoroughly tired of being tired, to say nothing of having doctors in four countries all shrug at the apparent vagueness of your daily, life-inhibiting tiredness and say there’s nothing to be done, all while implying you’re making it up. You think, all right: either this is a weird autoimmune condition that I can’t do anything about, or it’s something really simple and obvious that we’ve somehow missed. You rack your brains and come up with a single possibility: perhaps the only dietary change you made since becoming a parent – drinking soda in place of alcohol while pregnant, which became drinking soda daily thereafter – might be responsible. It feels like a hail Mary – bourbon and coke was your go-to pub order for years; if soda was a problem, surely you’d have noticed before? – but there’s nothing else to try. So you go cold turkey on soda, have two days of dizzying withdrawl symptoms, and then –

The fatigue is gone. Absurdly, beautifully, completely, gone.

Dazed, you do some googling. Apparently, it’s relatively common for pregnancy, which has a big impact on the immune system, to leave you with new allergies that you never had before. You learn that a certain type of caffeine intolerance, while not really referred to as an allergy, nonetheless falls under this umbrella, and that it can cause fatigue, as your body no longer processes caffeine as a stimulant. You have been poisoning yourself into misery for six years without anyone realising. You are furious; you are vindicated, that it wasn’t all in your head. To celebrate your newfound energy, you spend the whole day cleaning the house, bend slightly to look out the window at the end of it, and slip a disc in your lower back. The next day, you can’t walk and have to be stretchered down from your third-floor bedroom to a waiting ambulance – stretchered upright, because the stairs are too narrow for you to lie down. The pain is worse than childbirth. You go straight to hospital. It’s a week before you can walk again.

Recovery is slow. There is physical therapy. Months pass. You’re in pain every day, but (you think) manageable pain. By the start of 2020, you’re ready to go to the gym again, and have just gotten into the habit of it when the pandemic hits. The pandemic is all-encompassing and terrible; your child is in first grade when virtual learning starts and in third grade before he returns to a physical classroom. In 2021, both you and your husband suffer the loss of a parent and are unable to travel to be with family because Australia’s borders are closed. You watch their funerals over zoom; both times, the internet briefly cuts out.

Near the end of 2021 and with a newfound awareness of your mortality, it occurs to you that, two years after slipping a disc and five years after starting antidepressants, you are still in daily physical pain, while your mental health is good. You did ask for a chiropractic referral a few months back, but the doctor wouldn’t give you one: physical therapy only, they said, but the physical therapist never returned your call. The doctor who prescribed the antidepressants is in another country, while your current doctor is hard to get an appointment with even when there isn’t a pandemic. You do some research about going off your particular brand of antidepressants: the side-effects you’ve been living with are becoming steadily more pronounced, more unpleasant, and the more you research, the harder it is to understand why you were put in this particular medication in the first place, given the seeming gulf between its designated purpose and your original symptoms. The depression itself was caused and exacerbated by the now-understood fatigue, which is no longer an issue, and your dose is small enough that tapering won’t be noticeably better than going cold turkey. You decide to take the risk.

You go off antidepressants, and you use the money inherited from your father’s passing to pay for a chiropractor.

Withdrawal symptoms last just under two weeks and are mostly manageable – weird, but manageable. You brace for your mental health to crash, but it never does. Instead, your body gets stronger and your head gets clearer, and as you start to read more quickly, easily and voraciously than you have in years, you realise suddenly, angrily, that this vital part of yourself – your ability to read, to focus on words – had been badly impacted by a medication you should never have been put on in the first place; were only really prescribed because nobody was willing to figure out the source of your actual problem.

And then you go to the chiropractor, who takes one look at your spine, x-rays you to be sure, and shows you how, when you were pregnant, your pelvis twisted within your body, tilting up and back like a crooked bow-tie, steadily imbalancing your whole body. This is why your lower back has been hurting for years; why you slipped a disc so badly; why, even though you did everything your physical therapist asked of you, the pain never went away. You almost break down in tears in the chiropractor’s office, but manage to save them for when you get home. You begin a schedule of adjustments to put your bones back where they should be.

A week into 2022 – a month before your son’s 9th birthday – you wake up without a lancing pain in your hip for the first time since 2019.

It’s been nearly a decade since I first fell pregnant. My health has been impacted by it every day since then, both mentally and physically. I’m coming out of it now, I think – I hope – but I’ve thought that before, and each time, there’s been some other issue lurking in the woodwork. I love my son dearly; I am furious at the broader medical establishment for leaving me to fumble around in the dark, alone, because my quality of life was not held to be important if the symptoms impacting it didn’t have a quick, obvious, commonplace solution. I have been reticent to talk about going off antidepressants on my own as a positive thing, because even when they’re working properly and perfectly prescribed, they can still have unpleasant side-effects, and it’s easy to think you’re better when you’re not, and it’s always better to consult a medical professional, and and and – but still, I was prescribed a medication for a condition I did not have, in lieu of trying to determine what I did have, and it briefly helped the symptoms without touching the cause, and made my life miserable and hard to an extent I’m only fully realising in its absence, and I can read again now, without feeling like I’m forcing my eyes through glue, and I need to be able to say so.

The fact that I achieved anything professionally during this period is, the more I think about it, miraculous, or perhaps a testament to my own bloody-minded reliance on fiction in general and fantasy in particular to carry me through life. I want to blog more, and hopefully will do so, but I find that I’m having to unlearn a habit of flinching from my own ambitions. For so long, I’ve had to curate specific conditions in which to read, to write, to work, because if I attempted to do so otherwise, I’d run up against a wall of exhaustion and fail, and that sense of failure – of wanting to do a thing I love, but finding myself unable to – has left me inhibited, like a crocodile stunted to fit the undersized pool in which it’s kept. There are so many books I’ve picked up and struggled to read in the last few years, not due to any fault in the writing, but because my brain has been lagging, muddled; I want to read them now, but still, there’s this terrible, paralysing fear whenever I reach for one that the fog will come back, an invisible wall to smack me out of my progress. I feel the same about writing, especially here – but I’m trying. I’m going to keep trying.

My next book is coming out this year – my first since 2017 – and I’m terrified. I love this book; it’s just that I’ve got all this leftover terror of being too tired, too far away, too not-enough, and that makes it hard to remember that somehow, amidst all the terrible everything of the last half-decade, I managed to not only write a thing that I love, but get it on track to be published. Part of me is paranoid it’ll all somehow be taken away before it ever hits shelves, which I know is irrational, but I’m working on that, too.

Anyway. This is all to say that, while I haven’t been blogging much for a while now, I’m still here, and I’m trying, and I’m hopefully getting better, which is really the most that any of us can aspire to. It’s about to be the lunar year of the tiger, which is my year and therefore exciting, and frankly at this point, I can use all the positive omens I can find, so I’m leaning into it, mentally. And whoever’s reading this, I hope you have – or are having – a good new year, too. We could all do with one.

This is not a post I ever thought I’d be writing, and I certainly didn’t expect to be writing it now, when there’s so many terrible things going on in the world. But the SFF writing and publishing community is not an island: we impact and are impacted by the world in turn, and it’s because of this relationship that I’m speaking now. This is a small matter in comparison to the ongoing protests over the extrajudicial murder of George Floyd and the egregious police brutality with which those protests have been met, but it is still, to me, an important matter, as how the SFF community responds to racism and bigotry in other contexts will always relate to how it deals with internal gatekeeping. After what’s happened, I don’t feel that I can in good conscience continue to remain silent.

Last week, Dawn Frederick of Red Sofa Literary, who lives in Minneapolis, tweeted that she had called the police about “looters” at the gas station near her house in the wake of protests about the death of George Floyd. When other people pointed out that calling the police could potentially result in more violence towards Black people in particular – the Minneapolis protests were peaceful until police turned water cannons and rubber bullets on the crowd, precipitating the riots through a series of violent escalations – Fredrick doubled down in defense of her actions. When one of her agents, Kelly Van Sant, announced her resignation from the agency over the matter, Frederick posted a statement to the Red Sofa Literary website, insisting that there were “zero protesters” present at the gas station, just “straight up looters.” (How she could be certain there was no overlap between the two while watching from a distance is, presumably, unknown.)

Since then, two more Red Sofa agents, Amanda Rutter and Stacey Graham, have likewise resigned from Red Sofa in protest, while several of Frederick’s clients have dropped her. It was only after this that Frederick published a second statement, apologising for her actions; she has also deleted her twitter account. As as a result, I have seen many members of the SFF community debating whether or not the reaction Frederick received was proportional to her offence, with some asserting her credentials as a long-standing advocate for diversity in the SFF community as a reason why she has been treated unfairly.

It is for this reason that I have decided to speak publicly about my own past experiences with Dawn Frederick.

In 2014, I signed with Red Sofa Literary to be represented by Jennie Goloboy, an agent who subsequently left Red Sofa in 2017, not long after the events I am about to describe. While I don’t know for certain that what happened with me precipitated Jennie’s decision to leave Red Sofa, the timing of her departure has never struck me as being coincidental. At the very least, I suspect that what happened to me was a factor in her decision, and while I can’t say that my relationship with Jennie ended on good terms, I do believe that, at the end, her actions were severely constrained by Fredrick.

This is going to be a longish story, but the early details are important to the later context, and so I hope you’ll bear with me.

In December 2016, I received my edits for A Tyranny of Queens, the second novel in my Manifold Worlds duology, published with Angry Robot. As my original editor was unavailable at the time, a different editor had been brought on board, one who was also, coincidentally, an employee of Red Sofa. When the edits came in, I was upset to discover that the editor had made several problematic suggestions regarding diverse themes in the novel. In particular, she wanted me to use a different pronoun for a nonbinary character, stated that a neurodivergent character was insufficiently sympathetic because of their neurodivergence (“I love seeing that in a character, but it does make them very hard to present in a warm manner… It might be nice to present a little more of his confusion about how people interact, his fear… to assist with reader sympathy”), and said that giving the protagonist a notable PTSD symptom, after her PTSD is developed throughout the first book, was “a step too far,” describing the PTSD itself as something that should “be the focus of a whole novel” rather than a small subplot”.

I’m quoting these details now, not because I want to shame or attack the editor nearly four years after the fact – aside from anything else, it has always been my belief that these comments were the result of ignorance, not malice, and that the editor has since done active work to improve her understanding of these issues – but to explain why I was, at the time, both unhappy and stressed. I wrote an email to Jennie outlining my concerns, and later had a Skype conversation with her about it in greater detail: her response was, essentially, that everyone gets edits they disagree with sooner or later, and that I should just do my best. I didn’t feel as though this addressed the problems I was having, and I was additionally concerned that the editor being a fellow employee of Red Sofa was, if nothing else, putting Jennie in the awkward position of having her client complain about a colleague, but I was on deadline, so I set it aside and kept working on the book.

Four months later, in April 2017, fellow nonbinary writer JY Yang wrote a twitter thread about editorial pushback they’d received for using the singular they as their pronoun of choice for nonbinary characters, while also talking about how the personal blindspots of editors around issues of diversity is an element of gatekeeping in SFF publishing. Recalling what had happened with the editing on A Tyranny of Queens, and acting under the (as it turns out, incorrect) belief that Jennie had passed on my concerns to my editor back when I’d originally made them, I decided to chime in, piggybacking off Yang’s thread to share my experiences. I was careful not to name the editor, though I reiterated my belief that she was well-meaning. I hoped that my speaking up would help to further the conversation about diversity in publishing, and left it at that.

At this point, it’s important to note that, whereas Red Sofa Literary is based in Minneapolis, in 2017, I was living in Brisbane, Australia, meaning that Jennie and I were operating in very different timezones. As such – and as I’m a habitual night-owl – it wasn’t unusual for me to hear from Jennie in the evening. Even so, I was surprised and stressed to receive a DM from her after 1am my time, when I was already in bed and noodling around on my phone, saying that she wanted to talk about my tweets, which I’d posted earlier that day (my time). Our subsequent conversation went as follows:

jg tweets 1

jg tweets 2


At this point, I got out of bed, got dressed and went to Skype Jennie. I stated that, while I was sorry for causing upset, I didn’t think taking the tweets down would help, as traditionally, deleting tweets in the era of screenshots only tends to make an issue blow up. Jennie replied by saying that, to her, my tweets read like I was dissatisfied with Angry Robot and the final version of A Tyranny of Queens (I wasn’t), and that this was what she thought needed addressing.

And then my four-year-old stopped breathing.

More specifically, he started wheezing desperately, frighteningly for air, so loudly that I could hear him several rooms away. It woke my husband, who dashed in to look after him, and I have a very vivid memory of the last thing I said to Jennie on that call being a panicked, “I’m sorry, I have to go, my son isn’t breathing.” I shut the laptop on the Skype conversation and ran into my son’s room. He was terrified and struggling to breathe. We called an ambulance. The ambulance came, and determined the issue was serious enough to merit a hospital visit. I carried my son out to the ambulance at nearly 2am, and as I ducked my head to lift him in, I badly wrenched my lower back.

The EMTs injected him with steroids on the way to the hospital, and this did a lot to help his breathing. (He had croup; he’d had it before more than once, but never so badly, and not while he was old enough to understand what was happening.) Even so, we had to stay at the hospital for several hours to get him checked out properly. It was stressful and exhausting, both emotionally and physically, and sitting in a hard hospital chair made my back pain even worse. Still, there is not a lot to do in a hospital, and once the immediate danger had passed, I checked twitter to see what was happening. To my surprise, I found that the editor had replied to my tweets, identifying herself as their subject, apologising for her blind spots, and promising to do better in future. I was touched and pleased, and thanked her for her words, which I believe were sincere.

Eventually, at around 5am, my husband insisted I get a cab home and go to sleep, as he’d had several hours of rest to my none, and it looked like our son wouldn’t be discharged for a while yet. I did so, tweeting in the cab that I’d been in hospital and hurt my back, but that my son was okay. When I got home, I took some painkillers and got into bed, but before I fell asleep, I used my phone to send a quick email to my then publicist at Angry Robot, asking if the publisher was unhappy with me, apologising if I’d caused them any difficulties and offering to tweet a clarifying statement if they wished. Then, exhausted, I fell asleep, and stayed asleep for most of the day. I woke up a couple of times and glanced at my phone when I did so, but I was loopy on pain medication and didn’t really process anything beyond “shiny screen have words.”

It was late evening by the time I woke up properly, and when I did, I found I had an email from Dawn Frederick, head of the agency. The only other time I’d emailed with her directly had been when I signed my contract with Red Sofa. The tone of the email was blunt and aggressive. It read as follows:


As you know, we’ve been trying to get ahold of you with the situation of the Tweets you wrote over 24 hours ago.  Jennie has tried to reach out to you repeated times, but alas it seems you’ve not gotten back in touch with her.

We need to talk. Not tomorrow. Today. I would appreciate 15 minutes of your time, I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Thanks in advance,


Startled, I checked my twitter DMs and found that Jennie had sent me several messages while I’d been asleep:

jg tweets 3

At this point, I was starting to feel extremely anxious. Having already established both in writing and verbally with Jennie that I wouldn’t be taking the tweets down, I didn’t know what the rush to “resolve” things was, especially as she was aware of the trip to hospital. I emailed Dawn a reply, explaining why I hadn’t been available, but stating that I would get dressed and come to the computer if she wished to speak to me. When Dawn didn’t immediately reply, I hopped back into my DMs with Jennie, where we had the following exchange:

jg tweets 4

On the basis of this exchange, I stayed awake, believing that I would be skyping privately with Dawn. Instead, I ended up on a call with both Dawn and Jennie that ended up lasting nearly an hour.

And for almost the entirety of that hour, Dawn shouted at me.

It was the worst experience of my professional life. When I opened the call by trying to explain, once again, that I hadn’t been available because of the hospital incident, Dawn said, “This is not about [your son] right now.” (She did not ask if he was okay, though she made sure to tell me that, as Jennie is a mother and because Dawn likes kids, I couldn’t accuse them of being unsympathetic.)

At any time when I tried to talk, either to ask questions or to defend myself, I was shouted down. Jennie said very little, chiming in only once or twice: overwhelmingly, the person speaking (shouting) was Dawn. She told me that my professional conduct in tweeting about my editor was the worst she’d ever seen; that she had Trump-voting relatives in Tennessee with whom she managed to get along, so therefore I had no excuse for criticising my editor in public. She repeatedly claimed that what I done was bullying; that I was a bully. Over and over again, she said I had “thrown her [the editor] under the bus.” When I tried to say that the editor had apologised on twitter, she exploded at me that of course she had, what else could she be expected to do, when everyone knew she was being talked about? I expressed surprise at this, as I hadn’t identified her; Dawn claimed that “everyone knew”.

When Dawn said how unacceptable it was to raise the issues I’d had in public, out of nowhere, without giving the editor a chance to reply, I was baffled, pointing out that I’d clearly raised them with Jennie months earlier. Jennie said yes, but she hadn’t passed them on to the editor, as I hadn’t expressly asked for that to happen. (I’d assumed that, as my email had essentially culminated in me saying I didn’t want to work with that editor in the future, this would happen as a matter of course.)

Dawn then proceeded to tell me that Angry Robot was “furious” and wanted the tweets removed – so much so that they were considering pulling my book a week before it was due to launch. She said that Red Sofa was one of the most author-friendly agencies in the business, “and if you can’t work with us…” she said meaningfully, leaving the sentence hanging so as to imply that, if they dropped me, I would have no future in SFF at all. Dawn accused me repeatedly of lying about the fact that I’d been asleep earlier in the day, saying that she “knew” I’d emailed Angry Robot and therefore had clearly been awake and ignoring Jennie’s messages. Any time I tried to advocate for myself, I was told to stop speaking or risk being dropped by Red Sofa , as she “[didn’t] want to represent that.”

At one point, she tried to frame my criticism of the editor as an un-feminist act, something I should’ve known better than to engage in, “because we’re all women here.”

“Excuse me,” I said, “but I’m genderqueer.”

Dawn made a scoffing noise. “That’s not what this is about.”

(It kind of was, actually, what with the editor wanting to change the nonbinary pronouns I’d used, but when I tried to mention this, Jennie asserted I’d never brought them up with her at all. Ironically, though I’d originally mentioned this as one of my issues while drafting my December email, I’d ended up taking it out of the final version, worried at being seen as hypersensitive about gender identity. Instead, I’d raised it with her verbally when we’d Skyped about the email, which she said she didn’t remember. I tried to argue that being genderqueer was part of my lived experience, something might know less about than me in this instance, but Dawn became angry at the implied criticism. “Of course we believe in diversity! We wouldn’t have signed you otherwise!”)

At one point, Dawn’s shouting was loud enough to wake my husband, who was asleep in the other room. (It was approaching midnight our time by then.) He wandered in, an appalled look on his face at what he was hearing, but he was just as tired as I was, so I gestured for him to go back to bed. At another point, I tried to suggest that there was a conflict of interest in Dawn and Jennie advocating so strongly for the editor, who was also a Red Sofa employee, despite the fact that I was a Red Sofa client; Dawn became absolutely furious at this, denying it completely, and yelled me back into silence.

In the end, Dawn gave me an ultimatum. I had twenty-four hours to post an apology to the editor, or Red Sofa would drop me as a client.

When the call ended, I was numb and shaking. (I’m shaking now as I write this.) I rested, inasmuch as I was able to rest, and then I wrote the apology. Posted it. Received confirmation from Dawn and Jennie that they approved, and that I could keep my representation.

I was still deeply shaken, but by that time, I’d calmed down enough to realise that I still hadn’t heard anything directly from my then publisher at Angry Robot. The publicist I’d emailed, however, had responded, and their (friendly, courteous) email implied Red Sofa had been the ones to contact Angry Robot, and not the other way around. This was confusing, as it seemed to go against what Dawn had told me on the Skype call, so after consulting with an excellent, level-headed writer friend, I tentatively reached out to the publisher to get their take on things.

To my relief, the publisher happily agreed to speak to me. Unlike the call to Red Sofa, my Skype with Angry Robot was calm and professional – and extremely enlightening.

According to the publisher, it was indeed Red Sofa who reached out to Angry Robot about my tweets, something they apparently did before I ever received my first DM from Jennie. Not only that, but Red Sofa also didn’t tell Angry Robot about my December email, letting the publisher believe that my comments about the editor had, indeed, come out of nowhere. The publisher’s understanding of things was that Dawn and the editor were Facebook friends: having seen my tweets, the editor had posted privately to Facebook about how upset she was, as she’d been proud of her work on the book (it was also, apparently, her birthday, which I hadn’t known). Dawn had been so incensed on the editor’s behalf that she’d gone straight to contacting Angry Robot, reassuring them that she would “get to the bottom of it.” The publisher also confirmed that, while they’d been a bit miffed about the tweets, they hadn’t asked for them to be taken down, nor had they ever been going to pull A Tyranny of Queens. I thanked the publisher for taking the time to talk to me – they were gracious, calm and forthcoming – and we ended the call on mutually good terms.

It was at this point that I looked back over my original DMs with Jennie and noted, with a certain painful irony, that almost the first thing I’d said to her was that I didn’t want to be shouted at. I hadn’t actually thought that Jennie would shout at me; I’ve just had enough hot-tempered, unreasonable bosses in my officeworker life that my anxiety wanted me to make sure it wouldn’t happen. My mental health, at the time, was garbage, something I’d also discussed with Jennie in the past. I felt vile: maybe Jennie hadn’t shouted at me, but she hadn’t stopped Dawn from doing so, either – but then, Dawn was her boss, and had clearly given her little to no say in the situation, either.

Up until this incident, I’d never had a single negative experience with Red Sofa, which was part of why the whole thing was so jarring. It was the first time I’d done anything to make the agency unhappy with me, and Dawn reacted so violently that even now, years later, just seeing her name crop up when I’m not expecting it gives me a sharp adrenaline spike and leaves my hands trembling.

I’m still not sure how much I blame Jennie for what happened, because the truth is, I don’t know the extent to which Dawn, as her then-boss, was dictating her actions. But knowing that they’d lied to me about Angry Robot’s role in things, and feeling strongly that Jennie hadn’t been advocating for me as a client, I didn’t feel I could trust either of them going forward. As such, I dropped Jennie as my agent and Red Sofa as my agency, though it still remains the agency of record for my Manifold World duology.

Three years later in 2020, I still don’t have a new agent. I’ve got plenty of works in progress, but I don’t have anything finished that I can shop around, and part of the reason for that – aside from yet another international move, parenting a small child, and dealing with a series of health issues, both physical and mental – is that, ever since my experience with Red Sofa, I haven’t felt as though I’m welcome in the SFF industry. I’ve been demotivated, struggling to push myself to finish a first draft, because what’s the point? How can I belong in an industry that doesn’t want me to speak up when I encounter something terrible?

Because that’s the real crux of it; that’s why my experience with Dawn and Red Sofa has felt so catastrophic. It’s not just that I encountered a horrible person who treated me badly in a professional context; it’s that the culture of silence in SFF is such that, when I spoke privately to colleagues about what happened with Dawn, even when people were horrified by her actions, their overwhelming consensus was that speaking about it publicly would risk me being seen as a problem author, someone nobody would want to represent in the future, and that I’d be setting my career on fire – in other words, making myself exactly as unrepresentable as Dawn had said I was, because if you can’t work with us… 

Since leaving Red Sofa, I’ve spoken to and heard about other former clients who have also had negative experiences with Dawn, and who have likewise been advised to keep quiet about it. And perhaps I would’ve stayed quiet, too, but after this past week, I feel it’s important to make it clear what kind of person she can be behind the scenes. I have no evidence for the claim that Dawn’s treatment of me resulted in Jennie switching agencies, but I suspect it was a motivating factor, and on that basis, knowing how willing she was to muscle in and take over from one of her own agents, I’d be deeply unsurprised if it turned out that Van Sant, Graham and Rutter all had additional, pre-existing reasons for wanting to leave Red Sofa in addition to Dawn’s tweets. I don’t say this to take away from the significance of three white agents choosing to depart on the basis of their support for the Black Lives Matter movement – that is a powerful statement, and something to be applauded. But as I’m already seeing their actions described as hypersensitive and disproportionate, I think it’s important to consider that, when something like this happens, it’s never just about a single thing said publicly, but about everything that has preceded it in private.

I don’t know what the future holds for Red Sofa Literary, but I wish Van Sant, Graham and Rutter all the best in finding new agency positions, and hope likewise that Dawn’s former clients find new and better representation. In speaking now, my intention isn’t to take attention away from the protests over the death of George Floyd, but rather to add my voice to the conversation around how real-world politics and actions continue to impact gatekeeping in SFF publishing.

Update, 1 June 2020, 7:00pm: 

Since publishing this piece, I’ve been privately contacted by another former Red Sofa agent, one who was with the agency during the period when I was represented by Jennie. With their permission, I’m sharing the message they sent me:

Hey, I wanted to say thank you so much for writing about Dawn. I’m horrified you had to go through that. I’m not sure if this is worth adding to your account, but both Jennie and Dawn, separately, communicated to me that your tweets had come out of nowhere (with no mention of the email), painting you as unreasonable, over-sensitive, and maybe even unstable. They didn’t even tell me about the Skype call. Only about a “polite ask” and you blowing up at them. I apologize for my part in this, in accepting their stories a face value. If there’s anything I can do to help and support you, please let me know. You’re brave and strong and you belong in SFF, and have more friends and power in the community than dawn ever did. One thing I’m certain of is that they didn’t tell people beyond the agency their version of events, so I’m confident you weren’t smeared anywhere.

In other words, not only was I lied about to Angry Robot, but also to other members of the Red Sofa staff. During the Skype conversation I had with Jennie following my original December email about the editorial issues, it was clear that she didn’t take my complaints seriously; that was frustrating at the time, but it’s even more so now to learn that I was being characterised as potentially unstable for raising those issues in the first place.

Update, 1 June 2020, 7:30pm:

Also with permission, I’m sharing this additional account of Dawn’s behaviour, which was sent to me privately by another former Red Sofa author:

I am so sorry Dawn put you through that. I had my own, but not nearly so awful experience with her. Shortish version: I had a different Red Sofa agent. Things started off fine, but a couple months into submission, the agent seemed to zone out. She’d give me contradictory info about editor replies, or she simply dropped into a black hole. When I got a R&R from Harper Voyager, I sent my agent the revised ms. but she never replied. I told her I needed her to be better about communication, and if that wasn’t possible, we needed to talk. The next thing I knew, Dawn emailed me, all shouty, saying the agency policy was to give updates only twice a year, and if I didn’t like that, she’d fire me as a client. I bit my tongue because…middle of submissions and all that. The book and its sequel sold, but my agent got more and more flaky. I finally parted ways with them, but Dawn was also a major part of my decision.

A common gag in comedy – and, sometimes, in drama – goes like this: Person A asks Person B to explain a particular thing, then cuts them off or ignores them when they do. Invariably, the point is that Person A is varying degrees of rude, overbearing and oblivious, and/or that Person B is boring, bullied or inept. It’s a cruel bit of humour, and while it can occasionally be employed with a light, teasing touch among characters who are and remain friends, the most common usage highlights the casual ease with which egotists silence others.

For Person B, it’s never a joke, even if the script requires them to shrug it off and keep going. For Person B, there’s no point asserting themselves in the face of Person A’s rudeness, because Person A doesn’t care.

And right now, I’ve been made into Person B.

Rationally, I know there’s no point in arguing with a stranger who declares himself an expert on my life, but who pointedly won’t listen to or engage with anything I say. Any testimony I make, no matter how truthful or heartfelt, can’t possibly sway him: he’s as convinced of his own unassailable rightness as he is my mendacity. Whatever I do or fail to do next, this person will see it as proof of his own intelligence. If I fail to respond, he’ll say I’m afraid of hearing the truth; if I do respond, he’ll claim my defensiveness proves his point. That being so, if I’m damned in his eyes no matter what, the only sane choice is to please myself and speak, not to this Person A, but to our mutual audience, in the hope they prove more receptive to sense than he.

As I mentioned in my last post, various men in the Sad Puppy camp have recently started claiming that my husband Toby is the anti-Puppy blogger Camestros Felapton. I have already stated, for the record, that he is not, as has Camestros: nonetheless, Brad Torgersen, Lou Antonelli and Dave Freer, none of whom I’ve ever met in person, refuse to believe either one of us.

By the public admission of both Freer and Antonelli, the “evidence” they have is circumstantial: they have an IP address they know belongs to Camestros and an identical IP they claim belongs to my husband – though on what basis, they’ve never said; certainly, my husband has never had just one IP in the entire time I’ve known him, and almost never comments online outside Facebook – and have thus concluded that they must be the same person. Apparently, “Australian with a philosophy background and a connection to SFF who’s recently lived in the UK” is such a weird, specific category of person as to defy any possibility of coincidence otherwise.

The fact that tens of thousands of people travel between Australia and the UK each year and that a large number of them must necessarily have similar interests is, to their mindset, irrelevant. Likewise, the fairly substantial overlap between philosophers and SFF fans, a commonality which has been a personal source of many enduring friendships, has seemingly not occurred to them. Back in 2015, I even reviewedPhilosophy and Terry Pratchett, a collection of academic essays about Pratchett’s work; a fact I mention, not because I expect the Puppies to agree with my analysis, but because the existence of such a book should serve as some proof, at least, that fantasy-loving philosophers aren’t an anomaly.

To say nothing of philosophy-loving fantasists, either: off the top of my head, I can think of multiple SFF authors with a more than passing relationship to philosophy and its associated disciplines, most notably Jo Walton and China Mieville. Indeed, I’m hard-pressed to think of any really good SFF author who doesn’t, at some point in their writing, employ at least a basic level of philosophical musing. The whole of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is basically one long, comic-philosophic ramble, and while Douglas Adams was – and remains – a truly unique individual, it’s impossible to claim that his writing has had no impact on the genre.

The point being, “SFF-reading Australian who knows some philosophy and has travelled to the UK” is not exactly an elite, exclusive category of person, and once you acknowledge this fact, it’s pretty much impossible to justify concluding that the few, superficial similarities between Camestros and my husband negate any possibility of coincidence.

Let’s be brutally honest, here: the only reason the Puppies think that Toby is Camestros is because he’s my husband. If Toby Meadows, philosopher, was a person with no connection to Foz Meadows, would Freer, Antonelli and Torgersen still be so goddamn certain that he was Camestros? Even if they’d managed to find some tweet or public comment of Toby’s to validate his interest in SFF – and he does enjoy some SFF, though his tastes are often different to mine – I doubt they’d have been as certain as they profess to be now. It’s my name that’s their smoking gun, and as such, it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that they’ve taken me as their starting point and worked backwards from there. Toby, as mentioned, has a fairly small internet footprint beyond his professional life, and as none of the Puppies are academic logicians, the chance that they’d have heard of him in that capacity seems remote. No: instead, they remembered that I have a philosopher husband – a fact I’ve never kept secret – and decided to look for clues that fit him into their theory.

Or rather, Dave Freer did, and the others followed him. In all this mess, it now seems pretty clear that Freer is the key instigator of the Toby Is Camestros theory, and having already doubled down on that front, he has now constructed a second tier to his beautifully crafted argument (to steal a phrase from the late, great John Clarke) to explain why neither I nor Camestros has rushed to confirm his suspicions.

That theory? Oh, simple: I’m out as genderqueer, therefore Toby is gay, our marriage is a sham, and we don’t want people in the SFF community to ask questions about our relationship because we’re afraid of being compared to child predators Breen and Marion Zimmer Bradley.

Yeah. That’s literally Freer’s argument. Note: “Fieldsy” is his name for Toby, who he thinks is Camestros, because Meadows = fields, obviously. You can read the whole screed for yourself at the link, but here’s the salient section:

dave freer mzb quote

And it’s here that we reach the point where Freer has well and truly made me Person B to his Person A. This entire theory hinges on his unhinged, offensive and deeply homophobic assessment of my life, identity and marriage, but I already know that Freer doesn’t care to hear from me, nor will he believe whatever I have to say for myself. So what I say now, I don’t say for him, nor do I say it for Lou Antonelli or Brad Torgersen. I say it for myself, for the truth of the record, and for the benefit of anyone else who cares to view me as a more reliable source of information about myself, my husband and our lives than a man who has never met us and who demonstrably disdains what he thinks we are.


I didn’t know I was genderqueer until after my son was born, and even then, it was hardly a straightforward realisation. At the time, I no more had a context for the dysphoria pregnancy gave me than my childhood self had understood why I often wanted to pass as a boy, or why I split my room into gendered halves, or why, in my teenage years, I sometimes wanted to rip off my skin when my clothes and body felt wrong. I didn’t have a word for what I was, let alone a framework to help me ask the right questions about it. I knew I wasn’t straight – I figured out I was bi in my teens – but gender identity remained beyond me for years.

I’ve been with my husband for a little over eleven years, and married to him for ten. He’s always known I was bi, and when I finally worked up the courage to tell him I’d realised I was genderqueer, he supported me, even though it was something he hadn’t expected. He supports me still, and I love him for that, and for a great many other reasons besides. My husband is straight, but I am not – and that’s not an oddity, either. I could make a list of SFF authors who are straight with a bi or genderqueer partner, or who are bi or genderqueer themselves with a straight partner, but I’d rather not subject anyone else in the queer SFF community to Freer’s toxic searchlight. Sufficed to say, we’re far from being the only ones, and if Freer thinks that my relationship merits a comparison to that of child abusers just because of my queerness, then I’m not the only person he’s thus insulted.

And it is an insult, regardless of Freer’s claims that he’s only saying what anyone might think. It is also uniquely hurtful – and again, I say this with no expectation that Freer himself cares for my feelings. Manifestly, he does not, and will doubtless rejoice to know that he’s upset me. Nonetheless, I am upset. I’ve tried to pretend that I’m not, but I am, and having admitted as much to myself, I feel no shame in admitting it here. Before all this, I’d never heard of Freer at all, and while I’m aware that the public nature of my life online means that I am, in a sense, accessible to strangers, there’s a great deal of difference between having someone object to my writing, and having them construct malicious falsehoods about my personal life.

In the past few days, at least one person has asked me if I’m really sure that Toby isn’t Camestros; that maybe he’s doing it all behind my back. Freer, Torgersen and Antonelli have laughed at the idea that, if Camestros isn’t Toby, then surely I must be grateful for their alerting me to the presence of a stalker-impersonator – as though they aren’t the ones rifling through my marriage in pursuit of a link that is not, was never, there.

I am, in many ways, a privileged person. In certain others, I’m not. It’s no exaggeration to say that the last five years nearly killed me: I’ve been physically sick since my son was born, debilitated by a postpartum infection whose consequences went medically undetected until late last year, playing merry hob with my immune system and mental health all the while. Even unaware of the physical side of my illness, I was still fighting Seasonal Affective Disorder, postpartum depression, gender dysphoria and the situational depression of being trapped in a cold, isolated part of the world with a new baby. It took years of desperate, difficult work to get to a point where my mental illness was addressed sufficiently for the physical symptoms, always omnipresent, to finally stand out as having a separate root cause, rather than being purely a side-effect of everything else. I was not okay for a long time, and I’m only now just starting to get really, truly better.

Which means that, for most of the past few years, in ways both large and small, my husband has been my carer. When I was debilitated, unable to get out of bed,  he was the one who dressed, fed and drove our son to childcare in the mornings, taking on innumerable domestic duties far beyond his usual half share, all while maintaining a full-time job as a lecturer and researcher. The fact that he has been superlative at his work in this time is a credit to his skill. He has published original papers in top-tier journals for his field, won prestigious grants and been invited to speak at multiple institutions in the UK, Australia and Europe, all while teaching a full courseload, and if you know anything about academia, you know that takes an enormous amount of effort.

My husband works harder than anyone else I know. Whatever he does, he does to 100% of his capability, and – which is even rarer – while constantly self-reflecting on his methods. The fact that he has achieved so much while frequently looking after our son – and after me – is a testament to his dedication. The idea that, amidst all the strife of the last five years, on top of everything else, he somehow found time to run a secret SFF blog that keeps more abreast of the Puppies than I’ve ever cared to be – that he found time to read novels, watch films and binge TV shows with which I’m unfamiliar, and that he did this all without my knowledge? Pull the other one.

From my perspective, the whole thing is absurd. I know who I am and who Toby is, and that ought to be good enough for anyone.

Except that, right now, I’ve been declared unqualified to speak truthfully about my own life. In the eyes of Freer, Antonelli and Torgersen, I’m too biased to be trusted. The idea that they have biases of their own – that they want Camestros to be Toby; that they want me to be lying – doesn’t rate a mention. So, yes: I’m upset that anyone would use my gender identity as a reason to try and invalidate my marriage, or to compare either me or my husband to predators, and I’m tired and highly irritated at having to spend precious time rebuking such obvious bigotry.

But what really infuriates me – what makes this all feel so viscerally personal – is the extent to which the theory that Toby is Camestros utterly dismisses, ignores and invalidates the lived reality of everything my husband and I have struggled through together. The past five years have contained a lot of individual wonder, but they’ve also been hellish. We’ve seen our son grow from infancy to school-age. We’ve moved from Bristol to Aberdeen to Brisbane. We’ve battled illness and mental health issues and the UK Visa Authority; we’ve thrown every spare scrap of energy into parenting, into furthering our careers, into helping each other through it all, and damned if it hasn’t been difficult.

It’s been so fucking hard, in the way that everyday life is hard: there are no trophies for getting out of bed when you want to die, no prizes for calming down after the umpteenth unnecessary argument or finally agreeing to try therapy. There’s just a new list of things to do, a new set of obstacles to overcome, and little moments in between where your child says I love you and paints dinosaur pictures that you stick on the fridge, and bigger moments strung throughout of friends and family, friends and family, shoring you up through the storm of your life like a levee.

I don’t owe anyone an interior view on my identity, my marriage or my health, but what I’ve offered here, I’ve offered for myself, because I’m angry and hurt and tired, and I want to react like a person. It’s human to be upset when someone lies about you, and if you have to pile conspiracy on conspiracy to explain why that isn’t actually true – why normal human reactions are really signs of Treachery – then maybe, just maybe, you’re not as rational as you thought.

As January gallops on at the speed of light, as Januaries are wont to do, I’m pleased to announce two awesome pieces of news: firstly, that I’m part of this year’s Shadow Clarke jury; and secondly, that I’ll be appearing at Swancon 2018 as a Guest of Honour. I’m incredibly excited on both counts, and look forward to participating in both events.

On a far more irritating note, I find myself moved to issue a clarification in light of recent fuckery. Based on nothing but circumstantial evidence and their own antipathy, certain persons in the Sad Puppy camp – namely Lou Antonelli, Dave Freer and Brad Torgersen, though the noxious Vox Day has also joined in – have decided that an Australian anti-Puppy blogger, known by the pseudonym Camestros Felapton, is really my husband Toby. I hadn’t heard of Camestros until they emailed me a few days ago to give me a heads-up and apologise that my family was being dragged into things, but though I left a comment on Brad Torgersen’s blog to that effect, he’s thus far declined to publish it, claiming instead that Camestros’s denial is really proof that he is, in fact, Toby.

I’ve already responded to the issue at length on Twitter, and would like to note that Dave Freer in particular is being super gross about it all, while Antonelli seems weirdly bitter about Toby’s hotness. Nonetheless, for the record: my husband is not Camestros, and anyone saying otherwise is gullible, incompetent, a liar or all three. Having already doubled down on their claims, I highly doubt that Antonelli, Freer or Torgersen is likely to issue a retraction, let alone an apology; the prospect of admitting to that sort of error – or worse, conceding that I’m capable of being right – really sticks in their puppyish craws. But, well. Facts are facts, and given how many of my friends and colleagues in the SFF community have actually met my husband and can attest to his non-Camestrosness, it’s pretty clear that their credibility in this matter is, as in so many others, nil.

So, with that out of the way – and with two wonderful SFF commitments to look forward to in 2018 – I’ll leave you with the random generator of Overly Specific SFF Subgenres I made today, and hope you have fun with it.

For those who didn’t already know, I’m going to be at Mancunicon – which is to say, Eastercon 2016 – in Manchester, from March 25th – 28th. This will likely be my last UK con for some time, as I’m moving back home from Aberdeen, Scotland to Brisbane, Australia at the start of April. As such, I’m delighted to say that I’ll be appearing on three separate panels. Namely:

Shipping the End of the World

Saturday 10:00 – 11:00, Room 8&9 (Hilton Deansgate)

The Hunger Games, Insurgent, The 100, The Walking Dead, and countless other TV shows, films, novels, and comics are set at the end of the world or in a post-apocalyptic environment. Many of these have huge and enthusiastic fanbases that often all but ignore the apocalypse in favour of shipping multiple characters. In fandoms not set at the end of the world, it is common for AUs to do just that. The zombie apocalypse being particularly common. In this session we enjoy the delights of the apocalypse and question its appeal as a setting among shippers.

The nature of this session may result in adult themes being discussed.

Participants: Lexin (M), Emily January, Foz Meadows, Ms Kate Wood, Louise Dennis.

Read My Enemy

Monday 10:00 – 11:00, Room 8&9 (Hilton Deansgate)

The relationship between art and politics is not straightforward, and the political status of great art is always contested. This can go beyond liking works with problematic elements: which books, films, TV shows or other artworks do you profoundly disagree with at their core, and yet adore nonetheless? How do you process that disjunction? The devil is said to have all the best tunes: might he also write the best stories?

Participants: Nick Larter (M), Roz Kaveney, Foz Meadows, Peadar Ó Guilín, Tom Toner.

Radical Worldbuilding

Monday 14:30 – 15:30, Room 6 (Hilton Deansgate)

From the anarchist society in Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic The Dispossessed to the multiple cultures of Kameron Hurley’s Worldbreaker Chronicles, some SF societies have always been constructed to challenge what at least some of their readers might consider plausible. What are the advantages and disadvantages of showcasing radical alternatives in this way — as opposed to, say, starting with something that looks familiar and then breaking it? Who are such stories for: the readers who will be challenged, or those who will be delighted? Is “plausibility” actually a meaningful or useful goal? Is there a limit to how much writers can change in one story, and if so why, or why not?

Participants: Kate Wood (M), E.G. Cosh, Foz Meadows, Taj Hayer, Graham Sleight.

Hope to see you there!

In video games, whenever I’m given the option of fighting with ranged or melee weapons, I go melee. Even in RPG and tactical combat settings, where the interface means my choice of weapon has little to no impact on the controls, I still skew strongly towards swords and knives over bows and guns, because some bizarre, lizardy part of my brain feels more vulnerable if my avatar isn’t armed for close combat. In games that let me control my character’s actions directly, my combat style is blunt and unsubtle: even if I don’t really have the stats for it, my default approach is to be a tank, running right into the thick of things and hitting stuff until it dies. Even back when I was a regular Halo player (multiplayer against friends, never campaign), the sword was always my weapon of choice, followed closely by the shotgun and plasma grenades: in an environment where guns were the default, I still gravitated towards close-range weapons, because they felt, inexplicably, both safer and more satisfying.

Inevitably in the kinds of games I play, there are particular enemies, bosses and training fields where you’re strongly encouraged to tailor your combat approach to deal with specific threats, or else suffer punitive damage. Rationally, I know this, and yet I hate doing it. It irks me to have to switch to ranged weapons because a particular creature is immune to ground attacks, or to switch in my mage as party leader because using anything other than fire magic against a certain boss will see me stalled midgame until I defeat them. Partly, this reluctance is due to stubbornness on my part – I’m an innately contrary person, and always have been – but mostly, I suspect, it’s because hacking my way through problems without having to overthink or plan my approach is something I find soothing about gameplay. In other contexts, I’m constantly having to try and adapt my metaphorical plan of attack to deal with obstacles and the actions of others, but in gamespace, I can simply repeatedly hit the thing and, even if there’s a more stat-appropriate way to minmax my way to victory, I’m still going to end up the Hero of Ferelden. I can be reckless in games, single-minded, and if that gets my avatar killed a few times, so what? They’ll always be resurrected.

But still, in games, there’s that moment where I enter a new area, or start a new fight, and realise that I’m overmatched. Maybe I haven’t levelled my party enough, or maybe it’s just that these new enemies require a specific approach, but either way, if I try to plough ahead in my usual fashion, I’m probably going to die a lot. Which leaves me with a choice: do I suffer a diminished enjoyment of gameplay by temporarily changing my tactics, or do I bash on, save repeatedly, and treat the whole thing as a training run?

Nine times out of ten, I’ll choose the latter approach. Ultimately, I’m gaming for pleasure, and that being so, I’d rather enjoy the challenge of a difficult level played on my terms than feel bored and disconnected by taking an approach which, while easier, doesn’t engage me.

Kind of like how I deal with writing.

I am, as mentioned, a stubborn, contrary person. Like many creative people, my inspiration is something of a Billygoat Gruff/Rum Tum Tugger: hypothetical projects always look more tempting than the ones to which I’ve committed myself, and no sooner have I started a thing than I want to start something else. It is, frankly, a fucking miracle that I ever finish anything at all. But I do it. I do it, because I approach my writing projects with the same blunt melee frenzy as I do my battles in Knights of the Old Republic: I run at them headlong, heedless of strength and context, until I either emerge victorious or die in the attempt. But in real life, resurrection is a trickier process than merely loading from the last save point. I have to stop and recuperate; I have to change my tactics, which means anything from giving myself a series of mental health days to forcibly setting aside the thing I most want to work on in favour of completing the one that’s due. But once I’m back to strength – even if I’m taking punitive damage; even if it means dying again more quickly than I might otherwise – inevitably, I do it all over again. Wash, rinse, repeat. It’s how I work, and I’ve made my peace with that.

If my life right now was a video game, I’d be stuck in a monster-infested plateaux with minimal save points, enemies requiring the use of ranged weapons, and an under-levelled party. I owe multiple Patreon TV Roulette reviews accrued from the past two months, along with a still-incomplete novella and edits on my manuscript, to say nothing of needing to work on the sequel. I’m midway through writing an Ambush Novel I desperately want to finish, and am stalled in my updating of multiple fanfics which, while created purely for my own pleasure, are nonetheless an important sanity-check. I have five or six books waiting to be read for review, something like forty books to preferentially read for pleasure, and so many blog posts to read in my capacity, along with Mark Oshiro, as editor of the Speculative Fiction anthology 2015 (which you should totally submit to here, btw!). I’ve just taken on an extra morning’s work at my dayjob, which brings me up to four days a week – two full days, one morning and one half-day – which means I now have no days at home without my toddler, as all his childcare time falls when I’m at work. I have visa crap to deal with, which is both expensive and stressful. I have Seasonal Affective Disorder to deal with, as I live in Scotland and the Months of Endless Dark are upon us. I have so much to do, and not enough time to do it in, and not enough strength to do it with.

And yet, I’ll get it done. I’ll push through, bashing and yelling and swinging my sword, because it’s what I do, and what I’ve always done. I might have to die a couple more times in the process – am currently resurrecting myself right now, as it happens – but damned if I’ll stop fighting.

Choose your weapons, world. I’ve chosen mine.

11/11/15 – ETA the following awesome graphic, which the excellent Samantha Swords made for me. Hail!

Warrior Within Sword Fire Image cropped 3

Trigger warning: discussion of depression, suicidal ideation.

The greatest trick depression pulls is convincing you it doesn’t exist; that the baseline misery it enforces is normal at best or irrelevant at worst. Even when you know, rationally, that self-blame is itself a symptom, still you second-guess yourself. You think the problem is something else: that you’re fundamentally lazy, or melancholic, or both; that you’re simply not sleeping properly, or exercising enough, or taking the right vitamins. The idea that these deficiencies might be symptoms rather than causes crosses your mind, but you don’t take it seriously; it feels too much like giving up, like letting yourself off the hook. You want there to be something concrete you can do to improve things, a button to press or routine to enact that will suddenly make things better (not that things are wrong, exactly; the fact that you’re constantly tired and sad and anxious and mentally composing suicide notes at the grocery store while simultaneously berating yourself for being so melodramatic because obviously, you’d never really do something like that, is neither here nor there), and if there isn’t – if there’s nothing you can physically do – then that means you’re powerless, or possibly broken, and who wants to have either of those things confirmed?

So you don’t say anything. You move through a world whose gravity seems to pull you down with greater force each day. However much you sleep, it isn’t enough. Your temper frays. You never feel replenished; only drained, as though some vital well at the heart of yourself has run dry, and nothing you do has the power to fill it back up. One by one, your appetites fade: you can’t read, or write, or eat, or shower, or dress – do anything, really – without feeling like the world has vampire teeth in your jugular. Your joys are either tepid and flat or, very rarely, brief and manic. Nothing feels real. You wonder if you’re a sociopath, because shouldn’t love feel stronger than this? Or maybe you just made terrible choices, and everything is all your fault: maybe you just have to live like this forever.

And then, one night, you burst into tears for a solid ten minutes while reading a story that’s set at the beach, because you miss the sun with a visceral ache, like something that’s been pulled out of you, and for the first time, you seriously consider the idea that there might be a tangible reason for all of this. Sure, you’d thought of it before – you knew what Seasonal Affective Disorder was, even brought it up with the doctor the one time you went in to talk about depression, when they shrugged and said maybe, but also gave you some brochures about free counselling and the option of going straight to pills – but the fix seemed ridiculous. Buy a magic science light, as though a fucking lamp could possibly solve your problems. But you’ve been exercising every day, taking iron and Vitamin D and magnesium supplements for months; the recognisably post-natal aspect of your depression stopped a while back; by every external measurement, you should be in an excellent place, and yet you feel worse than ever. You’ve tried everything short of an anti-depressant prescription, and if that’s going to be the next port of call, then why not give the light a shot first?

So you buy the light, plug it in at the desk you haven’t properly used in months, and sit. It’s bright and warm, and something in you relaxes. You start smiling. Within twenty minutes, there’s a tingling sensation all along the skin of your neck, familiar and alien, and it takes you a while to place it: this, for you, is happiness. You used to feel it outside, in the sun, on hot summer days, and always assumed it was a purely aesthetic reaction, your body responding to the beauty of blue skies and warm skin, but in this moment, you realise it’s so much more than that. You don’t just miss the sun; you need it, and suddenly it’s here again, for the first time in what feels like forever, and oh.


It’s like waking up from a coma. You clean the fridge, then clean the kitchen – tasks which, even hours ago, felt utterly insurmountable. You dance to music, just because. You play with your child, and not only doesn’t it drain you; it delights you, and you no longer feel like such a broken mother. You sleep better. You start to write again. You keep up the exercise, but now, the high you feel while moving doesn’t instantly drop away when you finish. You tell a friend, still struggling to believe it, and she tells you that exposure to sunlight is linked to seratonin production: the chemical that literally controls your ability to feel happy and energised.


You use the light every day. After two weeks, you start reading novels for pleasure, a practice you’d more or less stopped, and which had stated to feel like pulling teeth. (It doesn’t, now. It feels like coming home.)

You are whole. You have SAD. You have a magic lamp.

And it’s going to be all right.



The Silence Speaks

Posted: December 12, 2014 in Life/Stuff
Tags: , , ,

So, as keen readers of this blog will be aware, there… hasn’t been much to keenly read of late, on account of the fact that I haven’t been writing anything. Or I mean, I have been writing; just not here. Without wanting to turn this into a round of Writer’s Excuses, the past few months have consisted largely of a crisis of confidence that can roughly be summarised as Me vs. My Brain, with the winner as yet to be determined. I’ve written a lot of fanfiction since midyear, because it’s the only type of writing that I haven’t come to associate with pass/fail pressure, and as such, it’s been the one thing keeping me both sane and even mildly convinced that writing is a thing I can actually do. Everything else has been like pulling teeth. I’ve run late on pretty much every deadline, either self-imposed or externally set, since about June, which I hate, and it’s now reached a point where my inbox is full of unanswered correspondence and supposedly simple writing tasks (proof this, approve that, respond here) that are actually paralysing me, because part of my brain is just constantly screaming shut up you’re fucking hopeless you can’t do this, and, yeah. It’s not fun.

But I’m getting better, as evidenced by the fact that I’m actually writing this post. Slowly, slowly, I’m starting to get things done again. If I owe you a reply or writing, please be patient with me. I am trying – you have no idea how hard I’m trying right now – and I promise, I haven’t forgotten; I’m just struggling. But I’ll get there in the end.

In the secret library of my mind, I still own every book I’ve ever bought. Though the hands giveth away, the heart remembers. Even when there are no physical gaps on my shelves to indicate what’s gone, the absence still provokes a certain lurch, like a missing step. I mourn the loss of books which, at the time, I felt certain I’d never actually read, or would never read again; I lament the folly which caused me to get rid of “inessential” works – that is, anything I wasn’t actively planning to reread at the time. I even regret the loss of particular children’s reference books, not for any sentimental reason, but because they’re actually very good starting places for worldbuilding research – or would be, if I hadn’t given them all away.

It’s not as if I make a habit of shedding books. I cling to paperbacks like a baby possum clutching its mother’s stomach. It’s just that, when I do get rid of things, I tend to do it en masse, while under the undue influence of my-room-is-clean-let’s-do-this-thing euphoria. As a kid, I’d take boxes of my old books to the local second hand store, then walk away clutching a whole twenty dollars – which, to a twelve year old, is basically millions. As a teenager, I turfed out a few books before heading to university, then more when my parents moved house. (And then again, to my infinite regret, when my college boyfriend convinced me that the much-loved and complete sets of Garfield, Snoopy and Footrot Flats I’d spent nearly twenty years acquiring were too childish for an adult to keep lugging round.) Every time, I thought I was doing the right thing, and every time, I experienced the same crushing disappointment when, having forgotten my former ruthlessness, I instinctively reached for a book that wasn’t there. Never again, I vowed.

And then we moved to England.

It was the turfout to end all turfouts. To give you some idea of exactly how many books I used to have, before we left, I gave away five boxes of children’s fiction and reference, five of adult works, put another nine boxes aside for safekeeping in Australia, and still had enough books left to fill the twelve boxes that came with us to the UK. I even gave away almost my entire collection of Anne McCaffrey – a decision so foolishly heartbreaking that, for three years afterwards, I managed to convince myself that it had never happened. I only realised the truth this month, when we came back to visit relatives (and to finally reclaim our things) and realised how much I’d thought I’d kept aside was, in fact, missing.

And now, today, it’s my birthday. All month long, I’ve been buying books with birthday and holiday money, stocking up on titles that are rare outside Australia, rummaging through secondhand stores and plotting to once again reconfigure my office when we get home, the better to squeeze in just one more shelf. I’ve even rebought some secondhand McCaffreys, to replace the ones I abandoned. But the real gift I’ve given myself is this: the permission to never, ever get rid of any books again. As a kid, I was able to build a library because I spent my entire childhood in the same, big house with the same, bookish parents. I had stability, space and encouragement, and I used those things to fill my room with dinosaur magazines, books on sharks and castles and the human body and, of course, fantasy novels. I took my library for granted, and so, when the need or opportunity arose, I never thought twice about frittering bits of it away.

But since I’ve become an adult – living in smaller places, packing and repacking my possessions with each new move, living for weeks or months or years with furniture chosen by landlords and not nearly enough storage space – I’ve come to appreciate the immense psychological value of a library. I feel comforted and whole in the presence of books, and always have done, and always will do. Having grown up in a house that boasted reading material in every room, I now find bookless rooms to be cold, unfinished, uncomfortable. Browsing in bookshops calms me down the way tea or coffee calms other people, regardless of whether I end up buying anything. Even when their weight becomes impractical – and even though I now have a Kindle – I always travel with multiple books to hand, partly because I can’t bear the thought of running out of things to read, but mostly because there’s no surer way to make myself feel at home in a hotel room than to put a stack of novels on the nighstand.

And now, finally, I have the same library-spawning privileges I did as a child: a place that’s mine, a supply of shelves, and the sure and certain knowledge that I won’t be moving again for a good, long while. The whole time we’ve been in Australia, I’ve been rounding up the books I left in storage like papery sheep, ready to ship them home with me.. I’m building my new library, and this time, it’s for keeps. In the nineteen days we’ve been here – and without counting Kindle purchases – I’ve bought twenty-two books: an average of more than one day.

Hello. My name is Foz, and I’m a bookaholic.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.