This is Stupid. I Now Have Stupid All Over Me.

Wherein Our Heroine Tells a Long Tale, if not a Tall One.

Back in May, Teresa Nielsen Hayden of Making Light penned a fierce rebuttal to a writing teacher's website which contained advice for writers. Her husband, Patrick*, uttered the title words above upon reading that writing teacher's advice. Stupid, it appears, is very sticky. In a subsequent post, she wondered if the teacher in question had perhaps taken his own terrible advice and lied regarding his own professional credentials. After all, advice usually comes as a result of experience.

Yes, you heard me correctly. Taken his own advice = lie. About your professional credentials. For those who don't like to follow links, here is the original text of his advice regarding this (emphasis mine):

Tip Four: Still worried? Never published anything? Lie a little. Yes, lie. A cover letter is a persuasive document designed to do one thing: entice an editor or agent to read your manuscript. Say whatever you have to, within reason, to accomplish this. No publication credits? Write the words “West Coast Fiction Review” on a piece of paper, staple it to one of your stories, and boom, you’ve just been published in West Coast Fiction Review. Is there such a publication? Not that I know of, but it sure sounds impressive. No awards? Ask your best friend—let’s say her name is Martha Green—to give you the 1999 Martha Green Award for Outstanding Achievement in Fiction. What’s the Martha Green Award worth? Not much, unless it entices an editor or agent to read your work.

Making Light's readers tend to ring the "smart" end of the bell curve until it dents, and much googling and speculation followed in the comment threads regarding whether or not he had done anything his resume indicated. Did he really win those awards? Were those publications legit? Who is this guy, and does his employer know he's telling people to lie?

Somewhere along the line there was a bit of gratuitous verbal kicking, some trenchant satire (Making Light's readers can also be terribly creative), and some random digressions. I started one of these random digressions because the discussion had eddied around the issue of whether or not a college degree (or subsequent degrees) really qualify you for anything in most cases. So I asked how many people were working in the field which their degree had "qualified" them. As I expected, there was a torrent of varied educations and careers. Obviously a few writers are there, but they did not comprise the vast majority.

On another blog, John Scalzi noted that he didn't believe this teacher should be kicked behind his back, so he contacted the teacher in order to inform him about the kicking. He also wrote about the response he received from the teacher (which was friendly, though ducked the question of lying and said he was merely trying to get people to "do whatever it takes to give yourself the courage and permission to put your work in the mail..."). As one might expect, Scalzi addressed the omission, and then went on to talk about the publishing business (which unpublished writers continually label as a game which is rigged against them). The Making Light thread petered out on June 6, and its writers and devotees went on to other topics.

Then, on June 23, it got interesting.

The teacher visited the website and delivered what he thought would be an excoriating denunciation of everyone who had examined, questioned, or mocked his work and credentials. Basically, the high points amounted to, "Shame on you - you are very mean, you are talking behind my back (Scalzi begged to differ), you are using your power as an editor at a publishing house for evil, everyone here is a sycophant because they are or want to be published by TOR, I've done a lot of good things in my life, and if you questioned my credentials why didn't you contact me?" Oh, and "I'm suing for slander." He meant libel, but whatever.

And the Making Light readership hung their heads in shame. Fruit baskets were sent to the hapless teacher and everyone lived happily ever after.


No, what really happened was that additional verbal brickbats were aimed at the teacher, more vicious than the first. Why? Well, there were a whole host of reasons, ranging from the fact that he didn't acknowledge that his advice was wrong (though he has changed his website) and instead waved a lot of red herrings about (interestingly enough, even though there was a conversation right on that very thread about the vast array of professions Making Light's readership had - I should know, I started it, he insisted upon maintaining that we were all in TOR's thrall as authors or wannabe authors. Excuse me, I have to wipe some stupid off of me). He also refused to see that his advice to unpublished authors that they should lie in pursuit of a publishing contract made every utterance of his own immediately suspect. And that was the real heart of the matter.

Stupid is forgivable. Lying is not. Stupid is sticky. Lying is stickier.

* Both Ms. and Mr. Nielsen Hayden are professional editors at TOR books, but their website is their own. Occasionally they talk about writing and books, occasionally politics, occasionally random things. To even the most casual observer, this is not an official site for their employer.

Posted: Friday - June 25, 2004 at 08:19 AM         | |