Reconciliation within the SFF genre, one writer at a time (or finally getting around to the SWFA kerfuffle)

My name is LaShawn M. Wanak, and I am a black female writer.

I’ve been making up stories since I was four years old. I’ve been reading fantasy and science fiction when kids were still in their primers. I fell in love with the whole genre and knew exactly what I wanted to be. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to be a black writer, telling black stories, with characters who looked just like me.

I have been writing professionally now for about 9 years. I’ve garnered some sales. My name’s getting a little known. And most importantly, people are reading my stories and are being touched through them. I’m also learning a lot about the industry I’ve chosen. I’ve seen its wonders, and I’ve seen its darker bits.

I’ve been following what’s been happening in SWFA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America for my non-writer friends) and the hullaboo over an essay that was printed in its bulletin a couple of weeks ago. The internets exploded in reaction, most decrying the essay. I did not respond because a) I haven’t read the essay because b) I’m not a SWFA member. And because I’m not a member, I don’t feel that I have enough experience to adequately respond to the situation. Besides, there are many, many others who have done so, and done it very, very well.

One of those was Nora K. Jemisen, who referenced it in her GOH speech at a Continuum in Australia last week. If you haven’t read her speech, read it now. It’s brilliant. It’s honest. It’s hopeful. And best of all, it calls for reconciliation within the SFF community. Reconciliation. This is a word I would hug if I could. It’s a word I’m used to hearing since I work in a Christian ministry, but this is the first time I heard it used within the SFF community. To use Nora’s own words:

“I do not mean a simple removal of the barriers that currently exist within the genre and its fandom, though doing that’s certainly the first step. I mean we must now make an active, conscious effort to establish a literature of the imagination which truly belongs to everyone. – See more at: http://nkjemisin.com/2013/06/continuum-goh-speech/#sthash.XbLijUKw.dpuf

It got me fired up, because yeah, I can see it, writers using bridges of words to reach those who would never step foot in communities that don’t look like their own. Stories that stretch the imagination, that would represent all cultures, that would stretch minds, put them in other people’s shoes. This is totally what I would say is my calling as a writer.

And then this happened.

Sigh.

Right.

Common wisdom for such things is to ignore it, to let this guy spew his hate and not respond. But what this guy did was not only name Nora, but he then linked it to SFWAauthors Twitter feed. SWFA caught wind of it and took it down, but the damage is done.

This is more than just a troll. This is an attack. It goes completely against what Nora called for in her speech. It is used to tear down, to discount her as a writer, as a woman, as a black person, and as human.

And do you know what that post says to me?

This is what happens if you try to make a difference. We like our organization just the way it is. And we define how women are portrayed in SFF. We like our bikinis. We like our women stupid and dependent on us. And we like them all white, because their prettier and sexier than you—well, okay, we’ll allow Asian girls, because they’re nice and quiet and subservient.. And if you try to say anything about it, we will tear you down, rip your head off, drag your name through shit, because that’s what you deserve, you monkey you. So go ahead and write your stories, little little girl. You can even join. But keep your head down, don’t make waves, and most of all, keep your fat lips shut.

There are many writers, not just black writers, not just women writers, but all sorts of writers, who will not join because of this.

And this is why I am writing this post.

I’m writing this because I don’t know if I’m going to join SWFA. I don’t think I’m at the point of my writing career where it would be beneficial to me, at this point. (David Steffen wrote a post that sums up my feelings quite well.) But if I do decide to join in the future, it would be because there are writers like Nora and Mary Robinette Kowal and Jim C. Hines and Nisi Shawl and so many others who have paved the way before me, fighting to bring diversity to a genre that needs it so desperately. Because they refuse to be silent, because they call out bullshit when they see it. Sometimes they’re successful. Sometimes they’re not. And sometimes, people would viciously attack them.

I’m writing this not just to show my support to Nora (and did I tell you she’s going to be GOH at Wiscon in 2014?) but to support her vision of reconciliation that is so much bigger than any one of us. And the only way for that to happen is for us to write our stories, our own stories, and get them published, and write more stories and get those published.

I’m writing this because I am a black female writer, and this affects me deeply.

If you wish to show support for the vision of reconciliation in SFF as well, there are a couple of ways to do it.

1) If you are a member of SWFA, you can demand for the expulsion guy who wrote that damaging post. It’s true that he can say whatever he wants, but to use SWFA as a platform for such harmful threats is uncalled for.

2) If you’re an writer of color, or a woman writer, or genderqueer, keep writing. Don’t let this guy dissuade you from submitting. There are markets out there hungry for your stories. And if you’re an editor or publisher, please, make these voices heard.

3) If you’re a reader, expand your reading tastes. Don’t know where to start? The Carl Brandon Society Awards page has some good recommendations. This Tor post is also has an awesome list of POC and women authors in SFF.

It will take a while, but I do believe SFF can one day reflect true diversity. I’m doing my part, and tomorrow, you’ll see how. And if you can’t wait until tomorrow, here’s a sneak preview.

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HELLO! I’M ONE OF THOSE AFRICAN AMERICAN SF/F WRITERS! HEY! OVER HERE! YOO-HOO!

I subscribe to Google Alerts. It’s a great writer’s tool: you give it a certain set of keywords, and it scours the internet, looking for those words. Great way to find out if someone plagiarized your story, or if your name gets mentioned anywhere.

My name popped up on a Barnes and Noble blog, so I took a look. It turned out to be an interview of N.K. Jemisin on her debut novel "the Thousands Kingdoms", which I also did a review about here at the Cafe. It’s your standard talk about your book and its influences article, but then the interviewer asks why aren’t there more African American women writing SF/F.

Her response:

“I’m not really sure how to answer that question, because it starts from what I think might be a false assumption. I know plenty of African American women (and men, and Asian Americans, and Latino/a Americans, and so on) who write SF/F. Offhand I can mention Nisi Shawl, Nnedi Okorafor, Nalo Hopkinson, LaShawn Wanak, Alaya Dawn Johnson, K. Tempest Bradford, Helen Oyeyemi, Tananarive Due, L.A. Banks, Ibi Aanu Zoboi, Carole McDonnell, Linda Addison, Sheree R. Thomas, Jewelle Gomez… I’m probably missing quite a few. And those are just the ones who’ve published short stories or novels; I know many more who are on the hoping-to-get-published track. Octavia Butler left behind a lot of children, spiritually speaking."

What especially thrilled me was that I knew many of the names she mentioned, and even met several authors in person. And I felt so honored to be listed among them. I’m a spiritual child of Octavia Butler. WHEEEEEEEEE!!!!!

So it was especially interesting when the next day, I mean the very next day, this popped up on Asimov’s and caught the SF/F world’s attention. I read most of it—at least the parts that weren’t rambling, but basically, in a nutshell, the guy basically says that there’s no such thing as an African Science Fiction  writer. Which at this very moment is being disputed by many wanting to set this guy straight.

As for me, however, it caused me to think back to N.K’s interview.  The interviewer pretty much expressed the same thing—albeit it far more eloquently and less…um…racefailly (good grief, is that even a word?) than the Asimov column. It does seem to be the opinion that while we are out there—there are many, many people who are unaware that there are people of color SF/F writers. In one of the interview’s comments even asks: "Where are these people?"

So, how do we address this? It just proves to me that we need to not only pimp ourselves as writers in our careers, but other people of color as well. Spread the word. Jump up and down, continue mentioning such groups such as Carl Brandon Society and Verb Noire, and magazines like Daybreak Magazine. Keep putting forward our names. Get more people talking about us.

Wish I can write more but I got to run. But what else can we do? Any ideas? Let’s brainstorm, and then let’s act.

A response to Avatar and other Messiah-complex stories (or, come on, LaShawn, it’s been several weeks since you wrote on your blog. Post something already!)

I had the pleasure of watching Avatar a couple of weeks ago. You don’t need to know the details on how I got there (it did involve sneaking into an Enterprise cargo van, but that’s beside the point).  But suffice it to say, I went in knowing full well that the storyline would be utter crap and to turn my brain off and enjoy the eye candy. And it would’ve worked, too, except we had snuck away from a conference, and I was bone tired, which made my eyes watery, which mucked up the 3-D glasses I wore, which made me take my glasses off, which made me not see the gorgeous visuals, which made me wonder why the heck Jake Sully was the only one to figure out to jump on the big bird dragon beastie by flying above it. I mean really. He was the only one? Really? Was the Na’Vi that dumb they couldn’t figure something as simple as that on their own—? And even if they were that dumb, if Jake wanted to get on their good side, why not tell the Na’Vi girl’s rival and let him do it instead, and in doing so save face, gain the ally the right way–

No, no. I told myself I was not going to write a review. See, there are tons of reviews out there describing all the problems of Avatar. There are also lots of websites that mock the movie, and deservedly so. In fact, I’m finding all the dialogue about Avatar to be more intriguing than the movie itself.

And it got me to thinking. Sure, I can whine and moan along with everyone else about the white-man-as-savior themes in Avatar. But that’s just all talk. What can I do, as a black woman, to actively respond to stories like Avatar?

1. Don’t see the movie

Obviously, I failed this one, but it’s okay. When I first heard about Avatar’s plot, I didn’t really care to see it. Then I heard all the different takes on it and thought, well, maybe it would be worth seeing. And I don’t regret it…even though I had my watering eyes shut and predicting the story 15 scenes out, the scenery was pretty…at least, what I saw of it. And in all honesty, I would go see it again so I can look at it with a sufficiently shut-down mind. And Zoe Saldana is also in it. I didn’t know that the first time.

But I can say with all honesty that I won’t see The Blind Side. Whereas I knew Avatar and looked forward to its science fiction-ness, I have seen the Blind Side in so many other plots and movies that, well, I’m pretty sick of it. I really don’t have the desire to see another poor black athlete get ‘adopted’ by a white family. It’s also because I’m mainly turned off by "poor athlete gets a leg up in life" in general. It’s okay. No big deal. If I don’t want to watch a movie, I don’t watch it. Unless my hubby’s watching it on cable…but then again all we got is basic channels, so that’s all right too…

2. Make an effort to go outside the box

I’m currently reading The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin. It’s an awesome book in that it’s probably the first ever epic fantasy I’ve ever read that’s done by a black woman. And it is good. Real good. So good I’ve been shilling it out to whoever I meet.

That what rocks about the state the fantasy genre is in now. There are tons, literally tons, of stories out there that are being published by black writers like Jemisin and Nisi Shawl and Nalo Hopkinson and Nnedi Okorafor (and one day, yours truly 😉 ) And it’s not just black writers, but also Latino, Asian, Indian, Filipino. Now has never been a more awesome time to read and see culturally diverse stories. They are out there, waiting to be heard, to be read, to shown their own point of view. Check out these writers, or places like Verb Noire, who aim to put out culturally diverse stories.

3. Make up your own story

Okay, true story. When I started reading the Narnia books, when I got to The Silver Chair, I read the book fantasizing that Jill was black. No lie. Her description was vague enough that I was able see her as black. Then they started doing the movies, and that pretty much depressed me. I don’t know if they will ever get to the Silver Chair part, but if they do, I’m guessing that a black girl won’t get cast in Jill’s role, and a little part of me will die a sad little death.

(And that’s my excuse for not watching the Narnia movies. Absolutely truth.)

But the thing is, the hunger to see fantasy stories with girls with skin and hair as brown as my own drove me to start writing. It wasn’t a response to all those people who say, "Oh, if you didn’t like it, go write your own." But you know what, it does need to be a response. Because all that is being put out there now isn’t really representing the diversity of our country. Writers can fix that by planting their butts into chairs and writing.

And on the same vein…

4. Students of color, stay in school!

We writers can only do so much. It is those within the publishing and the entertainment industry who give us the means to get our stories out into the public. But as long as the entertainment industry remains homogenous, they’ll keep putting out what they think is the stories the public will like.

The entertainment industry needs to be diversified.

We need more cultural diverse people in the entertainment industry. In film industry and in publishing. And not just on the lower levels. We need them in the higher levels as well, where decisions are made. A couple of posts ago, I wrote about the Racefail happening at Zondervan.  One of the blogs I mention, The Suburban Christian, wrote this on his post:

We need Asian Americans (and people of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds!) as authors, editors, marketers, designers, journalists, bloggers, publishing executives. It’s likely that this Deadly Viper incident would not have happened if Zondervan had had more Asian Americans on staff. So Asian American community, as Paul Tokunaga says in Invitation to Lead,it’s time to step up. Write books. Apply for jobs at Zondervan (and other Christian publishers). Get in the game.

Amen!

And finally:

5. For writers and anyone involved in making a story—WRITE THE BEST STORY YOU CAN

Do you know why I disliked Avatar? It wasn’t so much the white-Messiah trope. I accepted that part. No, what really bothered me was that the whole entire movie felt like Cameron wrote a first draft and said, eh, that’ll do. I mean, come on, Unobtainium. Seriously?! You couldn’t think of anything else? If it wasn’t a movie with aspirations, then yeah, okay, that would, in fact, be hilarious. But it didn’t work with the awe-inspiring graphics.  Either put a decent plotline with the great graphics or go all out and make the crassest, stupidest movie you can. YOU CAN’T BE A PIMP AND A PROSTITUTE TOO!!!

(Right. White Stripe Raving. That means it’s time to wind down.)

Look, if we as writers of color are meant to be taken seriously, that means our work needs to be good too. And that means being hard on ourselves, looking at our stories and thinking, is this clichéd? Does it work? Are there any plot holes? Is this a tired story or does it mean anything? Anyone can put out lame-ass work–Cameron sure as hell did. But that work reflects right back on us. And even when people comment and say that was a pretty bad story you wrote, you take your knocks, move on, and write a better story. Then, when you do get rich and famous, you can still put out lame-ass work, but if you wow them with graphics, dude, they’re sold.

Umm…okay…don’t know how this turned into a writing post, but that’s the magic of blogging past your bedtime. All sorts of rambling things come out of my head. There is one more thing I want to say. At some point, I’ll probably go to see Precious. I’ve heard really good reviews of it. Some say it’s the antithesis of The Blind Side, though I’m also guessing it’s the antithesis of Juno as well.

And the real nitpicking part of me is saying, Yeah, that’s great, another story about a fat black girl who lives in projects and gets abused…

Yeah, but Mo’Nique’s in it. Mo’Nique being evil even. I’d pay to see that.

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along? …or Don’t be such a jackass in the comments section…

So ever since RaceFail, I’ve been keeping an eye on what people are buzzing about in the writing world. The latest is an anthology to be published by called The Mammoth Book of Mindblowing SF. Take a look at the table of contents. Notice anything about them? Now take a look at the comments.

Mind-blowing indeed.

When I was doing the 31 days to Build a Better Blog, one of the things they suggest is to contribute to the comment section in blogs you like. But sometimes, when I look at what brews there, it’s like looking at shark-infested waters. Ain’t no way I’m sticking a toe in there, much less my opinion.

Part of that may be due to my own insecurities. When I was younger, I used to think that no one would value what I had to say. That’s why I wrote stories. Much easier to hide my opinions in them. But another part is that I dislike heated arguments. Especially when they stray from intellectual debate to name calling, F-bombs, slurs, nastiness, etc. It happened in RaceFail. It happened with the whole ROF cover thing (and for a great summary of what happened with that, check out this visual summation here. Hilarious!). It’s almost becoming a cliché: a post appears that makes a bunch of people comment, then an idiot makes a knee-jerk comment, people get up in arms, more commenters defend the slanderer, and soon we got FAIL this and FAIL that.

That’s the ease and the curse of the internet. It’s so easy to type something out and hit enter. You don’t think of consequences. The people you’re writing to are faceless. You don’t see them laugh. You don’t see them flinch. You don’t see the anger, or the hurt on their faces. They’re voiceless until they put their own fingers to the keyboard.

What really gets me in all of this is that, well, aside from those who contribute or read such things,  no one else really knows…or cares. I can go up to my mother, or my co-workers, or people at church and talk about RaceFail, and they’ll give me blank looks, or politely just nod their heads. For all the talk and hype and brouhaha we do in comments and LiveJournal, it’s all so insular.

And the real sad thing is, these are legitimate issues. They deserve to be discussed. For instance, someone asked a question on a reading list I’m on: "Should we, as consumers, make it mandatory that every SF anthology, no matter how small or archaic, include female and POC writers?" That is a very good question. And from what I’ve seen of the discussion so far, it’s been very insightful. So it is possible to express one’s view with intelligence and respect.

I know. There will always be jackasses who will say anything they want, flamers who just want to stir up controversy for the fun of it, and folks who say stuff that they’d wish they slept a night on instead of posting right off.  But I guess the best way to counter stupid comments is to take Mur Lafferty’s advice. Don’t be an ass. Be polite. Don’t say anything that will haunt you later on. If you disagree with someone, say so. But don’t slander. Don’t call names. It’s really not that big of a deal. If the greater world don’t care about it, it shouldn’t get our panties in a wad either.

And frankly, in regards to the all-white guy anthology, I don’t think it ever entered the editor’s head to include any females or POC, because, well, it didn’t really occur to him to do so. He just wanted to get some of his favorite authors together and print some stories of them. It’s what he considers the best science fiction. It reflects his tastes. Me? I looked at the table of contents, and the only author who looked interesting to me was Robert Silverberg, because I like his Valentine series. Everyone else…meh. But see, that reflects my tastes. I like to read stuff with more diversity.

Now…if you excuse me, I’m going to finish reading Kelly Link’s Stranger Things Happen so I can dive into my Dark Matter: Reading the Bones anthology. Not only has Link’s book blown my mind, it has smashed it to smithereens, then took all the mushy bits and mashed them together into a likeness of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Surreal, yet impressive.

The Difference Between Artists and Writers (or Why Can’t I Dress Like That?!)

So last week I was in the kitchen at my job when one of the younger girls came in and the first thing I saw were her white knit legwarmers.

There are many, many people who should not wear legwarmers. I am one of those people. Put them on me, and it will make my legs look even more like oversmoked hams. This girl was not one of them. They looked good on her. Really, really good. She looked hip and chic and so cool that I was completely distracted from her skirt, which she had made herself out of a Halloween sweater that had a white picket fence on it. She simply cut out the Halloween parts, kept the fence, sewed it into a skirt, and voila.

As I stood there, mind exploding, one of my co-workers came up to me and said. “Nope. Don’t even try it. It won’t look good on you. She’s an artist.

Ooooo! Ouch! Right in the gut!

It just so happened that the Sunday before, I had a chance to go to the Madison ‘Open Studio’ tour. This is basically where all the artists in the town and the surrounding areas open up their studios and homes for the public to come in and see their work and the rooms where they were created. I only had a chance to visit a couple of homes–I only learned about the tour the week before, and the only time I had available was a couple of hours on Sunday. But it was fascinating, going into different homes to see artwork and photographs and textiles–the last was very interesting; the artist showed us her a loom upstairs that she used to weave thick rugs. It was big, all wood and strings and ball bearings, like a cross between a piano, an wooden armoire and one of those photo kiosks you see at the mall (forgive the metaphor, but I’ve been working on She’s All Light all week. My metaphor conjuring is tapping on empty at the moment). I wish I had more time to spend there. Weaving on looms looks to be a very interesting craft.

Anyway, I’m going to all these artists homes and I’m thinking to myself, writers can be considered artists too. Why can’t we have an open studio to show off?

But we all know the answer to that. Writers are artists, in the degree that we create art. The thing is with artists, their medium is all visual. You go into a room and see, with your eyes, a piece of artwork on the wall, you instantly recognize it as art (unless it’s one of those paintings that’s all black, or a statue done by Takashi Murakami. In which you’ll go, “Huuuuuuuuuuuuh?”) For writers, the art we create is mental. We whip up tapestries that can only be seen with the mind’s eye.

So while most artists can have a sketch pad with them, they still need a space of their own in order to make their art happen. Writers don’t need that. Our creating space is in our heads, and it can be as large as the universe or as small as a molecule. It doesn’t have to be concrete. Ideas are our paints, imagination the brush, and entire worlds are the canvasses, stretched out to infinity.

It still sucks, though because really, who’d want to go in and see a writer’s studio? In my case, that’s currently the kitchen table. Granted, I have an awesome view outside our apartment, but I doubt anyone is going to come in to peruse the half written scraps of stories I got on my laptop. Probably the closest I could get to displaying my work on a wall would be poetry–and why would I do that when I could just as easily send it to people in an email?

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against artists. I had genuine fun doing the tour, and I loved going in to see their creative thought processes on display. It’s just that people assume that, being artists, they can dress and act however they want. Them being artists gives them the license to act as eccentric or farm from the beaten path as they can. Oh, they’re artists. They got creativity up the ying-yang; therefore, they can do whatever they want.

Writers, on the other hand, are watchers. We dress normal. Since we watch the world for material, we don’t want to draw attention to ourselves. We make ourselves as unobtrusive as possible. We blend.

Except in the case where we’re doing a reading on our work. Then hey, we can dress however we want. Because we’re reading our art.

I’m looking forward to that day. True, I won’t show up in legwarmers and a sweater skirt, but hey, I’ll find some way to be styling. It’s artistic!

A post about how everything sucks (or the joy of experiencing changes in life)

(Disclaimer: the following post contains a lot of moping, groaning and whining about the stresses of putting a house on the market and life changes in general. You have been warned.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about life-altering events these past few days.

Death and tragedy ones, like the shootings what happened in Tinley Park and NIU this past month. Everyone in Chicago are still reeling over those. Sadder ones, like the breakup of a marriage or the end of a close friendship. More joyous ones, like getting married or having a first child.

And then there’s moving.

There’s something sobering about driving from your house one morning and coming back to see a “For Sale” sign sitting on your lawn. Even though I knew in my head it was going to happen, to see the actual sign with my own eyes, sitting on my own lawn, suddenly drove home the fact that this will no longer be my house. Someone else will sit in the backyard and gaze out over the pond. Someone else will wake up in the bedroom and paddle barefoot to the kitchen to put on a teakettle. In fact, that someone else probably won’t even drink tea; they’ll have a coffeepot. A coffeepot in this house!

I lived in this house for almost seven years. I know every creak in the floor (well, not anymore, since we fixed those), every crack in the ceiling (hmm, actually, that’s gone too, now that’s it’s repaired), every smudge and mark Daniel’s put on (which has been cleaned off…and given new paint…)

Actually, I take all of that back. Ever since we’ve done all the renovations to the house, I don’t know it anymore. Oh, the layout’s still the same, and the pond hasn’t gone anywhere, and we still got (most) of our furniture. But it’s not my house anymore. Everything has to be clean and uncluttered, and there’s a lot less furniture than I like, and the color of the walls are not what I would pick, and it looks too much like the inside of a (tasteful) furniture store than an actual lived-in house, clutter and toys and all.

My house looks so pretty. And it’s depressing, because I don’t recognize it anymore.

This past month has been crazy getting the house ready to put on the market. Now that things are slowing down, I find that I can actually take a breather for once and relax. I can say to myself, now things can get back to normal again…

Except, well, there’s no such thing as normal anymore. The last time anything has been “normal” in this household was back in September, when Daniel was going to daycare, I was writing full-time, my hubbie was working full-time, and life was good. In fact, I remember thinking at that time, hey, this is perfect. Everything is going nicely for once. I hope it lasts for a good long time.

And then October came. KA-BOOM!

Today was the first time in weeks that I didn’t have to concentrate on working on the house. Oh, yes, there’s still cleaning and all, but most of the renovations are done. And you know what? I have no idea what to do. I suppose I could write, but what will Daniel do in the meantime? What do I do with a three-year-old in the middle of winter? According to that ‘perfect schedule’ I had in September, Daniel would be in daycare interacting with other kids and I would be working on Willow. Now that we don’t have (nor can we afford at the moment) daycare, Daniel spends his days playing by himself or parked in front of the TV, which is where I’ve been placing him throughout most of the month of January while we were working on the house. I can start taking him to playgroup again, just to get out of the house, but outdoor activities are definitely out, not until we start having weather that’s not in the single digits.

And writing? I can ease back into that, but those days of working four to six hours a day? Gone. At the most, I can do writing after Daniel goes to bed, but usually, I’m so tired, the most I can manage is fifteen minutes worth of writing before calling it quits. Work on Willow has slowed to a crawl, and working on short stories have become non-existent…

You know, I think I’m in mourning. I’m mourning the fact that everything’s changed, and nothing will be the same again. Not my writing time. Not my house. Nothing. It sucks.

Everything sucks.

Maybe I should cheer myself up by listening to Tom Waits.

(Caveat: This post is merely the author’s method of blowing off steam and in no way reflects the philosophy of the Cafe in the Woods–which is to sit back, relax, and have a cup of tea. Yours Truly promises that the next post will be more uplifting. In the meantime, you’ll just have to make do with what you got because the teapot is in the corner, sulking. And the table’s passed out in the corner. And the napkins are debating about the theory of relativity. And the carpet needs a haircut…

…And you can’t find your waitress with a Geiger counter, and she hates you and your friends and you just can’t be served without her. And the box office is drooling and the bar stools are on fire, and the newspapers were fooling, and the ashtrays have retired…cause the piano has been drinking…the piano has been drinking…the piano has been drinking…not me…not me…not me….not me…not me…)

Fact Checking? We don’t need no stinking fact checking!

Oh, boy! My first rant!

Normally, I like to keep the Cafe rant free, but this really got to me, and I realized that it’s better to write about it than go charging out with a pitchfork and torch towards the nearest newspaper stand. That wouldn’t go over well, considering that I’m Christian, black and a woman.

Names are not mentioned to protect both the innocent and the guilty. I’m not that horked off (man…is that even a word? See, I’m making up my own swears now. This is how mad I am.) that I’m gonna do something stupid as say names and then have it later bite me on the ass. Besides, if you really want to know specifics, you’ll employ your super Googling skills to find out what I’m talking about. It’s easy…which makes what happened even more baffling.

A bit of background: some time ago, I went to my writer’s group, where we had someone new join us. This person, who works for a newspaper group, proceeded to tell us in great detail how said newspaper is lousy when it comes to writing articles. According to her, they basically slap a bunch of names and details together and print it without any thought for accuracy. I didn’t take her seriously, with her being a new person and all. I chalked her rant up to basic journalistic bitterness.

A week later, my hubby brought in a copy of the paper by the same group. Someone very close to me got interviewed for an article, and it finally came out. I glanced at the paper and immediately saw that the name was spelled wrong.

Then I read past the first word of the article and saw more things wrong.

It’s as if the reporter had conducted the interview on a different planet. Details mixed up in a great goulash of inaccuracy. Quotes rearranged and taken out of context, giving them a whole new meaning–the wrongest type of meaning. By the time I finished the article, I was flabbergasted at just how bad the article was–not just for the factual errors, but completely dissing the subject of what the article was about. If someone else read this article, they would be given a completely negative view of everything in the article.

Uh-oh. Here comes the cynical LaShawn with her soapbox. This is the same woman that took five years of journalism in college and almost chose to go not go to her own graduation because she hated it so. Be warned.

Cynical LaShawn: Well, naturally, they got all the details wrong. It’s a newspaper. You can’t believe everything you read in a paper because every article–even the most neutral ones–are written from the bias of the writer.

Naive LaShawn: Yeah, but it’s the duty of a reporter to write the truth and not put any personal bias in the article they write.

CL: Oh please. It’s easy. A writer can conduct an interview and then decide what to use and what not to make the story interesting. If that changes the context of the words, even better.

NL: But that’s so wrong! I read the article and instantly knew that it was wrong! Whatever happened to journalistic integrity? The reporter couldn’t pick up the phone to check the facts or go online to check them? I would think Google would be the reporters best friend.

CL: It’s not about getting facts right. It’s about getting a product out at deadline.

NL: But still, it calls into question other articles that this paper has done. If they got this article wrong, how many others are wrong, too? How can we trust anything this paper puts out?

CL: <shrugging> Before this article came out, you didn’t care if the articles in it was true.

NL: Well, no…I didn’t.

CL: So what makes you think the people of this paper care? They read it, think, “that’s nice” or “that’s bad” and turn the page to the next article. They’re not really thinking about the accuracy of the articles. They just want to know what the article is about and move on.

NL: That’s really depressing.

CL: <lighting a cigarette> Yeah, ain’t it?

NL: <staring at CL> Ummm…we don’t smoke.

CL: Yeah, and I’m not real, either. So I can do what I like.

NL: Okay…I think we had enough of you. <booting CL off her soapbox and climbing onto it herself>

I suppose I could call the paper, tell them they got all this stuff wrong, and get a correction printed. But why bother…and on another note, who will care? Only the people who got interviewed for the article are miffed, but life will probably go on for them. Those who know these people know the truth. And for those who don’t…well…it probably won’t change their opinion about the subject anyway.

But for me, as a writer, I’m appalled. When I was in college, I decided that journalism was not for me. I’d much rather write fiction because it was more real than writing newspaper articles. Who knew that fiction existed in newspapers, too?

Cynical LaShawn is shouting from the back of the Cafe, “Duh!” I think I’m going to throw the soapbox at her to shut her up. Then I’m going to take the article, give it to Daniel to rip into shreds, go have some breakfast, and dwell on the fact that newspaper readership is shrinking due to the Internet.

Ah. I feel better already.