Orson Scott Card’s Plea for “Tolerance” is not Enough

November 11, 2013

“In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him.” – A.E. Wiggin

Warning: this post contains Ender’s Game spoilers; proceed with caution unless you’ve already read the book, seen the movie, or have no intention of doing either.

It’s a big scary world out there, Ender, full of aliens and homosexuals.

My husband and I went to Ender’s Game on Friday. I thought it was a beautiful movie, but I still left the theater feeling conflicted. I knew many people were boycotting the movie because of Orson Scott Card’s homophobia — which, as an attitude, could perhaps be forgiven, if he hadn’t also taken active steps to block GLTBQ people from enjoying full rights. It was later revealed that OSC won’t receive any money from box office sales, but many continued the protest on philosophical grounds. Others say to go ahead and see the movie if you want to, but just don’t buy OSC’s books. I have a fairly extensive collection of Orson Scott Card’s books, purchased back when I only knew him as a gifted storyteller and not as a homophobic bigot. Luckily, all my OSC books came to me through used book sales and Paperbackswap, so none of my money has made it back to him (and, by extension, into the anti-gay campaigns he supports).

I often don’t have to struggle with such cognitive dissonance about the entertainment I enjoy, because most creative types are pretty open minded people, especially writers of speculative fiction, where being able to imagine new and different worlds is a job requirement. But one thing that always frustrates me about “classic” science fiction (Ray Bradbury, H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, etc.) is that, although these authors could imagine vastly different worlds in terms of politics and technology, they could not imagine gender roles that went beyond the norms of the time they were writing in, leaving their female characters empty and one-dimensional. Orson Scott Card frustrates me in the same way.

In response to the boycott, Orson Scott Card issued a statement in which he said Ender’s Game had nothing to do with “gay rights” (my paraphrase) because they were not an issue when the book was written in 1984 (head in the sand much?). But Ender’s Game, which is ultimately a story about tolerance, remorse, and forgiveness, has plenty to say about prejudice–and that includes homophobia.

Ender is a powerful leader because he understands his enemies to the point of “loving” them. This is what keeps him from becoming brutal, although his mission requires violence. His biggest frustration when faced with the Formics (the alien “invaders”) is that he has trouble understanding them. But eventually, he does — and when he does, he feels such remorse over the genocide he unknowingly committed that he devotes the rest of his life trying to make it right.

In case you missed this, Ender found a way to understand and love an alien species that looked, thought, and communicated nothing like him, and that had wiped out millions of his people. If Orson Scott Card can imagine this feat of understanding, why can’t he make the comparatively tiny leap toward understanding people who fall in love with others of the same sex? Anyone who has fallen in love is already 98% of the way there. If you understand love, if you understand the desire to live a life free from hatred and discrimination, if you understand the desire to follow your heart, there’s not really anything else you need to understand about being gay. And yet, Orson Scott Card apparently cannot make that leap; and he puts his money and his activism into pushing others back from making that leap, too. Is this what Ender would do?

As the series progresses, we see that Ender’s remorse over his role in the Formic genocide leads him to a deeper understanding of all life. In Speaker for the Dead, he makes it his work to find the seeds of good in even the most seemingly “evil” of people, so that after life they can retain some dignity and be remembered as human beings rather than “monsters.” Again, if Orson Scott Card can theoretically make the leap and see “good” in someone who beats his wife and children, why can he not make the same leap to see the “good” in people who are not of his politcal/moral/homophobic persuasion?

Many people speculate that OSC is a “closet case” who feels that the current social order is the only thing “saving” him from giving into his own secret gay desires. While I’m not going to use this blog to speculate on his sexual orientation, he hasn’t left issues of gender ambiguity completely alone in his work. In Children of the Mind, Ender’s adopted son Miro finds himself attracted to “Young Valentine,” who is a projection of Ender’s mind. That means that Young Valentine essentially has Ender’s soul; she is not a real woman, but a man’s imagining of a woman, retaining something that is ultimately male. Miro reflects on this — does it mean that, underneath it all, he’s really attracted to Ender? He can’t shake his feelings for Young Valentine, even after this contemplation. Is it just me, or are things getting a little queer in here?

While the characters in the Ender’s saga attempt a “live and let live” philosophy toward alien races, viruses, and other humans, Orson Scott Card agitated to prevent his fellow human beings from having equal rights and equal dignity. To his credit, he’s willing to “let the case rest” now that the Supreme Court has ruled that forbidding same-sex marriage is unconstitutional (even though, in the past, he’s called to “overthrow” any government that would let such a thing happen.) But how much of this is him “taking it like a man,” and how much of it is his fear over how his homophobia might affect his pocketbook? He’s pleaded for “tolerance” of his views from those on the other side, just as he’s decided to “tolerate” them by no longer fighting against same sex marriage.

Let’s return to Ender’s Game. Although I love the story’s message, there remains a bit that rubs me the wrong way. And that is how quickly, how easily, Ender is forgiven for wiping out an entire sentient species by that very species. While human beings commit genocide to retaliate for millions who died in a past war, the Formic Queen forgives genocide and allies herself with the one who committed it as soon as she understands the depth of his remorse. Now, it seems that Orson Scott Card wants a similarly quick “forgiveness turnaround” from the GLTBQ community. But there’s one important difference: Orson Scott Card has expressed no remorse for the spiritual violence his activism has committed on millions of GLTBQ people and those who love them; instead, he’s simply decided to “let it go.” This is not enough. We have been “tolerating” homophobes forever — when was the last time you heard of gay people committing “hate crimes” against the people who spread hatred toward them? Despite fear rhetoric to the contrary, GLTBQ people have never tried to take away the rights of homophobic people — they just don’t want their homophobia imposed on secular institutions. That is tolerance, and those of us who support GLTBQ rights have been doling it for years. Orson Scott Card can have my “tolerance,” but he cannot have my respect, my admiration, or my money.

In Orson Scott Card’s crusade against homosexuality, he has committed a grave evil, just as Ender Wiggin has. The difference is that Ender immediately feels acute remorse, whereas Orson Scott Card seems to feel a smidgen of embarrassment. Asking for tolerance is not enough. To truly redeem himself, he must ask for forgiveness.


A Year in the Life, Week 13: Quarterly Review

August 1, 2013

Last week’s A Year in the Life exercise was to give myself a quarterly review about my successes and shortcomings as a journal keeper, in direct response to my conditions of hiring at the beginning of this project. My supervisor and I 😉 pretty much see eye-to-eye on things, so I’m looking forward to improvement in the next quarter (OK, and I’m a little nervous about keeping a commitment to improving as well.)

Read the rest of this entry »

5 Ways Marriage has Improved my Writing

October 8, 2012

I was terrified of getting married. I’ve always placed a high premium on my independence, and I think part of that was to protect my writing. Relationships take time and energy — and any time and energy given elsewhere is time and energy taken away from writing. I’d seen relationships where one’s significant other actively interfered with their beloved’s passion. In college, a writer friend of mine was dating a girl who scorned his writing, making it something he had to do almost in secret. My sister dated several men who were “jealous” of the devotion she had to her passion, horses, because it meant time spent away from them. When my mom got married, she gave up her horses because there wasn’t a place for them on my dad’s farm. Being single allowed me to avoid this quagmire of competing passions.

I also had a semi-conscious belief that intimate relationships were a liability in my dream to become a writer. I thought loneliness was part of my calling. It was not for me to engage intimately with others, but to observe; to ponder; to record. If I got swept up in a love affair of my own, so much of my creative energy would go in that direction, and I wanted that energy for writing. (There’s a belief that sexual energy and creative energy exist on the same chakra, and perhaps being raised Catholic contributed to my idea that celibacy was the best life path if I wanted to devote myself wholly to my creativity.) If I got caught up in my own life, it might wipe clean the dozens of lives I imagined in my head, each of them providing a different outlet for all the things I wasn’t experiencing on my own. If I was close to someone to whom I could pour out my soul, how many pages in my journal would be left empty? I wanted to live many lives, not just one. And so I held back from living my own, from carving out a singular path that would close off other options, and thus, close off a bit of imaginative possibility.

When Ivan and I were still dating, we watched Phoebe in Wonderland, a movie about a little girl with Tourette’s syndrome and OCD tendencies whose family, especially her mother, struggles to accept her illness. The mother in the movie is a writer — and as the movie progresses, we discover that a significant part of her internal struggle is caused by the tension she feels between her responsibilities as a wife and mother, and her desire to write. Ivan asked, “Are you afraid having a family will interfere with your writing?”

I said, “Yes.”

We didn’t speak of it further than that, but the fact that that fear was out in the open meant that I no longer faced it alone. And after the dust settled from the wedding and the honeymoon and the move, I found that the opposite of my fear has come true. Marriage allowed me to focus more on my writing than I’ve ever been able to before because …

  1. Two people means two incomes, which means if I make a little less money per week because I’m doing a little more writing, the lights will stay on and I won’t starve.
  2. Two people means shared chores, which also frees up more time for writing. I still do a fair amount of dishes and laundry, which offer prime daydreaming time.
  3. My husband has dreams of his own. As the co-founder of Coppergoose.com, and as someone who works full-time in addition to pursuing his own business, he needs time while he’s “off” to devote to developing the site. This benefits my writing in two ways: First, seeing him pursue his passion goads me into giving the same sort of attention to mine. Second, when he’s wrapped up in Coppergoose work, it’s a prime time for me to get some writing done. In particular, he takes a half-day off every Friday to devote to Coppergoose. I’ve begun doing the same, using that time to focus on research and development related to my writing, something that was usually on the back burner so that I could use all my writing time for actually, well, writing.
  4. He’s an additional reader, which means additional feedback. I often read acknowledgments by authors in which they mentioned a spouse as a first reader and valued critiquer, and I always hoped that I could someday have such a marriage relationship. Last week, Ivan finished reading my most ambitious novel, then gave me 45 minutes of “big picture” feedback that I’m still mulling over — and he brings the novel up occasionally when additional feedback strikes him. He’s not another writer, which means his feedback is pure reader feedback. This is a good compliment to my writers’ group feedback, which comes from their dual perspectives as writers and readers.
  5. Most importantly, I now live with someone who cares about me reaching my dream as much as I do. Ivan doesn’t often ask me what I’m writing, and he doesn’t give me the kind of accountability that my writers’ group or my writer friends do when they ask about progress on specific projects. But he does ask me, particularly when I’m stressed or overwhelmed, “Are you getting enough time for writing?” Fortunately, the answer has not been no yet — but I know that if it ever is, I’ll have someone to help me correct that.

I’m not about to advocate marriage as a “solution” to any writer’s woes (or as a solution to anything, really). Unlike many people, I don’t see being alone as the worst possible outcome, but being with someone to whom I’m ill-suited. I still think that the single life provides particularly fertile ground for writing, especially if you have the self-discipline to make the most of that freedom and alone time. I was incredibly fortunate that, before Ivan, I had friends who stayed up past their bedtimes to read my drafts and who asked, “When am I going to get another Lacey story?” So while I don’t advocate marriage for the sake of writing, I do know this: writing can be lonely. If you have people in your life who truly care about you reaching your goals, who see writing as a worthy pursuit even if it’s just “for the sake of writing,” who ask you when your next draft will be ready or whether you’re getting enough time for writing, keep those people in your life. And if you are going to balance an intimate relationship with your dream of writing, you could certainly do worse than having it be with one of those people.

The Next Big Writer?

September 10, 2009

I’ve just discovered another website for writers, The Next Big Writer. At first glance, the site seems a lot like WeBook. It’s another online community where members can post any type of writing to get feedback from other writers and readers. It holds frequent contests for (smallish) cash prizes and publication. It boasts that many of its writers have gone on to achieve book contracts, mostly with small presses.

I’m not sure exactly what I think of The Next Big Writer. It charges a fee of about $8 a month for the right to use the private site, claiming that because the site is private, you won’t give away “first rights” to your work as publishers consider you to have done if you publish your work publicly on the Internet (I’d like to do more research to see if publishers really do view self-published Internet work this way). It also works on a credit system. In order to post work, you need credits. You  get credits by reviewing other people’s work–or you can buy credits.

In perusing their books that have been published, I don’t recognize many of the publishers, but they do have the look of self-published work. Some of them have been published by BookSurge, Amazon.com‘s self publishing arm. Part of their publication “prize packages” for some contests includes a publishing package with BookSurge. So essentially, the author is getting a publishing package from a self-publisher for free, but it’s not exactly the same as a publishing contract with Random House.

I’m also a little suspicious of the pay-to-use/work-to-use set up. I think the credit system makes sense so that you don’t have members who take from the community without ever giving anything back. But pairing the credit system with a user fee seems to provide a few too many “gates” to site usage: you have to pay to post your work, but paying isn’t enough to post your work. You need to work to post your work, too. It’s sort of like college, where you pay to work.

I wanted to take a peek at some of the posted work, but I couldn’t without a paid account, so I’m not sure of the quality level (it says writers of ALL levels are welcome, but the typical writing quality can reveal a lot about how serious the users of a certain site are about writing). At any rate, I think I’d explore WeBook for Internet critiques first, if for no other reason than it’s free. But I am a strong believer in the importance of workshopping your writing, and I think that any site like The Next Big Writer is bound to turn out a few writers who come out more proficient than they went in. That speaks to the value of critiques themselves, not necessarily to the value offered in the particular site.

If You Love Poetry (or even if you don’t)

July 30, 2009

Tomorrow, July 31, is the last chance to submit poetry to WEbook’s Poetry Vote. Even if you don’t submit poetry, WEbook is worth checking out for the writers’ community it provides. When I put a few of my poems up, I didn’t expect to get much feedback on them, since I didn’t have time to really develop my relationship with the community there. Plus, the community is HUGE, and I suspected my poems would get lost amidst so much writing. But I received several comments, suggesting that this community really does what it says it does — connects writers with one another to improve everyone’s writing. Now that things are slowing down a bit, I plan to return the favor by leaving feedback on a few pieces.

If you DON’T love poetry, there’s a place for you, too. WEbook is teaming up with Level 4 Press for an upcoming anthology called “I hate poetry.” Even if you aren’t a WEbook member, you can submit your writing directly to Level 4.

Amateur Writers — Who, us?

July 15, 2009

Every morning, I read publications for writers before I come here. This morning, I read an article in The Writer about writer’s block that advised writers not to share unfinished work with their writers group, proclaiming that sharing such work would simply lead to “the blind leading the blind.”

Whoa. On behalf of my writers group and writers groups everywhere, I felt affronted. Now, the author of the article happens to be a professional story analyst–someone who gets paid to critique authors’ work. Methinks she had a tad bit of personal interest in writers not finding good writing groups. I also get paid to critique other people’s work, but I wouldn’t wish lack of a writers’ group on anyone. In fact, after my move, I’m going to make my best efforts to return here once a month so I can continue working with my group. Here’s why:

Although the writers in my group may not be professional editors, they are readers who are experienced in my genre. Not only that, but they bring something to the table most casual readers don’t: an understanding of what goes on “behind the scenes” when writing. That means that they don’t passively read; they read with an eye to how you crafted the story, and how they could envision it differently. And no matter what anyone tells you, agents, editors, and “story analysts” are really just glorified readers. If you want to improve your writing, having readers is the first step.

Unfortunately, most fledgling authors don’t have a ton of readers. This can make it all-too-easy to get mired in self-doubt or self-aggrandizement. It can also reduce any sense of accountability.  A writers’ group expects you to have written something new before the next meeting. It gives you feedback when you feel totally stuck. It can give you the motivation to go on, knowing that somebody out there wants to see what happens next. It can also give you a new way to envision your story, making you more likely to rewrite or refocus and less likely to abandon your work.

If someone were simply to listen in on our writers’ group to try to glean some pearls of writing wisdom, they’d likely leave frustrated and confused. One moment, we’re telling a writer that she’s said too much, telling the readers “what we already know.” The next minute, we’re pressing her to include MORE details or to make the connection between events more explicit. There isn’t a single writing rule that applies all the time (i.e.: always give lots of details; always be subtle; always be explicit). It’s all about context — and the only way to truly get the context is to be a reader.

Now, there is something to be said for not letting your writers group dictate your life (or your story). I think the bit of (misguided) advice about not showing your work to “amateurs” may be rooted in a belief that “amateurs” will give bad advice and steer you wrong. But as a writer, it’s YOUR job to work through the feedback and decide what will steer you right, what will steer you wrong. Sure, you might get feedback with which you disagree (consider it carefully anyway), and you might decide to ignore it. That’s both your perogative, and your duty: you must stay true to the story you’re telling. Ultimately, you’re NOT selling your story to your writers group, and therefore, you have no obligation to make the changes they suggest. You can disregard the advice that isn’t helpful — just as I’ve blithely disregarded this crazy bit of advice about not sharing work with a writers group.

6 Tips on Giving a Good Critique

May 27, 2009

My writers group meets this Friday, so I’ve spent most of my writing time this week doing critiques. This has me reflecting on what makes a good critique. Below are some of the things I’ve come up with both from being a critiquer and a critique-ee*, with the disclaimer that I don’t always achieve these ideals when I give a critique.

  1. Remember that you’re there to help. As one of the first readers of a manuscript, your role  is invaluable. Everything matters — if something made you laugh, let the author know. If something confused the heck out of you, let her know that, too. As nice as it is to hear, “This is perfect, don’t change a thing!”, that’s only helpful if the manuscript really is perfect (and I’ve never read a perfect piece of writing, including published stuff).
  2. Be specific. Comments like, “Funny,” or “Sad” jotted beside certain parts of the work are specific enough if the writer can see what you refer to, and they’re helpful in letting him know whether his writing is having the desired effect. But when pointing out something that’s not working, being specific can save a writer a lot of frustration. “I don’t like this,” scribbled beside a paragraph isn’t nearly as helpful as, “I get a little lost in this section because there’s so much information crammed into each sentence.”
  3. Establish a hierarchy of concerns. Most writers won’t get every comma or capitalization right on their first draft, but don’t get too fixated on this if it’s the pacing of the action or the character development in the story that needs work. Remember that a lot of a writers’ first drafts will be rewritten, and some of those commas you’ve painstakingly inserted will be deleted and become irrelevant.  Think big picture first, then zero in on “little picture” stuff if the big picture’s lookin’ good. (Of course, you can always be like me, who tries to think big picture but compulsively inserts commas into sentences that will probably be deleted, anyway. It’s like a sickness. I can’t help it.)
  4. Use humor. My favorite part of my group’s monthly meetings is the laughter. Humor doesn’t have to poke fun at someone’s writing or be derogatory; all it takes is one critiquer’s misinterpretation of a sentence to have us wiping our eyes with laughter. Humor helps us see all the strange possibilities that exist in every arrangement of words, and  it helps us redirect our sentences toward a clarity that hopefully won’t leave our future readers scratching their heads or smirking at inappropriate times.
  5. Remember to point out what you like. Sometimes, as critiquers we get so focused on being “critical” that we forget that our job is to point out what works, too. I’m guilty of letting pages of beautifully writing go by without comment because I’m too enraptured to pick up my pen. But without making a comment about that, the writer doesn’t know whether his pages were perfect or whether I just stopped paying attention.
  6. Be kind. No matter how early the draft you’re looking at, a critique should never be needlessly harsh. I’ve learned a lot from my fellow critiquers on this one, as I used to be a pretty harsh critiquer. But remember that a writer is trusting you with something from her mind and her heart, and that producing what you hold before you was hard, gut-wrenching work. Ultimately, your writers group needs to be built on trust, and you create that trust by handling one another’s work with care and respect.

A few that didn’t make the list: read the material you’re critiquing more than once (I never have time to do this, but it’s SO helpful if you do), don’t try to edit everyone’s writing to sound like yours (let your writing be yours, and theirs be theirs), write an “overall impressions” paragraph at the end of a critique, and, of course use fun-colored pens!

* This sounds like a new species of cricket.