ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Weston Ochse is a former intelligence officer and special operations soldier who has engaged enemy combatants, terrorists, narco smugglers, and human traffickers. His personal war stories include performing humanitarian operations over Bangladesh, being deployed to Afghanistan, and a near miss being cannibalized in Papua New Guinea. His fiction and non-fiction has been praised by USA Today, The Atlantic, The New York Post, The Financial Times of London, and Publishers Weekly. The American Library Association labeled him one of the Major Horror Authors of the 21st Century. His work has also won the Bram Stoker Award, been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and won multiple New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. A writer of more than 26 books in multiple genres, his military supernatural series SEAL Team 666 has been optioned to be a movie starring Dwayne Johnson. His military sci fi series, which starts with Grunt Life, has been praised for its PTSD-positive depiction of soldiers at peace and at war. Weston likes to be called a chaotic good paladin and challenges anyone to disagree. After all, no one can really stand a goody two-shoes lawful good character. They can be so annoying. It's so much more fun to be chaotic, even when you're striving to save the world. You can argue with him about this and other things online at Living Dangerously or on Facebook at Badasswriter. All content of this blog is copywrited by Weston Ochse.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Man of Two Tribes (On the HWA and SFWA)

I've joined a new tribe. I haven't left my old one, mind you, but I now have a new tribe. I'm double tribed and people are laughing at me for being that way.

Paula Guran wrote a controversial essay for Locus about ten years ago called Tribal Stand. At the time I was a member of the Horror Writers Association and many of our tribal members took affront at much of what she said. After all, she was questioning our professionalism. She was questioning or talent. She was flinging words around that hurt.

Thanks in large part to the networking capacity of the Internet, the wannabes could, for the first time, easily find their peers. The Net also was an efficient way to set oneself up as a false writing idol. The mud-whiners were, to the wannabes, "real writers" to be looked up to and listened to. The wannabes and the mud-whiners found great strength in one another.

But I never had a problem with what she said, nor in the way she said it. I appreciated the introspective look, especially on the eve of the advent of new publishing technologies and new distribution methods.

One new catalyst the bad seeds of dark fiction used to sap the strength from horror: the onslaught, in the late 1990s, of new ways to "publish." The Web provided newbies — and nascent fan-writers rungs below even them in ability — a quick, cheap way to declare themselves. [Let it be noted that this writer benefited directly and to a far greater degree than most from becoming a "Web-writer." But that is another subject.] Then CD-ROM, print-on-demand, and other self-service options easily allowed the "publication," so to speak, of work that never had to pass muster before a real editor. Neither these new "writers," nor their "editors," had to meet any sort of Standard at all.
Out of this has emerged what we might call the "miniscule press." The primary fallacy — "anybody can be a writer" — has exacerbated into "anybody can be a publisher." Miniscule horror press consists in part of what we used to call self-publishing or vanity publishing. In part it promotes the Publishing Buddy System: A buddy of yours becomes your publisher; you become your buddy's publisher. No one ever has to deal with an editor's opinion, judgment or, for that matter, assistance. (Most don't even have to be slowed down by something as mundane as copy-editing.) No one has to work and re-work a story or novel and improve it to the point of acceptability. No one needs to learn the craft of writing. No one even needs to fill in plot holes the size of Lake Erie or to be told a story lacks logic or characterization or is an overdone cliché.

Paula was and is right. Although many of us sought a rubric to achieve higher standards, even more of us did not. We all had our own reasons, some selfish, some peurile, but these reasons were our own. We all have to look in the mirror in the morning and validate the things we call ourselves. For me, I needed to go the traditional route. I needed a New York publisher to tell me I was a writer. I needed international fans to tell me I was a writer. I needed college professors from England to email me and fawn over my work. I couldn't just be one because my friends said I was. What self-respecting tribe does that?

Native tribes from around the world force their young men (and sometimes women) to strike out
alone, survive something, suffer, achieve, then return before they could be called members of the tribe. Professional writing organizations have this as well. My first tribe, the Horror Writers Association (HWA), has a professionalism rubric. My new second tribe, the Science Fiction And Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), has their own professionalism rubric.  A writer has to go out on his own, write something, and have it professionally published for X amount of money before they are considered a professional. Right?

Not exactly. I'm a full-time soldier. I'm a twenty-four hour warrior for the good and hammer to the bad. I don't take time off. I'm on call 24/7. I'm the same sort of professional as I am a warrior. Being a professional is not a one time demonstration of ability. It's a lifetime commitment. It's a desire to continue and improve your own writing, as well as those within your tribe.

From time to time there's an incestuousness within tribes that prolgates an idea that skewers professionalism. It's the idea that we have to stick together. Us against them. I've seen it in military units and I've seen it in writing. It's usually because the voices of those who can't or won't be professional are louder than those who are professional.

Paula said it well here when she said--

The princes and princesses of the miniscule press read each other — as well as many in the almost-small press and the smallest of the mass market — congratulate each other, publish each other, edit each other, blurb each other, review each other, recommend each other for awards, twirl around together in an unending incestuous dance of parochialism while giving the finger to anyone who dares mention something as passé as a standard of excellence. Professionalism? You'll find more of that in any Girl Scout during the annual cookie sale.
Yes, we're talking about awards. One of the best and worst things to ever happen to writing organizations. Up front, I was awarded the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in First Novel in 2005 and I've also been a finalist for a Bram Stoker five other times. But when award season comes around, people get nasty. They point out things like, why are all the organization officers winning awards? Is it because they are that good, or is it because they get free advertising because their names are always up front and center? Or, how come they always vote for the same five people? Sure they have the name recognition, but look at my book or that book over there or this book right here.

Awards are like unicycles. They are rare, nice to have, cool to talk about, fun to ride, but not something you can sit on while actually writing.

A professional points out to members of his tribe when they were screwing up. A professional mentors and uplifts other members of his or her tribe. A professional doesn't stir the pot and walk away. A professional tries to find solutions to problems. A professional doesn't quit.

When I announced I'd joined SFWA, I got a lot of snide and sarcastic remarks. I've heard these same remarks said about the HWA. Bottom line is that I am a professional and I want to belong to professional organizations. If they have problems, then I'd like to be part of the solutions. An organization is only as good as its members.

I chose a very strict definition of tribe for the purpose of this essay, so please allow me to ease out of my rigid stance for a moment. I previously said that SFWA and HWA are tribes. While this is true, science fiction writers are a tribe. Horror writers are a tribe. Fantasy writers are a tribe. And believe it or not, writers are a tribe. SFWA and HWA are merely two socio-political-economic constructs designed to promote professionalism and to provide support to writers.

So I'm really a man of many tribes.

A tribe is only as good as its members.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do in these organizations. So far, I've created and managed HWAs Linked In Account. I've managed websites for HWA. I've arranged events, created their continuing and hightly successful round table discussion forums. I've also mentored several young writers, one of whom has gone on  to receive his PHD and another who is currently short-listed for an International Thriller Writers Award for Short Fiction (Oh yeah, I'm a member of that tribe too.).

But there's more to do.

I'm as  busy as any professional writer. I have projects stacked up for eighteen months. But these are my tribes. I have to find the time. If I can mentor a writer and write a book while stationed in Afghanistan, then there's no excuse for me. I guess I can make it happen.

So ready or not, tribes, here I am.

Just one guy trying to be a professional writer in a dog-eat-dog world.

Weston Ochse is the author of twenty books, most recently two SEAL Team 666 books, which the New York Post called 'required reading' and USA Today placed on their 'New and Notable List of 2012.' His newest novel is Grunt Life and is already in its second printing. Visit him online at www.westonochse.com

1 comment :

  1. Excellent post, Wes. Too true.

    Geoff Brown