Dear People On The Asimov’s Boards and Elsewhere…

…who are quibbling about whether it was legal for Luke to post that rejection letter or any rejection letter, let’s get one thing straight: No one would be whining and crying about this had he published a rejection that said:

Dear Luke,

Your writing is very good, but this story isn’t right for our market. The spec element isn’t strong enough for our tastes, but you might do well to try more literary markets because I feel the story has a lot of merit.

The only reason this is upsetting to Sanders and, I assume, certain other editors, is because that letter revealed bigotry. Bigotry that Sanders assumed Luke shared with him (and he might have) and thus he felt safe expressing it. It seems to me that the only reason this would worry any other editor is if they realized that rejections they’d sent out might reveal their own bigotry in some way. That would scare the shit out of me, too. Know what? I can’t feel sympathy for you over it, though.

We can spend the next week quibbling over whether or not rejections are private correspondence and whether it’s unprofessional to post one to public or private spaces. (I don’t believe it is based on the fact that, since I’ve been a writer, writers have shared rejections, either in whole or in part, in forums relating to writing. Also, I agree with those who’ve said that once a person says truly despicable, racist things in letter form, professionalism is already off the table.) It may very well be true that, from a legal standpoint, Luke didn’t have the right to do what he did. But, again, would anyone care if it hadn’t revealed what it did?

The fact that Gardner Dozois brought up the specter of a lawsuit makes me wonder what’s hiding in his rejection letters. Why else try to scare Luke in that way? Maybe it’s just general fear on the Internet that people of his ilk seem to have. Either way, it makes me extremely dubious about Gardner and anyone else who focuses solely on the whole private/public correspondence bit and not the raging bigotry. As Celia said elsewhere, this is similar to what got David Moles in trouble with SFWA. The people in question couldn’t defend their (terribly disappointing and, in some cases, disgusting) words and opinions, so they fell back on whining about privacy.

I’ve made a man of straw, would someone like to use it?

ETA: It’s been brought to my attention in comments that Sheila Williams was the first to bring up lawsuits. I mistakenly thought it was Gardner mainly because Luke mentioned him, not Sheila. That still makes me sad, because I am still annoyed with all this focus on whether it was okay for Luke to post the rejection instead of the important issue: Sanders’ bigotry.

I also hear that people are mad because I’ve cast aspersions at (on?) Gardner Dozois. I elaborated in the comments, but basically I stand by my assertion that I am extremely wary of people who jump to “How horrible of Luke to post that letter” and not “How horrible of Sanders to say such things!” Those who do not speak out against bigotry usually do so because they are afraid/intimidated into not doing so by their peers or because they just don’t see the bigotry as being all that bad. (There are other reasons, too, these are just the ones I come across most of the time.) I have some sympathy for people who fall into the first category and absolutely none for people who fall into the second.

Daughter of ETAThis very thoughtful comment explains how, in the context of the community and rules of the Asimov’s board, this particular annoyance began.  Unless someone who actually hangs over there wishes to contradict this, I’m going to choose to believe this is how things work there.  Which means that everything is Stephen Francis Murphy’s fault.  And I have no trouble believing that.  Above when I said there might be other reasons for reacting to the “oh, ethics and copyright!” and not “arg, bigotry!”?  This appears to be one of those other reasons.  I’ll amend my opinions accordingly.

51 thoughts on “Dear People On The Asimov’s Boards and Elsewhere…

  1. Someone compared the act of publishing a letter containing hurtful and racially charged language to whistle blowing. That isn’t why this letter was initially published.

    Sheila, Jo Walton likened the publishing of the letter to whistle blowing. I do define it as an act of whistle blowing. Why do you not consider it to be that?

  2. Sheila: I’d just like to attest to this part “letters were filled with good humor, encouragement, and insightful suggestions”. I cannot recall anyone who was as kind or as interesting in rejection as Gardner, and I know that you’ve continued that tradition.

  3. Tempest, for close to twenty years, Gardner Dozois periodically handed me stacks and stacks of rejection letters to read through and organize so that I could field queries and be aware of what his editorial decisions were. While the letters were filled with good humor, encouragement, and insightful suggestions, never once did I come across one that I perceived to have a hint of bias against anyone’s race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. We’ve always published stories on the edge of “acceptable fiction” and as such, we’ve been accused of promoting everything from bestiality to war mongering. Complaints come in saying that our stories promote pacifism, that we have too much religion in our stories and not enough religion, that too many stories are about gays and lesbians, that not enough stories are about gays and lesbians, that our stories are pornographic, that our stories aren’t pornographic enough to warrant any warning of any kind, and just about any other complaint you can imagine and some you’d never even think of until you saw the letters. I think this is possible because, like the founder, the editors at Asimov’s (including myself), have been in favor of tolerance, even if that leads to many opposing viewpoints. Gardner and I, however, have never been supportive of intolerance, either. While we’ve run stories that may have depicted difficult, unsympathetic, and sometimes vile characters, our stories have not advocated racism, sexism, homophobia, or cultural and religious intolerance. I don’t engage in that sort of language or hold to those viewpoints in my personal or my professional life and they certainly don’t show up in my rejection letters.

    My discussion of the copyright issue has, to some extent, been taken out of context. Separate to this discussion, a number of people seemed to be unaware of the copyright protections that extend to our correspondence. After too many years of figuring out whether I can run letters, song lyrics, poetry, and homages in Asimov’s, I’ve become more of an expert on the subject than I ever set out to be. I’ve deeply admired a number of people who have engaged in civil disobedience, but I considered those people brave because they knew they were breaking a law and were prepared to deal with the consequences. Someone compared the act of publishing a letter containing hurtful and racially charged language to whistle blowing. That isn’t why this letter was initially published. It is a very good point, though, and it is why many subsequent discussions have arisen. Many people have resolved that they would publish such letters in full knowledge of the law. Doing so can be considered akin to civil disobedience’s noble tradition, but it is certainly much braver to take such actions wittingly than without the realization that, while perhaps remote, there could be legal consequences.

    1. Shiela, I don’t think there is a need here to defend whether Gardner has engaged in hate speech in his rejection letters. I read Tempest’s statement as just a hypothetical among hypotheticals she threw out there to query why Gardner was engaging issues of copyright instead of the issue of hate speech here. Tempest has apologized above and has taken the site climate explanation as an answer.

      I’m not quite so satisfied because the raising of the issue of copyright here still falls into a very common problem I’ve seen time after time in discussions of racism and sexism. It’s a distraction from the issue at hand and derails the focus on the problem of racism and sexism. After all, there are legal grounds to consider when hate speech is issued in a professional context, so why focus on the problems with copyright here instead? Why address the copyright issue and not the problem with the racist speech here?

  4. Tasmia, I think you need a refresher on math, specifically percentages and probability. Yes, Gardner has been in the field longer than Tempest. That’s no basis whatsoever for guesses about the “percentage of bigotry” in each of their correspondence (whether or not we limit the discussion to business correspondence related to sf and fantasy).

    If I have three times as many shirts as Jo, that doesn’t mean I have a higher percentage of blue shirts. It may not even mean I have a higher number of blue shirts than she does. Conversely, if we know that she has a higher percentage of blue shirts than I do, that doesn’t tell us which of us has more actual blue shirts. It just tells us that if we each grab a shirt at random and, get dressed, she’s more likely to be wearing blue than I am.

    If none of your letters are bigoted, the percentage of bigoted letters will be 0 when you’ve only sent three letters. It will still be 0% when you’ve sent 3,000.

  5. I think some things are being taken out of context, which is I guess what happens when blogs do this kind of linking to forum threads.

    The first thing is that the person who wrote the original thread on the Asimov’s forum, S.F. Murphy aka themasterknitter, was the one who framed the thread to be about posting rejection letters in public. Murphy has a long history with the forum. In the last year, he has created a vendetta in his mind against _Asimov’s_, so his posts on the forum have become more and more incendiary and bizarre, I’m afraid to say. The title, the first post, everything in the thread, was framed in the manner that it was about the rejection letter being published online. He was also using it as an excuse to simultaneously attack Luke (the writer who posted the rejection letter) since he disagrees with Luke’s politics and doesn’t get along with him AND to blast a group that he sees as an overly PC people who attack editors. He hates Tempest from previous interactions and so that is why he has picked on her out of all of the responses to focus on. In an earlier thread about the Strahan anthology, he pushed Dave Truesdale’s political buttons which got Truesdale going on Tempest in the previous thread, which easily migrated to this new thread. This is a poster who has burned almost all his bridges on the forum, and he wants to burn all of them. As almost the entire forum either is at odds with him or in a position of scratching their heads/pitying the path he has chosen, I don’t think it would be fair to say he represents the forum.

    Secondly, the thread was also published for quite some time in the section of the forum that is *NOT* the Political/Religious section. Most regular posters on the forum were responding to the original topic as forum rules dictate, avoiding the political issue and responding only to the copyright issue for that reason. As a regular poster, I actually expected there to be another topic created in the Political Section regarding the actual content of the letter. (Of course, what eventually happened was the original thread inevitably became political and was moved to that section.) Both Williams and, afterwards, Dozois were responding within that capacity to specific questions that writers were asking about the legality of posting rejection letters. They were trying to help and encourage new writers in the field. Nothing sinister should be seen in that.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that there are a number of us on the forum who try to purposefully avoid the Political/Religious section of the forum and also any threads that are going to end up with people flaming, cursing, insulting, or otherwise talking crazy at each other. I could see how to an outsider that silence in certain threads on the forum might seem to be acceptance, but over the years many of us have discovered that responding merely feeds certain posters’ hatred and delusions and causes them to post it more. There are also a number of posters who will not respond to specific posters AT ALL any more, so even if one of those posters is on a thread, they might ignore offensive posts or posts that they disagree with. I am starting to move in that direction with some posters. Are we creating a dangerous culture of silence? Perhaps unintentionally we are, and perhaps we need to be aware of it. But on the other hand, regulars on the forum KNOW that lack of response from some of our most respected posters is often a message–it means that those respected posters don’t think the post *deserves* a measured response. Alternately, in some cases it might mean that posters are willing to discuss books and favorite foods online on the forum, but they will avoid at all costs threads and topics that they know will become flame wars.

    I’m going to be crossposting this on Tempest’s and Tobias Buckell’s blog in the comments section (assuming it is approved).

    1. E. Thank you for explaining all of that. Not being a regular of that board, I’m perfectly willing to accept that the community and stuff has evolved in such a way in reaction to Murphy and Truesdale. And if the rules state that things need to be kept strictly to topic like that (and I can see why) then yeah, that explains a lot. And it also makes me roll my eyes at Murphy more, because that means it’s essentially his fault.

    2. *Applause*

      Thanks, E. Well said.

      The problem with Asimov’s is the lack of moderation that allows the sort of thing S.F. Murphy has been doing recently.

  6. I agree. It’s astonishing that people are focusing on the ethics of revealing the contents of the email.

    If it’s a choice between

    (a) revealing private correspondence to the public


    (b) Making blatant racist slurs

    I know which I find more unprofessional and unethical. As far as I’m concerned, I treat email as private. But if somebody sends me that kind of shit, all bets are off.

  7. I have a feeling Dozois was disgusted in general but wanted to ruffle as few feathers as possible and so fell back on the ‘hush, legal is watching you’ tactic. I honestly can’t see him doing the same kind of thing Sanders did.

    1. No, I don’t think there are any sheet head comments hidden in some long lost Asimov’s rejections. But there may be some things said that Gardner would want to be private about. And hey, with paper submissions it’s a safe bet they’ll stay that way. But as Luke has pointed out to us, there are plenty of things that a person might write to another person that they feel shares something with them — a worldview, a dislike, a whatever — that they might balk at saying or having it exposed to someone outside of that sphere.

      1. And I’d be guilty of that myself, God knows.

        You said yourself you were building up a straw man, so I can’t that you’re being too–what’s the word I want?–incensed about Gardner, et al.; just giving people something to think about.

        Considering the heinous and off the wall things people have said about other editors, what you’ve put on the table as food for thought is mild.

        1. You said yourself you were building up a straw man, so I can’t that you’re being too–what’s the word I want?–incensed about Gardner, et al.; just giving people something to think about.

          Do you realize that you’re the ONLY person who seems to have gotten that?

          1. That’s cause I’m fucking amazing.

            With my herbal tea and cats and meditation, and shit. *eye roll*

            You’ve taught me a lot. Most of the time I do try to shut my mouth so my ears can open.

  8. I suppose we could set that one on fire.

    You have no way to prove that your own correspondence contains no bigotry, either.

    On probability, given Dozois will have sent tens of thousands of rejections, contracts, other mail over the decades – and you are what, a new, not very good writer that has done pretty much nothing?

    Given his volume compared to yours, it is much more likely you have a higher percentage of bigotry, in fact. ;-)

    1. *snerk* Yeah, that’s me, new and not very good. And doing nothing! I’m just a lazy negro, obviously. But I’m pretty confident that none of my business correspondence contains any bigotry. Mostly cuz I’m not a bigot. It follows.

  9. I have to say, Tempest, I have a real problem with “people of his ilk.” To what “ilk” do you think Gardner belongs?

    1. Bill — old guard SF folks. There seems to be a high incidence amongst that crowd of fearing/distrusting/not understanding the new technologies or the communities and practices that go with him. Sorry, didn’t mean to make it sound like I was lumping Gardner in with, I dunno, puppy kickers or something.

  10. Also, this also explains a heck of a lot why you get such flat and undimensional and characterless characterizations in mainstream published fic – if the editors are actually *praising* flat, unmotivated villain-portrayal as superior!?!? “No, son, your story isn’t good enough for us – but AWESOME JOB on the cardboard depiction of your bad guy! If only we had more writers courageous enough to use 2-dimensional stereotypes of EEEBOL, like back in the glorious days of ‘Red Dawn’–!”

    Ahahahahhaa!!! You’re right, bellatrys–that does explain it pretty clearly.

  11. No, if you read what I wrote, what I said was that I find it unethical to publish the contents verbatim without approval of the author.

    And again, I don’t see why this would be so, and I don’t see that you’ve given any reason for it. I understand that it squicks you out, but that’s not a logical argument.

  12. Your second post actually makes no sense in the context of this discussion.

    Colleen, did you actually read the rejection letter?

  13. Bellatrys –

    No, if you read what I wrote, what I said was that I find it unethical to publish the contents verbatim without approval of the author.

    (Top post) “It is highly unethical to post any correspondence without approval, no matter what the content.”

    (Sixth post)
    “I do have a problem with posting online anything verbatim that is included in a professional or personal email correspondence without approval.”

    Everyone has a different code of personal ethics. This crosses my personal line for online conduct, that’s all.

    Your second post actually makes no sense in the context of this discussion.



  14. Also, this also explains a heck of a lot why you get such flat and undimensional and characterless characterizations in mainstream published fic – if the editors are actually *praising* flat, unmotivated villain-portrayal as superior!?!? “No, son, your story isn’t good enough for us – but AWESOME JOB on the cardboard depiction of your bad guy! If only we had more writers courageous enough to use 2-dimensional stereotypes of EEEBOL, like back in the glorious days of ‘Red Dawn’–!”

    It’s kind of the flip side of what BetaCandy’s been posting about recently at Hathor Legacy about being told, as a professional scriptwriter, that she HAD to write women and minorities as minor characters, and that she had to write women only talking about men, for her screenplays, because otherwise “audiences” wouldn’t want to see them…

  15. But since when is publishing business correspondence unethical?

    ISTR a very funny book at Barnes & Noble a few years ago where the entire content of it was nothing but letters sent, and received, with some commentary, by this guy whose shtik was sending crank letters to companies and seeing if they’d respond seriously. (Frex, one that sticks out in my memory was his request for specs to Sikorsky explaining that he needed an aircraft for what was obviously a drug-trafficking business – had to be stealthy, powerful, capable of having armaments mounted, blah blah blah – and what would they recommend from their product lines?)

    Which is a lot of what Jesus’ General does, too – writing to (in his case) cranks in their official capacity, tongue-in-cheek but straight-faced, and then posting any replies on his blog.

    If you’re engaged in official correspondence, as an official of an organization, “this is personal & never should be repeated” doesn’t seem to apply, to me. I would never expect anyone to hold sacred & inviolable any official letters I sent, whether on paper or via email, if I were ever part of an organization, let alone head.

    It’s not like you’re making your confession under the sacramental Seal here. Even the claim that no one can ever discuss the contents of a personal letter is pushing things a bit – there are reasonable expectations, but since when has “Look, dearest Elinor, at his lines to me and tell me what construction you place upon them? Am I mad, to think poorly of him for saying thus-and-so?” been verboten?

    Plus by this logic, the whole tradition of the “Eye of Argon” readings, and editors/slush readers sharing similar “gems” between each other, is just as “unethical”…

    (As someone only vaguely aware of Helix before this, and of Sanders not at all, I have to say this is all illuminating, and not in a good way. The fact that he’s been like this, and especially nasty to women, in public, at cons etc, for many years – and yet has defenders among his peers says a lot; the fact that Luke would assume from the combined fact of his position and his statements that they’re both “white men” is also illuminating. But there is no such thing as the Old Boy’s Club, oh no. And no bias in editorial choices, either!)

  16. I have no problem with the discussion of the content of the rejection online; discuss away. I discuss the content of query letters online quite often without getting specific or quoting from them. I also have no problem going directly to the originator of the email if I have a problem with the content.

    I do have a problem with posting online anything verbatim that is included in a professional or personal email correspondence without approval. Doing so is as unethical as the racist comments included in said rejection letter.

    I get a lot of queries that contain homophobia and hate-speech – I ALWAYS write back and call the author on it. But it isn’t my place to post even portions of those emails publicly, no matter how pissed off they get me.

  17. You called it spot on. God gods, quite a few racist apologists there, and even names I know. Yay for Micole for wading in there.

    And yeah, you wonder what these folks are writing as editors when they want privacy, except seeing the comments, maybe there’s nothing to wonder at.

    I don’t write something in a professional capacity if it isn’t work I’d be proud for anyone to see, and that goes for every comment I’ve made on student papers. You shouldn’t be editing if you want your editorial work kept private. The only person who could understandably want privacy is the aspiring writer being criticized until their professional armor hardens.

    Yay for using copyright to give safe harbor to racists, sexists, and homophobes who are afraid of getting caught. Where is the professional concern about the content of editorial comments?

    And no, “sheet heads” does not specify only terrorists–it is a bigoted term used to demean any Muslim wearing a head covering, and by extension and conflation, all Muslims and Arabs.

    It’s nice how they don’t give a damn how unsafe they make this publishing environment for POC.

  18. My presumption with rejections is that they OFTEN get passed along. I have seen multiple writer’s boards, where rejections get posted word for word as part of the reporting in process. Often editor rejections are quoted at crit groups as though they were the Word of God.

    Saunders made a mistake and thought someone was a member of his nasty little bigots club and so he could speak freely. This happens periodically — the sister in law who gets astonished that you call her on it when she says something about Asians, the guide who feels free to drop the N-word, and god only knows how often the feminist equivalent happens.

    Rejections and submissions are professional correspondence. I’m not real fond of people posting the latter, but I certainly consider the former fair game and a way of sharing market information.

  19. Although I think it’s right and fair to come down hard on Sanders for his bigotry, and while I agree that all this sturm und drang over copyright comes across as a weak effort to turn attention away from the real issue, I have to say it’s unfair to cast doubt on Dozois and stir suspicions about “what’s hiding in his rejection letters” based on his comments on that thread. He was simply stating the facts as he knew them; and it was Sheila Williams who raised the legal issue first, not Dozois. We should leave conjecture and unfounded argument to the righties (I think they’ve patented them, anyway :) ).

    1. hehee! You may be right that Sheila brought it up first. I saw Gardner do so first, but I have not exhaustively poked at that thread since so much of it makes me want to pop a cyanide pill. Perhaps I am a cynic, but it’s been my experience that when people overreact to situations like this, it’s because they, even if subconsciously, have a fear that it could happen to them. If I thought any of my rejection letters were in danger of winding up on the internet, that would not cause me a moment’s panic.

      1. (I may have a gardner rejection posted on the internet. But shhhhhh don’t tell him.)

        Also, the thread, which i linked to in one of bear’s comments, is mild–it’s basically, “This [posting] is a horrible thing to do.” Shelia brings it up first, Gardner makes a comment about Sanders having the right to sue over it. Which is probably true, since well, it’s the US. You can sue over anything.

        1. Ah, well that makes me sad because I don’t want to have bad thoughts about Sheila. then again, I guess I’m not prone to assume she’s said something in a rejection letter she would be ashamed of if brought to light. With Gardner I wouldn’t make that assumption. It may have been wrong for me to jump to that conclusion, but I still did for my own reasons. I have been known to be wrong, as demonstrated here! :)

          1. Well, her comments in Moles’s post about posting rejection letters in general do mitigate her comments in the Asimovs board, to a degree, so if you haven’t stopped by there in a while, you might swing back by. (Your BFF SFMurphy is attempting to start a new slapfight there, though–don’t go read them if you’re in a pissy mood.)

          2. Yeah, I saw that. Murphy loves to hate on me, for sure. I dunno, maybe he’s hoping by doing so Truesdale will finally love him more than he so obviously loves Jed.

            And yes, Sheila’s commentary on that thread does make me feel less inclined to be annoyed with her about the issue. But then, I have a good opinion of her in general.

  20. I forget the blog on which I read it on, but Jo Walton likened this situation to “whistle-blowing.”

    It’s kind of upsetting (and amusing, in a twisted way) that some people are just glossing over the racial epitet like it was nothing. A couple of people have said, “It was an unfortunate choice of words.”

    1. Yeah, it is very much like reactions to whistle blowing. The person doing the whistling is considered to be in a greater wrong than the wrong they pointed out. Some eff’d up logic there. =/

    1. Colleen, it’s also highly unethical to be a bigot. And at this point, I’m willing to take the heat for any breach of ethics that exposes bigotry. That’s not why Luke did it, I know. But still.

        1. yay threads!

          I don’t think two wrongs applies here. When “ethics” helps to perpetuate bigotry, then it’s not ethical. period. This is how bigotry has flourished for, well, ever. Hiding behind the skirt of ethics does no one any good except those who benefit from bigotry.

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