Saturday, September 29, 2012

I Lied

I said I was going to stay out of it. That I was done with the whole ACFW kerfuffle thing.

But I lied.

Yes, I left a bunch of comments on various blogs and Facebook posts. I figure if I'm going to put my opinion out there on all those other places, I might as well summarize it here.

First, the inciting event here was the conference attendee who dressed up like a character from a Christian spec-fic book. I don't want to dwell on this, because that is the problem I'm having with the ACFW and their attitude--they keep turning back to him and screaming "security issue!"

Yes, I get that a black hoodie and mask was not appropriate attire, and in light of the theater massacre in Colorado, would definitely flag securities attention. But he WAS checked out, and proven not a threat either on his own merits or by the ACFW leadership vouching for him (I have heard it both ways). But either way, security was satisfied and the guy was asked to change because his outfit was not dressy. Crisis over. And anyone on the spec-fic side who can't be at least understanding of the security concern, at least when the guy was first sighted, needs to rethink their stance. Not to mention, this poor guy has got to feel awful at this point!

Side note--one respected ACFW member attended in a t-shirt and was not asked to change.

So, now security is happy, but the  ACFW is still not. Two other guys were asked to remove simple hand coverings. One being a snug-fitting pair of werewolf gloves and the other being a homemade cyborg arm. Both guys were in full compliance with the "Sunday best to formal" rule as they wore suits and ties.

This would NOT be an issue at all folks, had ACFW not allowed costumes in years past--even encouraging them if they were "historical" in nature. You will find women in full-on Victorian garb and hoop skirts. They are dressing in a way that is representative of their writing, and some of the speculative fiction writers have taken their cue from those other authors and decided to join in the fun.

One gentleman dresses as Jean-Luc Picard each year. No, he wasn't asked to leave, but after I made a comment on the ACFW calling their actions a reflection of a double-standard, a member emailed me and told me he was creeped out by the man dressed as Picard and thought security should have flagged him as well.

The conference director also emailed me and said she had "received the 100+ emails from those who were in attendance and quite frankly, were offended and taken aback by certain people's attire that truly was inappropriate. Had this been a costume party or "come as your character" ball, there might not have been such the heightened security.  But it was listed as a semi-formal to formal event."

So, she pulled that card, saying herself that this is NOT a costume ball and the attendees are NOT supposed to be coming dressed as characters. This, to me, is back-pedaling. All of a sudden, costumes aren't in the rule books, but it's been a tradition for years. The problem is that a group of people are following ACFW's lead in a way they don't approve of, so not they are pretending that these historical costumes are normal formal wear.

And let me say right now, that YES, any costumes going into the gala should fall under the "semi-formal to formal" category. But the dividing line in the ACFW's mind seems to be real people of real history formal. Not futuristic military formal or alternate world medieval formal. Or, yes, werewolf and cyborg formal.

But the ACFW director's email also said, "I didn't notice anyone trying to go to an agent or editor appointment dressed up....according to the emails I've received from many agents and editors, that would have hurt someone's professional reputation in the industry." My response to that was, "And you're right--it would probably hurt someone's credentials if they showed up at an editor meeting in costume, but they didn't. This shows that we DO have a sense of what is appropriate." (And if she saw no offenders in that area, why bring it up?)

So, some still say the line should be drawn. No "monster" costumes, or even accessories. That those things go too far. There is a part of me that began to doubt my stance because of those statements. Maybe a set of monster hands somehow negates the dressiness of a Sunday best suit and tie.

But what has recharged me is the accusation that "we are setting ourselves apart." We're fostering the idea that we are oddballs who can't be taken seriously.

Wait. Hold the dang phone.

First, could I not say the same thing about the women in petticoats and bustles?

Second, this was NOT an attempt to segregate ourselves or showcase our weirdness and inability to fit in. It was actually, as I see it, an attempt to join into an established tradition and find common ground with authors we don't share much in common with genre-wise.

Third, it wasn't done to disparage the historical costumers. The spec-fic crowd saw the historical romance crowd dressing up and thought, "Wow, how cool! Me too!"

But the speculative community's attempts to meld into the CBA and ACFW seem to always be met with resistance and eyed with distrust. We are not understood.

Ya'll know I've blogged about this before. My take is to leave the CBA writers alone and definitely not try to change them or force them to accept us. I've defended the ACFW writers multiple times to my own fellow spec-fic authors. I think this whole genre war is STUPID.

But, to me, this incident is representative of the ACFW's refusal to share the same courtesy.

I'm tiring of the false acceptance. I am an active member of the ACFW Yahoo loop. Guess how many speculative fiction authors post on that loop? Pretty much NONE. We have our own "speculative" loop as well. Guess how much activity that's gotten? Again, pretty much none. The ACFW speculative Facebook page? Same thing.

Most Christian speculative writers don't bother with the ACFW because they know they don't fit and aren't wanted. Some say we're being paranoid, crying "conspiracy." And at heart, I do understand how a lot of speculative writers may misinterpret signals because they are used to and are expecting to be made an outcast. But that's only a certain subset. Many of the Christian spec-fic authors are highly social and professional, fitting in with people in every other aspect of their lives, yet STILL feel discriminated against by the ACFW.

Don't get me wrong, either. Not all ACFW members are prejudiced against spec-fic writers. I got several supportive emails from members, one in particular a historical writer, who said they see the double-standard and don't agree with it. I have made some great friends through this group.

But the bulk of the group doesn't understand or accept us. And the editors don't know what to do with our work. We try to show them. We try in many ways to say, "These are our readers." The ones in Spock ears. The ones, who at a book signing, are going to walk right past the women in petticoats and go to the table with the author wearing chain mail.

One suggestion has been made to have a separate costume party or costume night at the conference and make the gala itself a no-costume zone. Part of me thinks that idea is awesome and a great compromise. Part of me thinks the first zombie or orc that shows up to the party will kick off this whole controversy all over again.

And that's the heart of my issues with this situation. That we will always be made to feel we have to present a false front. I'm NOT talking about professionalism--I'm talking about within the confines of acceptable places to let loose. But when we try to say, okay, fine, we'll go set up our party over there and get out of everyone's way, then we're pouters. It's no-win situation.


Unknown said...

Hey, Kat. Great post! I'm new to ACFW so I haven't seen what you're talking about but I have wondered at the lack of Christian Spec fiction available for purchase. I assumed it was a lack of writers not absence of support. If ACFW isn't the place to meet with kindred spirits, what group is?


Kerry Nietz said...

Someone should totally dress as Jesus next year. Just saying...

Unknown said...

So, I wasn't at the conference, nor do I know a whole lot about the ACFW in general, but I have been reading different POVs on this fiasco from different sources, and I have to say that I'm so sick and tired of ACFW, CBA, or any other organization just completely tossing spec fic authors to the side because they don't believe that spec fic belongs in a Christian arena, or that spec fic authors are immature or unworthy because they write about aliens, ghosts, and the like.

I read Mike Duran's post on this, and as much as I agree with a majority of his posts - even if they do get a little too semantic at times - I have to say that I completely disagree with his attitude toward this whole situation. And I only bring up his particular post because after reading it a few times, I realized that it's full of a condescending attitude toward spec fic authors - both in regards to their behavior and their supposed worship toward Jeff Gierke - which I don't really see. Duran pretty much said we have Neverland mentality - which is akin to saying we never grow up.

Duran's post aside, I agree 100% that there's a stigma against spec fic authors and the content they write. Some bloggers are saying that spec fic authors have this unfounded conspiracy theory and that they decide to act cliquey at events like the one mentioned. Well, yeah, you usually do hang out with other people who share your interests, don't you? Isn't that just common sense? That's not being cliquey for the sake of being cliquey, it's just people of the same genre-writing passion trying to mingle with one another.

I'm really sad that spec fic authors really only have other spec fic authors to go to for support when it comes to injecting the Christian publishing arena with spec fic. It is a double standard, and as someone said in another post, it does feel like spec fic is the redheaded stepchild of Christian fiction, only because that's how they are treated.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Lisa--there are absolutely writers out there! The Lost Genre Guild is a great place to meet some! Email me and I'll send you the contact info!

Kerry--yeah, what would they say to that? ;)

David--I know Mike is trying to make changes from the inside, and I tend to respect his opinion on that stance. He and I have discussed it directly. But I agree, on this he's missing the point. It's not so much about the costumes as much as it is about what it represents (which I just left a comment about on his blog).

And there is spec-fic...and then there's spec-fic. His is more supernatural thriller, mine is more magic and dragons. Those are actually different subcultures within a subculture, which I think is why he's not entirely relating to this--we are different levels of geekdom and I'm trying to show him that as well.

Shawna K. Williams said...

Kat, I would also say that it's not just spec-fi writers who experience this sense of disenfranchisement. Authors with Christian books published by houses that don't subscribe to CBA guidelines have felt this too. I suppose that the ACFW is concerned that these houses standards for Christian fiction may be too lax. I think the issue is that as a Christian organization, the ACFW wants to be inclusive and accepting in order to reach new markets and readers, but then they're so scared of offending the existing ones (CBA core), they can't quite do it. And, since I suspect many hold the CBA values as their own, they don't really want to at heart.

I have an issue with this "set apart" thing. I think it's misunderstood. There's nothing inviting, encouraging or Christ-like about setting yourself apart as haughty and close-minded, and intentional or not, I fear that's the impression that's coming through.

On the flip side, I attended RT back in April. RT stands for Romantic Times and it's a conference/convention that's been going on for 26 years. Like many writers conferences, it started out appealing to a single genre, romance. However, it's now moved into everything under the sun -- and yes that includes erotica -- but it also includes fantasy, science fiction, AND Christian Fiction. This past year they made it known that CF is an market they'd like to actively include and support. I went to the conference a little nervous. What would I find there? Some of it did raise some eyebrows -- but in a funny sort of way. Everyone dressed up in costume. I have a picture of myself with a blue pirate. You know what I loved though, the genuine interest all the authors had in each other and what we wrote. I expected to get funny looks when I said I wrote Christian fiction, but I didn't. Instead I received questions from other interested authors (including the erotica ladies) and I responded in kind. I didn't leave there with a sudden desire to crank out an erotica novel. Nor did the shirtless male cover models, which I occasionally saw posing for pictures with readers cause me to run to my hotel room and engage in impure thoughts. (Had to say that as I hear this used so much as an excuse for Christians shutting themselves off). I made friends while there, learned more about the industry in classes, which were conducted very professionally btw. No one gave a seminar while wearing a thong. I came away energized and with some great ideas about how to reach new readers. And, I think that some of the other authors there came away with a better impression of the Christian Fiction. I know one CF author was seated next to a grandmotherly author of erotica at the book singing convention on the last day of the conference. They engaged in friendly conversation the whole time. The lady even wanted to read one of her books.

So now I'm rambling, but I think it all comes back to one point. The ACFW needs to decide what there mission is. Yes, I know they have a statement. I'm talking in a broader sense. Do they wish to hunker down and protect the existing, or do they wish to expand into new areas. While you should still be considerate of the other, one of these has to take priority. It's pretty clear which one currently is. And it that's their stance, then fine, but they need to state it. They can do so and still be respectful. If only historical costumes are acceptable because these costumes reflect the core values of the CBA market, than just say so. Don't make excuses for your behavior and then blame the other guy for believing in conspiracies. That's insincere, which also means it's dishonest.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Well said, Shawna!

I think that's the crux of what bugs me. They either need to open up, or firm their line. But waffling about rules, finding loopholes that allow them to exclude this but not that, and a shallow acceptance of small presses is pervasive in the ACFW.

I've tried really hard to be a part of them, but I am feeling more and more like they would rather be left alone.

Shawna K. Williams said...

Sheesh! Someone remind me to proof read my comments before posting! There=their, it=if. Yikes! What do you call them, Kat? Shypos!

Kat Heckenbach said...

Hah! I forgot about Shypos :).

Anonymous said...

Great post! Reminds me of all the denominations within the church... same good book...same God and yet the separation continues. So much could be done if we simply followed the example of Jesus and thought about His view of acceptance. God welcomes us as we are and where we happen to be. It is sad that we will not do that for one another. Blessings, Rick

Kat Heckenbach said...

Yes, Rick! A friend of mine likened it to a group of bikers that started attending her church--and she meant full-on leather vest, no sleeves, ripped jeans--but her church welcomed them.

And I get that church can be different, that it's no longer seen in many instances as a place that you have to dress up, but the gala was "formal." My stance however stands because a costume is a costume. The rules don't state that all clothing including costumes must be formal.

Headless Unicorn Guy said...

Maybe they should have tried adding an Amish Bonnet to the werewolf or cyborg hall costume?

This reminds me of the hostility of Litfans to Media fans (primarily Trekkies) in the Seventies, to Anime and Comics fans in the Eighties, and everybody's hostility to Furry fans in the Nineties. What resulted was a splitting of SF fandom into its various sub-genres and the original root (Litfans) isolating themselves in their snobbery and almost dying out.

P.S. Victorian Dresses WOULD count as "Sunday Best" because they hark back to that Godly Golden Age of the Confederate States of America. (When all women were Sweet and Winsoms and Knew Their Place and wore Amish-like Bonnets.)

Kat Heckenbach said...

I saw that same suggestion made by someone else on another blog post :).

I know there is no chance of the original group--ACFW romance and historical writers--dying out due to snobbery. But the CBA is simply not going to get the hard-core spec-fic writers if they keep demanding fantasy and sci-fi "lite". Maybe, though, that is exactly what they want.

Kristen Stieffel said...

Kat, my fantasy is extremely "lite," and I still get bubkes.

Shawna is really onto something: ACFW does seem to want it both ways -- to be seen as "inclusive" while still being inoffensive to the CBA core. Not sure that's possible.

I'm told they've actually been trying for years to discourage costumes, but of course the problem is how to define a "costume," since many think a gown of any era is still a gown, and therefore formal. But what about the guys? I mean, a girl can wear a 16th-century gown and still call it a gown, but a guy can't wear a 16-century suit and call it a suit.

Maybe ACFW just needs to be specific and firm about the dress code: formal. Black tie for gentlemen, evening gowns for ladies. They'd still have to deal with the historical gown issue and whether Randy's awesome steampunk outfit qualifies as a tux. (Before someone brings up the kilt issue: that is not a costume. That is formal wear for a Scotsman.)

Mind you, even then, tux rentals and gowns will be outside the budgets of many attendees, who are already running up credit card debt to be there. So it would be better still if the leadership would realize that you can ASK people to dress formally, but in a Christian fellowship, people's attendance is more important than their attire.

Kat Heckenbach said...

I agree, Kristen. Shawna's point is valid. And that keeps niggling at the back of my head. Why not admit that what you want is to be an exclusive group? They were originally the American Christian Romance Writers, and that mindset is still pretty firmly in place.

And to be honest, that doesn't bother me! I just don't like the monopoly they have, claiming to be "the voice of Christian fiction" when they aren't the voice of *all* of it.

I wonder--what costumes have they been trying to discourage? All of them? Or the ones that aren't historical?

Kaye Jeffreys said...

Due to computer, email, and/or internet glitches I was bumped off the main ACFW loop. Due to personal life busy-ness, I haven't gone to the trouble of figuring out how to get back on.
Thus, I missed all of this.

I guess I'm glad that I did because I simply didn't (and still don't) have the time or strength to enter into this battle.

But seeing what you have written and the comments here, I'm beginning to wonder if it is time to pull out of ACFWs.
Not because I haven't benefited from them in the past because I so have. It was through them that I found other Christian Spec Writers.

No, I'm thinking it just might be time to move on and get in more solid with people who better represent the voice of Spec Christian Fiction.

Just thinking along those lines.

Kat Heckenbach said...

I'm not against the ACFW, and I am keeping my membership. But I don't really have hopes of being anything but an outsider for a while. I've made some good friends there, and think it is important for all sorts of writing groups to exist--I get different things from different ones. But yes, I get almost nothing relating to spec-fic from ACFW. I'm trying to look to other places for support as well.

Kaye Jeffreys said...

You are right, of course.
And after I have cooled down from being angry with how my fellow specfictioners were treated at the conference, I know that what happened doesn't represent the majority of the people I have dealt with at ACFW.

In fact, I was at a small local writer's conference and recommended that a YA Historical fiction writer join up since what ACFW offers is right up her alley and could answer the questions she asked me better than I could.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Kaye, yes, the ACFW has value. It just doesn't seem to be the best place for spec-fic writers to find support. I am OKAY with that. I just wish they'd ADMIT it.

I don't expect the ACFW to have something for everyone. They need to recognize their limits, accept that they work well for a certain demographic of writer who writes for a certain demographic of reader. I would support them 100% if they did that. Not pout or whine that I'm not allowed in their club. I just don't want them saying my club's not valid if I choose to start a new one.