Witchy Writer: An Interview With Dave Butler

Today on The Logoccentric Orbit, I am interviewing Dave Butler, author of the groundbreaking Witchy War series. I won the first book, Witchy Eye, at DragonCon last year in hardcover for being a complete sci-fi nerd, and beating the tar out of my fellow panelists at Sci-Fi trivia. It is one of the best book prizes I have ever won. I strongly recommend it, and am now about halfway through the second book, Witchy Winter, which my wife and I are reading together. This led me to invite Dave Butler to do the first author interview I’ve ever hosted on my blog.

One of the things I love about the Witchy War universe is that it is incredibly detailed, with a rich history. How much research did you do for this series before writing the first book?

I tend not to do very much research specifically for my books. For these books, I did a lot of reading, but I didn’t think of it as research at the time. Let me tell you about how I came to write Witchy Eye as an example. Several things I was reading at the time came together, and from those I concocted the basic stew of this story. One of them was a work of historical anthropology called Albion’s Seed, which is a classic work of history by David Hackett Fisher. The basic argument is that we think of the immigrants [that founded the US] as being from England, but there are at least four distinct waves of immigration coming from different parts of England, each with their different dialects and cultures. Now, I didn’t read that as research, I just read it. And then, as I was trying to think of a book to write, I was reading the Brothers Grimm to my kids. And at the same time, I was reading a history of the Thirty Years’ War and realized, embarrassingly late, that the setting of the Brothers Grimm, this whimsical setting full of lords mayor and bishops who are also princes, is early modern Germany. So what eventually became the Witchy War series started out as an idea to retell the Brothers Grimm in early America. While I tend not to research specifically for a book, what I read very much informs what I write.

Hmmm. And here I was trying to figure out how NOT to ask the dreaded commonplace: “Where did you get the idea for this book?” and yet you’ve answered it anyway. How cool is that?

Along those lines, let me throw out one more piece at you. The heroine of Witchy Eye is a character named Sarah, who is 15 years old. She has one eye that has never opened, which has become a festering wound in her head, and she is called, by various characters, ‘The Witchy Eye.” My second child, when she was four months old, my brother was visiting us and noticed that her eyes were dilated to different diameters. And it turns out it was not a sign of concussion, but was in fact a harmless neurological condition in which some people’s eyes dilate at different rates. And so, from the age of four months, I have called her my witchy-eyed child.
Also, my son was born with one ear folded flat against his skull, because in utero his head was pressed up against the uterine wall. And my third child has a recessive gene on my wife’s side for very curly hair. So she has this extremely curled, white-girl ‘fro.
So these three facts about my kids are part of the basic inspiration for this story, which is fundamentally about three siblings who come to learn of each other’s existence, and each of them is marked from birth—one with a disfigured eye, one with a strange ear, and one with strange hair—because of the inheritance they have from their dead wizard father.

That’s awesome. Now, as a history teacher, I have to ask some questions stemming from my own professional geekiness, so here goes: You have created a universe, here, in which the Enlightenment never really happened. Was there anything in particular that led you to that concept?

Well, these books are often called alternate history, which is a fair thing to call them, but they’re not alternate history in the sense in which that term is usually used. In the Harry Turtledove sense, that usually means taking a moment in history I regard as pivotal, changing the outcome of that moment, and then writing a story exploring how things might have been different as a result. And that’s not this. In a way, it’s more of a cartoon. It’s rewriting the world as it is to make a lampoon of it. I try to show some things about the world that I think are interesting or important. And if there is at a moment at which the timeline diverges, it’s pretty much in the Garden of Eden. The word ‘human’ doesn’t even appear, but there are several species of human around, and one of the major themes is the struggle among them. So it wasn’t that I wanted to erase the Enlightenment, but I did want to give the Thirty Years’ War and the English Civil War a different significance. And doing so meant that Protestantism got written out…

Because those got replaced by the Serpentwars, correct?

Yes. So there are movements in the Witchy War universe that are Protestant-like, but no Protestantism, but many of those historical figures still have roles to play, such as Calvin and Robespierre showing up as lawyers, for example.

I laughed out loud when I came across “St. Thomas Paine,” as a holy figure of the Catholic Church.

I find it difficult to write pure humor, but neither can I write books that are purely humorless, so the books have a number of jokes baked into them, and some are kind of “highbrow” and some are fairly broad pop-cultural jokes.

And you just anticipated another of my questions, which was what the chief point of divergence that differentiates the Witchy War universe from our own. But I noticed that of the major figures of the Enlightenment, Newton perhaps being the sole exception, most of them have been pretty evil: Cromwell the Necromancer, the Sorcerer Robert Hooke, and so on. Was there anything about Cromwell that made you choose him as an avatar of evil? Or drove you to select Newton as the good wizard that opposed him?

Well, Newton was interested in many things that we today would call occult, and in fact when he proposed the laws of gravity, many of his peers, who were steeped in Aristotelian science, said, well, that’s action at a distance and is therefore occult. And it didn’t help that Isaac couldn’t explain WHY there was gravity, only that there was. So it’s kind of a truth to say that Isaac was one of the last great wizards in history.
As far as Cromwell goes, we tend to look at him as a force of progress, a democrat who is moving toward universal suffrage. But there are other lenses through which to see him, especially when you consider the idea of the Divine Right of Kings, which says that the king is God’s representative on the Earth. From that point of view, Oliver Cromwell is a kind of cosmic villain. He is the man willing to raise his hand to strike down the Lord’s anointed. So I wanted to use Cromwell as a cosmic figure, relating to one of the book’s themes.

In the second book, I actually use a term from Classical Egyptian, djet er nekhekh, which means “enduringly and repeatingly.” For the Egyptians, there were two kinds of eternity—that which continues indefinitely, and that which disappears, but then returns. (By the way, I make the suggestion in the books that this is an idea that comes from astronomy—in the northern hemisphere, we see some stars that never go away, and some that go away and return. So that’s my great contribution to Egyptology. We’ll see if anyone notices.) One of the themes of the books is that there are differing views of eternal life. Cromwell believes that eternal life means you never die. But some of the other forces believe that it means recurrence. Cromwell is science standing against death.

Which leads to another question: Are you going to get around to explaining the theology behind this world at any point? Like, why God might have made a different decision regarding an Earth with MANY sentient species and usable magic, as opposed to our world, in which we have a Christian theology that forbids magic entirely? And with which most readers are familiar with, at least in passing?

I don’t think I mean that to be forever a mystery. Most of the gods in this series are in fact things people could be familiar with from our world, such as pagan beliefs and Vodun. So this universe is polytheistic in that sense, but I think ultimately what you will see by the end is the ecology of a God that is rooted in the Bible but that includes not just a single God, but includes a triad of gods: Father, Mother and Child and how that includes many creatures, some of my own devising.

And are the Heron King, Peter Plowshare and Simon Sword, completely your own creations, or do those have a basis in history of which I am not aware?

No, those are my own creation.

Since we’re talking about religions, here’s a question at least partly from ignorance: You’re a practicing Mormon, and as I understand, Mormon religious tradition involves the story that the prophet Nephi led his people to establish a civilization in the New World. On the back of Witchy Winter is a site designated Na’avu. I know that in the TV series The Expanse the Mormons called the interstellar colony ship they were building the Nauvoo. I don’t know the significance of that term in the Mormon faith. How much, if any, did your Mormon faith inform your construction of the world of the Witchy War?

Well, Nauvoo is Hebrew for “beautiful,” and it appears in the Song of Songs in the Old Testament. The only real significance of the name is that the Mormons built a settlement in Illinois during their migration westward, and called it Nauvoo the beautiful. For me that name is one of several jokes or call-outs that some people will catch.

Am I trying to write a re-written version of Mormon history, the way Orson Scott Card did with his Seventh Son series? No.

Am I trying to influence people to think a certain way about Mormons or Mormonism? No.

Does Mormonism influence what I write? Of course. I am a practicing Mormon, I live in Utah. I’m not just a little Mormon, so of course it does influence my writing. The books are theological: not in the sense of wanting to preach or teach anything, but in the sense of exploring ideas in a context of faith. I consider myself a seeker in my faith.

There’s a lot of Bible in these books—the characters take their vocabulary from it, and their ideas about order, and their magic. I’m trying to find the soul of America as it exists for me, and many Americans have seen and still do see themselves as living out the epic of the Bible. Mormons do, certainly, but so do others. I think you can’t tell a true story about America and what it means if the Bible is not somehow involved. So as I tell this story, it’s inevitable that my Mormonism is part of the equation. But it’s not an allegory or a missionary tract.
One more thought, which I’m afraid is sort of grandiose, but I’ll say it anyway. Tolkien wrote to a Jesuit friend that he was afraid nobody would like The Lord of The Rings because it was too Catholic. T.A. Shippey, who followed Tolkien in his chair at Oxford, commenting on this letter said frankly he had no idea what Tolkien was talking about. And that’s funny, because it’s obvious that you can look at Tolkien and see Christianity and Catholicism. To give just one example, Sauron falls on March 25th, and that becomes the new year of Gondor. And Tolkien the medievalist knew that March 25th was believed by medieval Christians to be the date of the crucifixion. What was Tolkien doing? Trying to build a mythology for his native land, in which his Catholicism inevitably shines through. And I am trying to do the same thing for America. So it will have a lot of idiosyncratic stuff in it, including my Mormonism.  

Now I’d like to ask some questions about the series in general. Is magic in this universe something that anyone can do? Or only certain people?

Both. Some people have the talent to practice magic at a high, theoretical level, called gramarye. Firstborn tend to have more of that gift. Most people, however, practice magic through a sort of hedge-wizarding tradition, using the rituals of actual magical traditions.

One of the things I’m very curious about is this: Sarah is child of a union between the firstborn AND what would we would think of as “normal human?” She thinks of herself as firstborn by the time she knows her heritage. Are the firstborn traits “dominant” in any sense?

That’s an interesting question, and not one I’m sure will ever definitively answer. Even among the characters in the books, there’s not always a sharp dividing line. It’s possible I will write stories exploring this in the future.

Aside from what happens to the soul at the moment of death, what is the difference between a purely human-looking Firstborn and what we would think of as an ordinary human?

It’s possible you wouldn’t be able to tell. You could tell if they came into contact with silver, because there’s something in their blood that reacts badly to it. It will cause them pain if they contact it, and injury if the contact is prolonged.

How did you come to sell Witchy Eye to Baen?

I went to WorldCon in Reno in 2011, trying to make contacts. Among others, I noticed that Toni Weisskopf was there doing a “Strolling With the Stars” event, in which you could meet famous people by going on a walk with them. So I went and discussed Witchy Eye with Toni, and shortly after that my agent at the time dumped me. So I sent the book to Toni on my own in February 2012, and her first response was, “Hey, this might not be the best fit for us.” So you have to be smart when you talk to editors—you don’t want to crowd them, and you also don’t want to let the connection go cold. So I’d wait for good news, drop her a line, and say, “Hey, congratulations that your author won such-and-such, and I look forward to hearing from you when you’ve had a chance to read my book.” In the meantime I got a new agent, and my first sale was a three-book deal to Random House.  So I mentioned Witchy Eye to my agent, and then went to Sasquan and told her that I was going there to talk to editors about having her send them this book. She was more of a children’s literature agent, so she didn’t know a lot of these people directly. I said, I will give you the contacts and you can submit to them. So I went up and connected with 4-5 editors, including Toni, who had not yet read the book, and then had my agent submit to them. Including Toni. So in 2016, Toni came back and made me an offer. So my experience wasn’t nearly the straight line you hope for, as a beginning author. And I got very lucky, because I passed up a number of opportunities that would have seen it published if I had been willing to rewrite it in ways I didn’t really want to. And the moral, here, by the way is not, “Hold fast to your vision, you will succeed in the end.” The moral is, I got lucky.

So you’ve just delivered Book 3, Witchy Kingdom, to Baen. Do you know how much further the series goes, or is this the end?

It’s planned for six. The second half will have a different naming convention, so it’s kind of two soft trilogies. I have other projects in the works that I can talk about. The Cunning Man, which I co-wrote with Aaron Michael Ritchey, is coming out in November from Baen. It’s set in 1935, about a beet farmer who learned traditional lore from his grandmother, and uses his magic to fight the evils of the Great Depression.
I also have hopes to sell a book entitled The Palace of Sorrow and Joy, which is a kind of a sword and sorcery noir about two thinking-men down on their luck, working as thugs, who end up getting targeted as patsies in an insurance fraud scheme involving murder. I’m also hoping to publish a middle-grade series, sort of an Encyclopedia Brown/Dr. Doolittle style set of books called The Tarantula Thief, which is about a boy who talks to animals and uses that skill to fight evil in his school and neighborhood, and I’m in about 4-5 anthologies coming out this fall.

Tell me about what winning the Whitney Award means to you.

There are two Mormon literary awards, the Association for Mormon Letters Award and the Whitney Award, and Witchy Winter won them both. I’ve seen that winning awards has almost no effect on sales, but awards do mean that someone read your book and thought it was good. For years, I got used to being an also ran—I was a finalist for the Dragon Awards and the Whitneys and the AML before—so from a morale standpoint, it’s awesome to finally win.

I’d just like to take a moment at the end to thank Dave for being a great guest on the blog, and for being very approachable and helpful both online and at DragonCon last year. For those of you intrigued by the series, you can buy the first book on Amazon right here.

A Memory of Jerry

The worlds of Science Fiction today are mourning the loss of one of the best of us. Dr. Jerry Pournelle has passed. For those of my readers who do not know, Dr. Pournelle was one of the great pioneers of both science and science-fiction. He was consulted by NASA and the Reagan Administration on matters of space exploration and defense. He wrote several novels I loved, especially High Justice. But my favorites were his collaborations with his partner, Larry Niven. Together they wrote two of my favorite SF novels ever, and one of my favorite fantasy works: Footfall and The Mote In God’s Eye, which to me deserve a place in the eternal canon of SF for being, respectively, the greatest alien invasion and first contact novels of the latter 20th century, and Inferno, a rewrite of Dante, in which a science-fiction writer travels through hell.

I was reminded of how privileged I am to have spent even one evening in Jerry’s company when I saw so many of my Facebook friends, most of whom are more accomplished authors than I am myself, saying that they had only met Jerry last week at DragonCon for the first time, or never.

I met Jerry eighteen years ago, at Writers’ Of The Future. I’d won 2nd place in the 1999 contest, and I still remember it as one of the proudest moments of my life that he and Mr. Niven handed me — ME! — my first ever science-fiction writing award. That I promptly made an ass of myself with my thank-you speech, which I had not rehearsed, is a somewhat less-proud moment, but that’s life.

But I will always treasure the memory of the after-party, when I got to speak with Jerry and many other writers.  I’ll always remember that he came up with the best explanation I’ve ever heard of for the infamous Roswell  Incident, which I will recall here. I’m going to emphasize that this was Jerry speculating, NOT releasing actual knowledge. Obviously, what follows is not an exact transcript, but I’m going to reproduce it as best I can recall from eighteen years ago:

“You got to remember that this was the old Air Force, with all the pilots still veterans of World War II. And those pilots were pretty much drunk as their ground state of being. On top of that, this was 1947, when the entire nuclear arsenal of the world was approximately eight weapons, all of them bombs, and all of them owned by the United States of America.

“Well, what it seems to me is that at some point, the Air Force wanted to move a bomb. Naturally, you’d keep that as secret as you can; why would you tell even the pilots? And so, two pilots, enjoying the long and boring flight over the New Mexico desert as best they could, climbed into the night sky, and never arrived at their destination.

“Now a nuclear weapon, of course, has safeties to prevent a mushroom going off in case the plane carrying it crashes, but crashed planes tend to burn, and the chemical explosive wrapped around the plutonium can certainly catch fire. So you have the Air Force looking for a missing plane, carrying an atomic bomb, and suddenly reports from Roswell of a a burning wreck in the middle of the desert. It doesn’t take the Air Force long to put those two facts together, but by the time they arrive, several VERY unauthorized persons have seen the wreck and the burned bodies (Author’s Note: Ever seen a photo of a very badly burned body? They do tend to shrink and attenuate. So they look very thin, with disproportionately-sized heads. Funny, that.) and strange fragments of highly-classified equipment.

What the Air Force very much wants to do is to make all this go away, so they whisk away all that they can, but they can’t disappear U.S. citizens, and they very definitely do not want it getting out that a couple of idiots managed to destroy by incompetence an eighth of the world’s nuclear arsenal. So they make up the story of a crashed weather balloon, which is an obvious fabrication, and pray. Sure enough, people disbelieve this and their theory about what the Air Force is covering up is… aliens. Alien spacecraft, crashed in the desert, whisked away by the Air Force.

The Air Force, of course, with its competent people on the job, send up praises to heaven and immediately refuse all comment on such things, pointing with increased energy to the “weather balloon,” and looking as stupid as they can. Because the more they do, the more people think “Ah-HAH! So it IS aliens,” and the less they think, “I wonder whether the Air Force might have lost a nuclear bomb.”

I remember thinking. My gods, of course. That makes absolutely perfect sense, and no matter how high up the chain of command you go, all the way up to President Truman, absolutely NO ONE in the government is going to have an interest in coming clean on that story, and neither would anyone in Eisenhower’s administration after that. How simple and brilliant.

Well, we all laughed, and whether it’s true or not, it’s a good story. And then Jerry talked to me. He asked about my story, and said he remembered it, and that it was a good story. And that’s something I will always remember when I feel that I can’t hack it as a writer. More than anything else, I remember that Jerry made me feel included, and truly part of this wonderful thing that I had always imagined fandom to be. And you know what? I think he did that with everyone. While I have talked to people who hated Jerry’s politics (and hated his fiction) and said he could be an ass when he was arguing, I never heard anyone who said that Jerry snubbed them or made them feel unwelcome.

There’s been a lot of — shall we say, discord — in fandom lately. A lot of exclusivity. I’ve seen friends made to feel unwelcome and friends threatened and excoriated and called liars and slanderers and worse. I’ve experienced some of it myself, as people made it clear that for one reason or another, I was not good enough or important enough to be worth their respect or time. For the purposes of this piece, though, I am not interested in the rights or the wrongs of any of it. All I would like to say is, that I would like all of us to remember Jerry, and how he took the time to befriend and welcome a newbie author. I never had the privilege of truly working with him, but I will always be grateful that for that evening, and that the man I met was as gracious and entertaining as the worlds he had brought to life for me. Thank you Jerry. And I hope to meet you again, in the worlds beyond the sky.

The Chosen of Bob

I generally don’t speak to the various kerfuffles in F/SF Fandom, for two reasons:

1) I choose to spend my moral energy in dealing with issues closer to where I live, and closer to my heart.

2) I’m not really IN Fandom yet. Not as a fan, certainly, and not as a writer, yet. So I don’t know a lot of the people who have been the targets of harassment, or who have harassed, demeaned, insulted, etc. other people. I don’t go to a lot of cons, and very few people know who I am.

But there is a phenomenon I have noticed in many, if not most, of the incidents of harassment I have read of. I have read of it over and over again in the essays and posts and rants and screeds. It’s familiar to anyone reading this: the phenomenon of “That’s Just Bob.” We all know Bob. He’s the charismatic Elder Male Writer (sometimes Fan) who assaults a woman (or belittles her in public). Then, when she cries foul, Bob’s fans try to explain that it wasn’t really a big deal and she shouldn’t feel victimized, because “That’s Just Bob.” Sorry. That’s just the way Bob is. And a lot of people have correctly pointed out that this essentially means: We value Elder Writer Bob, the Predator more than Nobody You, the Victim. Because there’s only one Bob and there’s thousands of nobody girls. And there is a lot of outrage because sexual assault shouldn’t be tolerated anywhere. I agree. And people say that the problems are Rape Culture, White Male Privilege, and Sexism. And that’s where I disagree.

Before I become the target of justifiable outrage, let me expand: I do not disagree that sexism is a problem. I do not disagree that Bob is sexist, still less that he has privilege. I disagree that sexism, privilege, and Rape Culture are the core problems with Bob’s behavior. So what is? Allow me to illustrate from my own experience, the which I can speak to very well:

Many years ago, before I had ever made a professional sale, and when I was just getting, however tenuously connected to a community, a particular Bob was mentioned at a rather well-known Clinic I attended. I had heard of this Bob, of course. Everyone had. Bob was (and is) justly famous for his unique style of writing and his iconoclastic behavior. I had read some of Bob’s work and enjoyed it. And yet, when I read about Bob in real life, it was always about him being exceedingly rude to those around him.  At the Clinic, I got to know some Friends of Bob, and they began telling stories about him. Stories of how Bob behaved around young writers. How he would ruthlessly mock their stories*, tear them to shreds, and then issue judgments about whether they would ever become successful writers (Hint: it didn’t end well for most of them). They were laughing and having a fine time, recalling the cruel things Bob had said.

I opined that it sounded like Bob was kind of a jerk.

“Well, but that’s just Bob,” I was told.

I opined that this did not make it okay for Bob to hurt people on purpose, for his own amusement.

But you don’t understand,” I was told. “Bob’s really a great guy. If Bob’s your friend, he’ll do anything for you. He’s your friend for life.”

I said that I didn’t want to worship at the throne of Bob in exchange for that.

I was told: “You know what Bob would say to that if he were here? He doesn’t care.” And I was out of the conversation.

But what I thought was: yes, exactly, Bob doesn’t care, and that is the problem, because what you have said reduces to: We value Elder Writer Bob more than you, the nobody, because Bob is a god among lesser men and he LIKES us. That’s what separates us, the Chosen of Bob, from common little nobodies like you. He has RECOGNIZED our genius, and that gives us hope that we too may one day be Bobs ourselves. We are IN, and if lesser people have to suffer the Wrath and Mockery of Bob, it is not our place to care. They are beneath us.

Is it any wonder, then, that Bob thinks sexual harassment is entertaining and his right? After all, he is applauded by his friends for mocking the very people who came to him to learn. Why should they not applaud a different form of degradation? I mean, no one said Bob’s victims were arguing with him, or challenging his credentials. If they had, then Bob’s mockery might have been somewhat justified, or at least provoked. No, the universal consensus was that their sin was… not being good enough for Bob.

And that’s why I say the core problem with Bob and those like him is not sexism. It is not sexism, and it is not the privilege that leads to failure to call Bob out on his sexism, or to report him for his harassment. No. The core problem with Bob is the Bob Privilege that leads to failure to call him out on his presumption, his rudeness, his mockery, his bullying, and his inexcusable discourtesy to anyone around him that doesn’t fit Bob’s notion of what a writer or a person should be. All of these are faults that anyone but Bob would be called out on. But Bob we worship. And since Bob is used to being worshiped, he demands the deference as a right. Of course he’s sexist, racist, and whatever-the-hell-else-ist. Because that’s the basic ingredient of every -ist that plagues humanity: the fundamental belief that you can treat people however you want because they aren’t good enough for YOU!

I will not name Bob here. He is not worth naming, and I do not shame other people in public, deserved or undeserved. Besides, there are a lot of Bobs out there. I will point out, instead that if we wish to remove sexism, racism, and the other -isms from among us, I suggest we look a little harder at ourselves and the Bobs we choose to follow. Because the Bob we worship today for mocking, insulting, and bullying people we hate and despise may turn his or her wrath on us next. But more likely, Bob won’t target us; we’re the Chosen, after all. No, Bob will choose his victim, and there we’ll be. Saying nothing. Doing nothing. Because it’s not as important as sexual harassment or racism or any other sin we hate. And we know our Bob would never do those things. He’s a great guy.

Until he does.

And we, the Chosen, will have to choose.

*I do not mean, of course, that Bob or those like him should not, especially in a teaching situation, call out bad writing. One of my least favorite teachers at the Clinic called one of my stories out and ripped it to shreds. And it was painful. But he was right. And as much as he ripped it to shreds, he didn’t tell me I’d never be a decent writer. He just handed me the truth. But there is a difference between doing painful surgery on people and giggling at them as they writhe in agony.

 

Will the “Real” Whatever Please Shut Up? (Please, Shut Up)

Okay, it’s been a long time since I posted on this blog, despite a resolve to do at least one a week. What can I say, a big idea turned out to be more work that I had in me, and then life happened. But this blog topic is less nuanced, and I think I can fire it out there really fast:

I was recently shooting the breeze in my own thread online about a topic I would have to work to care less about when a rather Upset Young Guy™ I know barreled into the conversation with the subtlety of a chainsaw and informed me that because I was not acting in the manner of Real Fans Everywhere, my opinions on the topic had no merit, and that by merely airing my opinion… on my page, which I guess is his business because… he can see it? I dunno, where was I? Ah, yes: By merely airing my opinion, I had caused the UYG™, personally, great mental, nay, physical, anguish and distress. UYG™ proceeded to berate me for pretending to be a Real Fan and not spending the time or money to back it up. (In deference to the fact that he’s young and generally not a bad guy, I’m not being more specific than this. In deference to the fact that actions have consequences, I’m not being vaguer.)

The funny part is that he’s right: I’m not a Real Fan. I never said I was a Real Fan. I was just commenting on a few trends I’d recognized (trends that I was actually picking up by reading analysts who are likely far more Real Fans than either of us, as they get paid for this crap.) But apparently, no one who is not a Real Fan gets to talk about the topic at all, lest they get called out as ignorant or unenthusiastic by Real Fans, I guess.

The even funnier part is that he actually seems to think that I care about whether the self-appointed Real Fans respect my opinion on the topic of entertainment and how I should be enjoying it. But, then, he’s not alone: in the past few months I have seen professionals in a number of fields of study and craft, some of them quite close to my heart, rip each other to pieces in the name of what Real Fans, and Real Artists, and Real Activists, and Real People do and do not do.

And that’s not funny. That’s actually just sad.

Before I go further, a disclaimer: there is such a thing as real expertise in the world. And before you go intruding in a conversation set up by, about, and for experts with your own opinion, you’d better make sure you know what the hell you’re talking about, or damn well expect to get your head handed to you. For example, if it had been me who had barreled into a conversation UYG™ had been having with other Real Fans in a space for Real Fans, he could have said almost the same things he did say and have been totally in the right to do so.

But the Real Experts remember that they too were once novices, and they don’t look down on novices for not being experts, or question their motives for entering the field, or badmouth those taking a passing interest in the topic for expressing a feeling about it, or for passing on the opinions of those more knowledgeable than themselves, or even (gasp) for being WRONG once in awhile. Real Experts don’t take it upon themselves to be the Topic Police and run off the unworthy and uninitiated from discussing it among themselves. Because that’s not being an expert. That’s being the gatekeeper for a clique. That’s cutting your own field, or fan-base, or whatever off at the roots, because no one is going to want to be around people who act like that.

Don’t care? Figure people will always want to be Real Fans like you because you’re just That Cool? Okay. But there’s a lot of good people who won’t put up with your crap, whether its a fandom or a cause. And eventually, they’re going to welcome more people than you. Because they’re welcoming and not gatekeeping.

From Somewhere in Orbit