Powering through the Fan Writers here! And we now reach Natalie Luhrs, who apparently has a website called pretty-terrible.com . This is an excellent website name and I endorse it. For the Voter Pack, she provides five essays,
The first essay is called Who lives, who dies, who tells her story? and is about Hamilton, which she evidently loves to bits. She compares it to Jesus Christ Superstar and Les Miserables (which she feels are essential viewing before going to Hamilton). Since these are my two favourite musicals, I suspect I am the right target audience for Hamilton.
I love her enthusiasm, but I find myself wincing at some of her sentences. And there also seemed to be some odd little gaps of knowledge, given the things she did know, particularly about how musicals / opera work. Hard to put my finger on, but so far, I find her adorable but not very incisive. She does make me want to see Hamilton, though.
Next, we have A brief analysis of the Locus Recommended Reading List, 2011 – 2015. I think I may have read this before. It is an analysis of who and what make it onto the Locus reading list. Luhrs prefaces it by saying that she does believe the staff at Locus work very hard on this list and intend it to be comprehensive, and that there is a lot of new work each year to review. But she also thinks they do need to start being aware of their biases.
This is a nicely scientific study, in that she starts of by explaining her methodology and how she categorised people, noting the reasons for categorising them the way she did, and the possible problems that arise from this. There are charts. And tables! And I am suddenly thinking of the tutorial I did last week on Pivot Tables in Excel, and I really want to get my hands on that data and play with it in Excel. But I digress.
Her findings are not surprising for anyone who ever looks at any of these lists. Male authors and editors dominate every category except for first novel and Young Adult, and non-binary authors are largely absent (and only appear in the short fiction categories). White authors also dominate every category, though people of colour are slowly increasing their minority, and it’s an even worse ratio than the Male / Female one. She also looked at repeat appearances, and found that once you’ve been on the Locus list once, you are much more likely to appear there in subsequent years. And then she links to the dataset, which means I CAN go at it with my Excel Pivot tables! Yippee!
(But I probably won’t.)
Essay number 3 is called Is this a kissing book?, and oh, bless you, Ms Luhrmann, you’ve actually written an essay about romance novels which respects romance novels and their readers! You just overtook Abigail Nussbaum on my Hugo Ballot. (But not Chuck Tingle. Nobody overtakes Chuck Tingle.). Basically she has a list of things that people should do before they write an article about romance novels and yes, yes, yes, PLEASE do all those things. The list (which I think I may have read before, actually) includes handy things like: try reading one. Particularly, a recent one. Maybe even more than one! And: try visitng the online romance community and see if they’ve already written about this. Pro-tip: they have. Use this as a starting point. And: don’t blame rape culture and sexism on romance novels, for goodness’ sake.
I want every journalist who decides to write something stupid about romance novels for Valentine’s Day to read this article. Please.
Essay four is called Silencing Tactics and You. This is a nice dissection of what silencing tactics look like and why they are a pretty awful thing. I especially like the attention she pays to different disadvantaged groups using these tactics on each other, partly because of an idea that there might not be enough justice to go around. She then talks about coping tactics, but acknowledges that really, cope however you have to, because this stuff is nasty.
Also, I like her conclusion.
I hate that I keep on having to point this out but: being marginalized or oppressed does not give you a bonus to your saving roll against being an asshole. And it’s beyond shitty to use those parts of your identity as either shields against criticism or weapons to attack others, particularly when they are trying to speak or be heard.
The last essay in the booklet is called Three Easy Steps to Fix the World Fantasy Convention. I can already tell I’m going to like this, because I have a secret and unhealthy fascination with watching the inevitable online fallout from every convention ever. There is always someone doing something awful, someone else enabling it, someone justifying the whole thing, and a whole lot of people shouting about it. I should not enjoy this. And I do, really and truly, feel bad for the people who are hurt in every go round. But despite all of this, it’s very relaxing to watch a trainwreck unfold that one really has absolutely no way of affecting and thus no responsibility for (I know this sounds heartless, but I’m the sort of person who feels guilty every single time I don’t manage to write the magical letter that stops my government from doing something awful. Some part of me feels that if I could just find the right words, I could fix it. But apparently, I have absolutely no delusions about having the write words to fix SFF convention drama, and the bliss of it being Someone Else’s Problem is unparalelled…).
Anyway, Natalie Luhrs might actually have the right words, and she is using them. She summarises the various issues at the World Fantasy Convention over the last five years, briefly notes some of the reasons for these problems, and then suggests steps that can be taken to fix things. These steps are sensible things like paying attention to accessibility, having a Code of Conduct, improving communications, and becoming an incorporated organisation or a limited liability company. Basically, she wants them to behave like proper, professional event managers. Which doesn’t seem unreasonable.
I really enjoyed these essays. As previously mentioned (many, many times), it’s going to be hard work for anyone to beat out Chuck Tingle (count the double entendres in that sentence if you dare), but Luhrs is coming a close second. So to speak.