Cultural appropriation and the inclusion of the other

August 8, 2014

I read this excellent article by Jim C Hines today. I agree with it completely. There has been much discussion on published writing, especially SFF, being an old white man’s club and that we need to see more diversity in the stories we read. Then there are people saying that white people shouldn’t/can’t/aren’t allowed to write other cultures. It’s not actually a problem, because the second opinion is bullshit. Let me explain.

I don’t believe any subject or culture is off-limits for fiction. With fiction we actively engage with the world around us, we interrogate our reality and look at how it reflects back at us and we try to make some sense of it. Even the most dense, hard SF is, at its core, an exploration of simple humanity. In my world I’m surrounded by people of many races and cultures. I’m surrounded by people of varying sexuality. I will absolutely reflect that in my fiction. If I don’t, the darkest and most fantastical part of any dark fantasy or horror I write is this imagined homogenous world of hetero cis white people like me. That’s just horrible. I do not want to be a part of that vanilla environment.

But, and here’s the big but, I also firmly believe in the simple premise of don’t be a dick. I’m not going to take a white character and simply blackface them for the sake of some perceived cultural diversity. I’m not going to take a hetero guy and stick someone else’s cock in his hand and cry, “See! A gay character!” That’s not only disrespectful, it’s just bad writing.

But I’m equally not going to try to make a point of otherness either. Unless a character’s sexuality is key to the story, it’s not going to be a big deal beyond her saying “my girlfriend” rather than “my boyfriend”. Thereby we know she digs girls, that’s a part of who she is and that’s all we need to know. I’ve written gay couples who just act like any other couple throughout the story, because, you know, they’re humans. The fact that they’re together says enough. Unless the practice of their sexuality is key to the story, it doesn’t matter. Just like in real life, you don’t spend all your time with your gay friends talking about their lovelife, or your straight friends, for that matter. Most of the time, if not all of it, they’re just your friends and you talk about all the normal shit.

My story “The Darkness in Clara”, published in SQ Mag has a gay couple as it’s central protagonists. Their gayness has a direct influence on the story as the story deals with country town bigotry. I hope I did a good job with that yarn, but the story is more about bigotry that about being gay. The characters are just people who have their own problems to deal with. That story is free to read online, so you can judge for yourself.

Same thing with People of Colour (PoC). I know people of many cultural backgrounds, so I include that in my stories. In the Alex Caine books there are people described as having black skin, of Maori descent, of Chinese descent and so on. Those people add to the richness and diversity of my fictional world just like they do to my real world. But they’re just people. Their race is not relevant to their humanity or their role in the story. If and when a cultural history or race becomes relevant, then I use it and I try really hard to use it respectfully and accurately. I research, I ask friends, I try to get beta readers on the case. I’ve done proof reading for a publisher when they have an American writing a scene in England, because that’s my culture. In one case, I corrected the English characters so they said pavement instead of sidewalk and torch instead of flashlight and stuff like that. Otherwise, that would be lazy appropriation on the part of the American author not doing their research and not recognising difference.

When that laziness and disrespect is poured onto a culture or group already marginalised and struggling for recognition and inclusion, it’s even worse. It’s disrespectful and emotionally damaging. But should that mean we can’t or shouldn’t do it? Hell, no. It means we need to work harder, be better and do it right.

I try to get that stuff right. If I get it wrong, I want to be told. I’ll try harder. But to suggest that anything is off-limits is bullshit. It’s being a dick that’s off-limits and that will always be the case. So this long arse post is basically just me agreeing with Jim Hines in his post that I linked at the start. But I felt it necessary to say so in detail for myself. I’d be interested in your opinions.

EDIT: All this applies to female characters as well, of course, but that really should go without saying. They make around 50% of the world and they’re human too.


On output and quality

June 1, 2014

I’ve been reading a few posts lately that seem to contradict each other. What do you know – there’s no one true rule. I won’t bother linking to all those posts, at least partly because I can’t remember where they all are. But the general gist of it all was either:

Write as much as you can, it’s the only way to be noticed and have a career!


Stop just writing for the sake of it! There’s too much shit out there, you need to write well, not lots.

Obviously I’ve paraphrased the general messages there. The thing is, they’re both right. The reason they’re both right is because there are many types of writers out there with many styles of work and opportunity to write. It also depends what you want from your career.

You certainly need more than one book to build a career, unless you’re Harper Lee. It’s true that the more people see from you, the more likely they are to check out your stuff and the more likely you are to build a loyal fan base. But don’t be in a rush.

If you write purely for output’s sake and you’re desperate to get as much stuff out there as quickly as possible, then you may well get noticed. The thing is, your work is likely to be fairly mediocre. Are you happy with a mediocre body of work? If so, then bully for you, but I think you’re doing a disservice to yourself and readers. There’s a lot of noise out there. That’s where the second generalisation above supersedes the first. It’s better to send out the absolute best stuff you can. It will mean you have work you can be absolutely proud of and readers will know they can expect quality from you. There are plenty of readers happy to consume masses of mediocre fiction, but is that really where you want to be?

However, this doesn’t mean that prolific writers are therefore all mediocre. Some people are excellent and prolific. A lot of that has to do with how much writing time they create. Two good examples of what I’m talking about are Ted Chiang and Jay Lake. Chiang publishes stuff very infrequently, but his skill is exemplary. Lake writes heaps of stuff, and his skill is exemplary too. Jay Lake writes everywhere he can. I don’t know about Chiang, he writes whenever he writes, but obviously has a much lower output rate. Regardless, these two are producing excellent work at very different rates. They’ve both built excellent skills over many years, not through purely getting work out as fast as possible, but by building up at a pace that suited them and ensured they put out quality stuff. (Sadly, Jay Lake has recently entered hospice care after a long struggle with cancer, so it’s good for us that he was so prolific. Vale, Mr Lake.)

So ask yourself – are you putting out the best work you possibly can, whether that means one story a year or ten? Three books a year or one every three years?

Or are you happy churning out mediocre work and just adding to the noise?

It’s really okay however you answer, but you need to make sure you answer the question honestly and then decide whether or not that’s really who you want to be.

I’ve created a lot of writing time in my life and I can be fairly prolific as a result. But I always try to make the best work I can and always improve. I like to think I’m managing that, very slowly. How about you?


Bound reviewed at Marianne de Pierres’ blog

June 1, 2014

The early reviews of Bound are starting to come in, and the reaction so far is pretty fantastic. I’m so pleased people appear to be enjoying it. Recently Marianne de Pierres was kind enough to host on her blog a review from Jamie Marriage. Here’s an excerpt:

Bound is a fantastically gritty and modern view of dark fantasy, with twisted mythologies, sexual deviancy, and unapologetic characters. Most chapters have plenty of action, but not enough to hide the fact that there is a great story-line and dialogue going on from cover to cover. Greed, gluttony, wrath, and lust are all demonstrated in large portions throughout, and no character is without their vices and imperfections. It all comes together to create a book that’s difficult to put down and thoroughly worth re-reading. Baxter has proven he has real skill with this genre, and if this first novel is anything to go by, there are even greater things to come.

Honestly, it really doesn’t get any better than that. Read the full review here:


I’ll be over here Snoopy dancing.


The winners of the Bram Stoker Awards® for 2013

May 11, 2014

The winners of the Bram Stoker Awards® for 2013 were announced at the Awards Banquet on May 10, 2014, at the Bram Stoker Awards Weekend and World Horror Convention in Portland, Oregon. The winners for superior achievement in each of the categories are:

Stephen King – Doctor Sleep (Scribner)

First Novel
Rena Mason – The Evolutionist (Nightscape Press)

Young Adult Novel
Joe McKinney – Dog Days (JournalStone)

Graphic Novel
Caitlin R. Kiernan – Alabaster: Wolves (Dark Horse Comics)

Long Fiction
Gary Braunbeck – “The Great Pity” (Chiral Mad 2, Written Backwards)

Short Fiction
David Gerrold – “Night Train to Paris” (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Jan./Feb. 2013)

Glen Mazzara – The Walking Dead: “Welcome to the Tombs” (AMC TV)

Eric J. Guignard (editor) – After Death… (Dark Moon Books)

Fiction Collection
Laird Barron – The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All and Other Stories (Night Shade Books)

William F. Nolan – Nolan on Bradbury: Sixty Years of Writing about the Master of Science Fiction (Hippocampus Press)

Poetry Collection
Marge Simon, Rain Graves, Charlee Jacob, and Linda Addison – Four Elements (Bad Moon Books/Evil Jester Press)

The following awards were also presented:

The Lifetime Achievement Award
Stephen Jones
R.L. Stine

The Specialty Press Award
Gray Friar Press

The Silver Hammer Award (for outstanding service to the Horror Writers Assn.)
Norman Rubenstein

The President’s Richard Laymon Service Award
JG Faherty

Congratulations to all the winners!


AHWA winner judges report

November 29, 2013

I just received the judges report for my AHWA Short Story Competition winner. Here’s what one of the judges said:

‘Showing his great proficiency of the written word, Alan Baxter gives an all too believable tale with “It’s Always The Children Who Suffer”. Classic, creeping horror to linger in your mind and prey upon dark little fears, both real and unexplained.’
– Ashlee Scheuerman

That’s very nice to read! You can find the story in Midnight Echo issue 10, out at the end of the year. You can pre-order print or electronic versions now at the Midnight Echo Magazine site. I have another story in that issue (two yarns in one mag!) along with loads of other great stories and features by tremendous authors. You know you want it.



Great and powerful opening lines

November 17, 2013

My pal and horror writer extraordinaire, Robert Hood, wrote a blog post recently about great opening lines. He links to an interview with Danel Olson on the subject, since Olson’s anthology, Exotic Gothic 4 (P S Publishing), recently won the World Fantasy Award (and contains an excellent story by Rob.)

Rob listed a couple of his favourite opening lines and asked if anyone else had any. I’ve got loads! It’s a bit of a pet subject for me. So I shared some of mine on Rob’s Facebook post and then thought I might post them here on my own blog, as I think they’re well worth sharing. This is just a few that immediately sprang to mind as powerful enough to stick with me. The strength of an opening line can never be underestimated.

“The island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-wracked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards.” – Ursula Le Guin, Wizard of Earthsea

“The abyss should shut you up.” – Peter Watts, Starfish

“This is the story of a man who went far away for a long time, just to play a game.” – Iain M Banks, The Player of Games

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” – William Gibson, Neuromancer

“No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own…” – H G Wells, The War of the Worlds

“Of all the rash and midnight promises made in the name of love none, Boone now knew, was more certain to be broken than: ‘I’ll never leave you.'” – Clive Barker, Cabal

I could go on and on, but I’ll leave with one more, my all-time favourite. Not quite the opening line, but the end of the opening paragraph:

“Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet.” – Robert E Howard, The Phoenix on the Sword


Have you got any?


Five word sentences

October 1, 2013

I found this on Tumblr and had to share it here too. It’s a fantastic piece, so simply, and yet so well, put.

“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals—sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”
Gary Provost


The Gallifreyan Calendar

August 6, 2013

This started as a gag on Twitter that seems to have garnered some support. Can we make it happen? (Of course not, but it’s fun to imagine.) I originally tweeted:

Let’s rename all the months after the Doctors. Christmas would be on the 25th Capaldi. New Year is 1st Hartnell. Halloween is 31st Tennant.

It can be known as the Gallifreyan Calendar.

“Remember, remember, the fifth of Smith.” Still kinda works.

“Beware the Ides of Pertwee.”

Of course, we have a problem with two months called Baker. So we’ll have to have T’Baker and C’Baker. My birthday is 18th T’Baker. Regarding the pronunciation of those: TeeBaker and SeeBaker. Nice and clear.

The Months of the Year then are: Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee, T’Baker, Davison, C’Baker, McCoy, McGann, Ecclestone, Tennant, Smith and Capaldi.

How is that not WAY better than all this January, February, March, etc. rubbish we have now?

A Leap Year will be called a Hurt Year (after John Hurt’s mysterious extra Doctor). Troughton 29th will be known as a Hurt Day.

I’m going to just start using the new Gallifreyan Calendar and let the rest of the world catch up. Who’s with me?

Have a good 6th McGann, everybody.

13 Questions at Joan De La Haye’s place

July 2, 2013

I’m technically not around this week, but I’m just dropping in to share this little thing. The wonderful Joan De La Haye asked me to answer 13 questions about reading and writing over at her blog. Enjoy!

SFWA, sexism in SFF and missing the point

June 4, 2013

I really wanted to avoid posting about this. So many other people are addressing the issues very well and I don’t really have much to add. If you’re not sure what’s happening, suffice to say that two old guys who are members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America wrote a piece in the official publication, the SFWA Bulletin, that is astounding in its prehistoric approach to gender and dealing with justifiable complaints. If you want a good breakdown of what happened, Foz Meadows does an excellent deconstruction here (and she includes many relevant links). And honestly, if you throw a virtual dart anywhere near the SFF community online at the moment, you’ll hit something to do with it.

I’m not a SFWA member, although I think I do qualify. I can’t actually be bothered to check. Suffice to say that I’m not really interested in being part of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, as I’m a British-Australian writer. I really wish they would change that A to stand for Association, as they are a global entity in most respects and it would be great to see that reflected in the name. But that’s not the issue here.

It’s also worth mentioning that on the whole SFWA does excellent things and is a great organisation. The current President is John Scalzi and he’s a stand-up guy who is definitely on point when it comes to pretty much any issues rife in the community today. As a result of the Resnick/Malzberg debacle, Scalzi immediately went into action and did two things:

1. “authorized a task force, headed up by SFWA Vice President Rachel Swirsky, to look at the role of the Bulletin within the organization moving forward”;


2. “as the person who by our bylaws is responsible for publications, I took responsibility for events and opened up a channel for people to comment and criticize”

Those quotes are from his official presidential statement here. He made them the other way around, but I want to concentrate on the responsibility issue, so I quoted that one second.

That response is an excellent start. And Scalzi goes on to reiterate and clarify how much he’s taking responsibility for the article. He talks about how he didn’t give it a thorough read for content (and as he’s not the editor, that’s no surprise). He says, regarding the lack of checking, “This did not happen. I as publisher gave the go-ahead – and once again, the responsibility for the event, and the offense it caused, falls on me.”

You can read the extensive explanations and apology in the presidential statement I linked above. But this is all missing one really fucking significant point. At no point has any mention been made about Resnick and Malzberg, the men who wrote the offensive article.

It’s all very well Scalzi taking responsibility and apologising, but he’s only really apologising for publishing it. Where’s the apology for writing it? Where’s the promise that Resnick and Malzberg are going to be counselled by the organisation for whom they wrote on just why they’ve upset so many people. If SFWA wants to be seen as responding well to things like this, it needs to try to change the archaic attitudes of the men who are being so offensive. And while it’s unlikely those people will change their perceptions, the attempt must be publicly made. An apology from those people for writing the offensive article would mean a lot more than the apology by the president for publishing it.

It’s quite possible those people have apologised and I’ve missed it. I couldn’t find such an apology. It’s possible the organisation has said it will hold them to task for their offensive article, but I can’t find that either, nor is it part of the official presidential response. Unless an apology is made for the content, SFWA are seriously missing the fucking point of all the outrage. I would really like to be proved wrong here, so please point me in the direction of that proof if you can. I’m quite prepared to accept that I might have missed something.



The website of author Alan Baxter

Alan Baxter, Author

Author of horror, dark fantasy & sci-fi. Kung Fu instructor. Personal Trainer. Motorcyclist. Dog lover. Gamer. Heavy metal fan. Britstralian. Zetetic.

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