27 August 2019

Expanding Our Universe

By Michael Bracken

I recently attended an event in which a speaker attempted to encourage inclusiveness, letting attendees know how welcome they were....except those who weren’t. He essentially told attendees that if you don’t think like us, change or be silent.

This is, unfortunately, the same message presented by proponents of the opposite ideology, and it divides groups into an us and them mentality.

And this ties in neatly with something Temple and I have been discussing lately.

The mystery writing writing community, just like the writing communities of other genres, have struggled in recent years to be more inclusive of people (writers, editors, publishers, booksellers, and fans) who are not like us.

While we, as a community, clearly have a long way to go, we often overlook the realities that some of us experience. For example, the people in my non-writing social and business life are quite a homogeneous group.

Within the writing community, however, I have several friends, many acquaintances, and many professional relationships with people who are not like me. They are different ethnicities, have different sexual orientations, come from different socioeconomic classes, hold (or held) a diverse number of non-writing occupations, represent various levels of formal education, come from different geographic regions and different countries, worship differently, and so on. In short, being a writer has exposed me to far more diversity than I ever have been, or likely ever will be, exposed to in my “real” life.

Do we, as a community, still have far to go to ensure equitable opportunities for and equitable treatment of everyone? Absolutely.

And I, for one, appreciate the diversity to which I have been exposed, and I look forward to growing my circle of friends, acquaintances, and professional relationships as our community expands.


But taking a moment to appreciate how being a part of the mystery writing community has enlarged my world isn’t the end of the story. A few days ago, as I write this, I attended a presentation about “Awake to Woke to Work: Building a Race Equity Culture,” a program specifically targeting non-profit organizations that helps them through the “cycle of change as they transform from a white dominant culture to a Race Equity Culture.”

Changing the culture within an organization, according to the program, involves three steps (I am over-simplifying the steps because the hour-plus presentation only skimmed the surface of the topic):

In the Awake stage, organizations concentrate on increasing representation by the under-represented.

In the Woke stage, organizations strive for inclusion, ensuring that everyone is included in the conversation.

In the Work stage, organizations make specific changes to processes, programs, and operations to “ensure integration of a race equity lens into the organization.”

As a community, we face different challenges than formal organizations, but within our community are several organizations that can make changes, among them booksellers, conventions, publishing companies, and writers’ groups. They can implement some version or variation of the Awake to Woke to Work process within their organizations, and the changes they make will ultimately impact our entire community.

I hope someday soon we will no longer separate ourselves into us and them, because we will all be us—readers, writers, editors, publishers, and fans, all brought together by our love of crime fiction and its many sub-genres.

My private eye story “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” which first appeared in the online edition of Tough, now appears in issue two of the print edition. Order a copy here.


  1. Interesting stuff. I was at the World Science Fiction Convention two weeks ago (more about that in September) and they talk about that issue a lot more than I think we do at mystery events. One panel, for example, was about how to deal with bigoted characters, especially protagonists. One memorable moment was an African-American writer talking about running to catch a bus, which meant passing a White couple. He felt obliged to apologize as he passed for frightening them by Running While Black. Weird world out there.

  2. Well, Rob, the trouble is there's been a whole big brou-ha-ha, as you probably know, in the sci-fi world ever since a bunch of (white) guys and a few gals (a/k/a Sad Puppies and/or Rabid Puppies) decided that "that popular works were often unfairly passed over by Hugo voters in favor of more literary works, or stories with progressive political themes. The slate nominees were predominantly male", and did their best to change that for the 2013-2017. Lot of bad blood, hard feelings, and general stupidity, so I'm not surprised that it's become a major topic at conventions these days. (It was, for a while, the equivalent of Gamergate, but with less personal harassment, or at least I hope there was.)

  3. Michael,
    A lot to think about with this one. Good.

  4. We did original research on this when I was Exec. Director of Crime Writers of Canada. Particularly looking at gender: why, when more than 50% of crime authors are female, did the males get most of the awards, and most of the newspaper reviews. We found something very interesting at the heart of it: that a much greater percentage of male writers had been taken on by the bigger, trad publishers. So if a newspaper only reviewed the big 5, more men automatically got reviewed. Hope that is changing.

  5. Thanks, everyone, for your comments.

  6. If this year's Worldcon is remembered for one thing it will be that Jeanette Ng won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and in her speech pointed out that the famous editor the award was named for was a "fascist," her word. He was certainly a racist and a misogynist. You can read her speech here: https://medium.com/@nettlefish/john-w-campbell-for-whom-this-award-was-named-was-a-fascist-f693323d3293

    Here's the astonishing thing. The award is sponsored by Astounding/Analog Magazine, which Campbell edited for many years, and yesterday they eseentially said: Ng is right. We're changing the name of the award.

    By the way, here is a comment on her speech by John Scalzi, a past winner of the award. https://whatever.scalzi.com/2019/08/20/jeannette-ng-john-w-campbell-and-what-should-be-said-by-whom-and-when/ The comments afterwards are also interesting.

  7. Rob, that's great news. Both that Ng said it - respectfully - and they changed the name. And Scalzi is right - a whole lot of "classic" sci-fi (And I was a MAJOR consumer in my teen years) was racist and/or misogynistic and/or imperialist to the core. But things have been changing for a long, long time.

  8. That was eye-opening, Rob. I started writing because my best friend and I wanted to be the next Asimov and Heinlein. Even though I've kept my SFWA membership active through the years and occasionally sell an SF or fantasy story, I'm not really in tune with what's happening in the SF/F genre. Maybe I'm better off for it.

  9. I'm a little interested in knowing why Ng and Scalzi accepted an award named after a man whose personal philosophies they found so repellent.

    I also don't think there's a clear understanding here of what "misogynist" means. It gets thrown around here as if meant "discriminatory/prejudicial/condescending" regarding women. Misogyny is the actual hatred of women, and I didn't see this in the works of the writers I read back then--Asimov, Simak, Sheckley, et al.

    Dan Persinger


Welcome. Please feel free to comment.

Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

She’s also sarcastically flip-lipped, but where else can a P.I. find a gal who can wield a candlestick phone, a typewriter, and a gat all at the same time? So bear with us, we value your comment. Once she finishes her Fatima Long Gold.

You can format HTML codes of <b>bold</b>, <i>italics</i>, and links: <a href="https://about.me/SleuthSayers">SleuthSayers</a>