My primary source of income since 1988 has been writing. Most of that has been technical writing (and related jobs) in the software industry, but I find it really hard to discount the fact that the word “writer” has been part of my official job description for a bit over 31 years. So my day job and my hobby job for more than three decades has been “writer” — so maybe I have some idea of how to put words together? Plus, for more than two decades I was the editor of a semi-prozine that produced at least three issues a year for those two decades. Which were offered for sale and purchased in sufficient quantities to cover the cost of printing.
So maybe, just maybe, I have some correct notions about what it takes for a story to appeal to an audience, right?
But here’s something I am absolutely certain of: I can’t teach you how to write. I can tell you how I do it (the parts I understand—there’s a whole lot going on in everyone’s subconscious that remains ineffable). I can tell you techniques that work for me. But only you can figure out how you can write.
And that’s true of everyone. No one, no matter how accomplished, can tell you how to write. I love reading or hearing about how other people go about writing. I like attending panels and seminars and the occasional online class from other writers. So I’m not saying don’t take anyone’s advice or class, just remember that in the end you are the person who is telling your stories. So only you can figure out which things people suggest work for you, and which don’t.
A lot of advice gets repeated regularly, and it seems sound. When you’re feeling anxious about writing, it can be comforting to have these rules to fall back on. But these pieces of advice can be stumbling blocks or worse. For example, one frequently repeated piece of advice is to cut out the adverbs. “Search for words ending in ‘ly’ and delete them!” So take out things like terribly and gently and carefully and slowly. Supposedly this makes your writing clearer. It also makes your writing duller. Some adverbs are superfluous. But like every other kind of word (nouns, verbs, adjectives), sometimes they are exactly right.
Then there is that tired old chestnut, “Show, don’t tell.” I’ve written before about how that advice is more wrong than it is right. In a nutshell: the extreme version of the advice leads you to remove all exposition from your story and exclude people who don’t share all your (unconscious) cultural assumptions. For a writer of science fiction or fantasy, that makes it impossible to put the reader into a world that is different than our own. Better advice is to paint pictures with your words. Anton Chekov said it thusly: “Don’t tell me the moon was shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” So use exposition when necessary, but make sure it isn’t flat and boring.
Said is a perfectly good verb. So is snarled, whispered, replied, asked, shouted, demanded, muttered and retorted. So that advice about never using any verb other than said as a dialog tag is another one that is well-meaning, but not completely right. Now, it is true that a writer can go overboard with the dialog tags. I was cringing mightily during a recent audio book where the author seemed to take the flip side of the advice and never used said at all. Among the horrible tags he did use were: extrapolated, polled, nodded, puffed, interrogated, and the absolute worst: all-caps-ed. This is another one where the truth is somewhere in between. Don’t go bananas with the synonyms for said and asked, but don’t stick to only those two, either.
Also, sometimes you don’t have to use dialog tags at all. You can describe what the character is doing: He pursed his lips. “Do you want my honest opinion?” Or if you are telling the story from a particular character’s point of you, you can describe their thoughts or feelings: Sarah wanted to hug him. “You have no idea how much I needed to hear that today!” But again, you need to figure out what works for you. I have a bad habit in first drafts of putting a she/he/they nodded on about half the dialog entries. I think it’s because I nod when people talk to me (which is hilarious when I do it on conference calls!). But when I read the draft later—especially aloud to my writer’s group—it sounds like everyone in my story is constantly bobbing their heads wildly and can really distract from the scene!
Some people insist that you absolutely must write every day on your project or you aren’t a real writer. Bull. Yeah, some people write like that. And if that works for you, great. But some of us need to take days off. My day job involves writing and editing, so some days when I get home my brain is burned out, and I don’t get much if any writing done. And don’t tell me to get up super early and write before I go to work. I’m not a morning person, and frankly if I tried I have no doubt that some days I would be much less than good at my job. And I like my work. Work pays the bills! And I like eating. If writing every single day works for you, great, do it. But don’t feel like a failure if some days you just have to do something else to recharge the mental batteries.
There are two very common bits of writing advice that I do fully endorse:
- A writer writes. You can skip days, but you can’t skip writing altogether. If you feel stuck, force yourself to write a single word. Just one. Then, look at it, and decide what the next one is. If that’s what it takes, just make yourself put one word after another until you have a sentence, and then another and another.
- A writer reads. Read other people’s work regularly. Read things you love. Every now and then, read stuff from a genre you don’t like. Or a style of writing that you usually don’t take to. Not all the time, but make sure you are expanding your reading horizons, regularly.
Other than that, I just have to ask: why are you still reading this post! Go! Write something! The world needs your story. And no one can tell your story except you.
A lot of people use the term plothole incorrectly. And the people who are most likely to use it incorrectly are also the people that believe that a plothole trumps every other aspect of the story. So, what is a plot hole?
Plothole A gap, inconsistency, or contradiction in a storyline that breaks the flow of logic established by the story’s plot.
As a writer, plotholes are the bane of my existence. When I find a contradiction in my story, it sometimes makes me want to tear my hair out. Sometimes a plothole isn’t very difficult to fix, once you find it. But others do indeed make the entire story fall apart. The existence of that latter type is why some people think that anything labeled plothole completely invalidates the story.
There are many other kinds of gaps which people confuse with plotholes. Those include:
- things an individual reader/viewer wish didn’t happen,
- character actions that contradict the version of the character the individual reader/viewer has constructed outside canon,
- things that contradict the political/moral preferences of the individual reader/viewer,
- things the author(s) intentionally plant to foreshadow something that will explain everything in a future chapter/episode/sequel,
- things the author(s) didn’t think they needed to explicitly explain because they thought you had critical thinking skills,
Let’s tackle these:
Things you wish didn’t happen. I have great sympathy for this issue. There are almost always things that I wish didn’t happen in any story I read or watch. Characters you wished to live are killed, or characters you thought should get together don’t, or a villain you thought should suffer more doesn’t. It can be very upsetting when a part of the story you care about doesn’t go the way you want. But that isn’t the same thing as an actual plot contradiction. And if it makes you feel any better, often the author is just as upset about the direction a story goes as you are. Seriously. When I was writing the first draft of one of my books, there was one scene where I was bawling my eye out while typing, because I didn’t want that character to die, sacrificing himself so his daughters could be saved, but everything in his story had led to that moment, so that’s what I wrote.
Character doesn’t behave the way you think they ought. When a story grabs us, we usually find ourselves identifying with many of the characters. And we’ll imagine a version of the character based on what we see in the early stages of the story. When we don’t realize is that we are also basing the character on things that aren’t actually in the story, but that appeal to us. Sometimes we overlook hints of things in the character’s personality that are less pleasing to us. So when that particular aspect of the character’s personality become a major plot point, we yell “out of character!” and “that contradicts everything we know about them.” Sorry, no it contradicts things you imagined into the character, not what was actually in the story. A subset of this problem is that sometimes we forget that humans are impulsive and make decisions based on emotion and hunches. Humans make mistakes. No one in real life is 100 percent consistent, so we shouldn’t expect fictional characters to be, either.
Things that contradict your political/moral preferences. One of my favorite movies is a silly comedy released in 1991 called Soapdish. The story contains, among other things, a supporting character played by Carrie Fischer that is my favorite thing she’s ever done outside of Star Wars. I laugh myself to tears every time I watch it… except it has one problem. A major running sub-plot is resolved in a quite transphobic way. Even in 1991 I was a bit troubled by it. More recently, I have to brace myself for it, and I no longer recommend to movie to people without a content warning. But, despite that thing being problematic, it isn’t a plothole. It is perfectly consistent with the rest of the story. Do I wish it didn’t happen? Oh, yeah. Do I enjoy the movie less because of it, again, yes. In this case, I’m able to enjoy the rest of the movie despite this problematic bit. I understand perfectly if other people can’t. But, it isn’t a plothole. It’s a failing of the narrative and demonstrates that some of the characters are a bit less open-minded that I would like.
Things that the author plans to explain later. For example, in one of my works in progress, one of the protagonists is a shapeshifter. But they don’t advertise the fact. At different points in the story, their hair (color and other qualities) is described in different ways, because their hair changes slightly with their mood. It looks like an inconsistency early on, but it is eventually explained by the end of the book (and there is one big hint in the opening chapter). Other dangling unfinished bits you notice at the very end may be intended for a sequel. If the unfinished bit doesn’t invalidate the resolution of the main plot, then it isn’t a plothole.
The author thought your critical thinking skills would fill in the gap. Not everything has to be spelled out. For one thing, trying to do so would add hundred of thousands of words to any book. The author has to make some judgement calls about things the readers will figure out, and things that need to be explained. The author will never guess correctly for every single reader. If, when you explain your plothole to a friend, and they immediately say, “Oh, I just figured that Y happened because of X,” you’re probably dealing with something the author thought you would figure out on your own.
Any of these reasons, of course, are a valid reason for you to dislike a particular story, movie, show, or book. But it does not mean the authors left a big plothole in the middle of the narrative road. And it doesn’t mean that the story is inherently, objectively bad.
There have already been so many stories about mass shooters, would-be mass shooters, and related domestic terrorists that they’re going to overwhelm the Friday Five. So I’m going to post them now with a bit of commentary.
Here’s the data on white supremacist terrorism the Trump administration has been ‘unable or unwilling’ to give to Congress. “Alleged white supremacists were responsible for all race-based domestic terrorism incidents in 2018, according to a government document distributed earlier this year to state, local and federal law enforcement.”
Second suspect wanted for stolen AR-15, tactical vest from Macon co. school turns himself in. So, the tactical vest and assault rifle were on school grounds in the first place because of the repeated idiotic “a good guy with a gun” arguments. (If you don’t understand why it is idiotic: first, can you shoot a bullet out of the air with a gun? No, you cannot. Second, responsible gun owners will all tell you that you never shoot into an area where you might hit innocent people. Which is why for most mass shootings where there were licensed conceal-carry people there, no one could safely take a shot at the shooter. And in a significant number of the few cases where a “good guy with a gun” tried to take out the shooter, bystanders got hit, instead.)
‘I’m the Shooter’: El Paso Suspect Confessed to Targeting Mexicans, Police Say. See, no “alleged” about it. It was racially motivated.
Trump Cultist Arrested For Death Threat Against AOC. He’s a convicted felon who is forbidden from owning guns… but he had a bunch and ammo to go with them.
An armed man who caused panic at a Walmart in Missouri said it was a ‘social experiment,’ police say. Doing something to cause a public alarm is, itself, a crime in most states, including his. Even in open carry states, waving a gun around in a threatening manner is a crime. I hope he get serious jail time.
A Vegas Man Was Arrested For Plotting A White Supremacist Attack On An LGBTQ Bar And Synagogue – Conor Climo told FBI agents he hated blacks, Jewish people, and members of the LGBTQ community, and was planning attacks that involved explosives or snipers. Such a fine person [/sarcasm]
Don’t just take my word for it: After El Paso, We Can No Longer Ignore Trump’s Role in Inspiring Mass Shootings.
Op-Ed: Why do Trump’s supporters deny the racism that seems so evident to Democrats?. Short version: most of them are the kind of racists who insist they don’t have a racist bone in their bodies…
I realize that this means he’s still old enough to look down his nose at fans in their 20s and dismiss them as clueless kids.
Anyway, I’m not linking to the diatribe for reasons. I do think that it is very telling that he cites Hidden Figures as an example of what’s wrong with modern sci fi (never mind that it is historical non-fiction). When I first saw the screen cap of what he said, I had to do some research to figure out who he was. I’d never heard of him. And in the course of doing that, I found that this is a topic he has ranted about many times. And in those longer rants, he asserts again and again not just that he thinks the writings of Heinlein and Niven are the best (which he is perfectly free to believe), but that they defined science fiction—and specifically that Heinlein is the origin of the genre.
Mary Shelly, H.G. Wells, Jules Verne (and others) may have a bone to pick with that assertion.
He also talks a lot about how the perfect protagonist for science fiction stories in Heinlein’s “competent man.”
I get it. I literally grew up on Heinlein. I’ve mentioned that my mom is one of the biggest fans of Heinlein’s stories from the 50s who as ever walked the earth. From the time I was an infant until I was old enough to read myself, Mom would read to me from whatever book she had checked out from the library or picked up at the used bookstore. I read every Heinlein book I could get my hands on during the late 60s, 70s, and into the 80s. And yeah, as a teen-ager in the 1970s, I started reading Larry Niven’s books—not as enthusiastically; I admit I was a bit more taken with Asimov, LeGuin, Pournelle, L’Engle, and Bradbury during those years. But I still liked Niven.
It’s true that Heinlein and Niven were very influential writers who inspired many fans to become writers themselves, and so on. But science fiction wasn’t just those two authors even at that time, and there was a lot of science fiction that existed before either of them wrote their first story.
Also, a lot of their stories haven’t aged particularly well. It happens. It’s called the passage of time. The text may be the same, but we, as people, change over time. Society changes. Our understanding of what certain things about society mean changes.
The image I included above is an illustration for a novel called The Blind Spot, written by Austin Hall and Homer Eon Flint. It was serialized in a number of issues of Argosy All-Story Weekly beginning in May of 1921. It was eventually published in book form in 1951 (it took so long because one of the authors died shortly after publication, and it just took a long time to sort out who had legal right to agree to a re-print), at which point the Forward was written by Forrest J Ackerman, who had been at one time the literary agent of such classic sci fi luminaries as Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and A.E. Van Vogt. At the second ever Worldcon (Chicon I, 1940) at the very first Masquerade ever held at a Worldcon, the second place costume was a person dressed as one of the characters from The Blind Spot. As late as the 1950s, sci fi writers, editors, and reviewers were referring to The Blind Spot as one of the honored classics of science fiction.
By the 1990s, the opinion had changed considerably. The Blind Spot is available on Project Gutenberg. I gave it a whirl. I mean, all those famous sci fi writers of the 1940s and 50s said it was fabulous, right?
Writing styles have changed over the years, so part of why it is difficult to slog through it is just how slow the action is and how dense some parts of the prose are. But, first, it isn’t science fiction. The titular Blind Spot is a place where periodically a magic hole opens to another world. Now, a lot of science fiction does include portals or gateways that aren’t always explained, but the other side of the portal is a temple in this other world, and various people, some of them immortal, hang out in this temple because of prophecies about the opening of the temple and how people who go through it will ascend to god-like powers and so forth. The plot involves necromancy, spirit writing, an immortal queen, the transmutation of people into spirits, and a mystical intelligent flame that enforces the sacred law.
In the pulp era they didn’t have the same kind of rigid genre definitions we’re used to today, so a weird tale like this with elements of magic and psychic powers and a hint at Lovecraftian horror was common. But that’s the thing. This is a story that for several decades was held up as a defining example of the genre. Yet by the 1990s it was being described as a “beloved book devoid of all merit.”
Because we changed. What we are willing to suspend our disbelief for in 2019 is considerably different than the expectations of readers in 1921. Their are spots in the opening chapters of this book when many paragraphs are spent describing how a couple of characters take a train through San Francisco, cross the bay in a ferry, take another train in Oakland, then hire a cab. Modern readers expect if you’re spending that many paragraphs talking about transit that it will eventually figure into the plot, right?
I sincerely doubt that the guy who is upset that the sci fi field doesn’t look like the way he remembers those Heinlein juveniles would think that The Blind Spot is fabulous. Although, given some of his comments about what he perceives as being wrong in what modern fans like, he might like some of the casual racism.
Even in the 50s, science fiction protagonists weren’t confined solely to blond-haired, blue-eyed lantern-jawed Anglo-Saxon Protestant heroes who always beat the bad guys and got the girl. Certainly by the time Niven was writing his most famous books, the genre was more diverse than that.
It’s okay to have personal preferences, but science fiction is supposed to be about leaping into the future. You can’t do that if you have fossilized your brain in the past.
And then this morning the world woke to this news: Jeffrey Epstein Found Dead in Cell in Apparent Suicide. Reminder: Epstein is under arrest on charges of sex trafficing—specifically recruiting underage girls to provide sex for himself and a large group of clients over many years. Several years ago he got out of most of the charges of a similar case with a deal offered by a former prosecutor (who later became Trump’s Labor Secretary, and then resigned when this new information came to light).
Their are conspiracy theories being thrown around how this isn’t a suicide but rather a murder to silence him before he could be pushed into a plea deal where he testified against his rich and powerful clients. One reason I don’t buy that is because Epstein’s death doesn’t stop the rest of the criminal case going forward: Epstein: How he died and what it means for his accusers and also Epstein’s Victims Will Continue to Pursue Justice, Lawyer Says.
And I want to unpack that further than those articles do. A number of possible co-conspirators have already been identified. Charges are likely to be pursued against them. And those charges are not solely dependent on flipping Epstein. Remember, the feds have thousands of photographs seized from just one of Epstein’s properties of people having sex with the underage girls. One of the many tools that the feds had in their back pocket on this case is that possessing those photos constituted a crime in an of themself, even if Epstein wiggled out of the trafficing charges.
However, even though we haven’t seen the photos (and I sure as heck don’t want to personally), the description vague description entered into the court records, coupled with that fact that for some years financial experts have suspected that Epstein’s income may be the result of blackmailing rich people, the logical conclusion is that those photos were the blackmail. The photos constitute proof that certain recognizable people had sex with those girls. That, plus the flight records and other details we already know about at least some of the rich and powerful who hung out with Epstein will add up to enough to charge some of those people.
So killing Epstein isn’t enough. Not by a long shot.
Which isn’t to say that there isn’t something fishy about his death: Epstein had been taken off suicide watch before killing himself, source says.
But there are other fishy things besides a conspiracy to silence him. There are plenty of people who think he deserves to die for doing all of that to all of those girls.
The other issue that keeps coming up related to this case, which the political cartoon I linked to above sort of gets at: when the Epstein case came to light, all over social media I kept seeing conservative, Trump-supporting people angrily or snarkily confronting people they perceived as liberal when referencing this case with variants of: “when it turns out the [prominent Democrat X] is one of the clients, you’ll feel differently.”
Let put that to rest: no, no I won’t. If those men took advantage of Epstein’s “parties” and “retreats” to have sex with those girls, then I want them to go to prison. It doesn’t matter if they were a senator, or congressman, or governor who served in the party I usually vote for. It doesn’t matter if they were a president that I voted for twice. I expect them to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
I do think it very telling that the first thing that comes to mind for many Trump supporters is to assume that we will stop caring about criminal activity when we find out the criminal is someone whose politics we support. It’s not a revelation, we have thousands of examples in the last three years alone of how they refuse to believe, make excuses, or otherwise look the other way when the crimes Trump and his cronies comes to light. It’s just one more piece of evidence that they are all right with horrible crimes being committed against certain types of people.
I could keep going, but I’m going to circle back to this: I don’t think Epstein was murdered. His whole life was built around his jet-setting lifestyle that gave him the access, power, and money to indulge his sick desires. Every indicator is that his wealth is the result of a complex illegal scheme of some sort, which the information in the possession of both federal and state prosecutors will put an end to, and once everything is sorted out, he would probably be penniless. The only futures left to him were:
- the rest of his life behind bars
- many years behind bars, then a life of near poverty
So, he took the coward’s way out.
Edited to add:
This is interesting! Epstein’s Pals Just Lost Any Chance of Having Penthouse Evidence Tossed by the Courts — Here’s Why. Just to be clear, they mean evidence seized during the raid on Epstein’s New York Penthouse. This has nothing to do with the porn magazine. Anyway, because it was seized on his property before he died, he is the only person who had standing to petition the courts to disallow it in trials. So…
The premise of the book is a weird hybrid of sci fi and fantasy—both portal fantasy and epic fantasy by the time the book is through. Our protagonist, Jim Eckart, holds a PhD in Medieval History and is hoping to become a full-time instructor at the university. His fiancé, Angie, is working on her own doctorate degree in English literature5, and is also working as an assistant to a professor who, in Jim’s opinion, is always tricking Angie into working more than she ought to. One day, when she isn’t ready to be picked up by Jim, he rushes to the professor’s lab, arriving just in time to see Angie in a contraption that looks as if it is from a bad sci fi movie—and then she vanishes before Jim can say a word.
The professor’s machine is supposed to boost latent psychic abilities, and he was trying to get Angie to astral project into another dimension. He never expected her to physically teleport there. The professor has to explain that he can’t simply pull Angie back—it is her own psychic talent that did the trick, after all. But he is certain that if she could be hypnotized in the other realm to return home, she would pull it off. So he convinces Jim to get into the machine, and at a lower power setting, has high hopes6 that Jim will project into the body of a native of this other dimension near Angie and be able to convince her to return herself home.
That’s the set up.
Jim agrees, and he wakes up not inside the body of any person close to Angie. Instead, he wakes up inside the body of a dragon named Gorbash, and trouble ensues from there.
The body Jim is in isn’t anywhere close to Angie’s location. He spends a few chapters trying to sort out the world he is in, which seems to be very similar to 14th Century England… except that are multiple species of dragons, and there are wizards, and some wolfs can talk. Also, humans in this world are all called Georges (at least by dragons and the talking wolves) because of the legend of St. George and the Dragon. Hence the title.
Jim eventually figures out that Angie has been captured by two dragons. He meets with them, and attempts to hypnotize Angie so that she will return to earth, but she refused to leave without Jim. While they are trying to think of an alternative way for both to get back, one of the dragons whisks Angie away, and she is imprisoned by an evil knight and the dragon who was in an alliance with the forces of Darkness.
Jim meets a wizard named Carolinus who sets him the task to collect a series of companions (which includes a knight, a woman archer of extraordinary talent, a talking wolf who was a friend of the dragon Jim’s consciousness is trapped in, a very elderly and no longer robust dragon who is a relative of the body Jim is trapped in, and a small dragon from a subspecies that is ridiculed by normal dragons) before he can make an assault7 on the keep where Angie is being held prisoner.
The whole point of this book was to invert the idea of who we should be rooting for when knights battle dragons, so it should be no surprise that the part I found most interesting was the complex society of dragons that was partially explored in this book. Two of my three favorite characters in the book are dragons (the elderly dragon and the smaller one). I read this book about a year before my social group discovered original Dungeons & Dragons8, which was only shortly before the first printing the Advanced D&D’s Player’s Handbook, which we all bought, and tried to produce better adventures with as slowly, every so slowly, the Monster Manual and other books needed to make AD&D a real game were published.
And mention all of that because when I was designing campaigns, I tried to play the dragons more like the characters in this book. Which was easier to do before the official Monster Manual came out and was filled with, frankly, a poorly-designed set of monsters.
But to get back to The Dragon and the George, eventually the evil knight and dragon and their many monster companions are defeated, though at great cost, and Angie is rescued. Angie and Jim decide that they don’t want to go back to earth for various reasons, and Carolinus separates Jim for Gorbash, giving him a human body identical to his one from earth. Which set things up for the characters to return for a sequel, that that wouldn’t be published for 14 years. Dickson eventually completed a total of 9 books in the series before his death in 2001.
I only read three of the sequels. I didn’t find them as compelling as the original. Sometime in the mid-nineties, after being disappointed in one of said sequels, I decided to re-read the first book, and was quite happy to find it still enjoyable. Do I wish the damsel in distress had been a more fleshed out and active character in the story? Yes. But the story held up a lot better than some of my other old favorites from my teen years and before.
And besides, the dragons, at least, got to be something more than cliches.
1. As I recall the offer that I found inside a copy of Galaxy Science Fiction magazine, which was itself the result of one of my grandmothers buying me a subscription for my birthday and renewing it each year after2, had said that you would receive 6 books for just one nickel3!
2. The other grandmother, by the way, upon hearing me explain to a friend that I’d actually wanted a subscription to the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction purchased me a couple years of subscription to that ‘zine, as well my next birthday.
3. The order card had a place for you to tape a nickel to the card before placing it in an envelope. I complete missed the small print about the shipping.
4. I did not intentionally manipulate anyone’s sense of guilt. The month that all we found out about my dad having had a long-running affair with another woman and having fathered two children with her and so on and so forth was, well, it was hectic. And I didn’t mail the card in on time that month, and the book showed up a few weeks later, and things just happened5.
4. Not that I didn’t recognize it was a gift horse into whose mouth I was not looking, but…
5. I can’t decide whether I should be irritated at the cliché of the woman who is the romantic interest of the male protagonist being into English Literature. On the other hand, I suppose that we ought to be grateful that Jim isn’t a science major, right?
6. I distinctly remember being a bit put out at this point the first time I read it, because it seemed to me that the professor had no evidence to back up any of this theories.
7. I said it would move into Epic Fantasy territory!
8. The precursor the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons9 published first in 1974 and came as a set of small books and very cheaply-made dice in a white box.
9. Which began being published as hardbound rulebooks in 1977.
And let’s be perfectly clear: I am not yet willing to embrace him into the ally fold. Because so far his “apologies” and his repudiations of his former stances have fallen far short of the minimal acceptable act of contrition.
In order to explain that, I have to give you some background. Mr Harris was raised by two of the founders of the evangelical home-schooling movement. I know that there are non-evangelical families that participate in home-schooling, but the largest of the home-school movements are run by very conservative so-called Christians. All of the statistics indicate that the majority of students in those programs, at least, do not receive minimal science education while their history curriculum fall far short of any reasonable expectation of accuracy. And the sex education would be laughable if it wasn’t causing so much harm.
But let’s get back to Mr. Harris. Harris came to prominence in evangelical circles for writing a book called. I Kissed Dating Goodbye which was about how modern dating culture was merely thinly disguised promiscuity. He promulgated all the usual arguments fundamental to purity culture, which is pushed by many churches as a biblical reaction to immorality, when it is actually a codification of practices that victimize natural feelings women experience, while excusing immoral impulses of heterosexual men.
Harris supported an alternative to dating called “courtship,” where a young man—feeling that god has pointed out his intended bride to him—approaches her and her father, and if the father approves, they begin courting. This is different than dating mostly in that everyone agrees there will be no kissing ever, and that they will also spend their time together in chaperoned (usually church-sponsored) activities until such time that that families deem it is time for the two to marry.
You will note that it is the young woman’s father who approves in that description, not the young woman herself. If you bring that up to the folks who push this particular brand of purity culture, they will insist that of course the father consults with his daughter before giving his approval. But counsellors who have worked with young people who feel they are being railroaded by their family’s beliefs on this, as well as the accounts of adults who have fled those churches, report that the majority of the time the young woman’s wishes are not taken into account.
The entire process is built around assumptions that men naturally are imbued by god with insatiable lust, while women are tasked by that same god with ensuring that lust doesn’t become inflamed. The upshot of which is that boys and young men aren’t taught to respect boundaries or take responsibility for their own feelings and actions. And if any so-called sexual sin happens, it is always the fault of the girl or young woman, because it’s her job not to tempt the young man, right?
Harris made a lot of money from that book and subsequent writings, going on to become a pastor in a very anti-gay denomination. Which comes as a surprise to no one.
What has pushed him into the spotlight in recent years are first, his repudiations of his past teachings. It began a few years ago when he said he no longer supported many of the ideas in his first book. Oddly, it was quite some time later before he asked the publisher of his first book to stop selling the book. He and the publisher reached an agreement whereby they would not pursue any further reprints, but they would continue to promote and sell his book until the existing inventory was sold… and they would continue to pay him his royalties throughout this period.
Next, he worked with a documentarian to produce a film and then go an a so-called apology tour for the communities that were harmed by his sex-negative, misogynistic, anti-gay, anti-trans rhetoric. The problem is, the documentary and the tour was all about him (and selling his new apology merchandise) and not about the communities that have been harmed for many years by his anti-gay and anti-feminist teachings and his books.
Since then, he and his wife have announced that they are getting a divorce. Shortly after that he announced that he no longer considered himself a Christian and he specifically issued an apology to the LGBT community. That sounds great. But when he made this last announcement on Instagram, in as accompanied by a pretentious photo of himself gazing out at a lake. A photo was was taken by a professional he hired for the purpose. Which is totally what you would expect an ordinary person to do when issuing an apology about your years of being a leader of a bigoted movement, right? [/sarcasm]
And then, this weekend what did he do? Why he traveled from Ohio to Vancouver, British Columbia and marched in the Gay Pride Parade there. We know this because he posted a number of pictures of himself wearing a rainbow t-shirt to his Instagram account. We see him posing with people at the parade. We see him eating a rainbow donut. We see him standing on a sidewalk with the rainbow-clad crowd applauding the parade in the background, and so on.
All of which seems very… calculated. Joe Jervis over on his blog, Joe.My.God snarkily observed: “I guess we can give him props for at least doing this on his own before a Grindr account or something similar goes public.” I don’t suspect that Harris is going to come out as gay anytime soon—though he certainly wouldn’t be the first conservative pastor whose sermons focused a disproportionate time on sexual matters to be found out to be a closet case. I’m more concerned with how he has found ways to monetize his so-called transformation.
Take that documentary: a blogger named Elizabeth Esther who had written about her own escape from a purity-culture church, participated in Harris’s documentary. Later, when Harris started selling copies of the documentary while doing his apology tour, she saw how her interview with him was edited in a very distorting way. As she says, the whole thing came across as Harris proclaiming, “I had good intentions. I need you to know how good my intentions were!” That’s not an adequate apology to queer kids who were abused and/or kicked out on the street by their religious parents following advice from Harris’ books. It is not an adequate apology to women who were shamed about their own bodies from early childhood. It is not an adequate apology to kids of all genders who were pushed into relationships without adequate understandings of how real relationships work. And so on.
I could rant some more, but Patrick L. Green, who for many years was a pastor at a liberal church near Chicago that ran a youth outreach program which, among other things, tried to support kid who were being victimized in the purity-culture obsessed churches in their community. His post includes a lot of interesting (and sometimes disturbing) information: Joshua Harris’ Creation And What We Need to Consider.
Maybe Harris really is trying to find a way to make amends, but given that he first half-heartedly repudiated his most famous book (and had to be called out many times by ex-evangelicals before he actually asked the publisher to stop selling it), then made a documentary that he sold along with other merchandise on that so-called apology tour, then hiring a professional photographer for his instagram post announcing that he was leaving the church, and then those Pride Parade photos that look staged…
…well, let’s just say, I’m expecting a new book or something similar to go on sale soon. I’m not planning on buying it.