I (and Sharon) have been backed into a corner defending a single position over quality controls. Frankly, I rather resent this.

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Title: I (and Sharon) have been backed into a corner defending a single position over quality controls. Frankly, I rather resent this. (The title used here on Fanlore is a sentence in the first part of the editorial.)
Creator: Paula Smith and many other fans
Date(s): 1976 and 1977
Medium: print
Fandom: Star Trek: TOS
Topic:
External Links:
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I (and Sharon) have been backed into a corner defending a single position over quality controls. Frankly, I rather resent this. is the 1977 editorial by Paula Smith in Menagerie #11.

Note: "Sharon" is Sharon Ferraro, the co-editor of "Menagerie."

The essay was written in response to several things: the submission guidelines and comments by the zine's editors in issue #10, and the letters in response to the editors in issue #11.

Paula Block wrote an essay a month later that defended Ferraro and Smith's editorial comments. See So what do you want, good material or good friends??.

For additional context, see Timeline of Concrit & Feedback Meta.

Some Topics Discussed in the Essay and Fan Comments

  • elitism and expectations in fanworks
  • Mary Sue
  • who gets to dictate what is quality?
  • gatekeeping, power, and control
  • definitions of quality
  • a lot of BNFing and white knighting
  • the shame of being a Star Trek fan
  • some fans' desire that Treklit be taken as seriously as science fiction literature
  • fans' differing expectations and desires regarding their involvement in fandom

The Essay: "I (and Sharon) have been backed into a corner defending a single position over quality controls. Frankly, I rather resent this."

Paula Smith:

Somehow, in the past year or so, I (and Sharon) have been backed into a corner defending n single position over quality controls. Frankly, I rather resent this. Aside from the fact that Truth never reigns from only one cloud, I am your basic jerk who shells out x number of bucks a month on zines and cable TV to absorb ST--because I like it, because I have fun with it, because there are even many Deep Ideas and Hopeful Realities in it. I like a lot of things, often for the wrong reasons, or for no reason at all--the "naughty bits," getting Spock, the 28 Mary Sues I've created mentally since 4th grade. Why not?

But though things are relative, they can be relative. I trust I make myself obscure. True, nothing is absolute, especially in literature, but things can be compared. An sf story can be compared with an ST one. An ST episode can be compared with a movie, or an episode of another TV show. It is even possible to compare works across media, eg, written ST with the episodes. I think it safe to say even "Spock's Brain" was better than "Satan's Satellites." I can also say that Paula Block's Faulwell series had more human and humane characters than Doc Smith's Skylark series. I can further say that Connie Faddis' "A Lesson in Perspective" beats hell out of Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness." In my opinion.

But it is also true that much of Treklit is mediocre. Much of anything is mediocre. The genre we are working in is not very old, the writers, not that experienced. I have been writing a total of three whole years, and sold exactly one piece. However, I have been a reader much longer. What I have been saying, here on my personal ego-podium --or rather, meant, purposed, intended--is that a good deal, indeed most, of Treklit is not what you (or I, anyway) call a Good Story. As defined last time in the Gospel According to Smith, and often in high school English courses: a Good Story has consistent plot and characterization. A Good Story is not identical to seven others previously written. A Good Story shows us a little of who we are, or lets us forget for a moment what we are. Personally, I find such stories more fun to read, but that won't be true for everyone. I do not wish an exclusive diet of such Highly Significant tales, for escapist idiocy has its place in life, but then, I don't expect to find only Good Stories. They're harder to write, for one thing, and not everybody cares to get hung up on high school literature definitions, That's cool. There are many stories in fandom that may be literary slime, but are nonetheless enjoyable.

We stand in the dock accused of wanting every zine to look like MENAGERIE. Untrue. We want every zine to look like INTERPHASE. We also want every zine to look like WARPED SPACE, like STARDATE: UNKNOWN, like MASIFORM D and SPOCKANALIA, like ERIDANI TRIAD and BABEL, like METAMORPHOSIS, KRAITH COLLECTED and HALKAN COUNCIL. They ought also look like PEGASUS, or failing that, like SEHLAT'S ROAR. They should look like CONTACT and IDIC at those two's best, or ENERGIZE at its worst. They should not look like DOUBLE EXPOSURE, a handtyped, handcrayoned, Spockie zine of some years back which had dozens of little yellow ducks tracking across its pages. If every zine looked like MEN 1 or 2 (or even 4--or 6, 7/8 or 10, for that matter. Or 3, 5, 9, 11...) I'd have an attack of the screaming shits.

Basically, [we] are mean, rotten, nasty, vile, stubborn, pigheaded, horrible snots who, for a lark, vivisect baby kitties. You must understand this in your approach to our zine. If, in taking up a copy of MENAGERIE to read, scan, or wipe with, you expect sweetness and light, you're not going to get it. If you expect welcome mats and kissiepoos, you may get bare courtesy. If you expect the best goddamn job we can do, that we will deliver. We'll strive to hone our stuff, erase pencilmarks, align columns and correct typos, hound our contributors and printer for their best work, take our lumps when we do something stupid, and apologize when we're wrong, which is often. Then we'll try to do better.

Not that you should ever expect anything less.

Some Background

The zine series had really began to get some traction and attention as it rounded off its first ten issues, and this was reflected in the submission guidelines by Paula Smith and Sharon Ferraro printed in issue #10, as well as comments in the editorial of #11, and tone and content of the zine reviews that had appeared throughout previous issues.

Submission Guidelines: Printed in #10, Preceding Smith's Essay

[Sharon's editorial]:

Zounds! I suppose that one of the measures of a trekzine's popularity is found in the number of stories, poems, etc. that the editors regularly receive for consideration. The editor never knows where they come from,' they might as well be bird droppings from the sky. We have received too many manuscripts to count, ranging in quality from excellent (see in this issue Jackie Bielowicz' "Seeds of Vision") to unmentionable.

To those eager, hopeful writers out there, waiting to make it big in the trekzine world—a few pointers. These are some things that MENAGERIE'S editors don't like:

1) Mary Sue stories - the adventures of the youngest and smartest ever person to graduate from the academy ever and ever get a commission at such a tender age. Usually characterized by unprecedented skill in everything from art to zoology, including karate and arm-wrestling. This character can also be found burrowing her way into the good graces/heart/mind of one of the Big Three, if not all three at once. She saves the day by her wit and ability, and, if we are lucky, has the good grace to die at the end, being grieved by the entire ship.

2) Birthday silliness/humiliation stories - Captain Kirk's mother beams aboard to surprise him on his birthday ("Truth or Consequences"?) and the bridge crew ends up playing pin-the-tail-on-the-smeerch and spanking Jimmy 35+ times while his mommy watches.

-or-

the alien/Vulcan is introduced to one of our typical wonderful sweet earth-type holidays. Mr. Spock plays Santa Claus. (Actually, you may have noticed that "100 Proof Positive" in MENAGERIE 6 was about Spock finding Santa Claus, but a parody is one thing; a seriously written "It really could happen" is another.)

3) Torment stories - Kirk/Spock/McCoy is suf fering horribly (disease, Klingons, jock itch while Spock/McCoy/Kirk is forced to look on helplessly. Within the context of a real story or adventure it may make sense, but Trek was no medical sufferings show. No rewrites of "The Empath" or "Plato's Step children," please.

4) A lot of Kraith.

5) Kirk/Spock "relationship" stories - unless damned good, they usually aren't stories at all.

6) "After" stories in which Carolyn Palomas/Leila Kalomi/Deela/Kalinda/Zarabeth bears Apollo's/Spock's/ Kirk's/Kirk's/Spock's child. Or dies trying.

7) Drinking stories - Scotty and 3,000 Klingons get drunk together and Scotty wins.

8) Lost princesses/dukes/blood enemies to the Enterprise.

9) Another Harry Mudd story.

There now, isn't that encouraging? Actually, however, we will accept any and all of the above IF THEY ARE WELL WRITTEN. For those of you still considering this as the outlet for your creation, there are five degrees of response possible from Smith and Ferraro:

  1. 5 - Nothing. This is because you forgot the return postage (tho if it fits #2 or #1 on this list, we'd contact you anyway).
  1. 4 - A polite note. "We are sorry, but this piece does not fit our prestent requirements. Thank you for remembering the return postage." (Tf we didn't like it, we won't encourage you to send more.
  1. 3-A longer note. "This is an interesting story but does not fit our present requirements. You might try sending it to as it may fit their format better. Please keep MENAGERIE in mind for anymore work you may do." (We didn't like this one—race horses on the lower decks—but we like your writing style. Try again.)
  1. 2 - "This is very nice. It needs a little work..." On to details, perhaps shoring up a weak plot or bolstering a characterization a bit. (We want it

if you'll rewrite.)

  1. 1 "We want this story. Except for the transposition of 'e' and 'i' in 'piece' on page 14, we can't think of a thing wrong with it. Do you want to suggest an artist?" (We'll take it as it is.)
Don't give up—we wrote the first four issues almost entirely alone and are getting tired of filling it ourselves. Don't forget the return postage!)
[editorial from Paula]:

You may notice that this issue has a rather wider range of contributors than our last. The reason for this is simple: more people have been sending us stuff. Some of it has even been pretty good. MENAGERIE'S policy is, we will consider anything. Anything at all, up to and including papier mache' sculpture, as long as return postage is included (if not, ya don't get it back, turkey). If we reject it, there's nothing to stop the writer/artist from sending it anywhere else, or starting her own zine in order to print it, if she so chooses. A rejection should never be taken as discouragement; sometimes we get some bloody fine stories that we just can't use — Spock goes into pon farr (again) or Kirk gets elected God — but well written. Our emphasis, which should be obvious by now, is on extra-Enterprise stories. If we accept the piece, we don't usually return the original manuscript, unless specifically requested. We've had to reprint issues a couple of times and it's a pain to try and get the original art back, especially if it's been sold to someone else.

So much for policy. We got a letter some time ago from sunny Jan Rigby in sunny [city and state redacted], asking us just what the hell do we consider to be a Good Story, anyway. Well... A Good Story has a logical (or at least consistent) and unified scheme of action, aka a plot. A story cannot get along without at least one believable person in it; preferably, all the characters should be believable, consistent, fully fleshed, three-dimensional--in a word, "human" or possibly "sentient." That's characterization. Those two are the biggies. The story should also have some sort of thematic coherence, so that the various technical elements don't work at loggerheads. The back ground (the story's world system, universe; the author's Created World; the assumptions on which the story is based) ought to be scientific, or have an appreciation of the scientific method (events in the real world are repeatable and measurable, as opposed to magical), be cause Star Trek is also science fiction. It also helps to have a story written with a consistent point of view and a readable style. Last, and most obvious, the story should be written in English, by which I mean the final draft or printed version must be free of misspellings and grammatical errors. Typos are one thing, and generally the editor's fault; but it is not a thrill, while reading some turgid tale, to have to decode it as well.

That's all.

Fan Comments

Fan Comments Before the Essay Was Written

Below are fan comments regarding the submission guidelines and comments by the zine's editors in issue #10:

From "Menagerie" #10:

Sharon Emily: Your editorial comment set me to wondering. One person's "-----" can be another's "Perfume," and what's the tragedy in that? Granted, if actual "ripoffs" are being made, they should be stopped. On the other hand, isn t there room enough in St/sf fandom for everyone-- no matter how mediocre they happen to be? After reading comments about EVERYTHING that's been written and published during the past few years — professional and fan-written-- I wish I owned the concession that sells "nasty pills." Is it possible that a lot of potentially-fine writers are going to be put off by the fact that CONstructive criticism seems to have been kicked out the door? Sure, if they have what it takes, they'll write anyhow. On the other hand, there are a lot of people who will never dare to set pen to paper or finger on a typewriter because they are afraid to try. They seem to feel that if they aren't able to meet the Asimov/Heinlein level of writing, they'd better not try to write at all. I'm basing this statement upon a number of letters I've gotten from 'younger Trek fans who mention great story ideas but go on to say that they feel it's no use to try to write them because of what they've been reading about other things that have been done. One learns by writing, if he wants to be a writer. Be it "garbage," , or the Great American Novel, somebody somewhere will like it--if the law of averages has any meaning at all. However, writing for ST fandom is a rougher training program than anything the professional schools could dream up. It seems lately that people have forgotten that "courtesy" is much easier to use; either that, or we've all developed a walloping huge negative attitude. It seems to be pick, pick pick on everything and God forbid that anything good should be said about anything! It's enough to make the Great Bird take off for some other planet to find out what happened to IDIC. [1]
Mary Ann Emerson:

I also wanted to say how much I enjoyed your editorial...Literary Standards. Carol ( (Shuttleworth)) and I both have rather high standards in that respect. Mine officially cover the art department. We are both worried about how to say nicely but firmly to a contributor "we can't use your artwork (or story}." This problem has already caused us to make our zine project ["Istari Axanar"] independent of the club. So far it has not really been much of a problem, but I'm not a very tactful person and I do not like the prospect of having to tell someone who has put hours and hours of work on an illo that it is not acceptable. I've already had the line, "But it's just a zine, anything is acceptable, no one really cares that much." So you can understand I empathize with your editorial.

I don't know if it is possible to put it on the line like that. The rite of passage into fandom never said anything about literary standards--it seems to go something like "We are a fraternity of people in this for a good time, for the love of Star Trek and the philosophy of hope and brotherhood that the TV show made--if only for a few images — into a kind of reality."

Standards are born out of seriousness and conviction, and out of caring. It takes a while, even when you have been involved deeply in fandom, to realise how much you care about it. I still have those flashes--"What the hell am I doing in fandom, I could be doing this artwork and getting paid for it." Then I come out of that cycle of phobia and get straight again. A friend once accused my mania for standards as a way of legitimizing my cop-out. That made me so angry. A demand for quality is not a cop-out. It is simply a demand for people to pull away the triviality that they have dressed up fandom with..."Oh, I'm not really that serious about it, it's just a hobby." I'm tired of hearing that line. I do not know what the future of fandom is, but I do know that I am serious about interest! Writing Treklit...certain forms can be a cop-out, but it does not have to be that way.

I think this might by why your call for quality infuriates so many people; I think there are many fans who are afraid to confront their own feelings why they like Star Trek. They convince themselves that it is a trivial interest, so they demand trivial zines and trivial stories. There are the people who proliferate and tolerate the trash.

Literary standards are much more than spelling or punctuation, tho that is where it starts. Standards are a concern with issues bigger than your own phobias. We both know that it is impossible to control the creative aspect, tho I know many people, especially sf readers, who see any kind of standardization as a block to their creative impulses. Sf fandom has not resolved this mess either, so I do not see any easy way out for ST. I suppose it will boil down to just about what you said in your editorial. Those who really care, really try to do something worthwhile will do it -- and those who don't will continue to perpetuate the crud. [2]

Fan Comments in #11, In Which the Essay Was Published

From "Menagerie" #11:

Penny Warren:

When MEN is good, as in the above stories, it's very good indeed. Unfortunately, when it's bad, it's correspondingly horrid. "Trekworld" is apparently intended to be funny; it isn't only cruel. There's a difference between "humor in a jugular vein" and blood sport. Maybe I'm just lucky, but I've never met a Trekfan who deserved the kind of contempt Block pours on her "Lt. Mary Sue." As ego-trip, this piece may be successful; as satire, it goes in the same file as "Tunnel Under the World."

"Notes from Captain Dunsel" is also ego-ridden and arrogant. Look, I don't know anyone who is not in favor of high literary standards in Treklit. But subject matter is not a valid critical criterion, nor is a personal quirk of taste. Trek writers, like writers of any other literature, deal with characters and situations which move them. The fact that the reviewer does not like stories based on given figures and circumstances doea not relieve her of the obligation to judge them on the basis of craftsmanship and on no other basis whatsoever. Certainly it does not give her the right to "call for a moratorium" on such work, or to suggest that other zines make them selves over in MEN's image. This is destructive criticism at its worst. There is no justification for it.[3]
["Mary Sue Parker" -- a satirical letter]: I really liked Menagerie #10, I think it is a really great fanzine. I liked espicially well the back cover, because it was drawn. It was really great! I liked Treckworld because Mary Sue had the same name as me. That was really neat! I really liked it. I really liked The Seeds of Vision the best! Monica Miller is a really great artist. I think she is the best. I all so liked as well really well the Day of The Dork. It was funny!! Aslo Captain Kirk And his Waterbed was. I think you have a really great fanzine Menagerie! I hope you will print more fanzines. I think your the best editor ever! I really like your fanzine, it is a really good fanzine! [4]
Melanie R: As I was going through the letters re quality vs. trash, I suddenly realized what my definition of a really good ST story is; the ones that say between the lines, "I can't help myself, I had to write it! It's a compulsion, God help me!" It is the story that gives me the feeling that it was written specifically for an audience that bores me. Plot, characterization, scientific jargon, consistency—you name it, they've got it hands down—don't mean a thing to me if I can't reach inside a story and see the writer devouring roasted soynuts and iced tea long into the night to keep up her strength to finish the damn thing. It seems to me to be the difference between the raw early Beatles and the Monkees (shudder). Those first Beatles albums were almost primitive in terms of production (George Martin notwithstanding), but they were alive and still are. The Monkees were fully produced, technically correct, nice instrumentalization, sold a zillion records—and dull, dull, dull. The ST story may be a little raw or it may be absolutely beautiful, but if it doesn't have that spark, for me personally it's a waste of time.[5]
Mary M. Schmidt:

Now, you've gone and done it!

As the former Incredible eight-year-old Unpublished Author, I thought there were two kinds of people in this racket. The editors (drones) and the writers (workers). Writers write stories, editors reject them. Why did you have to go and prove me right?

I refer to your editorial of MEN 9. So, there are degrees of rejection? And "No such thing as a discouraging rejection?" Oh, come now!..A rejection is a rejection. (Your examples 4 & 5 are rejections, your 1, 2 and 3 are something else.) A rejection is a negative message. There is no way it can be sweetened up. A rejection always is a poor reflection on one's abilities. A rejection is a failure.

How do I know this? Do I write? Yes, or I'd go insane! For publication? Not any morel I was never taught to write. As a child, I was taught to write to please The Nuns. Later I learned that one must write to please The Editors. Where does One's Self come in? Not at all, apparently.

And, there's something very bad about having to be grateful if the Big Important Editor takes time out of his Busy Schedule to send a sugary rejection to Little Insignificant Me. If (Gosh!) I ever were to Get Into Print, I am obliged to Kiss the Editor's you-know-what, before Dying of Sheer Joy. There comes a point where you stop writing. Or, if you're like me, you can't stop. You begin to think too highly of you own work and you no longer submit it to drones who are going to wipe their noses on it before bouncing it back.

If this sounds vitriolic, it's because I've been at the bottom of too many slush piles too long. But Editors, please. Don't put butter and jelly on your rejections. That won't blot out the taste. And the editor who gets rejection-happy, for whatever reason, will soon end up doing his entire publication himself. [6]
Bev Clark:

"Captain Kirk's Waterbed" had me somewhat puzzled...What struck me most, as a matter of fact, was the discussion about literary standards and Trek fiction. I have rather mixed feelings on the subject. On the one hand, badly written fiction drives me up the wall, and almost embarrasses me...However in the case of simple construction errors, such as...grammar and spelling, the editor is as much at fault as the writer; it is the editor's job to correct such minor faults. Poor plotting, bad characterization, or other structural faults within the story are basically the fault of the author, as a result of inexperience, or sheer lack of talent, but they are faults that can be explained; few stories are so dreadful that there is nothing good about them, even if it's only the idea, and most authors can learn to correct their errors in time, at least enough to become competent writers.

Saying a story stinks, and returning it without comment doesn't help accomplish this purpose. Of course, editors receive more submissions than they can adequately comment upon, but surely there's time for a brief note of encouragement—"Nice idea; perhaps you should look at so-and-so's book on plotting." I can sympathize with authors who are easily discouraged by criticism, especially harsh criticism; I am one myself, and I can tell you that it's even more devastating to receive a story back with absolutely no comment...We aren't professionals, and we shouldn't be expected to be. And we don't all write as well as Paula Smith or Connie Faddis from the beginning, yet your standards might prevent anyone but writers of that caliber from ever being published. One thing that this could result in is an incestuous look to some of the more "prestigious" fanzines; it's already apparent in them. The same writers and artists appear in most of the "better" fanzines, and some zines are becoming invitational, and of course only the best people are invited to contribute. I object to this practice...

I disagree with Mary Ann Emerson's implied statement that lack of quality equals lack of caring; very often it only equals lack of experience. Couldn't caring on the part of an editor be expressed by helping the inexperienced, pointing out errors, or at least recommending someone who might have more time to do so? Perhaps a sort of general manuscript reading and commenting group could be set up within fandom, similar to the round-robin criticisms within KRAITH...

Your own policy for MENAGERIE is fine, as far as your own zine is concerned and certainly results in a generally high quality zine. But there are hints in 10 and in Paula's editorial in 9, that you would like to extend your standards to other zines. Perhaps you are tired of Mary Sue Stories (so am I), or Kirk/Spock relationship stories, or navel-diving stories, but not everyone is. Many people enjoy one or the other or all types; many people are new to fandom and these types of stories, or any other type, and obviously aren't going to be oversaturated with them... Sorry if this sounds a little angry; I guess I am a little angry, too, and I recognize that my opinions are valid only as my opinions. I'm just a little bothered by an elitist tendency that seems to be creeping into fandom; I mean, SF fanB have never struck me as being particularly kind, and it bothers me to see some of the same things in ST fandom...Perhaps we should...judge the book by the reader, and not vice versa. [7]
Diane Steiner:

"Trekworld" was concurrently funny and irritating. Funny, because if we don't have a sense of humor about ourselves, then I think we'd better start worrying about little things like schizophrenia and the ever-popular paranoia. And irritating, because some of its underlying premises (ST versus "real" SF, Harlan E. as shafted genius) are persistently lamented in MEN in one guise or another.

...Star Trek effectively employed many traditional, well-respected SF devices and concepts. It also produced its share of turkeys; may I also point out that not all SF is in the enduring lit. category?...Comparing Star Trek with written SF is like comparing one individual's personal version of "reality" to another's and trying to put a value judgment on which is better... (ST and written SF)) are on two different planes of experience or reality. There are things in Trek I can't get from written SF and vice versa. For instance, SF is not noted for its characterizations...I like the Trek characters and their interrelationships, and I like what is commonly known as the "heroic figure" in fiction. On the other hand, the ideas and concepts one finds in written SF are more mind-expanding than Trek presented and that limitation on Trek's part was inherent in the medium in which it existed.

...I hardly think it's very object of you to expect beginning writers to produce works comparable to pro SF writers...Why, I'd like to know, do you and Sharon seem to posture such a defensive animosity in MEN re the relative merits of Trek vs. written SF, with Trek always coming out on the minus scale? Sorry, I like 'em both and don't feel that I have to make a choice between them. Do you feel they're mutually exclusive or what?

...Re "Notes from Captain Dunsel," not to mention the editorials in 9&10: a less pedantic and censorious tone would be very welcome in the future. Your editorial preferences are naturally your prerogative, but when you carry your openly-stated prejudices into your review column, I think that's rather narrow. A bit more objectivity is warranted there. No one ever said reviewing was an easy task, but has it occurred to you that just because you don't like a particular story theme that doesn't necessarily make it worthless, unentertaining, or invalid?...Can you separate the theme from the other factors in a story and give an objective review when you dislike the theme intensely? I think you try to be objective, but sometimes I question your...ah...modesty. Oh, well, being a critic isn't a good life. At least until some disgruntled faned puts a contract out on you two! [8]
Jan Rigby:

I think it is just dreadful the way you criticize all those well-meaning people out here who want to write wish-fulfillment Star Trek stories. Nasty, nasty! After all, if some of us can write stories and get people to pay us for mediocre fantasies, what's to stop anyone from publishing, whether they have any writing skill or not? It's a well-established fact that mediocre Trek is better than no Trek at all, or Trek that makes you think Why should we have to think, anyway?

Look at the market today. Think of all the Nurse Romances sold! Think of all the Gothics! Think of all the Western Novels and Poorly Punctuated Sex Books! If a Trekkie can learn to Write to Sell, be it mediocre, simply horrible, or even mildly entertaining, why not use fandom as a collective guinea pig? I for one refuse to read your mean, nasty, unfriendly critical zine, because your standards revolt me! I have no critical sense whatever, and I'm proud of it!!

[snipped]

It wasn't quite fair, though—saying in one breath you didn't accept MarySue stories and then printing Trekworld on the next page—but Poblocki's MarySue was far outside the norm. Regarding I Am Not Sherlock —it is not kind to make fun of a person who's having an identity crisis. Even if it is funny.

Seriously, about your criticism—or criticism in general: true, it should be gentle if one is criticizing a youngster, maybe fourteen or under. When I was about twelve, I wrote a truly awful U.N.C.L.E. Marysue and showed it half-finished mess to an author who lived down the street. Very kindly, she pointed out the spelling errors, the language errors, and explained that the Boer War had not been fought in Ireland—well, I'd only had American history at that point. How she managed to refrain from hysterics at the rest of the tale is beyond me—I found it a couple of months ago and it was worse than the scroungiest Marysues ever written—but if she had laughed out loud I'd never have even looked at another typewriter for another twenty years. A kid will find out soon enough about rejection slips and if she/he really wants to write, will start looking for people to criticize, even if the toughening process takes several years. Cirticism is the only way one learns to write so that someone will take the time to read what one has written. It only takes a little longer to write something decent than it does to write crap (ok, sometimes it takes a lot longer; sometimes it's impossible) but any writing at all takes a lot of time and thought and should be the B*E*S*T that that writer can do at that time. Anyhow, my thanks to Mary Ann Emerson for putting it so very well.[9]
Pat Gildersleeve: Sharon Emily sounds rather bitter in her remarks about ST critics and their evaluations of fan fiction. No doubt she has her reasons, but I haven't seen much evidence of the "wallopingly huge negative attitude" she speaks of, and I buy quite a few zines. Perhaps as an author she is overly sensitive to criticism. She has a valid point about the tender feelings of amateur writers, and I think any reviewer owes it to the author to be as kind as possible. But I, as a buyer and reader, appreciate an honest evaluation of the literary worth of a zine before I spend my hard-earned cash. Zines are getting outrageously expensive, and I very seldom buy one anymore unless I see a favorable review of it by someone whose judgment I respect. So, I appreciate your review column and the honesty you use in evalu ating a zine. If someone's feelings are hurt, this is unfortunate, but anyone who is asking $3 to $5 for a zine is sticking his neck out and has to expect some adverse criticism if it isn't worth the money. Keep up the good work! [10]
Jean Lorrah:

...There is room in Trekfandom for everyone—but not necessarily as a writer of fiction or poetry. Fact: anyone who can write a decent LoC can write a decent article if he puts his mind to it. Some people simply can't write short stories, novels or poems. I can't write poetry. All right...So I write articles, short stories, and novels—and my most successful work shows the tension (compression of theme and thought) that r learned in my unsuccessful attempts to write poetry. But what about the new writers? There have to be zines where they can publish their first attempts, or they will never get either the editorial help or the reader comment that will polish their work up to MENAGERIE'S level. Perhaps along with all their other woes, zine editors might take it upon themselves to know which zines will take virtually anything, and try always to suggest such an alternative in any rejection, unless there is not ever the slightest potential hope to be seen.

...And of course there is the sadly flawed story that is still fascinating. Often there is no way that particular work can be corrected, but there is so much good in it that it deserves to be read—especially so the author has exposure to the many people who will write to say what they found in the story.

[snipped]

...Perhaps some of you experienced writers out there who are not faced with amateur efforts every day might be willing to work with new writers. Instead of broadcasting the names, though, so that the Good Samaritans would not be deluged with impossible junk, how about each one who is willing letting hia favorite zine editors (who have published his work, of course] know that he will work with new writers? Then when an editor sees work with potential he would introduce new writer and old via mail. ((A very good idea; some workshopping! does go on, but it is rather limited. Volunteers? - - ps)} [11]

Fan Comments After the Essay Was Written

From "Menagerie" #12:

Paula Block:

Oh, Smith.

Thy words are lovely--they ring honest and true and they should be etched in granite somewhere ...but after reading the LoCs in MEN 11, I am filled with the portention that they will do no good at all. You cannot beat sense into the heads of twits.

Those who understand that a good story is a good story (obviously a deceptively deep and difficult concept) generally always have and always will. Those who don't will continue to yammer at you like the hounds of Hell, Michigan.

Look guys, if you want to buy low standard stuff, go ahead and buy it. If you think that any Trek is better than no Trek, fine. Calling people like Ferraro and Smith effetists because they have certain standards is absolutely ridiculous. No one's stopping you from reading the other stuff. You don't have to watch "Scenes from a Marriage " when you can flick the channel over to "Charlie's Angels," and you don't have to feel insecure because you actually prefer escapist nonsense. It's your decision and that's fine. But would you get down on the PBS for not allowing programs like "Charlie's Angels" to appear on their station?

It's all too bloody silly. Mary Schmidt's writer's soul has been tormented and molested to the point that she's retreated into the closet rather than hear that some people do not actually like her stuff. The poor thing. No great loss to the literary world. Harlan Ellison said (somewhere last year) that a writer will write no matter what anyone says. He can t fall over and die just because" someone crimples his manuscript. He's got to pick it up and smooth out the wrinkles and thumb his nose and say well, you don't like it but I'm still a Writer with a capital W and I'll prove it to ya. Ifyou do get some thoughtful criticisms of your work you are lucky. The first reaction to criticism is/of course, hostility. That's hunan nature. But can that for a while and consider the remarks fairly. This is the learning process. You learn thru your errors. How the hell could you learn to write an essay in school if your instructor never said, "I don t have the faintest idea what you're talking about in this paragraph. Rewrite and clarify'.'?

The best writers that I've met in fandom have a very strong capacity for criticism. Writers like P Smith and Connie Faddis are not born, contrary to Bev Clark's belief. They aren't even first-draft perfect now. They hunt down people whose criticisms they know will be intelligent and concise and they say, 'Does this work? If not, why not?" A true writer is only secure in his/her belief that he/she can write. She knows that every single word she puts down on paper will not be held in reverence, but she has something to say, a job to do, and she'll do it as best she can.

I could go on and on, but I won't. Like I said people who've got their minds made up will not listen. It is a silly issue anyway. Sure.[12]
Sheila Strickland: Mary Schmidt sounds like a very embittered person and I can't agree with her at all. "A rejection is a failure." Nonsense! Different fanzines-like magazines, publish different types of stories Just because one editor doesn't want a piece for her fan zine/magazine doesn't mean it's a bad story...As for pleasing the editor and yourself at the same time, of course it can be done. The sf field is open enough and there are enough markets (fan or pro) that if something is at all well-written and the writer keeps trying (all the markets and keeps on writing) she/he is bound to be published. ..Writing only for yourself without the intent of even trying to submit is a waste of time. Why do that when by submitting, you have the chance to get paid for something you enjoy doing and other people will be able to share in your pleasure. If you can't stop writing, I don't understand how you can stop trying to be published. [13]
Jean Kluge: Gee whiz, after reading your editorial, I thought maybe I should raise the flag and sing the national anthem or something. Possibly because it had the tones of a pre-game pep-talk. I think it was a terrific improvement over #10's stuck-up, holier-than-thou attitude. Basically, the theme was unchanged, but it's the way you said it this time that made all the difference. Not that it's helping ME any. I don't know the difference between a Good Story and Shit, except in how it makes me feel. I'm a terrific speller. That and grammar are my high points, as far as editorial skills are concerned. But I think I'm learning... [14]
Beth Robertson: Paula's editorial still stings, though; obviously there was a reason for her nasty, defensive tone if people are accusing you of wanting every zine to be like MENAGERIE. But nobody, espeically Ms. Innocent, Friendly Reader wants to be pounced on on the very first page--that's some thing for angry nerds and Jeff Johnston, not for yuz guys. But then, MENAGERIE has always had more acid in it than an/other zine I know of. [15]
Jeanne Webster: The literary standards controversy going on in the LoCs is quite interesting. I think the best answers to this were provided by Bev Clark and Jean Lorrah. We beginners haven't so much as tried to submit a story to anyone yet--99.44% chicken, that's me!) do need some sort of experienced, CONSTRUCTIVE criticism, to enable us to perfect our work; the ideas of a round robin criticism group and getting experienced writers to give newcomers with promise a little help seem excellent ways to accomplish this. After all, everyone (practically) had to have a not-so-good first try. [16]
Luba Kmetyk: Re the "quality in Treklit", I can appreciate your desires for Good Stories, but fear that your editorials and your policy may discourage many aspiring writers. Speaking purely personally, I have after months of reading zines finally gotten up the nerve to try writing down my ST fantasies, but (since I know I'm no Connie Faddis) I certainly, wouldn't ever let them out of my drawer, partially due to your editorials, and I know that I am the loser by this, since no matter how bad one's efforts (especially, first efforts) are, they couldn't help but benefit by others' criticisms. The occasional superlative ST story shines ever more by comparison with its mediocre surroundings, gives us a goal to dream of, but the mediocre back ground is what gives newcomers like me the courage to at least start trying. [17]
Kathy Haan:

I've been following with interest the discussion in your letters section on editorial criticism in fandom. May I be permitted to throw a general question out to your readership? When a person (such as myself) cannot write novels, short stories, or poetry, and cannot draw in any way, shape or form (and at least has the good sense to realize it), just WHAT can that person do in the way of fanac?

It's not that people like us don't try. I mean, I write ST stories. What fan alive hasn't? Fortunately, I have sense enough to realize my drivel probably wouldn't interest anyone else but me. Being thin-skinned anyway, I admit to being totally terrified of the thought of actually SUBMITTING something to a fanzine, after reading the many hatchet jobs I have that hide under the term "editorial criticism." Along, I'm sure, with hundreds of others.

I'm not unreasonable. I realize that it will naturally be the "doers" who are publicized and who become well-known; and I do not in any way begrudge their talent. I stand in awe of it. But for those of us slobs who have no talents at all that would fit into the general fandom format, what remains, besides reading all the fanfic we can and dreaming? Creative writing courses? Writing workshops? Submitting our crap to whatever-zine will accept it, to get the little egoboo we all need? Can ANYBODY suggest any alternatives for those of us who enjoy what we read and wish that we could do it also? [18]
Amy Tedford:

The preceding cadenza about my literary failings brings me to the current controversy surrounding your editorial policy. My article was accepted as is by two editors just starting out with their first zine. (Understand: I'm a beginner as well; I'm not trying to knock two guys who are developing a pretty decent zine after two ishes.) However, I wish they had asked me to correct the weaknesses in my article and insisted that I elaborate where necessary, instead of allowing bald statements to leave the reader to plug the gaps in reasoning. Or told me to (gulp!) cut. Admittedly, cross-country editing is difficult, but, in the future, if I should submit any more work to my two anonymous eds (or anv other eds) I am going to insist that they point out errors and make me polish my work.

Of course, an editor does not have the right to impose a particular viewpoint on an author. Some zines are oriented around certain story types (porn for example), but that is a very different situation from an editor saying, "No, you've got to say it my way." Instead, the editor should help the author to clarify his own mode of expression. I guess it's a case of being cruel in order to be kind, i.e., improve the zines for all concerned. [19]

References

  1. ^ from a letter of comment by Sharon Emily in "Menagerie " #10
  2. ^ from a letter of comment by Mary Ann Emerson in "Menagerie " #10
  3. ^ a letter of comment by Penny Warren in "Menagerie" #11
  4. ^ a fake letter (complete with poor spelling) by "Mary Sue Parker" in "Menagerie" #11, likely written by the editors with the clumsy intention to poke fun at poorly written letters of comment and the average fan's low standards and education.
  5. ^ a letter of comment by Melanie R in "Menagerie" #11
  6. ^ a letter of comment by Mary M. Schmidt in "Menagerie" #11
  7. ^ a letter of comment by Bev Clark in "Menagerie" #11
  8. ^ a letter of comment by Diane Steiner in "Menagerie" #11
  9. ^ a letter of comment by Jan Rigby in "Menagerie" #11
  10. ^ a letter of comment by Pat Gildersleeve in "Menagerie" #11
  11. ^ a letter of comment by Jean Lorrah in "Menagerie" #11
  12. ^ comment by Paula Block in "Menagerie" #12
  13. ^ comment by Sheila Strickland in "Menagerie" #12
  14. ^ comment by Jean Kluge in "Menagerie" #12
  15. ^ comment by Beth Robertson in "Menagerie" #12
  16. ^ comment by Jeanne Webster in "Menagerie" #12
  17. ^ comment by Luba Kmetyk in "Menagerie" #12
  18. ^ comment by Kathy Haan in "Menagerie" #12
  19. ^ comment by Amy Tedford in "Menagerie" #12