Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Heavens Give Me Strength...

"Your actions, which I'm calling unprofessional, which exposed my racism/prejudice/extreme America-centrism and privilege mean that you will never have a story accepted by our magazine."

The above is my summary of the comment left by an editor, Mr W. Sanders, of Helix SF Magazine in response to a lj posted comment revealing his personal rejection letter on a particular story.

Last post a sociology major was telling people of colour that they were doing it wrong. He's got a degree and he knows people of colour don't use the term people of colour anymore. Also, white allies need to stop being sanctimonious in pointing out racism.

This post it's an editor who first refers to - hell I'm going to c/p it.

No, I'm sorry but I can't use this.

There's much to like. I'm impressed by your knowledge of the Q'uran and Islamic traditions. (Having spent a couple of years in the Middle East, I know something about these things.) You did a good job of exploring the worm-brained mentality of those people - at the end we still don't really understand it, but then no one from the civilized world ever can - and I was pleased to see that you didn't engage in the typical error of trying to make this evil bastard sympathetic, or give him human qualities.

However, as I say, I can't use it. Because Helix is a speculative fiction magazine, and this isn't speculative fiction.

Oh, you've tacked on some near-future elements at the end, but the future stuff isn't in any way necessary to the story; it isn't even connected with it in any causal way. True, the narrator seems to be saying that it was this incident which caused him to take up the jihad, but he's being mendacious (like all his kind, he's incapable of honesty); he was headed in that direction from the start, and if it hadn't been the encounter with the stripper it would have been something else.

Now if it could be shown that something in this incident showed him HOW the West could be overthrown, then perhaps the story would qualify as SF. That might have been interesting. As it is, though, no connection is shown and in fact we are never told just how this conquest - a highly improbable event, to say the least - came about.

There are some other problems with the story, but there's no point in going into them, because they don't really matter from my viewpoint. It's not speculative fiction and I can't use it in my magazine.

And I don't think you're going to sell it to any other genre magazine, for that reason - though you'd have a hard time anyway; most of the SF magazines are very leery of publishing anything that might offend the sheet heads. I think you might have a better chance with some non-genre publication. But I could be wrong.


William Sanders
Senior Editor


Please note: It's on the internet and I'm reposting it. And I think Mr. Sanders is just realizing one of the harsh realities of racism - assuming the person he's speaking to / writing to is 'one of his' and not 'one of them'. That is, he assumed it was safe to to 'tell the joke' or 'make the comment' and didn't think about the impact of his words.

Which is an odd thing for an editor to do, don't you think? Not to think about the impact of his words.

This ended up online due to the common practice of sharing rejection letters with fellow friend writers. That it happened online vs offline doesn't change the practice or suddenly pull a veil of privacy over the communication. It's a rejection letter, a piece of official mail by a representative of a company.

Remember my summary at the top? Here's the link to Sander's actual response to the posting. It's a responding FU. It truly is.

Actual Excerpt:
Of course none of these people have read the story, and so they fail to grasp the context - that I was talking not about Muslims, or Arabs, or Oompa Loompas or any other religious or ethnic group, but about terrorists and violent extremists. (That being, after all, what your story was about.)

Yes, Mr. Sanders. I believe you. Not. 'Cause you see, last time I checked, no one was calling Timothy Mcveigh or the Creationists who built a museum, 'sheet heads'. Also, can you point me to the homeland of the Oompa Loompas and their holy/sacred buildings? Cause that little titbit was news to me. Seriously it was.

ETA: The original poster, the writer who received the rejection letter, has commented to this entry pointing out a fuller explanation at his blog here. He's alarmed and aghast at the outcry and says Mr. Sanders is being taken out of context. So, I have asked him, given the content of his comment and that blog entry if he was the originator of the terms Mr. Sanders used in the rejection letter (here). I will update with his answer should I get a response.

The response from Luke aka Solipcyst.Blogspot.com. He did not word feed Mr. Sanders the bigoted and racist words.


  1. The Oompa Loompas were from some rainforest. I think. I haven't read either book in a long while so my memory is cloudy...

    As to the letter. Wow. Thats just. Wow. Reminder to self, avoid Helix magazine or anything else associated with this jackass...

  2. Lurker:

    My point was a little more that Oompa Loompas aren't real. Earth's religious and ethnic groups are real. Sticking Oompa Loompas in there goes beyond patronizing and into active belittling.

    When trying to make the point that one is not maligning real life groups, sticking a fictional group in your example negates your point.

  3. You know what's minorly sad about this (the majorly sad being obvious)?

    Sounds like the editor had some pretty good reasons for rejecting the story, and the tone of the letter--outside of the batshit racism--was polite, specific, and maybe even helpful to the author.

    Take out all the bigotry, and the guy might have stood as a paragon of editorial professionalism.

    Regarding Oompa-Loompas: how does that phrase go "I don't care if you're black, white yellow or _purple_ ..."

  4. And I'd heard such good things about Helix too. Ah well, went and passed this along.

  5. As the person who received the rejection, I think people should understand the full context of Mr. Sander's email before they jump to conclusions. I posted it here:


  6. Well, there's a magazine I won't be bothering with. I think what's most unpleasant about that letter is how the editor seems to assume he's found someone who shares his prejudices and glories in that... the confidential tone, the us/them set-up. Hence his indignation... interesting what people will say when they don't expect it to be made public.

  7. Interesting what people will say when they think they're speaking confidentially to someone who shares their prejudices.

  8. Luke:

    I appreciate your continued attempt to a) downplay this b) be as even handed as possible c) take responsibility for this unintentionally, for you, becoming a big deal.

    Still as Eric pointed out in his comment, if not for the batshit prejudice, it would have been an example of a thoughtful editorial professional.

    You want your work printed. You don't want the editorial SF world to think of you as a trouble maker and blacklist you. I can understand and accept that.

    However, Mr. Sanders used the phrase 'sheet heads'. And Mr. Sanders used the phrase "no one from the civilized world".

    Whether you posted his letter or not, he used those phrases. And now people are aware he did. If you'd like to post a public apology for your use of the phrase 'sheet heads' in your story and for calling those who become terrorists part of the uncivilized world vs those who don't and are part of the civilized world - I would likely change the context of my post.

    However, as the originator of the People of Colour SF Blog Carnival, without such an apology from you to clarify just where Mr. Sanders got his word choices from, I find this incident to fall into the baliwick of things I strenuously point out .

    So I ask you, did Mr. Sanders get those word choices from you? Were you the implicit originator of the "I'm one of you, not one of them" mentality?

  9. No, I didn't use those terms. My story was from the perspective of an extremist Muslim. I was trying to faithfully recapture that mentality from the inside, not mock them from outside. Updike did it in The Terrorist, though my story is probably uglier (hopefully better). If it was published, I would refer you to it, but as it's still making the rounds and probably won't be published at this rate, I'm out of luck. Though as a free speech extremist I believe that everything is fair game in fiction, be it Updike or South Park.

  10. Luke:

    Fiction explores issues, Luke. I am not condemning you for having an evil character who was/is Muslim and who becomes an extremist and takes up terrorism.

    I am condemning the words used in a rejection letter. The religious intolerant words and frankly racist words. To me part of free speech is if someone uses hateful and bigoted terms they're free to do so just as I'm free to point out that they HAVE done so.

    If Mr. Sanders didn't get those terms from you then they came from his own twisted and ugly consciousness. And his fears at having that ugliness exposed and SHUNNED, have left you running around trying to clean up his mess in order to try and save your good name among editors.

    Mr. Sanders is a bigot. Ergo Helix is bigoted.

    Moreover Mr. Sanders is a patronizing bully and a coward, just like most racists.

    I am sorry, however, that you feel caught in the middle. Because you really aren't in the middle of anything. He went to spit vile in a corner and that corner turned out to be public and transparent.

    I would look forward to a head's up, however, when your story is published. It sounds as interesting as the movie Day Night.

  11. What a bigotted weasel. >:\

    I guess he's also going to claim that "sheet heads" was referring to the powerful terrorist sci-fi lobby? >.>;;

    I mean he rly hung himself with that and his ridic dismissive and mean spirited response further showed what kind of a person he is. >:|

  12. Hey, beloved.

    I'm thinking, that Luke is in trouble with bigots and racists (like Sanders) and those who would defend bigots and racists that are part of their club.

    And Sanders did no better than someone who comes out with, "I love black people, but I hate niggers because niggers are X, Y, Z and y=mx2 (or some such). Sanders has what passes for reasons for hating 'sheetheads' but it was a pejorative. And LWE showed up to demonstrate why it's okay to speak hatefully of groups of people and individuals.

    I tell you, bb, the interbutt is where admiration for creative people of letters goes to die. Well, for people of letters who are actively racist, anyhow.