Berkeley Bidness XXX

Join us for our 30th meeting of critiquing great scifi and fantasy in Berkeley! Whether you're a devotee of Grammar Girl, Dr. Who, or R.A. Salvatore, you won't want to miss the fresh tales, positive vibes, and excellent commentary you'll find at our meetings. Please email submissions for this meeting, following our guidelines, to Beth by 12:00 noon on Sunday, August 3, 2014. You can view the current critique queue HERE.

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  • Bruce S.

    You're right, Bill, people in the group were not self-censoring out of fear of punishment, but fear of offending someone. But the effect is similar—it gives the most easily offended people in the group veto power over all other writers.
    Groups develop a character based on their submissions and critiques, and a group that is morally and politically lowest-common-denominator is going to lose edgy writers and become bland.
    The U.S. legally allows very broad free expression, but political and cultural intimidation is very intense. I know liberals who are afraid to call themselves liberals. You never see a character have an abortion on TV.
    When everything else goes down the tubes, I hope writers still speak up.

    August 21

  • bill s.

    Actually Bruce, censorship (not self censorship done out of politeness, censorship done coercively or in response to coercion or assumed coercion)is intentionally oppressive, and therefore an integral part of what you're talking about. Not to do your writing for you, but I'd say you should write about it.

    August 21

  • Glorianne H.

    I don't mind some violence if it serves a purpose, just not non-stop violence for the sake of violence. Also, regarding sex scenes, my stuff hasn't really lent itself to that, but I do have love scenes. I'm not opposed to steamy sex scenes if well-written. It's all good, laugh. Anyone ever read The Story of O? A steamy French S&M story that I believe may be considered a classic.

    August 19

  • Bruce S.

    You don't write sex scenes and you've said you don't like violence, so it's good to know you support a climate where authors can push the boundaries without fear. I write battle scenes, sex scenes, and interrogation and torture scenes, but they move my story forward, because my book is about the struggle for human rights and dignity against all forms of oppression. Maybe I should add a chapter on censorship. A good novel invades every corner of real life, even the dank and dirtiest. Thanks for adding your voice to this debate.

    August 19

  • Glorianne H.

    I agree, Bruce. I don't want even an "hint" of censorship either.

    August 19

  • Bruce S.

    The situation in Union City where authors were holding back work to avoid disturbing members is precisely the situation we should avoid. It's self-censorship, worse than official censorship, because it's driven by the fear inside an author's head. The warning label is cover-your-ass, a sign that fear's still there.
    A free, democratic group culture doesn't just tolerate authors fully expressing themselve, it encourages them. I've been in three other critique groups for several years, and we've never had a serious dispute over content, never discussed a warning label.
    I have a strong personal moral code that drives my writing, as well as this statement. But I'm not going to impose my standards on your writing. If you submit the American Mein Kampf, I'm going to stop reading it and not critique it. I might take you on for it, it won't be in this group.

    1 · August 19

  • bill s.

    This all started when Steve hit joanne's berserk button. Her reaction, while understandable in context of her personal experience, (she was a counsellor of rape victims) was very damaging to the group. Beth (and Kieran) responded, and it should have ended there, because it was really an issue between two people, but Beth was not at that meeting and therefore didn't know that. She thought that Steve's piece raised an issue that was general to the group and tried to address it. This started a miscommunication spiral. Steve needed to clear the air, (no criticism, he really did by then) but I hope that is all done now.
    We are all friends, we are all adults; let's all move on.

    5 · August 19

    • Beth H.

      Great summary, Bill. I'd like to add that prior to the Joanna Incident, the Union City members requested a content warning policy because they had been holding back possibly disturbing work out of concern for fellow members. The option to add a warning allowed these authors to feel comfortable submitting their work. Moving on.…

      1 · August 19

  • Sean

    I forgot to mention this during the meeting, but there is an interesting new company called Inkshares (https://www.inkshares.com/) which provides a hybrid of Kickstarter and traditional publishing. If you'd like to publish a medium to long piece it represents an alternative to submissions.

    You can submit a proposal and if you can get enough people to commit to funding it then Inkshares will handle the editing, publishing and distribution for you. If you already have a decent social audience it can be an interesting option since the minimum funding level is fairly low.

    I'm in no way associated with the company, I just came across it and thought some people might want to give it a try.

    1 · August 18

    • Beth H.

      Sounds like an interesting new indie publishing format if you have anything ready for print.

      August 18

    • Jen

      Thanks for drawing our attention to that, Sean. I checked out the site. It's an interesting idea.

      August 19

  • Eric L.

    A couple of thoughts:

    When critiquing an author's work, we need more structure - circling the room in order for opinions, both good and bad. The opportunity for the writer to respond should be short, and mostly devoted to follow up to be certain that he or she understands the issue. The writer may not agree, but an argument in defense of the work is a waste of time. Beth should enforce this or similarly agreed format.

    Despite the fact that I joined in the critique of content, I agree with Bruce that this is a mistake. I'd love to expand on the reasons I think this, but neither these short e-mail threads nor the meetings are the appropriate forum.

    The issue of longer works - more than 7k in words but less than a full length novel - is one worth additional thought by all of us. Perhaps the readers exchange or some other on-line format is appropriate.

    August 18

    • Tantra B.

      If some people keep to 7000, they could feel squelched if someone else turns in something much longer, unless we did what Glorianne's suggested, which wasn't responded to in the meeting. The option to turn in longer pieces with the caveat that don't need to read more than 7000 words. I don't know how well that would work, as critiquing a piece you haven't finished is hard. But I don't know if there is a perfect solution. We all critique an unfinished piece if it's broken into parts. Reading a broken story also takes more time than editing it at once, because we need to go back and re-read the first part. And it's a long time to wait before sending a piece out to a magazine.

      August 18

    • Jen

      I was open to either a round robin format or a hand raising format, but now I feel that round-robin might be better for now, with the option to raise hands afterwards for further discussion of a submission and for the author to speak, as has been suggested. As Kara pointed out, some people are quieter than others. Everyone who wishes to speak should be able to. Regarding the discussion prior to the critique session on Sunday, not everyone was able to finish their thoughts due to being interrupted. As an example, I was halfway through my first sentence offering an idea about a compromise on the word count issue when I was interrupted and was never allowed to finish my thought--and I had more to say.

      1 · August 19

  • Eric L.

    I just have to say that this is the first time in 65 years that I have been called an extrovert. Never thought it would happen.

    August 19

  • Glorianne H.

    A few people have commented on the wisdom of returning to our old method of going around the table so everyone can give their input on submissions. I agree. After watching and speaking with a few of our quieter members I think we should go back to the "round the table" style. Some people are getting left out, or pushed out of the conversation, and they're not happy about it. I would hate to lose these good members because they're more polite than others and can never get a word in. I'm not criticizing the more aggressive members, just saying it's not working out to everyone's satisfaction. Really.

    August 18

    • Tantra B.

      Squelching felt like the problem in a variety of ways not just limited to the censorship of topics and not hearing what people were saying. Some people were careful to raise hands, and that doesn't always get noticed, naturally. Some people jumped in without raising at times. I like the idea of raising hands as long as everyone does it, because it allows us to respond to the discussion at hand. But I'm fine with whatever people prefer. Maybe first everyone going around, and then a session where we raise hands to discuss issues that came up?

      August 18

    • Beth H.

      Thank you for adding your voices, ladies. In the tradition of "the leader is the last to know", only a couple of complaints had reached my ears. I am happy to go back to the round robin format, which is my personal favorite anyway. :) Please keep giving me your suggestions for making this the best writing group it can be. FYI: I will be on vacation for a week starting tomorrow, so I won't be as responsive as usual. Thanks for your patience.

      August 18

  • Tantra B.

    I love the group, feel fortunate to be taking part, and am looking forward to next time.

    1 · August 18

  • Bruce S.

    A discussion on RSVPs and content warnings at the end of the coming group meeting could clear the air and reach general agreement. Being organizer is a tough job, but the more the organizer listens to the group and facilitates group decisions, the easier the job is.
    Bruce

    August 11

    • Tantra B.

      The content warning creating a sense of being squelched, which can be visceral. I doubt anyone who is easily triggered by fiction should remain in this group. But if the rules are changed to say the warning is entirely voluntary, it seems like censorship not to allow it as an option for people who want to add it, since some people have apparently requested it.

      August 18

  • Bruce S.

    I'm willing to return to the round-robin format if that's what members feel comfortable with.
    The last meeting was more contentious than any since I joined over a year ago. There's no question in my mind, it's because we were discussing hot button content issues, racism and sexism, inappropriate for a critique group.
    The 5 minute limit rule was violated by at least one member repeatedly, and no one called him on it.
    When discussion is supportive, respectful, and focused on the craft of writing, any format will work. Open discussion is better than round-robin, because it's dialogue, interactive, and probes deeper faster.
    I facilitated several meetings, and the most I ever had to say was, “We're running out of time and we should move on.” Beth admits she lost control of the meeting, but it wasn't her fault.
    I'm very disappointed in the direction of this group for the past four meetings. Think about the discussion and decide for yourself what's the root problem.

    August 18

    • Tantra B.

      I wouldn't personally say there should be no discussion of racism, sexism, etc. That feels like censorship. Ideally the topics wouldn't take over the time or lead to insults. But I think it's important to take human emotions into account and realize sometimes if people feel slighted, they can react strongly. So those issues might have some unavoidable hot factor. To avoid them altogether seems to require an overbearing rule that squelches expression and leads to more contention over whether the rule is being broken. I thought Beth made it clear that she understood the comments about the apparent racism of the character and explained the reasoning of the scenes but wasn't heard about that for a long time, almost as if she hadn't said it. I'm impressed by her ability to remain poised as she does.

      1 · August 18

  • Marc R.

    My apologies if it appeared that I was questioning the validity of a "controversial" element. I am against all censorship, especially self-censorship! A person should feel free to write whatever they want. How they render controversial elements will almost inevitably result in feedback- good or bad. In Beth's story, I felt that the character's dialog should have been far darker than it had been written in one scene. To back up my opinion, I referred to the content in which, as I read it, a form of sexual extortion (sex for freedom) had occurred. It seemed useful to consider if the character was behaving appropriately given what she had been through. Most people aren't that nonchalant about sex. Just my opinion. Content informs how the characters behave. I rely on the content/context as a reader/writer. My first piece is coming up for critique. Being on the receiving end may help me better understand the overall experience. Thanks for your patience as I adjust to this group.

    2 · August 18

    • Beth H.

      No worries, Marc. It was useful to hear those comments and I was not offended. After thinking about it, I realized that while I intended Lilli's "Haha" response to be sarcastic, to some readers it did not read that way. That's very helpful and will inform my rewrite of the scene. Thank you for all of your feedback!

      August 18

  • Bruce S.

    There were many incisive comments on the 3 submissions.
    I think we've descended into a group culture where an author's content can be freely criticized—specifically racial stereotyping and sexual violence. Let's accept an author's content—freedom of expression, creative exploration, no censorship.
    Individual racist and sexist attitudes are deeply rooted. The theme of my post-Apocalyptic novel is the destruction of the political and economic system that sustains racism and sexism, and its replacement by an egalitarian system. Change by talk has its subsidiary role to play, but not in a writers meeting.
    A racial or gender stereotype, like any two-dimensional character, should be criticized—as a writing issue. No one wants to write cardboard characters and everyone wants to create great characters—that unites us.
    We have a good group, and discussing the rules is worth it. I'm against the content warning and discussion of content in the group.

    August 17

    • Sean

      @Beth, I meant that I would find it useful as an author to know if reviewers saw racist or sexist themes in my work which were not clearly part of the story. As an author, I can choose to adjust for that or not, but being aware of it is an important piece of feedback as I may not have intended it. What is not useful is having reviewers debate among themselves the pros and cons of racism, sexism and whether or not they belong in the piece. That is where it goes beyond critique into social commentary and no agreement will be reached.

      1 · August 18

    • Beth H.

      Got it and completely agree. Thanks for the feedback!

      August 18

  • Glorianne H.

    Good meeting. Good submissions. Good people. Good discussions.

    2 · August 17

  • Jen

    Hi,

    I have to go to my nephew's birthday party tomorrow at noon, so I believe I'll be late to the meeting. If that's not okay with anyone, let me know.

    August 16

    • Beth H.

      We'll be happy to see you whenever you're able to arrive! Birthdays are important too. :)

      August 16

  • Eric L.

    I'd like to make a couple of points. First, the content warning was discussed at least one meeting. There were strong objections, mine included. The compromise that Beth came up with clearly states that warnings are optional. Personally, I don't intend to include warnings on the assumption that an adult can stop reading if he/she is offended.

    The RSVP policy is a convenience to Beth to make it easier to send out manuscripts. If 15 people respond, she can send them out all at once, instead of one at a time. The policy clearly states that you can RSVP after the cut off date, but in such case, she doesn't promise to get the manuscripts to you immediately.

    As to the spat between Beth and Steve - When I have asked to submit longer pieces because they constitute a single arc, Beth has accommodated me.

    There probably should be more discussion of these issues in person, but I think a good starting point is to recognize that Beth has a thankless job.

    2 · August 11

  • Eddie J.

    My two cents: how about we don't limit the rsvp's, and do away with the content warnings? it will be a process of natural selection. I never bought into the idea that someone needs a content warning before reading a piece that is potentially controversial because it would otherwise be too traumatizing. Please. you can criticize the narration and other stuff related to the story but to object it based upon the subject matter or the course of action a character takes because one has a specific traumatic past that is triggered by reading it is irrelevant and irresponsible. you're just being a lazy critic. you're consuming all of us with your victimhood and potential victimhood. Like Bruce said, we are writers. not a time be wimps.

    August 11

  • Bruce S.

    Beth,
    Why did you close off RSVPs early? It discourages new people, and limits the diversity of the group and number of critiques.
    The adult content warning on submissions is insulting. This is a voluntary organization and we are writers. I understand you edited one submission for content without the author's permission. You appear to have a moral agenda, and use your position as organizer to be Big Brother.
    You make arbitrary changes to the way the group has worked without consulting members. This group functioned fine for the year before you took over, most meetings with no organizer present.
    Make decisions based on open discussion among the members.
    I apologize to those of you who are new or unaware of these issues. This group is solid, but it takes open, democratic discussion, and leadership responsible to the members to keep it that way.
    Bruce

    August 10

    • Beth H.

      As stated on the website and in the email all members received, if you wish to RSVP after the reading send date when the website list closes, you just need to drop me an email.
      Stephen and I have worked out that incident between us. Content warnings are purely voluntary and will remain so.
      All changes have been passed by a group meeting and are the product of listening to and synthesizing much discussion.

      1 · August 10

  • Beth H.

    The Rules of Engagement have now been posted! Go to the Some Things You Should Know... page and click on the link.

    1 · August 2

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I started the group because there wasn't any other type of group like this. I've met some great folks in the group who have become close friends and have also met some amazing business owners.

Bill, started New York City Gay Craft Beer Lovers

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