Whenever I have to make one of those dumb lists of all-time favorite books I’ve ever read, Gary Jennings’s Aztec usually finds itself in the top five. I found the novel in my parents’ bookshelf in the late 1980’s: it was a huge, white hardback tome, utterly different from the Leon Uris, Lawrence Sanders, and Philip Roth novels that surrounded it. At the time I was in a dry spell between Stephen King and Clive Barker books, so I turned to the first page and fell completely inside.
(What’s funny is that my dad, whose book it was, didn’t even like it very much.)
Aztec sparked an interest in historical fiction and pre-Columbian history that continues to this day. As a completist, I had to get the entire Jennings oeuvre: Spangle, The Journeyer, Raptor, Aztec Autumn. And thence to Mika Waltari’s The Egyptian, and…you know how it goes. You ever read something in a new genre that’s so good that it spoils you, and nothing else can quite compare? That’s what happened with me and Aztec. Mary Renault, James Michener, Bernard Cornwell: they’re great, but not Jennings great. Except for Ken Follett.
A couple of years ago, when I was momentarily stalled on the first draft of The Nephilim and the False Prophet, I found an ad from a publisher looking for horror-themed short stories. The story criteria intrigued me with one caveat, so I outlined the bare bones of what would become Beneath the Ziggurat: a Lovecraftian tale of pre-Columbian Mexico. The caveat wasn’t that troubling: the publishers specifically encouraged white men to submit stories, and I fit the bill, so I was a shoe-in.
Or so I thought. As it turned out I got a nice rejection letter, saying that the story wasn’t quite what they were looking for.
Obviously that’s a disappointment, but you swallow it and move on. I shelved the story for the time being and finished The Nephilim and the False Prophet. A year later I gave the story in a non-exclusive format to Jasper Bark as electronic bonus content for his graphic novel project Beyond Lovecraft; the lucky people who donated a certain amount to Beyond Lovecraft‘s Indiegogo campaign will get to read it in PDF form once it’s out.
I always thought it was too good a story to bury or let languish, despite its earlier rejection, so I decided I would release it as a Kindle Single, with an original cover. And, well, there you have it-
Huh. Wait. Going over what I just wrote, I found I made an embarrassing typo. When I said that the publisher specifically encouraged white men to submit stories, I erred. The publisher had actually made it a point to encourage women and people of color to submit stories.
That’s racism. When a publisher tells you that it’s encouraging people of a certain skin color to submit work, they’re acting on a racist impulse. And now that we’re in a culture that has redefined gender as a “social construct,” it doesn’t matter who’s a man and who’s a woman: it matters what sex you say you are. How you identify. So sexism’s no longer a thing, right? I’m not sure. The rules are so plastic.
Somehow it’s become acceptable to discriminate against white people, particularly white men. Check out this post, written close to two years ago: our culture has somehow devolved since then. Writing off an individual because of immutable, innate characteristics like skin color is the essence of racism, whether that individual’s a white man or not.
If you’re at all interested in stopping racial or gender discrimination, don’t write stories for publishers who consider skin color or sex organs in their submission criteria. Don’t read stories from these publishers. Don’t do business with racists and sexists.
I’d have preferred to just talk about my love of pre-Columbian history and Gary Jennings, but when things like racial discrimination turn up, I have to address them. If you sit back and say nothing you’re accepting it, tacitly or otherwise. Discrimination against people of any skin color or ethnicity is wrong, and it’s ludicrous for me to have to point this out. But that’s what’s happening to our culture, including the publishing industry.