Frank Catalano went to the Nebula Awards in Seattle, and talks about some of the things that happened.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about decisions past, present and future recently. A couple of those major decisions were quitting my writing not-quite-a-career, and later, deciding to resign from SFWA after years of involvement. Between Frank and Teresa’s post on Avenue Victor Hugo and the closing of Other Change of Hobbit, it’s really stirred up a bunch of memories.
The decision to stop writing was really pretty simple, actually — I felt I was a mid-list type of writer, working in a field where the mid-list was starting to be decimated, both by centralized chain buying that didn’t have room for the non-blockbuster writer, and by the encroachment of the sharecrop
environments such as Star Trek and Star Wars. Both of those worries have come true to a good degree, I think, and I don’t think the kind of writing I was interested in doing matches well with the market as it stands today, and I just wasn’t interested writing other people’s stories. What made the decision really easy were two other factors: first, I had another option (computers) that I enjoyed at least as much as writing, and which paid a hell of a lot better, and I’m all for having fun AND making money; second, it turns out that I wasn’t nearly as interested in being a writer as proving I could be a writer, so once I got the full SFWA membership, I lost a lot of motivation (object lesson: set your goals appropriately, just in case you reach them…).
I honestly don’t miss writing; I was always someone who enjoyed having written more than the act of writing, and my other things in my life keep me happy. Deciding to simplify and focus was easy.
Leaving SFWA was more problematic, even having decided to stop writing. It’s not something I’ve talked about to many folks, but I guess it’s time. I managed the Nebula Awards for a good number of years for SFWA, and it’s something I take pride in how well it ran — when I picked it up, the awards were in the latest in an continuing series of crises and political fights, and interest within the organization was low. My main goal was stability, to simply make the damned things work and work in a way that people would be willing to get back involved in the process — what I think I’m most proud of is that every year I managed the awards, membership participation went up. To me, that means I was doing something right.
Even when I gave up the awards, and I’d cut back on my writing, i still felt that I wanted to be a part of the organization, to find ways to pay forward into the author community that’d given me so much. But SFWA has had problems trying to decide what it wanted to be, a social organization, a support organization, or a professional organization (SFWA, for reasons I’ve never quite figured out, decided it couldn’t be more than one type of organization, and perhaps it was right…).
So eventually I got involved in some of the arguments, and over time, I decided that SFWA was headed in the wrong direction, so (being someone who believes in doing, not whining), I declared candidacy for office for an upcoming election, with a platform of trying to drive to conclusion some of the continuing fights going on within SFWA, and to try to move it in directions I felt it needed to go.
Some members supported me, some didn’t. One who didn’t was Damon Knight, who happened to be founder of SFWA. I found it troubling to be in conflict with him over future directions of SFWA (although to be honest, Damon and I didn’t always see eye to eye (I got the impression I rubbed him the wrong way at times — that, of course, was unprecedented, given my quiet, docile personality); but even when I disagreed with him, I strongly respected his opinion. Now, I was on the wrong side of that opinion, and it bothered me.
But it also made me think, and realize that, given I’d already chosen to retire from active writing, that maybe I shouldn’t be actively driving the future direction of SFWA; II was, after all, a self-described passenger now. I also realized that as long as I was a member of SFWA, I’d be unable to not get involved in the fights over what SFWA wanted to be when it grew up — that’s just not me.
So I cancelled my candidacy and resigned from SFWA. It’s all Damon’s fault — and I wish I’d been able to thank him for making the decision necessary. Because in retrospect, he was right; SFWA moved on without me and is doing pretty well from what I see from the outside, I got out of the way, and most important, I got to pull a lot of conflict (even if the arguing and fighting was mostly done with interesting people in interesting ways) and time committments out of my life, and realize that SFWA was part of my past, not my future. So everyone ended up winning.
It was hard to convince myself it was time to move on — but once I did, I realized it was the right thing to do, and I haven’t regretted it. Except, on a social level, where I ended up losing coontact with a bunch of really great people, folks who’d helped me get my writing career started, and were a great help and resource as I was figuring all that stuff out.
So I don’t miss SFWA, and SFWA doesn’t miss me, but I sometimes miss the people that made SFWA SFWA, even if they were ones I tended to fight with. It is, for the most part, a great bunch of folks, and very open to people that could, potentially, take their jobs — but they made you welcome anyway. I’m proud of my time there, and the work I did supporting the organization; and in a funny way, I’m just as proud to realize in retrospect that I also served SFWA as well as myself by choosing to resign.
I’ve heard some of the rumors about my resignation, some were rather amusing, in fact. At the time, I mostly wanted it all to move on and both myself and SFWA to focus on other things, I didn’t want to become more of a distraction than I’d become with my candidacy. But now, I think, it’s safe to talk about, and I’m comfortable with my decisions — Damon and I didn’t agree on what SFWA ought to be, and given he founded it, I wouldn’t go against his vision, even if I disagreed with it. And perhaps he was right; SFWA certainly went in a different direction than I wanted it to — and I can’t complain about the results. It’s a time when I’m happy to be proven wrong, because it doesn’t matter who’s right, as long as the organization moves forward in productive ways…