Dear Dave Truesdale

Dear Mr. Truesdale,

Wile E.

Wile E.

I am not sure you will remember me. You were the first -- the only -- editor to call me about a story submission. You wanted to talk about how much you liked the story and how you would do your best to recommend that it be published, but you could make no guarantees because the story contained romance. Romance and SF made for a hard and complicated blend, you said, and went on to tell me why. I, a relatively new writer in the publishing world, listened.

And I thought, maybe this is what editors do. But goodness, what a lot of work, to call every writer -- so that couldn't be. Why single me out? I decided it's because you really did like my story, despite the fact that you dismantled it in the course of a conversation. I was thrilled and heartbroken all at once. Ah, writing!

In my fourteen years of writing, no other editor has ever called me. No other editor has so thoroughly taken my fiction apart.


When I saw the links to the Tangent reviews of Women Destroy Science Fiction, I was wary and when I read the reviews, I was disappointed. It has been a long year -- from last Memorial Day's dialogues about The Bulletin (#200 specifically, but the increase of sexist content in other recent issues as well), to the release of WDSF this month (and improvements to SFWA's Bulletin!). It's been a long year of hard conversations, but of consistent conversations, of trying to make a dent, a crack, in a thick stone wall. And with the arrival of WDSF, it felt as though something had been accomplished.

And then you joined the conversation, and went on to say how foolish the entire thing was, dismantling it much as you had my long-ago story, and that

Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but one might think that if racism or sexism is as deeply rooted in SF as some would like you to think, that after 40 years I would have seen or heard something personally.

Maybe you've been lucky?

If you haven't experienced racism, there is no question you have been lucky.

If you haven't experienced sexism, there is no question you have been lucky.

As John Scalzi wrote, you are playing the game on the easiest level, white male.

Countless others have not been so lucky, and who are you to dismiss their personal experiences? How dare any editor or reviewer dismiss the personal essays contained within WDSF,when they have not known the same experience. We spoke from our hearts, we shared our view on the genre and were told -- oh, how we were told -- that our view was wrong.

That our personal experiences were wrong.

That one hundred and nine women were simply crying WOLF where no wolf exists.

It's not the first time. Given how this year has gone, it won't be the last.

And this perhaps proves why Women Destroy Science Fiction was so necessary after all. You, who unknowingly had a hand in building this wall we are trying to tear down, will never hear the cries of those on the other side. You are too deeply entrenched -- you would have seen or heard something personally after all.

You would have seen.

You would have heard.

But you aren't listening. And you aren't looking.

In the old Loony-Toons, when Wile E. Coyote looks, and realizes nothing is as he thinks, that his view is wrong and he is screwed and has no idea how to say "I'm sorry, Road Runner, let's make this better," he plummets to the ground, right?

I dare you to actually look.

I dare you.


Things I have learned since that long-ago phone call from you:

  • SF containing romance is regularly dismissed
  • When men write about getting the girl at the end of a story, she's a just reward, not "romance"
  • Sexism and racism don't happen if white men don't see it
  • People will shit on beautiful things others make every single time
  • Shit does not eliminate the beauty
  • Shit does not erase the beauty from history
  • I am an awesome, capable writer
  • I am an awesome, capable editor
  • And that nothing -- nothing -- you or anyone says will stop this sea change in genre
No one got time for that

No one got time for that


Other smart people talking about this:
Dave Truesdale Explains It All, by Natalie Luhrs
Women Destroying Science Fiction: Texts in Conversation, by Amal El-Mohtar
The Shrill Sound of Not Shutting Up, by Rachael Acks

16 thoughts on “Dear Dave Truesdale

  1. Stuart says:

    Once more with feeling.
    and when needed, a time again after that.
    It's sad that there will always be a Marie Antoinette asking why the hungry don't just eat cake. But being ignorant of a problem, and choosing not to research its reality, does not remove said problem from existence.
    So once more with feeling,
    for when everyone is shouting,
    denials are drowned by roars.

  2. Dave Truesdale says:


    The story you're referring to had to be one submitted to Black Gate, a magazine whose ostensible market was the sword & sorcery and adventure fantasy story. I, as the slush reader, was acting on my best understanding of what the _publisher_ wanted to see in his magazine. I don't think the magazine had even published its first issue at that time, and we were all trying to feel our way. The best I could do was to provide my honest thoughts on your story and send it on to the publisher for his final judgment. If I did this and he turned it down, please don't blame me for that.

    As to some of your other remarks, I never said your experiences were wrong, or that some problems didn't exist within the SF literary community, or that you shouldn't write what you wanted to. Please don't put words in my mouth.

    As for SF containing Romance being "regularly dismissed," please do check out some of Catherine Asaro's books, or the Darkship novels of Sarah A. Hoyt; I'm sure there are others. Who is regularly dismissing SF containing Romance? This piques my curiosity.

    I'm sorry if you've misunderstood any of my comments or writings in the past; maybe it's just that we need to define our terms a little better in order to form a bridge of understanding.


    1. Elise says:

      I'm not blaming anyone for a story rejection. 🙂

  3. --E says:

    That's a mighty fine hole you're digging, Mr. Truesdale. Well done.

    Perhaps instead of insisting that other people define their terms, you go use a dictionary. Or at least read commentary on this topic more widely and more attentively--most of us learn vocabulary from context and experience.

    IOW: Do your own work. Ain't nobody got time to educate you one-on-one when your persistent reaction seems to be a disinclination to learn.

  4. Tyler Laing says:

    Dear Dave,

    You said: "As to some of your other remarks, I never said your experiences were wrong, or that some problems didn’t exist within the SF literary community, or that you shouldn’t write what you wanted to. Please don’t put words in my mouth."

    You again: "As for SF containing Romance being “regularly dismissed,” please do check out some of Catherine Asaro’s books, or the Darkship novels of Sarah A. Hoyt; I’m sure there are others. Who is regularly dismissing SF containing Romance? This piques my curiosity."

    The author wrote: "You wanted to talk about how much you liked the story and how you would do your best to recommend that it be published, but you could make no guarantees because the story contained romance. Romance and SF made for a hard and complicated blend, you said, and went on to tell me why. "


    Please tell me how these statements by you go well with what the author said? You are one of those people who dismissed romance in science fiction. She doesn't need to put words in your mouth when you're doing it right here and now. You are right here and now denying what she said happened.

    But this is not the only time you've done this. Please stop doing it.

    Yours sincerely,


  5. Liz Argall says:

    Thank you for putting this so well.
    I feel deeply uncomfortable commenting on reviews of my own work, but the review of my essay made me so sad. It felt like I'd been co-opted into the 'token women' plus 'success story' narrative that says sexism is dead and we're all living the dream now. All the tackling of structural inequality, the problematic nature of only seeing certain women as real, ignored.

    Instead of challenging the narrative of token women and how we see sf my essay was co-opted into reinforcing the token narrative and genre ghetto narratives. I am deeply saddened. I am sure the reviewer was well intended, but it feels like my essay was turned into safe blandness that missed the point.

    1. Elise says:

      I never comment on reviews, and hesitated over writing this, but the entire Tangent piece felt like it reached beyond a review somehow? And reviewing personal essays is so strange to me. How can you critique a person's experience as a human?

      1. Liz Argall says:

        To critique a personal essay I feel like it can only be done as a process of framing or reframing. I can imagine a New York Review of Books analyzing a series of personal essays about a particular event, juxtaposing them against each other and framing it within a historical context that may have been lost. That kind of review... more like an essay really sounds exciting and a way of opening the text.

        These 'reviews' do not open or reveal the texts. They feel like a more aggressive reframing that reduces their context. The manner in which the texts were divided between critics did not feel like it opened the text either. It felt like it scattered and shattered the analysis so that no one could thoughtfully respond to the whole. It also felt like a way of providing cover for the editor.

        Shattering the text as a whole I feel like he was able to claim fairness, while keeping all the components small enough that he could use what he wanted for closing remarks. There is a claim of diversity, but at the end of the day only one person was empowered to speak to the text as a whole. This review provides a fascinating microcosm of power structures, varying intentions and narratives (and who gets to bookend and frame the narrative). I can imagine studying it in a cultural anthropology class!

  6. Steven Saus says:

    As a publisher, I would be deeply, deeply, DEEPLY concerned if a slush reader working for me started making phone calls to submitters out of the blue.

    Or in other words: Mr. Truesdale, the way Ms. Tobler tells the story, you just sound like a condescending mansplainer. The way *you* tell it, you sound like a creeper.


  7. Dave Truesdale says:

    E. wrote: "Perhaps instead of insisting that other people define their terms, you go use a dictionary."

    I didn't mean for us to define our terms here and now, and I apologize for not clarifying. All I was getting at was that perhaps both sides of the general argument in some forum or discussion or whatever, should sit down and let each other know what each means when they use terms like, for instance and example only--sexism. Back in the 1960s and 1970s it was taken to mean A, B, and C. Today the definition(s) of what constitutes examples of sexism have been expanded a great deal to include X, Y, and Z, as well as A, B, and C. I was only suggesting that a definition of terms would insure that both sides were at least speaking the same language, from which meaningful discussions might ensue.

    Tyler wrote: "You are one of those people who dismissed romance in science fiction."

    I'm sorry, Tyler, not so. I was merely trying to convey to the author that while I personally liked her story, it may not suit the needs of that particular magazine, which was s&s/heroic adventure. I even went the extra mile only to reach out to tell her that via phone call (which after all these years I admit to having forgotten). I was only trying to help. This most definitely is not an instance of anyone saying that romance and SF don't mix. This is a poor understanding of the situation. I know the editor and you can be assured he is *not* a sexist by any definition I'm familiar with. He has published many a female author; I passed on to him many a story written by a female. That said, without knowing after all these 15 years or so what E.'s story was about--specifically--I can hardly be expected to defend what E. says I said to her about it. I do know for a fact that she was almost assuredly the only person I called about a slush story, and I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't thought enough of the story enough to do so. But in no way should it be construed that I am or ever was one to say that Romance and SF don't mix. I've never believed that.

    I hope that you understand when I say that without knowing what that story was about I have no way of defending any accusation tossed my about said story.


  8. Jaym Gates says:

    At any point that a discussion veers into "I'm sorry you were wrong/I'm sorry you misunderstood me/I'm sorry you missed the point", it's time to step back and rethink your decision to work in an industry that is, very literally and entirely, founded on words and understanding.

    This is something that I feel is missed at an astonishing rate in this industry, somehow...

    And thank you, Elise, for breaking down a very strange, very awkward review and rebutting it so well.

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