Moral Distance

publishing.pngOne of the more interesting panels at World Fantasy this year was “The Moral Distance Between the Author and the Work”. The description summed it up well:

What do we make of good art by bad people, or at least people of whom we disapprove?

Predictably, there was a lot of discussion about openly racist, sexist, and homophobic authors –as well as the time periods in which they wrote. (For example, was Howard the author as sexist as the Conan stories, or was that what would sell? Does it matter?)

There were two questions that didn’t get as much play as I would have liked, and I’m going to pose them both here for you (as well as a little of my thoughts).

First: If a work of fiction has a particular theme, does society need to respond to that theme as a whole? Ayn Rand and Orwell (for two examples) wrote fiction –but they were very definitely intended to convey a particular message as much as any nonfiction political treatise. What about when a fictional character has a particular point of view?

The latter question is particularly interesting; I know a professor who recently had a college student attempt to cite Dan Brown’s work as non-fiction even though the Davinci Code is explicitly mentioned as a work of fiction. If a college student (who presumably has some degree of training) is unable to tell the difference, should it be treated at the same level as non-fiction?

Second: At what point does a “bad” editor/publisher/publication mean that you won’t sell your work to them? We aren’t talking about behavior that gets you in Writer Beware, but personal behavior outside of the professional arena. Possible examples: Would you sell your fiction to a porn magazine (such as Playboy, which used to pay top dollar for fiction)? What if you knew the editor of a respectable publication was a sexist, racist, or homophobe? Would belonging to a different political party be bad enough? What if you knew that editor sexually harassed women at cons? (Resources for dealing with the last are here)

Obviously, the solution is to write a modern remake of “A Modest Proposal” as a straight piece and sell it to the scummiest person you know, but barring that… what do you do?

Worse – what do you do if the rest of your professional peers like that editor?

Your thoughts and discussion are welcomed.