Monday, August 26, 2013

Scientology and the Writers of the Future contest

Yet again in 2018 the controversy over the association between Writers of the Future and Scientology has reared its ugly head. I wrote this post nearly five years ago and it remains relevant. A few overzealous Scientologists may have tainted the contest by attempting to push their religious beliefs on a winner. I fully expect Author Services to take them aside and give them a talking to. Author Services (which runs the contest) tries to keep a firewall between the religion and the contest. For the most part, they do a good job. They want the contest to be unbiased.

Does Scientology help finance the contest to keep Hubbard's name out there, of course. Everyone knows that. And, yes, at the end of the week they asked if I had anything nice to say about him and I refused and they did nothing.

Personally, I'd hate to see the contest get a bad reputation and lose the depth of talent it has traditionally had and, along with that, the opportunity it gives new writers. So to everyone who's thinking about withdrawing because of the latest controversies, I strongly advise against it. This is the best chance most talented new writers will get to break into the business.

The original post follows:

An article from last year's Village Voice about links between Scientology and the Writers of the Future contest was posted recently in a Facebook group in order to dissuade people from entering the contest. Let me start by saying, I'm prejudiced. I was one of the twelve winners of the contest in 2013. As I sit here writing this blog post, my trophy from the contest is on a shelf in front of me, the cover art from my story hangs on the wall alongside a picture of me, for the one and probably only time in my life, wearing a tuxedo. The contest offered me a great opportunity to break into the Sci-Fi business that I am pursuing now; an opportunity I would never have had without the contest. Had I refrained from entering the contest because of its association with L. Ron Hubbard, I would have missed that opportunity.

The Village Voice article points out that, in spite of claims made to contestants to the contrary, Scientology may be helping to finance the contest in order to keep Hubbard's name in front of the public in a good light. I don't doubt that they are correct in this. Hubbard's name is plastered everywhere across the contest and on the anthology of the works of the winners. He did, after all, start the contest and set up its continuing financing. How is this different from Alfred Nobel's (who made his fortune from inventing dynamite) name on the Nobel Prizes, or Joseph Pulitzer (some times accused of yellow journalism) on the Pulitzer Prizes, or Andrew Carnegie (the steel baron and not a champion of labor) on all those libraries? If you endow it, you get your name on it. We were asked by the people at Author Services (who probably were Scientologists) to thank Hubbard in our acceptance speeches; I didn't and that was fine.

Perhaps there could have been a less controversial person to endow the contest, but, then again, the writers of the so called "Golden Age" of Sci-Fi were, on the whole, an old boy's club of womanizers and misogynists. Heinlein's wife, if a recent best selling book is to be believed, slept with Hubbard and Heinlein didn't care. Would you rather have had a church-going author set it up? How about, say, Orson Scott Card? He's a nice fellow, I'm told — if you're not gay. Real Science-Fiction writers are real people with real problems — Hubbard included. Anyone else could have set up the contest, but Hubbard had the foresight and generosity to pay-it-forward and create a venue for discovering the next generation of Sci-Fi talent. For that I thank him.

The prestige of the Writers of the Future contest is not based on Hubbard's name — quite the contrary. The prestige of the contest is based on the number of entries (not published but estimated in the thousands), the quality of the judging staff (none of whom are Scientologists), and the quality of the winning pieces which, I'd like to think, is excellent. None of the winning authors in my year was a Scientologist. The list of authors who got their start through this contest is like a who's who of Sci-Fi. Dissuading talented new writers from entering the contest because of its connections to Hubbard and Scientology is a disservice, cutting them off from one of their best chances of breaking into the business.