I’ve just seen the distressing news that Australian science fiction and horror author, Robert N Stephenson, has died. Deepest sympathies to his family and close friends.
I’m stunned but not surprised. For as long as I’ve known him, Robert fought many demons. His demons were particularly fearsome, but his force of personality always seemed to hold them in check. His passing has upset me more than I expected, perhaps because I saw the signs on his Twitter but was too consumed by my own demons to say anything. I think I assumed that big personality would always outweigh the demons, but as I know myself, it only takes a series of bad moments to lay even the strongest of us low.
Looking back over his tweets, it’s obvious his suffering had been acute, and the Robert I knew didn’t deserve to wrestle with demons that relentless. Some of the stuff he said in his final tweets has really rocked me as they are things I’ve said and thought about myself.
Robert was such a profound influence on my early publishing and writing career. Not many people know, but he mentored me through an Advanced Diploma of Arts back in 2004, when he was a tutor at the Australian College of Journalism. His no-nonsense but encouraging guidance was invaluable, and he gave me a lot of confidence as a novice writer setting out to prove myself. I’ll always owe him for that, and even though I told him this many years ago, it’s the kind of thing that bears repeating. There can never be too much kindness and gratitude in the world.
From that experience, we worked together on the anthology Robots & Time. It was a fascinating experience, and it was my first anthology – the very first book to ever bear my name on the cover. What a thrill it was, and I thank Robert for that.
Robert was a giant of the overlapping Australian science fiction and horror scenes. Some say his voice was too loud, but I thought he was always spot on. He had a way of cutting through the bullshit, and he often didn’t care about people’s contrived sensibilities. Perhaps it was because of his own struggles that he recognised and dismissed people’s airs and pretensions.
Robert was the founder and publisher of Altair Australia Books – a legendary name in Australian small press publishing. He had written and published multitudes of short stories, collections, and anthologies, and his creative mind was resonant with colours few could dare to imagine. It was good to see he was getting some awards recognition in recent years. He deserved it. The quality of his work was such that it cut through the petty bullshit usually associated with such literary awards. He was a unique talent.
Speaking of awards, Robert was effectively the founder of the Australian Shadows Awards, now today Australia’s top honour for horror fiction, and to this day I love the sexy Brom statues for the awards he commissioned out of his own pocket. Naysayers be damned, the man had taste!
I remember Robert fondly for his defence of me last year through some censorship related drama with the AHWA. While others were quick to baselessly villify, he jumped in and had my back.
I can’t say I was close to Robert, but I knew him for 15 years, and that’s the kind of guy he was. He freely gave of his time and his money, he stood up for the little guy, and he had a huge altruistic streak. I’ve tried to emulate his approach.
Robert N Stephenson is gone too soon, and his unique presence on the Australian horror and science fiction landscapes will be missed.
Insidious is a word I’ve always liked. In one simple word, it represents phenomena I see in life all the time: the creep of entropy or the shifting of the Overton window. Trends come and go, but genuine, radical changes to a society are usually insidious.
The Overton window is an interesting concept, and if you don’t know what it is, it’s known as the ‘window of discourse’ – the range of ideas (political, social, moral) tolerated in public discourse.
Of course, I had my own brush with the Overton window early this year when activists complained about my views, however moderate, on some social issues. It cost me the editor role at Midnight Echo magazine, and has since cost the association I was editing for twelve months of lost time. In that span of time, I would have had two issues of the magazine published, probably lined up several of the authors for awards shortlists and won some impressive reviews … but no, we’re all still waiting for one issue, any issue, to appear. I can’t say I’m surprised. Any association that takes the side of a handful of extremists over a lifelong and loyal volunteer deserves all the misfortune their shoddy decision-making brings them.
I was reminded of the Overton window and how insidious changes to society can creep up on everyone when I was going through my emails today.
Just two years ago (2016), I was receiving supportive emails from writing and publishing colleagues. They were genuinely warm messages, checking up on me (as it’d been out of the publishing scene for a while), discussing my work, etc. My replies were just as warm and courteous.
Fast forward 18 months, when all that crap about Midnight Echo happened early this year. Those same people I’d been warmly corresponding with in 2016 were some of the loudest voices labelling me a ‘fascist’ or whatever for mild opinions I’d always held, in their presence and elsewhere.
What I didn’t truly understand at that time, but I do now on reflection, is that the dark veil of so-called ‘social justice’ (a nice-sounding front for identity politics) had descended on these people’s minds. I was always more of a libertarian. A left-leaning centrist who believed in meritocracy and the free market. Any strong opinions I had several years ago were not political – they were more about quality and nepotism among my writing and publishing peers. If anything, I’ve mellowed.
My opinions have always remained largely the same.
But insidiousness overcame my colleagues’ (and in some cases, friends’) minds. Where once opinions on social issues could be mild and respectful, if you don’t agree with the authoritarian values of regressive intersectionality, you are now a pariah in those circles (like me), or worse, a Nazi, fascist, racist, or any other kind of ‘ist’.
Through this insidious process, the Overton window has shifted, and people of once-seemingly-rational minds have joined this cult-like ideology. As with any cult, dissent is not tolerated, and so once acceptable ideas are now considered radical or outright forbidden.
People like me, who haven’t changed much, are left behind while a huge chunk of the population that once had liberal values have now become extremists. We’re seeing this play out by big, evil tech corporations like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and PayPal deplatforming people whose opinions they disagree with (even when terms of service are not violated). If this censorious behaviour doesn’t concern you, nothing will.
In comparison to identity politics extremists, I now look conservative, and in some ways that’s somewhat true. I see the forces of ‘progressives’ (i.e. regressives) wanting to tear down the foundations of Western civilisation. Free speech is now being banned and anyone outside that shifted Overton window (according to the extreme left) that places value on traditional morals such as family, personal responsibility, or individual freedom is seen as wrong, somehow. Suddenly, it’s not OK to be white, or male, or to express an opinion based on expertise rather than gender or skin colour?
I want to lament how this could have happened, but in hindsight, looking at the postmodern influence on the arts, education, and academia, where our next generations are indoctrinated by activist-professors in many fields, it’s inevitable that millennials are tightly under the sway of identity politics.
What I don’t really understand is how colleagues now in their 40s and 50s have fallen prey to this identity politics cult. The people who only 18 months ago were wishing me well have become radicalised … and without any negative interaction from me at all!
I guess where I’m going with this is that insidious, postmodern forces are fuelling identity politics, and with Christmas and holidays coming up, I worry that hate will trump the bonds of friendship and family. My advice is to unplug and stop judging. Let your family and friends be who they are, and maybe if you can’t help wanting to pick a fight, remove yourself from the situation. Don’t be divisive. Be kind to each other.
My former colleagues and friends didn’t make this choice, and I’m saddened by that, and its impact on me. They chose hate. None of it was necessary, but now bridges have been burned. If this insidious trend continues, everything that made Western civilisation the pinnacle of human achievement will be lost, and a new dark age of authoritarianism will replace it. The signs are already there.
Just … be kind to each other and forget the politics for a few days. Have a Merry Christmas.
… or the time a far left hate mob convinced the AHWA to bow to pressure and remove me as Executive Editor of Midnight Echo magazine over some mild tweets that had nothing to do with the AHWA.
It’s been nearly six months since I was visited by an online hate mob, and you’re probably wondering why I’m choosing to speak out now. I was going to stay silent but I’m angry about the Australasian Horror Writers Association’s (AHWA’s) continued treatment of me, a foundation member, since the altercation. For example, before the Australian Shadows Award winners were announced in June, they interviewed all the previous year’s winners but pointedly excluded me (and only me). It’s galling given that I won the award for editing the AHWA’s anthology, Dead of Night, so they actively chose to spite me and not promote their own project. Also, after a six-month delay, the AHWA committee has just announced plans to publish Midnight Echo again. I have thoughts about this that I will detail in a future blog post, but for now, I want to explain exactly what happened with the AHWA and Midnight Echo and why I am so angry. Here is the original article that I have kept unpublished until now:
I want to set the record straight. Earlier this year, I endured an authoritarian social media hate mob that resulted in me parting ways with the Australasian Horror Writers Association’s (AHWA’s) magazine, Midnight Echo, and a writing group. The decision by the AHWA committee to remove me from the Executive Editor role at Midnight Echo was hastily made in contravention of AHWA association rules, without allowing me due process. It seems in 2018, one’s employment is based on the whims of volatile, mentally unstable people on the internet.
On top of that, sensitive personal correspondence was leaked to people outside the AHWA committee. I am enraged at the injustice of this process, and this unprofessionalism, so I am revealing what happened here. If I am to be judged, let it be in the light.
I was called a fascist multiple times (including ‘fascist freak’), a Nazi, a right-wing nutjob, and other insults not worth repeating. Why? Because of three tweets on my personal Twitter account where I said [about an upcoming Superman comic where he fights against the KKK in the 2010s, not the 1940s]:
Islamic terrorism is a threat of more social relevance today than the Ku Klux Klan (a dying hate group with about 3000 members, or 0.00001% of the US population).
(or even Antifa, a violent group of far left thugs, is a more socially relevant threat than the KKK, which peaked in the 1920s).
White supremacy is not what ails Western society (in the context that there are graver threats, such as terrorism).
Writers should write bold stories that tell uncomfortable truths.
These comments are not racist. They are not fascist. They are not abusive. They are not offensive. These comments are objectively true, whether you agree with them or not. I stand by them.
A mob of crybully social justice warriors across a handful of social media threads didn’t agree with my comments – to the point they pressured AHWA and a writing group to censure me for my “dangerous opinions” (actual quote). The AHWA committee distanced themselves from me and issued a statement about “building a safe and supportive community”, which infers I was somehow a danger to members’ safety. That’s a long bow to draw from three tweets, and it couldn’t be further from the truth. They said they wanted “an inclusive community, one that reflects the diversity of voices within the region.” Well, they did not want the diversity of my voice in that mix, despite the many years of service I’d given them.
It’s all cowardly bullshit.
After pressure from the hate mob, the AHWA committee demanded that I remove any reference to Midnight Echo or AHWA from my Twitter profile, which I did straight away. They also demanded an apologetic statement, and that’s the line I refused to cross. I did nothing wrong. My tweets were clear, had nothing to do with the AHWA, and required no further clarification to appease far left authoritarians.
I will not bend my knee to the mob, not now and not ever. Given my long-standing support of the AHWA, I assumed the AHWA committee would stand by me. I was bitterly disappointed when they chose instead to throw me under the bus.
The hate mobs characterised me as some right wing extremist, but that’s wrong and stupid. These authoritarians view anyone left of Marx as right wing. In reality, I have both liberal and conservative views. For example, I strongly believe in equal, individual rights (especially freedom of expression), justice, meritocracy, and classical liberal values, but I also believe in personal responsibility and national borders (and the sanctity of the cultures they protect). I’m pro-freedom, pro-capitalism and anti-communism. Most importantly, I am against identitypolitics of all kinds, be it white supremacists, black supremacists, radical feminists, etc.
Collectivism based on superficial traits such as skin colour or gender is a dangerous threat to individual rights.
I am a normal, moderate guy who expressed logical opinions on a social issue unrelated to my role as Midnight Echo Executive Editor. Some people disagreed with my opinions. Only a few years ago, no one would have batted an eyelid. Now, in the age of hysterical censorship by a fringe of oversensitive yet overzealous leftists, I am literally Hitler (or to be precise, “Goebbels”, to quote someone from the mob, but same difference).
The people in these types of hate mobs are not normal. They are the alt-left. The far left hate mob is the extremist fringe of Western society, and their kind is gathering power in the arts and academia – traditional strongholds for formerly progressive, now regressive, thinkers. These people are black and red flag-waving anarcho-communists. They are genderfluid, man-hating third-wave feminists. They are hateful anti-white bigots. They are authoritarian and intolerant of any opinion other than their own cult-like ideology. They want to tear down the classical liberal values upon which Western society was built. Their agenda is to usurp, repress, and destroy.
These people are the extremists. Their views are not the norm, and it is crushingly disappointing that the AHWA committee caved to this small group of extremists because of their own far left, authoritarian leanings.
I’ve since learned the names of these people, and it’s clear the loudest voices were there to settle old scores. Their fake outrage was a convenient way to sharpen old, dull blades. Not one of these people voiced any disagreement to me. Like the cowards they are, they slunk around and pressured the AHWA behind my back. Rather than engage me, they shared my tweets to their own echo chambers to validate their warped views.
The worst was the former friends and colleagues who turned on me. I’ve given them no cause to slander me, but some were only too happy to jump on the hate train. I can only assume they have self-esteem, personality, or mental problems.
The AHWA rationale for severing ties with me as editor was the supposed damage to their reputation my allegedly harmful opinions caused. However, very few in the hate mob were actually involved in the AHWA or Australian horror in any way. AHWA membership hasn’t suffered. There are no obvious signs of anything negative arising from my tweets at all.
I’d hoped the AHWA committee would have taken into account my professionalism in keeping my personal views, however mild, separate from my editing duties with them. I have never been political in my work, and I would have continued that way. I simply write and edit the best stories I can. No agenda.
But the AHWA committee members lacked the professionalism to understand that, and it is the AHWA that has paid a price. By siding with these fringe lunatics, AHWA has set itself back months. They came to me to resurrect Midnight Echo. I was the only person with the drive, enthusiasm, and ability (editing, layout, design, and mentoring other editors) to bring their flagship magazine back to life, and I did it in spectacular fashion. Issue #12 was widely acclaimed and shortlisted for both the Aurealis Award and Australian Shadows Award. My involvement was a net gain for the AHWA’s reputation. But they sided with the fake outrage mob – people who did not support AHWA then and will not support AHWA in the future. People with axes to grind. The AHWA committee sided with strangers and chose to betray a foundation member and long-serving volunteer. This betrayal from people I once considered friends, people I mentored, people I supported, has angered me beyond words. It’s baffling.
What disturbs me about this whole situation is that these people work in horror. The genre is all about confronting opinions, but somehow, these people lose their minds when it comes to a few factually accurate tweets they disagree with. It’s weak.
Only well after the AHWA had made their decision to remove me from Midnight Echo – and after I threatened further action – was I given any reasonable opportunity to have my perspective listened to. I have declined to challenge the AHWA committee’s decision further as it would sap too much of my limited time and energy.
However, I am absolutely livid that someone on the AHWA committee chose to leak my correspondence on this personal and sensitive matter to a person outside the committee. My complaints in this regard have not been followed up, but I can make AHWA members and others aware of this shocking lack of professionalism.
You have been warned.
The bigger picture
My authoritarian hate mob experience is part of a larger pattern, call-out culture. Around the same time I endured the hate mob, conservative author Jon Del Arroz was pre-emptively banned from attending the Worldcon SF convention for thoughtcrime. Jason V. Brock’s StokerCon workshop was cancelled because he made a snarky comment about singer Pink’s performance. I’ve seen way more abhorrent opinions from left-leaning authors go unpunished or even celebrated! Outside of publishing, a man has been convicted of a hate crime for a bad taste joke (teaching his dog a Nazi salute) in the UK and YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook relentlessly censor conservative views, creating echo chambers that feed the regressive leftist narrative.
While it’s natural to assume shitty behaviour gets punished, it’s only opinions outside the alt-left cult that attract mob-induced contrived outrage. Reading the Twitter feeds of some of my accusers is enough to make anyone with moderate views want to rinse their eyeballs. They are dumpster fires of extremist, left-wing, degenerate, collectivist bigotry: anti-white, anti-male, anti-West, anti-capitalism, anti-science, anti-conservative and anti-moderate. Also, it’s an eye-opening experience to read the social feeds of past and present AHWA office holders and prominent AHWA members. There’s some straight up misanthropic, unprofessional crap in there. Anything I’ve ever said pales in comparison.
So only certain opinions attract the outrage of these pathetic fringe extremists. My mild opinions were deemed the wrong opinions, even though they had nothing to do with my AHWA role or writing in general.
We live in dangerous times.
Why does this matter?
Take this authoritarian attitude to its logical conclusion. I work primarily in horror, a genre that by definition challenges readers in ways no other genre can. In this current climate of hypersensitivity, it is only a matter of time before the horror genre is sanitised so it does not offend, challenge, or confront reader’s emotions.
Mark my words: they will come for horror.
Sensitivity readers are becoming a thing, and there is increasing craziness about cultural appropriation (a concept with which I disagree). These publishing trends disturbs me. Genuine diversity requires diversity of thought. Great writing challenges readers, and writers should challenge themselves to write from many points of view.
I’m all for authenticity in fiction, but if boundaries are not pushed, we risk, as a society, a kind of dangerous groupthink – the same kind produced in social media echo chambers. The kind that mobbed me.
Horror will become a front line in this culture war.
What’s next for me?
I am a foundation member of the AHWA. I have been involved with the association at every level since it was founded, so I’ve decided to remain a member. I will continue to be a member long after these alt-left extremists are gone. However, this situation has left me feeling disgusted.
I am done, professionally and personally, with every one of my accusers and the AHWA committee members who have betrayed my trust. I know who these people are, and I refuse to work with them on any future project. I will never forget.
I will stand for free speech and combat the evils of collectivism where I can, when I can.
I will follow my own advice and continue to write brave stories that challenge readers with sometimes uncomfortable truths.
The title story ‘The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After’ has about it something of the film Prophecy as a demon and a fallen angel confront each other and discuss the End of Days. It’s an intriguing piece, Cummings giving an original spin to such matters as the Fall and the coming of the apocalypse, in a story where sparkling dialogue vies for attention with moments of visceral horror.
‘Dark Heart Alley (An Urban Fable)’ contains a powerful evocation of a blighted urban landscape, one in which a remorseless killer stalks his victims, inflicting horrible death. Cummings extrapolates the slasher trope into stranger territory, taking it to a place where creatures from other dimensions fight for a foothold in our world and the desuetude on every side is symptomatic of some spiritual/metaphysical decline. Beautifully written and with striking imagery, engaging characters and novel concepts, this story is one of the highlights of the collection, giving us an original and striking monster and offering food for thought along with the expected thrills and chills.
Do you have your copy of this masterpiece collection, which includes the very best of my short fiction?
The reading period for Midnight Echo issue #12 has closed and all acceptances and rejections have now been sent. My co-editor Anthony Ferguson and I had a great selection of stories to choose from, and issue 12 is shaping up nicely. The future for horror fiction in Australia and New Zealand is looking bright!
Thank you to everyone who submitted, and please load up another great story for our next reading period in a few months. Midnight Echo can only thrive if we can publish the best available work, so keep on writing!
The full table of contents will be released in the coming weeks.
Are you an aspiring editor? Would you like to guide the next generation of Australian and New Zealand horror writers? If so, I invite you to co-edit an issue of Midnight Echo magazine with me!
This rare and valuable opportunity comes as part of the AHWA mentor program. The program closes tomorrow, so you still have a window of time to get your application in.
My advice: be honest and earnest. Say upfront what editing an issue of Midnight Echo will mean to you, how it will help your career, and what aspirations you hope to achieve through editing a magazine issue.
The last issue of Midnight Echo magazine was published in 2015. This was followed up in 2016 by Dead of Night, an anthology I proudly edited on behalf of the AHWA, which collected the best fiction of the magazine’s eight-year run. I was honoured to win the Australian Shadows Award for Best Edited Publication for my efforts. It’s a solid anthology, and I’d thoroughly recommend checking it out if you have an interest in Australian horror (or great horror in general).
So why did I jump back in after years of doing my thing quietly on the sidelines?
Well, my history with the Australasian Horror Writers Association goes back to the AHWA’s beginnings. I’m member #10, and I served as Vice President, Australian Shadows Awards Director (and before that, a judge for two years), and a mentor. I edited Dead of Night, of course, but also I co-edited Midnight Echo #2 with Angela Challis, and my story “Graveyard Orbit” was published in issue #6.
Midnight Echo is a great magazine, and for years, it’s been a reliable lifeline for emerging Australian horror writers to get their work published. I have a genuine interest in seeing Midnight Echo and the AHWA succeed, particularly as the organisation has been in decline for a few years (or at least relatively quiet). Someone needed to put their hand up, and that someone was me.
I have a vision for the resurrected Midnight Echo. The guidelines will be posted on the AHWA website soon, so I don’t want to speak out of turn before AHWA makes the announcement. What I can say is that I will be resetting the magazine back to its roots. I want to support emerging local writers and work to develop local editor talent, too. When the guidelines are published, I’ll expand on my vision here.
If you have thoughts on the resurrection and future direction of Midnight Echo, I’d happily hear them. Post a comment here or on Facebook, or contact me directly.
If you’ve scored yourself a Kindle for Christmas, fill your stocking with my major works, including The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After, The Apocrypha Sequence Master Collection, Shards, and the bestselling anthology Rage Against the Night!
Monte Cristo homestead, Junee. Credit: Wiki Commons
I’ve just concluded the first year of my Master’s of Creative Writing course, and I’m having a great time. I’ll post more about that soon, but one of the things that’s come out of the course is new work!
One of my units was Creative Non-Fiction, which has opened a world of new possibilities. I’ve written a couple of creative non-fiction essays so far, and I reckon I’ll return to the form in the future. I like the personal nature of the genre, which means the stories can be emotionally powerful.
I’ve published my first creative non-fiction essay today on this site. It’s an exploration of Australian haunted houses, tied to a recent trip to “Australia’s most haunted house” – Monte Cristo in Junee, NSW.
I don’t tend to talk politics, so my views on the US presidential election would probably surprise people. Trump was elected on a wave of anger, and I share a lot of that anger. I think I’ll expand on my thoughts in a serious, detailed essay soon, but in the meantime, I feel it’s important to take a step back from the political divide and get Schwifty!
It’s been a busy year, so I’ve been quiet online since my flurry of posts about The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After. I’m deep into my Master of Creative Writing at Macquarie University (with a view to an eventual PhD) and novel writing, but I’ve snuck in a couple of short stories in between.
The big news is that I’ve been working with the Australian Horror Writers Association selecting the stories for Dead of Night: The Best of Midnight Echo.
The anthology has been a labour of love, and it is expected to be released before the end of the year (I have a few more manuscript changes to make before that happens). The cover, if you were wondering, is by Australian artist (and writer) and AHWA stalwart Greg Chapman, and it suitably captures the vibe!
I’ll post an update when Dead of Night is available. Trust me, it’ll be worth the read!