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Writers of the Future and Scientology

An LJ friend recently posted a piece titled Why I No Longer Support the Writers of the Future Contest.

I was a first place winner in Writers of the Future back in 1998. It was my first major short fiction sale. WotF paid me better than anyone else ever has for a short story. They also flew me out for a week-long workshop with folks like Algis Budrys and Dave Wolverton. It was a great experience, and I’m genuinely grateful for that.

When the subject of Scientology came up, we were told that the contest and its finances were completely separate from the church. That’s something I’ve repeated to other writers more than once.

I’m no longer certain this is true.

Frank Wu wrote about the financial connections between Scientology and Writers/Illustrators of the Future back in 2005. He also reproduced a letter he received in 2006 from Joni Labaqui, one of the contest administrators, who wrote:

You were actually wrong in that Scientology pays for the writers and illustrators awards. The Hubbard estate (which is not the church) makes so much money on royalties from his hundreds of published fiction it would make your head spin. You were right about the fact that every one of us who works at Author Services is a Scientologist, but the judges of the contest are not. They share the same goal that Mr. Hubbard did in starting and paying for this contest - to help the new guy…

I met Joni 13 years ago, and while I was rather overwhelmed that week, I remember her as a nice and hard-working person. I liked her.

In a similar vein, Jerry Pournelle (one of the WotF judges) writes:

I also don’t have to have an opinion about the Church of Scientology, because it doesn’t operate the Writers of the Future, and has no influence over who wins it. That much I can guarantee. The contest isn’t rigged. Algis Budrys wouldn’t have anything to do with it if there were the slightest chance of that. Nor would I.

I agree that it’s not rigged, and I’ve seen nothing to suggest otherwise. Does the church operate the contest, though? It looks like the “Writers of the Future” trademark was assigned to the Church of Scientific Technology (if I’m reading the records correctly). What does that mean? I’m honestly not certain … but it suggests to me that perhaps the wall of separation isn’t as solid as Pournelle believes.

I agree with John Scalzi’s post that Writers of the Future is not a Scientology recruitment scheme. I remember joining a few friends as a kid for a Christian camp. I felt more pressure to join that church than I ever did at Writers of the Future. While the WotF experience idolizes L. Ron Hubbard, there was no attempt to recruit me. However, I’ve spoken to one individual who did observe precisely that kind of high-pressure church recruitment tactic toward someone there for the contest at a WotF event.

A fair amount of the “Writers of the Future = Scientology!” writing out there is big on angry rhetoric and short on anything resembling facts, which is a little frustrating. (See this piece, for example.) I’m not trying to tell anyone what to believe. I’m just trying to gather what information I have to try to sort things out in my own mind. Some of the information comes from people who prefer to remain anonymous. All I’ll say is that I wouldn’t include their claims if I didn’t think they were reliable sources.

I was told by one such individual that for the church, the goal is not so much to help new writers, but to promote LRH and his brand. Particularly in schools and to kids, where they push the contest anthologies hard, hoping the books will serve as a gateway into Scientology. (This was presented not as conjecture, but as directly-overheard statements from multiple church members.)

None of this is meant to undermine the good things the contest does. The judges are, for the most part, amazing writers and people. Getting a walking tour of Hollywood from Tim Freaking Powers remains one of my favorite writing-related memories to this day. And I know that a lot of people involved with the contest, particularly some of the judges, are insistent about keeping the church separate from the contest.

But I no longer believe that Writers of the Future is entirely separate from Scientology.

I’m not saying everyone should run out and boycott the contest. But I’ve publicly praised Writers of the Future on many occasions, so I thought it was important to state this publicly as well.

I know the comments on this one have the potential to get messy, so let me preemptively ban some of the things I’ve seen on similar discussions elsewhere.

  • “Scientologists are all ________.” Just like Catholics are all pedophiles and Mormons are all polygamists and so on? Don’t be an ass.
  • “All religions are equally evil!” I’ll buy this as soon as you provide historical documentation on the Quaker Crusades.
  • “Why are you picking on religion?” I’m pretty sure I’m not, thanks.
  • “Aren’t there more important problems to worry about?” The Official Hierarchy of What We Can and Can’t Worry About pisses me off. Don’t go there.

With that said, discussion is welcome, as always. Just keep Wheaton’s Law in mind, ‘kay?

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Comments

( 52 comments — Leave a comment )
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sinboy
Feb. 14th, 2012 03:06 pm (UTC)
Except LRH's books are so godawful that I'm not much worried if they want real good F/SF to be a "gateway drug". What we might want to ask is, does talking negatively about Scientology disqualify one from the Writers of the Future slate?
jimkeller
Feb. 14th, 2012 03:17 pm (UTC)
Since the stories are judged anonymously, unless the story itself is anti-Scientology I can't imagine anti-Scientology sentiments hurting a contest entrant. In other capacities, I imagine anti-Scientology folks would self-select out. (Can you really imagine Nick Mamatas agreeing to be a judge?) There's definitely some animosity on the WotF forum toward writers who have spoken out against the Church of Scientology, but it's not generally shared by the aspirants who post there.
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 14th, 2012 04:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - georgmi - Feb. 14th, 2012 05:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - swan_tower - Feb. 14th, 2012 08:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
jimkeller
Feb. 14th, 2012 03:14 pm (UTC)
If I recall correctly, your LJ friend has direct experience with the contest as well. I've left her a comment asking her to clarify what she knows about the CoS-contest relationship, as she may merely have taken it for granted that the general public assumes it's a front organization.

If the wall between the two is as strong as the contest claims, then I concur that one shouldn't blame the contest for the failures of the CoS as an organization, but it's highly probable that the truth is much, much murkier.
oldcharliebrown
Feb. 14th, 2012 03:31 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 15th, 2012 12:59 am (UTC) - Expand
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joycemocha
Feb. 14th, 2012 03:41 pm (UTC)
I've been following that particular mutual LJ friend long enough to see the transition from being cautiously "it's okay for you but not for me due to my past with the CoS" to this latest post.

I've had my own positive interactions with WotF in the past (SemiFinalist, two Honorable Mentions) but I'd stopped submitting a couple of years ago because of questions in my own mind about associating with it. Given that I have a bit of a prickly history and not a little bit of PTSD/trauma with my own negative religious past (heavily evangelical fundamentalist Protestant in my case), I decided that I couldn't continue to submit without risking some serious triggering psychological disconnects. Additionally, I'd gotten enough feel for the WotF market brand to figure that I really wasn't writing the sort of material that would place well with it, at least not to the degree that it could overcome these other issues.

Mileage varies. Everybody has their own line in the sand. I don't begrudge others participating in the contest (I have a number of friends who have done well in it and it's been a career maker for them) but in my case, uh, well, I chose my own peace of mind.
jimhines
Feb. 14th, 2012 05:11 pm (UTC)
A lot of what you're saying coincides with my own thinking. I'm all for people making whatever decision is best for them; I just figure informed decisions are best, and since I've previously given information I now believe to be incorrect, I wanted to fix that.
synecdochic
Feb. 14th, 2012 04:10 pm (UTC)
If the Writers of the Future trademark is owned by the Church of Spiritual Technology, it is 100% a Scientology-owned, Scientology-operated program.

Scientology has dozens if not hundreds of associated/affiliated companies, most of which trasfer control of SCN assets around like a very complicated shell game, so, it's often very hard to determine whether a particular company is owned by Scientology or not (and if so, where the money goes). The LRH estate and the Church of Spiritual Technology are different entities, but the CST does own all the copyrights to LRH's work, including the materials Scientology uses as religious scripture, and many anti-Scientology activists believe the CST is used to hide much of the money brought in by individual Scientology orgs. They license the copyrights of LRH's work to the church of Scientology itself, and receive all the revenue from sales of that work (both the fiction LRH wrote and all the materials used in the church of Scientology, which are sold at a hefty markup to Scientologists who are heavily pressured to buy multiple copies on a yearly basis).

The CST is unquestionably a Scientology organization, controlled by David Miscavige, the figure who controls the entire Scientology empire. The CST is tax-exempt under the IRS's treatment of religious organizations, and there is a lot of dodgy money shuffling to keep a figleaf of religiosity on one segment of the Scientology empire while proclaiming that Miscagive is only the head of one small section of it. High-profile defectors from the organized church of Scientology, including Mike Rinder and Marty Rathbun (who were both extremely highly placed in the organization, essentially the #2 and #3 figures in the church) have both flat-out stated that the figleafing is only to look good to the IRS, and Miscavige controls the entire empire. Money earned by the CST and its publishing subsidiaries Author Services and Bridge Publications is absolutely moved around until it winds up with the Church of Scientology International and various other corporate-Scientology programs.

For information on how corporate Scientology moves money around, what they do with money that comes in to them, and how they use that money to fund gross human rights violations including forced child labor, withholding of medical care (leading to preventable deaths in multiple cases), false imprisonment, forced abortions, and forced familial separation, see the Tampa Bay Times' (formerly the St Petersburg Times) The Money Machine & The Truth Rundown, two incredible special reports based on information given by Rathbun and Rinder, along with multiple other defectors from the organized church of Scientology. For a broader collection of information on Scientology's actions, see Tony Ortega's blog at the Village Voice.

Whether CST claims the Writers of the Future contest is completely independent of Scientology or not, and even if the writers who participate in the contest and the judges of the contest have no connection to Scientology, it is guaranteed that sales of the anthologies produced from the contest go to fund the actions of the corporate Scientology organization. The contest may not be dictated by Scientology in that the judges are told which entries should win, but the proceeds for the contest are used to finance corporate Scientology's actions and fund other Scientology orgs. Whether people are okay with this is, of course, up to them.
roseaponi
Feb. 14th, 2012 04:32 pm (UTC)
As a Christian solidly in the belief that God exists and has expressly forbidden his people to make up their own religion or to submit to other people's religion, I find L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology, and by association, the WotF contest, to be seriously squicky. I considered entering once ( they're still sending emails! Gah! I need to unsubscribe again!) but decided that was a line I shouldn't cross even if it really was the difference between success and perpetual obscurity.

It's not my job to police other people according to my beliefs - I'd just like to encourage everyone to thoroughly research anything they want to get involved in and make an informed decision as to whether they really ought to be involved or not. Don't get so caught up chasing success that you compromise yourself.

Great post, Jim :) I appreciate your integrity and commitment to accuracy.
swan_tower
Feb. 14th, 2012 08:29 pm (UTC)
If you're a good enough writer to get recognition in the contest, you're a good enough writer to get recognition elsewhere, too. It's just a matter of persistence. I got my first break with the Asimov (now Dell Magazines) award for undergraduate sf/f, but that's just a matter of the contest's focus opening the door for me a little sooner than it might have done otherwise. I think WotF is the same.
(no subject) - roseaponi - Feb. 14th, 2012 11:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - zhai - Feb. 17th, 2012 03:32 am (UTC) - Expand
snapes_angel
Feb. 14th, 2012 05:02 pm (UTC)
Being as I'm not wealthy, I wouldn't be a good Scientologist. Although while I lived in California, many years ago, they did try to recruit me, twice. The "entrance exams" (questionnaires they had at the time) seemed to me, more like a sociological information-gathering experiment than anything of a religious nature. I debated the WotF on more than one occasion, and did enter once or twice, many years ago (per-marriage), and do actually have a couple of books here on my to-read list. I'm not Scientologist material though, and when I did enter the contest, it was pre-whatever it is, the changing of hands and the like (and I did finally decide that I'd rather write and submit to a regular market, than try these contests).
pantryslut
Feb. 14th, 2012 07:01 pm (UTC)
I'm pretty convinced that WotF is a PR vehicle for Scientology. Not a recruitment vehicle. A PR vehicle. And not just for selling anthos to schools, but a general "hey, they're not so bad; they plant trees!" sort of thing.
jimhines
Feb. 14th, 2012 08:39 pm (UTC)
That matches my impressions. It's not about recruiting the writers; I think the contests would be a highly inefficient and ridiculous recruiting tool.

Used as a PR tool, on the other hand...
(no subject) - pantryslut - Feb. 14th, 2012 08:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nihilistic_kid - Feb. 16th, 2012 06:33 am (UTC) - Expand
martianmooncrab
Feb. 14th, 2012 07:10 pm (UTC)
I attended a few WoTF events with Anne, and the intro to the awards always reminded me of a cross between a Cult of Personality and a Tent Revival.

What amazed me were the people running the contests were Shiny Happy People (all the time!), and that struck me as unnatural.
kellymccullough
Feb. 14th, 2012 07:45 pm (UTC)
It was certainly my experience as a winner that there was no recruitment or proselytizing for Scientology while I was at the workshop or anytime thereafter. If anything I felt the opposite was in place. On at least two occasions when I happened to be chatting with other people at the hotel where we were housed, (a Scientology center) and they found out that I was a writing contest winner, they clammed up completely and vanished shortly thereafter. I got the distinct feeling that they were under strict orders not to to allow Scientology to impact the contest in any way, shape, or form. Since I would have been quite disturbed to find things otherwise, I was pleased to find that they seemed to be making every effort to keep the two endeavors separate.
jimhines
Feb. 15th, 2012 12:53 am (UTC)
I think you're right that there are strict orders not to harass the writers with anything Scientology-related. (Though based on talking to folks, those orders do get broken on occasion.) But--and this is one of the things I've been trying to sort out in my head--shielding the writers from anything Scientologist isn't the same thing as keeping the two endeavors separate.
dr_phil_physics
Feb. 14th, 2012 08:33 pm (UTC)
First off -- I've been a Published Finalist in WOTF XXIV, i.e. "not a real winner", and got to go to the WOTF workshop in 2008 with Tim Powers and K.D. Wentworth and all. It IS big money. They paid for airfare, hotel, some meals and put on the big show Event for the awards and book launch. We were paid for publication, on top of those that won prize money. All of the anthology volumes for over 25 years are still available in print.

Not once was Scientology mentioned by any of the staff or organizers in my hearing. There was speculation amongst the writers and illustrators, but certainly no one was being proselytized, which we appreciated. Actually the staff and organizers I talked to were well-read in SF/F books and movies, and eager to talk about likes and dislikes, our stories and our experiences in the workshop -- and yes, very big on L. Ron Hubbard. On the late night drive to the hotel from the Event, our van driver and one of the other employees told us a whole lot of stuff about how the books are physically printed, which was quite interesting.

I still have eligibility in the contest, not having yet sold enough pro paying stories to qualify for SFWA membership, and I have continued to send in stories each quarter. Though records are incomplete, I may have the record for total number of entries in the contest. (grin) Record for futility? (double-grin) The judges are definitely not Church members. And frankly, LRH's interest in helping new writers dates back a long time. Many, many SF/F writers have gotten an early boost to their careers by winning the WOTF contest -- and even if you never place, writing new stories every quarter is a great way to start to build up an Invenstory as a new writer.

Is WOTF totally and transparently separate? I suspect that it's impossible to get it 100.00% all the time, the real world being run by real people and gets complicated, but they certainly have worked hard to keep it clean for the writers and judges. I'm sure some might accuse me of putting my head in the sand, but so far I've seen a lot of good being done for new writers. Still, I'm not going to browbeat anyone who thinks otherwise.

Dr. Phil
oldcharliebrown
Feb. 14th, 2012 09:40 pm (UTC)
"All of the anthology volumes for over 25 years are still available in print."

Amazon says the first twenty volumes are pretty much out of print, with the last volume having sold only five hundred copies (according to bookscan, and only sixteen library systems), which simply is suggestive that it's subsidized, but this is true of most of Hubbard's books.
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jimhines
Feb. 14th, 2012 08:38 pm (UTC)
:-)
(Deleted comment)
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elizaeffect
Feb. 14th, 2012 11:13 pm (UTC)
My only experience with Writers of the Future is that I submitted a story when I was 13 and got at least 20 pieces of junk mail a year (HERE HAVE SOME POSTCARDS AND BROCHURES AND BOOKMARKS AND A QUARTERLY OVERSIZED MAGAZINE ABOUT HOW GREAT OUR FOUNDER WAS) until I left for college. I could never figure out how to make it stop.

Fun experiment: Submit to WotF, win, give a speech (is there an acceptance speech?) lamenting the way WotF's parent organization is run by a megalomaniacal ventriloquist's dummy with designs on world domination. (Spend rest of life fielding death threats & lawsuits - Scientology does not play soft with its critics, which is why we're having this discussion at all.)
jimhines
Feb. 15th, 2012 12:48 am (UTC)
I don't think I've gotten that much junk mail, but 13 years later, I still get at least a few things in the mailbox each year.
asakiyume
Feb. 14th, 2012 11:18 pm (UTC)
Your LJ friend is a friend of mine as well. It's been eye-opening, reading her posts.

It's hard to decide when something requires a stand of principle. It's easy for me to swear off Writers of the Future as I've never been tempted to apply, but I can definitely understand feeling conflicted if you *are* tempted. It's a hard one.

I agree with what swan_tower says: it's not the only show in town--there are other publishing breaks that can be equally good and that don't come with quite the same baggage.
lingster1
Feb. 15th, 2012 04:03 am (UTC)
Many years ago, back when Bridge used to throw the most lavish parties at major conventions -- run by a very nice gentleman whose name I can't remember (he subsequently "disappeared". Too nice,maybe?)-- I was approached by Bridge with what seemed like a very generous offer to a new author. They were selling "six-packs" to radio stations around the country, interviews with authors, where only the commercials were about Bridge or LRH. The radio stations got material to fill up their air time, the writers got exposure, and everybody -- presumably -- was happy. I remember doing maybe a dozen or so of them, including a tv taping down in San Diego. But then Bridge began to ask if I couldn't perhaps say a word or two about LRH's work -- just casually mention him, perhaps, or that I liked/was influenced by his work? I explained that I didn't feel comfortable doing that. They backed off for a short while, but then came back stronger. This time when I declined to talk about Hubbard that was the abrupt end of my experience with the six-packs.
jimhines
Feb. 15th, 2012 01:02 pm (UTC)
Interesting... It was suggested that we all thank LRH in our acceptance speeches when I was there, but as he had founded the contest, that seemed like a reasonable thing to me.

I'll say this much: they have one of the most well-oiled publicity machines I've ever seen.
punktortoise
Feb. 15th, 2012 09:01 am (UTC)
I have friends who've done very well in the WotF contests of the last few years, and I've occasionally felt tempted by the prize money and the opportunities, but I've come to the conclusion that to enter would, for me, be a hypocritical act, because I couldn't be sure of the separation between WotF and CoS. I have no problem with others giving it a go; it just doesn't feel right to me.
Abby Goldsmith
Feb. 16th, 2012 04:19 am (UTC)
If the WotF contest is funded by Scientology, I don't get what the big deal is. This isn't any different from, say, a science fiction convention hosted by the Mormon Church, or a contest hosted by the Catholic Church, or a Jewish organization, etc.
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