Disks of Gold and Glass (The Writers of the Future Contest)

There’s been a discussion/debate on Twitter in the past few days about the Writers of the Future contest and workshop.

The Writers of the Future (WOTF) contest and workshop has been around since the 1980s. I decided early on that this wasn’t a contest for me, but I always thought it was a good contest, or at least an okay contest.

The WOTF has a lot to recommend it:

  • It runs quarterly.
  • The quarterly first prize cash payout is $10oo.
  • The annual Grand Prize payout is $ 5000.
  • Usually, they have good judges, names like Brandon Sanderson and Nancy Kress.
  • There is no entry fee.
  • It is for beginning and semi-pro writers only (as defined by the contest).

All of these things make WOTF really attractive. $5000 for the Grand Prize is more than you could get in a sale to a commercial market.

The problem is not immediately obvious, but the WOTF contest has a connection with the Church of Scientology. For years, many writers assumed that the connection was slight and indirect. Recently, people are taking a second look at that. There is a concern that the “firewall” between the Church of Scientology and the WOTF is dissolving.

The contest and the Writers of the Future workshop is directed and managed by Author Services, Incorporated.

Author Services Inc exists to represent the prose output of dead SF writer L. Ron Hubbard. Hubbard cranked out a lot of short novels back in the pulp era. Then he founded a self-help system called Dianetics and the Church of Scientology.

Author Services Inc is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Church of Spiritual Technology.

This is described by the Church of Scientology as “an autonomous church of the scientology religion outside the International Ecclesiastical Scientology Hierarchy.” It exists to maintain the scriptures of the Church of Scientology International (CSI). This is according to Wikipedia.

Author Services, Inc, facilitates and sponsors the annual Writers of the Future Contest, which has been around since 1984 or 1985 (sources differ). The Church of Spiritual Technology came into being as a legal entity in 1982.

I’m going to digress here because, well, honestly, just because. According to Wikipedia, the primary purpose of the Church of Spiritual Technology is to transfer every word of L. Ron’s Hubbard’s spiritual scriptures onto stainless steel plates that will be stored in an underground vault, while videos and speeches will be saved onto “gold compact disks encased in glass.” I have to pause for a moment and admire this, because it is just so…. science-fictional.  Doffing my imaginary chapeau in the direction of Ridley Walker for a moment, I invite you all to close your eyes and imagine a time 1,000 years in the future, when the humans of that time (and yes, I think there will be some) excavate this underground vault (the vault exists now) and find these plates and these golden disks. I wonder how they are going to play those golden CDs.

But, okay, back to the contest. Workshop attendees and contest winners are nearly 100% in agreement, from what I could find online, anyway, that no one at either the awards ceremony or the workshop tried to proselytize about the CSI. (They do beatify L. Ron Hubbard). The award ceremony is fancy. (You can see one here on Youtube if you have nearly three hours to spare.) Neither the contest itself nor the workshops seem to be any kind of Scientology recruiting tool.

The videos of the awards ceremony, however, are shown at Scientology events and held up as positive examples of church-related events, and for some people this is a problem.

The second layer of that problem is that recently the CSI’s ability to control the information that was released about it has eroded. For decades, the CSI used money and intimidation to keep people from talking about what happens behind its gilded doors. Lately they haven’t been as successful. HBO’s film Going Clear (inspired by a book of the same name) shined a light on the church and Leah Remini’s nonfiction series for A&E, Scientology and the Aftermath, won an Emmy. With the revelations, the image of the CSI changed for many members of the public. Instead of a dippy but basically harmless celebrity cult, the organization suddenly looked violent and rapacious, tearing apart families, sucking them dry financially and subjecting them to violent psychological tactics of control, in fact, not unlike an evil empire in a science fiction epic.

When you’re a writer and your talent is used to burnish the reputation of some media-obsessed hippy-dippy celebrities, that’s one thing. When the group using you to enhance their profile is separating children from parents, charging church members $30,000 for a mandatory church course, and following, surveilling and harassing former members who are seeking their own path, that’s something else. Some emerging writers are finding it unpalatable.

I’m waiting to see what happens, both to the contest and the workshops. Some of the writers who have judged and taught at the workshops will continue to, I’m guessing. Since the money flows from the CSI to the contest and not vice versa, they may not see a conflict, and the contest has a good track record. Many others, natives of Twitter and social media, may feel less comfortable. Even if the CSI takes some hits, both legally and socially, after all, the ASI is an independent organization, and it may weather the crisis. Maybe, in 1,000 years, our descendants will excavate L. Ron Hubbard’s vault and find not only CDs of gold and glass, but stacks of anthologies filled with brilliant speculative fiction, written by the contest winners.

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