So apparently Joe Hill got the opportunity a while back to pitch some story ideas to the BBC for Doctor Who. I’m assuming that if you’re reading a blog like this you already have some idea who Hill is. If not, to paraphrase Lewis Carroll on Gryphons, “look at the Wikipedia entry.” The pitches were carefully vetted by Neil Gaiman, who had earlier written one of the better episodes (IMO) from Matt Smith’s tenure on the show. A few weeks later the Beeb emailed Hill back saying that they didn’t let American writers work on Who, and that if they did, they wouldn’t use him.
This has already gotten a lot of coverage online, unsurprisingly, The Rejection being called “savage,” especially in light of Hill’s credentials (he’s written some pretty good books) and the fact that his dad is Stephen King. In the near future, I’m expecting to see either some kind of apology/justification/explanation from the nice folks at the BBC at some point, as well as a lot more ranting and jumping on the bandwagon from the anti-Jodie Whittaker crowd and probably also would-be fiction writers. I guarantee you, this thing is going to be heavily discussed at fiction workshops all over the hills and beyond. You should also expect a bit of sourpuss backlash directed at Hill, to the effect that he’s been spoiled by his success, which maybe he doesn’t entirely deserve, and ooo, he can’t ride on Daddy’s coat-tails forever, blah, blah, blah. It’s going to be a mess. That’s why I’m writing this now, even though I’ve neglected this blog for some time. Like, a long time.
So, a couple of things. First, I think it’s pretty clear from any of the accounts we’ve seen that Hill handled himself professionally throughout the whole business, both before and after. He apparently worked hard on the pitches, and having Gaiman vet them is…well, it’s what you’re supposed to do in these cases. His account of the fatal rejection letter came up during a Brian Keene podcast, in answer to an innocent question from Keene inquiring on any passion projects Hill had in the works. So, no “open letters” online, no crowbarring the story into interviews, etc. If he spoke up about The Rejection instead of keeping his mouth shut and saying, yeah Brian, I’m finally writing that thing I’ve been talking about, well…can you blame him? He was with other writers at the time, and you don’t get a lot of opportunities to vent about writing stuff otherwise.
It seems to me the biggest factor in The Rejection is not the fact that Hill is American (why an antipathy to American writers working on Doctor Who wouldn’t have been made clear to Hill’s agent at the outset is beyond me) but something involving Hill himself. Probably to do with the fact that much all of what he writes is “dark fantasy” or horror, and parenthetically with the fact that his father is very probably the best-known horror writer of all time. So, Hill must be a nasty little man who writes about serial killers and monsters under the bed, which is tasteless and declasse. Even though the Brits would handily win the Nastiness in Horror Fiction Sweepstakes. I mean, I’ll put Shaun Hutson & Guy N. Smith up against the classic splatterpunks anyday, and I mean that as a compliment.
Point being, if that’s the BBC’s attitude, so be it. It’s not something we’ve never seen before, is it? Likewise so be it if the BBC (or, more to the point, whoever it was who wrote the email) wants to get their ya-yas out on some poor writer with catty emails. Listen: a lot of young writers are going to be gobsmacked by this thing, and if you teach a fiction workshop or English seminar, that’s something you might consider making clear to them: there are no rules for rejection. The person rejecting you can do it any way they like. They’re perhaps less likely to do it if they represent a monolithic concern like the Beeb that can, you know, fire them, but Hill’s experience makes it clear: they’re under no real compulsion to be professional or, god forbid, nice. They can be as bitchy as they want, and if you’re the writer on the receiving end, it’s going to make you feel like you just took a punch in the gut. Similarly, you can respond to the bitchery any way you want, but it’s not going to reform the editors/producers or erase that awful taste in your mouth. The only effective way to deal with it is to move on. Write the next story/book/poem/screenplay. Send it off with a god-bless-you and a fond wave of the hand.
And maybe buy a copy of Hill’s latest book instead of borrowing it from the library. Or ripping it off some Torrents site. And if you like his work enough to show up at a signing or a convention he’s appearing at, tell him “you’re one of the good ones, Hill.” And move on. Because that’s the way you beat the bitches.