How a Self-Published Writer of Gay Erotica Beat Sci-Fi’s Sad Puppies at their Own Game

And What it Taught Me About Pushing through Writer’s Block

Author M. Sophia Newman writes about the Hugos, writer’s block, a whole lotta Puppies, elves, and the wit and wisdom of Chuck Tingle.

When I was a little kid, my mother would come into the bedroom I shared with two of my sisters each night and read us a book before we slept. Inevitably, a minor fight would erupt over whose bed beside which Mom would sit; after the aggression subsided, we’d all settle in for a story. My favorites were Grimm’s Fairytales, that vast compendium of dark forests, glowering wolves, and lost little girls.

Lately, I’ve realized that the story I loved best, “The Elves and the Shoemaker,” is an oddly perfect way to understand the difficulties of my own life—which include a recent, nearly shattering bout of writer’s block—and the difficulties of the lives of other writers. In particular, it’s a key to understanding an emotionally fraught and slightly dirty-minded political battle that has played out among writers of science fiction and fantasy, a band of insanely ineffective far-right protestors, and the author of a unique brand of erotic fiction known as “Tinglers.”

The plot of “The Elves and the Shoemaker” is simple. A poor shoemaker has been having such a rough time that he’s run out of money. One day, he realizes he has enough leather left for just one more pair of shoes. That night, filled with self-recriminations, he lays out the leather in preparation for the next—his very last—day of work. In the morning, as if by a miracle, a fine pair of shoes stands in place of the leather. That day, a girl comes into the shop, tries on the shoes, and finds they are a perfect fit. The money she pays is enough for the shoemaker to help a starving man, and also buy leather for two more pairs of shoes. The next morning, those leather pieces have been turned into shoes as sumptuous as the last pair. Again, they’re perfect for happy customers, and now there is enough money to help out two people in need and buy leather for four more pairs of shoes.

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