In Gratitude to Fred Patten

Hello!

First of all, I suppose I ought to introduce myself since I’m new on this block. My name is Phil Geusz, and I’ve been around the fandom more or less since about 1997. I wrote my first novel that year, and haven’t spent much time not-writing since. I’m one of those people you hear about for whom the discovery of the furry fandom was a life-changing event, and in my case the change was all for the better. Fifteen years later, I’ve either published or am in the process of having published twenty-one mostly furry novels and novellas. The fandom has brought me happiness beyond measure and sparked a creativity inside myself that I’d never have unlocked on my own. I’m grateful to you all, and these columns, like the ones I’ve written for other furry publications, are meant to at least partially serve as a form of repayment. It’s wrong to take, take, take and never give.

That taken care of…

As an author, I’m far more aware than most that we live in rapidly changing times. Even a mere decade ago, when I first began attempting to sell my fiction in a serious way, the publishing world (or at least the significant money-making part of it) was ruled by a handful of editors and agents. These individuals served as “gatekeepers” or “herd thinners”; in choosing who and what was published, printed, and then shipped out by the railcar load to the nation’s bookstores, they effectively controlled the nation’s literary tastes and (much like the record labels) which artists grew rich and famous and which didn’t.

Then, however, came the internet. Anyone could put anything on a web page. And nothing was ever the same again.

For the most part, the internet has been a good thing for society as a whole– certainly its been good for our fandom, which in my opinion would at best be a tiny ghost of what it is today without the interconnections the web has given us. So, please don’t take what follows as an anti-technological rant. I’m no luddite by any measure! And yet…

…sometimes when I surf the unwashed, unedited, ungrammatical, unspellchecked, unstructured and uncensored recesses of furrydom’s fiction websites, I have to admit that I find myself wishing for an old-school gatekeeper or two. I mean, face it. Surgeon’s Law informs us that 99% of anything is trash, and this has certainly always held true for me. Yet… How long and how hard must the average fur search in order to find stories that suit them?

The problem, you see, is that the internet is “flat”. Everyone has equal access, in the absence of gatekeepers and the like, and therefore everyone’s work has equal prominence. Yet… The fact of the matter is that everyone’s work doesn’t _deserve_ equal prominence. It’s commonly understood by pretty near everyone that in order to become a top-flight athlete, for example, endless hours of hard work and coaching are required. When it comes to writing (and in my experience visual art as well, though I claim no expertise there), however… Somehow would-be authors don’t want to accept that they need as much coaching and dedication as an athlete in order to perfect their skills. Instead they internet-post what in all honesty is often grossly substandard work, where it ends up just as prominent as the very best of the genre. And so, Joe Furstoryreader must wade through what feels like an endless swamp in search of quality stories.

Please, don’t get me wrong here. I’m all in favor of encouraging new writers, and have done more than my share of exactly that over the years. Nor do I have a problem with people being proud of what they’ve created and wanting to share it– I’ve not forgotten where I began myself. But back then I desperately needed a writing coach too– I still do, in many ways!– and my work certainly wasn’t ready for prime time. All I’m trying to establish here is that there’s a crying need in our fandom for individuals willing to read boatloads of furry fiction and then tell the rest of us that work “A” was excellent, “B” sucked, and “C” was somewhere in between. Such individuals are far too rare, especially in the flat, gatekeeperless world of the internet. The ones we _do_ have, however, are worth their weight in gold to our fandom, and in my opinion we’ve done far, far too little to thank them for their often painful efforts.

Fred Patten is such an individual, and my purpose in writing this article is to thank him for the many services he’s performed along these lines for our fandom. Not only did he edit the furry fandom’s first significant collection of short stories (plus two other more recent ones), he can truly be said to be one of our founding fathers. (He also helped found the anime fandom as well. How many other people can claim such a distinction in two disparate fields?) Even today, though suffering from the effects of a severely debilitating stroke a few years back, Fred continues to pound out well-considered and thoughtful story and book reviews like a machine. Thus, Mr. Patten serves as the modern-day internet equivalent of the old-time magazine editor– a reader looking for good stories need search no further than Fred’s bottomless stack of reviews in order to locate the sort of material they seek. In the old world of physical books and paper-publishing, valuable people like Fred were well-known to authors and readers alike and honored and respected accordingly. The “flat” world of the internet, however, isn’t so kind. Only in Australia has Mr. Patten and his multiple contributions to furrydom been recognized; so far as I know in the United States and Europe he’s practically a nonentity.

And that’s a damned shame, or maybe something even worse. It reflects very badly on us indeed.

Every single fur contributes to the furry fandom in one way or another. But some contribute far more than others. Fred Patten has given more to this fandom than any other single individual I can name, yet because his efforts have been focused on criticism in a time and place where the role of the critic often goes unappreciated, well… He’s been under-appreciated too. So much so that I’m dedicating my first column here to pointing the fact out, in the hope that someone somewhere will do right by the man while he’s still with us to appreciate it.

We furs have a reputation for taking care of each other, and seeing that justice is done. I can only hope that someone who is in a position to offer more than mere words will read this and live up to the best traditions of our fandom.

(Author’s note– For the sake of full disclosure… I’ve never met Fred in person, but have corresponded with him regarding various literary endeavors for roughly a decade or so. It should be noted that he’s reviewed many of my works, mostly favorably.)

About Rabbit

Rabbit Is the author of over thirty published furry novels and novellas as well as numerous columns and articles in other furry venues. He’s a retired Tennessee auto worker.

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10 thoughts on “In Gratitude to Fred Patten

  1. I’m not sure I’d call him a non-entity. I have almost no exposure to the fandom in Australia so I can’t compare the differences between there and what I see on a more global scale but he’s really well-known on Flayrah (and has the second highest story count) and received an Ursa Major award. He doesn’t show up everywhere, all the time, but then again neither do any of the big artists or writers. It’s really impressive reading his Wikipedia article and perhaps he does deserve more recognition but I’m not sure how that’s being measured or who it’s being compared with.

    I agree with the earlier part about a lack of quality and no real way to control it. I was a bit sad when Yiffstar (or was it already SoFurry then?) moved away from having all submissions reviewed prior to publication as it did provide a basic level of quality control. On the positive side in the last month or so I did criticise a poorly written story and the author later PMed me and asked for more advice on how he could improve for the next time. I think that might have been one of the only times an author has come back looking for more guidance but it does give me a little hope, even if just for that person.

  2. Perhaps I used a less-precise phrase than I should’ve. You’re correct in that he does have a measure of fame. However, I bet his name would elicit a blank stare from 9.5 out of 10 furs in the general fandom, and half or more of all furs specifically interested in writing and furry literature. And that’s just not right.

    You make an excellent point regarding how recognition is (or in this case isn’t) measured. As a fandom we seem to lack mechanisms for recognizing anyone for anything except for the Ursas and the brand-new Coyoti. This is especially a shame since the founders of the fandom are growing grayer every year. Fred IMO is far from the only one worthy of special recognition of some sort. Perhaps one of the major conventions might consider offering some sort of “Lifetime Achievement In Service To The Fandom” plaque to award every year? My hope with this article was to spark thought, not to suggest a specific methodology.

    Lastly, I can’t end this without thanking you for taking the time to write to and work with a fellow furry author. Even more, thank you for making a habit of it (as your comments would lead me to infer is the case). This kind of feedback is vital to both the ego and growth of _any_ author, and it takes plenty of both, in all honesty, to first create something and then set it out for all the world to see. Seriously, on the behalf of us all I’m very, very grateful.

    1. Still, about half of furry fandom has been in the fandom for less than five years – and many simply don’t read the kind of stuff that Fred does. Most don’t participate in the Ursas, either. We’re fans of each other – or each other’s anthropomorphic animal representations – more than we are fans of work on such representations, let alone reviewers of the same.

      You may have missed the Fandom’s Favorite Fursuit Fracas, which has been recognizing fursuiters since 2007. Several conventions also run art show competitions, but none are prominently reported.

      1. I was indeed unaware of these other fields of recognition.

        I stand by my thesis that Fred and others like him don’t get the recognition they deserve. Like any other group of humans, a fandom needs a sense a of history in order to maintain its sense of identity. We view our future through the lens of the past, and seek to emulate those deemed worthy of the greatest respect. Honoring individuals who’ve done great service would go a long way towards building a long-term base for our fandom.

  3. Interesting in bits kind of but I don’t agree that everyone doesn’t diverse equal population. I think that’s a bit offending to the ones who are more different, who focuses on other stuff more than quality, etc. I think they in a way help the fandom too and since this fandom should be friends and equal with the others who focus on other things in Articles, pictures, stories, etc.

    “Surgeon’s Law informs us that 99% of anything is trash, and this has certainly always held true for me.” Honestly, I think that is taking it a bit too far and it makes me think good is only about one thing and I don’t think that is true at all in my thoughts.. But it’s your right to have your own thoughts too. :/

    If I see a good joke about something, a good theory, but it looked a bit low, I don’t think it’s trash because the joke and theory or ether makes it up. As it’s not always about the quality of design for example.

    As for the equal thing again, I think instead of saying they don’t diverse equal, they should have another group of interest. Since it’s possible that lot’s of people can like only humor stuff for example without caring how good it looks, since that wasn’t the point. If many likes it, then that means it’s good, and not a bad thing for the fandom. Not sure if I am addressing this right. It’s not always about how skilled it is. ;)

      1. No, it doesn’t.. Not everyone is like that. If we think that it is, for the whole thing, then that’s a very bad sign.. Very VERY bad sign. (Unless I’m not viewing your message right)
        If I was, I’m guessing that message came through Flayrah “news”? not surprised…

        Everyone deserves equality of what people post, it’s not always about Quality of art. It’s about loving and accepting. I don’t care if it was like that one thing before, but it should change to more accepting or else this would make it look bad, as a complete closed judgmental “fandom”. (Even worse than society when it comes to art way.)

  4. You know, I think I might be reading some of that furry fiction right now… is that the David Birkenhead series? I’m in the middle of book 2, Midshipmen.

    I should say I’m not actually a furry, but several of my friend are, and it didn’t even occur to me until just now that this was furry fiction. I simply kept remarking to my wife that it was this really interesting space opera with an anthropomorphized rabbit.

    So, good job, and I’m looking forward to the rest.

    1. Thank you _very_ much for your kind words RE the Birkenhead books, and yes, that’s my work. I hope you enjoy the rest as well, and for what it’s worth my own favorite book in the series is #3. =:)

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