Writer Fears About Writing The Other: Here’s How To Get Over It [Updated]

Writer Fears About Writing The Other: Here's How To Get Over It [Updated]

Here’s one of the great circular conundrums of our time:

We need more characters of color/LGBT characters/characters with disabilities/characters that aren’t the default white, able-bodied cis male in commercial literature.

I, a fiction author, am afraid of writing characters of color/ LGBT characters/characters with disabilities/characters that aren’t like me or from my cultural and social understanding because I might get it wrong, and if I get it wrong people will be angry at me and yell and also ruin my career.

I’ve seen and heard writers (mostly white) express some version of that at least a hundred times since RaceFail 09. They point to that discussion or any number of other public Fails since then and go: SEE?! You see? That’s what happens when we try!

There are a few things about this that need addressing. First, large, public Fails actually happen when authors don’t try. Second, the problem is rarely that the author tried and didn’t get it exactly, 100% right. It’s that they failed and then acted like an ass when someone pointed it out to them. Third, avoiding author Fail isn’t as hard as some people make it out to be.

Most importantly, the consequence of being ruled by that fear is that you aren’t helping with the first problem. And if I may be so bold, I think the issue of representation is far, far more important than individual fears of getting it wrong. I also know that it’s hard to tackle that first issue without also addressing the second. Luckily, I have the solution.

You can attend a Writing the Other class, seminar, workshop, or retreat in person or online[1]. You can find upcoming classes on the Writing the Other Tumblr or get notifications about them via this mailing list.

[UPDATE: The retreat mentioned here is over, but there are new classes listed on the Tumblr and on my sidebar under Classes.] Next summer I’m teaching at the Writing the Other workshop/retreat alongside Nisi Shawl, Cynthia Ward, David Anthony Durham, and Mary Robinette Kowal. Tomorrow, registration for this workshop opens up. If you are the type of author who has been held back from addressing the issue of representation in SF by fear that you’ll get it wrong, this workshop will give you tools to help you get it right. There’s no guarantee that you will always, 100% get it right if you attend this workshop. I am confident that at the end of it you won’t be 100% ruled by fear.

Registration opens tomorrow, October 13th, at 12pm Eastern. The workshop fee is $500 and includes meals but does not include accommodations. Click over to the Eventbrite page to see all the details[2].

How many of you will I see there?

 

Footnotes

  1. This section of the post has been edited and updated from the original version.[]
  2. This workshop has come and gone! Join the mailing list to get a notification if we do it again or when we do online classes[]

Utopias In Literature (Scholar & Feminist Conference 2013)

Utopias In Literature (Scholar & Feminist Conference 2013)

This year’s Scholar & Feminist Conference theme is Utopia, and I’m honored to be leading a workshop about Utopia and Literature. I’m going to discuss mainly speculative fiction novels and short stories (thus the reading list below), explore how writers have handled the idea of utopia and dystopia, and discuss the ways writers can think about utopia going forward. I’m also going to get into how fiction handles utopia affects the reader and/or culture.

In preparation for this workshop I had some great conversations with other speculative fiction authors about utopia and dystopia so that I could incorporate their viewpoints into the discussion. I want to thank Justine Larbalestier, N. K. Jemisin, Rahul Kanakia, Nisi Shawl, Eileen Gunn, and Catherynne M. Valente for helping me expand and explore my own ideas about utopia by offering their own.

The ideas I will use as a jumping off point are:

  • Science fiction as a genre is well suited to utopias because it “explores our world by positing another one that works a bit differently.” (Eileen Gunn)
  • If utopia is an ideal, is there such a thing as an objective ideal? Can a utopia ever be a utopia for everyone? Or if you create a perfect society for one group, who then becomes dominant, does that mean the non-dominant group/s must be oppressed?
  • Utopia is relative. The utopias we see in fiction may work for one set of people but are dystopian for another set.
  • Many modern stories and novels are specifically dystopian in nature or are utopias that reveal themselves as dystopias. Why is this the modern mode of exploration?
  • What do the types of utopias we see in fiction reveal about the authors who write them and the society or culture they come from? The ideals they include and the ones they leave out speak to their point of view and what they value and don’t.
  • Is it possible to show a true utopia in fiction? One view is that fiction requires conflict, so the author must show the utopia to be flawed in some way. Another view is that the conflict doesn’t have to come from within the utopia itself but from outside. The point being not to show that the utopia is flawed, but that the outside forces are.
  • Utopia as positive text. Creating a positive text, be it a positive feminist text, positive womanist, positive toward the idea that people are equal and should be created with respect — can this be a form of utopian writing? What affect does this have on the reader, on culture?

The workshop begins at 12:25pm Eastern (3/2). You can follow what people are saying on Twitter about the workshop and the conference by checking out the hashtags #sfutopialit and #sfutopia. This post will evolve and grow as the workshop goes on and afterward as I incorporate what the workshop participants have to say. I’ve invited all of the people in the workshop to liveblog and Tweet as well as bring the discussion to the comments on this post. Even if you’re not in the workshop physically, I hope my regular readers will also offer their thoughts on utopia.

Very Selective Reading List

I will add links to all of these works later on. During the workshop I expect we will generate more stories and novels to include in this list.

  • Octavia Butler
    • Parable of the Sower
    • Parable of the Talents
  • Steven R. Boyett
    • Elegy Beach
      • N. K. Jemisin: Takes place 20 years after Ariel. The protagonist grew up in this world where magic works and science doesn’t, and he’s excited by the world’s magic. His father remembers the world as it was. It’s a utopia for the son, not for the father.
  • Suzy McKee Charnas
    • The Holdfast Chronicles (Walk to the End of the World, Motherlines, The Furies, The Conqueror’s Child)
  • John Crowley
    • In Blue” (short story)
      • Nisi Shawl: a future utopia, a socialist world. It’s hard to envision what a totally happy utopia can be. He does this, but from the point of view of someone who doesn’t get it. It’s not a perfect utopia for him but it is for everyone else.
  • L. Timmel Duchamp
    • The Marq’ssan Cycle (Alanya to Alanya, Renegade, Tsunami, Blood in the Fruit, Stretto)
  • Charlotte Perkins Gilman
    • Herland
  • Kathleen Ann Goonan
    • This Shared Dream
      • Eileen Gunn: This book posits an attempt at creating a utopia. Here’s the blurb I wrote for it: “What if you could travel through time to fix what is wrong with the world? The world would resist, and the very act of trying would create parallel worlds with their own problems. This wondrous book, the story of a handful of people who seek to alter the twentieth century to create a better future, acknowledges the inhumanity of war and yet celebrates the joys of music, art, friendship, and family. And it reminds us that the future is made by the children of the present. I loved this book, and I heartily recommend it.”
  • N. K. Jemisin
    • “Too Many Yesterdays, Not Enough Tomorrows” (short story)
      • Example of a relative utopia
  • Rahul Kanakia
    • Next Door” (short story)
      • Written from the point of view of a character who sees the world as dystopian, but when flipped to the antagonist’s POV could be utopian.
  • Ursula K. LeGuin
  • Kat Meads
    • Sleep
      • From the Tiptree Award website: This is a fierce, unrepentantly experimental, somewhat raw novel about motherhood in a highly gray utopia.
  • Marge Piercy
    • Woman on the Edge of Time
      • From the Tiptree Award website: Piercy not only creates a complex and intricate utopian vision, but tosses in a dystopia and an all too realistic real world as well. Connie Ramos is one of science fiction’s most genuine heroines. She has to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into utopia. The rest of us, at the end of the book, have to be dragged out.
  • Joanna Russ
    • The Two Of Them
      • Nisi Shawl: Secret agents across time go to this planet that’s been settled by people who are trying to set up a religious utopia based on Islam.
    • The Female Man
    • “When it Changed” (short story)
      • Takes place in the same world as The Female Man
    • “Houston, Houston, Do You Read”
  • Starhawk
    • The Fifth Sacred Thing
      • A post-apocalyptic novel depicting two societies, one a sustainable economy based on social justice, and its neighbor, a militaristic and intolerant theocracy.
  • Catherynne M. Valente
    • The Orphan’s Tales cycle (In the Night Garden, In the Cities of Coin and Spice)
  • Connie Willis

Anthologies

Chicks Unravel Time Readings & Signings in Worcester, MA & New York City

Chicks Unravel Time comes out in just a few days! Eee! I’m very excited. This book is bound to be really special. I’ve already had a sneak peek at a couple of the essays and I will predict that Doctor Who lovers will enjoy every page.

Some related events surrounding that. First, to get the bad news out of the way: I will not be attending Chicago TARDIS this year. I know, very sad! But family obligations + lack of money = no Tempest at the con. However, there will be a panel and signing and all of that with the fabulous editors, Deborah Stanish and L. M. Myles, plus many of the contributors. So if you can get to the con, go check it out!

Good news is that I will be at two more local reading/signing events!

The first is in Massachusetts near Boston, the second right here in my hometown of NYC. Details:

On Saturday, November 17th, Annie’s Bookstop of Worcester is holding an all-day Chicks Unravel Time event. I’ll be there alongside Jennifer Pelland, another of the book’s contributors, plus Katy Shuttleworth, cover artist extraordinaire. We’ll be reading, signing books, and hosting a roundtable discussion/Q&A. The store has promised us some surprises as well, and there will be tons of Doctor Who merchandise besides the book to peruse. So please do come!

Location: 65 James Street Worcester MA 01603

Time: 11/17 1PM – 6PM (come early for the reading/signings)

Next up: NYC Doctor Who shenanigans!

The Doctor Who NY group is hosting a reading/signing/book launch event at The Churchill, a pub that appears to be very fancy. This event is going to be loads of fun since both Deborah and Liz will be in town. Then Liz goes back to Scotland and we all cry.

There will also be copies and discussion of a couple of other recently published Doctor Who books that night as well. So overall it will be a big one for NYC Doctor Who fans.

Location: 45 East 28th St (near Park Avenue), New York, NY

Time: 11/28 6:30pm

Here’s a Facebook page for the event if you’d like to RSVP there.

Can’t come to either of these events? Sadness! But you know what you can do? You can pre-order your copy of Chicks Unravel Time. Yes, you can!

 

POC Dinner @ WorldCon

POC Dinner @ WorldCon

By popular demand we’re bringing the POC Dinner from WisCon to ChiCon. On Friday, August 31st, the POC attendees of the World Science Fiction Convention are invited to dine in glorious splendor (or just in a nice restaurant).

If you’d like the deets on this event, please contact me through the contact form on my website if you don’t already have my email. If we’re friends on Facebook, check your events list since it’s likely I’ve already invited you.

Looking forward to hanging with folks at WorldCon!

Kindred Reading Series September: K. Tempest Bradford (that’s me!) & Ibi Zoboi

Next month I have the pleasure of reading alongside Ibi Zoboi at the Kindred Reading Series. September’s reading will take place at Bluestockings Books in New York City and it starts at 7PM.

I will likely read my story from Dark Faith: Invocations and maybe a teaser from “Uncertainty Principle”, my story in Diverse Energies. But, who knows, I may change my mind :)

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned the Kindred Reading Series here before, but it’s the brainchild of Jenn Brissett, an African-American writer from Brooklyn. She wanted to create a reading series for genre writers of color since there’s a general misconception that POC don’t write or read science fiction, fantasy or horror.

A secondary goal was to raise money for the Octavia E. Butler scholarship which helps writers of color attend Clarion and Clarion West, two intensive writing workshops for new authors.

If you’re in the New York area the last week of September, please drop by!

Interstitial Arts Foundation Salons Reborn!

Interstitial Arts Foundation Salons Reborn!

Just posted this on Facebook, but I know not everyone is on Facebook (or wants to be) so I’m posting it here as well. Feel free to link to this, tweet, share, tumble or copy the text of this post to your own blog.

You don’t have to RSVP to the Facebook event in order to attend. Just show up :)


You are cordially invited to the Interstitial Arts Foundation’s first monthly salon to be held in New York City on June 26th and every 4th Tuesday thereafter.

What is a Salon?

Literary and artistic salons started back in 17th century France, when inspiring hosts and hostesses gathered “stimulating people of quality” together to refine their taste and increase their knowledge through conversation. Today there may be fewer wealthy patrons willing to host an event in their townhouses, but there is always a need for artists to meet other artists, to explore other circles of creative influence, to cross borders.

Our salon aims to bring together writers, visual artists, musicians, performance artists, crafters, academics and other people of quality in New York City for a relaxed evening of conversation.

Who Are The Hosts?

The Interstitial Arts Foundation is a not–for–profit organization dedicated to the study, support, and promotion of interstitial art: literature, music, visual and performance art found in between categories and genres — art that crosses borders.

IAF members will wear Host badges, so if you have any questions about the salon or the organization or you just need someone to safely begin a conversation with, you can find us easily.

Where & When?

The Vagabond Café @ 7 Cornelia Street, Tuesday June 26, 7pm to 10pm – drop in any time.

Vagabond is the kind of café one would expect to find in the West Village, especially if you’re a writer, student or musician, but rarely seen these days due to the proliferation of Starbucks-like entities. It’s a cozy spot where one can find live music Wednesday – Saturday evenings, beer, wine and mead every evening, and a long list of excellent crepes at all times.

Should I Bring Anything?

Calling cards, business cards, postcards, CDs or other things you can hand people to remind them that they met you and where they can find your work.

If you’re a musician, bring your MP3 player/iPod or a USB key with your music and we’ll play it during the salon.

If you’re a visual artist, bring digital images of your work on a USB key and we’ll add it to the slideshow that plays during the salon.

What If I Can’t Make It This Time?

No worries! We’ll be hosting a salon every month on the 4th Tuesday, usually at Vagabond. To get reminders, please join our Facebook group or subscribe to the IAF Salons in NYC mailing list.

Social Media Resources for Sipping From The Firehose #WisCon36

Social Media Resources for Sipping From The Firehose #WisCon36

Just about to head into my next panel, “Sipping From the Firehose: Managing Writing and Social Media,” and wanted to get this list of resources up for those attending and those who are following along via Twitter. The hashtag for this panel is: #SocialMediaSFF.

This post will change slightly as the discussion goes along, and hopefully there will be a panel report or two from the audience I’ll link to.

Social Networks That Are Useful For Writers

These are in a roughly most useful to least useful configuration, but the relative usefulness also depends on what kind of writing and promoting you do. This is not a prescriptive list — every writer does not need to be on every network. This is just a list to consider. After the panel I’ll try to add context for which networks are good for what kinds of activities.

  • Facebook
  • GoodReads
  • LibraryThing
  • Tumblr
  • Twitter
  • Dreamwidth
  • LinkedIn
  • LiveJournal
  • Delicious
  • Flickr
  • Google+
  • Pinterest
  • DeviantArt
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Vimeo
  • YouTube

Social Networking Tools

These are services, apps, and plugins that make dealing with social media a bit easier, especially if you have multiple accounts.

  • Hootsuite — A social media dashboard that puts several social networks in one place. See updates from Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, WordPress, Ping.fm and FourSquare from one window. Update multiple accounts at once. Schedule updates for the future. Accessible from any browser and via apps for Android, iPhone and iPad.
  • Tweetchat — Tool that lets you focus on one hashtag at a time. Good for participating in Twitter chats.
  • TweetBot — The best iPhone/iPad Twitter client.
  • TweetCaster — One of the better Twitter clients for Android.
  • RSS Graffiti — Facebook app that posts a status update whenever you update your blog.
  • JournalPress — A WordPress plugin that crossposts to LiveJournal and DreamWidth.

WisCon 36 POC Dinner – Friday

WisCon 36 POC Dinner - Friday

Just an FYI: there will be a POC dinner at WisCon again this year. The reason I haven’t announced it officially yet is that we’re still nailing down a venue. We’re trying to find a place that can accept 50+ people, is close enough to the hotel that people will walk to it, and is inexpensive. Triangulating this has proved very complex :)

However, the general plan is for the event to happen during the sinner space in programming and before the opening ceremonies. We hope to get GOH Andrea Hairston and Mary Anne Mohanraj to attend, even if just for the beginning since they’ll need to leave early.

After the dinner, those of you who do not want to go to the opening ceremonies can join me in the POC Safer Space to talk about how folks can and should use the room during the con.

Writing and the Art of Provocation

Writing and the Art of Provocation

At last year’s Readercon I participated in a panel called Myth, Midrash, and Misappropriation (actually, I was the leader/moderator) with an interesting group of writers and Claude Lalumière. The panel was supposed to be about the appeals and challenges of creating fiction from a religious source and how to avoid or deal with the dangers of cultural appropriation and/or offending people.

I won’t recap the entire discussion for you, but the major highlight of the panel (for me) was when, in his introduction, Claude announced that the purpose of art is to be offensive or to offend people I can’t remember if he initially said offensive or to offend, but this was definitely the core of his argument. Art should offend! He said more than once until he started to backpedal pretty hard in the middle of the panel.

Not knowing much about Claude before that moment, I was unprepared for the douchewankery he brought to the discussion[1]. He was unprepared for how hard I would not allow him to get away with that statement or how prepared I was to challenge him on it. And he was super unprepared for how much the audience was not on his side when question time came. That’s when the backpedaling started.

We spent a good deal of time on the panel unpacking that initial statement and talking about all the ways in which it’s completely problematic (along with all the other problematic stuff he said such as how it’s okay for him to use any religious or spiritual trappings from any culture because he’s an atheist, anyway, and doesn’t believe in them oh and also he is from French Canada so he understands what it means to come from an oppressed, occupied culture). I believe it was Jack Haringa who, after initially agreeing with his understanding of what Claude meant, actually came around to something more like: artists may hope to offend if their message is aimed at a group or idea that they find offensive. Writing with an eye toward pointing out a horrible injustice, say. The ones perpetrating that injustice may be offended — good.

I sort of agreed with that as well, but still didn’t feel it was quite the right way to think about art. In the many months since I’ve poked at the idea more and more, but still hadn’t come up with a better way to think about what Jack was getting at. Then last month someone else came along and nailed it.

NPR’s Weekend Edition interviewed National Book Award-winning poet Nikki Finney, and toward the end of that interview she said this:

Art is about being provocative; art is also about beauty and if you leave the latter out, the former doesn’t matter.

I immediately thought: YES, THAT. That is what we were reaching for around the 600 pound gorilla of Claude’s initial statement.

There is no beauty in being offensive. Offending someone, especially when you’re coming from a place of privilege and oppression, is not the basis for great art, for beautiful art, even if the beauty you’re reaching for is terrible and tragic and real.

Consider the context in which Finney made this statement:

As a young poet, I grew up in the ’60s and early ’70s, when difficult things were being said and shouted and screamed,” Finney says. “I remember saying to myself, those things are very, very important to hear, but there must be another way to say them so that they will truly be heard. I mean, that’s what art is. Art is about being provocative; art is also about beauty and if you leave the latter out, the former doesn’t matter.

I haven’t read any of this woman’s poetry yet, but I want to. I feel like she can teach me the art of saying difficult things. I am often among those who say and shout and scream because that’s important, too. And I know for a fact that engaging in this mode of discourse does result in being heard, because I often have conversations with people who listened and appreciate it. But I’d also like to be adept at that other way she speaks of.

Footnotes

  1. Later, when I related the goings on to others, several people said “Oh, you didn’t know? Claude Lalumiere is a total douchecanoe.” No one warned me![]

WisCon 36: POC Safer Space

WisCon 36: POC Safer Space

I am once again the WisCon concom liaison and organizer for the POC Safer Space. This year I am joined in organizing and fabulousness by Jayme Goh. Huzzah!

We will once again be in the Solitaire Room since it affords us an out of the way space with no Gawkers. Last year we had the hotel push the conference room up against the wall which made the space a lot more inviting. I will also ask if more comfy chairs can find a way in there. If any locals are willing to donate comfy chairs, please let me know.

Last year we pre-scheduled some break out sessions and alternate panels in the room, but what seemed to work better was spontaneous stuff.I encourage any POC attending WisCon to come to that space if they need to discuss something that went down on a panel, continue a discussion that started at a panel, or if they just need a space to vent and calm down. I actually had some of the most enlightening conversations in that room during after-panel venting and I’m sure that will happen again,

However, if anyone wants to pre-schedule something please feel free. I just suspect mostly it will be spontaneous stuff.

The one thing I would like to schedule is a post Opening Ceremonies trip to the space so that people know where it is and how it will be set up and how they can use the space. This will come on the heels of the POC dinner earlier that evening. And then, of course, it’s party time.

Just as with last year, there will be coffee and tea service in the room throughout the day and a laptop for those who need to check email or Tumblr. Just don’t leave any Tumblr porn on the screen for those of us who are innocent ;)

Any questions, requests, comments, suggestions? Leave them in the comments or ping me via email or on Twitter or Facebook.