In Which I Engage In Multiple Multimedia Projects

Keen eyes on social media may have noticed that I quietly began a new vlog called The Tempest Challenge in which I recommend books to read if you’re interested in taking up my reading challenge. The first two episodes are up and subsequent ones go live on Saturdays.

I created a landing page here on the site with info on the challenge, including the official hashtag for recommending books: #KTBookChallenge. Once I get a few more episodes going I’ll probably create a Tumblr for the vids and reblogs of book recs.

I don’t mind telling you that Alethea Kontis is to blame for all of this. She has an ongoing web series where she rants about fairy tales (because she writes amazing books that weave fairy tales together). And, since I’ve been hanging out with her for the past six weeks, she’s had me on as her special guest a few times. Here’s the latest one:

And my favorite one in which I sing the first song to ever be banned from the radio:

And the one where I try to mimic Wagnerian opera…

And a playlist of them all:

As you can see, we had a fabulous time. And it inspired me! Thus my own vids.

Depending on how things go, I may start another web series in which I rant about TV shows or something. But first I need to get the hang of editing and possibly find some better software for Windows. (iMovie is the only thing I miss about having a Mac.)

Video is not the only form of media I’m indulging in lately. As I pointed out the other day, I was also on the radio. And after that I was interviewed by the esteemed Minister Faust for his podcast–I’ll drop the link once it’s live–and after that I lucked into being in the first episode of the JEMcast! That was a lot of fun to do and I shall return as a guest host any time they ask. Because I never get tired of talking about Jem.

I suspect there are more things coming up in the near future. In the meantime, if you want me to be on your podcast or radio show or whathaveyou, please use the handy contact links on the sidebar :)

Discussions About Diversity In Science Fiction

me with Delany, Diaz, and Liu

NPR Books and Code Switch ran several great pieces for Black History Month this year, including the Hidden Black History one I talked about the other day and this one on letters and black history that I also wrote. My bud Alaya Dawn Johnson also put together a fantastic post wherein she interviewed some great Black science fiction writers about their impact on the genre and on shaping the future.

To the extent that science fiction is the literature of ideas, of plausible futurism, of extrapolation from social trends that can help us locate ourselves better in the present, we have helped to make science fiction more relevant than ever. Afrofuturism was a hugely important phenomenon in the black community, but George Clinton or Sun Ra never got invited to a World Science Fiction Convention. Last year, the groundbreaking musical artist Janelle Monae, whose work is strongly inspired by afrofuturism, received an honorable mention for the prestigious Tiptree Award for her album The Electric Lady. The lines are converging; we are rewriting our futures.

Please read the whole thing, it is well worth it.

And if you’re interested in such things, last week I was on the Marc Steiner Show talking about Octavia Butler (it was the anniversary of her death) and the state of Black science fiction. My fellow panelists, Ytasha L. Womack, adrienne maree brown, and Jason T. Harris, were a delight to converse with and big props to the host for keeping the conversation lively. When you have an hour listen to the podcast.

More Hidden Black History

Today NPR Books/Code Switch posted my second Black History Month reading list, Uncovering Hidden Black History. The idea was inspired by the neverending argument in fandom about whether having Blacks or other people of color in a movie or book set in The Past (fantastic or real) is historically accurate. We go round and round with this every few months it seems. If it’s not Tangled or Frozen it’s Game of Thrones or Agent Carter or a game or books or whatever.

The bottom line always is: POC didn’t exist here, here, or here. Or, if they did, there were only 3 of them and they were slaves.

The answer to this always is: No, no, OMG no.

The evidence for that is often easy to find, so I went looking for it. I found quite a bit, and I’m not a historian like Mikki Kendall or steeped in this stuff like Malisha/MedievalPOC who regularly drop this knowledge on unsuspecting heads. They helped me with my research in a big way–thank you!

I found so much material that some of it had to be cut for length, so I’m posting the cut bits here.

Black People In European Royalty

 

queen charlotte

Even though England’s Queen Elizabeth I tried to expel all “Negroes and black a moors” from her country at the turn of the 17th century, people of African descent managed to find their way into all strata of society during the Renaissance and beyond. That includes ruling families. Alessandro de Medici, called il moro/The Moor during his day, was the son of Lorenzo II de Medici and an African woman. He ruled Florence for seven years before being assassinated by a cousin (not all that unusual for a Medici).

Over in the British Isles, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (wife of Mad King George of Revolutionary War fame) may hold the distinction of being England’s first black queen. At least the first depicted with what contemporaries referred to as “Negroid features” in her official portraits. These paintings may have had a political purpose as well, since the first artist to depict the queen was vocally anti-slavery.

Further Reading and Research

Black People In the Tudor Court

john blanke

Europe’s Middle Ages aren’t nearly as monochrome as our cultural imagination envisions them, as art from the time attests. A great resource for images from the period is the MedievalPOC blog, where I first learned about trumpeter John Blanke. He regularly performed for Henrys VII and VIII and was immortalized in the Westminster Tournament Roll, a 60 foot long tapestry from the 1500s. Blanke was not the sole “blacke” person found at court–there were other Moorish employees as well as guests–nor were Moorish musicians and other artists restricted to the British Isles.

Further Reading and Research

Black People In Roman Briton

Ivory Bangle lady

The Sir Morien of Arthurian Legend I mention in the NPR piece wasn’t even the first African to travel to Briton. The remains of a woman from fourth century Roman York unearthed in 1901 shows that blacks were not just present, but also members of the elite class. The “Ivory Bangle Lady” as she’s been termed was a woman of North African descent who was buried with objects that point to wealth and high social standing.

Even during this time period she was not unique. Reading University archaeologist Hella Eckhardt told The Guardian that the population mix in fourth century York is close to that of contemporary Britain. “[T]he Roman population may have had more diverse origins than the city has now.”

This diversity is a natural side effect of the Roman empire’s vastness and is reflected not only in Britain, but throughout Europe, North Africa, and Mesopotamia.

Further Reading and Research

Black Women at the Dawn of the Feminist Movement

Anna Julia Cooper

In 1892 Anna Julia Cooper published a collection of essays called A Voice From The South, which might be considered the first work in the genre of My Feminism Will Be Intersectional or it Will Be Bullshit. In it, Cooper “criticizes black men for securing higher education for themselves through the ministry, while erecting roadblocks to deny women access to those same opportunities, and denounces the elitism and provinciality of the white women’s movement.” Some fights have to be fought and fought and fought again, even within progressive movements.

That collection plus several other essays, papers, and letters is available in one volume: The Voice of Anna Julia Cooper, edited by Charles Lemert and  Esme Bhan.

If you find this topic as intriguing as I do, I suggest you spend some time going through the #HistoricalPOC hashtag on Tumblr and Twitter where people are sharing bits of history and historical figures. Not all of them are obscure, but you won’t have to scroll long before you come up on something or someone you didn’t know about.

Let’s Talk About “Comfort Zones”

Danger Zone

Of the reactions to the piece on challenging yourself to read non-white, cis-het male authors for one year, I find one to be very telling about people’s assumptions of reading experience. Paraphrased, it goes something like:

But in her piece Tempest said that she only read fiction within her comfort zone!

What I’m understanding is that these decriers think that when I made the choice to not read fiction that bored me, made me mad because it wasn’t good, or offended me, I was looking to only be comforted.

I think the fault lies in the conception of what “offended me” means. Because people who are steeped in some kind of unexamined privilege often see Being Offended as Being Made Angry or Being Made To Feel Mildly Uncomfortable. That’s what I see as being behind all those “You’re just looking to be offended!” cries when a woman or person of color or any number of people from a marginalized or oppressed group points out offensive stuff.

The assumption is that I can choose not to be offended[1].

A white man might read stories written by other white men that have offensive to black people stuff in them and not even notice. At all. Or care. At all. Or, if they notice, the experience may be one of, “Oh hey, that’s not all right.” But it doesn’t hurt that white male reader.

Offensive stereotypes of black or brown people as ignorant savages hurts me. Fiction wherein women are only in the story to be sexual slaves without agency or even names hurts me. Even casual, offhand, not blatantly racist/sexist/whathaveyou offensive crap bourne out of a writer’s ignorance hurts me. Literary microagressions.

When I read fiction–especially for pleasure, but even for the purpose of analyzing it so that I can grow as a writer–I don’t want a majority of my experience to be about getting hurt. And a lot of the time the white, cis-het male writer behind those stories has not given two thoughts to privilege or stereotypes or that social justice warrior glittery hoo-ha crap[2]. So I stopped reading them.

However, in sticking to women, people of color, LGBT, and other authors from marginalized identities, I was not reading in a “comfort zone.” I was not more comfortable, I was just less likely to run across fiction that hurt me. But the stories were certainly not universally comfortable to read. Not at all.

I’ve never sought out comfort when looking for new things to read. A thing may become a comfort read once I finish it. In fact, much great fiction makes me uncomfortable, which is a big plus.

The first time I experienced this was in high school. I read Octavia Butler’s Kindred[3] and it made me profoundly uncomfortable. I still remember the almost panic feeling I got when I imagined for a moment if what happened to Dana happened to me. I was sure I would not have made it at all. The thought that it might happen was terrifying.

This was the first time I understood how fiction can affect a reader. No book, even books I loved, had ever made me that uncomfortable. And I had never identified with any protagonist so deeply.

Same thing happened with Derrick Bell’s The Space Traders. Oh man, that story jacked me up for years. Because everything Bell wrote in that story was so true. 100 percent truth.

Truth is rarely comfortable.

So no, I did not escape into my comfort zone when reading non-white, cis-het male authors. In fact, I put myself more and more out of it as I went. Because not all of the fiction I read catered to the mainstream gaze. And the gaze it catered to wasn’t necessarily mine, either. There were stories that challenged my notions of how stories are supposed to go, how plots are meant to unfold, how characters must be constructed and revealed and relate[4]. This is what happens when you step out of mainstream culture’s comfort zone.

That’s probably why so many people are scared.

Footnotes

  1. Which is… no. I can choose not to tell you I’m offended. I can choose to hide that I’m offended. I can also take the offense to heart, consciously or unconsciously, and feel like I’m worthless. I’m not going to do that just so you don’t have to hear me talk about offensive shit.[]
  2. This is not true for every single one of these writers. Noting is true for every single one of any kind of people. But these days I am less willing to give a new author from this group a try unless I see some evidence that they have thought about these issues. That’s not a hard thing for me. Thus I end up reading some of the best white, cis-het male SF/F authors publishing today. WIN.[]
  3. This was assigned reading, too! Yeah, I don’t know how that happened.[]
  4. If this all sounds like some awesomepants to you, then I suggest you go through my Favorite Fiction archive here on the blog and check out my column at io9.[]

Does Food As A Racial Metaphor Have Roots In Fiction?

oreos

Over on the Code Switch blog they are contemplating why food items are so often used as a race metaphor when putting down “white-acting” POC. Black folks get called Oreos, Asian folks get called Twinkies or bananas, Native Americans get called apples. The post asks “Why are foods the stand-ins for all this racial ostracism?”

My theory is that it might have something to do with how food is used as a metaphor for describing a POC’s physical characteristics in fiction. We’ve had this conversation a lot about all the brown girls in fiction with skin the color of various coffee drinks or delicious chocolate, and that’s just mentioning the brown folks.

It’s been pointed out that very often POC skin, hair, and other attributes are described not just in food-based metaphors but specifically commodity-based metaphors. Coffee, chocolate, ivory, porcelain, almonds. It all ties into the idea that the people being described are themselves commodities of a sort. And that’s a degradation, even if unintentional.

Calling a person a Twinkie or an Oreo is also about degradation, even though it’s an epithet hurled by people in the oppressed group instead of from outside of it. Wouldn’t be the first time marginalized folks mimicked the very oppressive structures they suffer under when dealing with people in-group. Where do you think colorism amongst Black folks comes from?

That’s my theory. What’s yours?

Just Say No to One Planet, One Language

One of the things I find a wee bit annoying about this Slate piece on science fictional languages is that it heavily references Star Trek (not even real Trek but that JJ Abrams thing from 2009) yet keeps talking about all science fiction writers like we all do it this way. Granted, there are some literary examples given, but they are very few and not the focus the way Star Trek is.

Darmok and Jelad at Tenagra

Dathon is having none of your linguistic simplicity, no sir.

First, let’s talk about Trek and alien language and culture. The thing all TV and movie iterations of Trek have done is treat each planet like it has one culture and one language. This is why Uhura’s line about three dialects makes some small sense in the world of Trek because Romulus, Star Empire it may be, metaphorically represents one country. A country that is probably small in comparison to Vulcan or Earth since it’s made up of the descendants of refugees.

It’s the same with every Trek culture. Only the ones we see multiple times ever move away from homogeny. How many years and new series had to go by before we saw a non-white Vulcan? There was once an “albino” Klingon, but otherwise they’re generally dark-skinned in TNG-era Trek. They do have different head ridges as time goes on. Did we ever see a Cardassian that didn’t have the very same coloring, bone structure, and facial markings as the first one we saw?

Even the humanoid species that looked exactly human on the outside lacked variation: with few exceptions they were all white people. If we got wild there might be a green person or a blue person with funny horns, but always the same blue or green or whatever.

To go along with the thing where everyone on the planet looks the same (even the same haircut. Do Romulans even have barbers? They would have the most boring jobs ever) the cultures were always the same across the planet. Everyone would talk about how to deal with the Bajoran people or Trills or whatever as if there was only one way to do so. One culture, one society.

The only time I remember TNG-era addressing this was an episode in season 7 when 2/3rds of a planet applied to join the Federation while the other third wanted nothing to do with it. Still though, that’s just two societies on one planet.

I realize that this is part of the utopian vision of Star Trek. That as people of different planets evolved and mass/instant communication became possible, soon they would all become one global society. That’s certainly the way Earth is presented. In the 24th century we’re all one culture: American culture. You can pretend Picard is French all you like, even with his strangely British accent, but you cannot tell me he acts in any way specifically French or even in any way specifically like a man who grew up three centuries from now.

That’s not the point, of course. Because science fiction is about us, right now, and always has been. And I have no beef with that, theoretically.

However, my story in Federations was written specifically in response to TV science fiction ideas about homogeneous alien cultures. I reject them. And I believe a lot of good science fiction novel and short story writers do as well. Because we’re not constrained the way TV writers are.

As much as I’d love more alien cultural diversity in Star Trek, I recognize that it’s mostly metaphor. I also recognize that if we were going to be super realistic, TV episodes would be boring as hell. Can you imagine the tediousness of having to deal with multiple governments and cultures on every single planet? It’s hard enough to deal with just one.

If Star Trek can’t do more than one culture per planet, how do you expect more than three dialects of Romulan? Even if you adhere to the thinking of a planet = a country, most countries have more than three dialects going on. But in every episode we’d be figuring out how to talk to new aliens or even some the Federation has already met because they’re not in the Federation yet. The universal translator takes care of that for us and we can move on to the story.

For the sake of the narrative and simplicity you have to be willing to put up with some handwave.

That doesn’t mean the same applies to science fiction literature. It shouldn’t, at any rate. I wouldn’t assume that it does.

I’m not as up on my space opera as I probably should be, but I know for my own works I try to be careful about falling into planet = one culture thing. Same as I try not to fall into the Planet With A Universal Climate trope. The SF I’ve read using that is also usually more on the metaphorical side and I’m down as long as the author clearly knows what she’s about. It’s when authors get lazy that this becomes a problem.

It seems like an awful lot of work to have to come up with multiple cultures and societies and mention multiple languages and dialects when you write stories dealing with alien worlds or even colonized ones, right? That’s because it is. This is what makes fiction rich and complex. And no, it doesn’t mean having to work out every single detail, it just means not falling back on what’s easy. That’s okay for TV, not so much for literature.

Even though the Slate article is at pains to try and paint the single language thing as scientifically valid, I don’t see that as the way to go. From an alien perspective all of Earth’s languages might seem, at the core, to be all one. And on a certain level that might be right. That doesn’t mean it’s a universal truth, does it? The way different cultures use language has huge effects on how the people in those cultures think, and dealing with those differences has a huge impact on how we Earthlings deal with each other and how we’d deal with alien cultures.

I’m just sayin': leave the one language, one culture, one planet simplicity to TV. Because it’s TV.

Do you subscribe to magazines?

stack of magazines

My io9 weekly fiction roundup continues apace. I decided that at the beginning of every month I would remind people that magazines need subscribers, and subscribing is awesome. Go, team! In searching for all the subscription links I took note of all the ways one can subscribe to the many and various SF zines. Where just a few years ago I complained about the lack of choices, now there are many. This makes me happy.

Side Note: Strange Horizons, what is up! There’s no way to subscribe in eBook format. The people are clamoring :)

I note that Amazon and Barnes & Noble are still not as helpful as they could be with subscriptions. Looks like many small press mags are in their systems, just not as subscribable entities. And certainly not with the fancy layout that the glossy magazines get (not that this is needed).

All this leads me to wonder how many people do subscribe to these zines, why, and what their experience is like. I’m just curious. We’ve moved into a time where tons of people can get content digitally, easily, for not too much money. How do lit mags fit into the stream of information coming at you?

And if you don’t subscribe to the magazines you read online: why?

“Why I Don’t Drink Anymore”

If you’ve been to my website recently you may have noticed that I changed the theme dramatically. Along with that I’ve been cleaning up some of the pages and making this place a more useful calling card for myself.

Right now I’m working on the Fiction page. It’ll probably be done by the time you read this. In the process of checking links I discovered that a story I published long, long ago at Abyss & Apex no longer exists on the website. That’s not a huge surprise. I think the archives got pruned long ago. And none of the editors working there now were working there back then.

I dug the page out of the Wayback Machine to reclaim the story, which I remembered as being rather short. I was right. Here it be:

Why I Don’t Drink Anymore

by not-K Tempest Bradford because I had a different pen name then

I’m sitting at my favorite café drinking absinthe when this guy comes up to me.

You’re a writer, aren’t you? he says.

Yeah, I says. How did you know?

You have that Hemingway thing going on, he says. Sitting around in a café all day. Drinking absinthe. Scribbling in your little notebook.

At this point I’m starting to get offended.

This isn’t Paris, you know, he says. This is Oregon. And you’re drinking in the middle of the day. Do you know what we call you types where I come from? Drunks. Damn drunks.

Then he walks away.

Oh, did I mention that this guy was a big scary eight foot tall monster with six arms? What a loser.

Story Art – Highlights from July’s short fiction illustrations

My first month doing a weekly short fiction roundup at io9 is over and I’m really glad to be back in the groove of reading consistently. As I read more and more I’m newly struck by how many magazines are commissioning original art for stories and how wonderful that art is on the whole. I thought it would be nice to call out the pieces I liked best at the end of each month.

Here are my favorite story arts for July:

Richie Pope illustration for Sleepwalking Now And Then

Richie Pope’s illustration for “Sleepwalking Now And Then” by Richard Bowes.

Pope does a lot of work for Tor.com and has many other great pieces on display at his website.

Depot/Station by Albert Urmanov

Clarkesworld’s July cover art comes from Depot/Station by Albert Urmanov

Urmanov is a German artist who does a lot of amazing SFF illustration. See his other works at Art Station.

Rebecca Huston Grooming

Rebecca Huston’s “Grooming” for “Witch, Beast, Saint: an Erotic Fairy Tale” by C. S. E. Cooney

I couldn’t find a gallery of Huston’s art but did find out she inks tattoos for a living. Can you see getting a picture like that over your whole back?

Wesley Allsbrook illustration for A Short History of the Twentieth Century

Wesley Allsbrook’s illustration for “A Short History of the Twentieth Century, or, When You Wish Upon A Star” by Kathleen Ann Goonan

Another frequent Tor.com artist, Allsbrook has a really striking style that gives me the feeling that all the people and objects in his works are threads held together by a very tenuous connection to each other and will fly apart at any second. Check out his gallery.

Selfies With Books and other things I do for my job

In addition to my weekly short fiction recs over at io9 I have some summer reading recs over at xoJane, too. There I did novels and short story collections/anthologies so everyone is covered. And I took selfies with a lot of books. This is becoming a theme in my life: selfies with products.

Selfies with books

The other day I stopped in a hipster electronics store to take a selfie with some headphones since the pair I owned were stolen from me a while back. The poor guy working in the store was really confused because I walked in, asked after some headphones onthe wall, took a bunch of pictures of myself wearing them, then left. As I was going out the door he was all “Uh, can I help you…?”

“Nope!” I said cheerfully as I sailed away. I’m sure he thought I was loopy. But whatever, this is New York City. He should be used to much stranger stuff than this.

Other than headphones and books, what other products should I give the selfie treatment? I don’t look good in hats. Despite the overwhelming number of beads in my house I don’t wear jewelry much. Any suggestions?

My Faves: Time Travel Fiction and Media

Fans of NPR’s Weekend Edition may have caught a familiar voice when listening to the segment on time travel fiction. I had a great time talking to Petra Mayer about time travel, a topic near and dear to my heart. Yes, I am still writing a novel with time traveling twins (same world as my story in Diverse Energies). Now that all of NPR knows about it I guess I should finally finish.

In the mean time you can enjoy my best-loved time travel books, stories, and other media!

“It’s All True” by John Kessel (contained in his collection The Baum Plan for Financial Independence and Other Stories)

I mentioned this during the time travel panel at ReaderCon. In this story, a future society has invented time travel and they use it to go to parallel worlds, travel back in time, get famous people from the past, then bring them forward in time back to their own timeline. Thus avoiding changing their future. I swear this makes sense. The story centers around one guy’s attempt to convince Orson Wells to come to the future.

the freedom maze and kindred

The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman and Kindred by Octavia Butler

I mention these two together because they share a basic premise (but are very different in sensibility as well as plot). In both, a person from modern times is thrown back into the era of American slavery, ends up with people who are her ancestors, and has to live as a slave for some portion of time. In Kindred the person is a grown woman who is pulled backward in time multiple times. In The Freedom Maze the person is a young girl who is actually white, but because she’s very tan is mistaken for a mulatto. She stays in the past for weeks and it’s unclear whether she’ll ever get back home. Both novels explore modern perspectives on the past in interesting ways.

Past Tense” and “Trials and Tribble-ationsStar Trek: Deep Space Nine

Some people will try to tell you that the best Star Trek episode about time travel is “The City on the Edge of Forever”. I don’t mind telling you that those people are wrong. As with so many things Star Trek, DS9 has the best episodes using this story vehicle. My ultimate favorite is, of course, the tribble one where the crew of DS9 travel back to the episode “The Trouble With Tribbles” and have to blend in with the original Enterprise crew. It’s awesome on so many levels from how seamlessly the effects crew blended the footage from TOS with the new footage to moments like this:

However, “Past Tense” has stayed with me all these years for a different reason. DS9 was often very social justice oriented, and this episode was chock full of it. For once, when Star Trek people ended up in the past on Earth it was not in the 20th century. Instead, they land in 2024 (still in San Francisco, though) in a dystopian America that is sadly not that hard to imagine. People who are poor, sick, or just undesirable are cordoned off into ghettos. And not just ghettos in the urban sense, but actual ghettos with walls and fences and an inability to get out where people have to fight over food rations and only get a place to sleep if the local gangs think you’re okay. It’s terrifying and not that far off the mark. This episode aired about 20 years ago. 2024 is 10 years from now. Think Star Trek will prove prescient?

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

This series didn’t get a chance to flourish fully and it ends on what could be a cliffhanger or what could seem like a satisfying end given that we sort of know what happens after. The second season dragged in the middle for sure, but overall this is one of the best entries in the Terminator franchise, right up there with T2 and way better than T3 or what weird one with Christian Bale.

The main characters in SCC don’t do much time traveling themselves. What I loved about the time travel elements is that the war between Skynet and the humans takes place not only in the future but across both the relative past, the future, and the present. Several people and Terminator models are sent back in time at different points for specific and long term missions. And each time a person or group of people are sent back, it changes the future. So that woman you knew in the resistance and see again on the street might not be the exact person you knew, but a version of them.

And even when they strike a blow against Skynet, be it by destroying tech that will lead to it or getting rid of a Terminator come to kill someone, it doesn’t necessarily mean Skynet won’t still rise, it’ll just rise at a different date. All these elements are key to the plot, and kudos to the show for making all of this relatively straightforward and understandable. It’s not just some jumbled timey-wimey mess.

I am always looking for more time travel fiction to add to my to-read pile. Rec me some in the comments, if you would!

Reading, Reviewing, and ‘Rithmatic

Reading, Reviewing, and 'Rithmatic

I’ve been bad about updating this blog with new and exciting news about myself. So here’s some news.

Last week my review of the new Octavia E Butler eBook Unexpected Stories went up at NPR Books. I really enjoyed the book and my only sadness is that there aren’t more new stories to read. Go read the review and then go buy the book.

This week I am back on io9 posting roundups of my favorite short stories. Now it’s weekly instead of monthly, so I can talk about more stories I love.

Now that I’m reviewing for NPR and doing the story thing on io9 folks have been asking me about sending review copies and such. I have a policy! I’ll also post this on my About page, but here it is in case you’re curious:

NPR has pretty strict conflict of interest rules, so if we’re friends or I know you well or if you have published me I can’t review your book or an anthology/collection you’re in or you edited. It’s sadface sadness, I know. I can suggest books to my editor who will then pass them on to a reviewer without conflicts and that is okay. If you do not know me, you can certainly ask if I’d like a review copy of your book/anthology/collection. If I’m interested, I’ll pitch it to my editor. I cannot make the final decision on whether I can review something for NPR, so I may have to say no.

The io9 posts are not strictly reviews and I’m not claiming complete objectivity. The stories I mention are the ones I personally like, and that may include stories by people I know. I pick stories from the magazines (and sometimes anthologies) I read and that mostly includes free online ones. But if you have a print mag, or an eBook version of your zine with extra content, or an anthology you’d like me to read in case I like a story enough to mention it, please do let me know! Me agreeing to read does not guarantee you’ll get a mention, just so you know.

All that business aside, I’m very much enjoying reading more again and highlighting excellent fiction where I can. I’m still looking for a place to write about other media, especially when the Fall TV season starts up again.

N. K. Jemisin’s Introduction – WisCon 38

This year my role on the WisCon concom was as Nora’s guest of honor liaison. And one of the perks of that job is that I got first dibs on introducing her at various key moments, such as the night she gave her big speech. However, I wasn’t sure how such introductions go since I couldn’t remember the ones from past years. I asked Debbie Notkin and she suggested I could make it somewhat personal. Like the story of how we met (which was at WisCon). So, that’s what I did.

I never suspected that it would get such a strong reaction. Since a couple of people asked, I’m dropping the intro here for the folks who couldn’t be there.

Earlier this weekend I started to tell the story of how Nora and I first met. I remember it being at WisCon, she contends that it was at ReaderCon. But this is WisCon, and saying it happened at WisCon makes for a better story. So my memory wins.

We met at WisCon when Nora came up to me and, as way of introduction, said: Do you want to take bets on which of us gets mistaken for the other first? And I said: I’m not taking that bet because I’ve already been mistaken for Nalo Hopkinson today.

Back then there were only a handful of POC at WisCon–a generous handful, but the number was small. It was easy for Nora and I to remember each other for the rest of the weekend, and then later at ReaderCon, and then later online when we ended up arguing with the same people about the same stuff. Pretty soon she was blogging with me, then living in the same city as me, and then joining a writing group with me.

And let me tell you guys that I am so lucky to have her as a friend, and as a person I can turn to when I need writing advice or a critique. And I am super lucky that I sometimes get to read her stories and novels before almost anyone else. You’ve seen the announcement about that new book, The Fifth Season, coming out next year? I’ve read that book and it is awesome. Nanni nanni booboo.

Nora’s fiction is important for all the reasons why fiction written by a black woman from America is important. Representation is important. Our voices are important. But let’s not forget: her fiction is also damn good. I can’t tell you how many times I read the climactic chapter of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and every single time it gave me chills. I loved the other two books in the Inheritance trilogy, too. But then I got to The Killing Moon, first in the Dreamblood duology and there were ninja priests of death and it was AMAZING.

There are times when I can’t believe I know someone who writes that well. The worlds she builds and the characters she creates are vibrant and alive and, yes, diverse and full of people who look something like me. But anyone can find something of themselves in the pages of an N. K. Jemisin book. And that is why we’re celebrating her this weekend. Gentlefolk of WisCon38, please welcome to the stage your guest of honor: N. K. Jemisin.

Towards A Database of Workshops

database

My post the other week about writers of color and greater access to workshops generated much discussion both on the post itself and on social media. Out of these discussions came some great ideas and the hazy outline of a plan. A plan I hope to recruit a few of you to in the near future.

Several people pointed out that in additional to local in-person workshops and online classes there are also workshops at conventions. And Claire had some great thoughts on how non-profit organizations can create workshops that are free or low cost. All of this made me realize that the first step is to create a database of existing writing workshops for speculative authors. This would include all kinds of workshops from the boot-camp style 6 week ones ala Clarion to the online ones that happen either via video chat or email and message boards.

The database would include not only basic information about the workshops but also any information about financial aid or slots specifically set aside for writers from certain backgrounds (POC, LGBT, disabled, low-income, etc.). This is not a requirement for being in the database, but it will help people when searching. I spoke to Mary Anne Mohanraj and she agreed to let us host this on the Speculative Literature Foundation’s website. There are some workshops listed there already, though that info isn’t as comprehensive as this database will be and the goal is to keep it updated regularly.

Creating a database like this will take some technical expertise as well as some other volunteer effort. I think there’s a way to use a Google Docs spreadsheet as a queryable database, which would make gathering the information on the workshops easier. Just create an online form for workshop admins or authors or teachers to fill out to populate the database, then make it searchable. Thing is, I don’t know if this is truly possible, so I would love to hear from those who do. Help setting this all up would be amazing.

This project will also need volunteers to help keep the data current and correct and to run the second part I envision: the mailing list. The list will be for keeping people up to date on new workshops, workshop deadlines, and scholarship/financial aid deadlines. To keep it simple, it only need to go out once per month, and it will rely on information from the database and provided by those offering workshops.

Overall, this project will probably take a significant chunk of time to set up and then very little time to maintain once it’s done. I’m able to head up something like this, especially once we get into April. However, I don’t have the time (or spoons) to run it on my own. So I’m officially looking for volunteers. Even if you can only do a small chunk (like helping set up the database or running the mailing list for 3 months) that would be amazing. If we get enough volunteers, then everyone will only have small, manageable tasks.

Once the database is set up and there’s a clear picture of how many workshops are available, where they’re available, and what financial aid is on offer, it’ll be easier to plan the next phase: getting more writers of color to these workshops.

Notebooks, Pens, Longhand, and Cracking Open Creative Floodgates

I love paper by Manuela Hoffmann on Flickr

Still thinking about the concepts I brought up in the Gesture Writing post from last week. One piece of the process I didn’t expand on and now realize I should have is the part where Howard talks about sitting down with a notebook:

I wrote all over the page, a line of complete dialogue followed by a place-holder phrase of exposition, a one-word reminder of the next action followed by an arrow to the margin where I’d scribbled a description of a key image. The page looked a mess. But I had captured the movement of the scene…

A key part of this is that she sat down with pen and paper to capture the scene, not her computer. And maybe that’s because she needed to get away from her laptop in order to think differently. Just the fact that she had a ready notebook says something else.

At ReaderCon last year I did a fabulous interview with Andrea Hairston[1] where she talked about how writing with a pen on paper activates the creative parts of the brain in a way typing on keys does not. It’s about the movement of the hand, the connection to the body. It’s no surprise that a drawing class inspired Howard if she’s the type to take up a notebook when attempting to work out a tangled scene.

I keep a paper notebook and I carry around way too many pens because I’m fussy about them[2]. I don’t need them for writing actual fiction longhand; I do need them for thinking about what I’m going to write. I’m convinced that the scene outlining thing only works well for me if I do that outlining in my notebook and not on a computer. Writing it out longhand opens up my head and makes the creative juices flow. I didn’t know this is why scene outlining led to much easier writing days, but after talking to Andrea it all clicked.

I prefer a lined journal. Never did get the habit of keeping my lines straight without a guide. Sounds like Howard’s notebook is a blank one as her method would only be restricted by lines. I know some writers like this–Alaya Dawn Johnson has shown me her writing notebooks in the past and I don’t know if I could handle all that beautifully controlled chaos. It works for her, though! My working things out tends to be more straightforward stream of consciousness writing. I might skip all over the place in my head, on paper the skipping happens one word after the other.

I’m not opposed to trying a more free-form, lineless journaling style. Not many journals give you multiple choices. It’s either lines, grids, or blank. Technology could be the answer here. I’ve written before about tablet and pen solutions and I own a Galaxy Note 8 that I use for work notes. If someone took away my paper and pen forcefully and made me use the Note for everything, I wouldn’t be completely depressed. Don’t know if I would be completely satisfied, either.

Footnotes

  1. Which will be an episode of our podcast and that podcast will happen someday I SWEAR.[]
  2. Check out my fussiness here on the Month of Letters blog[]