The 6 Elements Of A Good Author Website

The other day on Twitter Sofia Samatar laid down some truth:

Yes. All the yesses. +1, co-sign.

Every author should have a website, even if you’re just beginning and have only one thing published. Heck, even before you have things published. You should always take as much control over your online presence as you can. That starts with having a good website[1].

Having a good, clear, professional-looking website does not require a lot of technical knowledge, a lot of money, and a lot of maintenance. But if you’re not very technically inclined and feel intimidated by creating a website, there are people who are happy to help you. Some will do so for free, some for a small fee, and some who are pros and charge pro rates. But before we get into that, let’s break down what an author website should have on it.

The six elements you need:

  • Homepage
  • Blog
  • About
  • Publication List
  • Events page*
  • Contact

Homepage

With many author sites it’s a good idea for this to be a static page. Yes, my homepage is my blog. I regret this decision! Especially now that I don’t blog here as much. I’ll likely change it soon. Having a static page allows you to highlight what’s new–such as a new book or story–and give an at-a-glance view to your visitors to the important info about you and serve as a portal to the rest of the site plus other important sites[2]. This is where you’ll list the social networks you’re on and your profiles on Amazon, Goodreads, etc.

Blog

BUT I DON’T WANT TO BLOG you might be screaming right now. That’s fine. Just because I say you should include a blog it doesn’t mean you have to update that blog every day or hour. You don’t even need to call that section Blog. You can call it News, Announcements, or something similar. The purpose of this section is for you to have an easily updatable place to put the kind of news and info readers like. Not just when your book is published, but when it gets a nice review, when it’s nominated for or wins an award, if you’re interviewed or otherwise mentioned in the press, pictures from your book signings or other appearances, when you publish a new story, when you start selling merch, or whatever.

Of course, if you want to have a traditional blog, even better. But don’t feel compelled to make your blog section an online journal if that’s not your speed.

About

In addition to talking about yourself and your amazing work, your About page should contain or have links to your official bio (I have a public Google Doc with a long and short version), your official photos (link to the hi-res versions of images, don’t embed them) and photo credits, and hi-res versions of your book covers. This makes it really easy for folks to grab this info without you having to search it out each time.

This is also the place to list your social network and other profiles.

Publication List

This one is self-explanatory. The only thing I’ll suggest here is that you make it attractive! However, a simple list with links is fine, too.

Events Page

This one had a star next to it because it’s only really necessary if you make a lot of personal appearances and do many signings. Those who’ve published a book will need this section, maybe not if you’re just publishing short stories at the moment. In that case, the announcements on your blog should suffice, just be sure you have a blog category called Events or something like that so they’re easy to find.

There are lots of ways to maintain an Events page and I have no particular best practices. Check out what other authors do for ideas. I do suggest including info on this page on how people can request to book you for events, signings, and the like.

Contact

Always have a way for people to contact you! Always. I prefer to have contact forms because then no one is getting your actual email address unless you email them back. And it cuts down on spam. And if you don’t mind if fans ping you on social media, mention that here, too.

I Am Not Tech-Savvy And Can’t Make My Own Website

That’s okay! There are several options below for creating a website easily without needing technical acumen. But if you still feel nervous about it, there are people who will help you. Some for free, some will charge a fee.

I used to design websites for a living. I don’t anymore, but I still set up WordPress for folks who need it because, for me, it’s simple and doesn’t take much time. If you really need an author website and have $75, I will set it up for you on WordPress.com and walk you through the basics and show you how to update it on your own.

If you need a more complex website, or want an installation on your own host (explained below) and a customized design, there are other folks who can help you. My friends Stephanie Leary and Jeremy Tolbert are both WordPress experts and make beautiful sites. They charge pro rates. They are worth it.

If you’re a person willing to help authors create simple websites for free or for a fee, scroll down to the comments and let us know! Please say whether you work for free or charge and include a link to your website or portfolio.

What Should I Use To Make My Website?

I always suggest that people use WordPress to make author websites. WP is a blogging platform, but it’s easily used as a whole site management tool. It makes updating simple, and you can get a nice look without knowing any code. It’s also free. You can set up a site on WordPress.com or get your own hosting and set it up on your server for free.

There are other options, such as drag and drop site builders on SquareSpace or similar. I’m not a huge fan of those, but as long as they allow you to have all the elements mentioned above with little fuss and at your level of technical comfort, go with what works for you.

I do not suggest using Blogger, because it sucks. LiveJournal and DreamWidth won’t work because they are mainly blogs with a little bit of functionality for static pages, but not enough.

Tumblr is a possibility because you can create static pages, add your own domain name, and mess around with themes enough to customize. However, I find it all really hard compared to WordPress and the resulting site not as functional or easy to maintain.

WordPress.com or Host It Myself?

If you want to set up a site completely for free, then you can go with WordPress.com. Someone on Twitter asked if a site URL like authorname.wordpress.com projected an unprofessional vibe. In my experience, not as much as authorname.blogspot.com or an AOL.com email address. It looks perfectly legit to be on the .com site.

If you’re still nervous about it, you can put your own domain on a WP.com site so it looks like authorname.com even though you’re still using WP.com on the backend. WordPress will sell you a domain name themselves, but it’s a bit less expensive to buy the domain elsewhere and pay the fee to attach it to your WP.com site. I use NameCheap where .com domains cost less than $11 a year.

The drawback with WordPress.com is that you have to use the WP themes they list[3], you can’t install one you just find somewhere. You’re also restricted to specific plugins. Plugins are awesome–they add extra functionality to WordPress and there are a handful I cannot live without.

For the most control over themes, plugins, and domains, you’ll need to get your own hosting account. My main advice here: DO NOT GET GODADDY. It’s just best to look elsewhere. I use MDD Hosting and pay less than $20 per month. There are tons of good hosting options out there–ask for suggestions on social media if you don’t already know of a company. And always read the reviews before you sign up.

Not sure if you need a hosted site or can just stick to WP.com? Start out on WP.com. You can migrate everything, including comments and images, over to a hosted WordPress installation later if you decide to switch. The process is easy.

You Need A Good, Clear Website Of Your Own

You don’t need to spend any money to get one started, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to get the little extras that make it feel even more professional, and you don’t need to know anything about code to create and maintain it. If you need help, help is available. If you have questions, ask. Let there be no barriers to you having a good, clear website.

Footnotes

  1. After you have a website, the next step is to create profiles on high profile social networks and other author-related websites so that you can craft your Google search results the way you want to. But that’s a different post….[]
  2. If you want an example of a site with a static front page, look at this other site I built[]
  3. These days there are way more good-looking themes than there were when I moved away from WP.com. For author sites, I suggest checking out Satellite, Writr, Fictive, and Wilson. There are many more free themes to choose from.[]

Good Writers, Coasting, and How You Can Avoid Joss Whedon’s Mistakes

Joss Whedon sad

There are a ton of great articles examining Joss Whedon in the wake of Age of Ultron and plenty of crunchy debates to dive into because of them. In this piece, Sady Doyle illuminates something about Whedon that I’ve understood on a subconscious level but not been able to crystalize until now. To wit:

My ultimate take on Joss Whedon’s “feminist” screenwriting is that it’s a byproduct of good writing, period. The writer he most reminds me of is Charlie Kaufman: They’re both deeply personal writers, who clearly have a wide variety of sexual hang-ups, and to the extent that these hang-ups center on women, they probably do affect their perceptions of real-life women in many ways. Plenty of women have noted that Whedon’s fixation on emotionally vulnerable, eighty-pound teenage girls is disturbing and off-putting, and I would tend to agree. Charlie Kaufman’s apparent belief that a sexually awakened, self-realized woman wouldn’t need him, and would therefore abandon him to a hostile universe, is also kind of weird and upsetting, or (at least) a good reason not to ask Charlie Kaufman out on a date. However, because Kaufman and Whedon are good writers, who understand why stories work, when they sit down to write a story, they feel the obligation to make all of the characters identifiably human, including the women. This is, sadly, so rare that their female characters are often more well-rounded and interesting than almost any other characters out there, including a lot of characters written by people with better sexual politics.

When I read that a light shone down from heaven because YES. This is not just a Joss Whedon issue, it’s an issue with a lot of writers who hail from the land of privilege.

I (and others) have said many times that when you write stereotypical or downright offensive minority/marginalized characters, it’s almost always due to bad writing. If you’re a good writer, you don’t reach for the easy stereotypes, you don’t pull from the box of overused ideas, you aren’t a lazy thinker making lazy choices. And that often results in passable minority characters that might even be considered amazing and revolutionary[1]. Especially when compared to a sea of characters that are nothing but two dimensional offenses to all good taste.

Sometimes that’s even enough.

When you’re thirsty in a desert, even cloudy, contaminated water looks great.

However, it will not always be enough. That situation is a place to start from, not a place to kick back in and pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Yet that is what many, many writers do. Whedon certainly seems to have done. As Ashly Nagrant points out, we’ve now had 20 years of Whedon doing the same thing over and over, coasting on his talent instead of building on it.

Joss Whedon has failed to evolve as a writer and a director. People who are longtime Buffy fans saw Age of Ultron and complained about how quippy the dialog was. That quality has always been part and parcel of a Joss Whedon project — it has long been one of his trademarks. When the question was how could people who loved Buffy be surprised by this, I could only venture a guess:

We are suddenly, sadly realizing Joss Whedon is a one-trick pony.

Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy those tricks and there is nothing wrong with that! I am in no way saying that I haven’t enjoyed Joss’s work and won’t continue to in the future. But it does hit a point where it is almost 20 years since the debut of Buffy and you suddenly realize Whedon is just writing the same thing over and over again. No matter how much you like garlic bread, you can’t eat it all the time or you’ll get sick of it.

What’s the solution? Continuously work on becoming a better writer.

Pay attention to evolutions of thought on representation and be aware of the kinds of tropes that most media properties–be they TV, movies, or lit–engage in. Listen when your readers critique your minority/marginalized characters, particularly if they are the same identity as said characters. Accept people’s lived experiences as valid and learn from them.

Read books and articles on this subject. Writing the Other: A Practical Approach is an excellent place to start. Invisible and Invisible 2 are also excellent resources for delving deeper into representation.

Take classes and workshops that address this specific skill. Yes, I teach them, and so do others. Both in person and online. (If you want to find one, I can help with that!)

Read fiction by authors who have a reputation for writing amazing, deep characters. Examine how they do it, absorb it, learn.

Basically all the things you’re supposed to do to become a better writer, anyway. All the things truly great writers do, even after they’re hailed as being great.

Footnotes

  1. This accounts for a lot of Steven Moffat’s success as well. He’s clearly a good writer when he’s on his game. And that good writing can distract you from some underlying problems. And because the writing is good you want to ignore the underlying problems. There comes a point for many of us when that’s impossible. Like Whedon, that point arrived when his popularity meant a large body of work to examine.[]

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[]

Thoughts on Gesture Writing, Scene Outlining, and the Essence of Things

gesture_02 by Patrick Grizzard

On Facebook, someone shared a year-old opinion piece titled “Gesture Writing” from the New York Times that I really love and saved to my Pocket account immediately. In it, author Rachel Howard talks about her early days as an artist model for introductory drawing classes.

“Find the gesture!” the instructor would shout, as the would-be artists sketched. “What is the essence of that pose? How does that pose feel to the model? The whole pose — quick, quick! No, not the arm or the leg. The line of the energy. What is that pose about? Step back and see it — really see it — whole.”

In a gesture drawing, a whole arm that didn’t matter much might be just a smudgy slash, while a line that captured the twist of a spine might stand in sharp, carefully observed relief. The “gesture” was the line of organic connection within the body, the trace of kinetic cause-and-effect that made the figure a live human being rather than a corpse of stitched-together parts. If you “found the gesture,” you found life.

As she struggled to write her novel, the words of these instructors came to her again.

Find the gesture. Don’t worry about the details. What is the essence of that pose?

I left my laptop at my desk and moved to the other side of the room to sit on the floor with my notebook.

Where’s the line of energy? What is the essence of what you see? Quick! 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, not one line of dialogue connected clunkily to the next action. There was the whole. It made leaps. It had perspective. It had emphasis and connection. It had life.

Realizing that writing is a lot like drawing gives us a deeper approach. Because really, before we put a word or a mark on the page, both writers and artists must first step back and see. …to see deeply enough to capture the vibrancy of life on the page, a writer must move her consciousness out of information organizing mode into an intuitive way of seeing subtle organic connections and capturing them in bold strokes.

This essay reminded me of a post from the SFWA blog someone sent me years ago: the 10,000 words a day post. I know people have a ton of strong opinions about that post. I’ve found the part about scene outlining to be very useful, even if I still can’t write 10K per day.

…instead of trying to write the scene in the novel as I had been, I started scribbling a very short hand, truncated version the scene on the paper. I didn’t describe anything, I didn’t do transitions. I wasn’t writing, I was simply noting down what I would write when the time came. It took me about five minutes and three pages of notebook paper to untangle my seemingly unfixable scene, the one that had just eaten three days of my life before I tried this new approach. Better still, after I’d worked everything out in shorthand I was able to dive back into the scene and finish it in record time.

Looking back, it was so simple I feel stupid for not thinking of it sooner. If you want to write faster, the first step is to know what you’re writing before you write it. I’m not even talking about macro plot stuff, I mean working out the back and forth exchanges of an argument between characters, blocking out fights, writing up fast descriptions. … If the scene you’re sketching out starts to go the wrong way, you see it immediately, and all you have to do is cross out the parts that went sour and start again at the beginning. That’s it. No words lost, no time wasted. It was god damn beautiful.

I have some success with this method, and after reading the NYT piece I can now identify why there are times it works better than others. When I sketch the scene in ways that focus on the “gestures” and the essence of the scene. Is it emotion? Or exposition?

A thing I’m actively working on in my writing now is visual description of people, environment, movement. Trying to find that balance between giving my reader enough detail so it’s not a white room but not so much detail that I bog the reader down. Too often I read books and short fiction where the author, in trying to be as descriptive as possible, burdens me with so much visual detail that I can no longer see the thing for myself. It’s like the art students trying so hard to render the fingers exactly when they should focus on what in the body has the most life and get that down on paper.

I’d love to know what techniques you employ to get at the essence of a scene as you write.

Getting More Writers of Color to Workshops: A Modest Proposal

Getting More Writers of Color to Workshops: A Modest Proposal

Taking a break from talking about the Hugos and Jonathan Ross for actual important stuff.

A few days ago I tweeted:

Writers of Color, raise hands if you want to attend writing workshops but can’t afford one financially.

And I got many responses. One of the reasons I asked is because I wanted to point out again why the Writing Excuses Carl Brandon Scholarship was important and encourage people to apply[1]. Then a couple of responses made me realize I needed to do something else as well.

@cafenowhere That’s me. With added complication of being main care giver to a child & living in the Midwest.

@LonAitewalker *raises hand* compound that with being disabled as well – double whammy.

Lack of funds isn’t the only barrier. There’s the inability to miss work for a week or weeks at a time, or not having anyone to leave a child with for that time, or other obligations that make going away to a workshop not possible.

As other responses point out, going to a workshop can be a life-changing experience. Not only do you gain valuable writing instruction, you also get valuable networking done and face time with authors who are generous with their advice and influence. Workshopping is an important element in developing a career. It’s not necessary, it’s just very helpful.

So how can we make workshops more widely available to writers who are more likely to miss out on these opportunities? A few good ideas I’ve seen lately:

One Day Workshops: Clarion West does these occasionally (and lately doing more of them). They usually involve tackling a particular subject, like how to research or how to create more immersive fiction, take place on a weekend day, and cost a fraction of what the 6 week workshop costs. The downside is that they only take place in Seattle for now. I hear that there are discussions to expand into…

Online Classes via Google Hangout: I’ve heard of several writers doing this, but the only class I’m at all familiar with is Mary Robinette Kowal’s. She does two types, a weekend intensive (Friday night to Sunday) and an 8-week course that meets one day a week. Since they take place online you don’t have to travel and it may be easier to structure your time even if you have caregiving obligations. Click here to see explanations for her workshops, which will give you a good idea of how most are run.

Neither of these solutions is absolutely perfect and will work for everyone. They go a long way toward helping, though. More one day workshops in other cities and towns mean more people can attend. Doing things online through Google Hangouts open it up even more–you don’t even need a webcam, just a mic[2]. Then we’re back to cost.

These workshops are far less expensive than the long 6-week ones like Clarion or even retreat-type workshops like Out Of Excuses. That doesn’t mean they’re that much more affordable since the cost is still in the hundreds for many. Scholarships are needed here as well.

I have a request for pro authors giving workshops and organizations coordinating workshops. Would you be willing to set aside one registration per workshop for a writer who cannot afford it but would greatly benefit from attending? Could you perhaps work with an organization willing to help coordinate some of the particulars, like matching writers who want to attend with appropriate workshops?

People involved in organizations and community groups that raise awareness around diversity in the genre, would you help out by doing some of that coordinating? Or even setting up scholarship funds so that the workshop runners still get paid?

This could end up being a major project for some non-profit, but major projects take time to build. As that happens, if that happens, I’d still like to see some smaller efforts to help build momentum. Such as workshops deciding to set aside that one registration. Or writers helping each other raise money individually. A larger project like Con or Bust would be great in the long term. I just don’t want people to think we have to wait for that to come together in order to get started.

So let’s discuss this! Here in the comments, on social media, at cons, wherever. This is just the spark of an idea. Help me grow it.

Oh, and apply for the Writing Excuses Carl Brandon Scholarship! Applications must be in by 3/15. If you can afford the time but can’t afford registration, hotel, and travel, the scholarship covers those things.

Footnotes

  1. BTW – People, apply! Deadline Is 3/15[]
  2. You do need a reliable high-speed connection, and not everyone has that, I know.[]

Another kind of backup

Viggo Mortensen's Journal

New post over on the tech blog that will be of interest to you writer types:

“As I was in the process of moving from one house to another… someone broke into the passenger side window of my car and grabbed the backpack containing several notebooks I’d filled, since early 2001, with handwritten stories and poems. The backpack also contained a couple of journals, two screenplays, my passport, and two half-read books. The hardest losses were the stories and poems in the notebooks. I had been looking forward, in particular, to reviewing and fine-tuning hundreds of pages of, for me, uncharacteristically long and unguarded poetry that had been written during a series of very quiet nights spent in the Sahara Desert in late 2002.  

“…I spent a lot of time and effort in the following weeks scouring my part of town, looking through trash cans and alleyways, offering no-questions-asked rewards, doing anything I could think of to find what was irreplaceable for me and probably completely useless to whoever had stolen it. Finally, I let most of it go…”

–Viggo Mortensen

The specific thing that made me recall that story was testing Evernote’s Page Capture feature. … The idea of scanning a paper journal to a digital file isn’t exactly new. But with smartphones being so wide-spread and the cameras in them getting better and better, I wonder if it’s now just convenient enough that writers would spend a couple of minutes every day adding their journals to Evernote and if that would end up being an effective backup system?

Click here for the full post & discussion.

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

Seanan McGuire on why she will not add rape to her stories to add “realism”

Seanan McGuire on why she will not add rape to her stories to add "realism"

If you’ve been reading my blog long enough, you know my feelings about the way rape is used in most fiction. If you’re unaware or have forgotten, please click over to my post here, my post on ABW, and my post on Jeff Vandermeer’s blog about the subject.

The bottom line of each of those is that I really do not like it when authors decide to have their female (and it’s almost always female) characters raped for bullshit plot or character development “reasons”. The kind of writers who do this are generally not very good ones since they have to use cheap tricks in order to show that the female character is “strong” or the male character is “evil” or to wink and nod to any reader out there who might think that a female character could possibly ever get away with being smart and confident and badass without being taken down a peg.

I also get angry at this trope because I firmly believe that it contributes to rape culture in a big way. When the message from fiction is constantly that rape is inevitable, especially if you as a woman step outside of the box of what is acceptable, and that’s just how it is. Whenever I suggest that authors just NOT include rape as an inevitable consequence of being a woman in fiction, I get told that this is completely unrealistic.

Thus, I am not at all surprised that this happened to author Seanan McGuire:

Last night, I was asked—in so many words—when either Toby or one of the Price girls was finally going to be raped.

Not “if.” Not “do you think.” But “when,” and “finally.” Because it is a foregone conclusion, you see, that all women must be raped, especially when they have the gall to run around being protagonists all the damn time. I responded with confusion. The questioner provided a list of scenarios wherein these characters were “more than likely” to encounter sexual violence. These included Verity forgetting to change out of her tango uniform before going on patrol, Toby being cocky, and Sarah walking home from class alone[1]. Yes, even the ambush predator telepath with a “don’t notice me” field is inevitably getting raped.

When. Finally. Inevitably.

My response: “None of my protagonists are getting raped. I do not want to write that.”

Their response: “I thought you had respect for your work. That’s just unrealistic.”

Go and read the whole post, because everything that Seanan has to say in response to this nonsense is right on and should be read by every person ever, especially authors.

I’ve said this before and I will say it again: Writers, when you write fiction you get to create the world. Yes, even if are writing in the “real” world and not that of the speculative, you get to decide what happens to your characters and why. Spec writers in particular get to create stuff out of whole cloth, if they like. And more of them should choose not to bring rape into their narratives. Because if we want to create a world in which rape happens less, we need to show worlds where rape isn’t the inevitable consequence of being a woman.

Then maybe there won’t be readers out there who claim that no rape means a book is unrealistic. Because: really? Gross.

Footnotes

  1. Does it occur to anyone else that this person has thought way too much about the ways in which these characters may end up raped? If I were Seanan I would stay away from the fan fiction for a bit…[]

NYC Group Writing Evenings?

NYC Group Writing Evenings?

I don’t get to have many group writing days, anymore, partially due to me not organizing them and the folks who used to do them with me don’t as much, anymore. Or they’ve moved away[1]. But now that I have a semi-regular schedule again that does not involve working into the night for no good reason, I’d like to try having them again.

During NaNoWriMo I organized a big write-in at Vagabond Cafe and really enjoyed it. Wondering if people in NYC would be interested in weekly write-ins. Perhaps not on such a large scale as NaNo ones, but groups of 5 – 10 folks all dedicated to writing for an hour or two together on a regular-ish basis. I’m sure we can accommodate more if more people are interested and show up.

Vagabond is a good location if we have a smaller group and want to do Tuesday since that’s the night they’re slowest and have no live music. For other days (Monday, maybe Thursday?) I suggest a new cafe called Irving Farm on the upper west side. They have a huge space in the back and are often very empty in the evenings. They serve beer and wine, which is always a bonus.

The kind of writing evening I envision is one where people trickle in for the first half hour, get drinks, food, etc. and chat a bit, then we get down to the SRS bizness of writing. No talking, the whole thing. Maybe we’d do a no talking, heads down sprint in 30 minute chunks then take breaks.

I’m open to ideas about how the writing evening should be structured and any other details. Discuss in the comments and let me know if you’re interested!

Footnotes

  1. Eugene![]

Mental Noodling About Color, Ancient Peoples, and Alien Races

Mental Noodling About Color, Ancient Peoples, and Alien Races

Do any of you out there ever listen to RadioLab, a radio show that broadcasts on NPR stations? It’s a really fabulous show and podcast that’s best described as similar to This American Life but with stories about science and cool stuff instead of just about people’s inner lives. Except the explorations of science and geeky stuff often also includes stories of people’s inner lives. It’s a pretty sweet show.

The most recent episode is called Colors and is an exploration about a bunch of stuff about color. I know, what a surprise. My favorite section is the last one called “Why Isn’t The Sky Blue?” and delves into why the descriptions of color in Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey are so… off. The basic explanation is that ancient people saw fewer colors than we see even though they had the physical ability to see more[1].

When I first listened to this show I geeked out a bit because I remember hearing this same thing in class back at NYU. How it starts with a long-ago British prime minister noticing that Homer never describes the sky as blue and snowballs into an exploration of how colors come into the human consciousness. My teacher at the time, Scott McPartland, said that the ancient Greeks didn’t see all colors, even though they existed, because they didn’t yet have the imagination to see them. The scientists interviewed on RadioLab have different explanations, but I like Scott’s better.

Scott also stated that two of the traditional rainbow colors are completely made up. That would be Indigo and Orange. These in-between colors were invented to make 7 colors, as 7 is a more perfect or spiritual number.

Yes, this assertion is probably arguable. I remember we argued about it in class a lot. Especially about orange. Apparently before oranges were orange (which they’re bred to be), they were yellow. So we invented oranges to justify orange as a legit color. Fascinating.

Anyway, I bring all this up not just because you should listen to RadioLab or argue with me about the realness of Orange and Indigo, but because I think this is an interesting bit of knowledge to keep in mind if you’re writing about an ancient people. How does your writing change if you can’t use the entire rainbow of colors? Not being able to describe the sky as blue? Or a berry as red or purple? Or the grass and leaves as green? How does that change how your characters see the world and relate to it?

Another cool thing mentioned earlier in the show is that some animals and insects have the ability to see thousands and millions more colors than we can. I’m toying with the idea of an alien race that can see far more colors than we can and how that affects how they relate to us. There is always an assumption that humanoid races pretty much see how we see, but even on our own planet there is a wide range of color seeing ability, thus it’s less likely to be homogeneous across worlds.

Footnotes

  1. Listen to the entire show for an explanation of how our eyes see color.[]