August Microfiction and the Faerie Queen

Monthly (Not So) Microficition – August 2018 [Patrons Only]

Support me on Patreon

This story came out of nowhere for me. There’s a post on the blog about what inspired it, if you’re interested. I plan to send this off to some beta readers and polish it up. If you have thoughts on it, please don’t be shy about letting me know.

The Farmer’s Wife and the Faerie Queen

Once, long ago and in a faraway place, there was a farmer who lived what he thought was the perfect life. He had a beautiful wife, a strong son, and a dutiful daughter. He had abundant crops, enough food to eat and to sell, and lived in the most bountiful valley in the county. He had everything he wanted and no complaints. Until the day the Queen of the Faeries came to town.

To read the rest of this story, become a patron on Patreon! If you’re already a patron, click here, then enter the password. Not a patron yet? You can get access to this and other content by becoming one of my supporters on Patreon. Just click the orange banner above.

Share a little bit of yourself screenshot

This Week’s Episodes & Assorted Links – June 13

A new episode of the Tempest Challenge is live. Second ep wherein I turn over challenging duties to the friends I saw at WisCon.

This week’s books feature women in lead roles, queer characters, lushly drawn worlds, women of color wrestling with the future and the past, plus deep questions about the role of religion in human history.

Our guest challengers: Meghan McCarron and Chesya Burke

Between the two of them they recommended three standalone novels and two series. That officially brings the Tempest Challenge reading list up to 37!

If you missed any previous episodes, do not fear. There’s a playlist. Or, you can go through them on the new Tempest Challenge Tumblr.

I quite enjoy having special guests! I’m looking forward to this being a regular thing when I go to cons.

Share a little bit of yourself screenshot

Episode 9 of the JEMcast is also live now. This week we discuss “The World Hunger Shindig,” one of my favorite episodes. Though I am somewhat irked at the white savior complex issues that pop up in the Holograms videos. The part where they ride off on a rainbow while shooting glittery, magical grain into African soil is a bit over the top.

Also, I continue to hate Rio.

Assorted Links

As always, please watch, listen, and share widely!

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.[]

You’re Excluding Stories By Straight, White, Cis Men? J’accuse! J’accuse!

You're Excluding Stories By Straight, White, Cis Men? J'accuse! J'accuse!

A year or so ago some dude (whose name I’ve forgotten) who writes reviews of SF/F books noticed that in the year or two (or longer) previous he had not read or reviewed any books by women. This caused him to pause and go: “Huh….” and noodle on in some surface way about how he really should make an effort to read more women.

I suggested that, since he was now aware of the issue, he should do something more “radical” and spend an entire year reading books by nothing but women.

“But I can’t do that!” book review dude exclaimed. “That would be tipping the scale too far. That would be BIAS. That would be excluding men for arbitrary reasons! That would be wrong![1]

I knew, of course, when I made the suggestion he wouldn’t accept it. Because it’s just too much of a hardship to read only women. He even said some shit about how he’d miss out on too many good books by limiting himself that way. There was not enough side-eye in the universe for that conversation.

If you’ve spent most of your adult life reading mostly men without consciously thinking about the fact that you mostly choose books written by men or mostly have books written by men recommended to you or shoved at you as Good, then a year of reading only women is not even enough to balance the scales.

Reading only women for a year takes some thought and effort. And if you do that, people hardly ever assume that it happened Just Because or On Accident or because you were Just Reading The Best Books Regardless Of The Identity Of The Author.

Unlike if you just happen to read only men for 10 years at a stretch.

Funny that.

I told you that story to tell you this one.

The first comment on my latest io9 post pointed out that all the stories I featured are by women, and asked if that was a coincidence. I’ve been running this column regularly since July 2014. It took until February 2015 for someone to notice that. Or, I should probably say, it took until now for someone to ask me about it.

A few hours later another dude came by to confront me about this in more detail. His comment is still “pending,” so it’s not initially visible when you look at the page.

In all seriousness, not trying to be a dick here, but you do seem to be purposefully excluding white men from these roundups, correct? I mean you post almost entirely women writers, and the small handful of male authors you do include are either AOC or queer authors. If you have a criteria other than quality to select or filter authors, then shouldn’t you state so somewhere in these posts? I mean at least be straight up about it. At this point there seem to be far more opportunities, in the short fiction marketplace at least, for authors of color/LGBT authors, since there are magazines who won’t accept submissions from white men altogether. And then you have magazines like Lightspeed who were recently only accepting submissions from LGBT authors for the “Queers Destroy Science Fiction” anthology. I guess I’m seeing a lot of editors/magazines making an effort to increase their magazine’s diversity, when it actually seems like there isn’t a bias against minority authors at all? If I’m wrong then please tell me how so. But if only certain types of people are eligible for these “Best Stories” posts, and if many magazines are refusing submissions from white or straight or male authors, while many others explicitly state they’re looking for diverse voices (Shimmer, Strange Horizons, Crossed Genres, Lightspeed, et al), then where exactly is the bias? Is it possible this preoccupation with identity politics has gone too far? I guess I’m just saying, if these “Best Stories” posts really mean “Best Stories By Women, LGBT, or AOC” then shouldn’t you say so?

I am certain that this person is not such a regular reader of my column that they know off the top of their heads the makeup of the authors featured. This person went back through all my posts and tallied this info up before coming back with his observations. And in the process assumed not that I just happen to like stories by women, people of color, and LGBT folks better than that of straight, white, cis men, but that I am actively excluding that last category and should be up front about it.

Funny that.

Sunil Patel, who reviews books for Lightspeed, recently tweeted:

Promoting diversity is about boosting underrepresented voices. It is about leveling the playing field. It is no coincidence that my book review column features no white male authors. They can have EVERYWHERE ELSE. Do I feel like I’m discriminating against white male authors? I kind of do. But I also know that women and POC are reviewed less. Those with privilege are getting by just fine on their own. We need to use what privilege we have to boost marginalized voices.

What I do in my column isn’t precisely reviewing. It’s more signal-boosting of the fiction I read that I liked or loved. That’s why it’s called “The Best Stories from…” and not “Stories out this week” or whatever. When I did this on my own I called it Favorite Fiction. It’s a link, an excerpt, and a short paragraph, maybe two, about what struck me about the story, why I liked or loved it, what elements I appreciated. I rarely do anything that looks like a full-on critical analysis–that’s not what the column is for. I also don’t include stories I don’t like in order to explain why I don’t like them.

Still though, I am very aware that my signal-boosting carries meaning. I’m also aware of which kinds of authors often get more boosts in what venues. That kind of thing matters to me.

I will say this plainly: If I read a story and I like it a lot, I would never not include it in my column based on the identity and background of the writer. Because the whole basis of this is what I read and liked.

I’ll also say this plainly: A reviewer who makes the choice to focus exclusively on marginalized voices is making a good choice. There are plenty of places for the privileged to get and gain attention. Making a space for everyone else is not bias, it’s a step towards balance.

Footnotes

  1. I am paraphrasing.[]

Short Stories: We Need More Venues For Discovery, Recs, and Discussion

John Chu Hugo Speech
John Chu accepting his Hugo Award, courtesy Scott Edelman on Instagram.

If you’re interested in the Hugo awards or just SFF awards in general, Justin Landon does an excellent job of breaking down the Hugo votes over at his blog. It’s fascinating to see how the instant run-off ballot affects who wins and provides insight into what voters are thinking (a little). It’s a long read but well worth it.

In the section discussing the short story ballot, this caught my attention:

Given the number of short fiction venues today, the Short Story category is becoming increasingly scattered, making it harder and harder to have a digestible slate of stories to choose from. Hopefully, the Hugo Awards can get a handle on this challenge and ensure a full nomination ballot in future years.

I’m not convinced that this is something that the Hugos or Hugo voters as a group can really change. There will continue to be a ton of great markets and plenty for people to read. There’s about to be an all-new magazine (Uncanny) that could, down the road, complicate the matter further.

What’s needed are more short story reviews and recommendations.

Locus reviews short fiction, of course. But Locus is for people involved in the business of writing and publishing and not so much for the average SFF reader and fan. Tangent still exists but I have no idea how relevant it is. The Fix is long gone. And I just plain don’t hear about most other short fiction review outlets, and I can’t be the only one.

This is one of the reasons why I started my favorite fiction posts. I read a lot of great fiction over the course of a year but might not be able to recall all my favorites once it came time to nominate. And I wanted a way to share stories I thought deserved attention and award consideration in a compact yet concrete way.

I’m really glad I have a high profile venue for those posts now in the form of io9[1]. This is the easily digestible list of recommendations Landon is looking for, I think. I would love for there to be more of them.

I wish that it was possible to have a Goodreads for short fiction so that people could rate, discover, and recommend with the same energy as novels get. I know there are some shorts with their own entries on Goodreads, but the last time I poked around it didn’t seem like the platform wanted that and there’s not a big community push behind it. I’d love to be wrong about that.

Is Goodreads itself the best place for this kind of thing? It’s a site and community that already exists, and I’m sure plenty of people who love novels are also down with shorts. Since I don’t spend much time on the site I honestly don’t know if it would work.

Is there a place to create such a community easily? As in not having to build something from scratch (who has time for that–no one)?

The short story/novelette categories in all our major awards could benefit from more discussion and engagement, I agree[2]. I just wouldn’t leave it up to the Hugos to figure that out.

Footnotes

  1. Don’t forget to head over today and look for the new post![]
  2. Don’t get me wrong: I love the story that won and agree that it deserves the honor.[]

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?

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.

Would you like to nominate me for awards? I would not object.

Earlier this month when I posted my personal Best Of list of short stories for the year, I stated that I would like to see any of those works nominated for awards. This is very true. Later on I’ll also make a post about other folks or works I think deserving of nominations, including novels and such. But this post is all about me.

Yes, it’s completely selfish, blah blah. Moving on.

I had a handful of pieces published in 2012, both fiction and non. And since it’s all the rage to mention lately, I am eligible to be nominated for the Fan Writer Hugo based on my blogging and other non-professional publications, such as this piece that went up on io9.

As far as fiction, my story “The Birth of Pegasus” in Dark Faith: Invocations is under 7,500 and eligible for the Hugo, World Fantasy, and Nebula awards. My story “Uncertainty Principle” in Diverse Energies is over 8,000 words (I believe), so counts as a novelette for the Hugo and Nebula awards.

I would also love to see Chicks Unravel Time nominated for Best Related Work in the Hugos. That’s not just about me, but about all the really amazing contributors to the book and the editors who so wisely put it together.

So there you go, my award eligibility for 2012 stuff. Act on it as you will.