207 posts categorized "writing"

March 11, 2013

Check-In

I don't really have much to say. Haven't lately, which is why I haven't posted. But I did promise (myself) that I'd post weekly, and I'm way overdue. So here's what I've been thinking about:

  1. Was told recently by a friend trying to sell an urban fantasy series that the agents say UF is over. It's a depressing thing to say when you've just told somebody you're working on a UF series. Also: do I care if the industry says "UF is over"? If I do actually finish this book and nobody buys it, I'll just post it on the web.
  2. If I got well again, would I go back to being an arts administrator, especially an executive? I have no idea. I know the first thing I would do would be to go away somewhere and get da nobble finished. In fact, my first priority would be to get my writing habit reestablished (something I'm trying to do now.) But would I go back to a regular arts admin job and let it potentially swallow up my writing practice (again)? Hm.
  3. I'm going to cut my hair short this week. This is what I'm thinking. I need a short haircut that doesn't read "guy," and that works with wavy hair. Thoughts?
  4. Trying to get it through to my parents (who are in town for a month) that I can't see them every day. If I do, I can't do anything else. Sigh.
  5. This kerfuffle makes me tired. This fight was already fought. Why was it unfought? Why are we fighting it again? Argh! I love this, which is Kate Harding saying basically: we all have to live in this world and make compromises with the institutions that run it. Being a good feminist doesn't mean you never compromise; it means, rather, that you cop to your compromise when you make one, and admit that you're contributing to the status quo, even while you're explaining why you did it.
  6. And finally, this is this week's happy.

February 24, 2013

Yeah. Short Stories, Not.

Laura Miller isn't buying the "short story boom" story.

Totally.

Just look at TV and film. So much of our at-home video watching is now cable TV drama series with season-long story arcs. And the most successful films are franchises which carry relationships and storylines over from one film to another (The Matrix, LOTR, the Hobbit, Avengers -- and pretty much all the superhero films.) Busy, attention-strapped audiences don't want shorter stories, they want longer ones.

In fact, right now when my attention span is at its lowest point since grade school (because of ongoing CFS), I crave novel series, not just single-shot novels, and have NO attention at all for short stories.

And I think it's because *any* new fictional world we give ourselves to requires an initial investment of energy and attention to orient ourselves in that world and with those characters. Once we've done that, it's basically easier to stay in that world, with those characters, over multiple stories and arcs, than to pull out, reorient, and invest in something new. Short stories are exhausting to me right now, and I won't have them.

By the way, I think there's a synergy between audiences wanting longer relationships with filmic worlds and characters than is available in a single film, and the transference of comic book stories to film franchises. Namely that comics mastered the art of telling stories containable in limited episodes, but that fit into longer arcs, and that's what the TV world had to do following Buffy, and what the film world now has to do, now that audiences have clearly spoken on this issue.

February 22, 2013

There ARE Second Acts in American Blog Posts

It seems my "damned if you do, damned if you don't" post about white writers writing about POC has been Tumblred and hit some sort of critical mass. It even reached people I know who missed it the first time around. Someone even emailed me today for permission to use it in a presentation. (The same day I deleted a comment calling it "reverse racist." I don't allow that term to be used on my blog.)

So I went to the original Tumblr post and read through all the comments (I still don't get Tumblr. Why make it so difficult to see people's responses?) and I find I have a couple more things to say.

  1. This is a "shut up and deal with it" post. It's not a post telling you what or what not to do with your life. It's a post telling white writers who have been fortunate enough to complete a book, find a publisher, find an audience, and have a public discussion happen about their work to "shut up and deal with the negative criticism in the midst of your good fortune." Shut up and deal with it.
  2. Dude, you don't know any of these people who might be criticizing you. Why would you let my saying that a few nameless, faceless (literally, this is the internet) POC will criticize you stop you from doing anything?

...

Yeah, that's pretty much all I had to say. Beyond that, whoever doesn't get it, doesn't get it. Maybe someday they will.

Also, here's a good rephrasing.

And here's a moment of perspective.

And, if anyone was wondering, here's an ideal response from a white writer.

January 13, 2013

Urban Fantasy Structures and Definitions IV

Stuff:

Also, I'm realizing that, for UF and mystery series, the usual conflict formula doesn't apply. For standalone novels, it's the protagonist's DESIRE + OBSTACLE = CONFLICT that drives the action. And in UF and mysteries that's still true at the most superficial level. The protag is the detective and desires to solve a mystery. That's the structural conflict. However there's not any development of this desire or the characterization or world around it.

The real, underlying motives and desires are those of the murderer/criminal, which the protag is trying to uncover. So that's why mysteries have to be series ... because the protag's underlying stuff can't be displayed over the course of just one book. You need a series arc to do it in. Hm. This is why mystery novels are more intricately plotted. Hmmmmm ...

January 12, 2013

Urban Fantasy Structures and Definitions III

OMG, so entirely this:

Urban fantasy is pretty much the only genre today exploring not only the ethics of power and consent, but also serious questions of violence and gender relations from a primarily female point of view.

And then, this:

The responses of female protagonists to violence lies at the heart of the moral and ethical ambiguity that makes for good urban fantasy. Our culture is horrified at the idea of the Dark Feminine--the woman who demands for herself the right of violence and doesn't feel bad about it.

And this:

The simple move of violating our expectations by placing a woman in the position to dish out the hurt introduces a lot more gray into areas normally considered black and white. Questions like When is violence acceptable? or What is justice, and can it be administered personally? become questions with no right answer, questions we must re-examine.

Which I don't really agree with. It would, if most UF didn't present female violence with the same lack of thoughtfulness with which action presents male violence. But it's not often reflected on, so it's often just transferring the violence over into hot wimmin bodies. Even Buffy did a lot of this.

But then, this:

The use of magic in UF is also particularly telling. Magic in fiction is the time-honored way of slipping a hand up the skirt of convention and giving her something to smile mysteriously about. It's a way to frame deep questions without getting boring; a way to explore what-ifs. Every urban fantasy novel worth its salt has magic that costs something, whether it's cash, blood, innocence, or just plain physical energy. Magic also allows more gray spaces to be opened up, so the ambiguity can breathe.

Again, word, but only if it actually DID that, instead of knee-jerkingly imposing magic on the proceedings because that's what the ladeez wants.

January 11, 2013

Urban Fantasy Structures and Definitions II

And there's this:

"There is simply something fascinating about vampires and werewolves. If there wasn't, there wouldn't be so many movies about the damned things. Or so many books. Or legends. There is something about the notion of great power coming with an awful curse, the notion of a man becoming both more than a man and less of a man at the same time that inspires the imagination. Whether it be the horror a man experiences as he loses the very things he never knew he held so dear and having to suffer that loss for all eternity, or the notion of becoming something so uncontrollable that a man would want nothing more than to die, if only for that single moment of peace. Talk all you want about those 'cheesy old Universal monster movies', but by god, those movies had heart. Those movies had soul. Those movies dealt with the very essence of what it was to be human.

Those 'cheesy old monster movies' managed to understand the very essence of what those crazy old legends were really all about.

But maybe that isn't what you like about Vampire/werewolf lore. Maybe you simply love the sheer fright of the notion of these once human beasts prowling the night, with the ability to suck a person dry of every last drop of blood whilst they slept or tear a grown man limb from limb in a heartbeat."

From here. Gotta remember this. But change "man" to "woman." This reviewer was right in saying that Underworld was structurally flawed because it was The Matrix told from Trinity's point of view. This is only ridiculous if you don't completely commit to telling The Matrix from Trinity's pov. If you do (and Underworld didn't, it's true) then you have something pretty damn cool, very urban fantasy-y, and dealing with WOMEN's issues and not men's, the way The Matrix did.

Anyway ...

January 10, 2013

Urban Fantasy Structures and Definitions

So I'm starting to see if I can put together an urban fantasy novel (and/or series) entirely by pre-plotting it. If it doesn't work, I won't write it. But I want to try writing this way, since I've never tried it. (I always start with a concept, a basic plot, even possibly an ending ... and nothing else. Then I start writing and see where it goes, leading to spending three years on a short story and ten years -- and counting -- on a novel. Trying something new now.)

So right now I'm investigating the urban fantasy novel formula. And I'm reading stuff I wanna respond to. Let's start with Carrie Vaughn's series of short posts on this (in which she never lays out the actual formula.) She does enumerate annoying clichés, though, and also says this:

I can’t help but look at the popularity of urban fantasy and ask, What is this symptomatic of? What anxiety in our culture is being expressed so eloquently in these works that they’re striking such a powerful chord in the readership, leading to phenomenal popularity?

The answer is pretty simple: these books are symptomatic of an anxiety about women and power. We have made so many gains over the last few decades. Women really can do anything, pursue nearly any career, become influential and powerful in any area. And yet. Women are still ostracized for appearing powerful. Women are still told that their role is to be deferential, nurturing, humble, self-deprecating, and they’re still criticized and marginalized when they don’t fit conventional images of femininity. Women still have to fight for acceptance in so many areas. You think this dichotomy, these mixed messages, aren’t real? Look at the coverage of Hillary Clinton’s (aka The Bitch) and Sarah Palin’s (aka Caribou Barbie) runs for office and get back to me.

So many of my pet peeves are symptomatic of this conflict: these aggressive yet conflicted women characters who are simultaneously strong yet exhibit low self esteems, who kick ass with violence but submit to the sexy alpha male. Another symptom: so many of these books only have one strong woman character, and many other female characters are stereotypical and inconsequential. Maybe lots of urban fantasy isn’t really about strong women, but about one special, chosen woman. (Thank you, Suzy McKee Charnas, for articulating this so well at Bubonicon.) There’s still anxiety about toppling the status quo. It’s possible in these worlds to have a strong woman, but not strong women.

I have to say that it's interesting to see her looking at the anxieties these fictions work on from the outside (i.e. NOT from the pov of the writers and readers.) But I think you also have to look at them from the pov of the people whose wishes are being fulfilled, i.e. the writers and readers, who are all or mostly urban professional women of childbearing (read: dating/marrying/relationships-with-men-having) age. And it's clear that these books are dealing with the confusion and anxieties of these women themselves, who want a number of conflicting things. Among these conflicting things are:

  • Personal power: the power to be and do what you want in life and in the world.
  • Negotiating power in your relationships; equality with your partner.
  • Kickassedness: the ability to protect yourself against exploitation, violence, oppression; but also the ability to appear very cool, to protect yourself in cool-looking and -seeming ways, not in gross or questionable ways. (e.g.: directly kicking someone's ass rather than being manipulative.)
  • Desirability: to men, that is. Most of these novels give very little thought to being a desirable friend/coworker/associate, much less lover, to women. Yes, sexual desirability. But only to men. This is heteronormativity, yes, but it's also about the kind of desirability that is the most problematic for urban career women. The wish being fulfilled here is to be desirable without negative consequences. (ETA: reading over this now and realizing how this sounds. I meant: sexual desirability to people with whom you have a massive, society-wide, gender-based power differential. And wanting to be desirable to them without incurring the negative consequences of being less powerful than they are. That's all.)
  • Competence: in life, but mostly in career. This never crosses over into desirability, i.e. being a desirable worker to employers and coworkers. That desirability is taken for granted, interestingly. Our heroines never have to stress about applying for a job, or even for a promotion. However, the wish fulfillment is to (grudgingly AND willingly) be acknowledged as competent/great by bosses and coworkers, who are mostly or entirely male.
  • A traditionally masculine man, who wants a contemporary, powerful woman: HA! The biggest crock, but also one of the biggest wishes being fulfilled. This one is the most regressive, but possibly the most understandable. It's wish fulfillment for women who were raised to desire the traditionally beautiful and masculine alpha male -- women for whom alternative masculinities have never been effectively promoted -- but were also raised post-second-wave-feminist, i.e. raised to take advantage of and expect to be treated as equals. This item is the one that shows up the biggest failure of second (and third) wave feminism: its failure to not just conceive of, but also actively promote, alternative masculine roles that work with the alternative roles for women we've essentially pushed through.
  • Outsider status: although all these conflicts and anxieties and desires are common and mainstream, there's still the desire to stand outside of the mainstream, to be special and also be to be a bit oppressed. This is partly adolescent, partly American (wherein our entire identity hinges on overcoming challenges and being individual), and partly guilty-white-girl. The last one is why so many urban fantasy heroines are mixed race (never just poc, though.) In this post-civil-rights-movement era, outsider status is most quickly vouchsafed by being a person of color. But, of course, no white woman REALLY dreams of being black, so it's always American Indian or Asian (although the half-Asians are usually the sidekicks.)
There are more, I'm sure, but these are the ones jumping out at me. No conclusions right now. More soon.

January 01, 2013

New Year's Resolution

I'm not sure why exactly, but reading GGP's account of his two-months' struggle with a rather mysterious illness has just kicked me in the ass a bit. I'm going to make an actual resolution for 2013 ... maybe two.

  1. I'm going to write in this here blog every week. I've been too unmotivated -- lacking in energy -- to write. But I'm going to do it, even if I have nothing to write about. And I'll write short.
  2. Get on top of this stupid disease: go to the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome clinic in Palo Alto. I forget what it's called. But I'm going to go. And I'm going to do what they tell me. And I'm going to try every stupid California new age acupusher thing that crosses my path.

April 27, 2011

Rewriting "Hanna"

SPOILER ALERT. Don't read any of this until you've seen the movie!

I just saw Hanna and I'm both exhilarated and disappointed. The first three quarters of the film are wonderful: fresh and exciting and great filmmaking. Then the last quarter is shit.

The film takes a fairy tale situation and forces it into interaction with an elevated version of "reality." A beautifully filmed, highly selective version of the beauties of everyday life. A girl grows up in the forest, raised by her father, who is a hunter. She reaches a point in her growth where she has to go out into the world and claim her true identity. This is all stuff of fairy tales and myths: a child of mysterious birth who is supernaturally strong and powerful. In a fairy tale she'd be a secret princess, hidden from her father the evil king. In a myth, she'd be a demi-god, child of a god and a human, hidden from the human's evil king father, or something. Her quest is to discover her true identity and claim her power and status. So far, so good.

Along the way, on her quest, she receives help from various characters; in fairy tales they'd be kind humans and figures of power: a good witch, supernatural creatures who make bargains with her, etc. In the fairy tale, people who help her get left behind, never to be heard from again.

In the film, Hanna and her hunter/woodcutter father decide it's time for her to kill the evil king -- in this case, an evil CIA project director named Marissa Wiegler. She goes to the king's castle, kills a fake version of the king, and then escapes the castle into the "real world." Once there, the movie gets really great. The castle is an underground bunker in Morocco, and Hanna wanders through Morrocco and Spain, encountering a bunch of really surprising and beautiful set pieces, including women singing while they launder clothes in a river, and a group of Roma wearing Juicy Couture singing and dancing flamenco. She also hooks up with a quirky and wonderfully written family on vacation in their minibus, and sees what a good, albeit weird, family looks like. She gets her first kiss; not from the Spanish boys we expected, but rather from the English family's young daughter.

But then the fariy tale intrudes again. The evil king turns into a combination of evil witch and big bad wolf. Hanna careens through France and Germany and ends up confronting the baddies in Berlin. And this is where the movie turns to shit. Once she leaves the weird family, things get muddy. And, as my friend Jaime pointed out, once she starts using a computer to research her past, the movie completely falls apart.

This is because, once the English family gets left behind, she reenters the realm of fairy tale, but the filmmaker/s sort of lose their grip on the structure of the fairy tale. She discovers her true identity -- she's a genetically engineered supersoldier, of course. This shouldn't be a problem, because in a "modern" fairy tale, the demi-god/prince/ss would be a genetically engineered supersoldier. There's no such thing as gods or princesses or the supernatural in this story. And that's fine. BUT, the filmmakers -- or maybe just the writers -- let the genetically engineered supersoldier narrative take over the fairy tale, and those are two completely different (and not complementary) narrative structures. So the fairy tale goes to shit, as does the CIA supersoldier program story, because the latter wasn't how the story was set up.

The first half or more of the film is expansive, showing us how big and beautiful the real world is, and hinting at the stakes for this girl in trying to leave her fairy tale and enter reality. But the film narrows, in the latter part, to a simple confrontation between her and Marissa, and Marissa's defeat stops meaning anything broader for Hanna and for the audience members who identify with her as an everyman protagonist. Hanna, as would happen in a fairy tale, leaves all the people who have helped and nurtured her behind, but the baddies, as would happen in a spy tale, follow her and kill or hurt everyone who has helped her. Hanna never looks back, never even wonders what has happened to these people. This is made even more problematic by the revelation that she's been engineered to feel less fear, less pain, and less empathy. There's no redemption or expansion for her.

So I'm gonna try rewriting this to fix it and take this from a film that could have been great, to a film that would have been great. Wanna hear it? Here I go:

In the film Hanna doesn't return to see what happens to the people she left behind. In my version, she does. She turns around and goes back, one by one, to all the people who have helped her, thus retracing her steps back to the world of people and "reality."

We have three fairy tales being referenced here: The three little pigs, Hansel and Gretel, and Little Red Riding Hood. Once she leaves the English family, we're brought into these three, and reminded that she's on a quest through the scary forest of the CIA-ordered spy world. We also have three locations: her grandmother's house, a gingerbread house inhabited by a good gnome, and a fairy tale theme park, which was a really bad choice. But the three locations are important, because she's left four people, or sets of people, behind: the English family, the grandmother, the gnome/contact, and her father. The latter three, being part of the fairy tale world, die. But the English family's fate is left ambiguous. What she has to do is "bury" the dead, and save the family.

In the film she visits her grandmother's house -- where Marissa had invaded and killed her grandmother -- long before the climax, and the scene is completely thrown away. I'd rewrite this so that the grandmother's house is an actual house (the grandmother belongs to the fairy tale world) and not an apartment, and I'd show brief scenes of the grandmother in her house, getting the message from the hunter/father that Hanna is around and probably coming, reviewing the tapes from her daughter, cooking, cleaning, etc. But Hanna doesn't visit her house before the climax.

I'd also get rid of the climax in the playground. Marissa has sent three assassins after Hanna, and this could have been a smart choice: the three little pigs as bad guys going after the protagonist wolf, Hanna. Only ... the three little pigs is all about houses. They each have a house, and they run to each succeeding house until they find the one that will protect them. So the defeat of the evil three pigs has to involve a house, not an open air playground. There are two houses in this part of the movie: the grandmother's apartment and the gingerbread house the gnome/father's contact lives in. They should have put in a third one, maybe a CIA safe house, where Hanna traps the three pigs inside and kills them by blowing up the house. Or something, some inversion of the three pigs story.

In the process of this, her father gets killed, as he does in the film. In the film he distracts the pigs from her and she runs away and he kills the pigs and gets killed by Marissa. Bad choice. What should happen is that he distracts the pigs, she runs away, then he gets killed by the pigs. Hanna hears the gunshot that kills her father, but she doesn't go back in the film. In this one, the gunshot should be the turning point for her, the point where she makes the choice between being the killer/princess/demigod she was made to be, or the real person with a real family that the film keeps hinting she could be.

In my version, she stops, struggles with herself, and goes back to find her father. The pigs catch her there, and she traps them in the house and kills them, then makes some sort of burial/goodbye gesture to him. Then she returns to the gingerbread house where, in the film, the good gnome was tortured and killed for her sake. Marissa, in the guise of Hansel and Gretel's evil witch, should be waiting for her there. Hanna then traps Marissa in the oven; in this case, the only oven in the house is a waffle iron we see the gnome/contact using to make Hanna waffles. Maybe she burns Marissa with the waffle iron, or knocks her over the head with it. Then she makes some sort of settlement with the dead gnome/contact, and leaves without killing Marissa.

Next stop, grandmother's house. Of course, Marissa gets there before she does, and the grandmother is already dead. There, Hanna has a final confrontation with Marissa, kills her with an axe, as the big bad wolf must be killed, and finds her grandmother's body. Possibly, there's a final piece of the puzzle hidden in the grandmother's house, that Marissa tried to destroy by killing the grandmother, but Hanna finds it on the grandmother's body. She then "buries" the grandmother, symbolically.

I think when Hanna sneaks into her grandmother's house, she should hear the tail end of a phone conversation between Marissa and some agents who are holding the English family. In the film, these agents are the three pigs, but in my version there are other agents. Marissa tells them to get all the information they can out of the family and then dispose of them. After dealing with Marissa and the grandmother, Hanna has another struggle: her own personal issues have been dealt with, her demons killed, her questions answered, her family buried. Does she still have a responsibility?

And, of course, the answer is yes, because her quest here is to rejoin reality. So she races back to France to try to save the family, and does so, undramatically. My version of the film ends with them walking into a police station -- not a Hollywood police station, but a police station in a rural French town on a weekday, where nothing is going on and the police are doing whatever rural French police do to while away the time. Another lovely set piece.

And that's how Claire "C's" it.

March 23, 2011

Why You Still Need to be a Feminist

Here they are, in black and white (or red and blue, actually): the breakdown of male/female representation in the most elite publications in the country in 2010 from Vida. Here's the speculative fiction version from Strange Horizons, along with links to discussion of the above.

Spoiler alert: men review more books and get more books reviewed than women -- and by a factor of two to three, depending on the publication.

But then, there's a good reason why; more men are being published:

We looked at fall 2010 catalogs from 13 publishing houses, big and small. ... Only one of the houses we investigated—the boutique Penguin imprint Riverhead—came close to parity, with 55 percent of its books by men and 45 percent by women. Random House came in second, with 37 percent by women. It was downhill from there, with three publishers scoring around 30 percent—Norton, Little Brown, and Harper—and the rest 25 percent and below, including the elite literary houses Knopf (23 percent) and FSG (21 percent). Harvard University Press, the sole academic press we considered, came in at just 15 percent.

I speculated that independents ... would turn out to be more equitable than the big commercial houses. Boy, was I wrong. ... Graywolf, with 25 percent female authors, was our highest-scoring independent. The cutting-edge Brooklyn publisher Melville House came in at 20 percent. The doggedly leftist house Verso was second-to-last at 11 percent. Our lowest scorer? ... Dalkey Archive Press ... it would be nice if more than 10 percent of [their books] were by women. (In the 2011 edition of Dalkey’s much-lauded Best European Fiction series, edited by Aleksandar Hemon, 30 percent of the stories are by women.)

... these numbers we found show that the magazines are reviewing female authors in something close to the proportion of books by women published each year.

So now you know.

Of course, this plays out across all elite and desirable fields:

According to a fact sheet published last year by the AFL-CIO’s Department for Professional Employees, in 2008, women constituted 32.4 percent of all lawyers and 32.2 percent of physicians and surgeons. (We’re 68.8 percent of psychologists, 92 percent of nurses, and 50.4 percent of technical writers, the only type of writer included in the report.)

We've evened out in law school and med school ... but then we outnumber men in MFA creative writing programs, and look at the publication and review numbers. So there are actually several moments of concern.

And, of course, Jessa Crispin at Bookslut uncovers further isshoes:

After talking with editor after editor, a pattern started to emerge. "We don't get enough submissions by women." At each publication I talked to, women were submitting an average of 35% of manuscripts, poems, articles, and pitches.

Which, of course, leads us to (part of the reason) why:

There's something about the culture at some of these places listed at Vida that make me think I would never in a million years be accepted there, and after taking a sampling of some female writer friends, I'm not the only one. Take the Atlantic, for example. Their rates of publishing women were not as devastatingly horrible as, say, The New York Review of Books. (What the fuck, NYRB?) But the women they are perhaps best known for publishing are Caitlin Flanagan, who writes about how abortion is bad, sex is bad, staying at home with the kids is awesome, doing her husband's laundry gives her purpose. Also Sandra Tsing Loh, who writes about her infidelity, the breakup of her marriage, being a bad mother. There is absolutely nothing about The Atlantic that screams out to me: We are totally respectful of women and their various viewpoints, and we'd be interested in publishing the work of a single, globetrotting, pro-choice feminist who does not under any circumstance want to write about her relationships, her femininity, or her sex life.

Hm. That's starting to sound strangely familiar.

So here we are again, folks. And, as usual, my response to all of this is to want people to do something about it. Only this time, instead of giving advice to others, I'm doing something myself.

If women aren't submitting at all in the proportions in which they are actually writing (and I've made that contention myself before) then let's get women submitting their work. I'm working on a way and will have more to say about that later. But here's a beginning.

March 13, 2011

The Apocalypse Artist on Stretcher

ShieldsSeeSaw

Hello everyone! A collaboration I worked on has just been posted on Stretcher, the local San Francisco arts webzine.

The feature is called See|Saw, and features works by artists and writers responding to each other. I was supposed to look at artist Christine Shields' work and respond to it, but she and I decided to get a little more complicated than that. She showed me a couple of her paintings, then I wrote a story responding to them. Then she read an early draft of my story and made a painting responding to that. (That's, of course, the painting you see above.)

Here's the post.

It was a really fun project and I look forward to seeing future See|Saw projects!

March 09, 2011

Oh My God

Gwenda has a post pointing to Ursula Le Guin talking about cursing.

Le Guin is talking essentially about the devaluation of language that's happened because everybody says and writes "shit" and "fuck" a lot.

But I just wanna say that I wish people would take the "Lord's" name in vain the way god intended. I'm really tired of hearing "Oh my gosh," as if that's somehow better than "Oh my god." "Gosh" exists for one reason only, to soften the use of the word "god" as a swear word. Since it's unchristian to swear using the epithets of the Judeo-Christian god, somehow it's more christian to swear using soundalike stand-ins for the epithets of the Judeo-Christian god (and states of lack of salvation,) instead of swearing using the names of flowers or household implements or pets, or just, I dunno, not swearing at all.

If you're gonna swear, swear, goshdarnit. Geez. Golly. Dang.

December 31, 2010

E-existential Question of the Last Day of the Year

Why do I blog?

December 24, 2010

Reading Update: Beasties, Silly Aliens, and Boring Vampires

Scott Westerfeld Behemoth
Pittacus Lore I Am Number Four
Pete Hautman Sweetblood

I am totally loving Scott's Leviathan series, and can't wait for the next one to come out. Yay! Go read it!

I saw a trailer for I Am Number Four and had to go read the book. It's about -- in case you hadn't heard -- a kid from another planet, Lorien, which was attacked and destroyed by the Whatchamacallits (I'm too lazy to look it up.) The Whatchamacallits had their own planet, but used it all up, so they attacked Lorien to extract all their natural resources. They killed everyone except for 18 people: 9 kids and their keepers. The kids are "garde," people with superpowers. Somehow, the kids are going to repopulate the planet or something. And somehow, the Whatchamacallits want to kill them off. (I'm not sure why; it's never explained and makes no logical sense. I mean, if you're a user-upper species and you've used up your own planet to the extent that you need to go use up somebody else's, don't you want those people to go back and make their planet all shiny and new again, so that you can use it up again in a pinch? Anyhoo.

It's compulsive and fun and I'm looking forward to the next one, but ... well, it's kind of ... "contrived" is not the word I'm looking for to describe the wrong note in a science fiction/fantasy YA novel, is it? It felt deliberately constructed to appeal to teens, and the fact that a movie is coming out so soon after the book suggests that it was marketed more than conceived. I mean, it has all the elements that'll appeal to boy readers: a Mary Sue protag with superpowers, a hottie girlfriend, another hottie girl with superpowers, for boys who swing that way, a nerdy best friend who puts the Mary Sue before himself, a cool father figure, and a school bully who is easily tamed. What is missing is any real world-building integrity, any essentail logic in the premise or how it plays out. The bad guys are unremittingly, irrationally bad. And it makes no sense that beings from another planet are capable of breeding with humans, and in fact, look like us. This should have been a fantasy novel, not a -- nominal -- sci fi.

I'll keep reading, for a while, but I'm not going to talk about the, I'm sure, entirely contrived hype around the identity of the author.

Sweetblood sounded like a good read from the blurb. A diabetic girl has theories about vampirism and diabetes, and then meets a creepy guy who might be an actual vampire. Only SPOILER! he's not. He's just a creepy middle aged dude who lures teens to his house with parties and booze, and then hits on the girls. And she doesn't even meet him until halfway through the book. It's reasonably well-written, but it's boring. It's just about a diabetic girl who has trouble controling the diabetes and gets into a little bit of trouble. Then she straightens up and flies right.

It's rather typical thinking, actually: making the disease the bad guy in the story. It's never that simple in real life. Diabetes is a problem, always, especially when you're a teenager and learning how to manage it on your own. But it's never the only problem, and doesn't cause meltdowns like that in isolation. There's always other stuff going on that raises the stress levels and makes the disease harder to control.

Anyway.

November 24, 2010

Exploratory Phase of Writing

When I teach writing, I'm constantly trying to get my students comfortable with the concept of exploratory writing. This is a part of the generative phase of writing, where you're producing a body of text which will become the subject of the other half of writing: revision.

Exploratory writing is where all your plans have broken down or been fulfilled; you've written whatever parts of the story you intended to write and now have to move forward without plans. Or else, if you're an obsessive outliner, you've tried to fulfill your plans, but the sketchy story you had in your head doesn't work out so well when you try to make rounded characters perform it. Or you're writing an unplanned story entirely, inspired by some sort of trigger or idea, and you're letting it unspool organically. Whatever way, you're in unmapped territory, and you don't know where you're going in the immediate future, and you don't know what will, much less what should, happen now.

This is a moment where you have to just let yourself go. You can't start making new plans. You can do research to make you more comfortable with the situation, but there comes a moment when you have to break off the research and just write. And that writing has to be open and experimental, because, as we just noted, you don't know what has to happen.

What happens for me in this phase is that I wander all over the place. I see a shiny thing, and I hare off in that direction, talk about it for a while, examine it, then eventually lose interest or turn it into something else. I'll see another shiny thing, and run off after that, often in exactly the opposite direction, and do what I need to with that. I let my interest level determine my course. Often an idea will lead me to the logical next idea, but the logical next idea isn't as interesting as the original idea. When I get bored, I stop going in that direction and head off in another one.

The goal of all of this is to hit the fire lode, the vein of liquid heat that consumes your conscious mind and takes you off in the right direction, the direction that will make your story amazing for you to write and for your readers to read. You don't always hit the motherlode. Sometimes you only find, so to speak, placer nuggest of fire, and you have to build your story around small, bright moments, knowing that this is a "good" story, but not a "brilliant" one -- by your own standards, that is. ;)

You can see it in my story "Vacation," where the first part of the story is told in short episodes that explore the new world, and the protagonist's relationship to it. This is all exploratory, and originally included a lot more exploratory stuff: how the women in this new world recreate government, how the media changes, etc. But once I hit the scene on the basketball court where the young boy disappeared, I took off. I knew that this was the direction the story needed to go in, and when I went back and revised, I cut out all the exploratory stuff that didn't contribute either to this part of the world, or do development of the protagonist's capacity to do what she does. I left the first part deliberately sketchy and exploratory, because I felt it set up the somewhat choppy rhythm of the story -- which isn't plot and action-heavy, but rather centers around a moment of transformation which proceeds from mosaic emotional logic rather than a causal chain.

Do this enough and you can see the different phases of writing in another writer's work as well. When I started being able to see this more clearly in the work I was reading, it inspired me to want to hide my tracks better. ;)

I'm going on about this right now because I'm in an exploratory phase right now with da nobble. And I'm not comfortable with it. I've just started year nine of work on da nobble (holy shit!) and thought I had left generative work behind me and was just going to revision. But I've hit a very important chapter that just wasn't working. I've rewritten this chapter twice, and have to rewrite it again now. And I'm having to generate. The research I did got me through an important scene, but now I'm dealing with the aftermath of that scene and I have no idea what happens now. Argh!

Now I just have to let-go-let-it-flow. I hate that shit! It's much easier telling my students to do it than doing it myself. I think part of the problem is that I'm out of practice. But part of it is certainly that I resent having to go back into exploratory on a novel that I've been working on for 8 years and have two finished drafts of. I don't feel starry-eyed and excited and in that fresh phase. I feel jaded and worn out. Committed, but worn out, like eight years into a rocky but loving marriage.

Sigh.

November 15, 2010

I'm Reading This Friday!

Fire flyer full color lo-res

November 04, 2010

NaBloWriMo Fail

Argh! Already!

I owe two stories today, but threw a dinner party instead. Now I'm drunk and it's not gonna happen!

Tomorrow I'll try to catch up on two stories and Sat two more. Argh!

November 03, 2010

NaBloWriMo: Stratosphere

Homemade Spacecraft from Luke Geissbuhler on Vimeo.

I tried four times and couldn't write anything. Argh! Now I'm gonna have to write two tomorrow!

November 02, 2010

NaBloWriMo: Please Join Us!

Dear Donor,

Sorry to address this letter in a form letter fashion, but I'm afraid I don't know how to mailmerge ... or to export a mailing list from our database ... or to get into the database in the first place. So I'm just going to photocopy the printed list from last year (thank God for my predecessor's mania for hardcopies) and cut and glue it onto the envelopes. I'm sure there's an easier way, but I don't know it. (If you know how to do any of these things, I sure could use a volunteer. I'm a program man myself, not an admin.)

I'm writing to ask you to make a donation to the Save Our Forests Alliance.

As you may know, it's been a hard year for the SOFA. We lost half our board of directors in an "attempted coup" and then the other half resigned when they discovered that their takeover was illegal and they'd have to invite the first half back for mediation. The first half declined to return to where they weren't wanted.

But their loss, right? After all, we're the premiere anti-deforestation organization in our part of the Midwest. Anyone who can't put the mission ahead of personal agendas doesn't need to be a part of that. But we know that you, dear Donor, are an intrinsic part of that.

The only downside to losing selfish board members was that our treasurer was in charge of our accounts, and s/he won't return my calls (I was advised by a lawyer not to name names or hint about genders on official documents,) and there's something strange going on with the bank misrecording our account activity so that our accounts are reading zero. But I haven't been confirmed as executive director by the board (because we no longer have one; that should all be fixed as soon as I get ahold of our advisory board members and get them to step onto the board on an interim basis, but as I said, I can't get into the database so I don't know who they are; if you're one of our advisors, could you please email me at nickt@sofa.org?) so I can't access our account records or demand an accounting from the bank. They keep referring me to our former treasurer.

Because our now-erstwhile E.D. had been fired previous to the board breakdown (the one thing they all could agree on was that the only effective leader in the organization had to go) the remaining managers couldn't access the accounts, and the staff couldn't be paid. No one wanted to listen to my explanation that it would all be sorted out eventually, when our lawsuit came up in court and we were able to get a judge to order our bank records to be released. So we lost our entire staff. No one was willing to work on spec or (God forbid!) volunteer for a few weeks. I understand; we're in a recession. But the forests can't save themselves, can they?

We at SOFA know that you know they can't. Which is why we need your help today. We're asking our most loyal donors to make a gift of $500, $100, $50, or whatever you can afford, to help us continue our valuable work.

We have the infrastructure, and the programs in place. All we need is some interim funding to get our operations going again. We still have that giant spool of nickel-plated chain, shiny and new and waiting to bind our volunteers to the trees in front of the capitol building. We still have our office (for another month, until the eviction goes through) and it's not to late to pay up our back rent and stay here! We could even start programming again, if our volunteer coordinator would only send me the spreadsheet of volunteer contacts. I know I shouldn't have slept with her when I knew I was getting back together with my girlfriend, but the girlfriend didn't work out after all, and anyway, I don't think our forests should be punished for my mistake, do you?

Please help. We can't do this vital work without you.

I'd enclose a remittance envelope, but I don't know where they are. I've put our address at the bottom of the letter however (I would have used letterhead, but I don't know where that is, either) to make things a little easier on you. I'm writing you because I know that you, like me, still have the passion for our forests, and can still see the forests without getting lost in the trees of doubters and haters and less-than-committed people.

Together, we can make this country great again. Please give today.

Our best wishes for the holiday season.

Sincerely,

Nick Tanner

Interim Executive Director

p.s.: Don't forget to ask your employer to match your donation! You could double or triple your donation that way! Please give today!

 

This is my second NaBloWriMo instant fiction post: short short stories I'm writing every day throughout November, mostly inspired by online videos and images. Stay tuned for another one tomorrow.

November 01, 2010

NaBloWriMo: Later, At Forty

She looked at him with disgust, but when she spoke, her tone was even.

"Is there any way I can convince you that the boyish grin is counter-productive?"

It was a question, but phrased as a statement. One of her teenaged students had asked her recently -- not entirely sarcastically -- if there were any upsides to growing old("-er" she had added silently) and losing one's highs and lows. Since then she had been ticking them off, somewhat desperately, in her head. Here was another one: the skill of modulating her tone of voice to suggest a richness of meanings -- double, triple, and quadruple meanings -- without even much having to try.

With this one sentence, she had conveyed her contempt, but also amusement, affection, longtime shared knowledge, weariness, and, finally, an openness (nonetheless) to whatever his boyish grin was trying to sell. She conveyed her preference that he learn how to just state his desire without trying to win her over. She could see the messages all received. Maybe it was her skill. But maybe they just knew each other too well at this point.

And maybe it was impossible for him to change. Maybe he was far too old a dog.

"It's just a date," he said. "Boyish grins shouldn't impact your decision."

"Aren't we past dating? Shouldn't we be watching videos at home with our hands on our paunches?"

"Why do you care what people think?" She wasn't sure if this was one of the advantages or disadvantages of growing old(er) with someone: that you can skip whole explanatory chunks of an argument.

"I care what people think because what they think could get me fired. I'm not supposed to be dating my students."

"I'm not your student."

"If any of my students see me with you, they'll try to flirt with me to get an A."

"Are you giving me an A?"

Definitely a disadvantage. She had enjoyed this sort of comment (with accompanying raffish grin) when she was a girl. Then she had tolerated it. Now she found the whole thing abhorrent. Did his emotional development get frozen along with his body? She wondered that more and more. The next time they moved, she'd have to make him her son.

"Please?" His begging was disgusting, but also genuinely pathetic. She relented, more out of habit than anything else.

"We can go see a movie," she said. He jumped up and down with annoying irony. "But I get to choose which one. ... And don't try to hold my hand this time. Promise?"

"Promise," he said immediately, and with the same date-night inflection that meant he wouldn't keep that promise. Ugh. She felt smothered by the teen-boy attentions in public. It wasn't just what other people thought. It was also what she thought. He looked like a baby to her now. It just wasn't sexy anymore.

Nowadays, silver foxes turned her head. It was like some old-guy pheromone switch had gotten pulled in her libido. She couldn't help it. When she went to conferences these days, she nearly got whiplash from all the cross-angle ogling. She'd cheated on him several times with the tenured, and then had to shower three or four times to try to get the smell off. She still wasn't sure it had worked. Did he know? Did he put up with it the same way she put up with him? Why didn't he just leave? Wouldn't she prefer it?

She didn't have any answers.

This is the first of my instant fiction posts for NaBloWriMo. I'm going to write a short short story every day throughout November, inspired by a video or image I see online. I make no promises about quality.

October 26, 2010

Na No Wri Mo Pledge

Every year I try to do something alternative for NaNo and every year I fail. Part of the reason is that I'm still writing on the same nobble, so I can't do the actual NaNo project. But part is just laziness and unpreparedness.

This year I'm just going to pledge early and try to psyche myself up. I haven't written any short stories in a long time -- I think da nobble has dried me up somewhat -- so I'm hoping this will shake some things loose.

My pledge this year is to write a piece of instant fiction every day during November. "Instant Fiction" is my name for the piece I write on the spot, and post on the spot, inspired by an image or video I've found on the internet. I tried writing some instant fictions in July of '09 and they weren't very good, but it was kind of a fun process. So this year, in November, I'm going to write one every day.

I noticed, when writing "Abducted by Aliens!" which is mostly a collection of 40 100-word episodes, that as I got into it, I found it easier and easier to draft an episode and have it land close to 100 words the first time (the first several episodes were much longer and had to be edited down.) So I'm hoping that I'll settle into a particular length or shape as the month goes on and will sort of invent my own form -- for the month anyway.

That's all.

July 25, 2010

Encyclopedia Project Vol. 2 Out Soon!

Hey hey hey!

So I submitted stuff to the Encyclopedia Project ... yeeeeeaaaars ago now, and stuff was accepted, and then other stuff happened, and as it turns out, stuff got published in my leetle chapbook first.

But now Volume 2 of the Encyclopedia Project is finally coming out!

The project is a very cool thing. It's an "encyclopedia" of narrative organized in narratives. The editors asked a buncha writers to select entries for each volume (1 is A-E, 2 is F-K) and collected these pieces (mostly stories and experiements) into encyclopedia volumes. Volume 1 came out about four years ago or so. And now Volume 2 is finally ready!

The book includes entries from such luminaries as Jonathan Lethem, Rick Moody, Chip Delaney, and Aunt Jemima (?). But there's also stuff from a bunch of really cool lesser-knowns. I'm super excited to be part of this and hope you'll spread the word.

Also, if you order now (the book will be out in October) you can get it for $25. That's a discount. Not sure how much it will be regularly, but probably at least $30. It's a serious, hardcover, encyclopedia. You can also get Volume 1 for $25, or both for $37.50. Do it!

June 28, 2010

Nobble Reading Thursday!

Hey all, I'm breaking out da nobble for a first ever reading this Thursday. For those of you in the Bay Area, it'll be at a private home in Oakland, so please follow the directions below to get the address.

Hope to see bunches of you there!

DEBUTANTES: A FIRST LOOK AT WORKS IN PROGRESS

with Sita Bhaumik, Samantha Chanse, & Claire Light

WHEN: July 1; doors 6:30 pm; presentation 7-9 pm

WHERE: a very lovely home in Oakland. RSVP at SFDEBUTANTES (at) gmail (dot) com

HOW MUCH: $5 suggested; proceeds go to KSW
(the broke and the forgetful not turned away)

WHAT: Three Kearny Street Workshop artists will present works in progress in fiction, theater/performance, and visual art. It is a complete coincidence that they are all female and mixed race. Tea, wine, punch, cookies, and finger sandwiches will be served. Someone will spike the punch. All proceeds from the event benefit Kearny Street Workshop's programs educating, supporting, and presenting multidisciplinary arts. Attendees are encouraged to bring seat cushions and wear flowered hats.

WHO:

SITA KURATOMI BHAUMIK is an interdisciplinary artist, educator, and writer born and raised in the suburbs of Los Angeles. She is an MFA/MA candidate at California College of the Arts and likes to exhibit at galleries that appreciate good food. She is the art features editor for Hyphen magazine, a community advisor for Kearny Street Workshop, and currently teaches at Rayko Photo Center. You can reach her at www.sitabhaumik.com

SAMANTHA CHANSE is a writer&performer, educator, and arts organizer whose work has been presented with Kearny Street Workshop/Locus, The Marsh, the NY International Fringe Festival, Bowery Poetry Club, Asian American Writers Workshop, Asian American Theater Company, PlayGround in residence at Berkeley Rep, Intersection, Bindlestiff, and others. She received an Individual Artist Commission from the San Francisco Arts Commission, an Artist In Motion residency from Footloose/Shotwell, and an Emerging Artists Residency from Tofte Lake Center. She served as KSW's artistic director & as a Locus co-director, co-founded salon series Laundry Party, and is pursuing a MFA in playwriting at Columbia University in NYC as part of her bicoastal lifestyle. Her solo play, LYDIA'S FUNERAL VIDEO, will be published by Kaya Press in 2011. For more information please visit www.samanthachanse.com.

CLAIRE LIGHT used to be KSW's program manager and is now on the board. She has an MFA from San Francisco State, a little collection of short stories called SLIGHTLY BEHIND AND TO THE LEFT from Aqueduct Press, and a Bay Area-based freelance practice in nonprofit hackery. At this event she will be debuting her novel-in-progress, CHINAMAN TREETOPS, an intensely literary masterpiece about a Chinese feng shui master on Mars.

April 28, 2010

Reading & Writing Update

So I'm working on a new story and I think a good way to get me to work more on it is to say that I'll read an excerpt from it at my reading on Friday. Yeah. That's it.

Also, I'm on a Robin McKinley binge. Just read:

Sunshine
Chalice
Spindle's End

Weird, reading three books at once, and in the same year as I read another book, all by the same author. You get to see the repetition of themes and structures, like her concern with elements and how magic draws from them (something I love too.) Or her interest in male/female partnerships between people whose personalities attract, but who have a built-in physical repulsion. (In one story this is a vampire/human thing and in another this is an elemental priest/human thing. It seems like a kind of metaphor for women being simultaneously attracted and repulsed by men, who are somehow inherently physically alien and physically dangerous, yet who provide a kind of complementary weight and access.)

She also seems to have a liking for the balanced male/female pairings. There's a lot of romance wish-fulfillment here, but at least it's a wish for equality.

She does have a tendency to let the plot fall apart at the end. Final confrontations are not her forte. Spindle's End and Sunshine especially have very messy climaxes. The one in Spindle's End went on forever and wandered back and forth and didn't declare clearly when it was over until it was, really, over. The one in Sunshine was just really unclear how it happened, and therefore not entirely plausible within its own world-rules. The climax in Chalice worked reasonably well, but -- and here's the problem will all three books, I think -- the part leading up to the climax was a lot of casting around for filler so that the pacing didn't go off right before the climax. This was especially bad in Sunshine. Frustrating.

I'm thinking back to Dragon Haven now and remembering that its climax was actually rather good: came slightly unexpectedly, and was a bit weird, yet satisfying. Fit in its world.

I've ordered two more from Paperback Swap and will have six McKinley books under my belt, at least, before the year is out. Bad climaxes notwithstanding, exactly what I want to read right now.

April 26, 2010

Reading This Friday!

Hey Bay Area Friends!

I'm doing a reading this Friday with NY novelist Ed Lin, whose second mystery novel SNAKES CAN'T RUN is coming out.

Info:

Friday April 30, 7:00 pm

Eastwind Books of Berkeley
Ed Lin reading with Claire Light and Joel B. Tan
2066 University Ave.
Berkeley, Calif.

(510) 548-2350

Hope to see some of you there!

March 08, 2010

Reading Update

Outside Beauty by Cynthia Kadohata

The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer

Outside Beauty  is interesting to compare with Hiromi Goto's The Kappa Child, since both are about Japanese American (or Canadian) families of four sisters, who are trying to survive difficult parents. But they are almost the opposite story. I mentioned before that The Kappa Child approaches the world from a pov of disgust. Something I explain to my students is a part of world-building or setting: the narrator's attitude towards the world. It infuses the world and determines what is and isn't possible in it. The daughters, beaten down by their abusive father, their ineffectual mother, and their alienation from familiarity, accept the disgusting things of the world with blankness and a dull lack of surprise. It makes the book difficult to read, because there's no hope in this point of view. The action of the book is for the girls to try to find hope, or some sort of motivation to live, in a world that is full of "no" and disgust.

Outside Beauty, on the other hand, approaches the world from the point of view of delight. The four girls, daughters of a beautiful JA mother, each from a different father, are raised with the flighty, manipulative, superficial, commitmentphobic mother's view of the world as an endless adventure. The action of the book is for the girls to understand what happens when the thin veneer of delight and adventure gets broken and the real world intrudes. The girls, taught to revere beauty and the joy that comes with it, don't respect most of the fathers, who present them with conventionality, irresponsible passion, and eccentric geekiness. The only father they like is the good-looking one. Of course, it turns out that the strangest father, the eccentric, geeky, foreign nonentity, is the best father of them all, the one who ends up taking responsibility for them.

The book ends up being a little too light. Things are resolved too easily. I think that's a problem with too much YA: the desire to introduce realistic conflict, but not to scare young readers by making the conflict too difficult to resolve. And The Kappa Child does show the danger of that: its unrelenting disgust can disgust the reader to the extent of driving her away (as it did to me.)

Georgette Heyer: I tend to read three of her books in a row when I get on Heyer bender and it seems I'm starting a new one now. Love her! Although this one seems like it was unusually poorly edited.

February 16, 2010

Why Aren't Women and POC Submitting Their Work?

ETA 5/6/13: I'm re-reading this now because of a discussion I'm having with someone, and I'm realizing that some of the criticisms below in comments are more accurate than I could see at the time I wrote it. I wrote this post with the explicit intention of "validating" the perception that women/poc submissions "aren't as good" as white submissions as a rhetorical device. My intention was to validate that perception to draw the reader in, and then smack them over the head with the fact that too many terrific women/poc writers simply aren't submitting for the following reasons (etc.)

I'm realizing now that this was not a super-effective tactic. And I have to admit that I didn't think it through clearly. When I conceived of this piece, I had recently been fired from a paid gig at an online magazine that was all white (except for me) and mostly male. Although I got some legit-sounding excuses for being fired, I didn't think it was a coincidence that I was fired right after I intensified my campaign to diversify the artists and writers being covered in the magazine. These things are hard to prove, though. The editor in question had told me that: a) they didn't get enough submissions from writers-oc and b) the ones they got weren't good enough. I had also been trying to diversify another (paid) online magazine that some friends were involved with and that I read but didn't contribute to. They told me the same thing: not enough submissions, not good enough. The way the editors I knew said this reminded me of how editors in this online fight had been saying that they don't get enough woc subs, and I noticed (or thought I noticed) that there was an unspoken implication that the subs they did get weren't good enough.

The other thing was that I thought it might well be true that the editors I had talked to weren't getting good submissions from woc because the good woc weren't submitting to them. I had had that experience as an editor of a poc magazine -- one of not getting enough good submissions even though I was seeing terrific writers in the community all the time. That was something that no one would say in public, and I was struck with the idea of writing a piece that did say it, and then turned it around on its ear. And then I simply wrote it, without thinking of how off-putting or ultimately inaccurate that would be. Bait-and-switch is fundamentally dishonest, and even if my intention was always honesty, honest dishonesty is ... uh ... problematic? I should have been more straightforward, is what I'm saying.

Also, a writer below took me to task for saying that most women or poc "fail" to make the leap to mainstream mags. My intention was always to use the word "fail" to mean "didn't do," and my critic contended that my use of "fail" expressed actual failure in the not doing. I.e.: it sounded like I was criticizing women/poc for not making that leap, and calling them failures. Because this was never my intention, I dismissed the criticism at the time. In re-reading, I'm realizing that she was completely right. This is exactly how that sentence, and its contextualizing language, reads. I should have worded that much more carefully. My critic, understandably, didn't believe me when I wrote back that an accusation of "failure" wasn't my intention with that wording. All I can say about that is that when I wrote this post, I had just recently made a completely conscious decision to publish my first book with a diversity-focused feminist small press, and deliberately did not submit it anywhere else. I did NOT consider this "not doing" a "failure."

Now, on to the original post:

***

I'm about to post something more on the general topic area of literary diversity, but I realized that I've never actually written a more foundational post that I've been meaning to write for a couple of years now.

Basically, this is about the totally valid and justified complaints of white editors that writers of color and women aren't submitting enough work to them. This is absolutely true (as far as it goes.) If you teach (as I do) writing in community orgs, 90-99% of your students will be women and poc. If you've studied creative writing in universities, even or especially at the MFA level (as I have), you'll know that about 60-75% of students are women. But start reading slush for a major publisher or journal and you'll notice a sudden, steep drop in the percentages of women, and an even steeper drop in the percentages of poc submitting work. And look at what is actually published and you'll see the drop is even steeper: mostly men, mostly white.

ETA: Some of Those who read slush know will tell you (although it's not cool to talk about in these terms ETA: as evidenced by the heated comments below. Please note, this is my experience and that of many folks I've talked to or read stuff from, not a universal experience.) that the submissions from women and poc are often disproportionately sucky, which is sometimes why even the proportions of women and poc who submit aren't reflected in the proportions of women and poc actually published. (Sometimes. There's usually also a factor of white male editors not quite getting the culture or language of marginalized writers, so they don't fully appreciate the nuances of the work. But that's another discussion.) So when a white male editor says, "We only had one woman and one poc in the anthology because we were going for the best work," that could be true, or true-ish.

(ETA: with reference to comments below, let me just put in here that your percentages may vary. We're still working with more women (and a larger percentage of poc) attending writing classes, but more men and white writers actually submitting work. How radical your discrepancy is, like I said, varies, but the discrepancy exists.)

And yet, I know from teaching and learning in community and academic settings that there are metric tons of good poc and women writers out there, just waiting to be plucked from the vine.

What gives?

For someone like me, and many of you, who are in on every step in the long, slow process of literary accomplishment (looks like this: community writing classes, MFA courses, community readings, ethnic magazines, indy publishers, mainstream lit magazines, major publishers -- I am or have been involved in all of these except the last two) it's very easy to see that there's a huge chasm at one step in this process. And that chasm comes between writers developing their craft in the bosom of their communities, and writers taking a leap away from their local identity communities into the ether of the mainstream -- basically at the point where writers have to take a deep breath and submit their work to mainstream editors who don't know them and aren't familiar with the communities they come from.

Here's the problem:

MOST WOMEN AND POC WRITERS FAIL TO MAKE THAT LEAP.

Yeah, that's right: most of them. You know all the "ethnic" and women midlist writers at majors who will get dropped soon and move to indies because they get no attention? For every one of those, there are at least three who never bothered with the majors but stayed in indie and community publishing, and ten who never made the leap to publishers at all. Yes, it's true. It's not that most women and poc writers fail to become good enough to make that leap. It's that, of those that reach a point where they CAN make the leap, most either don't recognize that they've reached that point, or, for other reasons they never manage to make the leap.

I have a friend near my age who was taking community writing classes with me, started an MFA the year after I did, and has been writing just as long. When this friend finally got a story published, it was in an ethnic mag. Last time I checked, my friend still hadn't submitted any work to mainstream journals.

Why not? What are those reasons? Enlightened editors want to know. Well, I have some ideas, although I can't speak for all women/poc writers who don't make the leap (please feel free to add ideas in the comments.) These reasons are in order of frequency (in my opinion):

  • Many women/poc writers don't hang out in mainstream literary circles locally or online so they don't know what to expect or what's expected of them in this scene. They don't understand how to "break in" to mainstream markets, so they stick to the literary scene they know how to work.
  • They don't know about your publishing house/journal (see directly above).
  • They know about your publishing house or journal but don't think you take work from women/"ethnic" writers. (This impression usually comes from the actual dearth of women/poc writers in your mag or on your list.)
  • They know you'll technically read work from women/ethnic writers, but don't believe their work will be taken seriously or given a fair reading.
  • They know you'll read their work with an earnest intention of fair play, but don't believe you're equipped to understand it.
  • Those who do submit work often don't submit their best work, because they fear their best work will be considered "too ethnic" or "chicklit," so they submit more standard "literary" work that their hearts weren't really in.
  • They don't think that anyone like them READS your books or your magazine, and they want to reach their own audience.
  • They have a political agenda around their work and have decided that that agenda is best served by keeping their work within their communities.
  • ETA: Ide Cyan and Minal Hajratwala added another good point in the comments. As Minal put it: "A serious economic/class differential that means that many women of color who write are barely able to eke out the hours to write, let alone any extra hours to venture into a whole new & unwelcoming literary 'scene,' to network, attend conferences/ workshops, research publications, submit work, blog or read blogs, deal with rejection (in the face of a host of other societal rejections)... Some of the students in my community-based classes are writing mainly because it helps them survive, and the idea of publication is not a priority."

Most of those good writers who don't submit do it for the first two reasons. I know, it's hard for editors and publishers to remember a time when they didn't know the rules and the landscape. Many editors and publishers grew up in culturally savvy families or communities, so they don't even know how they learned the rules and the landscape. But the folks who aren't submitting either don't know the rules, or don't think they're considered important enough to engage the rules. They either don't have a map to the landscape, or simply think that it's a closed, privately-owned parcel of land. And far too often they're right.

And most of them aren't necessarily even aware that they think this way. I can't tell you how many writers I've encouraged to submit their work who had never done it before because it simply never occurred to them. They never signed up for a writers list-serv. They don't read lit blogs that post opportunities on them. They don't know about Writers Market or the Poets & Writers database. They don't know that you can (and sort of have to) look the various markets up and note down their guidelines and simply submit work according to the guidelines. (There's a big component in here of internalized racism, where the writer has been absorbing messages of her inferiority for her entire life, and is unwilling to risk being rejected on that basis, but that's another blog post.)

I have a good friend who has been writing for decades. My friend has a towering reputation in local and extended identity communities, is invited to read around 10 times a year in a variety of venues, has had work published in a number of anthologies, has edited an identity-based anthology published by an indy publisher, and has also been the editor of a literary journal. This friend had an offer of a book on the table from an indy before the economy went to shit and the publisher had to taper off publications for a while. This friend has never made an unsolicited submission. So when the indy publisher had to rescind the book offer, my friend didn't know what to do. When I suggested we get proactive and prepare a package of work to send out as an unsolicited submission, my friend was both surprised and relieved. And this is someone with a lot of publication and literary experience. This is someone even the most boneheaded white male publisher would be delighted to get a submission from.

So, the point of all of this is that editors have to go out and find good writers of color and women writers just like they have to go out and find good white male writers. The obvious first place to start is independent magazines and publishers, but editors will need to go deeper than that. (I won't go into it again here.) And the big issue is not just knowing where to look, but knowing how to approach.

A number of small gestures can make a huge difference. Make the whole experience as painless and welcoming as possible. For example:

  • Make sure your submission guidelines are easy to find on your website. Don't hide them. Add language to your guidelines that specifically welcomes women and writers of color. Something like "We are especially interested in innovative work by women, writers of color, and writers from historically marginalized groups. We love to discover new writers!" Don't beat around the bush. Be plain.
  • When you go through your back issues/backlist for the big names to list on your website, be sure to put the names of women writers and poc front and center. A publisher/magazine that has a lot of recognizable "minority" names on its website is basically putting out the welcome mat for "minority" writers. This is a subtle language you must learn to speak.
  • When you send a call for submissions out on a list-serv or send it to a website for a "minority" group, be sure to personalize it and express your strong desire to get submissions. Sign it with your name. Say something like, "I really want to encourage you all to submit work. Our submissions pile isn't nearly as diverse as it needs to be, and as a result, our publications aren't as diverse as they need to be. You can help change that. Please take a chance on us and send us your best work!"
  • Write up a brief primer (maybe a paragraph) on how to make an effective submission (including maybe a little something about what to put, and what not to put, in a cover letter.) Include this in your call for submissions. Make your expectations plain, and don't give anyone any excuses not to submit.
  • Be sure to ask them to tell you in their cover letter where they heard about your magazine or publishing house, so you can track where the submissions are coming from; and ask them to include a brief bio that talks about their origins, so you can get a sense of where your writers are coming from. Encourage them to talk to you about who they are and what their process is, so you can understand it all better.
  • If you're rejecting a promising submission from someone who's obviously a writer of color or who says they're coming from a poc website or list-serv, be sure you personalize the rejection with at least some minimal feedback, and an encouragement to submit again. Yes, I know you don't have time, but it's part of an editor's job to cultivate promising writers, and if you want a healthy field of diverse writers in ten years, you have to plant now. This is assuming that you actually DO send rejection letters out. Many journals don't reject in a timely or consistent manner, and there's nothing more off-putting to someone who already thinks they're not going to get a fair shot, than being utterly ignored. Basically, acknowledgment is key, even when you're rejecting.

That's all fairly easy, surface stuff. But if editors and publishers really want to become more diverse and reflective of 21st Century reality, they're going to have to change the way their organizations approach the work itself. Changes like:

  • Having some non-white, non-WASPy names on your masthead or staff list. Yes, we do read these. Yes, we are turned off when we don't see any names like ours. Yes, I'm much more likely to send a story to a market with an editor of color or a woman editor first (although there are so few of these that I've learned not be picky.) And if a market's guidelines don't say anything about multiculturalism, but do say stuff about "no genre" and "high quality" (both euphemisms for New Yorker-style Carverism,) all the masthead names sound white, and all the author names on the website are or sound white, I'm probably not going to bother to submit to you at all.
  • Having a diverse editorial board or a diverse set of guest editors. Aside from the above issue, they'll make an effort to reach out to their communities if they understand that that's their job (no, you can't just tokenize an editor and watch her go. If your mag isn't diverse, she'll often just assume you only want white male writers and do her job that way.)
  • If you're successful in all this, your volume of submissions should increase. Go to ethnic and gender studies departments at your local universities and pick up an extra, slush-reading intern there. Put the intern's name on the masthead. Let your intern know that their expertise in ethnic/gender studies is needed and they should point out any boneheadedness in editorial decisions if they see it.
  • Having an editorial mission statement and a strategic or business plan whose language fundamentally reflects a deep commitment to diversity.
  • Being advocated for in the community by a diverse set of respected writers. (Yes, when one of us has been published by a market, we DO immediately go out and tell our peeps to submit there. When one of our respected leaders tells us this stuff, we particularly prick up our ears. And when an editor buttonholes one of us and says "How do I get [your folks] to submit to [my magazine/house]?" without sticking their feet in their mouths, we do go straight to Facebook and post a link.)
  • Having a "usual round" of in-person visits to open mics, reading series, classrooms, etc that are in diverse communities, so you're "touching" minority writers all the time.
  • When you request work from big name writers, hit up women writers and poc as often as you can. This is not to fill out your minority quota with big names, but rather to use the big names to entice emerging marginalized writers to submit to you.
  • Be constantly reading marginalized writers. Duh.
  • This is whole 'nother blog post, but start actively (and savvily) marketing your books/magazines to marginalized communities. It's a cycle: if they're reading it, they'll want to submit to it. If they're being published in it, they'll want to read it. Rinse, repeat.
Yeah, as I've said before, it's a lot of work. And you do have to change the way you do that work in the first place. But if you want actual diversity and not just lip service and real frustration, this is where you start.

February 15, 2010

My First Review!

Squeeeeeeeeeee!!!

January 27, 2010

Reading and Interview

Hey all, quick self-promo here:

This Saturday afternoon I'll be doing a reading at the Oakland Library as part of the kickoff for the Oakland Word project, a series of free writing classes at the library. (I'll be one of the instructors.)

Here's the website with info on the program. And here's the event info:

Saturday, January 30, 2010; 1:00pm - 3:00pm
Oakland Public Library (Main) Auditorium
125 14th St
With words and music by:

  • Award-winning novelist DANIEL ALARCÓN, author of Lost City Radio and War by Candlelight
  • Poet and writer TENNESSEE REED, author of Spell Albuquerque: Memoir of a "Difficult" Student and multiple poetry collections
  • Our exceptional Oakland Word instructors, LINDA GONZÁLEZ, CLAIRE LIGHT, CARRIE LEILAM LOVE and BISOLA MARIGNAY
  • Beats provided by DJ MAX CHAMP
Also, Bryan Thao Worra just posted an interview he did with me on Asian American Press, which you can read here.

January 20, 2010

Squeal!

I'm on Amazon! Look! I even have a sales rank 'n' everything! (663,210 ... strangely that means nothing to me.)

January 17, 2010

Show Of Hands

Which of youse writers actually wad up paper and toss it away as you write? How many of you actually write a few lines on a piece of paper, sigh, tear it out of your notebook, wad it up, and toss it on the floor?

Anyone? Anyone?

January 09, 2010

Today's Photo

Bachcel

Barb has a call for submissions up, for pieces about Paul Celan. 

Made me think of the time in Berlin that Angelika called me at five in the morning because she'd stayed up all night reading, and just found out that Celan and Ingeborg Bachmann, jeweils my and her favorite poets, had had an affair.

There they are, the two to the left, sigh, to the other left, i.e. to the right.

December 29, 2009

Reading Update

Tamora Pierce's Circle of Magic quartet:

Sandry's Book

Tris' Book

Daja's Book

Briar's Book

This is the one Tamora Pierce series I could never really get into, probably because it's staunchly middle grade instead of YA. The characters start out around 10 years old and don't really get older; the books are in chronological order, but take place over the course of only one year. I read it this time because my cousins kids are finally reaching tweenage, and I thought this might be a good Christmas gift. It's fun, and right in the Pierce vein, if younger than her other, more YA books, in which kids start out at 11 or so and grow up in the course of the books.

Tamora Pierce's The Circle Opens quartet

Magic Steps

Street Magic

Cold Fire

Shatterglass

So then I had to go on and read this one. These books again take place all in the same year, and don't connect to each other. In this one, each of the four kids is separated from the others and they have simultaneous adventures abroad. They're all fourteen here, so it's more along the YA continuum. I liked this one much better than the Circle of Magic series, possibly because it's less domestic, but also because it has more moral ambiguity in it -- that is, whatever moral ambiguity a Tamora Pierce series can have.

Tamora Pierce The Will of the Empress

Apparently a stand alone, featuring the four characters from the previous two series at age 18. It's fun, as all Pierce's books are, but not strong. Part of the problem is an analogy for rape that forms one of the major plot points and points of moral ambiguity in the book. This is the practice of kidnapping women and holding them until they sign a marriage contract: forced marriage. It's presented as horrible when we first encounter it in a runaway abused wife. But thereafter, it's presented as an opportunity for the character Sandry -- a young noble with enormous wealth, and therefore a very attractive potential bride -- to kick ass. It's a fun plot point for a romantic-ish novel. The moment you start to enjoy a rape scene, even if it's because the proposed victim is kicking ass, you've lost your moral footing.

Paul Beatty Slumberland

An African American DJ, who has created the perfect beat, goes off to Berlin to find a free jazz genius who disappeared into Eastern Europe during the cold war. DJ Darky ends up staying in Berlin through the fall of the wall and much of the nineties (which is when I was there.) Loaned to me by Sunyoung, who thought that the Slumberland bar depicted in the book was fictional. It's not. In fact, most of the hard stuff in this book is nonfiction: the bars and clubs, the Afrodeutsch Bundestreffen, the institutions in general; they all exist/ed. It's just that the book is a satire, so everything is portrayed with an edge of surreality, as so many satires seem to find necessary.

This surreal edge -- which I've found in everything I've read by T. C. Boyle and is why I loathe his writing -- prevents the narrative from putting emotional emphasis into anything. It prevents the characters from growing or changing ... or even from feeling real. It gives a sense of unreality even to factual things, like the Slumberland bar, which has a beach theme and a floor covered in about a foot of white sand. Yes, really; I've been there. In real life it's a delightful piece of whimsy, but in the book, it's a throwaway bit of melting clock, not to be believed anymore than the love interest's much-detailed farting sounds when she's asleep.  I hate this kind of satire; it's smug and superior and just makes fun of everything with an evenness that denies both passion and depression.

And all of the characterization in this book tends to come through characterizing statements rather than through scene, description, and dialogue, or even outright exposition. By characterizing statements, I mean past habitual action: "She would go to the store every day, playing Ozzie Osbourne on the car stereo. I hated it and would always tell her so, and she'd ignore me." This is not characterization. This kind of description of past habitual action implies that a character simply stayed the same throughout. The only reason to use it is to round up a character's base personality so that you can then show how the character changes throughout the action of the book. Because a character -- and a person -- responds differently to similar situations over time. Using past habitual action in place of a hard study of character and its changes is a cop-out.

However, the book is so well-written that I have to forgive it somewhat. Although the language is unrelenting and that's ultimately boring, Beatty is so good at it, and it's so fresh and funny in itself, that I kept coming back to it and enjoying it all over again. No, I'm not going to try to describe it or define it. It's Paul Beatty language from the first person pov of a character named DJ Darky. Figure it out yourself.

Ultimately, I think no novel, whether satirical or dramatic, is served by an unvarying, unswerving tone or language. It's variation that gives texture, and increase or decrease in depth and velocity that creates tension and meaning -- in both life and literature. I was disappointed in this book, but can't quite say that it isn't worth a read.

December 13, 2009

My Chapbook Is Out! Yay!

Conv-series-26-cover  (Although someone pointed out that, because it's perfect bound, it's not technically a chapbook.)

Yay! My little book, called Slightly Behind and to the Left: Four Stories and Three Drabbles, and is available NOW at Aqueduct Press' website! (Click on the "orders" button and scroll down.)

Right now, for the holidays, the book, usually $12, is $9, so get it now! Also, the book is part of a series called "Conversation Pieces," which you can subscribe to at $80 for 10 consecutive subscriptions (and you can choose which title to start with.) I've read a handful of these titles and they're all worth it, so you might consider a subscription, or make it a gift for the feminist or progressive geek in your life.

OMG, I'm so excited!

November 21, 2009

NaNoFiMo Update

Just wrote a post and then lost it. Annoying. Spent the day making pace charts after Scott Westerfeld's recommendations. Very helpful.

November 19, 2009

Writing Update

My NaNoFiMo is back! I did an entire mailbag (mailbag 6) today (that's, like, four short chapters to you.) But tomorrow, when I do the next mailbag, I'm going to get into some serious cutting out of things. And some serious rewriting of things. I think the hardest rewriting of things will start in mailbag 8 or 9. (Can't remember.) So I'll have a little space to run up to it.

Also, because I got stalled, my Mo is going until Dec 11th. I don't know why I chose that. Random, I guess.

November 10, 2009

Reports of Child Sex Abuse by Women Rising

This post on Broadsheet alerted me to a new study in the UK that shows reporting of child sex abuse has risen sharply, and with it the reports of women -- mostly mothers -- being the abusers.

Sex abuse claims directed at men still far outnumber those aimed at women. A 2007 United States Department of Justice report noted that females are responsible for less than 10% of sex crimes and less than 1% of all forcible rape arrests.  They also have a different modus operandi than male offenders -- including a higher likelihood of committing their crimes in caregiving situations and in concert with a male partner. But the uniqueness of female perpetrators can make it harder for victims, particularly boys, to come forward. The DOJ report noted “sexist beliefs that depict males as controlling all sexual encounters and females as passive and submissive recipients… Misperceptions exist about the ‘ability’ of women to sexually victimize males.” And the jokey cliche of a boy seduced an older woman muddles the seriousness of the crime.

This makes me prick up my ears because of that story I wrote a few years back (currently titled "Vacation") in which all the men disappear from the world and some women end up becoming sexually predatory with young boys. The story was inspired by the Mary Kay Letourneau case, in which a 30-something, white (blonde) schoolteacher and mother of four had an affair with her 13-year-old, Laotian student, and went to prison for seven years after she got pregnant with their second child, against a court order not to see him again. I wrote the story after reading that Letourneau had been released from prison and had immediately married her former student, who was at that point 22 years old.

The story isn't based on the Letourneau case, but is rather an attempt to explore in a more general way the kind of predatoriness that would cause a perfect Barbie-mom to go after a young boy who was in her care for much of the day (Letourneau was actually a grade school teacher, and the boy had been in her class when he was 11 and 12.) In this story I turned the tables, and actually had a rape?/not rape? scene in an alleyway. But the articles above seem to indicate that woman/boy sex abuse doesn't fit the stranger-danger stereotype any better than man/child abuse usually does (most of that happens within family or friendship circles.)

This gives me a lot to think about, like how my story works best where the public attitude is that women don't generally sexually abuse children. But this article has started to change my view of that. My tables-turning isn't quite so powerful in a world where a lot of women DO molest children. So I'm very disturbed by this on two levels. I might have to write another story, a different one, to get at whatever it is comes out of this.

By the way, I'm bound and determined to finish proofing the chapbook tonight, now that that grant is done. I hope the book, with "Vacation" in it, will be out in December.

November 07, 2009

NaNoFailMo

Argh! My NaNoFiMo has fallen apart already!

I'm currently working on a monster grant proposal that's due Monday. And I'm still working on proofing the galley for my chapbook. I don't know why it's taking me so long, but it is. Those take precedence over other stuff. So, once again, NaNoFailMo.

I'm hoping I can get going on da nobble again on Wednesday. Sigh.

November 02, 2009

NaNoFiMo Update

I just realized today that the sixth mailbag is where I start hitting my really hefty revisions (as opposed to edits.) What a way to start the month! I was busy running hither and thither today, so I wimped out and just did one letter. Sigh. Tomorrow. Nothing planned for tomorrow. Just a work day. Work Day!

I'm Reading On Nov 12!

Yep, another reading. Fall is a busy time. Since I'm counting down to my chapbook publication, I'll probably be reading something from the chapbook. Here 'tis:

Kimberly DaSilva & Guests*

Modern Times Bookstore, 888 Valencia Street, San Francisco
November 12th / 7:00 p.m.
 
 
Local author Kimberly DaSilva will read from her current manuscript:  The Same Tide For Us Both, a ghost story about a demon, a mother, and the end of the world.
 
Kimberly’s work has been described as “impressive” by Kirkus and “elegant” by The Advocate.  She has been nominated for a Lambda Literary Award, an American Library Association Stonewall Book Award, as received an ‘also noted’ in Ebony Magazine.
 
Guest readers include a myriad of local writers of color and queer writers.  Come hear:  Claire Light / Natalia Vigil / Jaime Cortez / Carole Simmons / LeConte Dill / Elissa Perry / Kenji Liu / Adam Smyer / Mel Hilario / Mahru Elahi / and Rona Fernandez   all in one place!
 
Discussion between the audience and the writers will follow the readings.
 
*This reading is a product of the San Francisco Arts Commission’s Cultural Equity Grant program.

October 31, 2009

NaNoFiMo

I almost missed the beginning of NaNoWriMo, as I do every year, but I caught it in time, thanks to Justine's blog.

I've never succeeded at a NaNoWriMo-type project, but a few years ago, when I tried to write a No in a Mo (not exactly the Mo of November) I did get more than half of it written.

So I'm going to try (again) to use NaNoWriMo as an inspiration to Get Stuff Done. As in, Get My Novel Done. So this year's November is my National Novel Finishing Month, or NaNoFiMo.

Actually, I'm not going to finish finish Da Nobble; that's not even in my plan. I just want to finish the third draft. Once that's done revision should get easier. Here's how it's going to work:

  • Da Nobble is epistolary (written in letters) and is organized by mailbags. Each correspondant contributes one letter to each mailbag, of which there are 15. There are five correspondants, which gives us a grand total of 75 letters. I'm currently in the middle of the fifth mailbag.
  • Of course, some of the letters are short and some are long; some of the letters require hefty rewriting and some do not.
  • I intend to complete planned revisions on 3 letters per day--that is, three letters that require revisions--until I hit the difficult ones. The difficult ones are the ones that don't just need revision, but the actual incident described in the letters needs to be thrown out and rethought. For each one of these, I will simply work three hours per day on them until they're done.
  • I'll check in daily here.
That is all. Wish me luck!

October 23, 2009

Octavia Butler Panel Podcast

Okay, so I did a piss-poor job of advertising my LitQuake Octavia Butler panel appearance here, so I'm trying to make up for it now.

The Agony Column podcast came to the panel, which was part of the SF in SF series hosted by Terry Bisson, and recorded both the panel discussion, and separate interviews with each of the panelists: awesome black-lesbian-vampire-novelist Jewelle Gomez, awesome Latina-chicklit-vampire-novelist Marta Acosta, and non-vampire-novelisting me (but wouldn't it be cool if I had written Asian vampires and was able to complete a trifecta?)

The reading and panel was a tribute to Octavia Butler and a fundraiser for the Butler Scholarship, which is administered by the Carl Brandon Society (which I'm on the Steering Committee of.)

The podcasts have been posted now and here they is:

Yee haw!

August 19, 2009

Publication News!

Amid the moany-groany there's some good news:

The awesome Timmi Duchamp, editor of Aqueduct Press, has accepted a short MS of mine for publication in her Conversation Pieces chapbook series! Yay!

The book will be called Slightly Behind and to the Left, and will contain four stories: "Pigs in Space," "Pinball Effect" (which will be published as the "gravity" entry here,) "Abducted by Aliens!", and "Vacation." There are also three drabbles (100 word stories) in it, all written for FarThing, although she only took two (beeotch!)

It'll be out most likely by the end of the year, although that's not yet locked down. Open the champagne!

August 11, 2009

Editorial Work Is HARD, Asshole!

Argh!

I wasn't gonna mix into this discussion (in fact, I've said pretty much all I thought I wanted to say before) but dude. Come on.

We're back to the stupid argument about whether editors just take what's coming in through the transom vs. what writers whom they've invited to submit have sent them vs. what they've read before. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? Are those the only options? WHEN DID EDITORS BECOME SO FUCKING PASSIVE?

Okay, look, I come into fandom via "literary" fiction, not the other way around. And yes, a lot of lit fic editors are lazy fuckers, too. But the basic expectation over there is that you get work by:

  1. calling for submissions
  2. keeping up with your peers so that you know what other editors are publishing. This is so you know what's current in the field, but also so you know what's being overplayed, so that you DON'T publish that.
  3. research into new authors, works, and trends. That's what this post is about, so keep reading.
  4. inviting interesting writers to submit. You know who's interesting by keeping up with the field and doing your research.
  5. maintaining relationships with agents and writers and asking them to find or create specific types of work. This is more proactive than #4, which passively asks specific people to submit what they've already written or to submit what they want to write for your collection. #5 is about actively shaping what people write; and it gives you the opportunity to give writers new opportunities, and to push promising writers in new directions, if you are so inclined. This is a tactic used for books primarily, but can be used for themed anthologies as well (and is so used, frequently.)

What boggles my mind is not that SF readers are ignorant of the editorial process, but that the implication that has been coming out of this argument is that SF editors DON'T GO THROUGH ALL THOSE STEPS. Somebody please tell me I'm wrong about that!

Because "resting on the laurels of what you've already read" is not one of the above steps, and is not part of the editorial process. People who are experts in a field are chosen to, or permitted to, create anthologies because they have a strong background in the field that allows them to understand the new stuff that they're seeing, and NOT because they've already read everything they need to read to create an anthology. Anthologizing is hard work not because you have to read so much slush (get an intern to weed that shit out) but because of all that other work you have to do. And if you're not doing it, you're doing a piss-poor job.

So, to get down to the nitty gritty, as someone in Tempest's comments asked to do, how do you -- not "become a good editor" but -- change the way you do business so that your editing becomes more than an exercise in futility? Here are some steps:

  1. Go out an read diverse stuff. This is not hard. There is google. Go to google and look up "African American fiction anthology," "Asian American fiction anthology," "New Women Writers," "LGBT Fiction" etc. Check these books out of the library. Read them. Then pick the two or three writers whose stories you liked the most AND WHOSE STORIES YOU HATED THE MOST, and read a book each by them. Look them up on wikipedia and find out who their influences and mentors were and read a book each by them. Etc.
  2. Go to Wiscon, Diversicon, Gaylaxicon, whatever, and talk to people who don't look or talk like you. Ask them what they're reading and what they think you should be reading (the answer to these two questions will usually be different.) Take notes. Then GO READ some of what they told you to read.
  3. Send your calls for submissions out to all the people of color you know and ask them to forward it. Follow up with them a week later and ask them where they sent/posted it. Sign up for those lists/groups and follow up on those lists/groups a week later with a personal invitation from the editor to EVERYONE ON THE LIST to submit work. Also go here and send calls for subs to these folks and follow up. ALWAYS FOLLOW UP!
  4. If you are a real editor, then you live in a real city with real readings. Go to them. Ask around for the POC/LGBT/Women's/whatever readings and attend them. They will be mostly boring or painful. That's how it is. You have to dig for gold. Keep going. Every time you go, talk to two people you don't know, especially if they look like they're in charge or if they know a lot of people. Ask them to recommend other readings in the city you should see. Carry cards and call for subs fliers with you. EVERY SINGLE TIME you see writer you think is remotely good, hand them a flier. In fact, hand them to writers you don't think are that good either, and ask them to pass it around. Do this in every city you go to.
  5. Keep doing this. This is not a remedial course that will eventually finish, after which, you will now be diversified. This now how you do your job. Keep doing your job.

Yeah, sounds impossible doesn't it? Right? Right? I mean, who has time to do all that learning about writers and keeping up with writers when you have so much ... editing to do?

And before you ask, YES I HAVE DONE IT, not as an editor, but as a multidisciplinary arts curator. I did it for four years, spent four years going out almost every night to shows, talking to total strangers and asking them to send me stuff, designing and printing calls for submissions and handing them out everywhere, etc. etc. Yeah, it's a full-time job. That's why they call it "a full-time job".

As far as editing an anthology goes, I haven't done that, but it's akin to (but a lot more serious and long-term than) the work I put into creating a reading binder for a writing class. Class reading binders are about book-length, like a short anthology, and need to demonstrate a variety of writing techniques clearly. They also need to tell a variety of types of stories so the students have models of the types of stories they can tell, so that they aren't limited by the narrow scope of their current imagination (my writing assignments tend to focus on both content and form.) And, as a writer of color who generally teaches writing in the context of community antiracist organizations, I make it a point to make my binders diverse in terms of who is writing the stories, their point of view, and their content.

So, how do I do all of this? Dude. I read. A lot.

I ask my list-servs (I've been on a few writers' and readers' list-servs) and I ask friends that I know are readers and experts. And then I go online and look up reading lists, and go to Amazon and look up anthologies and then get them out of the library.  And read them. And mark them up with those bookmark post-its, so that I have stacks of books around the house that look like they're wounded and bleeding (because if a book was wounded, wouldn't it bleed pink paper?) These are books with subtitles like "An anthology of fiction about 9/11" and "New African fiction," and "Poetry About War."

And, here's the thing: I START OUT with, not a quota system, but a food groups scheme: this meal has to have meat, veg, fruit, grain, dairy. And it has to fit into another of my diversity categories: one of the formal ones, and one of the content ones. So I can't just grab at random one story each by an Arab, African, Asian, Latino, and Native American about their families. One of these stories has to be science fiction, and one has to be about war, and one has to have a sex scene in it, and one has to be a coming-of-age. One of these stories has to be in first, one in second, and one in third person. One has to be minimalist, and one has to contain a lot of lists, and one has to be written in lush, lyrical prose. Etc.

Yes, I start out there, with the categories, but I don't end there. Because the most important thing I talk about with my writing students is LIFE, or that mysterious something in a story that makes the whole piece of writing come alive for the reader. So, just any contemporary fiction by any Arab or Latino won't do. It has to get under my collar, whisper to me, pop, or just make me uncomfortable. It has to be alive. I'm fine if it's going to make the students angry, as long as it makes them feel something.

I made a spec fic reader for high school students once that included Jaime Hernandez' first few pages of his Locas series, and a story by Ursula Le Guin. I chose both of these because they were both from genre-changing writers, and because I thought the pieces were cool. The Locas piece baffled them: comic books weren't about Latina punk rock chicks arguing about their waitressing jobs and then becoming rocketship mechanics! WTF? And the Le Guin story, "Darkrose and Diamond," pissed them off. It was a sort of YA-ish coming-of-age story about a kid who had magic but chose to pursue his gift for music instead. His choice angered them incredibly because they were led to believe this was a story about the acquisition of a superpower, and instead the protag chose to ignore the standard reader wish-fulfillment.

These discussions, about stories that I thought they would love, became incredibly rich discussions about reader expectations, and the rewards and dangers of subverting them. The kids actually learned more than I intended to teach them. And at the end of the class, those two stories were the ones they remembered the best.

If I hadn't made a point of making that SF reader diverse, if I had just gone by the white, male classics, I might not have thought to include Jaime Hernandez, or even Ursula Le Guin. The point here is that when you go for diversity -- by setting up food groups or quotas, by going for work that has challenged you or others in the past, by taking a chance with something slightly outside the mainstream -- you often get more even than you thought you were getting. You often get a challenge you didn't realize was there, a subversion that hadn't occurred to you, a lesson you didn't know needed to be made.

Yeah, it's a shitload of work. And this is just the reader for a class. It's not an anthology for the ages. It's not going into libraries and personal collections. It makes no claim to definitiveness. Imagine how much reading you would have to do for that.

But that's the job, Asshole. And if you're not willing to do that much work, then don't make anthologies. THAT'S why people are so pissed off at Mammoth Mike Ashley, not because he's a white male, but because he didn't do his job, and the rest of us marginalized folks are gonna suffer, as usual, for it.

July 17, 2009

White Men Can't Jump

I used to watch him after school. You can get really close to the basket in the gym if you crawl under the little risers on the short side, rather than the main ones on the long side. I was right behind the basket. From there I'd be facing him as he ran towards me. I had to sit on some of the struts with my head at stomach-level, otherwise, if he just looked across, he'd see me. I could've stood up, but then he'd've seen me. I'm taller'n him. By a lot. That's part of the point.

I used to joke with myself that I could hide in the dark in a way that he couldn't, but it's not really that dark under the bleachers; the flourescents get everywhere, and it's more like a bright grey down there.

So what I had was a great view of his stomach, which was interesting, because when you're playing, or when you're watching people play, the one thing you never look at is their stomachs. He used to wear these normal sized t-shirts in high school -- back before everybody had to wear oversize stuff even on the court -- so when he reached for it his shirttail would ride up and I could watch how his stomach muscles stretched and bunched. It's something you never think about, you just do it, or don't do it. And early on, he did it wrong. You could tell by the way his stomach muscles worked. And as he caught on and started to do it right, you could see the difference in the way his stomach worked.

I learned a lot from this, but that's not why I watched him. I mean, we didn't know each other very well. We didn't socialize. After a while I got really aware of what my belly was doing and I could visualize it in my head and make it do what I wanted it to do that way. And I made sure that I never did what he was doing. He was like a negative example.

I guess it's weird. I don't know. He had something that no one else had. He was always an alternate, and senior year, he didn't even make the team. He improved a lot, but so did the rest of us, and we started out ahead. His thing was that he never gave up. It's not like it sounds. It's not like: "Dude is so cool, he never gives up." Everybody gives up. Everybody gives up. The guys who make the team, the guys who start, like me, we're determined, and disciplined, and all that. We work for it, hard. But none of us work for it if we don't get some idea early on that we're going to be good, if we don't get, like, praise, and encouragement, and "you're a rock star!" and shit. We need to know that the work is going somewhere.

He didn't need to know that the work was going somewhere. He just kept doing it and doing it. It was so obvious that he was never going to get the Stuff. He might never make the team, and if he did, he wasn't going pro. Not ever. Too short. He quit growing at 15 already, it was pretty obvious. He did it beyond the point that normal people get bored. I'd watch him go at it for, like, two hours after school; set up after set up, fail after fail. His progress was so slow you couldn't see it. Not at all. I'd get bored watching him and wouldn't do it for a few months, and when I came back, he'd be better, but so little better that I'd be discouraged. All we ever said to each other was a chin-jerk. But there's something about that ability to just keep doing it that gets under my skin, you know? In what way, I'm not sure.

I don't know if I admire it or not. Dude won a YouTube contest. Yeah. Good for him. But then what? I mean, maybe that time could've been spent going again and again and again at something he was actually going to be really, really good at, and not just good at because he spent so damn many hours. And what about all the other stuff around it? I mean, that username: whiteflightbd. It's not like he doesn't know. His dad pushed that on him. Thought it was funny. Fine, whatever, but he could've done one less dunk and spent that time thinking for a second about how that name was a bad idea. I can't even feel bad for him 'cause I was the rock star in school and he wasn't. He was the weird kind of in, but not really, dude who had people to hang out with but no real close friends. Or maybe he did and I just didn't know any of them. All my friends played, maybe his friends didn't. Maybe that's why he wasn't that good.

I don't know if I admire him or if I think he's kind of sad and horrible. No, I didn't obsess much. But there's something in him that I just don't have, something that no one I know has. And maybe that's a good thing. Because there's something in me, something much more obvious, that he just doesn't have. And I'd rather have mine than his.

And yet.

*****
Please note, folks, this is fiction! I just made it up! I don't know this guy or anything about him!

July 14, 2009

I'm Teaching A Blogging Class (post #666)

Hey Bay Areans,

I'll be teaching a weekend blogging workshop through Kearny Street Workshop this weekend in San Francisco's SOMA district. Saturday is a free two-hour blogging 101 class for absolute beginners. The goal will be to set up your first blog. Sunday is a three hour blog writing and marketing workshop with me and Glenda Bautista that costs $50.

You can get details here or below. Please spread the word to those folks in your life who want more blog in theirs!


Weekend Blogging Workshop

July 18-19, 10:00am - 1:00pm
KSW @ PariSoMa, 1436 Howard Street

This weekend intensive blogging workshop will take you from beginner basics to blog bragging rights. Sign up for one day or both, and get into the blogosphere.

DAY ONE: Writing 101 with Claire Light
Saturday, July 18, 11am - 1pm

This FREE two-hour class will help absolute beginners get off the ground. We will discuss what a blog is; what things (skills, technologies) you will need to start a blog; how to actually create your blog; and how to connect with the blogosphere so you're not casting your pearls into the void.

Prerequisites: familiarity with email programs and web browers; moderate skill with Microsoft Word; possession of a laptop with wireless.

Cost: FREE
Minimum class size: 4

To register, please email ellen@kearnystreet.org with your full name and contact info.

DAY TWO: The Art of Blogging with Claire Light and Glenda Bautista
Sunday, July 19, 10am - 1pm

This three-hour paid class is designed around examining blogging as a writing form, or a written art form. We will discuss blogging as a form; what are its opportunities and limitations; what is commonly done within the blogging form and what are some interesting outliers; what technologies exist to facilitate blogging as a writing form. We will discuss "blog marketing" not as a commercial enterprise but as a method of connecting to a community that furthers the art of the blog. We will also do writing exercises in various blogging forms, on the internet. The result of this three-hour workshop will be a number of blog texts and a group project (for example: a blog carnival, or possibly even a group blog.)

Prerequisites: you must have a laptop with wireless for the session and have an established blog; this session may not be ideal for absolute beginners.

Cost: $50 per person
Minimum class size: 5

To register by check, please send check or money order to: Kearny Street Workshop, PO Box 14545, San Francisco, CA 94114-0545. Or pay online by clicking here and then clicking on the Buy Now button.

July 13, 2009

Updatingss

Finished Epileptic by David B. The first half was wonderful. The second half kinda fell apart. But that was because it was a memoir, and when kids get into their teens, the world gets immensely larger and it's harder to make a clear narrative out of it.

Still haven't started on Phase Two of Draft Two. Too much other stuff to do.

July 10, 2009

Fight the Power

It was Lita's favorite movie when she was 16 and, since she did herself in on her 17th birthday, it had to do as her favorite movie for all time.

Menny didn't feel any guilt for being bratty to her, or for her last words to Lita being "I hate you!" because they had fought about Menny being too little to go on the excursion Lita had planned with her friends and Menny had stormed out and slammed the door, and Lita had offed herself late that night before Menny got to see her again and receive her apology. What she felt guilty for, all this time, was how she had told Lita a few months before that her loving that movie was stupid.

"You're not even black!" she told Lita, sneeringly, and Lita said, "You don't have to be black."

Menny didn't like saying "black." But it was true. And that made the whole argument all the more disturbing.

For their friend Angela's eighties-themed, fancy-dress 35th birthday, Robin suggested that, since it was also the 20th anniversary of the film, they go as Rosie Perez and Radio Raheem. Robin could get love/hate rings made and carry a boom box, and Menny could learn the intro dance and go in satin boxer shorts, boxing gloves, and a black jog bra. Menny had never not wanted to do something so much in her life, but she had no words for why. She had no words for it at all, not "yes," or "no," so Robin took it as a given, and got Menny the shorts and gloves the next day. Two days later, the film arrived on netflix.

Menny got started learning the dance as she did with all projects, right away. From the opening squeal of "Fight the Power," through every thump of the break, down to the flicking hips at the end, she felt like she was one gyration away from throwing up. After the second run-through, she could no longer remember what Lita was actually wearing, or how she actually did her hair. Lita's face was now framed by Rosie Perez' fluffy, layered do. Lita was now standing in her room in a shiny blue leotard, over shiny, electric blue leggings, and warmed by a severely cropped black pleather jacket. She was running-manning out the door, thrusting her entire body, incrementally, through the door with shoulder pops.

Okay, this is obviously the beginning to a longer story, which I got stuck on. I'll just post it as is.

July 07, 2009

What I Did Today

What did you do today?

Oh, I just ran around a bit, then hung out in the yard.

Ran around doing what?

I'm not really sure. I mean, I was chasing this other car, but first it was chasing me, then I hid. Or something. Then I chased it. It was weird.

Weird.

Yeah.

Then it exploded.

Really? Why?

Dunno.

Wow.

Yeah.

Weird.

...

You got a bullet hole.

What? Where?

In your windshield.

What? Lemmesee ...

I can't believe you didn't notice.

Well, I was busy.

Running around.

Damn. Damn! It's gonna take days to fix. Days!

Me, it takes weeks. ... It doesn't look that bad.

Shut up.

No, I'm serious, it doesn't look that bad. It looks kinda cool. In fact. It's cool damage. Not like losing a hubcap or something ...

...

...

Shit. Shit! Shit shit shit!

Oh, I didn't notice before.

Fuck!

Seriously? I didn't even notice!

Goddammit!

It's not that noticeable, I swear. It's only 'cause I said it. It's not like you have those fancy hubcaps or anything ...

I used to!

... Well, I'd be more worried about the dents.

What?

Seriously? They're not that bad.

Where?

On the side. The bullet hole side. They're not that bad.

Argh! Then why did you say you'd be worried about them?

Well, you know, even little dents can end up nasty if they don't fix right away.

What do you mean?

Well, you know ... rust.

What? Argh!

Seriously? That's, like, the one thing I got over you. Only the one thing, but ... you know ... anti-dent paneling and anti-rust treatment probably sounds pretty sweet right now, huh?

Argh! Shut up!

Sorry. ... But seriously, you look cool.

Shut up!

Sorry.

July 06, 2009

Iz Finish

Phase One of Draft Three Iz Finish.

That was the easy part: editing a printout of the MS, and noting the places where I need to rewrite. Now comes Phase Two, otherwise known as THE HARD PART, i.e. actually rewriting.

Onward!

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