In which John DeNardo was kind enough to let me ramble on and on about the importance of food: read it here.
(still swamped, in case you had doubts. What little time I do have is spent napping…)
In which John DeNardo was kind enough to let me ramble on and on about the importance of food: read it here.
(still swamped, in case you had doubts. What little time I do have is spent napping…)
My guest post “Dragons, heroes and spaceships: pushing against received narratives” is up at the Book Smugglers–many thanks to Ana and Thea for the invite, and I’m delighted to be the inaugural piece for their series “SFF in Conversation”, which focuses on inclusivity and diversity in SF. Go here to read it.
Very quick post to let you know that I’ve guest-posted over at Khaalidah’s blog on worldbuilding and its attendant issues: the post is here (thanks very much to Khaalidah for the invitation and her ongoing patience with my missing her deadlines…) It’s less an admonition that a series of questions I’ve been asking myself–and to which I freely admit not having answers to. Any thoughts/discussions much welcome!
And now for something completely different: two friends of mine, Djibril al-Ayad and Fabio Fernandes, are having a peerbackers project to raise the money for We See a Different Frontier, an anthology of SF focused on the developing world. I’ve agreed to ask them a few questions to help them promote their project:
1. Can you introduce yourselves?
*Djibril al-Ayad*: Sure. I’m Djibril, and I edit The Future Fire, a magazine of social-political speculative fiction that has been publishing free online issues for about seven years now. We’ve focused in the past on feminist and queer issues, as well as environmental and colonial concerns. I have a soft spot for cyberpunk and dystopian settings, which are ripe for deep political storylines, but also like to experiment with surreal, magical realist and slipstream work.
*Fábio Fernandes:* I’m a science fiction author living in Brazil. I’m a professor of Creative Writing for Games and of Digital Culture scholar and translator for an university in São Paulo, and in my spare time I work as a translator (I did the Brazilian Portuguese versions of Neuromancer, Boneshaker and The Steampunk Bible, among many others). I’m edited a bilingual journal in Brazil a few years ago, and won two Argos Awards for Best Fiction (Brazil). I’m still doing some writing and editing in Portuguese, but since 2009 I’ve been doing most of my work in English.
2. Can you talk a bit about the project and its inception?
This project arises indirectly from the fact that TFF took a one-year hiatus last year, in part due to editor fatigue, and when we came back we felt we needed a bit of fresh blood to bring us back to form. Fábio was one of several people who responded to our call for proposals for themed and co-edited special issues, and his suggestion caught our eye right away: an anthology of colonialism-themed stories celebrating the viewpoints of people from developing countries or backgrounds. (We selected only two of the many proposals, the other being the Outlaw Bodies, currently reading submissions.)
We plan for the We See a Different Frontier anthology to be a professional rate-paying venue, which is why we’re asking people to help fund this through the Peerbackers venture. If we reach our target of $3000 we’ll probably be able to offer at least $0.05 per word and have a good spread of stories. (Obviously we hope we’ll exceed that and be able to pay an even more realistic “professional” rate for these stories.)
This anthology will publish colonialism-themed stories in any of the subgenres of speculative fiction: scif, fantasy, horror, surreal, weird, slipstream etc. We’re looking for stories from perspectives outside of the usual white, anglophone, Western, middle-class, straight/cis/male literature than dominates the genres. Although we’re not planning to place any restriction on who can submit stories, we are determined to avoid stories that contain cultural appropriation, orientalism and the like, so make sure your voices are authentic and come from a place of knowledge rather than wishful thinking.
3. The anthology is strongly focused on the experience of people from developing countries–a perspective that I find fascinating because it’s one that we don’t much see in the field (which has a plethora of stories written from what I’d call an “outsider” point of view, from people in developed countries writing about developing countries). What do you think are the main differences between this perspective and SF from developed countries?
*Fabio*: The outsider has always been the “industry standard”, so to speak. This, in itself, is not necessarily a problem – science fiction is a genre that serves pretty well to self-examination and criticism, hence the New Wave and the Cyberpunk Movement, for example. But whenever I want to see what’s lurking around the corner, it’s easier to find stories that take place in the other side of the galaxy than in a country of the Third World written by a citizen of said country. Take the case of Brazil: when I was growing up, all I could read in terms of SF was Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, Heinlein (later, Frank Herbert, William Gibson) and a handful of Brazilian authors published by small presses. I became a member of an SF club which exchanged information with other countries (Argentina, China, Japan, UK, USA), but we mostly relied on Locus Magazine and Ansible for information; they served as information hubs mostly. We got more info from them than from Argentina; that still remains the case, sadly – but we must stress out that Brazil is the only Portuguese language country in the subcontinent, entirely surrounded by Spanish-speaking countries (11 only in South America – I’m not counting Central America or Mexico).
Still about Brazil, or should I say “Brasyl”? Ian McDonald’s novel about my country is pretty good and very well-written (one couldn’t expect less from McDonald), but I couldn’t shrug off the impression that he somehow failed to capture the essence of Brazil, the cultural and subcultural undercurrents that permeate our daily life. For instance, in a scene early in the novel, he describes a capoeira fight between a blonde woman and an African Brazilian man, and he describes all the racial tension between them – but he does it with an Anglo’s eyes! To a Brazilian, the tension is spread thinner and subtler than it was described there. It was something many of my Brazilian friends who read the novel didn’t even care about, but I’m sure that a Brazilian writer would have done it differently. This sort of thing, however, is apparently unsolvable: McDonald did his very best and the novel is good. I wrote a couple of stories about India and I think they were well researched, but I’m sure I will never write them as an Indian author. So, it is just a difference in perspective. It’s not necessarily good or bad, just different. And I want to see more of this different perspectives.
4. One of the things that I find fascinating about SF is its strong roots in a colonial paradigm (it’s not for nothing that we talk about space colonisation, or that stories about the settlement of other planets bear strong parallels to the Conquest of the West). Obviously this is a subject that you mean to tackle in this anthology! However, if I may take it further… How do you think those original tropes affect SF today–and how do you think we should go about producing genre that doesn’t unthinkingly perpetuate those problematic tropes?
*Fabio:* I had a paper to present in this year’s ICFA, and sadly I could not attend it – but it was just about that: how Firefly dealt with the conquest of space drawing a simple parallel with the Conquest of the USA Wild West. This paper wasn’t accepted for a book on Joss Whedon’s works, and I wonder why – I am a fan of Firefly, but I happen to disagree with a few things I wanted to see and I didn’t. I just thought there wasn’t enough diversity in Firefly! Is that evil? Not at all, it’s just a tiresome thing – and I believe it is one of the reasons why the show unfortunately didn’t last.
I loved Tobias Buckell’s Xenowealth series, and I think he shifted slowly the colonial paradigm by changing the ethnicity of the colonists in the first place. This is a nice first step, and Buckell’s Caribbean upbringing helped him a lot to see things differently from the original SFnal tropes. Your own Obsidian and Blood trilogy deal with a culture that shifts from the old fantasy stories about pre-columbian peoples and treat the Aztecs as an extremely intelligent people, that is, as every people on the world should be treated historically, socially, and narratively. I think the best we can do is not underestimate the Other.
*Djibril:* I think the best and maybe only way for a writer to avoid unthinkingly perpetuating problematic tropes is to think–think hard about everything you say and write. That sounds like a platitute, but I seriously believe that we can learn a lot by being self-conscious. We can learn from analysing our own mistakes (and yes, being criticised for them, for all it can hurt). Of course the best way to avoid Western colonial attitudes in science fiction is to read and publish SF written by someone with a different perspective, with a different attitude, but even then there’s the danger that we internalize prejudice and the Western tropes have permeated pretty much the whole world, so thinking about what you’re writing and why helps even there.
But the most important thing, and what we’re trying to achieve with this anthology (and what collections like So Long Been Dreaming, Dark Matter, World SF, Walking the Clouds etc. have done before us) is actively to pay attention to speculative fiction being written from outside the dominant paradigm, to “give voice to the voiceless” as Salman Rushdie puts it (although I don’t want to suggest that such writers are voiceless, certainly not on this blog!). There’s a lot of great spec-fic out there, and as Fábio said in his response to our call, only reading the stuff by western white anglo straight cis male authors just isn’t good enough.
Thank you, Djibril and Fabio, for dropping by! And, if you feel like donating money to make this possible, go over to the Peerbackers website over here. I’m very much looking forward to this anthology.
And, as promised, here is J. Damask (Joyce Chng) on her process of writing Wolf at the Door–enjoy!
Back in the first half of 2009, I was pregnant with my second child. I was also filled with an inexplicable energy to write. Novels, short stories – you mean it, I wrote them. Call it a weird side-effect from pregnancy: I was just incredibly productive.
I wanted to write an urban fantasy story. Yes, urban fantasy, not the kind I saw popping up everywhere, replete with kick-ass heroine, hunky hero and assorted kinds of were-animals. I wanted to write an urban fantasy set in Singapore, the land of my birth. The main character would be a mother with kids. She would not fit the mould of the stereotypical werewolf. Most of all, she would be Chinese.
So, I wrote. At first, the story grew into a novella, Full Moon, Dragon Gate. But you know about novellas: they are hard to sell. I ended up putting the novella on the back-burner. I delivered and two months later, decided to write a 50k novel for Nanowrimo. That’s right. 50k in a month. I had a newborn to look after. What was I thinking? People were going “You must be kidding me!”
Throughout the entire process, I was telling myself that I was crazy. Why would I want to write the novel within a month? But I did and Wolf At The Door was born.
As the story goes (no pun intended), I shopped around for a publisher. The rest, you, know, is history.
Perhaps it was/is the drive to see more urban fantasy (and heck, SFF) novels from Southeast Asia that pushed me on. There are novels set in the United States of America, Britain and even Australia. I want to see stories coming from Singapore and the rest of the Southeast Asian countries. I mean, just look at the mythologies – they are so perfect for urban fantasy, the old adapting/co-existing/interlacing with the new (urbanization). I want to see more urban fantasy – creatures of myths and legends living side by side or within the human population. I want to see more of the cultures.
[You see, I keep repeating "I want"...]
So, if you want more diversity in urban fantasy, be sure to enjoy Wolf At The Door.
OK, it’s been a while since we had one of those, but here’s Colin Harvey on his novel Winter Song and his use of Icelandic culture.
(I’m still MIA and will remain so for another week or so. Very very busy)
I have two novels which came out nearly simultaneously –at least by geological time scales—in the US last year. Because Winter Song was actually published in the UK in 2009, I’ve tended to focus guest blogs on Damage Time, which was published worldwide for the first time in 2010.
But knowing Aliette’s fascination for cultures, particularly of the non-traditional/Western European variety, I thought it might prove interesting if I stepped back a year and talked about Winter Song instead.
Winter Song actually grew out of a visit to Borganes in western Iceland in late 2007. It’s a fairly small, everyday-looking town through which one can imagine the tumbleweed blowing on a Saturday night – or afternoon, for that matter.
But as we learned on a visit to the municipal museum, the first settlement in Iceland took place only a few kilometres away. The museum exhibits included films and still photographs of vast numbers of birds and animals, all shown in a dark, enclosed room simulatinga bird-watcher’s hide.
Outside were racks of books about Egil’s Saga, and other medieval stories; these are the literature of the Norsemen whose longships struck terror into Irish monks, and Saxon men and women from Scotland to Normandy. Illustrations and models in another display showed Egil’s Saga in model form, and brought it vividly to life. Here was a man who as a child had smashed the skull of a competitor during a race because he couldn’t bear to lose, who regularly murdered his enemies under truce, who was ugly, yet fascinated women with both his poetry and his vitality, who lived into his eighties, and even when he was a frail old man, still delighted in making mischief.
The actual settlement of Iceland didn’t take place until the mid 9th century, when the the countryside was covered with dense woodland inhabited by what seemed to be almost unlimited numbers of birds and animals, particularly game and wild fowl. It’s hard to envision today, when there is barely a hundred square miles of forest across a land four-fifths the size of England, and nine-tenths of that is replanted (most Iceland trees are still so young that there’s an Icelandic joke that says if you’re ever lost in an Icelandic forest…just stand up) — forest nowadays accounts for just one third of one per cent of Iceland’s total landmass.
But the climate cooled, deforestation stripped the landscape of cover, and life grew increasingly difficult. Growing cereal crops became all but impossible — Instead settlers baked bread from moss, seeds or whatever constituents they could obtain. For the next three centuries life became ever more difficult, but even though deprivation and isolation made life ever harder, Icelandic chieftains founded the first parliament; disputes could be settled peaceably (although many chieftains succumbed to the urge to settle arguments by force) and laws were passed establishing when men and women could travel without becoming outlaws. In the end Iceland passed into Norway’s sphere of influence and the world’s first parliamentary democracy ended for seven centuries.
Many or the reviews focused on how bleak and harsh the novel was, whereas i actually softened the reality; I thought it best to omit the incest that too often happened on isolated farmsteads deprived of outside visitors, and I felt that dwelling too long on having to eat moss, bark or even mud would be too much for modern sensibilities – we aren’t as tough as our forebears. Indeed, the harsh but beautiful Icelandic landscape kills one or two visitors every year, often the more experienced tourists lulled into complacency. Even now it is a harsh landscape, and before GPS, cellphones and aircraft, it must have been almost unbearable. Almost…. but humans are tougher than one might think. They would need to be to survive Isheimur.
Colin has been a freelance writer since 2007. He reviewed for Strange Horizons for six years, and served on the Management Committe of the Speculative Literature Foundation for five, during which time he co-judged the Travel Research Grant and the Older Writers Grant.
His short stories have appeared in Albedo One, Gothic.net, Song of the Siren and Speculations, as well as several original anthologies. His novels are all available on Amazon.
Colin’s anthology Killers was nominated for the Black Quill Award and the British Fantasy Award.
Part 2 of the Codexian blog tour, in which the amazing Nancy Fulda tells us about writing and sculpture:
The Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo once said: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
He also said: “The marble not yet carved can hold the form of every thought the greatest artist has.”
In this, I think, sculpting is not so very different than writing. As authors, we stand like Michelangelo before the lump of our incompleted stories, stupefied not by lack of ideas, but by their plethora. An unfinished story is full of potential. It might become anything: an action-adventure saga, a conflicted character story, an incisive satire.
It is this potential that dazzles us. And it is this same potential which so often causes us to stumble.
A story is defined, not so much by what it is, but by what it is not. Faced with the rough surface of a draft that has not yet been freed from the stone, the writer might feel tempted to do it all: concentrate on character and plot and symbolism and prose style. He is afraid to cut away too much, and so his chisel strokes are awkward, and hesitant, and ultimately unsatisfactory. The angel within the stone remains buried beneath a jumble of beautiful clutter.
Michelangelo said, “The more the marbles wastes, the more the statue grows.” This is, I believe, an early incarnation of the well-known injunction to Murder Your Darlings.
All life is nurtured by death, and a story is defined not so much by what it is, but by what it is not. Our fiction cannot take on life unless we are willing destroy all of the beautiful possibilities but one: the best one. We must be willing to slay the poetic character story in order to set the action-adventure free. We must murder the satire so that drama can rise from its ashes.
I hear objections shouted from the crowd already.
Yes, of course it’s possible to mingle plot with characterization. Like Abraham, we are sometimes spared from destroying something precious in the pursuit of something we treasure even more. But let’s remember something about Abraham: he was firm in his priorities.
You want a deeply conflicted protagonist who fights bad guys with paperclips, and by the way, he loves to compose limericks? Fair enough, but you’d better figure out which of those three elements is most important to you, because if any of the others get in its way, you’re going to have to clear them out. Failure to do so will imprison your angel.
This is why critique groups can be so frustrating, by the way. Each critiquer gives voice to one of the thousand Stories-That-Might-Have-Been. Each of them calls for a distinct, if superficially similar, narrative. It’s no wonder new authors sometimes feel lost in the babble.
The only solution is to find your angel. Your angel, not anyone else’s.
In other words, find your rough draft’s dominant draw — the aspect of the story that ignites your aesthetic passion, the part of it you love most. That’s your angel.
A story’s ending is often indicative, here. Critiquers may complain that the end doesn’t mesh with themes presented earlier. That’s because the writer was still exploring ideas. At the end of the first draft, when it’s time to wrap things up, his subconscious emphasizes those elements which have become most meaningful to him — and they are often not the same elements that dominated the opening scenes.
For heaven’s sakes, folks, don’t smother your angels! Be very cautious if someone tells you to change your ending. Ask yourself whether it’s the beginning that ought to change, instead.
Find your angel, writers. Don’t stop carving until you’ve set him free.
And if it seems like a lot of work along the way? And if we’re tempted to feel jealous of the people who do it better than we do?
Well, a certain Renaissance sculptor once said: “If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.”
So, in the coming weeks, I’ll be taking part in the Codexian blog tour, which aims to feature fellow Codex writers–in this particular case, through guest blogs. First at the bat is Gareth D. Jones, who talks about languages and translations.
Aside from having my work translated, this interest has led me to spend quite some time considering how to deal with languages in my fiction. It’s easy to create characters who all speak English and share a cultural background similar to mine, but a large portion of science fiction is set somewhere in the future, or on another world, or amongst alien species. It’s not very likely that they’ll all conveniently speak English.
The problem is, I don’t feel very confident about creating characters from other real-life cultures who speak different languages. I have no problem creating a new species or inventing a culture, but I’m afraid that if I populate my story with, for example, French characters, I’ll end up writing horribly clichéd dialogue that will make genuine French people cringe. It will be like those characters in US dramas with fake English accents using American expressions that British people don’t use.
There are several ways around the language dilemma, and my experience with translations has given me some insights on the matter:
If I set a story in a far-future galaxy-spanning culture, do I assume that individual planets will maintain cultural identities inherited from Earth, or will mankind have become homogenous? The answer doesn’t always have to be the same. It doesn’t have to be politically correct either – there’s no reason to assume society will maintain the same values thousands of years from now.
Here are some of the things I’ve tried in various stories:
I am constantly impressed by the work of the translators. In the Catalan translation of ‘Roadmaker’, the translator resorted to a footnote to explain an untranslatable point. This was for a homonym that the character gets confused over. Evidently the equivalent words in Catalan are not at all similar, so there is no reason he would get confused in that language. It’s at this point that I have to stop thinking too hard on the matter, for fear that I’ll end up writing in simplistic language to make it easier on the translators.
There are six thousand languages and dialects on Earth. It’s worth including at least some of them in our fiction.
Gareth D Jones is from the UK. His stories have appeared in over forty publications and twenty languages. He also writes reviews and drinks lots of tea. Work of his is forthcoming in The Immersion Book of Steampunk, published by Immersion Press.
Coming up next: Nancy Fulda talks about writing and art.
So, the promised guest blog: WIB pal Janice Hardy is here to talk about that all-important wordcount. For those of you who don’t know Janice: she lives in Florida, holds a dayjob as a graphics designer, and juggles I don’t know how many things–including her awesome blog, The Other Side of the Story, where she gives writing advice for everything from rewrites to snagging an agent. Her middlegrade trilogy The Healing Wars, medieval fantasy with an edge, is currently in progress (vol. 1 was The Pain Merchants/The Shifter, depending on whether you’re UK or US, and vol 2 is Blue Fire, which is out on the shelves now). Janice’s also been translated into German.
Without further ado…
The Long and the Short of it
I’ve always admired short story writers. My favorite writer, Harlan Ellison, is a short story writer and I grew up wishing I could write like him. (For the record, I can’t my style is different, but I can see his influences on my work) I’ve tried to write shorts, but they usually end up feeling like opening chapter of a book.
This used to bother me until I realized that short stories and novels take different skill sets. Many of the same skills apply, but those who can put together a story in 3,000 words think differently than those who use 90,000. Some can do both (like my hostess, Aliette), but I’ve run into a lot of writers who prefer one over the other. Which made me happy, because I was a novelist.
I don’t use 90,000 words. My novels always came in around 60-70,000. And I write fantasy, which usually runs longer than your typical novel. So where did that leave me?
Turns out I’m a young adult author, which fits my natural tendencies to write shorter, as well as my style and voice. But it took me years to figure that out, and I tried a lot of different lengths and markets while finding my niche. And racked up a lot of rejections along the way.
I’ve run into many a writer over the years who was frustrated because they tried to do X but couldn’t. I wonder now how many were like me, trying to write what they thought they ought to be writing, instead of seeing if what they enjoyed writing fit anywhere. Short story writers whose novels fall flat after a chapter or two. Novelists who can’t get a short story to work. Teen writers padding their novels for the adult market. Finding where I belonged changed my writing life for sure, and I doubt I’d be published today if I was still trying to write for adults.
If you’re one of those writers, feeling like you’re stuck and don’t know why, maybe ask yourself if you’re writing the length or genre that suits you. Maybe it’s time to look at what you enjoy writing the most and where those talents might be used elsewhere. Who knows? You might discover skills you never even knew you had.
Blue Fire Blurb
Part fugitive, part hero, fifteen-year-old Nya is barely staying ahead of the Duke of Baseer’s trackers. Wanted for a crime she didn’t mean to commit, she risks capture to protect every Taker she can find, determined to prevent the Duke from using them in his fiendish experiments. But resolve isn’t enough to protect any of them, and Nya soon realizes that the only way to keep them all out of the Duke’s clutches is to flee Geveg. Unfortunately, the Duke’s best tracker has other ideas.
Nya finds herself trapped in the last place she ever wanted to be, forced to trust the last people she ever thought she could. More is at stake than just the people of Geveg, and the closer she gets to uncovering the Duke’s plan, the more she discovers how critical she is to his victory. To save Geveg, she just might have to save Baseer—if she doesn’t destroy it first.
Janice Hardy Bio
A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy THE HEALING WARS, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her books include THE SHIFTER, and BLUE FIRE from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. She lives in Georgia with her husband, three cats and one very nervous freshwater eel.
-Maria Zannini interviews me for the Online Writing Workshop. In which I talk about critique partners, and writing rules (and how to break them)
-The full version of Jenny Barber‘s interview of me can be found in the latest issue of Dark Horizons, the British Fantasy Society magazine.
-And, from now until the 14th of September, I’ll be guest-blogging over at Futurismic, along with fellow IZ authors Gareth L. Powell and Lavie Tidhar. Check out today’s post, which is full of geekiness about rice and rice cookers.
On a more personal note, I am utterly swamped, and finding it difficult to get into much of a writing groove at all. Feeling decidedly cranky about this.