New Music Love, Gabriel Kahane. Putting ice cubes down people’s shirts.

I was writing a Very Serious Review (which will appear tomorrow) when all of a sudden Pandora turned up a musician I’d never heard before and I fell in love.

I almost never find musicians I love, but Gabriel Kahane is amazing. He’s sort of like Stephen Sondheim and Jason Robert Brown (who, I just learned by looking him up, apparently has a seriously gorgeous Jewish nose) presented as vaguely pop* music.

His instrumentation is stunning and I love the complex melodies. I almost didn’t pay attention to his lyrics until I happened upon his epic aria about the plight of a man who cannot find a roommate because of his compulsion to put ice cubes down people’s shirts.

I have a compulsion to put ice cubes down people’s shirts. As my roommate, you will likely bear the brunt of this problem. Don’t ask me why I do this. Why do I do this? Why do I do this? Years of therapy hasn’t helped. Hasn’t helped. Hasn’t heeeeeelped.

Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii always have ice cubes on hand. Don’t think you can simply get rid of all the ice trays in the apartment. All the ice trays! All the ice trays!

Trust me, I have tried this. I will only buy more! I will only buy more! I will ooooooooooooooonly buuuuuuuuy moooooooore!

Really — gorgeous music *and* humor? I swoon for this music.

You, too, can listen for free online.

*Note: my definition of “pop” means “written for enjoyment as individual songs.” As opposed to “part of a musical.” When I was in college, I complained over and over again to my friend Tim Jones-Yelvington that I couldn’t get into songs that weren’t part of a story. I thought my problem was unique until Tim’s boyfriend — a lyricist and playwright studying at NYU — revealed he had the same problem. I’ve gotten over it since, by dint of musicians like Poe (whose album Haunted is a musical response to her brother’s amazing experimental novel House of Leaves) and the Dresden Dolls (whose song “Coin-Operated Boy” is a perfect science fiction short story in three minutes).

ETA: Why did I not previously notice that this song is on an album called “Craigslistleider?” That’s seriously brilliant. So, for instance, another song in the cycle is “I have one pair of slightly used assless chaps in size 42. Will trade for spiderman comics. Will trade for spiderman comics. Will trade for spiderman comics or equivalent.” Set to disjunctively serious music. Awesome.

Correction, and some thoughts

So, following my post about international writers in Analog, Asimov’s and F&SF, Sean Wallace has pointed out we missed one, and I’m very glad to be able to correct my initial post: Asimov’s did in fact print one story by an international writer: Icarus Saved from the Skies “Icare sauvé des cieux” by Georges-Oliver Châteaureynaud, translated by Edward Gauvin.

Hooray!

And if we count Sara Genge (which I am told we should) then Asimov’s actually lead the print pack, with a whole 2 stories last year.

I wish I could say this makes me much happier. I saw people point out the issues of translation, for instance, and this and that – none of which change the numbers themselves, which show Fantasy, Apex and Strange Horizons with a combined 19 stories between them.

I think what it comes down to at the end is diversity. I’d like to see more diversity in the field, and the disparity between the top online publications and the 3 print magazines is pretty astounding. 2 is better than 0… but 19 is better than 2.

The point about all this, btw, is not that international writers “deserve” some sort of recognition. The point is that when they submit, their stories are good enough to be bought. I do not think for a moment Fantasy have some sort of “quota” system. That would be nuts! But they are in a position to get the top submissions from overseas writers, leading to them buying a higher-than-average number. After all, the reason I love science fiction and fantasy is when it offers me a startling new look at the world – and people writing from a different perspective can offer that.

I think it’s a shame. I think editors, when they want to, are in a great position to solicit great stories – and when editors do, that’s what they get. And when editors make it as easy as possible for disadvantaged (in terms of post, or Internet access itself) writers to submit, that alone can make all the difference.

I’m not saying the “big 3″ need to do any of this. After all, it’s their business what they publish, not mine. But… to me, diversity, and newness, are key factors to the field. Freshness, maybe. And perhaps they’re not for the readers of the Analog and its two brethren – but in that case, I simply think they’re missing out!

Lavie Tidhar is the author of linked-story collection HebrewPunk (2007), novellas An Occupation of Angels (2005), Cloud Permutations (2009) and Gorel & The Pot-Bellied God (2010) and, with Nir Yaniv, of The Tel Aviv Dossier (2009). He’s lived on three continents and one island-nation, and currently lives in South East Asia. His first novel, The Bookman, will be published by HarperCollins’ new Angry Robot imprint in 2010, and will be followed by two more.

The End of the Endurance Tour: Atlanta, at Manuel’s Tonight with Hindmarch and McDermott


(Me with Mur Lafferty, Natania Barron, and giant microbes last night in Chapel Hill)

After a wonderful event last night with Mur Lafferty and Natania Barron at Chapel Hill Comics, the Finch/Booklife tour comes to an end tonight in Atlanta at Manuel’s Tavern. We’ll start at 8pm in the North Room and I’m reading with Will Hindmarch and J.M. McDermott. We’ll also be there early, at 6pm, for a comics meeting/party that sounds interesting.

Also note that Nicola Morgan is answering your writing questions today over at Booklifenow.com–go give her a question!

Finally, here are some photos from the awesome event last night. The store is one of my favorites now–excellent selection and also nicely laid out. Owner Andrew Neal is a great guy.

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World sf writers? Get used to disappointment

I’m a little disheartened right now. Not angry, just sort of bemused.

If you’ve been following the World SF News Blog, you might have seen that Charles Tan and I have been compiling lists of stories published in 2009 by what you might called “world SF” writers – writers from outside of the traditional anglo-saxon world, as it were. It was Jeff Ford’s idea, and it seemed like a good one (though it took a chunk of time for each posting) – and the results were quite positive. Fantasy Magazine, Apex Magazine, Clarkesworld – the big online publications have proven that fiction by international writers can sell and be published. We also did Analog, but in all honesty I didn’t really expect much from Analog – and wasn’t disappointed. Analog published none.

We did Asimov’s and F&SF today (Charles in the Philippines, me in Laos, both of us on the Internet). The result surprised and disheartened me. I really wasn’t expecting it.

Zero.

Let me repeat that. The Big Three American SF/F magazines have published, over 2009, exactly zero stories from world writers.

Apex Magazine published seven. Fantasy Magazine published eight. Even The New Yorker published one!

Let me repeat that: The New Yorker published more science fiction from international writers than all 3 big American SF/F magazines.

So I don’t know what to think, right now. Is it just about electronic submissions? As I note in the summary, both Asimov’s and F&SF did published some world sf writers in the past. But none at all for the whole of 2009? When everyone else paying professional rates published several?

So I’m bemused, and a little disheartened. I really did think the situation was different.

I guess I was wrong.

Lavie Tidhar is the author of linked-story collection HebrewPunk (2007), novellas An Occupation of Angels (2005), Cloud Permutations (2009) and Gorel & The Pot-Bellied God (2010) and, with Nir Yaniv, of The Tel Aviv Dossier (2009). He’s lived on three continents and one island-nation, and currently lives in South East Asia. His first novel, The Bookman, will be published by HarperCollins’ new Angry Robot imprint in 2010, and will be followed by two more.

Good Boys, Adam Lambert, and S-E-X

Phew! I’m glad to blog about something that’s not controversial! Gay sex!

…Wait.

I come to you bearing recommendations for excellent fiction distributed across the web. The first three things are Nebula-elligible stories by Nisi Shawl. Nisi is an amazing, Seattle-based writer who helps coordinate the Clarion West Workshop and is fun to hang out with — but what *you* need to know is that her fiction is awesome.

Last year, her short story collection, Filter House (Aqueduct Press) won the James Tiptree award. Publisher’s Weekly wrote that, “This exquisitely rendered debut collection of 11 reprints and three originals ranges into the past and future to explore identity and belief in a dazzling variety of settings… he threads of folklore, religious magic, family and the search for a cohesive self are woven with power and lucidity throughout this panorama of race, magic and the body.”

Nisi is one of those exquisitely talented writers who works slowly. She has a few prestigious sales to her name, but she doesn’t get nearly the acknowledgement she deserves. I’m mad about her work, though, so this year when the Nebula eligibility questions came up, I said to Nisi, “Hey, Nisi! What work of yours is eligible for the Nebulas?” She confessed to me that three stories of hers were eligible, but that they were not available in electronic form. That would not do! said I, and convinced her to let me coordinate their web posting so that readers can look at her work and enjoy it — and if you’re in SFWA, consider nominating it.

Good Boy:

As a child on their outbound ship, Kressi had enjoyed the lessons on Benjamin Banneker, George McCoy, and technology’s other black pioneers. She’d wanted to be Ruth Fleurny, maverick member of the team that perfected the Bounce. It was because of Fleurny’s stubborn insistence on cheap access for all descendants of enslaved Africans as a condition of the “star drive’s” sale that the Neo-Negroes and a handful of similar expeditions had gotten off the ground.

Bird Day:

We sat in a circle on the side of the street. Some of us had lawn chairs, or folding chairs we’d brought out from our houses. Stepstools, even. We had a bunch of different kinds of seats we were sitting in.

This was the day to commune with birds.

And The Water Museum

When I saw the hitchhiker standing by the sign for the Water Museum, I knew he had been sent to assassinate me. First off, that’s what the dogs were saying as I slowed to pick him up. Girlfriend, with her sharp, little, agitated bark, was quite explicit. Buddy was silently trying to dig a hole under the back seat, seeking refuge in the trunk. I stopped anyway.

Take a read. It’s worth it.

Now for the gay sex. [Read more...]

Some of the ways I decide where to submit my work.

In response to some comments on a relatively long thread at SF Signal, I tried to answer the question of how I decide where to send my work. People were curious about how people hear about magazines, how magazines gain reputations, and how some semi-pro and token-paying magazines end up being name-checked as respectable or even enviable places to get published in.

Firsts things first. This conversation only applies within the spec community. In other communities, different standards apply.

Now, it’s been proposed that people tend to use three broad categories when figuring out whether a market is worth submitting to:

1) Pay rate.
2) Audience size.
3) Prestige.

This works in a general way, but I think I actually have a slightly different system. There are specific goals I want to accomplish with any story, and specific ways I think of different publication achievements. For instance, if I ever publish in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, I think of that as earning prestige points. In my own mind, in my own world, I would feel like I had gained prestige by publishing there, because it’s such an awesome zine, and the editors rock so many different colored socks.

Some writers have talked about trunking stories that they don’t think are pro material, or about only ever doing their best work. I respect that. I don’t always do it, though. Sometimes I write something silly in an afternoon because I felt like it. I’m not particularly proud of that piece. It’s not particularly good. But it does amuse me, and my goal was to make an editor laugh. Just one. Apparently, it did. Goal for that story accomplished.

So this whole conversation is on slippery footing. Not only will people’s criteria for what they want out of publication change, but also people’s individual evaluation of how good markets are. Further, people may want different things for different stories.

Nevertheless, here are some general thoughts on markets. These are offered for what use they may be to others. They are not intended to be proscriptive. They are only things that I think about places. Take some elements, discard others, ignore the whole thing, whatever you like. But I do think it can be useful to see how other writers think about the business.

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What novels would you nominate for the Nebula Awards?

Guest blogger Jason Sanford often rants on his website at www.jasonsanford.com. His fiction has been published in Interzone, Year’s Best SF 14, Analog, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Pindeldyboz, and other places, and has won the 2008 Interzone Readers’ Poll and a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship.

Nominations for the 2009 Nebula Awards ballot are now coming in. Unfortunately, only members of the SFWA can nominate works for the awards. But let’s throw aside the rules for a moment and assume anyone can nominate their favorite genre works for the award. What novels from the last year would you nominate?

In the interests of complete honesty, the reason I’m writing this post is because I’m frustrated that my favorite novel of 2009, The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, has received only a few nominations so far. If you want to read my rant on this, pop over to my website.

In addition to Bacigalupi’s amazing book, I’ve also nominated for best novel Green by Jay Lake and The Walls of the Universe by Paul Melko. Since I can nominate up to five novels, I’ll likely pick two more novels before the Feb. 15 deadline.

So what 2009 novels would you nominate for the Nebula?

The new urban fantasy. Same as the old urban fantasy?

N. K. Jemisin is a Brooklyn author whose first novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, is coming out from Orbit Books in February. It’s fantasy, but she doesn’t like calling herself a fantasist, because she thinks it makes her sound like some kind of hipster bigot.

Let’s start with the premise that there are two kinds of urban fantasy. I’ll call them stylistic urban fantasy and contextual urban fantasy. You’ve read the stylistic kind — or if you haven’t, WTH are you doing here on Jeff’s blog? Neil Gaiman (e.g., Neverwhere) and China Mieville (e.g., The City and the City) fall into this category as well. This was the first stuff to be overtly called “urban fantasy” as a literary movement, as far as I can tell (though fantasies set in cities have been written for literally centuries).

You might’ve read the contextual kind too, which is generally called urban fantasy because it takes place in a city or its exurbs, and involves fantasy creatures like werewolves and demons. But this kind of UF, as exemplified by Laurell K. Hamilton (e.g., the Anita Blake vampire hunter series), Patricia Briggs (e.g., the Mercy Thompson series), and Marjorie Liu (e.g., the Dirk & Steele series), bears about as much resemblance to the earlier form of urban fantasy as apples do to… well, no, oranges are both fruit.  Let’s range a bit further afield.  Bean pies?  Yeah, that’ll do.  Apples and fucking bean pies.  (I love me some bean pies, by the way.)

Just from the two sets of examples I’ve provided, if you’ve read any one of each set, you can guess at some of the differences textwise — but let’s skip the text for a moment, and focus on something else. The three stylistic UF authors I’ve mentioned are white guys. Pretty diverse in other ways, but that part’s fairly explicit. The three contextual UF authors are women. Hamilton and Briggs are white, as far as I know, and Liu is biracial (white and Asian). Most, if not all, of the stylistic UF protagonists are also white men, but the characters of the contextual UF I mentioned vary more widely. Briggs’ is Native American. Liu’s go all over the place — white women, black women and men, Latino shapeshifting dolphin boys — but in general, tend to place women in strong central roles.

Then there are the textual differences. I’ll get this right out in the open: I see better writing on the stylistic side of the coin. But that’s to be expected; it’s stylistic, after all, and craft matters, sometimes to the detriment of the story. The core of stylistic UF seems to be that the city or society is the focus of the story, as much a character as the protagonists themselves — which sometimes serves to reduce the protagonists to ciphers, there just to guide us through the strange, strange world of the story. Contextual UF takes a different tack, putting the city in the background and positioning the character squarely in front (as shown on most contextual UF cover art). Style matters here too, but in a very different way, with a solid emphasis on characterization. Without a vivid, identifiable, frankly lovable character, all the artful prose and scenery in the world becomes meaningless in contextual UF.

All of the authors mentioned, note, are New York Times bestsellers or winners of major awards — or both — which I’m taking as evidence that both forms of UF are popular and viable. The contextual stuff is probably more popular at the moment. Not surprising, really — it’s aimed at a larger audience. But bottom line, neither subgenre is hurting for readers.

So now I want to lay out a very non-scientific hypothesis. Two, actually.

Hypothesis 1: I believe steampunk is the bastard child of stylistic and contextual UF. Given its industrial roots, nearly all steampunk is at least rooted in city culture, if not actually set in cities. The steampunk milieu I’ve seen present haves and have-nots, ready access to skilled craftspeople and precision instruments, and concerns which are probably of greater importance to city dwellers than rural farmer-types (e.g., philosophical/ideological conflicts). And of course the setting and style matters, since steampunk is basically alternate history; effectively capturing the mood and feel of earlier times is essential. But most steampunk stories take as given that the individual is the center of the story, not the society or city in which the individual lives — suggesting a heritage drawn from contextual UF. In fact, I would argue that steampunk makes an archetype of Rugged Individualism, a quintessentially masculine (and white male American) ideology, and lays about with it, subverting the archetype in ways that make it appealing across lines of gender and culture and nation. In steampunk the hero is not the closemouthed cowboy wandering the Midwestern American plain. Steampunk’s heroes are effete British gentlemen wandering a landscape of intellectual adventure. Or never mind the effete part; steampunk goes right for the chicks as protags, in a way the actual progenitors of the Rugged Individualist ideal would’ve found inconceivable. So we get stylistic SF’s absorption with setting and art, and contextual SF’s accessibility and character-centeredness. Two great tastes that taste great together.

Hypothesis #2: As you may have guessed from Hypothesis #1, I think there is not as much difference between these two forms of UF as everybody keeps saying there is. (Where “everybody” = some value of “random people on the internet” [see also the io9 link above, especially the comments] + “random people at SF cons” like + “people I know”, some of whom actually know what they’re talking about.) Oh, sure, contextual UF’s reputation suffers from formulaic marketing (I’m really sick of the tattooed women’s body parts, personally) and the inexplicable success of some very poor writers within the fold. And sure, stylistic SF suffers by its elitism — both textual and by-association. But there’s more overlap than separation here. And lately I’ve been seeing more and more successful combinations of style and context* that make me think a subgenre fusion (or reunification) may be in the offing.

So, in the absence of experimental methodologies which could possibly test and/or refine these hypotheses, I turn to you, gentle Ecstatic Days readers. What are your thoughts on the division, differences, and possible reformation of the two forms of UF? Discuss.

I don’t have a horse in this race, note. My book’s epic fantasy. Just sayin’.

* (My favorite example of this is Kate Griffin’s A Madness of Angels, contextual UF with Big Fucking stylistic Guns; seriously, Griffin’s prose is hypnotic and addictive. I would also recommend Steven Boyett’s Ariel and Elegy Beach if they weren’t so many other things in addition to Urban Fantasy — quest fantasy, postapocalyptic fantasy, fantasy dystopia with a whiff of magic cyberpunk — so they’re not pure enough to be a good example. But good writing, regardless of classification.)

Writing from the Context of my culture

The Influence of Words

Long ago, someone said this in defense of my work: “She is writing from the context of her culture and from her own experience.”

I had gone to my first ever meeting with real writers. The woman who said those words was a professor from the University of the Philippines and she said those words in response to criticism that said my work would never be good enough for a US audience.

It’s funny that I should think of those words at this time when the words that chased after me for so many years were the words that told me I would never be good enough. I wonder how I could have forgotten those words when they are so relevant and so important to me as a writer of color.

What prompted me to chase after excellence was to prove the negative words wrong, and once I’d proven that I could write at that level, I found myself wondering what comes next.

Recalling the statement above reminded me that at some point in my pursuit to become better than my yesterday self I had determined to be true to the culture I came from. Remembering this and holding fast onto this gives me fresh enthusiasm and determination.

Culture, Heritage and the SF&F field

Growing up among an indigenous people was a privilege. History books tell me that the Mountain Province was one of the few places the Spanish could not colonize because of the fierceness of its warriors. Even after American missionaries had made their entry into the mountains, even after “the conversion of the natives”, the original culture still remains intact.

It makes me happy to hear of how the young people from the town I grew up in are still proud of their heritage. It’s not been easy for other indigenous groups as the struggle to protect indigenous rights is one that’s often fought against people in power.

On my last visit home, I attended a lecture given by Antoon Postma and the Mangyan Heritage Center. This lecture was one of many that Antoon was giving at several universities. Antoon had lived among the Mangyan tribe for more than fifty years and his lecture had specifically to do with the written tradition of the Mangyan. He was one of those rare people who truly loved the culture and embraced it instead of wanting to change it.

The teacher beside me listened just as attentively as I, and afterwards she said to me: What a shame that we should need a foreigner to teach us pride in our culture.

That a lot of Filipinos believe in the superiority of what’s foreign is a sad truth. It’s just like how Filipinos insist on bleaching their beautiful brown skin because they believe white is a superior color.

But I love the Filipino color. I love our beautiful brown skin and I don’t see why we need to be whiter. It’s just in this way that I love our beautiful Filipino culture. It is bright and colorful and filled with so many nuances. We are not just the color of earth, we are not just the beating of gongs, what we are includes the interweaving with other cultures. We are indigenous and multicultural at the same time.

Sometime ago, a Filipino poet told me that we should be multi-genre’d because we are multicultural. I still think on those words and I think it’s an exciting time to be a Filipino Speculative fiction writer.

As I write this, I am reminded of what it is about science fiction and fantasy that excites me. Where realist literature concerns itself with this now and this one person’s reality, Science Fiction and Fantasy invites us to explore beyond the boundaries of what we perceive to be real. I love this genre, I love the way in which imagination and creativity are given free reign, and I love how there is always room for a culture other than that of the West.

Rochita Loenen-Ruiz is a Filipina writer living in The Netherlands. A graduate of the Clarion West Writing Workshop and recipient of the Octavia Butler Scholarship for 2009, her work has appeared in a variety of online and print publications including Weird Tales Magazine, Fantasy Magazine, Apex, The Philippine Speculative Fiction anthology, and the Ruins and Resolve Anthology. Visit her online at: http://rcloenen-ruiz.livejournal.com

Link to View Atop the Slushpile, and How Not to Imply You Think You Are Your D&D Character

There have been a number of posts responding to Scalzi, and responding to Ann, and responding to me. Notably, I rather liked Mamatas’s contribution to the conversation. (Though, sorry, I won’t shut up.)

However, in the spirit of cross-linkage, I wanted to point out this post by a Fantasy Magazine slush reader. It’s a useful break-down for new writers about how to present their stories, and how that presentation is being interpreted by slush readers.

I had my own addition to Molly’s list:

This would never have occurred to me before I started slushing, but don’t send from an email address that lists you under a cutesy name.

Best case: Your email address sends mail as you. Here’s a sub from Sarah Ann Mayberry, listed as Sarah Ann Mayberry. Excellent.

Mildly unprofessional, but not enough so to make a difference: Your email address sends mail under some not-you identity that is obviously useful in your personal life, e.g. “Barry and Mary,” which is great when you’re sending email as a couple, but less useful when it’s only Barry’s submission. These people might consider starting a professional g-mail account, but it’s not a big deal either way.

BAD CASE: Your name is John Jones, but your email lists you as Thrashbar the Conquerer. Or The Seeker of All Evils. Your name is Susanne Height, but your email lists you as Lady Mistweather or The Golden Goddess or Feather Love, Bright Winter Falling. This email appears to have been set up as an RPG name, and suggests you might not have good taste in RPGs. It’s bad. It may even suggest you confuse yourself with the protagonist of your story.

WORST CASE: This hasn’t happened yet, but Ann and I have been waiting for a submission to come in from someone with a name best left to bad spam. Get Harder Longer, submitting a story of approximately 2100 words for your consideration. Make Her Cry Your Name, with a tender tale of telepathically linked twins set against the background of the apocalypse. See Into Coed Showers wondering how to mark italics in his Jordan-esque epic fantasy.

ETA: I’m sorry — I realized this is perhaps … not clear. I don’t care about the email address. You can be [email protected] and that’s fine.

It’s the NAME that appears with the email address that raises eyebrows. With gmail, I don’t see your address unless I make an effort, but the email comes in sent from a name. That name is probably the one that you entered as your name when you made the account. If your email address is [email protected], I probably won’t even see it, as long as the name you entered is Thomas Wilkins. But if you entered your *name* as Lady Raventouch, and a story comes in from Lady Raventouch (email address [email protected]) then we kind of raise an eyebrow.