The Final Stretch of Shared Worlds

A whole week at Shared Worlds and I took exactly zero photos. What’s wrong with me?

(Not that it matters, but my soundtrack for this week has consisted mostly of the newest Gorillaz album, Plastic Beach (“Empire Ants” is going right now), supplemented by the vocal stylings of Shared Worlds director, Jeremy Jones.)

I’ve got my CD with the students’ stories, though, as well as books by visiting lecturers, readers, and critique experts: Michael Bishop and Marly Youmans. They are honed and cunning writers, those two, sharp as spears and sweet as pecan pie. (Say it like pea-can, we’re in South Carolina.) I spent a little bit of time admiring their critiques of the student’s stories, and I gained valuable experience points just from that glancing contact with their expertise.

One of the reasons I make sure to be a part of Shared Worlds every year is that I get to sit in on lectures and classes with sterling writers like these. It’s a potent dose of education every time.

Doing the student critiques this year was a rejuvenating, re-centering experience, just as it was last year. It was also a harrowing sprint, requiring a run out for sugar indulgences and caffeine bombs to keep me awake throughout the long night… except, that’s not quite right. It’s the stories that kept me up into the wee hours and got me out of bed at 5am to keep on reading. Knowing that the Shared Worlds students were eager to get their critiques back, eager to get back under the hoods of their stories, made the choice of sleep versus stories an easy one. I chose stories. I’m glad I did.

On Friday night I had the distinct honor of reading alongside Youmans and Bishop, who read a few of their poems and sparked a lovely discussion of language and poetry with the students. I read an edited excerpt from my unsold (and, now, unfinished) novel, Wound. (This is the same material I read in the closet at Manuel’s, if you’re keeping track). A fine evening.

Now that the camp is over, I am the best kind of exhausted—the kind that comes with empowering sleep, the kind that leads to new enthusiasm. I am eager to get back to my desk tomorrow night and continue the work on my own novel and stories. I am reminded that any spare moment is a moment to write, muses be damned, and that every hour spent writing is potentially an hour of play.

Thanks to the students and faculty and sponsors of Shared Worlds for another stellar year. Now, beer. Then, sleep. For tomorrow I fly.

On Enthusiastic Consent

Sometime back my brother went for holiday in Phuket (not so extraordinary, I’m afraid, since Thailand’s right next door to Malaysia), and he told me he was hoping to put the moves on a woman he found attractive.

“You got condoms?” I asked.

“Yep.”

“Don’t forget to get consent.”

“Of course!” said he, indignant that I could think otherwise.

“Enthusiastic consent.”

“Oh yes yes yes,” he replied eagerly.

“Actually, one-up that: enthusiastic participation.”

“Hmmmm…” he turned thoughtful, as if it was a whole new level. Which it is, and a step further from what I want to talk about today.

(I got the concept of enthusiastic participation from Hugo Schwyzer a few years back.) The concept of enthusiastic consent has also been expounded at length in the wonderful anthology Yes Means Yes!, conversations from which are continued at the Yes Means Yes! Blog.

In light of the latest Stupid Shit From Rape Culture, in which a jury ruled that a Jane Doe could not sue GGW for making profit off a video of her in which her breasts were exposed without permission, I would like to talk about consent. [Read more…]

Them Reviewers, They’re Some Sick Bastards

(Thanks to all of the guest bloggers for the great ongoing posts!)
So Finch is out in the UK early next month, and so far it’s gotten a great review in Interzone and on Strange Horizons to go with raves in the Washington Post, B&N Review, LA Times, and lots of other places for the US edition, as well being a Nebula finalist and Locus Award finalist.

And then there’s the one that made me really laugh. The one where the reviewer seems to have been writing while he had a lemon stuck very high up somewhere that made him exceedingly uncomfortable and narsty-minded, the Tom Holt one on SFX. It genuinely, seriously made me laugh. Why in the name of all that’s holy would they give Finch to this guy to review? Were they trying to make me cry? The worst part is the cliche emperor-has-no-clothes reference (yep, it’s cause he’s moonin’ you). Well, I guess that means I’ve arrived…again. Or something. Anyway, go read it. And then go buy the beautiful UK edition anyway.

Okay, back to the salt-mines for me. Carry on.

Lightness: Italo Calvino’s hope for the future of literature

Gio Clairval is an Italian-born refugee who lives in Paris and writes in English, also translating stories from several languages she has forgotten to a language (this one) she has never really known. She’s published here and there and can be spotted, when she thinks you’re not looking, at Kosmochlor, first place in the internets (evar) to showcase Umberto Eco’s “rules for writing well” in the tongue Inglès. Being late at the wake is considered chic where she comes from.

The idea of this post came to me from the image of a floating city, a poster by French artist Stephan Muntaner (not the artwork displayed here), to be inserted in the forthcoming Bible of Steampunk brought to you by the master of this blog. The poster depicts an industrial city yanked away from earth along with a cushion of soil. An aerial impossibility.

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Why Do You People Still Need All that Black Stuff?

Maurice Broaddus is the author of the novel series, The Knights of Breton Court (Angry Robot).  His dark fiction has been published in numerous magazines, anthologies, and web sites, most recently including Dark Dreams II & III, Apex Magazine, Black Static, and Weird Tales Magazine.  He is the co-editor of the Dark Faith anthology (Apex Books).   Read his blog where he often opines on issues of race, religion, writing, and pop culture and learn more about him at www.MauriceBroaddus.com.

I thought this week I’d go for something a little less controversial.  A little while ago, I let Chesya Burke direct me to RaceFail on teh Interwebz.  There’s plenty enough out there without me having to seek it out.  Yet, when she calls in that “I ain’t playing.  I’m about to choke somebody” voice, I have to check it out.  Let this be a lesson to you interwebz:  quit winding her up, cause she winds me up, and I got deadlines.

The cause of the umbrage was the fact that the BET Awards will be a royal affair: Prince is getting a lifetime achievement honor.  The 51-year-old joins the likes of James Brown, Whitney Houston, Diana Ross and Al Green in being honored by the BET Awards, which will celebrate its 10th year in Los Angeles on June 27.

The thread in question involved this old chestnut:  “One would think that since we’ve come so far as to have a black president we wouldn’t need award programs where the winners have to be of a particular ethnicity. Imagine the hate and protest that would come if there was a White Entertainment Television channel and awards ceremony, or a White Miss America Pageant. Are these ethnic-centered events still needed? Are they racist? What are your thoughts?”

Now, my first thought was that this would mark the first time I’ve wanted to tune into BET since A.J. and Free were the hosts of 106th and Park.

Now to parse the fail.  I’m not going to cast this person as racist.  It’s a question that on the surface is a gut reaction to what one might see as unfair.  I’ll accept that premise at its word.  However, as I’ve said before, just because folks are your friends doesn’t mean that they aren’t capable of saying and doing ignorant things.

Fail #1:  I was right there in the elation of electing President Obama, believing that I’d never see that day in my lifetime.  Of course, the fact that so many still had that sentiment ought to put this whole conversation in check, but I’ll continue anyway.  I know the temptation is to believe that now that we have a black president, the sins of racism have now been erased and we can move forward.  I guess this ignores the entirety of history as I double check to see where someone breaks the color barrier, say Jackie Robinson, all of the racism just goes away.  Just like with Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith coaching in the Super Bowl, the first black head coaches to do so. It doesn’t, and the backwash of latent racism his election has churned up should be evidence that we haven’t come as far and aren’t as sophisticated as we’d like to believe ourselves to be.  Plus, I don’t look to politics and politicians to cure what is a heart issue.

Fail #2:  The old “White Entertainment Television”, “White Miss America Pageant”, and because I’m in a generous mood, I’ll toss in one for free, “White Expo” argument.  Now, I’ll spare you my standard quips (“WET?  Yeah, we’ve always just called it ABC, CBS, or NBC.” “White Miss America Pageant?  It was only recently the pageant even realized there were beautiful women of color in this country to begin with.”  “White Expo?  Really, cause we let you have NASCAR.”).  Just like you can spare me conveniently overlooking the fact that BET, Black Miss America Pageants, and Black Expos (and I’ll throw in Historically Black Colleges since it won’t be but 30 seconds before someone throws in their tale of woe about not getting a scholarship because they aren’t black) wouldn’t have been necessary in the first place if black people hadn’t been shut out of institutions.

Now, horror has had its own legacy of RaceFail, so I turn to it to answer the question “What would the protest look like?”  It would look something like when Brandon Massey was doing the anthology series, Dark Dreams.  All of a sudden, many white “recognized racism when they saw it.”  They thumped their chests loudly at this “brand of segregation” and “affirmative action writing” … when we’re not even a year out of yet another “best of” anthology series having a table of contents featuring only white men.  So again, it’d be nice to declare us in a post-racial era, but let’s actually live like we’re in one first before we declare us there.
Fail #3:  Privilege and the “need for such things”.  Being a majority in a society, holding the bulk of the power, with the weight of history and social institution behind you, it’s easy to see any inroad/erosion of that as unfair.  In your quest for colorblindness, you don’t realize how much that negates people of color.  As I said at the conclusion of my blog on white privilege (and, yeah, for the sake of continued conversation, I no longer refer to “white privilege” as “crackernomics”):  I know, I know, you gentle white souls, this means you rage against the gods of political correctness as your slice of the American Dream pie continues to get cut into. The conversations are tough, exposing your possible denial, defensiveness, guilt, and shame of benefiting from systemic injustice. Be strong white people.

As for the need for such things, I look to institutions such as the “black church”.   It was a miracle that it came about in the first place and it still serves a vital function in the black community.  Would I like to see a post-racial church?  Absolutely.  Just as I recognize that it will take continued serious work and conversations to make it happen.  Until then, you can’t keep complaining that all the black kids sit with each other in the cafeteria.  Sometimes, we just need to.

Asking those questions isn’t racist.  It’s ignorance and there’s nothing wrong with ignorance as long as we’re willing to listen and learn.  I want to hold hands and sing “Kumbaya” as much as the next person, but we aren’t there yet.  Hopefully we can keep having conversations until we get to this post-racial Nirvana we all are so ready to skip ahead to.

Advice for Writers

Some useful advice for writers

  • Change your underwear, at least once a week (whether you need to or don’t).
  • Drink beer.
  • Never refer to a writing group as a “circle jerk”, in public.
  • If you think cocaine is the drug of choice for writers, then you have unrealistic expectations of financial returns.
  • Never drink wine at a book launch.
  • Open your own fan page on Facebook and invite everyone to become your fan. Do not be offended if they all think you’re a jerk.
  • If you really have nothing to say, write an article on the tools you use as a writer. When discussing anonymous proxies, make sure to stress you use them due to civil rights issues, not to look at porn.
  • When writing hard SF, make sure to use the terms “post-human”, “singularity” and “quantum”. Write an awkward sex scene. Wait for fame and fortune to come your way.
  • You are too good to be nominated for awards.
  • Write with the door closed, to keep out the bailiffs. Re-write with the door open, to keep an eye on them coming back.
  • Never refer to your “shitty four room apartment.” Some of us would kill for that much space.
  • Never play cards with a man named Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom’s. Donuts are bad for you. Coffee is good.
  • Drink lots of coffee.
  • When people ask what you do, never, ever say “writer”, unless you want people’s eyes to glaze over. Say “Sanitation Engineer”, which is both more interesting and a more accurate way to describe what you really do.
  • If you’re just starting out, remember publishing is a global conspiracy designed to keep you out.
  • If you’re in mid-career, make sure to complain on your blog about the lack of suitable advice for mid-career writers.
  • If you’re Dan Brown make sure to complain about the vintage of Champaign not being expensive enough and ruining your bath.
  • If you’re in America, make sure to go to conventions. The best way to “break in” is to corner an editor at the bar and telling them how great you are.
  • Never buy an editor a drink. That’s what they have those huge expense accounts for.
  • Run for political office, but for someone like the socialists or the libertarians, to make sure you don’t get in. It would make you look interesting.
  • Complain about paper submissions.
  • Get an agent. It will give you something to complain about.
  • Make sure to eat at least once a day, whether you can afford to or not.
  • They don’t send people to Australia any more for stealing bread.
  • If you really have nothing to say, guest-blog.
  • Finally, repeat the following procedure to become a successful writer:
  • 10 Write
  • 20 Coffee
  • 30 Write
  • 40 Beer
  • 50 GOTO 10
  • Trust me on the underwear.

Thank you.

Lavie Tidhar is the author of The Bookman (Angry Robot Books) and follow-ups Camera Obscura and Night Music, both forthcoming from the same publisher. His latest book, novella Cloud Permutations, is just out from PS Publishing in the UK.

Intermittent Transmissions from the Diaspora

I am a Filipina writer living in The Netherlands. If you wish to know more about me, please feel free to visit my website.

An anecdote

Not so long ago, I was walking through the supermarket when a familiar tune sounded through the loudspeakers. I stopped and listened and sure enough, the song they were playing was Anak by Freddie Aguilar**.  For a moment, I felt as if I were back home again, and I had a sudden urge to grab someone by the elbow and say: “Listen, that’s Anak. You know that singer, he’s a Filipino like me.”

To my disappointment, the aisle was empty. The morning rush of mothers doing a quick grocery trip was long over, and except for the people at the cashier’s counter, I was the only one around. Inspite of that, I felt a glow inside me.  For a brief moment, Anak had brought me home.

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Mysterious Galaxy (and a MindMeld for Shared Worlds)

If you’re in the general San Diego area, consider dropping by Mysterious Galaxy bookstore Wednesday (that’s today) at 7pm, when Ann and I will be talking about the Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals and I will be reading from Third Bear. It’s part of the Clarion reading series.

Also, SF Signal just posted a MindMeld for Shared Worlds, the teen writing camp, with great advice from Karen Lord, Holly Black, and many others. Check it out.

Frogs… and what they say about talent.

Eden Robins writes what she has just decided to call “quirky fantasy” or “quirkrock”. She also edits Brain Harvest and lives in Chicago, where she is currently trying to do too many things at once.

So check this out, you guys:

It’s an anthropomorphic frog. I drew it. It only took me about two hours. I know, right? How did I draw something so awesome in only two hours?

For me, drawing is an excruciating process. Brain-hurty, frustrating, tedious and ultimately disappointing. My artistic talent peaked somewhere in that golden age of youth between eating my first solid foods and pooping in the appropriate receptacle. I figured that was the end of that story… and I was pretty much fine with it. I would focus on other things I enjoyed and was actually decent at — like softball, or having imaginary friends. I always assumed drawing ability lay in the universe of the Talented — in the world of Some People Are Just Born with It.

But the funny thing about talent is that the more you think about it and try to pin it down to a useful definition, the more elusive it becomes. Is it innate ability? Well, starting when… from birth? What do you really know how to do when you’re born? I can probably say I’m a talented breather, but that’s about it. Somehow, somewhere, there was learning, however early and preliminary it might have been. If talent is a heightened ability to learn, well then that’s just an accessory to skill, isn’t it? Or, if talent is basically an amplified version of interest or passion, you can add a drop of ambition, and suddenly you’ve got something you can hold on to.

Of course, this isn’t to say that there’s no such thing as having an advantage — there are people for whom certain things just seem to be easier. And maybe that’s talent. But really, that’s just a slight boost up the massive mountain of learning and work and effort that everyone who wants to be an expert at something must climb. And sometimes talent — and being told that one has it — can be a crutch to actual achievement, and more importantly, to learning. Because if this idea of innate ability is the preferred state of affairs, then learning takes a sad second place, becoming the thing you’re left with when you don’t “have” talent. I believed this for a long time. I was embarrassed if I couldn’t immediately do something well.  I still am. To be honest, publicly showing this pencil drawing is making me a little nauseous. Thus, it should be no surprise that for a long time, I got very little done.

So here I am. At the base of that intimidating mountain (rendered crappily, no doubt, to match my own abilities). But I want to be able to tell stories in pictures as well as in words, and if I have to draw a thousand crappy frogs before I can move onto the next amphibian (both literal and metaphoric), then so be it.

My next step — also publicly announced here so that I feel obligated to do it — is an ongoing comic strip chronicling my quest to learn how to draw, where the characters in the comic will be portrayed by whatever creature/object I’m learning at the time. First up: frogs. Coming soon to my own neglected blog.

Writing Fighting

I originally posted this on my blog, The Gist, several months back, but I thought it might be of interest to you Ecstatic Days readers, too, and I wanted to chip in over here while I could.

For a week or so, I plugged the “ask me anything” feature on my tumblelog, hoping to get some fodder for blog posts. The last question to come in was this one: “Any tips on writing fight scenes in fiction?”

Tips I don’t know, but I have some personal tastes that I try to serve when I write action. The thing about my answer, though, is that it depends greatly on just what I’m trying to accomplish with the fight scene. Ideally, a writer has several voices or styles at her disposal when it comes to writing action, so that a single writer can offer up this:

She stabbed. Blood rushed out. A scream.

or this:

She lashed out with her sword in both hands, the blade finding flesh, finding blood. He answered the blow with a gurgled cry.

or this:

She swung her sword in a wide arc, telegraphing one move, but halted her swing midway and leaned into a surprise thrust. The brutish maneuver pushed through his elegant, stale defense. Her sword-point pierced tunic and skin and sent him reeling back. He cried out in equal parts pain and surprise and tumbled onto his rump and palms.

When it comes to the language of a fight, I think clarity is probably key (confusion being one of the cardinal sins of storytelling). After clarity comes rhythm and detail, which make a fight readable and tangible. Each of those elements is a spectrum, though, and how far you turn each dial is an authorial judgment call.

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