Yup, my site has the hiccoughs again. This time it's my blog. I haven't changed my settings, and yet the blog suddenly won't show. Testtesttest
Like many authors who are people of colour, I have been avoiding describing the various skin tones of people of colour with words such as "chocolate," "cocoa," "cinnamon," "sienna," "sandalwood," "teak." I'm hyper aware that those words have over the centuries been used to exoticize us, to sexualize and colonize our bodies by likening us to the consumables and commodities which fuell(ed) colonialism.
The thing is, I love our skins and our beauty. I love our varieties of shades and tones, the way sunlight glows when it touches us. I find it sensual. I find it, well, tasty. Yet when I reach for imagery to evoke that gorgeousness, I'm stymied because I don't want to replicate one of the many harms that have been done us. I find myself staring at what I'm writing, stuck because I keep rejecting the words that come to me.
I'm tired of it. Yes, those are words for commodities. Well, many of them were our commodities to start with. I'm tired of letting myself be robbed of the joy of the sensuous associations they carry. I'm reclaiming my right to revel in our skins. I'm (re)claiming the chocolate, the cinnabar, the sandalwood. The henna, the mahogany, the brown sugar. The honey, the caramel, the copper.
(The image, by the way, is of an old Barbados penny.)
The quick and dirty version: My first novel was titled Brown Girl in the Ring. It was published in 1998. A few years ago, Caribbean-Canadian actor/director Sharon Lewis asked my permission to make a film inspired by that novel. I replied, as one does, "Talk to my agent." Sharon did so, and they hammered out a contract. I signed off on it. Then Sharon wrote the script, fundraised, hired the cast and crew, and made the film. Let me restate: Sharon Lewis is the artist who created the film Brown Girl Begins. Here she is:
Brown Girl Begins is inspired by my novel, but Sharon's story makes significant departures from mine. Brown Girl Begins is her project, her first feature film. It was her idea, initiated and created with blood, sweat and tears by her. I didn't approach her. I didn't hire her. In fact, I wasn't the least bit interested in making a film. That was all Sharon. I didn't do much beyond cashing a small option cheque once a year for the past few years and encouraging Sharon as she went through this gruelling process. I understand that people are excited to see a film made in the world of one of my novels; I am, too. I've seen the film, and it's beautiful and the actors delight me and the people involved in every aspect of making it have been freaking ingenious. So I'm getting increasingly irked when people say, "Nalo's book is a film!" with no mention of the actual artist responsible for everything about the film, including the idea and the drive to make it in the first place. Please, have a care. Artists deserve credit for their work. On the IMDB page you can also see a list of all the actors, technical experts, musicians, crew, etc (artists in their own right) as well as the list of producers. You'll note that my name is not among them. That is entirely appropriate.
And here's the exciting part: Brown Girl Begins is having a premier screening! It'll be at Urbanworld in New York on September 23.
A few days ago came the wonderful news that the next Doctor on Doctor Who will finally be a woman. That's long overdue. And as predicted, a number of the fans are up in arms about it. It all got me curious enough to watch the final season of Peter Capaldi's tenure as the Doctor. (And by the way, I was stunned to read former Doctor Colin Baker saying that those fans who didn't like Capaldi in the role were upset because he isn't eye candy. He isn't? I mean, just look at the man. That's a fine-cut jib if I've ever seen one.)
Anyway. First delight I discovered in Capaldi's last season is his new companion, Bill Potts. An out Black dyke! Who knew? (Yeah, I know; everyone except me. I've been busy.) Then I began to notice something else. It's not just Bill; the show has generally become more relaxed about queerness. We see the Doctor talking about the Master as his man crush. And there's that hilarious interchange amongst Bill and a group of ancient Roman soldiers, where she explains to them that she only likes women, and one of them responds that it's so sweet and old-fashioned for her to be monosexual, not normal and bisexual like most of them are.
That season was also very clearly laying the way for a woman doctor. The Master complains that the future's going to be all women, and if I remember correctly, Missy, his own female iteration, tells him to get used to it.
And then I realized something else. I've only been watching the show since the 9th Doctor, played all suave-like by Christopher Eccleston. That was when the show finally started to have appeal for me. As I think back on all the episodes since, it came to me that the writers have been steadily populating the Whoniverse with Time Lord and Time Lordlike women who head out into the stars by themselves or with women companions, to change the universe(s) for better or worse. The Doctor's Daughter, for one. And River Song is sorta human, but for a while could regenerate. She can fly the TARDIS better than the Doctor can, and is his match in derring-do. Then there's Missy, the possibly even more twisted female reincarnation of the other Time Lord, the Master. Clara Oswald and Ashildr, who have their own TARDIS, disguised as an American diner. Bill Potts and her godlike girlfriend Heather. And, briefly, the tragically human Doctor Donna.
You know how they say that if you put a live lobster in a pot of cool water and warm it up slowly, the lobster doesn't realize it's being cooked until it's too late? Dear Doctor Who fans who are women-haters; the water's been heating up for some time. Dinner is served.
My site hasn't been displaying properly for aeons, and I've been having a devil of a time trying to find out why. I finally gave up. Just checked the site again today, and it looks like it might be okay now. We'll see whether this note posts properly. The font looks awful tiny, but I see no button for changing its size. There should also be an image visible in this post; luminescent green bangle on a navy background. Fingers crossed.
My agent got back to me with his feedback on the Blackheart Man manuscript. He had a lot of useful feedback, which will inform another rewrite of the novel so that I can make it submission-worthy.
But the most important thing? He says he likes it! I'm still floating on that news. Don is not one for mincing words. He knows that when he shops a manuscript around for me, his level of enthusiasm for it will probably help. So if he says he likes it, he does.
Now to find time to do the dang rewrite. I may have to wait until the summer. Spring quarter at UCR is kicking my behind. Not so much the teaching -- for once, I feel fairly well prepped for that. It's the other stuff. The committees, the events, the I-don't-know-what-all. This is the first time it's been this heavy a workload. Keeping up with it and bringing my friable focus to bear on it is not being easy on my mind or body.
...and now my website isn't working, and no-one can tell me why not. Sigh.
I was on sabbatical in the fall -- my first ever -- with the intention of completing this novel that's been on my plate for the better part of a decade now.
I originally published this on my previous website, either on January 5, 2015, or May 1, 2015 (numerical dates confuse me). I've edited it a little to repost it here:
On Twitter today, I said I would lay out my suggestions for how editors can go about creating anthologies that contain a diversity of voices. Here they are. I realize that some of the terms I use are overgeneralized and imperfect; diversity, non/marginalized, etc. Mea culpa.
So: The minute you start talking about bringing diversity to an anthology, you'll be besieged by stentorian voices damning the effort, claiming that it's going to negatively affect the quality of the work. It's bullshit, tantamount to saying that the only good writing comes from non-marginalized writers. Gathering a wide range of voices, styles, aesthetics, experiences and perspectives in an anthology is a recipe for a good anthology, not a bad one.
But here's where those voices have a point: if you wait till after you've put out your call for submissions to run around trying to fill in diversity slots for your anthology -- you know, the “one of each so long as there aren't too many of them” approach -- you will more likely than not end up with a dog's breakfast of a volume in which it's clear that you selected writers for their optics, not their writing. That's tokenism, not sound editorial practice. The time to be trying to make your anthology a diverse one is before submissions come in, not during or after.
On the other hand, if you just put your call for fiction out there and cross your fingers, you'll end up with mostly the usual suspects. It's not enough to simply open the door. Why? Because after centuries of exclusion and telling us we're not good enough, an unlocked door is doing jack shit to let us know that anything's changed. Most of us will continue to duck around it and keep moving, thank you very much. We'll go where we know there are more people like us, or where there are editors who get what we're doing.
So make up your mind that you're going to have to do a bit of work, some outreach. It's fun work, and the results are rewarding.
Make a list of names of writers from whom you'd like to see submissions. You probably know that your list needs to be way longer than the number of stories you can publish. Fitness clubs have been getting rich on this principle for decades; they sell far more memberships than their facilities can hold, because they know that at most, only about 20 percent of those who pay for memberships ever enter the building a second time. Your list should include the non- (or not as) marginalized writers, but make sure you have 2-5 times more marginalized writers. Because of all the current and historical barriers to our participation, it's going to take at least that many to get a representative sample of submissions.
Don't know the names of that many writers from traditionally marginalized communities? Don't stop at the well-known go-to names from those communities. By all means invite them. Just realize that inviting only them is another facet of tokenism. When you contact them, ask them to recommend other writers to you. Ask around. Ask readers, other writers, editors, listserves, educators, Twitter, Facebook. People will be happy to clue you in. Get contact information for the writers they name. While you're at it, ask them where you should be putting your call for submissions (if you're doing a public one) in order to have a better chance of it being seen by writers from a diversity of communities. Because if you only publicize it in the usual places, you'll only get -- say it with me -- the usual suspects.
Write your call for submissions. Put the payment terms up front, even if there's no payment. This is a good practice for inviting any kind of artist or freelancer to submit their work to you. Making art takes time, and especially when you're a freelancer, time is money, which pays for the roof over your head and the food on your table. Also, be explicit about wanting to see submissions from writers from a diversity of communities. I would go so far as to suggest you be explicit about which communities you mean. Now, a weird thing will sometimes happen when you do this; the minute you say that you want to hear from everybody, some (usually) straight, (usually) white writers will decide you're saying that you don't want stories from white people. To them, “inclusivity” means “We hate (straight) white people.” It's un-freaking-believable. I frankly don't go out of my way to reassure those folks. There'll be plenty straight, white writers who don't have that chip on their shoulders. There'll be another group of non/less-marginalized writers who will tell you they don't want to submit stories to you because they don't want to take up a slot that could go to someone whose voice mightn't otherwise be heard. Those people's hearts are in the right place, but the zero sum game is exactly the kind of thing you're trying to change. Remind those folks that you're the editor, and they should leave the editorial decisions up to you. Some of them may still wig out and opt out, but not all of them will.
Contact the writers on your list; marginalized writers first, non-marginalized writers next. Personally invite them to submit stories. I always like to remind everyone that an invitation to submit is an invitation to have their work considered, not a guarantee of publication. Writers who've been doing this in the mainstream forever will probably know that. Writers who haven't been part of the mainstream may not. If I'm doing a closed call, I ask the writers I'm inviting to let me know about any writers they think I may have missed. When I've done this, recommendations have sometimes netted me great submissions from writers I'd never have heard of otherwise (yes, white writers, too), or who wouldn't have thought to submit to the kind of anthology I edit. Everybody wins.
If you're doing an open call for submissions, post the call now, in all the expected places as well as the ones that have been recommended to you.
By the way: if you want stories from marginalized writers, invite them early. Hell, invite everyone early. But particularly the writers who will be more familiar with being tokenized. Can't tell you how many times I've received an invitation because an editor has decided last minute that they need to show willing. You can practically hear them hoping that I won't have the time to produce a story with only days/hours/seconds to the deadline, because then they can say, well, they did invite me, but you know how it is; for some reason, “those people” don't submit their stories, even though the door's wide open. N.K. Jemisin talks here about what that experience is like. Sometimes when we say we don't have the time, what we mean is, we see your tokenism, and we ain't your freaking diversity poster child.
Now wait for the submissions to come in. When they do, I try to ignore the names of the writers until after I've read all the stories, assessed them against the others, shaped the anthology, and made my decisions. This is the time when you can do that, not at the point where you're soliciting submissions.
Realize that even if you've done everything I suggest and you've done your best to be unbiased at the selection stage, you may still end up with an anthology that's not as balanced as you'd like. This is a blessedly inexact process. It won't have the same results every time. But in the aggregate, you should be able to see a positive trend.
Implied in all this is the possibility that you'll end up with an anthology in which "minority" writers predominate. The horror! If this bothers you, take comfort in the fact that all those readers who claim not to pay attention to the identities of authors won't even notice.
Nerdcon is happening this weekend in Minneapolis, and there are still tickets available. If last year's Nerdcon is anything to go by, it's gonna be a blast.
Here's my schedule:
Juvenilia (part of Friday Morning Variety Show)
Friday 09:34 AM - 09:49 AM, Auditorium
Participants: Cindy Pon, Nalo Hopkinson, Paul DeGeorge
Why Do I Feel Like the Rules Keep Changing? [Panel]
Friday 11:00 AM - 12:00 PM, Room 101 BC
Participants: Julián Gómez (Moderator), Daniel José Older, Nalo Hopkinson, Cindy Pon, Mikki Kendall
How to Write Straight Characters [Panel]
Friday 12:30 PM - 01:30 PM, Room 101 BC
Participants: Alyssa Wong(Moderator), Nalo Hopkinson, Blue Delliquanti, Amanda Neumann
Kaffeeklatsch - Nalo Hopkinson [Kaffeeklatsch]
Friday 05:00 PM - 06:00 PM, Room M100 E
Signing - Nalo Hopkinson [Signing]
Saturday 12:30 PM - 01:30 PM, Exhibit Hall B
A Whole New World [Panel]
Saturday 02:00 PM - 03:00 PM, Room 101 BC
Participants: Paolo Bacigalupi(Moderator), Nalo Hopkinson, Ben Acker, Daniel José Older, Katrina Ostrander, M.T. Anderson
Rapid Fire Q&A (part of Saturday Afternoon Variety Show)
Saturday 03:34 PM - 03:49 PM, Auditorium
Participants: Chris Rathjen, Eileen Cook, Joe DeGeorge, Jonathan Ying, Karen Hallion, Kevin MacLeod, Nalo Hopkinson, Paolo Bacigalupi
1 on 1 Conversation (part of Saturday Afternoon Variety Show)
Saturday 03:59 PM - 04:14 PM, Auditorium
Daniel José Older, Nalo Hopkinson