The skilled, perceptive and mischievously forthright Betsy Mitchell was the buyer and editor for my first published novel, Brown Girl in the Ring. Basically, she gave me my start as a novelist in the industry. She made me feel welcomed as a new Black and Caribbean writer in a genre where we still struggle for representation. She made me feel seen. Hell, she made me be seen, by taking a chance on me. And with her editorial chops, she helped me to strengthen my books. She left Warner Books a few years later and went to Open Road Media, which publishes digital reprints. When my novel The Salt Roads and my short story collection Skin Folk went out of print, she purchased them for digital re-release. As of yesterday, both books are back in print, and you can be reading them within seconds of purchase. Thank you, Betsy!
Winter classes at UCR begin tomorrow. My first class is on Tuesday. To my delight, I'm mostly ready for it. It's been a busy Xmas season. Often, it didn't feel much like a holiday. But it's been good stuff. I made lots of Xmas food; Caribbean black cake (my version was gluten-free), garlic pork, ginger beer. I sewed myself a new tunic. I wrote a proposal for my novel-in-progress Duppy Jacket and massaged 67 pages of the manuscript to append to the proposal. My agent has it now. I read a bunch of excellent novels and a good 300 pages of literary theory. I got myself a wristwatch fitness tracker for my birthday (December 20) and started walking more and taking stairs. I found someplace local to take dance lessons. I hung out with old friends and made some new ones. So all in all, I guess I'm ready to go back to school.
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 clunky; 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 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.
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.
I'm trying on the title "Duppy Jacket" for the novel-in-progress. Just wrote a couple of pages, will probably write more later. I've heard some people disparage fantasy by saying that those of us who write it "just make it all up." The hell we do. Research questions from the past few days, brought out by the scene on which I'm working:
1,014 words today in the novel. Paired up with my sweetheart, who's also working on a writing project. We did 100-word "heats" of a few minutes each, with little breaks in between. The time went really quickly. 100 words at a time means you often break off in the middles of sentences, so you're itching to get back and finish the thought. Thank you to Hal Duncan for the inspiration to try it that way. Here are some of today's words, unedited:
Dusting! She hated dusting. What these rasscloth people had her dusting for? She’d told them, she should be in the kitchen cooking. Could make a jackass corn sweet biscuit that would get your mouth springing water. Could cook up a ackee and saltfish come Sunday morning; ackee so soft and nice it would melt in your mouth. Saltfish with little bit of scotch bonnet pepper, so fine you would be glad to still be picking it out of your teeth hours later, just so you could keep that taste in your mouth.
But no; she must dust.
First, a bit of information I omitted a few days ago as I hastened to let people know about our concerns for the Eaton Archive. The first Eaton archivist was Dr. George Slusser in 1979; the initial curator of the collection. Here's an interview Dr. Slusser recently gave to author and astrophysicist Dr. Gregory Benford. Dr. Slusser's contribution is vital to the existence of the Eaton Archive today. The current archivist, Dr. Melissa Conway (Head of Special Collections and Archives at UCR), has been continuing most brilliantly in the tradition of Dr. Slusser.
Okay, now to current developments as of yesterday afternoon.
Have you ever been having an argument with someone where you're trying to convince them of something very important? Where you're getting nowhere, but you keep going? You try to put it yet another way. And something changes in the other person's face. They look at you thoughtfully and say, “I'm listening...” You haven't quite convinced them yet, and you may not, but they're telling you that they may be prepared to view the issue in a new light based on what you've told them, and they may be prepared to consider your side of the issue. It's a provisional concession that might, just might, lead to a productive way out of the stalemate. It may be a good first step, it may not.
In 2011, I was hired as a professor of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside, to be part of a faculty research cluster in science fiction and fantasy with Drs. Sherryl Vint and Rob Latham. The SF/F research cluster was created to promote UCR's Eaton Science Fiction Collection, the world's largest publicly accessible archive of SF/F and utopian literature, with holdings dating back to the 16th Century. The presence of the Eaton means that I can introduce my creative writing students to a legacy of 500 years of fiction celebrating, articulating and critiquing social and technological change. When my students visit the Eaton, it's the first time they've seen anything like it. They come back excited, informed, energized. The existence of the Eaton means that researchers from all over the university and anywhere in the world have access to original copies of books, magazines, visual media and fanzines to help them track developments in the genre. Editors can find classic works that have fallen into obscurity. The complete papers and works of some key writers in the genre are housed there, as are thousands of photographs taken at science fiction conventions by the late Jay Kay Klein, a well-known figure in SF fandom, renowned for his work as a photographer.
Just found Matt Cheney's review of Len Gutkin's review of the film "Snowpiercer," and Cheney's words gladden my writerly heart. Writers and other artists are severely discouraged -- by our agents, editors, fellow artists and our own good senses -- from responding to negative reviews of our work, no matter how unfair, inaccurate or biased they may be. I actually think it's good advice. For one thing, a negative review may be spot on. It might be difficult to read, but paying attention to a particular reviewer's critique might help to improve my writing. However, even if a review misses the point, grinds axes instead of doing its job and is generally unhelpful, the best way to thumb one's nose at a negative review is to write and sell another book, make another film, mount another performance or gallery showing of one's work. Also, consider that bad press can be good for sales. I know for myself that some negative reviews of other artists' work pretty much guarantee I'll buy the book/watch the film/see the show, because I am for everything the reviewer is agin.
Still, negative reviews hurt. There's the shaming sting of Damn, I think you're right about those aspects of my piece. The heartburn of Maybe you're right in places, but the pettiness of trying to shame me so much that I never attempt to make art again? Really? The umbrage of Wait; you gave a book about toucans a negative review because you don't like toucans? All part of the job, and one learns to breathe down one's reaction and keep on going.
I was typing answers to Liz Argall's interview questions that will accompany my story in Women Destroy Fantasy, when something I wrote zapped me with a story idea. So instead of working on my novel this afternoon, I wrote the first 600 words or so of the story. Based on those words, I think it could be a good story. What I've written so far has a predictable outcome, but I'm working on making the story elements and the writing compelling enough to engage the reader. I don't want to leave the story entirely predictable, though. I could. As it stands now, I could end with a poignant reveal, and the piece would be okay. But I'd prefer to do more with my idea. I need a second, apparently unrelated, story thread so the two can bounce off each other. Will put what I've written aside for now, and let the storybuilding part of my mind run in the background as I go about the rest of my day.