blogs

Making book, making food

By now, it's no secret that I like to cook. I'm not big on complicated recipes that take most of a day and dirty all the dishes and utensils, but so long as it's quick and/or I don't have to fuss over it much, I'm there. When I'm writing, cooking is a good way to take a break for some healthy self care. Well, not always healthy. Once I mastered making boiled chocolate fudge, a demon was unleashed.

Today's meals included the teensiest salad in the world, made with an olive oil vinaigrette and a scant handful of produce from my little container garden; basil, pineapple mint and the two cherry tomatoes that ripened today. I also curried some green mangoes to eat with brown rice and red beans cooked in coconut milk with garlic, salt kumquat, and French thyme. No pics of that; it tasted good, but I couldn't take a pretty picture of it. And finally, I made an improv pesto with basil from the garden -- I have green, variegated, and purple, don't know their official names, don't feel like looking them up -- some fresh Parmesan cheese in the fridge that was going crunchy around the edges, virgin olive oil, and shelled roasted pistachios. Didn't have pine nuts and wasn't eating the pistachios, so this was a way to use them before they went stale. I just bought broad rice noodles a few days ago, so I'll have them tomorrow with the pesto.

Historical Research

It's summer and I'm starting to work on my two novels again. They both necessitate much research into the histories of Black people in the Caribbean. Which means I spend a lot of time enraged as I read patently essentialist nonsense about (for instance) the "indolent" and "brutish" nature of Black folks. It's all the more enraging because it's still being spouted centuries later, still being used an excuse for waging war upon us and our communities.

But every so often, there's evidence that even surrounded by stupefying systemic racism, some non-Black people were able to take a relatively clear-eyed look around themselves and call bullshit. I just found the following statement from the late 1800s, made by Sir Henry Blake, Governor of Jamaica, as he discusses the huge trade exhibition that Jamaica is about to put on. This was written around 60 years after the English had abolished slavery. At this point, Jamaica is still "owned" and run by white Englishmen. Black folks there are now free, but remain disenfranchised. Of course, like human beings everywhere, they're working for better. Sir Henry says:

Digital re-release of The Salt Roads and Skin Folk

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!

Back to school

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.

To anthology editors

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.

Duppy Jacket, Sept 25, 2014

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:

Writing, August 23, 2014

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.

Update about the situation at the Eaton Archive

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.

Concerned about the Eaton SF/F archive at UCR

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.