They’ll talk about diversity and anti-racism, but will interpret people pointing out whiteness and straightness as an insult rather than a fact. They’ll see it as an attack, because they’re used to comfy invisibility-as-default. They’ll praise “colorblindness” as though it’s something to aspire to. “Colorblindness” as an ideal has been criticized at length by many, many smart people—let’s listen. Don’t strive to make the marginalized invisible; strive to make the privileged visible.
It’ll make people uncomfortable. Trust me. They’ll live. The least the privileged can do is be aware of it.
Notice. Again and again and again, until it drives you to frustration because it’s everywhere. Until it drives others to frustration because they’re starting to notice, too, and now they can’t stop either.
Do not allow the barrage of majority narratives to pass unremarked upon.
Attending LonCon 3? Well, have I got a deal for you! It’s called Blogger Voltron, and it’s going to rock.!
You’ll get to meet me, and Justin Landon of Staffer’s Book Review, and Ana Grilo & Thea James of The Book Smugglers, Jared Shurin and Anne Perry, too! In fact, pretty much every cool blogger will be there, and, as everyone knows, we run the show, so it’s best to keep us feeling good about…
“My point was that in a country that has become so extraordinarily diverse, we still imagine a white writer as the universal writer – and that absurdity is becoming almost unsustainable. I visit high schools all the time. When I look at the kids that are coming up, they look nothing like the writers that we’re all running around calling the voice of this country. Despite what we would like to think, the lag time between what a culture recognizes as its country and what the country is, my brother, is quite extraordinary. Outside of a few strains, I feel like the literary apparatus still thinks of this country very much in the 1950s.”—Junot Diaz, Salon.com (via richincolor)
Speculative Fiction: The Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary is an anthology that celebrates online science fiction and fantasy non-fiction and its influence on the community. Each year, a collection of the anthology will be curated by…
The beauty of any “best of” collection is that it allows the reader to experience the full expanse of the author’s writing and story telling. And, if the collection is indeed worth its (literal) weight, then the book will hopefully have some small treasure, a story unfamiliar to the reader, even if the reader is one of the author’s biggest fans. That was true of The Very Best of Tad Williams (see my November 13, 2013 blog post); and it holds true on my most recent project, The Very Best of Kate Elliott, both from Tachyon Publications.
This is a lovely post whose kind words I much appreciate, but I’m actually re-blogging this because I cannot get over how unbelievably fabulous this piece by Julie Dillon is — no matter how many times I see it and even though it is my wall paper on my desktop AND I have a framed print of it hanging in my house AS WELL (you can get a framed print also at Julie’s INPRNT store), it just blows me away the way she uses color, light, and the flow of line to spectacular effect.
This is Lexie Madison’s story, not mine. I’d love to tell you one without getting into the other, but it doesn’t work that way. I used to think I sewed us together at the edges with my own hands, pulled the stitches tight and I could unpick them any time I wanted. Now I think it always ran deeper than that and farther, underground; out of sight and way beyond my control.
This much is mine, though: everything I did. Frank puts it all down to the others, mainly to Daniel, while as far as I can tell Sam thinks that, in some obscure and slightly bizarro way, it was Lexie’s fault. When I say it wasn’t like that, they give me careful sideways looks and change the subject — I get the feeling Frank thinks I have some creepy variant of Stockholm syndrome. That does happen to undercovers sometimes, but not this time. I’m not trying to protect anyone; there’s no one left to protect. Lexie and the others will never know they’re taking the blame and wouldn’t care if they did. But give me more credit than that. Someone else may have dealt the hand, but I picked it up off the table, I played every card, and I had my reasons.
”—The Likeness by Tana French. SO awesome (and reviewed here).
At one point when reading Barricade it struck me how there were only but a few women present in this narrative. The three main characters (two men, one woman) travel around Britain for weeks and they meet dozens of people and barely any of those are female. This world seems to be populated mostly by “he” (soldiers, survivors, fighters, scientists, workers, heroes and anti-heroes ) with the occasional “she” (pleasure “bots”, incompetent supervisors, victims, a kindly old woman, a dead wife and one rapist) thrown in for good measure.
Where are all the women in this world, I asked myself, how can you imagine a whole future and not imagine women in it?
Too often, using dialects or foreign languages in fiction is demeaned as a trick. Often, the implication is that those words are optional and that the writer can simply remove them or water them down without doing harm to the story. That view gives short shrift to the experience of anyone who understands the dialect or foreign language in question.
What’s actually happening when a story spans multiple dialects is much more interesting. To explain, at least by way of a parallel, I’m going to talk about the history behind the orchestration of The Carousel Waltz from the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical Carousel:
In American musical theater, the composers rarely orchestrate their own scores. Even those composers who have the skill rarely have the time while they are writing a show. More often than not, they hire orchestrators to turn their score into something that instrumentalists in a pit can play.
The great Robert Russell Bennett was originally supposed to orchestrate the whole of Carousel. He orchestrated parts of the score, including the 8-minute long Carousel Waltz that opens the show, before dropping out due to prior commitments. Don Walker took over. He did the much of the remaining work himself as well as farming out pieces of the score to other orchestrators. Carousel has a lot of music.
Months after the show opened on Broadway, Richard Rodgers asked Don Walker to reorchestrate the parts of the score that Robert Russell Bennett had originally orchestrated, including the Carousel Waltz. Walker would eventually replace most, but not all, of Bennett’s work with his own. Some of Bennett’s work still remains in Carousel but not his orchestrations for the Carousel Waltz (which is now lost).
The new theatrical orchestration of the Carousel Waltz obviously had to match Carousel‘s existing pit instrumentation, but Rodgers also needed an orchestration suitable for an upcoming concert performance. Rodgers did not want Walker to write two different orchestrations. Rodgers wanted one orchestration which incorporated a set of additional instruments. Without those instruments, the instrumentation matched that of the Carousel pit. With those instruments, the instrumentation matched that of a concert orchestra.
The result had to be an orchestration that sounded complete and satisfying either way. Those additional instruments had to sound integral to the waltz when they were used. The waltz couldn’t sound like it’s missing something when they weren’t used.
Don Walker is quoted as saying, “This was the hardest thing I ever had to do.”
Now, this is just a parallel, not an analogy. Whereas listeners might reasonably experience that orchestration both ways, readers either understand a foreign language or they don’t. However, like how the orchestration of the Carousel Waltz must be compelling in either instrumentation, a story that makes use of dialect or foreign language must be compelling either way. Non-fluent readers must never feel as though something is missing but fluent readers must never feel as though anything is extraneous.
The text tells two different, albeit related, stories. They both have to work for their respective audiences.
Old School Wednesdays: Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor
If you’re craving a middle grade adventure that is original, invigorating, and perfect in just about every way, I implore you to read Zahrah the Windseeker. I loved it very, very much and it is most certainly on my list of favorite old school books read in 2014. Full review
I just can’t blog about this topic anymore. It’s worn me out. But I also can’t muster the reflexive outrage Our Crowd exhibits whenever someone wonders if there’s something weird about civilian adults with a steady reading diet of books for teenagers. There is. But it’s not because these YA books are less complex (a …
Another Children’s Lit Esteemed White Dude “just can’t” blog about this topic anymore and is bored with our “reflexive outrage”… yet says things like “For all its variety and subgenres, YA literature is still more thematically and linguistically narrow than people invested in it like to admit” and “But I think everybody would be better off if we viewed YA as a subgenre of popular fiction for women rather than as a genre for teenaged people.” I hold the Horn Book in very high regard (am practically contractually obligated to due to my graduate school’s relationship with said journal), but please forgive my reflexive outrage as I blog to Our Crowd about this once again. This is getting exhausting.
So I understand that everyone is angry about the John Green thing and his whole girl kissing guy comment, but what I don't understand is a person who has been a fierce advocate for feminism and equality among everyone slips up once and suddenly he's horrible and cocky and just the worst. I genuinely do not understand. If you could explain, that would be lovely. Thank you.
I’m not sure where you saw someone saying he’s horrible, cocky, and just the worst. I mean, I’m sure it’s out there, because people say that kind of thing, but I’ve been lucky enough to miss it.
I have a feeling that once the anger passed, a lot of people were fiercely disappointed. I know I was. When I thought about it more, it wasn’t a feminism or equality thing — it was this: there are two John Greens: the one the media keeps talking about (savior of YA! the only YA author worth reading! etc.) and the actual John Green who had (to my knowledge) never said any of those things, and in fact tried to push away those claims. Which, yay! Because it’d be so easy to fall for what the media says about you.
But this comment read a lot like what the media is always saying, as if he momentarily bought into the hype about himself. So I suspect there are a lot of strong feelings revolving around betrayal in the responses, too.
Think of the whole “with great power comes great responsibility” thing. John Green has a lot of power in the YA world. He said something careless. If people are calling him “the worst” (or worse!), they’re wrong. He’s far from the worst; his past proves it and one comment doesn’t take that away. But it is fair for people to acknowledge — even publicly — that he said something thoughtless.
There’s also this: for every one person who says “ugh, did he really??” there are five more who defend the comment, insisting it must be a joke, or giving orders to be less sensitive, or saying he’s just really happy about the movie so get over it. (Note that this kind of defense would not have happened for most authors, particularly lady authors.) So I think people are pretty annoyed by that response, too.
Does that help?
And now we’ve hit my max tolerance for internet drama. I will shuffle off to write my book. (She kisses him first.)
Today, we continue our ongoing new series “SFF in Conversation” with two guest posts. Following Aliette de Bodard’s recent Nebula Award for the novelette “The Waiting Stars,” her contribution to the anthology The Other Half of the Sky, we invited the author as well as editor Athena Andreadis over, to talk about women, Science Fiction and memory.
In the wake of this unprecedented coalescence, it is well to remember something that’s often conveniently forgotten: the SF of the late seventies and early eighties was also dominated by women, who did much to shatter the tin and cardboard mo(u)lds of the Leaden Era. Russ, Le Guin, McIntyre, Piercy, to name just a few. It was the time of Pamela Sargent’s indelible Women of Wonder series. It was also the time of “the man to beat”: James Tiptree Jr., whose writing was pronounced “ineluctably masculine” – until it was revealed that James Tiptree was in fact Alice Sheldon, at which point her hitherto-deemed-peerless fiction got shoved into the “feminist” ghetto.
Things have changed in the past decade: they have improved, and are continuing to improve. As a woman author, a new mother (and a woman in STEM), I am all too aware of this. I have been very lucky, and I am thankful to everyone who has supported me this far. It has been an honour to see my fiction recognised in such a strong fashion; and to see the increasing diversity in genre. I wish I could say we have arrived; but the truth is, we still have some way to go.
As proof of this, here is a list of women who vanished from genre, for a short or longer while, and for a variety of reasons. Some are still writing today; others are not. But they all deserve to be read. Go find their stuff; and talk up a storm.
Gill Alderman. Gertrude Barrows Bennett. Joanne Bertin. Pat Cadigan. Sonia Dorman. Theresa Edgerton. Carol Emshwiller. Anne Gay. Patricia Geary. Mary Gentle. Sheila Gilluly. Leigh Kennedy. Jenny Jones. Katherine Kurtz. Karin Lowachee. Elizabeth Lynn. Laurie J Marks. Julian May. Judith Moffett. Pat Murphy. C. L. Moore. Marta Randall. Melanie Rawn. Mary Doria Russell. Justina Robson. Michaela Roessner. Josephine Saxton. Ekaterina Sedia. Alison Sinclair. Margaret St Clair. Tricia Sullivan. Paula Volsky. Elizabeth Wiley. Kate Wilhem. Helen Wright. Mickey Zucker Reichert.
Ana and Thea here, fresh from a weekend of intense weekend of brainstorming and planning (and eating, drinking & geeking). We have some exciting news:
For the past six years we have been reading, commenting on, and sharing our thoughts about stories. After the amazing experience of curating Speculative Fiction 2013, we Book Smugglers want to continue to find and publish the best and brightest voices in SFF. This time, we’re looking for original short stories from all around the world. Our goal is to publish at least three short stories every year, unified by a central theme (that will change each year). Each short story will be accompanied by one original piece of artwork from an artist commissioned by us separately.
In 2014, we are looking for subversive fairy tale retellings.
These retellings need not be reimaginings of Hans Christian Andersen, the Brothers Grimm, or Charles Perrault (although we love these fables and are happy to read and consider any retellings); we want a broader pool of stories, traditions, and canons to choose from.
What We’re Looking For:
DIVERSITY. We want to read and publish short stories that reflect the diverse world we live in, about and from traditionally underrepresented perspectives.
Middle Grade, Young Adult, and Adult audience submissions are welcome. Good speculative fiction is ageless!
Creativity & Subversion. We love subversive stories. We want you to challenge the status quo with your characters, story telling technique, and themes.
Guidelines for Submission: (check out our official page here)
We are looking for original speculative fiction, between 1,500 and 17,500 words long.
These SFF offerings must be previously unpublished; we do not accept simultaneous submissions.
Profanity, sex, and other explicit situations are fine as long as they fit within the context of the story.
Submissions are open now, and will be open through July 31, 2014.
Payment and Terms: We are funding this ourselves because we are passionate about finding new and diverse voices in SFF. We will be paying $0.05 per word up to $500 (although we welcome stories from a minimum of 1,500 words and up to a maximum of 17,500 words long). We plan on publishing these short stories for free in their entirety on thebooksmugglers.com. We also plan on selling these stories in ebook and limited print editions at a 50% net royalty, with possible inclusion in future anthologies (royalty to be negotiated). We ask for exclusive rights for a year, and non-exclusive rights following that.
How to Submit: Submissions should be emailed to email@example.com. Please attach your full story as a document (.doc, .docx, .rtf). Please do not send your story as text in the body of an email. A cover letter is not strictly necessary but welcome, and we would love to learn a little bit about you and the inspiration behind your work (or anything else you think is relevant to your story submission).
We will reply to all authors who have submitted work by August 15, 2014.
We are happy to answer any of your questions - leave a comment or email us (firstname.lastname@example.org), and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible. And… that’s it! We hope to be reading your excellent short stories very soon.
I think part of what makes YA so strong is that there’s a longstanding conversation between and within genres. You have sci-fi books and fantasy books interacting with and responding to realistic fiction and mysteries, and one of the things I really love about YA is all that stuff sharing a shelf.
I try really hard to talk about that in interviews, to talk about the way that it looks very different to us from inside the world of YA, that it isn’t about one book or one story, and that there’s hundreds and hundreds of books every year that are read by at least 10,000 teenagers. And that, to me, is the real story about YA, is its diversity and breadth, and finding way to preserve and grow that diversity rather than celebrating single titles.
But, right now there’s going to be a lot of attention on my work in association with the movie. And I’m trying to answer the questions as best I can, but there is a story that people want to tell. And they’re going to tell that story, a lot of times regardless of what I say.
Right now, children’s literature is seeing an intense flare-up in the ongoing conversation about the diversity crisis in children’s books. While this conversation has been going on for decades, now social media has given the people having it megaphones, and they are using them to brilliant ends. The conversation is loud, important, and people are listening.
So naturally the mainstream media uses this time to publish pieces that give a straight white guy credit for revolutionizing the industry.
Last Sunday, the New York Times Book Review featured a rather bizarre review of John Corey Whaley’s Noggin by AJ Jacobs. Noggin is about a boy whose cryogenically-preserved head gets attached to another boy’s body. Remember that part for later. Jacobs begins the review, adorably, by discussing how confusing being a teenager is and how Whaley’s book is a really metaphor for teenage alienation. And then, well, I really need to quote this part:
With Noggin, Whaley is straddling two genres. Its most obvious allegiance is to the category of teenage romances featuring supernatural characters.
Well, obviously. Guy with cryogenically frozen head gets used to new body=supernatural romance. It must be embarrassing for Whaley to have his influences be so patent.
But “Noggin” actually owes more to the John Green genre, which I like to call Greenlit. Green is the master of first-person, funny-sad young adult novels. His most popular — “The Fault in Our Stars” — also has a main character who is battling cancer.
Ah. “The John Green genre,” and “Greenlit!” Sure! Jacobs is talking with a lot of authority for someone who has no idea what he’s talking about. He’s not alone, though—lots of people who have no idea what they are talking about believe that YA is two genres: Twilight and its imitators and John Green and those he supposedly inspired. Guess which one they think is better?
The idea that first person funny-sad contemporary YA realism is “the John Green genre” might come as a surprise to all the women who have been writing it for a decade or two or three. I’m sure it came as a surprise to John Corey Whaley, too, who thought he was writing his own books. But both books have cancer in them, so Noggin obviously owes a big debt.
Whenever I finish a novel with a high concept, I do a little test and ask if the book would hold up if the conceit were magically stripped away, if you removed the gimmicks and were left with only the emotional skeleton.
First off, the equation between “high concept” and “gimmick” is reductive, demeaning, and highly revelatory. We could spend a long time unpacking the biases there. Secondly, how is this any different than evaluating realism? Don’t we, as readers, hope for all our literary stories to have a strong emotional skeleton?
Finally, Jacob’s “little test” is critically suspect at best. Remember the part about the cryogenically-preserved head? This isn’t a gimmick, it isn’t frou frou; it’s an essential part of the story, a deliberate choice made by the author to deliberate ends. And I’m just not sure you’re supposed to evaluate surrealism by removing the surreal parts so you can evaluate the parts you understand.
One thing we’ve learned: it’s all-too-easy to let popular narrative guide your views on YA—certainly much easier than ever researching or reading in the field you are talking about. These articles about YA are based entirely on accepted truths from people who live entirely outside the field; they keep getting perpetuated, and everyone nods sagely as someone else proclaims John Green is saving poor teenage girl readers from those silly silly vampire books.
Why, just yesterday the WSJ featured a big profile on Green in conjunction with The Fault in our Stars release. And it would have been so easy for them to just write a good, accurate profile of a highly successful, really interesting author with a movie coming out. But the article just has to overstep:
Some credit him with ushering in a new golden era for contemporary, realistic, literary teen fiction, following more than a decade of dominance by books about young wizards, sparkly vampires and dystopia. … He’s thrown his weight behind several young-adult authors who write realistic novels and are now regarded as rising stars, including Rainbow Rowell, E. Lockhart, and A.S. King.
Well. Yes, some do credit him with that. But not anyone who knows what they are talking about.
Rainbow Rowell is a star, but she rose to prominence last year, so calling her a rising star isn’t wholly ignorant, just a little behind the times; more, while John Green did give her a good review in the NYTBR, it’s demeaning to Rowell’s talent and accomplishments to credit her blockbuster success to it. And, speaking of demeaning, A.S. King and e. lockhart are John Green’s peers. They are stars, entirely on their own merit. They are blazing trails, not following them. The idea that their success has anything at all to do with John Green’s weight can only be entertained if you think that stuff men do is just inherently more important. (And that John Green can time travel.)
Of all the ludicrous and sexist things that have been said about YA of late, this one is the most ludicrous and sexist. But it’s a particularly flagrant example of what’s been happening in the conversion for years. And there’s something really troubling about it all—in a field where the books supposedly appeal primarily to teenage girls, where the stars are innovative and brilliant authors who are predominantly female, we’re telling these readers that maybe they can aspire to growing up to be influenced by a guy, too.
Also, A.S. King and e. lockhart do not write realism. There’s so much ignorant and insulting about the way they were positioned in that article, and it seems particularly cruel to deny these authors their immense sophistication and ingenuity—and then credit their success to someone who writes much more conventionally. King’s books are magical realism, as is lockhart’s latest (and her previous books all use postmodern techniques). Magical realism is actually an entirely separate genre from realism.
This is important: when the magic in magical realism is treated as irrelevant or erased, critics are taking a profound literary tradition and robbing it of its significance and import, erasing it altogether. And since this is a genre that rose out of and has been perpetuated by authors from Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa, (and whose practitioners in this country are predominantly female and of color) that gets pretty disturbing.
The American literary canon defaults to realism. Novels that don’t fit in this mold are seen in dominant literary culture as other—a deviation from the norm. You can see this bias all through this article—the quotes from editor Zareen Jaffrey and agent Michael Bourret as presented* imply that only characters in realism can be relatable, and only realistic stories can be character-driven.
Which is poppycock.
(*For the record, I don’t buy for a second that either of them said those words in that order.)
Realism is a construct, the same as any other genre. In America, it sits in a place of privilege as something more literary and authentic—but this is about nothing but tradition. And it’s a tradition of white male authors and the white male critics who canonized them.
In American theater in the mid-20th century, serious plays tended to work a certain way; this is the well-made play—realistic domestic dramas with unity of place and time. This is the theater of Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller, and Tennessee Williams—all still considered the titans of American Theater. But around the 1960’s, voices started to rise up from the margins, and the dominant form didn’t work for stories they wanted to tell. The feminists, the writers of color, the LGBT writers exploded conventions in the structure and language of theater. For so long, realism was the standard, but for these writers, form was political—and they had to remake it in order to tell their own stories.
Naturally, certain people get unhappy when anyone from the margins remakes anything. Young playwrights are still often taught that the correct method of storytelling in theater is the well-made play. And those game-changing contributions from feminist, black, Latin, Native, and LGBT playwrights still get treated as “other,” as fodder for diversity day on the syllabus instead of essential texts in understanding the history and capacity of theater.
And, as much as those who clutch to realism as standard would deny it, this too is political.
So the peculiar canonization of John Green and this string of bizarre articles that anoint him as the vanguard of a post-sparkly-vampire seriousness in YA isn’t simply about taking a white male more seriously than everyone else. It’s also about privileging a certain narrative structure—the dominant narrative’s dominant narrative. It’s not only that Green is a straight white man, it’s that he writes in the way that generations of straight white men have deemed important and Literary. And in art, the remaking of form has historically made the establishment very uncomfortable. There’s so much innovation in YA (and, hi, middle grade!) and its audience is wonderfully open to new stories told in new ways. By holding up Green as an exemplar, by shoving his peers into his shadow, these critics are telling writers who might be innovating: if you want to be important, write like him.
It’s not just YA, of course. Recently the New Yorker posted an essay by Junot Díaz about his experience in an MFA program, “MFA vs POC.”
The title pretty much sums it up. The essay is devastating if you care about literature, young writers, or, you know, human beings. Díaz recounts the misery of being a person of color in a program where whiteness is considered the norm, and where no one ever thinks there’s any reason to question that norm. Of course, this showed up in everyone’s writing:
From what I saw the plurality of students and faculty had been educated exclusively in the tradition of writers like William Gaddis, Francine Prose, or Alice Munro—and not at all in the traditions of Toni Morrison, Cherrie Moraga, Maxine Hong-Kingston, Arundhati Roy, Edwidge Danticat, Alice Walker, or Jamaica Kincaid. In my workshop the default subject position of reading and writing—of Literature with a capital L—was white, straight and male.
This is a literary tradition perpetuating itself by ignoring other voices, treating them as unserious. It’s normalizing one type of storytelling and casting the others as suspect. And, among many other things, it’s going to make our literature really boring.
This isn’t to say that contemporary realism belongs to white men alone; for recent example, Pointe by Brandy Colbert and Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina use the form beautifully, and to affecting, important, and political ends. In their hands, realism becomes a tool for speaking truths about gender, race, and class.
It is one way. But it is not the only way.
Fantastical elements, non-linear storytelling, unconventional language, postmodernism, experimentation and innovation—these elements tend to otherize a book in our literary culture. But why? Why is a fantasy less serious? Why is it okay to strip the magic from magical realism? This is a reactionary response, based on long literary history, and it’s all about power.
We need diverse books. In children’s literature, this is urgent for the well-being of our kids. But it’s also about the well-being of literature itself. Art thrives on being challenged and questioned and pushed—and it’s not the establishment writers and critics who are going to do it. Every single writer benefits from reading stories that play with language and structure and reality—and so do the readers.
We need diverse books, but it’s going to be hard to get them when we keep privileging a certain narrative structure, when we keep erasing the elements that make a book unconventional, and when we ignore decades of female writers to canonize one of the white men who follow the path they laid out. This idea of a white male vanguard leading a revolution in realism is reactionary on so many levels. It’s time to stop it. It’s time to start looking ahead.