Sarah Pinsker

Toward Better Futures

 

I am a science fiction writer. I can name planets. I can invent futures. I can sound the warning bells, in the best traditions of the genre.

I'm a singer-songwriter, raised in folk and punk. I know the power of three chords and the truth.

I'm also a person living in this moment, a moment when hope has crumbled into terror and anger and hatred and disgust. A moment where the party that has been handed the reins is full of individuals who say "my heart goes out to you" but mean "I will work toward your extinction while expressing love."

 

Year End Post

 

I always drag my heels at writing a year's end/eligibility post. It's awkward to write something that amounts to "and now, here's me talking about me." This year, it felt particularly small in the face of everything that's going on in the world. On the other hand, it can be a great way to reflect on personal progress and milestones...

Ring the Bells That Still Can Ring: On Optimistic SF in Dystopian Times

 

Last weekend I was Guest of Honor at Chessiecon, a small SFF convention in Maryland. The GoH experience was lovely. The staff and volunteers and congoers all made me feel welcome. I had a reading, a concert, an on-stage interview, a signing, and several panels. They made me into a playing card in a con-wide Concardia tournament, which I had to put onto my author bingo card in order to check it off...

 

 

Chessiecon

 

Next weekend, I'm the guest of honor at Chessiecon, a small con in the Baltimore suburbs. I was so honored when they asked me, and I've been looking forward to it all year. Even right now, feeling as down and angry and scared of the future as I've ever felt, I'm still looking forward to it. Over the course of the year, I've seen the care they've put in to getting it right. Interesting panel topics, thoughtful programming. Some of it is sadly more relevant than it was when they planned it, I'm pretty sure.

China

 

I've been trying to write a post about my amazing trip to China for almost two months now. Part of what's taken me so long has been sifting through 400 photos to decide what to include here. The other delay was all the deadlines I extended so I could take the trip.

Anyhow, here goes:

Balticon 2016 Schedule

 

Balticon is this weekend! Here's my schedule as it stands right now. Check the app or the program guide for the most up to date version.

Friday May 27, 2016
9:30 PM
Solo CONCERT - Kent (6th Floor)
(25 minutes)

...

2015 in Review

 

I think I still have time for a 2015 wrap-up post! If I don't start trying to add pictures, anyway. I'm combining it with a here's-what-I-published post, with all of my 2015 stories listed toward the bottom.

The year treated me very well, both personally and creatively. I don't really post about the personal side much here, but this was the year that a long-standing immigration battle came to an end. That's about the most nonchalant way I can say something that more accurately translates to a big old GIF of Kermit flailing. (No pictures, Sarah. Keep writing.)

Highlights:

  •  My new album is recorded and mastered. You will hear it in 2016.
  • I wrote a novel. I'm pretty pleased with it. I'd written a couple of trunk novels with endless middles and no endings over the years, but the last few years of work on my short fiction helped me see this as something I could actually pull off. More about that at another date. (Note to self: insert more Kermits flailing. All the flailing Kermits.)
  • I went to my first SF writing workshop, Sycamore Hill. I was absolutely terrified to do peer to peer critiques with Karen Joy Fowler, Ted Chiang, Kelly Link, Maureen McHugh, Molly Gloss, Christopher Rowe, Kiini Ibura Salaam, Matt Kressel, Carmen Maria Machado, Richard Butner, Megan McCarron, and Gavin Grant, but I think I didn't embarrass myself. It was a wonderful week, in an absolutely gorgeous setting. (All the rest of the Muppets, too.)
  • I read way less than usual (see novel, album, end of immigration battle), but the books and stories I read this year were wonderful. I hope to do a post about them at a later date. 
  • I went to my first Worldcon, in Spokane. Had fabulous meals with fabulous people, nearly suffocated in the post-apocalyptic air. Shared a wonderful reading with Effie Seiberg, participated in some fun panels, including the very intimidating Ursula K Le Guin career retrospective.
  • I also went to the Nebulas, Readercon, Balticon, Capclave, and the Baltimore Book Festival, all of which were a ton of fun. Nick Offerman posed for a picture with me and my cousin's guitar. We got chased out of Millenium Park by cops on Segways. I didn't sink the SFWA booth at the BBF. The Outer Alliance reading at Readercon was one of the best readings I've ever participated in. Ended my SF year with the Queers Destroy Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror reading at Bluestockings in New York, which was also wonderful. I ate congee for the first time, and very fancy ice cream somewhere on the edge of Manhattan.
  • I was invited to be the writer Guest of Honor at Chessiecon 2016, which will also be a ton of fun.
  • I received my second Nebula nomination.
  •  I got to hear/see Toshi Reagon's Parable of the Sower opera-in-progress, which was the absolute music-listening highlight of my year.
  • Music-playing highlights included a headlining gig at Edith May's Paradise and the amazing songwriters' round robin at Tall Trees.
  • My SFWA board tenure continued with work on the Baltimore Book Festival and the Mentorship program.
  • My submission stats were way down. I just completely ran out of time to submit stories. I didn't write quite as many as the past few years either (see again: novel).

25 submissions, down from 63. 10 sales (4 from 2014 submissions), 10 submissions pending still. I'm really pleased with that ratio.

I only brought seven stories to a submission-ready draft. There are several that still need more attention, and, hey, novel.

The short stories:

I had 11 new stories out, listed below. I'm not sure which of the stories would be my favorite, so I'll pick the novelette, "Our Lady of the Open Road," in June's Asimov's, which carries a bigger piece of me with it than most, and received some of my favorite reviews ever.

"What Wags the World," Daily Science Fiction, November 16, 2015

 Letters to Tiptree, Twelfth Planet Press (nonfiction, but I couldn't find someplace else to put it)

"And We Were Left Darkling," Lightspeed, August 2015 

"Pay Attention," Accessing the Future anthology, July 2015

"In the Dawns Between Hours," Queers Destroy Science Fiction! by Lightspeed, June 2015

"Our Lady of the Open Road," Asimov's, June 2015

"Today's Smarthouse in Love," The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, May/June 2015

"Remembery Day," Apex Magazine, May 2015

"Last Thursday at Supervillain Supply Depot," Daily Science Fiction April 10.5 2015

"When the Circus Lights Down," Uncanny Magazine, March/April 2015

"Beauty & the Baby Beast," Daily Science Fiction, January 9 2015

"Songs in the Key of You," Asimov's, January 2015

 So anyway, that's what I've got. Thanks for the wonderful year, and here's to 2016!

My Capclave 2015 schedule

 

My schedule for this weekend's Capclave in Gaithersburg, MD. I'm only going to be there for Friday evening/Saturday morning, so they've packed in a lot of programming!

 

Friday 4 PM-4:50 PM Your Day Job As Your Muse
Friday 5 PM-5:50 PM Getting Into Short Fiction
Friday 9 PM-9:50 PM The Right Length For Your Story
Saturday 10 AM-10:50 AM Tiptree Retrospective
Saturday 12:30 PM-12:55 PM Reading - Sarah Pinsker

Expanded below:

Your Day Job As Your Muse (Ends at: 4:55 pm) - Salon A
Panelists: Barbara KrasnoffSarah Pinsker (M), Lawrence M. Schoen
SF writers who work for NASA have it easy. What about the rest of us? How does your day job influence what you write when you are off the clock? Do you base characters on coworkers? Turn daydreams of being the corporate hero into your creative works?

(I'm listed as moderator, but I pointed out that I might not make it on time because of said day job.)

Getting Into Short Fiction (Ends at: 5:55 pm) - Frederick
Panelists: Jim Freund (M), Dina LeacockSarah PinskerGordon Van Gelder
What are some of the best resources for someone who wants to start reading shorter fiction? What are good habits to adopt, and expectations to foster?

The Right Length For Your Story (Ends at: 9:55 pm) - Rockville/Potomac
Panelists: Scott H. Andrews (M), Sarah AverySarah PinskerGordon Van Gelder
A short story is not a condensed novel. How do you know if your idea will require a story, novella, novel, or trilogy? When you edit, what makes you decide if it should be expanded or shortened? Were you ever surprised what a work took a different form? Which expansions of shorter works into novels work and which do not?

Tiptree Retrospective (Ends at: 10:55 am) - Rockville/Potomac
Panelists: Scott EdelmanJim FreundCathy GreenSarah Pinsker
Alice Sheldon, who wrote as James Triptree Jr. was born 100 years ago. She was a complex individual who kept her true identity secret even from the many writers who communicated with her by mail. Robert Silverberg famously wrote that only a man could have written Triptree's stories. What did she have to say and what was her best work? Why is she important to the field?

Saturday 12:30 pm Frederick Reading - Sarah Pinsker (Ends at: 12:55 pm)
Author: Sarah Pinsker

 

 

Found in Translation

 

A lovely translation of my story "A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide" has just appeared in the Chinese magazine Science Fiction World. I wanted to take a moment to introduce the two women who have been working on my Chinese translations. They previously worked on my novelette "In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind," and are tackling "And We Were Left Darkling" next.

 

Translation of fiction is not an easy task. It's not word for word. If you've ever put a phrase into Google Translate, you know that we haven't found a way to automate the process well. Good translators do so much more than substitute words in one language for another. They convey moods and concepts...

My Sasquan Schedule 2015

 

I'm heading to my first Worldcon in a few days! I'm looking forward to my first big Con, and to spending time in Spokane and Seattle. My official schedule is below. See you there!

The Fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin

Thursday 21:00 - 21:45, Bays 111B (CC)

Ursula Le Guin is one of the giants of the field, whose works include pivotal SF and fantasy works. The panel discusses the works and influence of Ursula Le Guin. 

Charlie Jane Anders (m), Sarah Pinsker, Gary K. Wolfe, M. J. Locke

Friday 11:00 - 11:45, Bays 111A (CC): Certainly Not For the Money: Why We Write Short Fiction

Why do we put ourselves through the angst of writing short fiction? It certainly isn't the money. Why else would we do it?

Mark J. Ferrari (M), Mur Lafferty, Sarah Pinsker, Stefan Rudnicki, Rick Wilber

 

Friday 16:30 - 17:00, 301 (CC):  Reading - Sarah Pinsker

Come to my reading! I'll fortify you with snacks, then we can go to happy hour. 

 

Saturday 13:00 - 15:00, 300B (CC): SFWA Business Meeting

If you're a SFWA member, come to the meeting and find out what's new in the organization right now, from model contracts to mentoring.

Saturday 16:00 - 16:45: Hall B (CC) Autographing - Lou Antonelli, Walter H. Hunt, Nick Kanas, Sarah Pinsker, John Scalzi, Eric James Stone, Rick Wilber

 

 

My Readercon 2015 schedule

 

Readercon is an always excellent speculative literature-focused con. The panel topics and guest list are fantastic. Nicola Griffith, one of my favorite authors, is one of the Guests of Honor this year. Below is my schedule for the weekend. Can't promise there won't be one or two more changes, but I think this is pretty much set. See you in Burlington!

Friday July 11

1:00 PM    G    Winter Is Coming: Feminist SF and the Frozen Tundra Buddy Trek. Gwendolyn Clare, Malinda Lo, Caitlyn Paxson, Sarah Pinsker (leader), Sonya Taaffe. During the Ancillary Justice book discussion at Readercon 25, it was brought up that many favorite feminist SF novels feature pairs of characters slogging through an inhospitable landscape: Nicola Griffith's Ammonite, Maureen McHugh's Mission Child, Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice, and of course Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness. Having a pair of characters traveling together generally leads to opportunities for trust and relationship building, but what is it about the tundra trek (or equivalent) that lends itself so well to feminist SF stories in particular?

4:00 PM    IN    Accessing the Future Reading. Nicolette Barischoff, Andi Buchanan, Sarah Pinsker. Group reading from the Accessing the Future anthology of disability-themed SF.
7:00 PM    IN    Outer Alliance Reading. Susan Jane Bigelow, CD Covington, Kelly Eskridge, Nicola Griffith, Claire Humphrey, Malinda Lo, Brad Parks, Julia Rios (host) Sarah Pinsker, Jill Schultz. Celebrating QUILTBAG speculative fiction. Rapidfire readings.
8:00 PM    F    Revealing the Past, Inspiring the Future. Amal El-Mohtar (leader), Max Gladstone, Alena McNamara, Sarah Pinsker, Julia Rios. When writing Hild, Nicola Griffith was aiming for historical accuracy where possible, including in her depictions of women, queer characters, people of color, and slavery in seventh-century Britain. She writes, "Readers who commit to Hild might see the early middle ages differently now: they see what might have been possible, instead of the old master story about the place of women and the non-existence of POC and QUILTBAG people 1400 years ago. And if it was possible then, what might be possible today and in the future?" What other books and stories expand our notion of the possible by revealing the truth of history? How can creators of future settings learn from the suppressed or hidden past?

Saturday July 12

11:00 AM    CO    Dog, Cat, Snake: Predicting Pets with Literary Taste. Beth Bernobich, Stacey Friedberg, Sarah Pinsker, Rick Wilber, Navah Wolfe. Let's play a game! Can you predict whether someone is a cat person or a dog person by what they read and write? Do you think dog people prefer predictability while cat people like surprises? Are horror fans more inclined to keep spiders and snakes? Panelists will discuss their literary preferences and see whether others can guess their pets.

12:00 PM    E    Autographs. Malinda Lo, Sarah Pinsker.

Sunday July 13

10:00 AM    F    Reading Stance and Genre. Peter Dubé, Chris Gerwel, Nicola Griffith, Alex Jablokow, Sarah Pinsker. In 2013, Nicola Griffith's Hild was nominated for the Nebula award, alongside Karen Joy Fowler's We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. Under Best Novella that same year was "Wakulla Springs" by Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages. Going further back, Peter Straub won a World Fantasy Award for Koko. By most critical definitions none of these are works of speculative fiction, but, as Gary K. Wolfe said on an episode of the Coode Street Podcast, "if you approach Hild with the expectations of a fantasy reader, you’ll still get most of the asethetic delights you’re looking for." He asked, "What if we approach genre not from the point of view of theoretical definitions or market categories or even the author’s intention, but from how we choose to read a particular work?" This panel will explore the many answers to that question, from many perspectives.

12:30 PM    EM    Reading: Sarah Pinsker. Sarah Pinsker.

My Balticon Schedule

 

I'll be at Balticon from May 22-25th. There's a ton going on. Movies and games and live podcast tapings and lots of great panels. Jo Walton, one of my favorite authors, is the guest of honor. Check out their website for all the details.

Here's my schedule:

FRIDAY MAY 22

9:00 PM Dangerous Voices Variety Hour  Salon B
  Sarah Pinsker (M), Michael Underwood (M), Alex Shvartsman (50 minutes)
  Baltimore Science Fiction Society's own readings series comes to Balticon once more! The Dangerous Voices Variety Hour takes its cues from such diverse inspirations as the popular 510 reading series, NPR's quiz show: Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!, and Orson Welles's original War of the Worlds broadcast. The hour long, free event features readings, irreverent author interviews, trivia, prizes, and more.

SATURDAY MAY 23

1:00 PM Matrons and Crones: Older Female Characters in Fantasy and Science Fiction Derby
  Gail Z. Martin (M), Karen Burnham, Paula S Jordan, Sarah Pinsker, Virginia DeMarce (50 minutes)
  All too often, older women in fiction are included only to provide background for the protagonist. How can we make sure that they're actual characters with their own roles to play?

SUNDAY MAY 24

4:00 PM Readings: Sarah Avery, Katie Bryski, Sarah Pinsker Chesapeake
  Sarah Pinsker, Katie Bryski, Sarah Avery (50 minutes)
 
5:00 PM Autograph - Sunday - 17:00 Autograph Table
  Maria V Snyder, Sarah Pinsker (50 minutes)
 

MONDAY MAY 25

11:00 AM SF/F Mysteries Chase
  Sarah Pinsker (M), Andrew Fox, John L French (50 minutes)
  From Bester's The Demolished Man to Jo Walton's Farthing and Chris Moriarty's Spin State. Robot detectives and vampire detectives and android detectives. Parlor mysteries and space station mysteries. The tools of the trade in the past (Sherlock Holmes' very Victorian method of deduction) and the future (AI, bugs, drones).

See you there!

2014 by the numbers with bonus velociraptor

 

I started out to do a 2014-by-the-numbers thread to match last year's, but a couple of the awesome things that happened in my writing life this year aren't really quantifiable.

  • I got my first Nebula nomination, and a fancy Nebula pin, and a chance to go to San Jose for the awards and see beautiful flowering trees and amazing mechanical musical instruments that played when you put in buffalo nickels and meet all kinds of cool people (pictured here with John Joseph Adams and Henry Lien.)

  • I won the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award! I got to hang out with more awesome people in Kansas, and take part in the Campbell Conference, and give a speech about crowd-sourced hurricane repairs.
  • I had my first print-magazine stories come out. Also my first anthologies. I went from having nothing to sign at signings to having eight signable things in one year.

  • I got a bunch of invitations to be on programming at various cons, and to do standalone readings.
  • I outpaced the year before in sales, publications, and money earned from stories. 
  • I got elected to office with the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America.
  • I had my name on the cover of Asimov's! Twice!
  • On the music front, tracking and mixing for my new album are finally finished, which means it WILL come out in 2015.

My list of stories published this year is here and my list of favorite books read this year is forthcoming.

And in case I haven't mentioned the people already, I have met and dined and drank and critiqued and paneled and conversed and roomed with so many wonderful human beings this year. I think the best thing I've gotten out of this last couple of years is all of you. Thanks to the editors and the readers and the writers and the cheerleaders and the pep-talkers and the critiquers and the narrators and the bloggers and the reviewers and the friends and future friends among you. I really appreciate it.

2014 by the numbers (some of which may be a little off, but close enough):

Submissions outstanding as of Dec. 29, 2014: 12 (9 reprints, 3 original)

Total submissions 2014: 60 (22 reprints/translations & 37 originals)

Acceptances: 22 (9 reprint/podcast, 1 translation, 12 original) to 17 markets

Pro-rates: 11

First sales to: Escape Pod, Apex, Uncanny, Unlikely Story, UFO, PULP, How To Live On Other Planets, Spark, Toasted Cake

Sales to: Asimov's, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Lightspeed, Daily Science Fiction

print magazine:6

print anthology:2

e-zine:8

podcast:3

Originals: 1 sale on 10th submission of the story, 3 on 2nd submission, 5 on a first submission, the rest in the 3-6 submission range.

Stories completed in 2014: 11 ( a bunch more are close but not quite right)

Stories written in 2014/sold in 2014:10

Stories published in 2014/sold in 2013: 8

Stories written earlier, revised and sold for the first time in 2014: 2

Stories awaiting rewrite: 7ish?

Stories started but unfinished: 3

Stories that appeared for the first time this year regardless of date of sale: 11

Stories podcast in 2014: 3

Novels written: 0

Stories translated and sold: 1

Translations sold in: Galician

Year's Best anthologies: 0 as of this writing

Readings: 9 (Balticon, Readercon, Darkover, World Fantasy, Baltimore Book Festival, Capclave, Campbell Conference, Writers & Words, Starts Here)

 

 

2013 for comparison

Total stories written: 12

Total submissions (includes reprints):69

Total acceptances (includes reprints):12

Readings: 4

 

2015 (based on existing acceptances)

Total original stories already sold for presumed 2015 publication:8

 

So that was my outstanding year. Tell me about your writing year or your writing goals here or on Twitter!

My Award Eligible Stories for 2014

 

I've had another amazing writing year, thanks to all you editors, readers, reviewers, bloggers, writers, and all-around good human beings. 

As other people have been doing, I'm going to collect my stories from 2014 here for the convenience of those who are nominating and voting for awards this year. I'm also going to do a separate post listing some of my favorite things I've read this year, but I'm still playing a little catch up, so I don't want to send that one out prematurely. 

These are all short stories. In my opinion, the strongest three are: 

1) "A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide," The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, March/April 2014 (SF)

with reviews including Sam Tomaino of SFRevu writing, "Brilliantly done and on my Hugo short story short list for 2014."

and Lois Tilton of Locus writing, "Very well done story of character. Andy is deeply real, and readers will feel his pain even if they don’t quite understand it. The SFnal problem remains in part a mystery, but the conclusion is emotionally fulfilling.–RECOMMENDED"

I'm happy to send a copy of this story on request to anyone who is voting or nominating.

 2) "No Lonely Seafarer," Lightspeed, September 2014 (Fantasy)

Available for free online to read and in this great podcast.

Sam Tomaino of SFRevu wrote, "Good conclusion in this fine fantasy story." 

3) "The Transdimensional Horsemaster Rabbis of Mpumalanga Province," Asimov's, February 2014 (SF)

Available in the February issue of Asimov's, or for free online to read and listen, thanks to Escape Pod (link on the story name). 

Lois Tilton called it "A thought-provoking work."

Sam Tomaino wrote, "Quite a surprising story and quite a good one."

 

My other stories for the year were:

"Notes To My Past And/Or Alternate Selves," Unidentified Funny Objects 3 anthology, October 2014 

"How A Map Works," The Journal of Unlikely Cartography, June 2014 

"The Low Hum of Her," Asimov's, August 2014 (on sale June 17 2014) 

"The Sewell Home for the Temporally Displaced," Women Destroy Science Fiction (pub. by Lightspeed) . 

"There Will Be One Vacant Chair," Long Hidden anthology, May 2014. The Long Hidden anthology is eligible for the Hugo under "Best Related Work."

"Headlong," The Future Embodied Anthology, April 2014 

"Not Dying in Central Texas," reprinted in PULP Literature, April 2014. Original pub. June 2012, Nine

"They Sent Runners Out," Fireside Magazine February, 2014

"Monsters, Beneath the Bed and Otherwise," Fierce Family Anthology from Crossed Genres, January 2014

I'm really proud of all these stories, but those first three got the best reception. 

Thanks for your consideration!

 

My World Fantasy Convention schedule

 

 

Everybody is only allowed one official panel or reading, but I'll be making appearances here and there:

Friday Nov 7th at 11:00 AM  - Regency E

EVERYBODY WAS THERE: 

  • Sarah Pinsker 
  • Kit Reed
  • Mary Anne Mohanraj
  • S. M. Stirling
  • K. Ceres Wright

Fantasy has had characters of many races, some human and others beyond. Whether it’s the young soldier woman in Deeds of Paksenarrion being asked whether she minds sharing a dining hall with “elder races” (elves and dwarves), or the alternate orientations of characters in Marion Zimmer Bradley Darkover series or Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar series, or the beauty of a foreign culture, such as that depicted in Bridge of Birds, fantasy authors have bravely gone where others feared to tread. How has diversity of race, ability, gender, sexual orientation, or belief system in fantastic literature changed over time?

---

Nov 7th at 8 PM - Independence

Mass Autograph Signing

---

Saturday November 8th 2PM -  4PM

Regency Suite 1, Room 1850

Rapid-Fire reading and party with Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Sarah Avery, Carol Berg, C.D. Covington, Randee Dawn, Julia Dvorin,

Sally Wiener Grotta, Elektra Hammond, Laurell Anne Hill, Elaine Isaak (E.C. Ambrose), L. Jagi Lamplighter,Gail Z. Martin, Heather McDougal, Sherry Peters, Sarah Pinsker, Kathy Sullivan and Jean Marie Ward

I'm bringing a 1kg bar of Belgian chocolate. Just sayin'. 

My Capclave Schedule

 

I'll be at Capclave October 11th and 12th (not Friday, when I will be special guesting at Lea's CD release at the Creative Alliance.)

Saturday 10:00 am: Alternative Sexualities in SF/F (Ends at: 10:55 am)
Panelists: Shira LipkinEmmie Mears (M), Sarah PinskerA.C. Wise
How well are alternative sexualities (or sexuality of any kind) portrayed in science fiction and fantasy?
Saturday 3:00 pm: Best Short Fiction of 2014 (Ends at: 3:55 pm)
Panelists: Scott H. AndrewsD. Douglas FratzSarah Pinsker (M), Norm ShermanA.C. Wise
Which novellas, novelettes, and short stories published this year were your favorites? Which do you think deserve to be nominated for the Hugo/Nebula/Tiptree/World Fantasy etc? Which short fiction pieces deserve to be nominated but won't and why not?
Saturday 4:30 pm: Reading (Pinsker) (Ends at: 4:55 pm)
Panelists: Sarah Pinsker
Saturday 7:30 pm: Mass Signing (Ends at: 8:25 pm)
Panelists: Danielle Ackley-McPhailSarah AveryPaolo BacigalupiHolly BlackMarilyn "Mattie" BrahenNeil ClarkeTom DoyleAndy DuncanScott EdelmanJim FreundCharles E. GannonMax GladstoneDavid G. HartwellAlma KatsuPamela K. KinneyBarbara KrasnoffDina LeacockJames MaxeyWill McIntoshMike McPhailSunny MoraineJames MorrowSarah PinskerBenjamin RosenbaumLawrence M. SchoenDarrell SchweitzerAlex ShvartsmanJon SkovronAlan Smale,Bud SparhawkJanine SpendloveGenevieve ValentineMichael A. VentrellaLawrence Watt-Evans
The Saturday evening mass autographing session.
Saturday 11:00 pm: Eye of Argon (Ends at: 11:55 pm)
Panelists: Walter H. HuntSarah PinskerIan Randal StrockMichael A. Ventrella (M), Jean Marie Ward
Our panelists read the worst fantasy story ever written, mistakes and all, and if they laugh or read it incorrectly, they are forced to act out the story. Just try not to fall over laughing! At some point, volunteers from the audience can participate and discover firsthand the author's contentious relationship with spelling, capitalization and punctuation.
Sunday 10:00 am: Writing Realistic Teen and Child Characters (Ends at: 10:55 am)
Panelists: Holly Black (M), Annette KlauseSarah PinskerBenjamin RosenbaumJon Skovron
Unlike in television and movies, there are no work rules and laws that result in teen characters in written fiction being played by twenty somethings, so how best to make sure that your characters actually act like teenagers and children? What age do you want your non-adult protagonist to be? Does the plot dictate the age of the character? Mindy Klasky has said that she made the protagonist of her Glasswright series older than she originally intended because she didn't think a younger child would be able to survive and cope with the events of the novels.
Sunday 11:00 am: Writing on the Job (Ends at: 11:55 am)
Panelists: Carolyn Ives GilmanBarbara KrasnoffSarah PinskerGenevieve Valentine
Is it better for a writer to have a non-writing job to save his/her writing energies for fiction or to use writing skills to make a nonfiction living on the idea that any writing improves fiction writing? And when should you quit your day job? Hear writers discuss the relationship between their day job and their writing
Sunday 1:00 pm: Nonbinary Gender in SF/F (Ends at: 1:55 pm)
Panelists: Shira LipkinEmmie MearsSarah PinskerBenjamin RosenbaumA.C. Wise (M)
Alex Dally McFarland's post-binary gender series at Tor.com has caused the occasional bit of controversy. However, there is no reason why science fiction and fantasy should have characters that don't conveniently split into male and female, especially when dealing with alien life forms.

My Baltimore Book Festival Schedule

 

 

This weekend is my favorite event in my city, the Baltimore Book Festival!  They have great guests, great vendors, and all kinds of goings on. Because of construction around the monument, the festival has been moved from Mount Vernon to the Inner Harbor this year – Rash Field, at the foot of Federal Hill, to be precise.

 

 

 

My schedule is as follows, all at the SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) tent:

 

Saturday, September 27th

 

12 noon to 2 PM:

 

Dangerous Voices Variety Hour with Marissa Meyer and Charles Gannon

 

The Dangerous Voices Variety Hour takes its cues from NPR's “Wait, Wait Don’T Tell Me” quiz show and Orson Welles' original War of the Worlds broadcast. It features readings, trivia, great prizes, irreverent author interviews, and more fun than you thought you could have at a reading."

 

Participants: Marissa Meyer and Charles Gannon. Co-hosted by Sarah Pinsker and Michael Underwood.

 

2 PM Saturday – signing at the SFWA tent.

 

 

 

5:30 – 7 PM:

 

Reception and Meet & Greet with authors, music, and food

 

Join the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America at our reception, autographing session, and Meet and Greet with our program participants at the Baltimore Book Festival.

 

Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Jeanne Adams, Jill Archer, Catherine Asaro, Jack Clemons, Brenda Clough, Scott Edelman, Charles Gannon, Ronald Garner, Em Garner, Herb Gilliland, Anne K Gray, Elektra Hammond, Harry Heckel, Alma Katsu, Cheryl Klam, L. Jagi Lamplighter, John Maclay, Marrisa Meyer, Sunny Moraine, Christine Norris, Sarah Pinsker, Don Sakers, Peggy Rae Sapienza, Rori Shay, Alex Shvartsman, Dawnyell Snyder, Bud Sparhawk, John Tilden, Mike Underwood, Jean Marie Ward, Fran Wilde, Karlo Yeager

 

SUNDAY September 28th

 

2 PM-3 PM

 

Science Fiction and Fantasy Mysteries

 

Mysteries in science fiction are one of the trendiest new subgenres. What happens when you add "What if?" to "Whodonnit?" Join our panelists to discuss detectives, procedure, body disposal in the past, present and future, and more. They will talk about how you can extrapolate all that into the future for science fiction mysteries.

 

Panelists: Jeanne Adams, Scott Edelman, Miguelina Perez, Don Sakers; moderated by Sarah Pinsker

 

4-6 PM

 

Reading –

 

There are a bunch of great authors reading between four and six pm. I don't know my exact slot, but maybe it's better that way.  Will report back. 

Check out the whole SFWA booth schedule here for more on the great stuff planned.

 

My Readercon schedule!

 

I'll be on programming at Readercon this year! 

Readercon is an annual conference or convention devoted to "imaginative literature" — literary science fiction, fantasy, horror, and the unclassifiable works often called "slipstream." I've gone as an attendee for the last few years and loved it, and I'm excited to be participating on panels this year.

Friday July 11

3:00 PM    EM    Long Hidden Group Reading. Rose Fox (leader), Claire Humphrey, Michael Janairo, Ken Liu, Sunny Moraine, Daniel José Older, Sarah Pinsker, Sofia Samatar, Sabrina Vourvoulias. Long Hidden (edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older) is an anthology of speculative stories from the margins of history. Our participants will read from their stories, which dive deep into the hidden truths of marginalized people throughout history and around the world.
3:00 PM    F Can Heroes Be Happy?. E.C. Ambrose, K. Tempest Bradford (leader), Cecil Castellucci, Adam Lipkin, Sarah Pinsker. In defense of DC Comics's policy that superheroes can't get married, Dan DiDio says, "Heroes shouldn't have happy personal lives. They are committed to being that person and committed to defending others at the sacrifice of their own personal interests.... It's wonderful that they try to establish personal lives, but it's equally important that they set them aside." In response, at The Mary Sue, Susana Polo wrote, "[Gay] kids need heroes who do the things that their environment tells them are impossible. They need gay heroes who grow up to be loved by the men and women that they love, in stable, healthy, and, yes, legally sanctioned relationships. They need heroes, as well as real people, to show them that it gets better. That. Is what heroes. Are for." Let's use this as a jumping-off point for discussing different concepts of heroes and heroism.

Saturday July 12

 

10:00 AM    CL    Kaffeeklatsch. Ken Liu, Sarah Pinsker. (Ken and I are teaming up to form a super kaffeeklatsch. Come chat!)
6:00 PM    IN    Reading: Women Destroy Science Fiction. Liz Argall, Amal El-Mohtar, Gemma Files, Kameron Hurley, Livia Llewellyn, Sarah Pinsker, Holly Schofield.

Sunday July 13

11:00 AM    ENL    Readercon Recent Fiction Bookclub: Ancillary Justice. Francesca Forrest, Adam Lipkin, Natalie Luhrs, Sarah Pinsker (leader), Sonya Taaffe. Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice is gender-bending space opera with a thriller pace and sensibility. Critics are hailing Leckie's worldbuilding in the story of Breq, the remaining ancillary consciousness of a formerly great warship. We'll explore Leckie's themes of humanity and justice, as well as the way the book's use of nearly exclusively female pronouns shakes up or affirms our notions of a gender binary. 

1:00 PM    G    Unlikely Cartography. Carrie Cuinn, Shira Lipkin, Sarah Pinsker. This summer, Unlikely Story will publish their Unlikely Cartography issue, featuring stories by Shira Lipkin, Kat Howard, Sarah Pinsker, Carrie Cuinn, and others. Together with editor A.C. Wise, these authors will discuss their stories, and other authors (historical and modern) who similarly explored the cartography of the fantastic. Influences and discussion topics may include Calvino'sInvisible Cities, Eco's Legendary Lands, Post's Atlas of Fantasy, Mieville's The City and the City, and more.

Balticon schedule

 

Here's my Balticon 2014 schedule! If you're attending Balticon, check the final schedule to make sure the rooms are correct. More info at Balticon's website:

 

  • Concert: Sarah Pinsker Fri 21:00 - 21:30, Salon C (Hunt Valley Inn)
  • Autographing: Sarah Pinsker, Alex Shvartsman, Michelle Stengel (Other) (Participant), Sat 10:00 - 11:00, Maryland Foyer (Hunt Valley Inn)
  • Expressions of Disability in SF (Panel) (Moderator), Sat 12:00 - 12:50, Parlor 1041 (Hunt Valley Inn) 

    It feels somewhat problematic to lump physical, developmental, and mental diag- noses together, but the commonality is in their perception as Other. It’s a vast un- charted territory of “write what you know” since it touches so many lives but rela- tively few writers incorporate it into their fiction. Panelists discuss the Possibilities. 

  • Dangerous Voices Variety Hour (Panel) (Moderator), Sun 11:00 - 11:50, Salon A (Hunt Valley Inn) 

    11:00 AM-SALON A-Dangerous Voices Variety Hour-
    Dangerous Voices Variety Hour takes its cues from such diverse inspirations as the popular Baltimore 510 reading series, NPR’s quiz show Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, and Orson Welles’ original War of the Worlds broadcast. It features readings, irreverent author interviews, trivia, prizes, and more. 

  • They Play in Other Sandboxes (Panel) (Participant), Sun 16:00 - 16:50, Salon B (Hunt Valley Inn) 

    Panelists discuss successful and well-known SF writers who write in other genres and recommend some examples we might want to read.

  • Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading Sunday (Panel) (Participant), Sun 17:00 - 17:50, Pimlico (Hunt Valley Inn) 

    Rapid Fire readings from some amazing women/authors. 

  • Tales from the Recording Studio (Panel) (Participant), Sun 19:00 - 20:00, Salon C (Hunt Valley Inn) 

    Our panelists explore their adventures in recording, from finding studio time to herding fellow band members to working through the inevitable false starts, out- takes and other recording mishaps.

How Patti Smith Saved My Teeth

 

On Twitter on Friday, the wonderful writer Elizabeth Hand posted this link  to Patti Smith reading her poetry, in honor of National Poetry Month. I responded that I adored Patti Smith and she saved my teeth, and Ms. Hand suggested I write about it. And she's right, because it really is a story worth telling. Maybe I can save somebody else's teeth by passing it along.

First I'll say I'm a longtime fan of Patti Smith. A friend gave me copies of Easter and Horses when I turned thirteen, and I wore out the grooves on both records before replacing them on cassette, then CD. I've seen her rip the strings off her guitar one at a time on stage, one of the punkest moves I've ever witnessed. I've seen her turn mellow crowds riotous, and vice versa. So when my band,  the Stalking Horses, was chosen to showcase at the final Rockrgrl Conference in Seattle,  and it was announced that the speakers would include Johnette Napolitano, Bonnie Raitt, Ann Wilson, June Millington from Fanny, AND Patti (on the 30th anniversary of Horses), I was over the moon.

The dialogue between Bonnie Raitt & Ann Wilson was excellent, but Patti's speech could have been written just for me. Here are the things she said that day:

1)   You only get one set of teeth. Brush, floss, and go to the dentist, or you'll regret it later. (I think she had just had some massive dentistry.)

2)   You do not need to starve to be an artist. There is no shame in a day job.

She said other stuff, like how we should all watch Carnivale, and write to HBO and beg them to keep it on the air, and, y'know, some stuff about art and music and her life, but those other items are the ones I remember most clearly.

(To my parents: if you're reading this, kindly stop now)

At the time of this conference, I was still trying to make full time music work. I was making enough money to pay my bills, barely, with nothing to put aside. My second album had just been released.  I had toured all over the country, mostly playing colleges and festivals. I made some decent money on tour, but then things happened, like when my van broke down in northernmost Wisconsin, clearly in shock over the sixty degree temperature difference between Dallas and Superior, and all of the profits went into fixing it.

I was living on a street namechecked in the first episode of The Wire.  I had emergency health insurance, but it didn't cover dental, and I hadn't been to a dentist in seven or eight years. I brushed and flossed religiously, but I couldn't justify the cost of a dental visit, and really my teeth had to be alright, because they didn't hurt, and anyway a dentist would only yell at me for not having gone in so long, and I wasn't in a mood to be shamed, and what if there was a cavity? My childhood relationship with dentists was a bad one, filled with extractions and frenectomies and braces and braces again. Dentists HURT, and really my teeth were fine. Except for that one spot where I would hit the ceiling if my toothbrush touched it wrong, but other than that…

I don't know why Patti's permission was the thing that worked, the thing that got me back in a dentist's chair, where I discovered that they have new techniques that hurt less, and they didn't shame me, and the sore spot was a place where my gum had receded, but they could patch it. 

Her second piece of advice was related. She said it anecdotally. I paraphrase: "Young people always come to me and say, 'Patti, I've applied for every grant and been turned down. I don't have enough money to feed myself or pay my rent.' And I say, 'Get a job.' There is no shame in a day job.  It won't make you less of an artist. It may even make you a better artist, because you'll be able to concentrate better on your art instead of how to pay for your next meal."

Both of those things translate into the need to take care of yourself, body and mind. She was right that we only get one set of teeth. We only get one body too, which is easy to neglect when you're young and desperate and determined to survive on art or music or writing.  I remember an entire northeast tour with a lower respiratory infection, burning with fever, breath rattling between the lines of the songs. I went into a pharmacy in Northampton and begged for something to sooth my throat. They gave me Echinacea drops and a natural cough syrup chunky with chopped up cherries and I think maybe bees, but what I needed was antibiotics. I didn't get them until the end of the tour, and only then because the head of my label begged her own doctor to see me for free and load me up with antibiotic samples.  That was how it worked over and over: I would think I was getting ahead, and then something would happen to put me behind again. It wore on me.

 

I swear the cough syrup had chopped up bees it hurt so bad. 
I was so sick Meghan and Brenda were actually singing half my songs for me.

 

Not long after the Rockrgrl conference, a friend of mine told me she had started a job at an agency that worked with people with disabilities, "and there are thirteen people in bands on the first floor alone." She said they were good people to work for, and that they did good, worthwhile work. She was right, and I'm still working there. It's a job I love and I believe in. It's a job where I can live in a house I love,  and repair my car when it needs work, and go to the doctor and the dentist, all of which are things that I am very grateful for and appreciate even more for having gone without them   (by choice – I recognize my privilege) for so long.

I was very proud to be able to say I was a full time musician. I miss that sometimes. But now I don't have to supplement the gigs I love with the gigs I hated, where cappuccino machines went off every time I opened my mouth to sing. I can play the shows I want to play. I can take my time with making my fourth album (almost done), and take time from music to concentrate on my fiction now that it's going so well. I am a happier, healthier, less anxious person.

Much later on the night of Patti's speech, after a day of panels and a long night of showcases, I found myself alone in the hotel elevator with her. I wanted to say something to her, about how I adored her music and her speech had been good, but she looked ragged, exhausted, unreachable. I didn't want to intrude. And really, I hadn't yet internalized the things she had said that day. I hadn't quite made either decision, dentist or day job, hadn't quite acknowledged she was right.

So now I acknowledge:

Dear Patti Smith,

Thank you for the wise things you said that day, and for the difference they've made in my life. I am a musician, a fiction writer, an advocate for people with epilepsy. It's okay to be all those things.  I pass your advice along, often: there's no shame in a day job.  Take care of your teeth. You can do those things and still make art. 

Under My Skin: A Response to Gene O' Neill's "Pale Skin, Grey Eyes"

 

Under My Skin: A Response to Gene O' Neill's "Pale Skin, Grey Eyes"

I don't tear apart another author's work lightly. I've never done it before. I just don't think this should have made it out of the slush pile. I found the use of race and disability in this work to be irresponsible and poorly managed, and there isn't any area of story, from worldbuilding to language, that fared much better. I don't know Mr. O'Neill, and I wish him no ill will. I'm attacking the story, not the author.

Gene O'Neill's "Pale Skin, Grey Eyes," was published in Apex Magazine's January issue, out now. It was one of two new stories in the issue, alongside Ursula Vernon's lovely "Jackalope Wives."

I read this story on Monday. My gut reaction was sadness. How could the magazine that had published my favorite story of 2013 (Rachel Swirsky's sublime "If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love," which I am nominating for the Nebula) also publish this piece?

On my first read I thought it was hideously off-base in its treatment of race, gender, and disability. I couldn't dismiss it. It stayed with me all day, but not in a productive way. A friend and I read it out loud to each other that evening, analyzing it line by line, trying to figure out what the author and the editor were thinking. I contacted a friend at Apex to ask whether this piece had been bought by the new editor, Sigrid Ellis, or by the outgoing editors. She put Sigrid in touch with me.

Sigrid's response was gracious. I don't know her personally, but I respect her willingness to engage me on this story. An editor has no responsibility to explain her reasoning, and yet she took the time to share her perspective on the story. She also encouraged me to blog my response and to share her response.

 She wrote "That story made me uncomfortable. I read it over at over, wondering whether it was a story worth publishing or not. In the end, clearly I decided it was a discomfort that I found to be worth exploring, and I published it."

To me, this story did not generate productive discomfort. There was no payoff that showed the author had any awareness of the power of the words he used.

In my first letter to her, I focused on the two aspects I found most problematic: the story's treatment of race and of disability. I decided to leave out the other problems I saw in the story: problems of gender, of writing mechanics, of worldbuilding, of storytelling.

First letter to Apex:

Dear Sigrid,

Thank you for reaching out to me. Let me first say that I think Apex is a wonderful magazine, and I look forward to your tenure there. All of this is said in what I hope is a constructive manner. I realize that it has already been published, but I appreciate this chance for dialogue. 

The first of my two main areas of concern with this story regards its treatment of race. "A Brownskin, who had somehow slipped past the perimeter guards and illegally entered the village. This caused quite a stir in the people, because the few Brownskin immigrants accepted into Blueskin coastal villages as common laborers had caused nothing but problems — a constant strain on social services, our true religion clashing with their strange heathen beliefs, too many incidents of violent confrontations between them and villagers, and, perhaps most important, the ugly Brownskin males were sexually aggressive toward Blueskin women. There had been a number of reported savage rapes."

Looking at the words used to describe brownskins, they are dwarfish (in an earlier description) immigrants, common laborers, nothing but problems, a strain on social services, heathen, violent, ugly, sexually aggressive rapists. Is there any one word among those descriptors that hasn't been used to describe brown people in America? If this were a story about race, I would want to see how the author turned expectations around after using those descriptors, or showed the individuality within the group. This isn't about race, though, and that's all the characterization we get of all the brownskin people. They are a group without exception,  because they aren't even in this story other than in these two chunks of history. They exist in this story only as a generic unsavory type. We don't even learn why the blueskin people sided with them against the white skins in the war. Were they not as savage then? They don't exist except as boogeymen that never appear on scene. 

On to the blueskins. Our narrator's first description of her kind is "We were all short, dark people." In the wartime exposition, she describes the Brownskins as dwarfish. Are the Brownskins dwarfish in comparison to the giant Whiteskins? Or in comparison to the "short" Blueskins? More importantly, what ethnic group refers to itself by a single hue? The arguments over the Redskins football team are just one example of hundreds of tribes being lumped together with a single epithet. Cherokees don't have the same skin tone as Mohawks. Igbo Nigerians don't have the same skin tone as Yoruba Nigerians. More to my point, one Igbo person might not have the same skin tone as his brother. I have one sister who can tan, and another who is as white as porcelain. 

The narrator is twelve. She has heard stories of a long ago war -- so long ago it is referred to as ancient and legendary.  She has seen some pictures in books and on vids of other peoples. No stranger has appeared in town for over thirty years, so she has never seen one. Why, then, are all of her descriptions of her own group, the only group she has ever known, descriptions of her own group in relation to others? 'We are short.' But surely we are not uniform in size. Is a child smaller than an adult? There was at least one warrior mentioned as tall. 'We are dark people.' Are all of them the same hue? After thirty years of complete isolation, would they think about themselves in those terms? Usually 'we' simply are. Then others are defined in relation to us. 

The reductive nature of these groupings makes what could be a long history of differing cultures into a story about skin tone. Why was the war fought? We don't know. Hatred based on skin tone is nothing new, but if you're going to present a story about it, it has to reveal something new. This doesn't. 

Now, on to disability. 

Here's how L'Voli's story arc reads to my eyes.

L'Voli has a physical disability. His mind is intact. A series of seizure-like contortions (a phrase that rings odd but I'll leave it) confined him to a wheelchair permanently. Is he paralyzed? Does he have use of his hands? His disability has a name, but in practice it seems to be "wheelchair."

Paraphrase of the opening lines: "You can't go. It won't be a safe place for children, especially you, disabled son, because you are disabled."

Mother then whispers in Tem's ear in front of L'Voli, about L'Voli. Take him away, occupy him, keep him quiet. He is allowed to get away with being impertinent because of his disability. All of this is tremendously condescending.

L'Voli is wheeled up to the roof to watch the meteor shower. He is up there for hours while everyone else goes to bed. The family has taken a child with no apparent ability to move his own wheelchair up to a roof and left him there for the night. This is child abuse.

He tells them his theories. They grin, chuckle, shake their heads, laugh dismissively. Tem doesn't crack a smile, but only because she doesn't know what to believe, not because she believes him. Even though "I knew that L’Voli often had an uncanny intuitive, almost precognitive, grasp of other people’s future actions, and, especially the outcomes of unusual events of this nature." (Side note: I thought there had never been any unusual events of this nature in his lifetime.)

L'Voli never once uses this magic power in the rest of the story. There is no explanation for its existence, and no demonstration of it beyond this telling. He is now a Magical Disabled Boy for no reason other than the convenience of this moment.

"I found a protected viewing spot under a blue oak for L’Voli in his wheelchair, reminded by First Mother that today my major responsibility was my brother’s well being. I locked his wheels in place with his back up against the tree trunk, making sure he had ample water. Then, I climbed back and helped both my mothers"  I tied the puppy to a tree, and left it a bowl of water. (Can he use his hands? He can't wheel his own wheelchair. Can he lift water to his mouth?) Again, abuse.

They watch the proceedings.

L'Voli demonstrates understanding of the situation, maybe because he is Magical Disabled Boy. The mob turns to flee. Tem stands behind the wheelchair, holding on to the handles, while people crash into her brother in the wheelchair. Would she not protect him better from any side but behind? There's a tree protecting them from the back, but some people crash into him anyway.

Then, because he is in so much pain from having some people bump into him that he can't bear to live any more, he decides to die. He expresses admiration for the person that is slaughtering the only people he has ever known. (Okay, if my family treated me like that, maybe I would too.)

For the first time in the story, because it is convenient to the narrative, he wishes he could leave his crippled body. He suggests that his sister leave him and run away to find the secret gate out of the city that she never found in all of their previous years of searching. 

Tem thinks about how her mother told her to take care of her brother. She decides that the best way to do that is to release the brake on his wheelchair and actively push him down the hill. To me, the most likely result of this would be the wheelchair tipping halfway down, spilling L'Voli out on the ground and leaving him to die one of several horrible deaths, injured and abandoned. She flees. 

What has L'Voli accomplished in this story? He has been ignored and abused by his family. He's made some predictions that may or may not have come true. He has asked to die. He is left to his death. He has no agency whatsoever.

How does he feel when they are treating him poorly? We never get a hint of his interior beyond his magical predictions. We don't know his hopes, his dreams, his opinions. 

 Tem is a semi-omniscient, neutral, opinion-less narrator. L'Voli is a plot device that she pushes around. At no point does either of them tackle any of the big issues by making choices. 

I read the Apex interview with Mr. O' Neill after reading the story, and was struck by a couple of sentences "taught adaptive P.E. back in my youth, came in contact with a number of *disabled* people. I found many of them to be inspiring and often the people around them were awesome.  " and "of course there are always people that seem to rise up against the bigotry of their times and society. And like I mentioned above, I’d met a number of *heroes* in my work in adaptive P.E." 

Clearly, Mr. O'Neill has good intentions, but his insistence on treating people with disabilities as inspiring heroes (and the people around them as uniformly awesome) does not have the desired effect. People with disabilities are just as complicated as those without them. The same person can be an Olympic hero and an abusive murderer. 

L'Voli exists to have a disability. He isn't presented with any interests or any personality. We never see his reactions to anything. Is he a hero for being in a wheelchair? Is he by default an inspiring person? Is his family automatically inspiring for putting up with him? People with disabilities do not exist simply to be inspiring. In my opinion, this is condescending at best and dehumanizing at worst. 

In fiction, people of color and people with disabilities should always be living, breathing humans to their writers and readers first and foremost. Their skin color, culture and abilities are pieces of who they are but should never be the whole thing. To present blank stereotypes of characters and races dehumanizes them and reinforces the preconceived stereotypes society already has about them. 

It is important to continue having conversations about disability and race and gender and all of the other weighty issues that make up human existence. I love seeing them through the prism of speculative fiction when it is done carefully and thoughtfully, and with full awareness of the choices made by the narrative. There is baggage and weight that comes with every decision. This story strikes me as a woefully misguided attempt to tackle big issues. 

Thank you again for writing, and I look forward to our continuing conversation.

Best,

Sarah 

 


 

 

Editor's response:

Oh, thank you so much for emailing! I do appreciate it.

What I find absolutely fascinating about your impression of the story is that I completely agree with you in your assessment of the text. I find the treatment of L'Voli in the story to be *horrifying*. "Pale Skin, Grey Eyes," was my horror genre selection for the issue. I was appalled. I remember covering my mouth and wincing when I reached the last paragraphs.

What I found interesting, and worthy of publication, however, was that I, personally, took the presentation of race and disability in the story, and the death of L'Voli at the end, to be a ringing indictment of the Blueskin culture and people. I took the story to be a not-very-coded condemnation of self-righteous insular cultures who presume themselves to be right in all things.

Moreover, I took the *Whiteskin's* portrayal to *also* be an indictment of close-minded, blind cultures who judge everyone by their own internal standards. I think the Whiteskin is just as wrong as everyone else. I thought *every* culture in the story was blind, blind, pig-headedly and maliciously blind to anyone different, anyone outside.

Now. I cannot and do not speak for the author. I am speaking to you as a fellow reader. There is quite obviously room for your experience and interpretation to exist alongside mine. No story lives until it meets the reader, and then it takes on life of its own.

I would really love it if you blogged about your reading of the text. If you do, please feel free to quote my email, if-and-only-if you so desire. I think your take on the story is important.

Thanks again,

Sigrid

 


 

And my response. She has not answered this one yet, but again, she has no obligation to do so. She expressed herself well in the above letter.

 My Second Letter to Apex

Hi Sigrid,

Thanks for responding. I'll definitely blog this. Do you have time to continue through one further exchange?  It's interesting to see your thought process, and that we have the same assessment of certain aspects but arrive at different conclusions about the story. I see where we diverged. 

As a writer, I've always been taught that you make a pact with your readers in the early paragraphs. If you want them to believe you have written a mystery, you give them a crime. If you want to convey that they are reading science fiction, you give them something scientific or futuristic, however small, near the beginning. "It was all a dream" cheats a reader who has bought a bill of goods, which is why "it was all a dream" is frowned upon. Granted, Apex is a magazine of horror and dark fantasy, and O'Neill is a horror writer, so I should have attempted to view it through that filter.

I didn't approach this as a horror story for two reasons. One is because the early paragraphs sold me other things: a low-tech society, possibly on our earth, possibly elsewhere. More importantly, I was sold a story with characters introduced in the first paragraph, and I expected them to be characters the whole way through, with motivations and story arcs and some moment of agency. If I'm to go with your explanation that this is an exaggeration of societal faults, then I have to accept their transformation into symbols. If they are all symbols and exaggerations, acting with the best of intentions, then the boy in a wheelchair who sees things for what they are is still a horrible caricature of the noble cripple. The brownskins are still savage rapists with no place of their own in the story to prove or disprove that characterization.

            Secondly, in order to believe this as a deft skewering of closed society, I would have had to trust the writer. This story did not establish my trust because it got so many story-level things wrong. The words "consul" and "counsel" are used interchangeably multiple times, when "council" would have been the most appropriate homonym. "Fierce-some" is not a word. "Respectively" is used in place of "respectfully." "Incredulously" is used in place of "Incredibly." The capitalized Permit and Petition are dangled in front of us through most of the story, but they're more or less redundant terms and they don't add anything in the end since there is no such thing as a denied petition. The village is coastal; does the wall end at the sea? Do they grow anything other than sweeteners? Do they eat all the sweetener themselves, since they don't trade? There is a small, secret tunnel, approved by a petition, the whereabouts of which are a mystery to Tem, but it was used by an entire guild for several weeks every year until only five years before. That's an awful lot of people knowing its location very recently. Were none of the sweetwood tappers in the crowd? Was that where they were all running? These are all little things, but the bottom line is that I would never have read any condemnation of the society presented into the story because the author did not show me he had the control to do so.

As you said, we can only respond as readers interpreting the author's intent. I agree that it's not very coded, but to me, if it was meant to be a condemnation, it missed that mark. You say every culture in the story was blind, but there are no cultures in this story. The only characterization we get of the brownskins is their savagery. The Whiteskin we meet may not be a Whiteskin at all. Just because the whiteskins are also bad doesn't mean that the particular language used to discuss the superfluous brownskins isn't loaded. Blueskin culture isn't a culture either. We get little glimpse of anything beyond a hodgepodge of law and religion.

The treatment of L'Voli is horrifying, indeed. His sister's casual violence would have definitely made this a horror story if we had any view of her interior or L'Voli's. Unfortunately, even if I take this to be a condemnation of Blueskin culture and the way even a young girl can get swept up in a misguided idea of what's right, then L'Voli is still used as a boy-shaped prop in a wheelchair. 

In the interview with you about your hopes for the magazine, you wrote, "if most genre fiction is written by straight white dudes featuring straight white dudes about the difficulties of being a straight white dude, the rest of the world is not being represented." Tem reads to me like a white man wearing the skin of a blue girl.

So here she is, a twelve year old, about to turn thirteen in a month, in a culture where at thirteen women put on masks. She never once makes any sort of remark about that upcoming milestone. Is she excited? Scared? Resigned? She has two mothers, but First Mother is the only one who is given even a title. Why is there a second mother? What is her role? How is she secondary? Whose mother is she? Do the mothers do anything other than make food and chide their children? Tem never shows any interest in the things that her society's women do, even though she is about to become one.

Father, on the other hand, gets a whole paragraph. A whole history of his working career. His job, his respect, his prestige. Not in a proud-of-daddy way. It's a dispassionate telling, in a narrator-needs-to-convey-this-information-for-the-sake-of-plot way, as if she has been assigned the task of talking about a famous man because the plot needs him. If she's meant to be identifying with the women, she should be interested in their goings-on. If she's an outlier and wants a career like her father's, or if she wants out altogether, she should express that. If she's excited about opting in, or neutral about it, we still need to hear it. Even if the author is trying to show that so-called women's work is lesser in this society, a woman would see its importance – or emphasize its unimportance in the greater picture.

(Further digression on women: as a friend points out, the removal of the stranger's hood instantly outs her as female. The villagers gasp and recognize her as female instantly. How is a head female? Especially for a group of people of an entirely different culture/species/etc? If by definition a woman is a mask-wearer, wouldn't their first thought be that this is a man's face?)

Back to the main characters. L'Voli reads to me like a well-intentioned non-disabled person's idea of a guy in a wheelchair: never complaining until he needs to complain at the end. Never doing anything for himself. Show how he eats, if he's a real boy. Show his frustration, even once. Is he expected to work one day? Does he want to? Does he enjoy being treated like an invalid? Does he get sick of being pushed around? If his well-intentioned sister left him with water under the tree, how does he drink it: is it a straw from a backpack? A cup in his fist? A glass set thoughtlessly out of reach? How is he even alive at all to reach this point when his family has the habit of leaving him out on the roof all night? He is magically precognitive when it is needed, in a society that otherwise has no other magic that we see. Does he use that for himself? Does he see his own future? The only things he expresses are sympathy for a murderer and a desire to die.

If he is meant to be the moral compass when he looks around and sympathizes with the killer because his society is bad, he needs to have shown some moral compass action before that. Having your characters develop their first opinions in the moment before their death is not character development. Having a character decide to sacrifice himself and then having his sister choose the terms of that sacrifice, without consulting him, is a final act of dehumanization by the one person who might have understood him.

  Even if this is a condemnation of self-righteous cultures and self-righteous individuals, as you said in that interview, "When you are writing your story, have sympathy for all your characters. All of them. All of your characters have to have comprehensible motivations. Mysterious, sure, but the sort of thing you can imagine your neighbor contemplating. If you find yourself writing a moment, and you have a character do something terrible, ask yourself why they are doing that thing. I’m not talking about your protagonist, I’m talking about the side characters and villains."

Where are the parents when the mob starts to flee? Do they really abandon their twins? That's pretty terrible. They haven't shown any love for L'Voli, but what about Tem?

We know why they are xenophobic, but why are the other family members cruel to L'Voli? Why is Tem the only one who is unfailingly solicitous toward him? How does she feel about that? How does he feel about her, or about any of them?

Why does the Whiteskin allow herself to be imprisoned before starting the bloodbath, if she had the power to kill them all along?

Why does nobody frisk her or remove her cloak before her imprisonment?

What are the town drunk and the town harlot doing besides being props beside the stranger?

Nobody in this story has motivation.

When I read your response, I tried to go back and read the story as a modern update on "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas," or "The Lottery," as a cautionary tale. I tried the angle of "this author is purposefully hitting every button, trying to exaggerate a xenophobic, sexist, ableist society to mythic proportions." But that's too many isms for one story to bear. The beauty of speculative fiction is its ability to remove something from our own society and place it in an elsewhere or an elsewhen, the better to examine it from a distance. I'm not sure I've ever read a story that successfully examined/condemned this many of our faults and failures at once.

In order for that to succeed, I think one character would have to be honest. Not better than his or her society, or outside of it. Just honest and opinionated. We would have needed Tem to be a part of her society, interacting with it as a 12-year-old girl would. We would have needed her to hate taking care of her brother, or else love it. She would have needed to form an opinion on masks – looking forward to wearing her lacy, filigreed (is this lingerie?) mask, or else dreading it. She would have needed to believe her brother, or disbelieve him.

 L'voli would have needed to express pain earlier, not just at the end. He would have been disappointed when his sister didn't believe him, or happy when one person in his family believed him. He would have said, "don't talk about me as if I'm not here." Even if the society was terrible to him and that was the point, we needed his reaction to that. L'Voli would have needed to be a living, breathing character. And the story would have needed to be more than a series of clichés about race and gender and ability.

 

I appreciate your taking the time to correspond with me. I do understand your motivation for publishing the story now, even if I still don't see the merits of the story. I'm going to blog my analysis, as you suggested, and your responses. Even if we disagree about the merits of the story, I hope we can agree that something positive can come out of this conversation. 

 

Sincerely,

Sarah


 

So that's where we're at. If she responds again and grants permission, I'll post her response here. In the meantime, I've had a few other thoughts, and some others from friends that I'll also put here.

 I was in a critique group several years ago with a gifted writer of literary fiction. Her prose was truly beautiful, but her stories were frustrating. We had numerous fights over the icons in the story. I remember in particular that an "old man on a broken-hearted donkey" made his way down from the mountains and toward the truck, just to gaze into the eyes of the narrator.  

"He's a Christ figure," the writer said.

"He can be a symbol later," I said. "He needs to be a character first."

 Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" works because there is a post office and a postmaster and a coal company and a barn, because women laugh softly together, and children choose the best stones, and people run late because they can't leave the dishes in the sink, and then they do something unspeakably horrible. There are over thirty named characters. It's a community. "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" works because we are introduced to a place of incomparable beauty, vividly described, and the prose itself slowly gets uglier, and the main character - that brilliant, uncompromising  'you' - is forced to make the choice. 

My friend Donna points out that "if a character is not also a person there had better be a damn good reason. I was thinking about [James Tiptree Jr.'s] "The Women Men Don't See," in this context. Ruth isn't a symbol but for most of the story she's also not a full person because we see her through Don's eyes and he can't see her as a person. So her lack of personhood is his failure and is exploded when it's revealed that he has understood nothing of what is going on. Now there's a reason for a character to be flat - a reason that is integral to and makes thematic sense within the story."

My friend and I argued over this again and again, but I stand by my statement. The characters in a story need to be characters. It has to work on a story level before other meanings can be attached. It's okay to build up layers of symbolism afterward, but if they don't step off the page as people, the story will fail. The Apex interview with Sigrid shows she understands that. We have different views of its effectiveness in this story. 

I think in the end this question of character is the reason this story bothered me so much it ate my entire week. This story robs everyone of personhood, but it doesn't do so in a way that gives me confidence that was the author's intent. We are told so much in this story and shown so little. The characterizations of race are irresponsible. Why choose brown and use those particular descriptors when you could choose any color in the rainbow? How can you write (or publish) a story reducing the differences between groups to skin color and then characterize them so broadly? See 

The choices made for the main characters are no better. L'Voli is the heart of the story, the character with whom we spend every moment of the present action. Making a point about dehumanization would only work if he had started out as human.

 I wish both Sigrid and Apex the best, and I appreciate this opportunity to examine how an author's choices affect a reader's experience, especially when tackling topics of identity. A successful story would have gotten under my skin by showing me a society gone awry; this got under my skin by showing me clichés layered on clichés without any payoff. From my perspective, this is probably the most wrongheaded story I've ever read in a professional magazine. It punched me in the gut for all the wrong reasons.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the story.

Comments on my site require moderator approval and I'll be traveling this weekend. I will let through any comments that contribute to the conversation, but I don't have patience for trolls.

My Writing Year 2013

 

The sum of it was: This was a phenomenal, bust-em'-up, banner year for me. My two year musical writing block came to an end. I wrote the songs that will complete my fourth album. I've even put down scratch tracks. They exist outside my head. 

My writing year was even better. I made my third through ninth professional-rate story sales. I sold my first reprints, first podcasts, first stories to print magazines and print anthologies. I sold stories to magazines I've been reading my whole life.

Some of the stats are listed below. 

That's My Story

 

I do plan on starting up this blog sooner than later. Not tonight. Tonight I'm listening to Anaea Lay's lovely  podcast of my story "In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind" in Strange Horizons. This is the first time one of my stories has been podcast, and the first time I've ever heard someone other than myself read my fiction. Listening to Anaea read my story is like listening to a cover version of one of my songs. I recognize that I wrote the words, but the interpretation lends a new flavor. I like new flavors. I like realizing that a line I always heard one way could also be read another way. And her voice is well suited to the main character.

And now, here are some of the amazing tree houses that inspired the one in my story:

 

crossville The World's Largest Treehouse, Crossville, TN

grandparents Steve and Jeri Wakefield's architect-designed treehouse for their grandchildren

ufoUFO treehouse hotel, Sweden

nzHapuku Lodge, New Zealand

 

...and my family's one trip to Disney World when I was seven. I loved that Swiss Family Robinson treehouse SO MUCH. 

The story actually originally started with a paragraph that is now buried well into the second half, about television architects. I had just seen some new movie that featured male romantic lead as architect (here are some more), and I was thinking about how "architect" is often Hollywood shorthand for honest hardworking family man. Then I decided to subvert that a little with a guy who tried to fit that role but had lost the plot along the way. Add a little Roswell, my dream treehouse, and a main character who took over because she had her own version of events.

So yeah, that's my story. 

And suddenly I find myself at the end of an actual post. Whohoo! Thanks for reading.

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