Tuesday, July 8, 2014

I'm Going to NASFIC in Detroit!

And here is my schedule!

Gender Roles in Genre Fiction

Fri 6pm

An examination of how gender is represented in SF and fantasy, particularly the roles assigned to women. Which works explore questions of gender? Does the genre as a whole tend towards conservative, examined, or transgressive representations of gender?

Afro-Futurism and Music

Sat 11am

Afrofuturist musicians such as Sun Ra, Janelle Monet, and Deltron 3030 tell stories of detailed future worlds over the course of years of songs. Panelists will play & discuss awesome modern Afrofuturist music and will also discuss how Afrofuturism has developed as a musical expression.

New Voices: Written SF/F/H

Sat 1pm

Our panelists share their thoughts on the writers, trends, and best works of 21st century written SF/F/H.

Elwin Cotman/Patty Templeton reading!!!

Sat 3pm

Afro-Futurism and Literature

Sat 4pm

First coined by Mark Dery in 1993, the term Afrofuturism is applied to a cultural and literary movement of the black diaspora which uses technology, science, and science fiction to explore the black experience. Our panelists discuss trends and themes in Afrofuturism, and recommend their favorite works.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

New Blackgate post

I'm still on that Leiji Matsumoto. It's been fun.

http://www.blackgate.com/2014/02/26/leiji-matsumoto-bushido-manhood-and-womanhood-pt-2/

Chapter 112: In Which I Discuss Ethnic Writing

So, I recently went to AWP. It's a hella fun time. The usual debauchery occurred. Can't go into all the cool readings I went to and cool people I met. I noticed that fatigue had set in for a lot of folks by Friday. And on Saturday, everybody was just done. Ready to go home and sleep it off. I . . . ended up going to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Guess I wasn't done yet. Over the course of the week, I made some new friends, all the while running into an ungodly number of old friends.

People complain about AWP being an overpriced shill for MFA programs. I'm sure at some point I'm going to hit the same wall I did with anime conventions and get bored. But, I don't know, I don't overthink things. There is nothing that could not be fun about spending a weekend with 14,000 like-minded people. It's why we have cons. It's why we have sporting events. It's why we have Burning Man.

Highlights:
-Seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time from the airplane. Wow.
-Pre-registering. Got my badge in under five minutes. No more onsite reg for me. Anywhere. Ever.
-The Cave Canem/Copper Press reading. One thing that kept occurring was people telling me how cool it was that I went to poetry readings, me being a fiction writer and all. My reaction: "I didn't know we were at war." Anyway, this reading was on a high floor in a swanky hotel where you could see the Seattle skyline. If nobody read a word of poetry, that would have been enough for me. All the readers were good (and erotic). But the cool part was the audience was also good. So much screaming, "amen"-ing, and general poetry slam style affirmations, giving the energy back to the performers.
-"The Poetics of Hiphop." Cool panel, out of many cool panels. The readers, all serous academics, read essays that were both thoughtful and personal about the significance of hiphop. Even the lights mysteriously shutting off couldn't stop them. It made me want to do a "Poetics of Metal" panel. Always nice to be reminded of how the discourse has changed. Hiphop is being acknowledged for the world-changing cultural force it is.
-Ursula le Guin. Sherman Alexie. Caught these two legends at their respective readings. The Alexie one was particularly cool for the good vibes, and all the talk about writing community, and how this was the biggest AWP ever. Gave me the warm fuzzies. (The readings were great, too.)
-Saw a panel about teaching genre fiction in the workshop. I forbid genre in my creative writing class (forbid!), but it got me thinking about doing the opposite.
-More poetry! This is what gets you thinking about language. Read poetry! Watch poetry!
-Small presses. I've been a small press author since the day I was published. It hasn't always been awesome. Doesn't change the fact that, as traditional publishing becomes more profit-driven and insufferable, the small press is kicking ass all over the place. AWP is a space where the indies get to show their stuff.
-My friends are awesome. I met up with so many folks who are bestselling authors, or innovative professors, or teach slam poetry to kids, or write radical poetry, or run their own presses. I remember right after a panel on DIY touring, commiserating with a friend of mine about how we could have done that panel. Because we organize tours. I'm very fortunate to know so many exceptional people. I make no bones that AWP puts me in a competitive headspace. I see what others are doing and want to match it.
-The most interesting panel appears to be one I missed. AWP is the epitome of a back-scratching safe space, but apparently Lucy Corin broke the social contract. Here's a write-up I found online:
 http://naomijwilliams.wordpress.com/2014/02/28/magic-and-the-intellect-a-remarkable-occurrence-at-awp-2014/
Basically, Corin trolled the audience hardcore. It's social experiment kind of stuff, and it worked when that lady had the outburst. I don't think I would have liked to have been at that panel. I don't like feeling uncomfortable. I certainly wouldn't have read a piece like the "dead baby" piece (which, btw, sounds like it would work just as well on the page). My stuff is often confrontational on the page, but when I step in front of an audience there is such an automatic desire to be loved. It's cool somebody did an honest-to-Odin cringe piece at AWP.
-Which leads me to another highlight. Using a litany of dead baby jokes to represent the ways in which fathers traumatize their children is over-the-top, grotesque, highly metaphorical. In other words, it is the epitome of fabulist writing, a term I had no grasp on until that weekend. I attended "Weird Girls (Fabulous Ladies of Fabulist Fiction)." It was a panel of women who write "weird" stuff. The earth's rotation slows down, dudes break into homes to steal knick-knacks, grieving girls start hoarding lemons, that sort of thing. The best speaker was Amelia Gray, who said (among other things) that she dislikes the term "quirky," as it reads as dismissive. The work isn't quirky, to her--it is serious. There seemed to be a general consensus that they use "weird" elements to look at everyday life in a new way. Take something like the laws of physics, or human behavior, and just make it a little off. Notably, no outright fantasy elements like dragons, elves, or unicorns. The genre is based on finding new ways to express the impossible, outside of our old mythologies. It was pretty eye-opening.
-A nice treat was chancing by the opening of "Winter is Coming," a gallery exhibition based on A Song of Ice and Fire. Entirely unconnected to AWP, just another cool thing. To get in the spirit, I drank like King Robert.
-Seeing the Zulu Parade.

Lowlights:
-I didn't do a reading :(  Maybe next year.
-Getting stuck for a few hours in Houston during a freezing rainstorm. Only to go to New Orleans for MORE RAIN!
-Anything having to do with Greyhound.
-Being reminded how insular the writing scene can be. This s not really a bad thing, just an observation. The same people keep showing up. Everybody knows everybody.

One thing I noticed about the "Weird Girls" was, in a diversity-minded conference, it was monochromatic. It got me thinking about the major voices in fabulism/slipstream/whatever you call it. Lucy Corin. Amelia Gray. Alissa Nutting. Karen Russell. Theodora Goss. Karen Joy Fowler. Kelly Link. The godfather might be George Saunders, and the grandfather might be Marquez, and the crazy uncle might be Kafka, but the modern-day practitioners are overwhelmingly white women. The fact that I've never heard of a black woman being published in this genre might have to do with the usual prejudices as far as who gets published. Still, I wonder if this popular genre is the white female's approach to fantasy.

I don't see this as any sort of problem. It is simply worth looking at genre movements from an ethnic perspective. Black people have an ethnic form of spec-lit in Afro-futurism. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afro-futurist I've never identified as an Afro-futurist, because I don't write about the future. Afro-pastist, maybe? But Afro-futurism cannot be separated from the black experience, the same as magical realism has its roots in Latin American culture. What we call high fantasy is literally a white male fantasy of conquering the world and being worshiped. All this stuff about chosen ones and kings and battles fits squarely into the colonial narrative. These speculative genres come from a distinct cultural place, and I would say the experience of being a middle-class white woman in the western world is the driving force in this new literature. A highly literate genre, based around the domestic, focused on humor and metaphor, feminist, and in rebellion against norms of publishing (uplifting stories instead of dour) and social behavior (a middle-class woman writing about dead babies and the apocalypse).

I like a lot of the aforementioned authors. I don't know if I could write a "fabulist" story, i.e. one where somebody turns into a refrigerator as a metaphor. I want to write about actual dragons, not metaphorical dragons. I just don't think I could do it. I am too attached to the narrative of the adventure story. But Gray can write a story where a 40-year-old woman becomes distressed when everybody suddenly finds her unlikable, treating the usual sexism like a physical aberration. It is humorous and poignant, yet fantastical in an unexpected way.

It's cool to watch what might be the emergence of a new ethnic literature. Especially since this form of fantasy is way more exciting than the typical Warhammer 20K stuff. If this is the white female version of fantasy, the question arises: how can people of color engage with this white genre? Is there room for black women? Is there room for women born with less privilege? And will fabulism become just as stagnant as high fantasy as it becomes the norm?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Chapter 111: In Which I Discuss being a Gypsy

http://politicalblindspot.com/stop-and-frisk-of-african-american-teen/

The Philadelphia police department castrates a young black man. The "peace officer" who may have irreversibly ruined this child's life will most likely get a slap on the wrist. I'm from Pittsburgh. The filth who smothered Johnny Gammage to death almost twenty years ago are still on the force, quite content with themselves.

And people wonder why the death of a cop is cause for celebration in the hood. It seems I can't log onto Facebook without another article about these scum brutalizing or killing another innocent person. It's recently come out that more Americans have been killed by police since 9/11 than by the "enemy" in our various foreign wars. Yeah. Obviously al Qaeda are the ones we should be fighting.

I read a good article recently about reclaiming Martin Luther King Day. The author discusses how the government likes to paint Dr. King as this peacenik who wanted cooperation among all the races. No. Dr. King was all about the black. He was fighting a system of apartheid in which black men were routinely murdered, black women were routinely raped, and so much as looking at a white woman could land a black man in jail for life. The reverend doctor taught our people to put their bodies on the line, to make the necessary sacrifices, and in turn ended apartheid in the United States. I can see how the less educated might confuse him with Mandela, since the two men did the exact same thing. King was a crusader for black people. The government will tell you otherwise, but maybe we shouldn't buy into it, since they most likely killed him after their attempts to scare him and police his sexuality didn't work. I'm getting to be of a mind that MLK Day should not be a holiday. The same government that hounded and oppressed this hero are not worthy of saying his name, let alone giving false platitudes in the form of a day off. If blacks want to celebrate his legacy, we should be able to do so any day, every day, in whatever way we choose. The state’s feelings on it are absolutely worthless.

I bring this up because we're sliding back. Part of what Dr. King stopped was castration, a huge tool of white terror. Killing someone is one thing--I can't imagine the sickness it takes to castrate a man. But this was done all the time, well documented in the South, less documented but just as prevalent in the Western U.S. Let's see. Racist vigilantes gunning down black children. Complicit police forces castrating black children. This is starting to look like 1890. Though it's not necessarily a black/white thing. Cops have been killing white people lately, too. The poor are considered a race, and our overseers are more desperate than ever to keep us in check. 

And, well, we have a black president. Who authorized government surveillance on civilians the likes of which this nation has never seen. Personally, I like my dystopias in books. The noose is tightening. When reading about what happened to Darrin Manning, I find myself shocked by my ability to absorb this info and go about my daily life. It makes me question my own humanity. How can I even think about anything else? And does my apathy play into the hands of the oppressors (answer: yes it does).

Gypsy Life

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hHKXFXXUe-A

I've been feeling me some Lady Gaga lately. I'm not a big pop music fan, and when she first came out with "Pokerface" I was like "WTF is this crap?" But I downloaded her new album and I'm feeling it. You see, she writes about being a gypsy. And traveling all the time and wanting something permanent but you can't stop rambling. It's like she's SPEAKING to me, man. She also did a Christmas special with the Muppets. Respect.

Also, the music is slammin'. If I'm ever at a club and they play "Aura" or "Artpop," I will start doing lascivious things on the dancefloor. That's a promise.

I've come to the conclusion I'm kind of a gypsy. This is not how I anticipated my life being as I inched toward 30. But it occurred to me over the holiday as I got off a plane in Philly, then took a bus west to spend time with family in Pittsburgh. I caught up with friends, but didn't spend a lot of time with them. I mostly just wrote stories in bars and cafes. 

Oh, and gentrification is happening everywhere. Anybody who tells you it's limited to any one city has blinders on. People are getting priced out of Lawrenceville because of UPMC buying up all the property. And East Liberty? Good god. They might as well just hang up a big "Whites Only" sign as soon as you enter the neighborhood. I never thought to see it in my blue-collar home, but here it is. 

After New Years, I went back to Philly, where I spent about a week crashing on couches. I did a reading with Alex Smith at A Space. Last August, I had a lovely reading there, and they were enthusiastic about having me back. I was recently involved in a relationship with someone in Philadelphia, and went there a lot last year. Never thought Philly would be one of my homes, especially growing up on the other side of the state. Now I feel right at home there. The reading: Alex brought the trippy afrofuturism. Seeing as it was the day after Zora Neale Hurston's birthday, I read a chapter of "Assistant," which I feel is kind of folkloric. Real chill, real nice. Also real cold. That weather was Mother Nature telling humanity to kiss her ass. I went sledding in Clark Park and got so much water in my shoes I thought I would get frostbite. Besides sledding and freezing, I watched The Vampire Diaries on Netflix. Kelly Link gushed over the CW show in an interview (and not in an ironic way), so I had to check it out. She was right. It's a damn addiction. Far better writing than that bullshit True Blood turned into. And it is relieving to see a quality drama that’s not about middle-aged men. Enough of that shit. Vampire Diaries does have something to say about adolescence, particularly girlhood, in no way marred by the standard 30-year-old high schoolers who populate these shows. Those 30-year-olds are sexy. Give me more.

Then to New York, which involved more couchcore. Stayed with a super cool Pittsburgh friend who studies philosophy. She explained the meaning of life to me. I was supposed to do a reading at Singularity & Co., but that fell through, so I caught up with old friends. Damn, I love New York City. Just when it seems I'm having the most fun, I have to go back to the real world. I know my relationship with the city is that of a “gosh, it’s so big and diverse” fantasy space. Living in that rat race would probably be disappointing. 

The NYC writing scene is interesting to me in that you would think a city that big would have a variety of writers at every event. No, you see the same people everywhere. The same goes for the fantasy convention scene, or the lit festival scene. I have learned that, while the number of writers in this world is incalculable, the people who turn it into a social thing is a limited group. All the readings, workshops, panels, parties, are a ritual we go through, whether through desire or compulsion. I love the social aspect because I like being social, but recognize it as something for select people who feel comfortable within in it.

I now know for certain that I have to read Chip Delany. I have seen the master read, but never sat down with any of his books. Alex Smith explained to me why his writing is so great. Dhalgren sounded especially intriguing. When I was in NYC, I chanced upon a collection of essays and interviews. In one interview, the first question is where he thinks humanity will be in the future. He proceeds to rip them a new one for the foolishness of asking a science fiction author such a question. He calls them frivolous and says they're wasting his time. Good lord, it's awesome.

Speaking of frivolous: I attended an 80s fantasy movie trivia night at Freddy's Bar. The friend I was staying with had an interest in bar trivia, and got me intrigued, so when I saw the event notice online, I was there. Did I win? Of course I won. How would Elwin Cotman not win such a contest? 

I got there an hour late, but these nice folks visiting from Tennessee let me join their team. The host, who was dressed as Jareth the Goblin King (natch), had a nice variety of questions, albeit some that nobody would have ever known. There were questions from Princess Bride, Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, Willow, Black Cauldron, The Secret of NIMH, Last Unicorn, Legend, Neverending Story, and a Worst Witch question for good measure. Not too shabby. No Ladyhawke or Dragonslayer, but, y'know, you can only ask so many. Luckily, I had just watched Neverending Story, so stuff like Bastion's full name was fresh in my head. There's a few I missed that I'm still kicking myself over. Fezzick was wearing a HOLOCAUST CLOAK. I knew it! Ugh. And the teddy bear was named LANCELOT. How do you forget that?

There was a bullshit moment during the costume contest when some dude who was doing an (admittedly impressive) Elliot/ET costume with his girlfriend made some dumbass comment about how he couldn't find any Mexicans to stand it the basket, so he had to use her instead. This is a) racist, b) makes no sense, c) not funny, d) also kind of sexist, and e) really fucking racist. The crowd booed him sufficiently for me to still feel comfortable in the space, and there was some upset from the crowd when he won. The host disavowed the comment, which is nice, but his ass should have been disqualified. And, again, I have to question my tolerance for racism, as I didn't pelt him with fruit or something like that. That killed my buzz. It sucks I can't even go to a stupid trivia contest without that oppressive bullshit popping up.

The contest ended up in a tie between my team and another one. Long story short, I had to engage with this dude in a karaoke contest as the tiebreaker. He did the Neverending Story theme. Pretty good. But in choosing that one, he left me "Magic Dance," which was a mistake. My team won and I got a little trophy. It was glorious.

I hit up some bars, and went to a poetry reading in Chinatown. I paid a visit to Singularity & Co. and talked with the fellow manning the story about language styles in science fiction/fantasy. He hooked me up with some of the books from the Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series. Hopefully one day I'll actually read at their spot. I organize readings around my travels. If I'm going to be in a city for any reason, I see if I can get a little something going. Who knows when I'll next be in NYC? After three days, I hauled my luggage and traveled back to Philly. Passing through. Trains. Planes. Buses. Couches. No permanence. This was especially on my mind because so many of the friends I stayed with own property, have long-term partners, or have lived in one place for over a decade. They are stable people, with all the comforts therein.

My good friend Patty Templeton recently posted on her blog about how she is quitting her job to couchsurf for a year and focus on writing. Depending on the goodwill of friends so you don't have to worry about bills and whatnot. Forget the stigma against couchsurfing: having friends who will put you up for a year so you can pursue your dreams is about as wonderful as it gets. Those are friends who straight up love you, who want you in their house, who treasure your company. I've been doing the same thing, albeit in a different way. I haven't worked a "real" job in almost four years. I am currently in the academy, which is the modern-day patronage system. They pay to perform perfunctory educational tasks on the merit of the art I do, and will, produce. However, there is a sacrifice. Teaching/taking classes takes time away from other interests, and I see the appeal to dropping all pretense of respectability and just finding a spot where I can lay, obligation-free, to work on my writing.

Writing--that's what this whole nomadic lifestyle has been about. Finding the time and space to be an artist; supporting myself as well as I could while living the writing life. I had a full-time job back in 2010, but the adventure was elsewhere. And the funny part is, I can't say whether it's worked out. I was very productive when I worked full time. I set aside my space to write, used it to the fullest, had an interesting job that kept my mind going (social work), and used my weekends to host readings and do promotion. Plus, I had income to fall back on. Since then, I have slowed my output, due to school and tour planning.

Am I a better writer? Definitely. Am I also a less productive one? Definitely.

I turn thirty on February 18th. How I lasted this long, what with all the close calls, sketchy scenarios, all the cops and neighborhood watch trying to castrate my ass, I'll never know. I live in Louisiana during the school year. There are nice people here, but I don't know many of them well. I am not a fixture in their community. My close friends are scattered across the world. I always envisioned having a weeklong 30th birthday celebration surrounded by friends, traveling out of town, holding a reading with my favorite local writers. That's something I could have had, if I had stayed in one place. But I'm looking at spending my birthday in the company of strangers. I considered flying off to one of my other haunts, but I think there's something that will be spiritually satisfying from accepting where I am physically. The desire to constantly be elsewhere is toxic in its own way, and I often fall prey to this. So I will do something for my thirtieth. It just won't be extravagant. And I’ll be at AWP this year, so maybe that can count as the party.


In other news, I've been reading Blood Meridian. Somebody needs to adapt this into a five hour long most depressing movie ever. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

End of the year round-up

Happy New Year! Here's a list of the pieces I published in 2013.

"Futuristic Myth: The Space Opera of Leiji Matsumoto" in Black Gate

"The Beautiful Nightmare of Time Masters" in Black Gate 

"Bravery, Duplicity, and sheer Dumb Luck: Larry Elmore's Snarfquest" in Black Gate

"The Ins and Outs of DIY Touring" in Black Gate

"The Piper's Christmas Gift" in Quail Bell

"Grit and Social Dynamics in 'Smoke Ghost'" in Weird Fiction Review

"Salem Scheherazade" in The Southwestern Review

"The Colonial Nightmare in 'Sandkings'" in Weird Fiction Review

Aaaaand...

Hard Times Blues. Looking forward to another productive year.