Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Chapter 113: In Which I Report on FogCon 5

About two weeks ago, I attended the Friends of Genre Convention. It's in Walnut Creek, a suburb which is FAR from where I live in Oakland. I've never been that far north in the East Bay and the BART ride is fascinatingly desolate. It felt like I was commuting to San Jose or something. And the town itself straight up looks like Beverly Hills. There's no doubt I was in Wealthy California Land.

Anyway, I had a great time. FogCon is sort of like a western WisCon, coming from the whole "don't be a self-entitled asshole" school of con organizing. It was pretty small, and offered an interesting conundrum, as there appeared to be more people than programming for them. Thus, I ended up meeting and talking with a lot of folks. Even the simple act of grabbing a sandwich in the con suite was a great way to start up conversations with other writers and fans. I can see why the con is going strong four years after it began, because the atmosphere is so friendly and chill. I believe "relax-i-con" is the fandom word for such a thing.

I did four panels. Stories Within Stories on Friday was good. It was about, well, the title. To prepare, I read bits of The Canterbury Tales, a book I hadn't touched since AP English. When I was a teen, it was hard to get past lines like "Eek well I woot." Sounded like baby talk. Since speakers of the English language are unaware, I now declare that Canterbury Tales has literary merit, even if the poetic meter felt strangely like I was reading an extended version of the Vincent Price rap from "Thriller." From "The Wife of Bath's Tale":

I shall seye sooth, tho housbondes that I
     hadde,
As three of hem were gode and two were badde.
The three men were gode, and riche, and olde
Unnethe mighte they the statut holde
In whosoever shall be founde.
Without the soul for getting downe
Must stande and face the hondes of hell
Or rot inside a corpse's shelle . . .

To prep, I also reread significant portions of 120 Days of Sodom. You have to do your research. Problem: no one wants to be the guy on the panel to mention de Sade first. Thus, we went through the whole topic mentioning every author but de Sade even though we were all thinking it. All the other panelists were good and way more versed in books than I am. It was nice to do a panel with Cat Valente, a writer who did a lot to change the way I look at fantasy. I'm a big fan of Palimpsest.

After a few hours of the typical scifi con dillying, dallying, and dithering, came the Focus on Ferguson panel. This was the panel that earned me a book full of pictures of naked men. More on that later. It was about the Black Lives Matter movement that's been going on in some way, shape, or form for the last 400 years. The other panelists were Shayna Cureton, Laurie Edison, Michelle Murrain, and Na'amen Tilahun.  This was the one I was most excited about, as I've never been to a scifi con with an explicitly political panel, let alone one dealing with such an important topic. I was surprised at how abstract a lot of the questions were, such as, "What would your ideal future look like?" (We pretty unanimously agreed it wouldn't involve capitalism.) And several questions about the role of art in subverting white supremacy, which kind of threw me for a loop, as I had come to discuss politics. At one point the audience questions turned towards "What can white allies do to [whatever]?", to which the moderator said all the would-be white allies should talk to each other about that. As I stay away from a lot of online race debates, I forget how discussions of black pain are often co-opted to be about white pain. So, yeah. Best Moderator Ever.

The reason why I stayed away from the endless online debating following the Mike Brown lynching was because it seemed pretty fruitless. I already know how black people feel about it. To debate it with white people goes like this.

WHITE GUY: You should be dead.
ME: Well, actually, good sir, I would contend that I do deserve to exist as a life form.

Only black people are expected to go on public forums and justify to racists our right to exist. It's maddening and I refuse to do it. So it was nice to talk about these tragedies in a room full of adults.

Another interesting question turned to whether the internet makes these killer cops celebrities. Edison pointed out that racist assholes have always been celebrities. Back in the day they were the town sheriff or mayor. Now they're the millionaire Darren Wilson. The reach is farther but it doesn't mean shit because white supremacy is not new. From here, we talked about the white supremacist icon, the American Sniper, whose real name I can't be bothered to look up. Na'amen said the movie they added moral conflict to a guy who bragged in his book about how much he wanted to kill brown people. I find this think mind-boggling. People who worship the American Sniper do so because he killed brown people. He protected the master race. They could have made the movie character explicitly racist like the real guy and it wouldn't have mattered to the people who showed up with their American flags. But Eastwood chose to sugarcoat it. White supremacists refuse to be honest about their icons' racism, making it okay to kill browns-skinned people by the score as long as you don't enjoy it, I guess. They have to believe their heroes are actually morally righteous like He-Man or something. Meanwhile, the poor, PTSD-afflicted vet who shot the sniper got sentenced to life without parole. So much for supporting the troops.

Good panel, receptive audience. And I heard a lot of hopeful, articulate words from the other panelists that were pretty inspiring. I was not so eloquent. Somebody asked me the next day if I was uncomfortable with the topic, since I visibly was. I have a hard time putting up a mask, or collecting my thoughts to say something pretty when discussing the state-sanctioned murder of black children. Hopefully somebody got something out of my commentary. Afterward, I gave Edison a copy of my book, and she was kind enough to mail me hers. Male nudes. I'm hyped.

Did I mention I got swag? Free book table! I am most excited to read a book of Mexican science fiction short stories. I know next to nothing about Mexican SFF, unless lucha libre movies count,

http://www.amazon.com/Three-Messages-Warning-Contemporary-Fantastic/dp/1931520313/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1427177732&sr=8-1&keywords=three+messages+and+a+warning

I also got some Paul Tremblay and Yves Maynard, and The Couch by Benjamin Parzybok. Can't wait to read.

I also went to the polyamory panel. Four panelists talked about their vastly different experiences in poly, an the only consensus seemed to be that there's barely any poly representation in popular media. Also that TV sitcoms suck. It was a pretty loose panel with the audience chiming in the whole time, so at times it seemed like a bunch of people all talking over each other. A perfect encapsulation of polyamory.

I kid. I really enjoyed hearing different poly experiences. Lots of funny stories. Though I identify as poly, I haven't been in a longterm relationship in a long time, so navigating it with a partner is still very new to me.

On Saturday, I did a panel on space opera, "It's not over until the big spaceship sings..." I prepped by reading Flash Gordon.

http://www.amazon.com/Flash-Gordon-Complete-Library-1934-37/dp/0857681540/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1427221068&sr=1-3&keywords=flash+gordon

The Flash Gordon strips are insane. They move at such a relentless pace it's wearying, with Flash meeting lion-men, fighting snake-men, suplexing dragons, and falling down pits all on the same page. The poor guy never gets a break.

The other panelists were Cliff Winnig, Michele Cox, and Chaz Brenchley. I did a reading with Brenchley at Baycon back in 2011, and hope to get randomly assigned to panels with him for many years to come, 'cause he's a delightful guy. Or delightful bloke, as they would say in his homeland. I liked that all the panelists had different experiences of space opera. For instance, Brenchley and Winnig know a lot about the genre in contemporary scifi lit, while I was the requisite anime guy. There was a good mix of lit and TV/movies talk. The prose genre of space opera grew up alongside radio and film, so I feel Flash Gordon was as instrumental in its birth as any novel. And I got to namedrop Robotech, Harlock, Yamato, Gundam, and Bebop. I haven't seen Firefly but I have seen Outlaw Star! The questions mostly came around to "Is ____ space opera?", which is fine, as these panels exist only to let us talk about X, Y, or Z story we like. "Is Harlock space opera? Sure! And here's why I like it."

Improvised folklore was fun as hell. The panelists did a series of round robin tales. Bawdy, ribald, good old-fashioned storytelling. Loved it. I also did a reading that went pretty well. In keeping with "stories within stories," I read the part in "The Elvis Room" where Junie tells her Elvis tale. This particular reading had four authors, a nice diversity of steampunk, dark fantasy, science fiction, and Elvis.

As far as panels went, my dance card was pretty full, but I had time to meet folks. Caught up with J. Malcolm Stewart and got a copy of his book, The Last Words of Robert Johnson. Talked a lot with Espana Sheriff about the history of fandom and cons from the 1990s onward. By then it was about midnight and I had to go home before I turned into a pumpkin, or the BART shut down, whichever came first. I need to start renting cars to go to these things.

Glad I made it to FogCon. My next convention is Tekkoshocon, the Pittsburgh area anime convention I used to volunteer at a decade ago. Anime as an art form is important to me so I'm glad to be a panelist; I'm also happy Tekko has become so big since it's humble origins out in some hotel by the Pittsburgh Airport. I'm running four panels (!) and should probably go prep for them. I'll do that now.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year!

Wow! Six posts in 2014? To put it mildly, I was busy. I made this blog to discuss being a small press writer, and that's what I'm going to use it for in the coming year. I haven't published too much this year, and all the travel and life changes have kept me from writing too much. I have, however, been reading a lot, which is the best nutrition. Anyways, year in review.

January--I toasted the New Year at the Free Ride bike shop in Pittsburgh. Spent some time in Philly and NYC. Most memorably, I taught my first college creative writing course. I'd been wanting to teach writing since I got to Louisiana. There were pitfalls here and there, as with any first time teaching a course, but I got to introduce students to some of my favorite writers. Learned some of my own strengths and limitations along the way.

February--I turned thirty. Celebrated by going to Krewe de Vieux in New Orleans. It passed in a blur of parties and brass bands and dancing. My actual 30th birthday was pretty low key, as I didn't have tons of folks to celebrate with at my school. Went out to a bar with two friends and had some drinks. Went to bed.

March--Second year attending the Associated Writers and Writing Programs Conference. As before, it was fun, exhilarating, infuriating, and overwhelming. I learned the usefulness of book fairs. At  points there was nobody manning the UL Lafayette table, so I just sat my black ass down and peddled my books. Sold some too. Just from sitting there! Foolishly, I did not table at either NASFIC or WFC. My friend Patty Templeton tabled at both (congrats on your book, Patty!) and informed me she sold briskly. I'm still slowly learning the business aspects of this.

After the conference, I deplaned in Houston, which was in the middle of a freezing ice storm. I was tired and wanted to go home. My options were a) stay at the cold and crowded Greyhound station until 9 in the morning to get a bus to Lafayette, or b) take an 11 pm Megabus to New Orleans. Did I mention the Megabus had heat?

Me: "Guess I'm going to Mardi Gras."

Got into New Orleans at six am. Had an early morning Bloody Mary at a gay bar. Caught up with some friends. Saw the Zulu Parade. Went to a bar on Frenchman where I, no exaggeration, saw ten different people who I had met in ten different places over the course of a half hour.

April--I've been waiting my whole life to tell a class of college freshmen: "Class is canceled due to Wrestlemania." Not the whole truth; class was canceled for the Monday Night Raw AFTER Wrestlemania. The one with a bunch of drunk Europeans/older fans who don't like the WWE that much and troll the performers. Probably the best night of wrestling every year. Spending a weekend in New Orleans with a couple thousand pro wrestling fans is as close to Heaven as I'm going to get. Saw Kaiju Big Battle and SHIMMER (awesome women's wrestling). Got to boo the Ultimate Warrior, who they had the nerve to trot out in a city he said deserved to get hit with a hurricane. And no, him being dead does not make him a saint. Fuck that. Got to see the American Dragon Bryan Danielson, best wrestler on Earth, win the championship on the biggest stage. So glad this year was actually a good Wrestlemania, 'cause the past few years they've been garbage. While I will probably be a wrestling fan forever, I decided this would be my "series finale" for World Wrestling Entertainment. They ain't gonna top the image of the whole arena chanting "Yes! Yes! Yes!" It was glorious.

May--I quit my job. Set off the financial insecurity of the rest of the year. It's been hard. Really hard. Though not as hard as it would have been if I didn't have a support network. I had finished my coursework for my PhD program, but I was not writing. I wasn't inspired where I was at. If I stayed for the next year, I would be studying for tests, not working on my projects. So it was time to go home. Caught a plane to Philly in the middle of finals week, my luggage stuffed with my creative writing class' final portfolios. It's amazing to think how natural travel is for me. Greyhound to New Orleans, flight to Philly, Bolt to NYC. Cross-country travel feels like passing between rooms sometimes.

Oh, and I saw "Last Lovers Alive," or whatever it's called. Gotta agree with the fangirls. Tom Hiddleston is hot. I still don't care about Marvel movies.

June--Moved into a new place in Oakland. Noted with shock how fast gentrification is going in Oakland (the "new Brooklyn," according to some dumbass New York Times article). Did a small press book fair in Seattle. Rode up with some queer kids from New Orleans. Rode back down with the most Burning Man-iest of Burning Man hippie chicks and a van full of Rainbow Gathering people. Broke my laptop :(

In the meantime, writing. Not to the extent or quality I wanted to. In Louisiana, I got seriously unproductive, writing-wise. After putting out my last book, I didn't really have a direction, either for my art or marketing my art. But there was a variety of tough things going on. I'd essentially reset my life, creatively, professionally, personally. This was the unavoidable floundering period.

July--Took a three-day Greyhound trip to a city without water for the North American Science Fiction Convention. The con was fun. All the diversity programming made me feel welcome. Lots of cool paneling about Octavia Butler and the panel I moderated on Afro-futurism went great. Seeing the moves that big business is making to privatize water, in California and Michigan, not so fun. Forget Hunger Games. People of color are living in dystopia and always have been. This would get more evident as the year went by.

Cool story: I almost got left by Greyhound in Denver. The driver said the bus was full even though I had a reboard ticket. The prospect of missing more of the con upset me, let alone having to spend another minute in that overlit refugee camp of a Greyhound station. As the bus was ready to leave and I was calling my friend to try and get a plane to Detroit, this college girl I met on the bus ran off and told me to get on. She told the driver I was in her crew and that was enough. By the way, there were totally five open seats on that bus. Greyhound is, and always will be, the worst company ever. But people can be awesome.

August--Started a job teaching first grade after school literacy. Bore witness once more to the racist dynamics in public education. Started considering, and still am, getting my certification in elementary ed. This coincided with the uprisings in Ferguson, one of the more uplifting things I've seen this year. Read at a Ferguson benefit. Started a relationship.

September--Ended a relationship. Dealt with severe depression. And I still am. Had a hard time leaving the house for anything other than work.

October--Got fired from my job. Specifically, because the FBI clearance was taking too long. It got back to them with my clean record--two weeks after they'd fired me. Ugh. Still reeling from having no income. On the plus side, I had a fun Halloween in the Mission. The kids were wearing all kinds of cute costumes.

November--This country does not give a fuck about black people. Every news story was about cops exonerating themselves for the murder of black children. The escalation of violence against black and brown bodies was on my mind, everybody's mind. One thing I think it's important to emphasize: rioting, looting, fighting back is the legacy of black people. It is what we have always done. We have never been docile, never laid down for the extreme cruelty done by this white supremacist state. Every black child gets fed lies that the most important event for black liberation was the passage of civil rights laws, which were achieved entirely through peaceful protest (lie). The most significant thing to happen for Afro-Americans in the last 400 years was the abolition of slavery. Hard as life is, we are not slaves. That means something. Abolition was achieved through uprising, rioting in northern cities, escape, ultimately fighting in a war against the slave states. We gained our biggest achievement through violence. And the kids fighting cops in the streets know this. So that was uplifting to see: their miseducation did not work.

Saw Dear White People. Good movie, glad it was made. Felt weird to me that one of two black movies to come out this year (the other, as far as I know, being Annie) was about blacks in the Ivy League. Something most black people can't relate to. It felt foreign to me in some ways, and I have enough college degrees to make wallpaper. I'd just spent two months watching black first graders get antagonized, ignored, and generally feared by their white teachers. Those kids have been given up on. They will be lucky to get anywhere near college, though they'll have ample opportunity to go to prison or get Darren Wilson-ed. So racism in the Ivy league is a very small part of the black struggle. They should make a sequel called Dear White People: Stop Fucking Shooting Us and I think they'll reach a bigger audience.

I read at Mellow Pages Library in NYC, did a house reading in Philly, and read at the World Fantasy Convention in Washington DC. It was a good time where I got to reconnect with old friends in all three cities. World Fantasy was weird to me this year, because it was so white. No effort at diversity paneling, And, yes, it's nice to party and drink and hang out with fantasy nerds. I did all that. But this is the place where people meet agents, where deals go down, and it's a prestige club for the few who can afford to go. Coincidentally, or not, because we live in a world with more than one type of person, there was a big gossipy kerfluffle at the con regarding a blogger of color who had pissed people off. So there were conversations going on about racism in the "SFF community," which is not, and has never been, a community. These conversations were not in any type of public forum, where it would've been most useful.

However, a woman of color won Best Novel at the awards. Well deserved. And to nobody's credit but hers, because she wrote the best book. So even while writers of color are being excluded, they are still pushing the genre forward.

Really makes me wish WFC had some kind of student discount like AWP. Or . . . something. When I'm in a monochromatic space, I feel like an ethnographer. No matter how nice people are, I don't feel entirely comfortable or a part of the space. That whole week was hard for me personally, despite being surrounded by friends. Minus the literary heroes of mine who were at Toronto, I didn't have as much fun at WFC as I did in 2012.

Best advice was from a lady at the art show. Not a writer, just a fan. She correctly pointed out that George R.R. Martin was writing for forty years before he got all this money thanks to a TV show. Before that, he was scrabbling just like any writer who shows up to cons like this. Perseverance is a huge part of it.

December--I saw the BIRTHDAY MASSACRE!!!!! So good! Such a good show! This is the band that drew me back to goth music and OH MY GOD THEY WERE GOOD!!!1111 SQUEEEEE!

I worked on a novella called "Queens of the Emerald Palace." It is almost done, and feels like some of my best work. Protested. Did yoga.

Needless to say, I wished I'd done in-depth blogs about some of these events. But there's something to be said for living in the moment and leaving the reflection for later. I'm excited for more adventures. Happy New Year!

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.