Not just #weneeddiversebooks but #thisdiversebookisamazingbecausesquee!

(A brief digression from mostly silence.  Possibly a bit of politics.)

First: I believe that everyone who’s editing or publishing diverse anthologies or authors is doing so because they love the stories they’re publishing.  I don’t believe anyone who says otherwise.  I don’t want to rehash the Puppies’ arguments (oh god please no); at most if you squint maybe I’m tangent to them?  A glancing touch and then I proceed rapidly away.   I have heard their arguments (and how) and found them not just unsound but uninteresting.

First, again: I believe that everyone who’s editing or publishing diverse anthologies or authors is doing so because they love the stories they’re publishing.

Second: please, editors and publishers of diverse books—say that you love the stories, and say why.

I’m always concerned with representation and equality and the great Social Justice Warrior values.  I am also a sad, busy human who is more easily moved to buy books and (more importantly) read books and (most importantly) tell others about books because they are Sad! or Funny! or Angry! or Heartwarming! or All Of Those Feels At Once! and that they have an uncommon perspective and abstract political ideals that I share.

Because I know these diverse books overflow with virtues—they are smart and funny and angry and touching and well-written and have that uncommon perspective and engage with abstract political ideals that I care about.  Please tell me about those more mundane virtues too.  Their ideals give them meaning and purpose—what makes them sing to you?

I do think it’s scary to love something, especially for us, especially right now.  To be genuinely enthusiastic is to open yourself up to criticism without giving yourself much defensive fallback, and that’s especially scary when we know there’s a small mob in our community who are part of a larger mob without it who are ready to shit on anyone they get a yearning to.

I think we fall back to expressing ourselves in these abstract political terms because at least then we have the comfort of a community of people who also care about these abstract political ideals to band together with, and it’s not just our love, our taste, mine, Kellan Sparver’s, on the line and potentially under attack.

So we also need reviewers, friends, allies, readers, whatever you’re called—when you love diverse books, please say that and say what you love about them!

And editors and publishers—you can’t be everywhere on the Internet, but if you see your fans dogpiling an otherwise enthusiastic reviewer, friend, ally, reader who made a mistake, please do at least try to defuse them?  Just because your fans are right doesn’t mean that they are justified in being assholes, especially to someone who’s enthusiastic about your work.

I watched this happen once—there was an anthology (no I will not name names) which had been marketed by its editors primarily in abstract political terms.  I was aware of the anthology but didn’t feel particularly excited about buying it.  I read a review which enthusiastically explained all the concrete things which were also cool about the stories and finally convinced me to buy the book, and then before I could do so, I watched a pile of people whale on the reviewer for a genuine but disproportionate mistake, which shriveled up my interest in buying or reading the book.  I think if I were a better person I might have bought it anyway, but I am often tired and much put off by unkindness.

I think what I am saying is, I know we are all enthusiastic about diverse books for a diversity of reasons including their diversity.  Enthusiasm is contagious—let’s work together to make the world a happier! funnier! sadder! angrier! and more diverse world!

Okay, I’ll go first.

#thisdiversebookisamazingbecausesquee

Guys, guys.  O_O  I don’t know that I can express how much I love Fumi Yoshinaga’s “What Did You Eat Yesterday?” manga series.  It’s half Japanese home comfort food cookbook (I mean, like, half of each issue is just a meal’s worth of recipes for good cheap tasty food, in comic form) and half understated gay slice-of-life story and it’s super sweet and touching and I shouldn’t read it before bed because it makes me hungry but I do anyway…  O_O;;  I’m really enjoying it.

#thisdiversebookisamazingbecausesquee

How about you?  What’s awesome about something diverse you’ve read lately?

What I’m Reading: “Flocks”, by L. Nichols (queer Christian autobio comics)

"I am the people. We are the people. But no matter how hard I tried, I never heard 'me' when they said 'we.' I think they knew I was different."

I’ve mentioned before that I read a lot of webcomics, and that in the best of them I find more to relate to in the queer experiences they depict than I do in most prose fiction.  (And maybe also that the format lets me take works which make me feel strong emotions piecemeal, slowing me down enough that I can process them without getting overwhelmed.)

Flocks by L. Nichols—which its website describes simply as “An autobiographical story about L’s experience as a queer Christian”—is a particularly pointed example of that.

A lot of L.’s experience of being Christian and queer in a place hostile to the latter was my experience too, and we used college to escape in the same way.  The grinding sense that I was wrong, that I didn’t belong, that I was being punished by God, was something I lived with for a long time, and has made any kind of adult relationship with the church very, very hard.

For me the redemptive arc is that that is no longer my day-to-day, and I’m in a place now with people who are welcoming to who I am.  The comic is still ongoing (posts about once a month), but it seems L. found much the same.

What I’m Reading: Kij Johnson

I don’t really know how to capture Kij Johnson’s short story collection At the Mouth of the River of Bees in words. Her writing here reminds me often of Karin Tidbeck’s Jagannath, in its focus on ordinary people and everyday life in extraordinary circumstances.

At the Mouth of the River of Bees is a hefty volume—I read the ebook edition, so I can’t measure its spine, but it spans nearly Kij’s entire career, from 1989 to today, and although it doesn’t do so comprehensively, there’s still a lot of material to present.  Moreover, the stories display an impressive degree of thematic unity without ever seeming repetitive.

I have been thinking that writing like this asks me as a reader to slow down and take it on its own terms.  Johnson’s prose isn’t lush like Catherynne Valente’s or finely-wrought and occasionally oblique like Elizabeth Bear’s—most of the stories are written in good, transparent plain style, and anyone who has tried it will tell you it’s not as easy as it looks.  And the stories never seemed to me to drag—they always had purpose and direction.  But they pay close attention to their subjects, and I found it very rewarding to experience the stories at the narrative’s own pace.

This is one for me to reread and study, I think.

What I’m Reading, Queer-Friendly Haunted House Fantasy YA Novella Edition

okatsu onsen anu

…or at least that was how Tam described Onsen.

I should back up. Tam is a friend and classmate from Viable Paradise, and maybe a few months ago she tweeted that she had a book out, which was Onsen, and which she described as “a queer-friendly haunted house fantasy YA novella.”  I was intrigued, and the cover was remarkably self-confident, so I picked it up, and enjoyed it.

Once I finished it, I discovered that it was part of a series, which made a couple of the things which had surprised me about it less surprising. I went back and picked up Okatsu, which filled in some gaps.  And I saw going over to grab cover images that Anu is now out (yay!), so that’s on its way to my Kindle.  I am not much one for series, so that alone should be read as high praise.

In terms of technical skill they’re quite well-done.  I can’t speak too much to the veracity of the setting or the characters in the context of historical Japan, but Tam writes both with compassion and a good eye for detail.

The books also fill a great need of mine for smart comfort fiction.  (In fact I read about half of Onsen in the ER waiting room at 4 AM—everyone is fine, but taking a friend to the ER is never any fun—and it was exactly what I wanted.)  I have serious trouble turning my brain off, and here I didn’t have to, but I was also able to relax enough to enjoy the books without needing to dissect them, and that’s a rare thing for me lately.  They are pleasant reading.

Tam does a good job with the central queer relationship.  I’ve been mulling a bit over why I relate to some depictions and not others, and I think part of it might be tied up in that lack of demonstrativeness I was mentioning.  Jao and Masahiro are conscious of how they are performing their relationship in a way that I recognize.

Also Tam is now serializing a novel in the same setting but with different characters (so far) over on her Tumblr. (Here is the first post.)

Very much recommended.

(And the cover design! So excellent! I want to hire her cover artist.)

Okatsu (ebook; paper; Amazon)
Onsen (ebook; paper; Amazon)
Anu (ebook; paper; Amazon)

What I’m Watching: The Wind Rises

Saw The Wind Rises, the new (and supposedly last) movie directed by Hayao Miyazaki, with my boyfriend over the weekend. We both really enjoyed it.

It is, remarkably, a movie about engineers which shows the characters actually engineering, which we both found pleasant.

It’s obviously conflicted about the uses to which the planes the main character designed were put, and it engages lightly but (I thought) well with the issues, showing us the characters as they work out out how they feel about the compromises they’re forced to make. It also acknowledges Japan’s own imperial excesses in the period more than I had expected (ie. at all).

It is additionally a love story, which reflects on its central theme in interesting ways.

It is inspiring, touching, and ultimately poignant. We found it very powerful.

What I’m Reading: Ploughshares, Fall 2013

I’ve started submitting to literary markets (he says, as though he is admitting some sort of secret, deeply-held). One story of mine in particular has consistently received the feedback that it’s not speculative, so off it goes to magazines whose names end in “Review” and who publish handsome paperback volumes on thick, buttery paper.

I’m submitting to paying markets only, of course, and the pro-paying markets first, which might be all the paying markets — I don’t have hard data, but anecdotally there seems to be a double-handful of markets which pay better than any SF market save maybe Tor.com, and a wide field of markets (including such notables as the Harvard freaking Review) which don’t pay anything at all.  It’s about the publication credits on your CV which will help you get a faculty job, I suppose. Assuming you want a faculty job.

Since I was submitting to these literary magazines, and I’m lucky enough to have a local bookstore which stocks a selection of them, I picked up the latest issue each from half-a-dozen of the magazines on offer and have been slowly reading through them.  Despite the field’s overall reputation for slow response times, my reading speed was outpaced in several cases by the speed with which their rejections returned to me, but I’m in this for the long game, and sometimes I find gems which more than validate the exercise even if not for the excuse of market research.

The Fall 2013 issue of Ploughshares, produced by Emerson College here in Boston, is one such example.  Really the one story in it, “K Becomes K,” by V.V. Ganeshananthan, about a young woman’s experience as part of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, is worth the price of admission all by itself, raw and powerful. Robert Anthony Siegel’s essay about Japanese writer Kawabata Yasunari is a nice finishing touch, and his discussion of the techniques Kawabata uses to depict his distant narrators has some relevance for my own writing.

Very much recommended.

(I’m pleased to discover that it’s on Kindle and Nook, in case you are not lucky enough to be a subscriber or to live near a bookstore which happens to stock it — which I would assume to be true of most of us, in 2013.)

What I (Was) Reading: Jagannath, by Karin Tidbeck


I promised I would blog about Jagannath, by Karin Tidbeck.

I read it a while ago — May, I guess. Other people have written about the individual stories, and well. Go seek out those reviews if you’re interested.

I’ve forgotten many of the details, although only a quick skim and I’m nearly sucked under the surface into the sense-memory and mood of the stories. As all the reviews say, they are authentically weird.

I think the stories I like best, though, are the ones which are mostly about Sweden and family (“Some Letters for Ove Lindström,” “Reindeer Mountain,” “Brita’s Holiday Village”). Somewhat because Scandinavian — Swedish or Norwegian, I guess — is the closest I came to growing up with an ethnic identity, while living among people who had other, strongly-held ethnic identities, and some of the iconography resonates. (My piano teacher had a book about the secret lives of gnomes — yes, the little red-capped guys you see in garden statuary — which I reread obsessively.)

I like that, while the stories are in many ways fantastic, they’re still about a recognizable version of everyday life, and the people in them are recognizably people I might know. A lot of the fiction I aspire to write is like that.

I don’t know if anyone who didn’t grow up in the Midwest would have the same experience, reading it, and I worry, when I’m trying to write along similar lines, that they’re not universal enough. Then again there are certain themes which are if not universal then at least very common, and although I’m not Japanese, the family stories in The Love We Share Without Knowing (#10 on that list) were really identifiable. Even then, those are very tied to small-town life — if you grew up in a liberal family in a big city, do they even make sense? I don’t know.

What I’m Reading, Sleeplessness Edition

Been a while since I did one of these. I haven’t read much to write about here. (Did I write about Jagannath? I should write about Jagannath.)

I know Maya as someone who is on Codex, an online writing workshop I’m a member of, though I don’t know her well through that, so you should take my recommendation of this book with as much salt as you feel you need. Codex was how I found out about Creature of Dreams — she posted about it there — and the cover and (mostly) the blurb got me to buy it, and then, well, I finished it in two big gulps, two evenings running. (I say evenings. This is evening for me, right now, 4 AM. I said the blurb grabbed me, didn’t I?) That was all the writing.

I identified with the characters, and Durham felt well-realized. I felt like the details were all well-chosen. This is a tightly-constructed book. Several of the sex scenes are serious I’ll-be-in-my-bunk material (and several are serious nightmare fuel). The characters are all wrestling with their histories, and that’s deftly handled. Nothing is too easy, not all the loose ends are tied up, but at the same time there’s a real sense of growth that I found… heartening, for lack of a better word.

The book’s got a deep understanding of the characters — what and how people who have had those experiences think, what responses they have ingrained, how they defend themselves. We defend ourselves.

What I’m Reading: “The Finite Canvas” by Brit Mandelo

On Tor.com:

“You recognize these?” the woman asked.

Designs snaked over her torso, down into the temp-reg pants, up to her neck. The left side of her rib cage was a silvery mass of letters and symbols, all jumbled; there was a stylized sun around her navel with waving lines of light. A crane, its legs hidden by the waistband of her pants, spread its wings over her right side and torso. There were smaller signs hidden around the larger; three simple slashes crossed the space between her collarbones. Her skin was as readable as a novel, her flesh a malleable masterpiece made with knives. Some of the scars were still pink, and a spiral design on her left breast was an angry, fresh red.

Murder scars, Molly thought. Syndicate badge. The sheer number of them made her throat constrict. She took a step backward, as if one step would make any difference to a skilled killer.

“I need a new set,” the woman said, sticking out her bare, untouched arm. “Here.”

Just go read it.

What I’m Reading, Big Gay Space Opera Edition

It’s been a while since I did one of these.  Truth be told I haven’t been reading much (long-form fiction) lately.  Grinding to finish a couple projects.  So it goes.

I was bemoaning in previous posts that I had trouble finding comfort reading, and in my current state of overwork anything I read needed to be a break from everything else, so, well, here is some comfort fiction that I enjoyed.

(Warning, spoilers.)

Sunny Moraine is an author whose short work I’ve previously enjoyed, so when I heard that she had a novel out, together with another writer, I was interested.  When she described it as a “Big Gay Space Opera” I had to buy it.  And Line and Orbit pretty much lives up to that description.

You know the story.  Genetically-engineered boy gets kicked out of genetically-engineered society, meets Nomadic Space Burner boy, they fight but secretly like each other, eventually they meet cute.  Genetically-engineered society comes after genetically-engineered boy, genetically-engineered boy stands with Nomadic Space Burners to fight them, hilarity (and bloodshed) ensues.  (Really mostly bloodshed.)  And (spoilers) stuff turns out all right enough in the end.

The plot structure wouldn’t have been out of place in a fantasy novel, and it felt a bit paint-by-numbers at times.  At the same time, I like the colors they chose, and, like all these things, there’s more going on under the surface than that analogy gives it credit for.  I had some issues with details — some computer security, military tactical, and gay sex things which just didn’t add up.  But the plot kicked along at a fair enough clip that I could move past the flaws.

The world felt somewhat like the EVE Online world, for which I have fondness — the book is really what I wanted the EVE novels to be.  Also the writing is technically quite well-done — facile but with depth, good plain style, and capable of beauty without becoming overblown.  And ultimately I quite liked the characters and their relationships — both the main characters, Lock and Adam, and the supporting cast as well.  (Also, positive portrayal of transpeople go!)

So, you know.  If you like the colors implied by “Big Gay Space Opera” too, check it out.

Amazon