Best Bi Short Stories

Best Bisexual Short Stories

Just a quick bit of signal boosting: Circlet Press is running a Kickstarter to finance Best Bi Short Stories, an anthology of bisexual literary fiction edited by Sheela Lambert. It’s coming out from Circlet’s Gressive Press imprint, who published the Scheherezade’s Facade anthology I blogged about last year, and are dedicated to “sex-positive fiction that celebrates life outside the big ‘binary’ categories of gay/straight, male/female.”

I’m a bit selfishly unhappy that they’re not taking open submissions — because I think I’ve written some pretty good bisexual fiction, dangit — but I’ve backed the anthology anyway. In general anything which proves or grows the market is a win for all of us, and past evidence from Circlet and Gressive suggests it will be a very good book.

Go back it! That way we all can read it.

(For open submissions, I’ll have to wait for the promised 2015 Queers Destroy Science Fiction, set to be guest-edited by Seanan McGuire.)

Science Fiction Gives Us the Tools to Live in the Future, and We’re Not Using Them

The Bouletcorp: Exobiology my love

The Bouletcorp: “Exobiology my love”

I feel like this a lot about science fiction. Like we’re living in the future, today, right here, but we’ve installed screens in our spaceships on which to watch the futures of the past on rerun. I like the reruns sometimes, don’t get me wrong, and rewatching them sometimes shows me that they are more incisive about the present than my memory of them would have it, but they’re still not the view out the window.

Here’s Charlie Stross lamenting that the present has stolen his plot again, as though as soon as it became reality, it was no longer interesting or valuable to write about.

I know that speculative fiction is definitionally premised on speculation, the counterfactual. I feel like that’s not the only thing it does, though — it also gives us tools to help us understand and cope with change in the world, the change we’re experiencing right now, and we’re not using them, and I don’t know why. Maybe we’re too overwhelmed by it already.

I really liked William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition, and the rest of that trilogy, for how it used — I’m going to call it a science fictional worldview, although I can’t write down a good definition of what that means — to explore the very recent past, and to help to set it in some kind of perspective.

A science fictional worldview is, it’s — materialistic, in the philosophical sense of that term; rational; it enjoys and approves of technology but understands and acknowledges technology’s limitations even when it asks if they’re necessary; and it just as much understands and identifies with humanity even when it asks if humanity could be otherwise. Maybe there are other things that I’m missing.

I feel like this, the complete package, is missing from our discussion of the present right now, and it’s a lack I feel keenly. Obviously it’s something I try to do in my own writing, but… I can’t do it alone, you know? I’m not even sure if the gap is really there or if I’m just imagining it, half of the time.


In the first shining moment he saw the whole strange-familiar world, glistening white; the roofs of the outbuildings mounded into square towers of snow, and beyond them all the fields and hedges buried, merged into one great flat expanse, unbroken white to the horizon’s brim. Will drew in a long, happy breath, silently rejoicing. Then, very faintly, he heard the music again, the same phrase. He swung round vainly searching for it in the air, as if he might see it somewhere like a flickering light.

The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper, Chapter 1: “Midwinter Day”

Midwinter’s Eve has always meant more to me than Midwinter’s Day. Especially at this time of year, I focus on the shadow rather than the light. But, especially at this time of year, it is important to remind myself that the light does return.

May tomorrow dawn clear and bright.

Plot and Meaningful Choice

I don’t talk much about how I’m submitting stories to magazines here, because I don’t find it very interesting as a reader.  I got a personal rejection letter this week which has rearranged how I am looking at the conventional arc plot, and plot in general, though, so I want to leave it here for further reflection.

The letter said, in part:

[The story] devoted much more time to explaining the worldbuilding than to constructing a conflict in which the characters had to make choices.

I had been thinking of plot in a sort of good-versus-evil, Hero’s Journey kind of context, which I don’t like, and feeling very bound by the idea that the character needs to change in some way.  Saying that “the character needs to change” phrases it in the character’s passive voice, though — the author changes the character by manipulating them like a puppet through the action of the narrative, which as a reader I always find very flat.

Saying “the character needs to make choices” phrases it actively for the character, and makes it the author’s job to use the narrative to construct an environment in which the character needs to make choices, which I like.  I think I know how to do that.

So that idea has reduced my anxiety about plotting, maybe enough that I know how one or two of these stories go.

It also idea lined up nicely with this bit, from Rules of Play (p. 33), a book of academic game design theory, which chapter I had just read a couple days before:

Playing a game means making choices and taking actions.  All of this activity occurs within a game-system designed to support meaningful kinds of choice-making.

That is an interesting symmetry, which I had not noticed before.

At first I thought John Brunner’s The Squares of the City might be an example of that symmetry breaking down — or at least I didn’t care much for the book, whose action is based on a famous chess game, and which I found to be much more a narrative where the characters were acted-upon.  But the Internet reminded me that Brunner’s main character explicitly represents a piece on the board, and it’s not the pieces whose choices are meaningful but the players’.  So my reaction supports the thesis after all.

Anyhow, I don’t know what it means.  But it will bear thinking on.

“All of his selves and words and decisions were an enactment of the enduring nation he meant to live in some day.”

His improvisations were far more gifted than most, in part because of his disciplined approach to political selfhood. That’s the thing that made Mandela’s strategy and his adaptations stand out. All of his selves and words and decisions were an enactment of the enduring nation he meant to live in some day. I think that is the difference between him and many of his nationalist contemporaries who ascended to power in newly independent African states between 1960 and 1990. (This, too, needs remembering today: Mandela came to nationalism in the same historical moment as Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Patrice Lumumba, Kenneth Kaunda, and so on.) The difference is that Mandela was always looking through the struggle to its ultimate ends, whereas most of the nationalists could see little further than the retreat of the colonial powers from the continent and the defeat of any local political rivals.

From “Be Nelson Mandela”, h/t Making Light.

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, 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.)