Coronavirus – Day #22

Today was all about Zoom again. I now have three interviews in the can for next week’s radio show, and there was the convention that I have just posted about.

The convention featured some breakout rooms in which we attendees got to chat. It was interesting to hear from people around the world who are being affected by the pandemic in different ways. The two most extreme experieneces were both from the USA. One person had been in strict quarantine for 30 days, the other said hardly anyone locally was taking self-isolation seriously.

Several people bemoaned the lack of physical contact with others, which I am not finding a problem but I totally understand. Some were happy being able to spend more time with their families, but one person reported folks on a parent chat group who just can’t cope with having the kids at home all the time.

Most people seemed to think that communities were coming together during the crisis, which is great to hear. Of course it also bepeaks a certain amount of privilege in that they must be comfortable being part of their local community. People from minority groups are often scared of their neighbours.

We spent quite a lot of time talking about the sort of fiction that might come out of this shared global experience. That too will be very varied, I suspect. Some people will find benefit in writing through the trauma. Some won’t be able to talk about it for a long time. And some will use the techniques of speculative fiction to talk about it obliquely.

Finally one piece of good news that I have noticed thanks to having it pointed out by my Finnish friend, Otto. Telephone spam has pretty much dried up. It used to be that when I worked from home I could expect 2 or 3 spam calls every day. I can’t rememeber when I last had one.

Oh, and I was sent a cake in the post. You know who you are. That was very kind of you. Thanks!

Introducing Women in Lockdown

My good friend Tamsin Clarke of the Popelei Theatre Company has been in touch about a new project that she is launching called Women in Lockdown. The blurb says:

This is not the first time in history that women have been isolated behind closed doors, and it won’t be the last.

Popelei are looking for writers to submit brand new theatrical monologues to the Popelei Seed Commission 2020, under the theme ‘Women In Lockdown’.

Popelei invite you to write and send in a new short monologue (maximum 4 minutes) for a female character who has had some kind of restriction placed on her liberty. Her freedom could be restricted physically, psychologically, emotionally, sexually or anything you can imagine. Her locks and bolts could be very overt or they could be very subtle. Her story could take place in past, the future or the present.

She is not a victim, she is someone who has found her own way of operating and communicating in a restricted world – be that quietly or loudly.

Popelei are looking for 25 writers (of any gender) to write these pieces, and 25 actors (of feminine gender) to peform them. Actors will need to be able to make video recordings of their performances as the final show will be displayed online. Chosen writers and performers will be paid £100 each. The deadline for submission of scripts and sample work is 5:00pm on April 10th. The full submission guidelines are here. Good luck!

Writing Queer Charcaters from History: Online

I’m delighted to announce that my workshop, “Writing Queer Characters from History,” is now available from the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers. Those of you who participated at FantasyCon, and at the Writing Historical Fiction conference at Bath Spa University, seemed to enjoy it. Bath Spa folks in particular should note that the online course will be 2 hours, not 20 minutes, so there will be a lot more time to explore the issue.

The first course will be on Saturday, January 4, 2020, 9:30-11:30 AM Pacific time. Further details about the course and how to sign up are available here.

Hugo Eligibility Update

Well this is embarrassing. When I did my Hugo Eligibility Post last week I completely forgot one of the stories I had published this year. That story was “The Poet’s Daughter” in Rainbow Bouquet from Manifold Press. I have updated my original post to take account of that.

Not that I expect to get anywhere near the final ballot for either of them, but if you are going to do an eligibility post you might as well get it right.

Historical Fiction at Bath Spa

I spent yesterday at Bath Spa University (the beautiful Newton Park campus) at a conference on writing historical fiction. This is a brief report on the event.

First up I should note that this conference differs from the Historical Fiction Research Network conferences in that it is primarily for students of creative writing, and for working writers. I think I was the only speaker presenting as an historian as opposed to a writer, literary critic or publishing industry expert. Both conferences have value in their own way.

I knew that it was going to be an interesting day right from the start when the opening speaker, Alan Bilton from Swansea University, started talking about postmodernism and whether we can ever know what really happened in the past. We largely managed to avoid going down any Alt-Right rabbit holes, but it did lead to someone asking about authenticity, own voices and so on. And straight down another rabbit hole we went.

When these discussions start (and particularly when they start on social media) they tend to devolve into an argument with people on one side saying that writers should be allowed to write whatever characters they want, and people on the other saying that only people with lived experience of certain types of characters should be allowed to write those characters.

Repeat after me, please: All binaries are false.

As it happens, I’m a big fan of own voices work. If I’m going to read a book set in, say, Mexico City, I would much rather read one written by someone who has lived there (e.g. Silvia Moreno Garcia) than by someone whose knowledge of the city comes entirely from Wikipedia. (And yes, that is another false binary.) But this isn’t the entirety of the disucssion. When it was my turn to get up to speak I made the point that if only trans people were allowed to write trans characters then only around 1% of fiction would contain trans characters, and this would be a bad thing because we desperately need positive portrayals of trans people in fiction right now.

One of the ways around this is to employ a sensitivity reader. Of course that term is a red rag to the more conservative end of the industry, but it shouldn’t be. There was a good example to hand, because Alan had been talking about his forthcoming novel which happens to be set in Russia. He mentioned that he’d relied heavily on a Russian-born colleague for advice. That’s using a sensitivity reader. Most science fiction readers would applaud an author who had worked with actual astronauts, or actual astrophysicists, to get scientific details right. That too is using a sensitivity reader. It is no different from asking for help to make sure that you get Polynesian culture, or non-binary identity, right in your book. Except that if you are asking for help from someone from a marginalised group for help you should probably be paying them, rather than offering a few beers or a favour in return.

My talk, by the way, was a slightly rushed and less interactive version of my workshop on writing queer characters from history. A few folks on Twitter expressed interest in it. I’d be very happy to run it at other events in the future.

The final session of the conference was an industry panel featuring literary agent, Kate Horden; novelist and publisher Lorna Gray; and the historical fiction reviewer for The Times, Antonia Senior. It turned out that Antonia is related by marriage to Amal El-Mohtar and can therefore talk knowledgeably about the difference between the SF&F and historical fiction communities. I found myself nodding along to pretty much everything she said because every book critic has the same issues with too many books and the foolishness of the publishing industry. She had also read and reviewed Shadows of Athens, which made me very happy.

Because the attendees of the conference were almost all women, there was some interest in questions of author identity, use of initials and so on. If anyone wants to follow up on that, I warmly recommend Juliet McKenna’s essay, “The Myth of Meritocracy”, in Gender Identity and Sexuality in Fantasy and Science Fiction, the British Fantasy Award Winning book from Luna Press. Juliet goes through the entire pipeline of the publishing and bookselling industry and shows, with data and references, how it is stacked in favour of straight, white men at every turn.

If it were up to me I’d make that essay required reading on all creative writing syllabi.

There were other great sessions as well. I enjoyed discussing theoretical approaches to writing historical fiction with Melissa Addy (I hope you enjoy Guy Gavriel Kay, Melissa). I was delighted to meet British-based Serbian writer, Senja Andrejevic-Bullock, who had really interesting things to say regarding writing about recent wars when you are from a people who are regarded as the bad guys. I learned a lot about women at sea from Sarah Tanburn, and about the hidden meanings in Pieter Bruegel’s paintings from Lisa Koning. I even met someone who has written feminist science fiction. Hello Lania Knight!

Huge thanks to Celia Brayfield and Bea Hitchman for organising the event. I understand that there are plans to run the conference again next year, and it will be at the University of Gloucester. I’ll let you know when I have more details.

Writing Historical Fiction Symposium

This is very much advance notice. I’ll be pushing it much more once I am back from Ireland. But in November (assuming that the UK has not descended into full scale civil war) I am going to be giving a workshop on “Writing Queer Characters from the Past” at a symposium on writing historical fiction at Bath Spa University. The date is Saturday, November 16th. The fee including lunch is £85, though there are concessions available for students. Full details here.

Zoran Živković on Writing

Many of you will know Zoran Živković as one of our finest contemporary writers of weird fiction. Fewer, I suspect, know that for many years he taught courses in creative writing at the University of Belgrade. Now a book based on his teaching is to be published in English. It is called The Clay Writer and will be available from Springer in August. The book consists of a lengthy essay on writing, followed by a number of short stories that Zoran used to demonstrate technique. I’m looking forward to reading it.

Trans Bare All Anniversary Book

The lovely people at Trans Bare All are celebrating their 10th anniversary this year. Normally I would just point you at their website, but they are dealing with a little malware issue at the moment so I have just linked to their Twitter so you can see who they are. This is what I wanted you to read:

We want to mark the occasion by creating a book of art and writing that reflects some of what TBA is all about, and, as it is all about our community, that means we need you.

We are welcoming submissions of original writing and art on the theme of TBA and gender (perhaps what TBA means to you), or on gender alone, and we actively encourage not only those of you who regularly write or create art, but also those who might need a little encouragement.

You can write in any form you wish (poetry, prose fiction, life writing non-fiction etc) and, if your submission is accepted, you will have the chance to work with an editor to polish your piece for publication in the book. We are also welcoming submissions of visual art that explore the themes above – please see below for image specifications.

The workshop plan below will guide you step by step towards a piece of life writing with a creative approach, and you can also use these workshop exercises to generate ideas for a visual art piece.

Submission eligibility:

  • Following the TBA age limit, you must be 18 years or older by the submissions deadline
  • You do not have to have attended a TBA retreat or party before
  • You do not have to live in the UK

Submission guidelines:

  • Please submit your original work to book@transbareall.co.uk
  • You must include the following in your covering email, as it helps us understand our community better and make our work more accessible:
    1. the name you want your piece published under
    2. your gender
    3. your ethnicity
    4. if you consider yourself to have a disability (no need to state what it is)
    5. your age on the submissions deadline
  • Deadline for submissions is 11.59pm Friday 8th February 2019

For writing:

  • submit your piece as a fully compatible Word document, or .txt if .doc is not possible
  • 2000 word limit for prose (fiction and non-fiction)
  • 80 line limit for poems (including stanza breaks), with maximum 60 characters per line (including spaces)

For visual art:

  • Submit your piece as a high quality JPEG or TIFF file that is
  • Sized for A5 publication, so 154mm x 216mm portrait, with no important images within 15mm of each edge as these may be trimmed off in print
  • 300dpi (dots per inch) so it is at print-quality
  • If text is incorporated into your piece, please ensure that it is legible at A5 size
  • Please contact us if you need more detail about image requirements

FAQ:

  • You can submit more than one piece of writing or art or both, and, if selected, our editors will choose their favourite piece for the book
  • Submission does not guarantee that your piece will be included
  • All submissions will be notified of our selection decision within eight weeks of the deadline. Please be patient – we are volunteers!
  • if you want your piece attributed to ‘anonymous’ then please state this clearly in your covering email
  • All accepted submissions will undergo an editorial process with our editors and designer
  • All submissions must be free from publishing restrictions for the next two years. If your piece is currently published or under consideration elsewhere, please contact us to discuss.
  • As we are an unfunded volunteer-run organisation, unfortunately we cannot offer a fee for accepted submissions; however, all contributors will receive a copy of the finished book!

There you go. Obviously a charity project, but hopefully some of you will take an interest. Good luck if you do.

New Writing & Gender Course

This is quick heads up that Cat Rambo and I will once again be offering the Writing & Gender course this spring. It is one of many fabulous courses that Cat has scheduled, but it is the only one with me co-teaching it, which is why I am mentioning it here. The course will take place on April 28th. I’ll remind you again nearer the time, but if you want to be sure of a place book now. A full list of all Cat’s courses (some co-taught by amazing people such as Seanan McGuire and Rachel Swirsky) is available here.

Two Anthology Calls of Interest

Feminist bicycle science fiction is a thing. Who knew? Not me, clearly, but I should have done because the fabulous Elly Blue has produced four volumes of it already. Volume five, Bikes Not Rockets, is currently raising money for publication via Kickstarter. Volume 6, Dragon Bike, is currently being edited, and Elly has just issued a call for submissions to Volume 7, provisionally titled The Great Trans-Universal Bike Ride. As you might have guessed, this is a trans volume. Elly says, “For this issue, we’re looking to feature trans and nonbinary writers writing trans and nonbinary characters.”

So, I have until Nov. 15 to write something. And apparently it should be about actual pedal bikes, not motorbikes. Insert sad face emoji here. Full details are available here.

Also of interest is Disturbing the Beast from the fabulusly named Boudicca Press. This is going to be an anthology of weird fiction by women. Kirsty Logan is already signed up. They appear to be looking for work in a similar vein to Carmen Maria Machado’s fiction. The deadline is Sept. 14. Full details here.

Writing and Gender Reminder

This is to remind you that on Sunday 28th of this month Cat Rambo and I will be teaching an online course in Writing and Gender. This is what Cat has to say about the course:

Every writer hits the question of how best to write characters other than ourselves, and gender can pose one major difference. How do you write about a gender other than your own? How have Western ideas of gender fractured and what words do we use when speaking of the expanding awareness of trans, genderfluid, genderqueer, asexual, aromantic, and more? How have F&SF writers approached gender and what pitfalls should be avoided? Join Cat and Hugo Award-winning publisher and critic Cheryl Morgan for a workshop that will not just inform but inspire. 2 Plunkett slots still open.

Further details are available here, including how to apply for one of those Plunkett slots and get on the course for free.

A Pro-Diversity Literary Agency

Some of you may remember that back in September Random Penguin ran a series of events looking for new authors from diverse backgrounds. One of those workshops was in Bristol and was coordinated by local writer, Nikesh Shukla. Nikesh is currently best known for crowdfunding the anthology, The Good Immigrant, which explores what it means to be Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic in Britain today.

Just before Christmas, Nikesh announced the formation of a new literary agency, The Good Literary Agency, to be run by himself and Julia Kingsford. The agency will be a social enterprise, so not taking a profit from the business, and this is what it has to say about its objectives:

Inspired by a desire to increase opportunities for representation for all writers under-represented in mainstream publishing it will focus on discovering, developing and launching the careers of writers of colour, disability, working class, LGBTQ+ and anyone who feels their story is not being told in the mainstream.

They are not yet open for submissions, but you can sign up to be notified when they do at their website.

I note that the agency is part-funded by the Arts Council, which appears to think that “genre fiction” is commercial and not in need of support, whereas “literary fiction” — that is the stuff that publishers pour fortunes into marketing, and the media will always write about, despite it not always selling — is in need of loads more money. However, that’s not their only source of money. My guess is that you can get away with calling your SF&F “literary” if it is not about straight white men, because “everyone knows” that only straight white men read SF&F.

Writing & Gender Returns

I’m delighted to be able to report that Cat Rambo and I will be offering our Writing & Gender course again in January. How do you go about writing characters whose gender is different from yours? What about all these new, non-binary genders that we hear about these days? Not to mention new sexualities. How can you add gender diversity to your fiction and stay respectful of the various identities you are making use of? Cat and I are here to explain. The course is timed to work for people on either side of the Atlantic (so we can teach it together). If you are interested, details of how to sign up, together with a whole load of other amazing courses that Cat offers, can be found on her blog.

Writing and Gender Class – This Saturday

I’ve trailed this one before, but apparently there are still places left if you want to sign up. This Saturday (evening my time, morning in the USA) I will be helping Cat Rambo teach a class in Writing and Gender. We’ll be covering all of that trans people and non-binary genders that might have some of you confused, and providing tips as to how to approach the issues without having all of your trans readers putting their heads in their hands. Cat, of course, will be doing her usual brilliant writing teaching, while I explain all of the terminology and point out the pitfalls. Full details are available from Cat’s website. I hope to talk to some of you on Saturday.

Penguin Does Diversity

Attention UK writers: the local branch of Random Penguin is making a serious effort to diversify its list by reaching out to members of minority communities and offering training.

The project, called WriteNow, will be running one-day courses in London, Bristol and Newcastle in September, and 10 lucky writers from those will go on to be put on a year-long mentoring program.

Now of course the chances of your being selected may not be good if you say you want to write science fiction or fantasy, though you might get away with it if you said it was YA. Then again, you might have a really good pitch. You will also need to have something in the works that you can show them. For details of how to apply (and you need to get in by July 16th) see here.

Writing and Gender Class

Back in 2012 (when my life was less busy) I took an online writing course taught by Cat Rambo. I wrote about it here.

Cat keeps me updated with new offers just in case I have time to take another one. I have certainly been tempted, especially as she’s started to do one-offs on specific topics (see here). One such course that is right up my street is “Writing and Gender”, but I don’t need to sign up for that one because Cat has kindly asked me to help teach it.

The class will take place on Saturday, August 26, 9:30-11:30 AM Pacific time. Cat and I haven’t finalized the details as yet, but I’m expecting to be talking about writing trans characters, and helping the class navigate the profusion of genders people are identifying with these days. I will probably mention things like the cis gaze, and victim narratives. Cat writes a bit about the course here.

These classes are not free. The usual charge is $99, or $79 for former students. However, if you really can’t afford it, and very much need that class, you can apply for a scholarship.

An Evening at the BBC

I spent yesterday evening in the staff club at BBC Bristol. That’s because it was the venue for a meeting of our local Sound Women group for women who work in the media. The group is run by my colleague, Miranda, who has regular Friday afternoon show on Ujima as well as occasional gigs in the big leagues. (Miranda used to be a very high profile DJ, but she took time out to raise a child and, well, you know how that goes.)

We had two speakers for the evening. The first was Kalpna Woolf, who had a 25 year career in the BBC, rising from temp to head of production. More recently she has reinvented herself as a cookery writer, and runs an amazing charity called 91 Ways which celebrates the multicultural community of Bristol through food.

The second speaker was top-selling author, Amanda Prowse. Contemporary family dramas are not usually my sort of thing, but a writer is a writer and it was clear just listening to Amanda that she knows how to tell a story and is likely to have a lot of humor in her tales. She’s done extremely well for herself, and clearly has a lot of natural talent. There aren’t many people who can just sit down in front of a computer and just pour out a novel. She’s also got a major commitment to tackling important issues such as infertility, racism, and eating disorders; and makes sure she researches each topic well before starting to write.

It was an excellent evening, and it is great to get to hang out with other women in the media. I’ve already got one potential guest for my show from it.