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New futures from old horizons. Author of off-kilter sci fi/fantasy books. Fond of apocalyptic and fantastical things. Known for phuquerie. I bite. On Amazon.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Surprise Announcement: Flight Anthology is Out!



Hello hello! So, today I have a simple announcement for a book in which I participated!

Here's the basic rundown.

Blurb


A 300-word story should be easy, right? Many of our entrants say it’s the hardest thing they’ve ever written.

Queer Sci Fi's Annual Flash Fiction Contest challenges authors to write a complete LGBTQ speculative fiction micro-story on a specific theme. "Flight" leaves much for the authors to interpret—winged creatures, flight and space vehicles, or fleeing from dire circumstances.

Some astonishing stories were submitted—from horrific, bloodcurdling pieces to sweet, contemplative ones—and all LGBTQ speculative fiction. The stories in this anthology include AI’s and angels, winged lions and wayward aliens. Smart, snappy slice of life pieces written for entertainment or for social commentary. Join us for brief and often surprising trips into 110 speculative fiction authors’ minds.


Excerpt


Smoke, by Zev de Valera


He rubbed his temples and squinted at the soft light of his surroundings through the fans of his thick eyelashes. The last drink had been a mistake.
Was that a shaker he'd felt, or the onset of a hangover?
He clutched a silken pillow and waited.
Suddenly, he felt his home tremble; a few pieces of glass and ceramic ware teetered and then fell to their demise.
Shit. This is the real thing.
With an effort, he hauled himself from his bed.
How many years had it been since the last one?
Sixty? Seventy?
The shaking ceased, and he looked around his small dwelling.
A model unit when he'd purchased it. Now filled with the result of years of collecting: a gramophone, a first generation television set, a water clock. And much more. All of it all had sentimental value—as did the photos of the various men that sat atop or alongside the items in his collection. Some of these men had loved him. All of them had once owned him. Now he owned their memories. That was the bargain.
Another shake. Followed by several unnerving tilts. He willed his cherished possessions to remain in place and willed himself into sobriety and a more becoming appearance as he prepared himself for work.
What to wear?
He selected a red brocade tunic and pants. A classic look always worked best for the initial consultation.
A resounding thud.
He peered up into the small shaftway at the center of the ceiling.
A pop.
Then a small circle of light at the end of the shaft.
He sighed, folded his arms, and transformed into a cloud of red smoke.
Up and away to meet his new master.

Judge's Choice — J. Scott Coatsworth


Buy Links and basic info


Publisher: Mischief Corner Books
Author: Various
Cover & Illustrations Artist: Mila May
Length: 33.6 K
Format: ebook, print
Release Date: General release 9/21/16
Pairing: LGBTIQA
Price: $4.99 eBook, $12.99 print b/w*, $24.99 print color*

*Book contains 5 illustrations inside.

Publisher (info only, no buy link yet)
Amazon 
ARe
Goodreads
Kobo 
Goodreads Series Page
Barnes & Noble: Coming soon
Apple: Coming soon
Smashwords: Coming soon

Author Bio:
In the first year of the Queer Sci Fi Flash Fiction contest, we received about 15 entries for the theme “Endings”. In the second year, it was 115 for “Discovery”.
This year, we had more than 170 entries from people around the world, and from all parts of the LGBTIQA rainbow. “Flight” represents 110 of those people and their stories.

The authors:
Colton Aalto
Kiterie Aine
Odin Alexander
John Allenson
Tam Ames
R.R. Angell
Bran Lindy Ayres
Jeff Baker
Jessica Bansbach
J.P. Barnaby
Capri S. Bard
Jonah Bergen
Michael J. Bode
L.M. Brown
Marie Brown
Michelle Browne
'Nathan Burgoine
Iona Burnfield
A.M. Burns
Katelyn Cameron
Hank T. Cannon
Foster Bridget Cassidy
Skylar M. Cates
H.J. Chacon
M.A. Church
Rebecca Cohen
S.A. Collins
J. Comer
Ross Common
Elliot Cooper
Gretchen Crane
Jase Daniels
Claire Davis and Al Stewart
Avery Dawes
Zev de Valera
Bey Deckard
Jana Denardo
Nicole Dennis
Kellie Doherty
Jude Dunn
Tray Ellis
Rhi Etzweiler
Thursday Euclid
K.C. Faelan
Christina Mary Francis
L.E. Franks
J.R. Frontera
Liz Fury
Elizabella Gold
Ofelia Gränd
S.E. Greer
M.D. Grimm
Jenna Hale
Kaje Harper
Qaida Harte
Saxon Hawke
Kelly Haworth
Cheryl Headford
Valentina Heart
Jaylee James
Jambrea Jo Jones
Michael M. Jones
Ryvr Jones
Ellery Jude
Jon Keys
K-lee Klein
Jennifer Lavoie
A.M. Leibowitz
Mario K. Lipinski
L.V. Lloyd
Clare London
Meraki P. Lyhne
Lloyd A. Meeker
Eloreen Moon
John Moralee
Christopher Hawthorne Moss
E.W. Murks
Rory Ni Coiliean
Jackie Nacht
Thea Nishimori
Bealevon Nolan
Alicia Nordwell
Mathew Ortiz
Nina Packebush
Donald Qualls
Kirby Quinlan
Mann Ramblings
Loren Rhoads
Jojo Saunders
Brent D. Seth
L.M. Somerton
Rin Sparrow
Andrea Speed
Paul Stevens
Ginger Streusel
Jerome Stueart
Julia Talbot
Jo Tannah
Natsuya Uesugi
T. Allen Walton
A.T. Weaver
Missy Welsh
Eric Alan Westfall
Brandon Witt
Alexis Woods
Christine Wright
P.T. Wyant
Victoria Zagar

***

Thanks for returning to the nest. Leave a comment and say hi! I want to hear from you. Keep up with the new releases by getting on the mailing list. Buy my books on Amazon, and keep up with me on TwitterFacebookTumblr, and the original blog. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out!

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Fat in Fiction: A Chubby Lady's Critique

Hello, hello!

I'm going to stick a content warning on this post for body issues and descriptions of fatphobia; if that kind of thing is triggering for you, you might want to skip this one. I'll be focusing on the policing of white women's bodies and fatness, because it's what I know most about, and the issue of weight affects black women and Asian women differently. I also just don't have enough information to speak with authority on issues that women and people of colour face regarding their weight, so please keep those areas of my ignorance in mind.

This post is one I've been thinking over for a very long time. Its genesis came from an oft-lauded and shared J.K. Rowling quote:


Source.

Lovely words, aren't they? Shame it's complete bullshit. Rowling has been all too happy to endow unattractive, weak, or antagonistic characters with the trait of flabbiness. Neville Longbottom and Professor Slughorn are chubby and portrayed as weak and ineffectual; yes, Neville becomes a more heroic character later, but he starts off as an absolute simp who is frequently bullied. Pansy Parkinson and Millicent Bullstrode are described as 'pug-faced' and 'large and square' respectively; Goyle is also described as rather stupid and fat. Finally, Umbridge is described as 'toad-like' and squat, with a flabby face. Aunt Marge and Uncle Vernon, as well as Dudley, are all huge, fat, muscular bullies. Dudley's fatness and greed are described over and over, and often equated to each other. The only character who is plump and portrayed positively, other than Neville--and see note above for info about him--is Molly Weasley, but she is a mother and therefore doesn't quite count.

Now, the Harry Potter series is basically in my DNA, in writerly terms. I loved the series growing up and still retain affection for it, but that sticking point of fatness always rubbed me the wrong way. Rowling's far from the only author or writer to use that shorthand (even if Rowling denies it). Every movie made in the 90s with a cast of kids had to include at least one fat, stupid, greedy kid, and few things are more hateable than a fat, ugly bully.

By the late 2000s, things had started to improve enough that Norbit wasn't successful at the box office; in another time, it probably would have been. Shallow Hal is the only movie I can think of that features the struggles of a sizeable woman trying to find love; oddly, white women have faced extra scrutiny in this area. Films tend to play this sort of thing for laughs, or, even when a fat female character is present, play her off as repellent and unhygenic or slovenly. Much as she's an otherwise excellent character, Pam Poovey on Archer often falls into the 'disgusting fat lady' stereotype.

Stage 1: Fat is fine as long as it's temporary 


When overweight or fat female characters do crop up, such as in Margaret Atwood's Lady Oracle, Danielle Steele's Big Girl, Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone, and The Bridget Jones Diaries, their stories often focus obsessively on weight loss or control. "How can someone love her," asks the narrative, "while she's fat?" Self-love often plays a big part in the stories, but so do substantial weight loss dreams. Obesity is correlated with trauma, being damaged goods, and being repulsive; fat is a sort of squishy prison for heroines, and unless they can escape it, they are often doomed to lovelessness. Worse, books like Size 12 Isn't Fat by Meg Cabot her The Princess Diaries series feature characters who simply shift fatness off as an identity so they can remain desirable. There's always someone bigger, and in TPD, skinny vegan Meg is ever so proud of her chubby princess friend when she starts to work out and skip snacks. Even Disney slides in jabs; while they have fewer fat female villains than one might expect (though the repulsive, sneaky Ursula--as I thought of her when I was a child--comes to mind), there's a scene in Hercules where a sobbing fat girl appears among the throngs of fangirls following the titular hero. The same film does feature a chubby black Muse, but the image of that hideous, weeping fangirl was the one that emblazoned itself on my childhood memory. Weakness and pathetic lack of personal resolve encircled the word like an invisible pair of bodyguards, flanking any idea of fat with coded implications.




Stage 2: Body positivity 


The worst thing one could be, said writers, is fat. But a few writers in the 20th century did buck that trend; in Pastures of Heaven, Steinbeck describes a female character as having a "pleasant curve under her chin" and associates it with fertility and prosperity. In Happiness (tm) by Will Ferguson, May's character is clearly described as fat, but also possessing a fragile beauty.

For all the flak given to Dove, not without reason, they have actually helped a bit with that whole body positivity thing. That movement has made a substantial difference. We still haven't come as far as we could, but full-figured, generously-shaped ladies in lingerie are appearing. The #curvy hashtag on Instagram has more than a slight following. Women are pulling themselves out of the shadows and refusing to conform to gendered expectations of their bodies. Queer people outside the gender binary are showing themselves too, letting others know that fat acceptance isn't just for cis women. Fat, people are hesitantly realising, does not necessarily indicate health or fitness, and should not be shorthand for undesirable traits. I won't be going into the scientific side of this, partly because it's often hard for me to take even on good days, but we're also discovering that being overweight may be caused mostly by the microbial environment in the gut. Exercise and diet affect this environment, but the cause lies in the GI tract, not in a moral failing.

With this in mind, people are beginning to realise that focusing on ability is a better demarcation of health. In turn, fat women are demanding to be treated like human beings, and to be catered to. The sometimes problematic and aggressive BBW (big beautiful woman) romance writing subgenre has popped up to cater to this. It's making good inroads, but an avoidance of calling heroines 'fat', a tendency to code chubby characters in defensive language ("she was healthy, she just had more to love...) and abstraction of characters' physical traits tend to taint the escapism. It is all right to accept fat, the genre whispers, as long as one doesn't think about it too much. the greatest triumph is being loved at all.

The Best Destinations To Swim With Whale Sharks

Source.

How can we change the way fat is described and perceived? 


But perhaps it's time to do better than writing characters who are loveable in spite of being fat. Popular language has ugly connotations for the words used to describe weight. "Cellulite" comes to mind; it sounds like a cheap mattress, not something to embrace.

We haven't yet developed a vocabulary for the sensuality of a full figure, or its associations. Mothering ones and abundance are often coded in there, but softness, generosity, richness, and strength can come with fat as well. I have many friends of various sizes, and although a lot of them give wonderful hugs, those with extra weight do tend to be specially warm and strong in their affection. Fat can be associated with suppleness; consider whales or seals, especially when swimming.

"An ocean of delicate skin spilled out before him. She looked as though she'd washed up on the covers, like so much sea foam in the moonlight..."

In summation, the way forward in fiction means acknowledging that beauty comes in more than one shape and size. Slender frames and lean muscles are so often associated with strength that other builds have been chucked aside. For that matter, maybe it's time to do in other conventions; is there any reason an elf can't be chubby, for instance?

Those querying the "health risk" of "encouraging" people to be overweight should read a few studies on the topic. There has been some criticism, but at the end of the day, I am a writer and an editor, not a physician. I do, however, know what's kept me from dying and encouraged me to become more physically active, and over a decade of shaming certainly was not it.

***

Thanks for returning to the nest. Leave a comment and say hi! I want to hear from you. Keep up with the new releases by getting on the mailing list. Buy my books on Amazon, and keep up with me on TwitterFacebookTumblr, and the original blog. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out!

Thursday, 15 September 2016

The Myth of the Solitary Writer

Hello hello!

Lately, I've been involved in a writing group for the first time. I do have editors and mentors, but I'd actively avoided a small round-table support group. At first, it was out of snobbery and artistic conceit, but also out of shyness; eventually, I realised that it was both okay and important to rely on others. It turned out to be a great decision, and a lot of fun. In addition to being a writer, I am a professional freelance editor, and have been for several years. I'm a member of quite a few groups on Facebook, and have many clients, friends, and clients who are friends there.

The myth (is a lie)


When I was growing up, I took in the idea that all industries needed to be as separated from clients and personal life topics as physicians are from their patients, and also that writers are always people alone in a cabin or a cold corner of a room, scribbling or typing away frantically at their masterpiece whenever the muse hits them. I definitely got the idea that writers had to deal with a certain amount of suffering and torture as well.

Margaret Atwood has a pithy quote for young writers about how we need not seek out suffering; "write, and the suffering will take care of itself". Still, there's something to be said for the high rates of mental illness and neurodivergence among creative types. I myself certainly fit into this demographic. History, both recent and less recent, is rife with lonely, tortured types flinging themselves off to a typewriter and drinking whiskey miserably while they type. H.P. Lovecraft, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Leo Tolstoy, and Vladimir Nabokov all come to mind instantly.

Here's the thing - writing cannot be done alone. That's bullpuckey. First of all, these great men (tm) had wives and children and maids following them around and handling the mundane tasks that their delicate, artistic constitutions couldn't handle. I recently posted on Facebook about that particular topic.

I was talking with Andrey Taskaev about life extension technology, and what it would mean. (Now, he has been awesome at cleaning the house lately, so this ain't shade.)
To be honest, I'm kind of done with existentialism, very over it. If you think life is inherently boring, and a trap or a cage, maybe you need to DO something. It's like, a philosophy of white male privilege. If you're THAT bored, f**kin' help your wife around the house!
Bored of climbing great mountaintops? Then f**kin' go to a library and help some kids, dude! If life is boring, you aren't trying hard enough. Boredom is the ultimate luxury, and it can be a fertile creative ground...but not if you get sucked into the trap of seeing other people as robots, or insignificant insects.
Anyway, those are some of my thoughts about infinite life and life extension and stuff. 


Writing as a social exercise?


While Virginia Woolf's comments about having "a room of one's own" and space to write ARE relevant, and while writing does sometimes mean sitting in front of a computer or typewriter for HOURS while slogging away at something, it doesn't have to mean always doing so alone.

Lately, I've been participating in "writing parties", where myself and a few others sit in the same room and just write. The air of concentration can really help one focus, and the occasional breaks for conversation to help or get help from others can also be very useful. I also participate in a "work buddy" thread on Facebook where myself and some friends bounce ideas off each other, do writing sprints, and discuss projects.


Why do we need people?


First, many of us are mentally ill or have challenges, and it's important to involve oneself with others and build a support network. Second, human beings are social animals. This is a basic tenant of social psychology, so go read up on that on Wikipedia or take a course if you don't believe me. Third, it's easy to get into excessive self-loathing or excessive self-aggrandizement, or worse, BOTH at once, without others to talk to. Fourth, you can get help with plotting or something when you get stuck. Fifth, writing has never actually been that solitary.

Yes, people do require support, and yes, women get disproportionately less support for their writing time, but it doesn't have to be like this. By leaning on our partners or friends, or by giving them support as needed, anyone can be more productive and feel that writing is less futile or lonely. In a new century and new era of intimacy and connection, we have access to millions of people across the globe. I've never met some of my best friends in person - or rather, I haven't met them yet - and some of the ones I have met live in different cities.

In Virginia Woolf's day and even in the early 20th century, people lived very entwined lives. They had servants and friends and families around, whether they wanted them or not. Now, connection with others requires conscious effort, but it's so worthwhile and important. Writers don't have to pretend that they're alone anymore.

Who are some of your most important supports? 

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Why I Bailed on Activism

Hello hello!

As those who follow my Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr antics may have noticed, I've really pulled back on content about human rights issues.

What the hell?


The problem is, I started to buy into a fallacy that plagues both conservative and left-leaning activists - being right is more important than making people happy. I definitely did this when I was younger, and hadn't yet learned argument mediation skills; as I've aged through the last ten years or so, I've learned that being right only feels good for so long.

Of course, that doesn't mean that bending over backwards to make people happy, the strategy I lived by in my early teens, is particularly wise, either. But for me, personally, as a person who was supporting activists and trying to spread word about certain ideas, it was too easy to lean on the comfort of moral superiority. I saw a lot of people I looked up to doing that, for one thing. As well, there's a really uncomfortable habit that people in radical left circles share with radical right circles - withholding affection and attention until the person interacting with them abides by certain behavioral patterns. If one is a teacher's pet, i.e. a person vulnerable to authority figures, it's very easy to become obedient or toe a party line, even when personal ideas may start to conflict with that.

Even the 'good people' aren't always...good. 


I've seen a surprising number of people - most white, but some people of colour as well - engage in really interesting rhetorical backflips in order to stay in line with others. For instance, being an activist but refusing to educate well-intentioned people under any circumstances. Education can be exhausting, but it's also the point of raising awareness. And yes, sometimes demands for education are used passive-aggressively, but leaning on facts and basic information can still result in productive conversations.

Another thing I've noticed is a tendency to focus on either guilt performance theatre or deliberately ignoring areas of non-disadvantage. So, a person who is genderqueer and asexual and from a middle-class background might underline their sexuality and gender identity, but avoid talking about finances or their own white privilege. Alternately, they might bemoan their own lack of "wokeness" and limitations imposed by said background.

Power structures and dynamics in such conversations can be complex at the best of times, and there are countless articles on how to navigate them. I do think communication issues and awareness of personal circumstances and limitations are important, but the hostility, defeatism, and pessimism of social activism really started to get to me.

It's funny, but sometimes it seems as though people are happy to slap down trigger and content warnings for things that affect them, but not willing to abide by the same requests when brought forward by others. I have a large number of now former friends who claim to be sensitive, motivated by change, and proactive in mental health issues, but who were all too happy to weaponize triggers when it served their purpose in an argument. Can't deal with an article on a given day? Clearly you're not that committed to The Cause, or endorsing prejudice against a certain group. Can't make a commitment because of a mental health issue? Citing your own depression is ableist!

You can probably see how that takes a toll on someone, or at least, on me.


Source


Bad social dynamics, the breakdown 


A comment can be a misstep in one case and highly offensive in another. When it comes to interacting with other people, situational cues are better than hard and fast rules. Since I've returned to giving people the benefit of the doubt, I've been able to make more inroads with discussions, and I certainly don't lose nights of sleep or cry over something that led to an argument.

One of the things I like about environmental activism is that there are clearer goals. Things can be measured. With social activism, sometimes people would look at a win and go, "this isn't enough". For a person with my background and mental issues, that turned out to be really toxic. I started focusing on negativity and terribleness too often, found myself stuck in endless argument loops that didn't seem to have a clear answer or solution, and sometimes, ended up on the sharp end of attacks when my own mental health issues meant I couldn't be perfectly objective about something.

 Beating oneself up accomplishes nothing, and being around people who encourage self-flagellation as an outlet for guilt is toxic. Constant pessimism is not realism, it's a bad habit of mental health. That's not to say that optimism is required at all times, or that people should sit down and shut up - but if all we do is punch sideways and downwards, what's the point of all this?


 


This blog post won't be good enough for some people, and may be a huge disappointment. And that's okay. But for the rest, know that I'm still on your side, on what I'm pretty sure is the right side of history as well. But I've been wrong a few times, and learned to move on, and I hope that other people who find themselves exhausted by the world will take comfort in this.

The thing is, I haven't changed any of my perspectives. In the world of writing, I will still be pursuing representation and fairness. I will write protagonists of colour, of queerness, and with mental health issues, and they will be protagonists rather than sassy supporting characters or tragic tokens. I believe in a better, fairer world. But I have also realised that, as my friend and mentor Katie de Long put it, I can't light myself on fire to keep others warm.

In any case, I have Black romance novels to edit, Afropunk beauty articles to share, and novels to write. I have fellow writers to support, friends to encourage, and other stuff to do. I've been trying to save the world too long, and now I've got to save myself.

***

Thanks for returning to the nest. Leave a comment and say hi! I want to hear from you. Keep up with the new releases by getting on the mailing list. Buy my books on Amazon, and keep up with me on TwitterFacebookTumblr, and the original blog. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out!


Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Dungeons and Dragons and Storytelling

Hello hello!

For the last few months, I've been not only playing a Dungeons and Dragons campaign again, I've also been listening to a couple of podcasts about campaigns. Critical Hit and The Adventure Zone are both wonderfully funny, interesting stories told by avid and active gamers and players.

One of the many reasons I love D&D is that it scratches my theatre itch. I love musicals, and I did some theatre back in high school, but I wasn't quite passionate enough/was told I had to take too many science classes in order to pursue it further. The combination of performance and audience around one table, of participation, and of both organization and improv is absolutely wonderful.

The thing is, Dungeons and Dragons relies on a lot of different things to go right, but it's pretty hard to make a session go wrong. As I've listened to these podcasts, I've definitely picked up on a few key points.

Collaborative storytelling has to be collaborative


Not all types of storytelling  - comics, movies, video games, and of course, books - rely on audience input. But in the case of D&D or other group projects, it's improtant for one person not to hog the spotlight. As the group leader in our games, I often set up a situation and then put the spotlight in other players. I've tried to make an environment where people feel comfortable speaking up and suggesting something, and that seems to have worked pretty well. It's important to rotate the focus so that the quiet person (who might be incredibly witty and be a voice of of reason) gets a chance to speak up rather than being stuffed in the closet.

That said, it's okay if some voices are stronger than others, as long as the voices are rotated. Maybe Person A gets a spotlight in one session, but Person D gets a lot of attention in the next, and Persons B and C stay about even in both sessions.


Happy mediums rule the day


The Dungeon or Game Master can't yank the reins too hard, but also can't let their players run everywhere. Some railroading is necessary to make sure a story actually happens. When I relied on creativity alone to write regularly, I got dick-all done for months at a time, then a few things done in a burst. Now, I'm creating far more often, and enjoying it a lot more, because I give myself several kinds of structure to lean on. But sometimes I do just jump on the unicorn of fanciful whim and ride into a cybernetic sunset, because it's what I feel like on that particular day. (Note to self: cybernetic sunset and unicorn need to go in a story some time.)

Sometimes you have to cut loose


In both D&D and written fiction, it's awfully easy to fall into the trap of trying to create mounting tension. But at some point, being reckless and having an interlude with humorous or ridiculous tones can be very beneficial. Writers who tend to plan - like myself, these days - need to cut loose once in a while and do something silly and impulsive. The improv element of D&D can be very helpful for this, and the ways that DMs have to adjust their plans when characters move away from them can also be instructive.

One thing I have and still struggle with a bit is figuring out how to pace out action and time spans. Whether it's a long series or just one novel, like Bad Things that Happen to Girls, balancing action with a sense of naturalism can be tricky. A good DM does this well, and can provide guidance with
skipping over the boring parts without making it feel too rushed.

And again, sometimes you just have to jump on the back of a giant mutant rat and try to ride him, climb a giant gold chain, cut some of its links, and make an improvised parachute to land safely, or pick up random crap and turn it into friendship bracelets of sending for the rest of the party.

***

Thanks for returning to the nest. Leave a comment and say hi! I want to hear from you. Keep up with the new releases by getting on the mailing list. Buy my books on Amazon, and keep up with me on TwitterFacebookTumblr, and the original blog. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out!

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