2017 Recommended Reading List and Notes

Wow but this list is coming out way later than I’d planned. And is consequently no longer an awards recs list, just a recommended reading list in general. Because there was some great shit out in 2017, and I still want to talk about it.

So why is this so incredibly late? I found myself time and again stepping back from working on compiling the list. It was a full year, sure. But putting this thing together was consistently rage-inducing. The stories I saw last year were excellent, partly because I was actively trying to look at free-to-access publications and those that were doing interesting things or catering to underrepresented and marginalized communities. That part was great.

The racist stuff I found in some of the more mainstream publications and wider was not. And it crosses multiple lines. And I’m not naming names right now, no. Though all or majority-white editorial staffs led to some pretty awful shit slipping through in 2017, let me tell you.

I’ve got a partial State of the Field section down below. I was also going to talk about the mags I was reading this year in brief, as I have tried to do the last few years, but I can’t. Every time I’ve tried I’ve not been able to step back from calling out several mags as actively racist, or enabling. And I just don’t want to go there right now.

So. I’m breaking this thing up in stages: Methodology. The Recs. And the State of the Field.

There are larger conversations to be had. But for this moment I’m afraid what’s here will have to do.

That said, let’s start by talking:

METHODOLOGY

This part is a little long, so if you want to skip down to the recs, I won’t be offended.

For my sanity’s sake, I only ended up covering comics (partly because I read a lot of TPB collections during the year to relax) and short(/er) fiction.

Given that I had limited funds going into 2018 I decided to read only free-to-read online mags for the list this year. More and more my annual recs are drawn from online venues. And as I’m co-running a free-to-read online venue (Anathema), I spend a lot of time thinking about what’s freely accessible in the field vs. what isn’t, how that affects a mag’s readership, reach in general, representation/inclusion/decolonization, and how all of those concerns are reshaping the field.

With that in mind, I made a list of mags I wanted to look at. I couldn’t remember who was free-to-read entirely, so made my list and read what of it I could. I’m not aware of everything in the field, so I’m sure I missed things — and from a lot of what I’ve seen as the year carried on, I’m going to be looking at more mags for the 2018 list. But from January through mid-February, I looked at the following mags:

ApexArsenikaB&N SFF OriginalsBeneath Ceaseless SkiesThe Book SmugglersBrackenCast of WondersClarkesworldDaily Science Fiction;
Diabolical PlotsThe DarkEscape PodFiresideThe Future FireGigaNotoSaurusGlittershipJaggeryKaleidotropeKoru;
Lackington’sLightspeed/FantasyLiminalLuna Station QuarterlyMirror DanceMonsteringMythic DeliriumNightmareOmenana; PodCastlePseudopodSamovarShimmerThe SockdolagerStrange HorizonsTerraform; Tor.comTruancyUncanny

Other mags I’d wanted to look at were paywalled (partially or fully; and if partial I read what I could from them), had closed down, or ran no(/no original) 2017 content:

AE SciFi (no new content in 2017, though reopened?); Augur (all 2017 content was reprints); Capricious (partial paywall); FIYAH (paywall; but will be reviewing the 2017 issues this October, alongside other reviews in prep); Gamut (paywall); Lontar Journal (paywall); Mithila Review (paywalled from #9 on); Pantheon (partial paywall); Reckoning (2017 content inaccessible at time of reading, unlocked throughout 2018); Shattered Prism (closed, material off website); Shoreline of Infinity (paywall); Three-lobed Burning Eye (no 2017 issues); Unlikely Journal (still on hiatus)

DSF could technically have been filed in that second list. As usual, I managed about three months worth of their content before giving up. I know a lot of people love the mag, but I’m just not a fan.

I’m also looking forward to a couple things I want to catch up with next year:

ForeshadowHanging Garden Stories (already going, by the time I came to it there was too much 2017 content to wend my way through — it’s a deep dive into some absolutely amazing writing, just carve out a large chunk of time for it); Ruru Reads

All told, I looked at 55 mags in some respect. I also came across individual stories courtesy of their authors or other people promoting them, and haven’t read the whole of the 2017 output from the venues they appeared in (Hazlitt and Gulf Coast, for example).

As noted above, I’ll be covering mags like FIYAH elsewhere. FIYAH‘s amazing, and you should 100% be supporting them, their authors, and the work that they are doing in broader spectrum. Talk about them, and you can support them more directly form their shop.

A couple of quick disclaimers before we hit the actual list:

  • Anathema stories are not on this list because I don’t feel comfortable playing favourites as co-publisher/co-EiC. But you can read the mag’s entire first year’s worth of content from 2017 here.
  • Everything on the list is something I enjoyed. Everything bolded is something I consider worth special note.
  • My recs are completely subjective. It’s inevitable that something you loved isn’t on the list, and that something you hated is.
  • There are great stories I read that aren’t on the list, and that’s entirely about whether or not they stuck with me. Never assume one list covers everything worth reading. Always read a mag’s output to find your own favourites as reviewer/reader tastes never align 1:1.
  • Errors in the entries are on me. I’ll correct them as I/others note them.

There’s a ton of other stuff to look at, and so many amazing works to find online. Start with A.C. Wise and Cat Rambo’s metaposts on award fiction to find more extraordinary works:

A.C. Wise – What Have You Done, What Have You Loved? 2017 Edition
Cat Rambo – 2017 Award-Eligible Work Blog Posts & Roundups for F&SF

THE RECOMMENDATIONS

2017 Recommendations (Long Form)

Comics (TPB)/Graphic Novels

  • Afar – Del Luca & Seaton – With beautiful art and a well-paced, slow burn story there’s a lot to recommend Afar. It’s large-scale storytelling using at times intimate framing, and acts well as a window onto a larger world that feels real and well-fleshed out despite our seeing only a fragment of that whole canvas.
  • America, Vol. 1: The Life and Times of America Chavez – Rivera, Quinones & Villalobos – I have structural issues with the arc of the story, but I love a lot of what this volume’s doing nonetheless.
  • Bitch Planet, Vol. 2: President Bitch – DeConnick & De Landro
  • Black Hammer, Vol. 1: Secret Origins – Lemire, Ormston, Stewart – I have mixed feelings about how a lot of things are handled in this volume, but it’s still worth recommending for the broader approach to what it’s doing, and I feel like Vol. 2 makes up for some of what doesn’t work here.
  • Castoffs, Vol. 1: Mage Against the Machine – Reed, Smith, Ostertag & Yates – This is excellent despite fairly early on utilizing something I have a lot of trouble with as a trope. For those who will hit the same issue I did: yes, there is a subversion of the trope and the framing of it is intentional. And the book is excellent overall, and I like the larger worldbuilding it’s working with.
  • Clean Room Vol. 2: Exile – Simone & Davis-Hunt
  • Clean Room Vol. 3: Waiting for the Stars to Fall – Simone, Davis-Hunt & Anwar – Clean Room covers a lot of ground over its three volumes, and I’d recommend picking up the entire run. Volume three feels a little rushed (while the first two volumes feel almost too slow at times). And though I wish the series had been given the slower burn/longer length it needed, that conclusion is perfect for the larger arc of the series. And Simone’s writing is, as always, exceptional.
  • Elsewhere University (1) (2) – Cornerwitches – I’ve gotten out of the habit of reading a lot of webcomics/online comics, mostly because of lack of time. But I came across this while putting together the post and these are absolutely fantastic. I love the way this reminds me of Emily Carroll’s work, though this is absolutely its own thing and only one facet of Cornerwitches’ storytelling. Highly recommended.
  • Gotham Academy, Second Semester, Vol. 1: Welcome Back – Fletcher, Cloonan, Kerschl & Archer
  • Gotham Academy, Second Semester, Vol. 2: The Ballad of Olive Silverlock – Fletcher, Cloonan, Kerschl & Archer – The first volume of the Second Semester arc stumbles slightly, but the second half (and the conclusion of Gotham Academy) comes to a satisfying, well-earned close.
  • Monstress, Vol. 2: The Blood – Lu & Takeda – From the art to the shift in arc to the slow reveal of its wider worldbuilding and mythology, Monstress remains compelling and gorgeous. Absolutely worth picking up.
  • Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, Vol. 3: Reeder, Montclare & Bustos – The first two volumes are stronger than this third arc (the latter part of which feels like forced crossover work), but Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur continues to be hilarious and totally worth picking up.
  • Ms. Marvel Vol. 8: Mecca – Wilson, Failla, Olortegui & Herring – Eight volumes in the series has had its ups and downs. And while not the strongest volume in the series, volume eight is definitely worth reading. Not least of all because Wilson continues to use the series to reflect the world as we’re living it, with a strong dash of hope thrown in.
  • Paper Girls, Vol. 3 – Vaughan, Chiang, Wilson & Fletcher – The story starts coming apart in volume three, but I think this volume’s still worth reading to see where the story wanders. Volume four will decide whether I keep reading Paper Girls — Vaughan’s work has a tendency to lose cohesion as it progresses. Saga‘s an excellent example: I gave up at the start of volume eight, though I’d initially debated stopping at volume six with the poor handling of Trans content. We’ll see how this series continues.
  • The Witch Boy – Ostertag – While occasionally overly on the nose in its execution, this is some excellent allegory, beautifully rendered. It’s also a lovely paean to self-discovery and an excellent take on family and community.

2017 Recommendations (Short Form)

Again this year, Fantasy Magazine entries have been filed under Lightspeed Magazine.

Novellas

Novelettes

Short Stories

THE STATE OF THE FIELD

Despite an excellent year of fiction in various corners, you know what was really depressing about the 2017 output of the field? That in the wake of all these public movements toward redressing the systemic imbalance of white-authored work dominating the field in the last few years; in the wake of all this very showy rage about not allowing the staggering imbalance of representation (authorship, editorial, and in illustration/art as well), and an inordinate number of people calling for change quite vocally, the majority of speculative fiction mags appear to have said: “Increase diversity? That’s easy, we’ll just publish more stories about POC written by white people!”

I like how Ellen Oh put it in this thread (thread continues after these tweets) I ran across when I started writing this post:

Ellen Oh’s comments are the tip of the iceberg. And it looks like publishing, at all levels, is still going to be having this fight until I don’t even fucking know when at this point.

But we can also address certain aspects of this racist shitstorm immediately. Because the problem with white writers writing diverse content and white editors publishing it without either party having an eye on the interiority of the characters or a sense of lived experience and background on/of the cultures involved is that you’re going to get stereotypical, racist, and frequently misogynist depictions cropping up in that content:

  • I’d love to never again have to see the word “creature” used to describe a woman of colour. (See: the historical — and present — dehumanization of people of colour by comparing or referring to them as animals.)
  • I’d love to never again have to see white writers depicting the barbarous, monstrous Other as dark-skinned/uncivilized/”savage tribes.” I’m fucking done with having to read another version of the bogey-man/-people with dark skin trope.
  • I’d love to see Black women not written as one-dimensional characters, or overburdened with stereotypical understandings of what being a woman of colour is like. Especially in Fantasy settings.
  • I’d love to see Asian/Pacific Islander characters not written as mythical/magical/engaging a version of the Magical Negro trope.
  • I’d love to never again have to see white authors writing African/Asian fantasy and fucking up the mythology and the voices and cultural significance of the elements they cherry pick. Once again for the fuckwits in the back: Africa is not a country.

I’m not naming names, but none of those are abstracts. And several of those showed up multiple times in semi-pro and pro venues. All from white writers.

Also, more and more I’m of the opinion that most white cishet men just … shouldn’t write women. So many of them are so unutterably bad at it. It’s almost as though there were some larger structural understandings of women as people absent from much of their experience…

*cough cough*

Moving on.

Mag editing is something I’ve been thinking about a lot this last year. Obviously. I’m often thinking about the act and craft of editing anyway — this is a function of doing so in order to make my living along with the writing. But. Throughout 2017, I have been looking at how magazine editors (largely in North American context since many of the English language venues that currently dominate the spec field are based here) approach their final products. And it’s not good.

There’s the obvious point that the field is not going to broaden into less white-focused output until more Black/POC/Indigenous editors are given the same opportunities/allowed to wield the same level of power as white men. And, yes, I can name two reasonably powerful/well-published white women editors in spec, thank you for preemptively asking. Now ask yourself why it’s only two, and why that alone is often considered progress since the entire slate of major Year’s Best spec editors remains white. (Not counting guest editors of Year’s Best series.)

This is not a remotely new point, and quite a number of editors, readers, writers, and librarians of colour have been making this point eloquently for years. Eventually the industry is going to have to listen, or it’s going to fall apart. Publishing is an industry of slow growth and slow change, but that stagnancy is aided by an authorial and editorial class that benefits deeply from a legacy of systemic oppression of non-white voices. A system of structurally designed and passively (and often actively) enforced white supremacy, one might say…

And, no, guest issues aren’t going to be the answer to this. They’re a good start and I’m always happy to see them. But they’re a minor redress in a field where the power wielded by white editors is oh so graciously gifted to someone else for an issue, and then reclaimed post haste. For all that those temporary spaces are excellent for giving people the space to see themselves represented in fictional spaces, a temporary transference of power does not alter the status quo. Does that mean we should stop doing them as an industry? No, it does not, those guest-edited issues give us some fantastic shit while we’re working at decolonizing the industry.

So what’s the answer?

More North American magazines run by people of colour/Indigenous/Aboriginal editors. More North American-produced Year’s Best books helmed by people of colour/Indigenous/Aboriginal editors — and not just as guest editors under a series director’s guiding hand.

Look. I’m tired of reading stories from the same ten fucking magazines in Year’s Best anthologies, the majority of those works authored by white writers.

I’m aware I’m supposed to care about the output of Asimov’s and Analog and other mags with the same level of history. But for the most part I really don’t. F&SF runs some beautiful work, and occasionally there are things in Analog and Asimov’s that are absolutely worth reading. Mags like Interzone and Black Static, too.

But when you have one or two writers of colour in your anthology, sometimes topping out at as many as six or seven (gasp, amazing!) and you’re running several (it was far more in many mags I read this year) stories from white writers that are boring as fuck, I question your editorial choices.

Also, other quick points I’m just going to bitch about. Because why the hell not at this point?

1. Magazine publishers: Hire. Some(/More). Fucking. Copyeditors.

Pro mags, I’m looking at you, too. My eyes bleed every time I compile these posts. 2017 was especially bad for this. I’m not sure why, but it was profuse this year.

2. Websites are meant to be read: Design them for use, especially mobile interaction.

If your website is a clusterfuck of 1998-style GeoCities abstraction, variable text styles, and hideous formatting, I can’t read your publication. I’m serious about the mobile version thing — I’m reading most mag content on my phone at this point, because I’m doing so in transit. Design your websites so they’re clean and readable, especially for readers with vision issues. And provide transcripts of your audio content.

Accessibility is as much an issue in virtual spaces as it is in physical ones. If you’re not designing your mag with consideration as to how (and who) is going to read it, you need to fix that.

There are so many ways to create exceptional content, or to make room for it to happen. And the questions at the forefront of those choices have to be: Are we making space for/supporting/providing opportunities for the least heard among us? Are we doing better by people historically divested of opportunities to tell their stories?

If you’re not, take a hard look in the mirror and ask yourself why the fuck you’re not.

And while all sides of the industry are working on that, go read something amazing. Go create something amazing. Go make space for amazing people. And I’ll see you all back here for the 2018 recs, hopefully released in a more timely fashion next year. :)

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Anathema Issue 5 is Out!

Another issue of that awesome mag I co-edit is out! :D

I realize, belatedly, that I didn’t end up doing a full release post for Issue 4.  (It’s been a long and busy year.) This time, though, you get a full announcement post on the blog!

Which mostly consists of two things. First, I post this fucking stunning final cover image:

We really do just keep getting incredibly lucky with our covers. (This one, “Recluse,” coming from Maria Nguyen.)

And second, I direct you to the page for Issue 5 on the Anathema website. Thus saving myself from retyping the entire ToC again. ;)

Also, this way you can head over and read the mag immediately (it’s free online), or purchase it as a single issue (great for reading offline), or you could even pick up a subscription if you like what you see and want to see more of it (great for keeping the mag afloat and for making sure you never miss an issue).

I mean, really, this way’s a win/win for everyone! :D

So what are you still here for? Go read the new issue already!

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New Titan and Serpent Story Out!

Where were we last post? Oh right, four short story announcements of mine. How timely then that this next post (having gone much longer between posts than planned) is about one of those stories now being available to read!

Specifically, that story now available is “And at its Heart, Such Depths” out in Augur 1.2. (The whole of which looks fantastic and you should absolutely support Augur in general if you can. They do good work.)

For those keeping track, this makes my second appearance in Augur — the first in their Preview Issue last year.

This time out, Augur‘s running an original from me. And a story I’m delighted to see finally out in the world. I wrote “And at its Heart, Such Depths” in its original form back at Clarion West in 2014. It’s been through multiple versions since then, and though I didn’t know it at the time this story was the start of what would become the Titan and Serpent cycle.

Said cycle consisting of a number of (as yet) unpublished pieces, and two other published ones:  “Until There is Only Hunger” in Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling and “And in That Sheltered Sea, a Colossus” at Shimmer.

Some of you may have heard me talk about these stories off and on. ;)

Because the Titan and Serpent stories have been getting published out of order, and now that we’re up at three, it’s worth clarifying their chronological order for those trying to figure out the timeline:

  • And at its Heart, Such Depths
  • And in That Sheltered Sea, a Colossus
  • Until There is Only Hunger

So yes, they’ve been published entirely in reverse chronological order thus far. :)

Though “Until There is Only Hunger” is decidedly not the end of that sequence. And there’s more than just worldbuilding linking them. But part of the fun of seeing these stories published is what people pick up on between the stories and the connections readers make without prompting. So I’m going to back away from talking more about the sequence itself right now, and suggest that instead you go read “And at its Heart, Such Depths” when you get a chance.

Only a preview of that story’s available online right now, so you’ll have to purchase the issue or a subscription to Augur if you want to read it in its entirety. (Though the issue’s full content goes free online when the next one releases.)

I have no idea when or where more of the Titan and Serpent cycle stories will be published at this point. But in the meantime, I’m over here working on the rest of them. And a number of other projects. And hopefully making the next post on this blog sooner than a month from now.

One can always hope. :)

 

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2018 Short Story Announcements (So Far)!

So. The plan for 2018:

The reality thus far:

It’s been a long year, these last four months.

A good year in many ways, though I’ve spent an awful lot of it sick. And/or working the day job. Or playing catch-up on various projects. And settling in after moving late last year. And fundraising for Anathema (We’re good for another year! Thank you backers!) and getting Issue 4 (belatedly) out the door alongside some super patient co-editors. (I mentioned I was sick, right? Because I was sick. For like six fucking weeks.) And I still need to get the (now not Awards relevant) 2017 Recs List out the door. The latter probably when I’m less pissed about the state of the field.

Oh and I’ve been working on finding time to write.

The writing I’ve done this year and last has paid off quite well, at least. To the point where I have four short story sales to announce. Four! :D

Some of them because I technically just didn’t announce it when I learned about that first one. Or after I put it up on the Bibliography page ages ago and meant to announce it then. *cough*

But. Four short story sales to talk about! And where were these stories placed, you ask? An excellent question!

I’ve got two new stories coming out from Green Ronin Publishing’s Nisaba Press imprint. One story each for the Blue Rose and Mutants & Masterminds settings — “In That Fire, All the Voices of Your Dead” and “Kill Me Baby, One More Time”, respectively. The Blue Rose story will be out in the spring, and I’m not sure of the release date for the Mutants & Masterminds piece as yet. Though they’re in different settings, they’re both deeply queer stories with a thematic focus on mental health and trauma recovery. So, you know, the kind of stories you’d very much expect from me. But now with tie-in settings! :D

There’s also another new story of mine coming out through Augur‘s second issue in the summer: “And at Its Heart, Such Depths” is the first story in the ongoing Titan and Serpent cycle. The one that includes “And in That Sheltered Sea, a Colossus” and “Until There is Only Hunger”. I’ve talked about that cycle off and on as I’ve been writing it, though the latter part of this post from almost a year ago helps ground it (sort of?) for those not already familiar with those stories.

And the last publication from me in 2018 (as of yet) is a reprint of “Until There is Only Hunger” that will be appearing in Flame Tree Publishing’s Lost Souls anthology in September. It looks like a beautiful book. And massive. Seriously, it’s a 480 page hardcover. That thing’s going to be a gorgeous brick. O_o

So yeah. That’s a full year of publications for me. Already doubling last year’s two stories published. I’m (pretty sure I’m) back to a year’s releases of things that will only be accessible by purchase with that 2018 slate. I’m already missing being able to point to a free-to-read venue when people ask what I’ve got coming out in the near future.

Like. Look. I just like my stuff being able to read as widely as possible, okay. :p

Seriously though, support publishers where you can. I’ll be posting links to these and whatever other stories come out from me this year as I have them to update on the Bibliography page.

Oh, and if you’re in the mood to support publishers right this moment, there’s a mag that could do with some love: Anathema. All of our content is free to read online, but we sell individual issues and subscriptions to keep the content flowing and the lights running. And did I mention that Issue 4 just came out a little over a week ago? It’s gorgeous. Go read it while you’re waiting for my own work to come out. :D

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We Need to Have Another Chat, Publishing: Why the 2017 Recs List is Late

I’ve been trying to put together my 2017 Recommended Reading List since early to mid-February when I finished reading for it. I’d originally intended to use it to help people find fiction to look at for the Nebulas and the Hugos, as I do. Then just the Hugos. I will not be making that latter deadline either.

The blog post sits, unfinished, in my Drafts folder. I open it occasionally, when I have time, and sit down to finish discussing the magazines I looked at (57 this time round, with 40 I’m talking about in brief, because I wanted to cover only free online mags and projects from 2017 — it’s an experiment, go with it), and talk about the state of the online field of speculative fiction publishing.

Every single time I sit down to work on that state of the field section I am incensed. This because I had to read through a lot of racist, queerphobic, ableist shit written by white people, and published by other white people, in the course of reading through that 2017 content. Some of it macroaggressions, some of it microaggressions. All of it vile. And to those of you about to say, with the usual (totally inaccurate) assumptions accompanying this conversation, “Oh, but surely you must mean only those token markets with their less prestigious and careful editing?”:

No. No, I do not.

Some of the worst offenses were published in the pro venues. And I’ll be honest, I don’t feel like going into what and where, because those are fights I don’t particularly feel like having right this moment. Because we have the same fucking fight every year and nothing changes.

So because I’m pissed, weary of this vicious cycle, and really only have time tonight for a quick response, we’re going to do this instead:

In December 2015, I had an essay published in Queers Destroy Horror! That essay was never widely available because it was not part of the free online content. Said essay ranges broadly through approaches and problems in speculative publishing’s approach to inclusive fiction — mostly through the lens of queer inclusivity. Not one fucking thing it talks about has changed.

Not one. Fucking. Thing.

Yes, it’s only been two and a half years since it was published and Publishing moves at a snail’s pace. But the gaming of the diversity/inclusivity approach to publishing by straight white writers — and thus denial of space to creators who are POC, Indigenous, Aboriginal, queer (in broader spectrum) and various intersections thereof — has actually gotten worse since this essay was published.

Thus, my raging every time I try and write the summary of the field in the 2017 Recs List. And why that damn thing is a month late and travelling.

I will eventually post the recs list online. Because there are some amazing mags in the field, some absolutely fucking exquisitely talented writers working in it, and I love posting recommendations. I’m a bibliophile. And part of loving the amazing works of others has to be sharing it so others can experience it. This also being part of why I co-founded and co-edit Anathema.

So in the spirit of moving forward and hoping for a bettering of the field by talking through our failings as well as our successes, let’s momentarily cast our gaze back to the end of 2015, to a ~3,000 word (amended in this post) rant from yours truly:

“Effecting Change and Subversion Through Slush Pile Politics”

(Originally published in Queers Destroy Horror!)

All stories, all narratives really, are conversation. What those conversations are saying depends on several things: who’s doing the telling, what they’re talking about, and why the conversation is happening. All true whether or not the stories contain Queer content. But when you look at slush piles in the abstract, they’re very seldom reflective of the conversations, Queer-related or not, being had in published fiction.

The conversations occurring in both published and unpublished short fiction are the result of similar factors: the socio-economic and socio-political realities that shape what gets written, what gets published, and the social media interaction around what is published. But the material that’s published is overwhelmingly an active conversation, focused on larger questions of identity, representation, and a quest for both internal and external understanding—any body of published work is a communal investigation into questions we want answered, whether that community’s local, international, or global.

By contrast, the material in slush piles that remains permanently unpublished is having a defunct conversation. The stories that are unpublishable are asking questions that are already answered, or trying to have a conversation in terms that are outmoded and obsolete.

Consequently, there are two similar but divergent conversations occurring. Both conversations react to a wealth of published material, but only one set actively communicates with the body of published work it’s addressing. There are a number of factors that produce the difference between these conversations:

The first and foremost is that you inform the work you create; your experiences, as well as your economic, political, and cultural realities, form the basis of the work you create. It’s extremely difficult to write entirely outside of your own experience. Whatever your aims or intent, what ends up on the page reflects your lived experience in some way.

The best parts of what make it into the slush pile are some form of lived experience, even when the worldbuilding and other elements are fantastical or otherwise non-realist. Work that doesn’t feel invested in some way—that doesn’t feel lived in—doesn’t make it through the slush pile. That uninvested work doesn’t help further or shape the conversation. Instead, you end up with people writing fiction, as evidenced by the slush piles I’ve been party to, writing uninvested work that emulates what they expect the cultural conversation to be.

Most slush isn’t bad or unutterably terrible, despite the common misconception. Most slush pile fiction is either boring or mediocre; it’s unengaging in terms of themes, ideologies, or understandings of identity. It doesn’t say anything or touch off discussions that take us into new and interesting territory. It rehashes older material, or draws upon material from earlier eras (often pulp-era fiction, or the Golden Age of SF) without understanding that the conversation has since widened.

That last issue is a function of new writers coming to classic or much-lauded work and attempting to re-ignite the conversations they find there. Conversations whose time has passed.

Slush piles are full of stories in which women are there merely as victims. Or stories with women in them who couldn’t pass Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Sexy Lamp Test (Does a woman in this story do anything or say anything relevant to the story, excluding acting as a motivating factor or quest trophy?). Stories with racist, bigoted, or queerphobic content in period storytelling—because everybody was doing it then, right, and that’s totally historically accurate? (The counterargument to this is a story like Kai Ashante Wilson’s “The Devil in America.”) And stories that exist merely to degrade a character or group.

See, unexceptional fiction is content to skim the surface of an idea. Whereas exceptional fiction is dizzying and heady in its aims. It embraces the sense of awe that informs great fiction. You feel the crush of it beating against your ribcage. Sometimes so quietly it’s all but a whisper, but you know it when you find it.

Exceptional fiction does two things:

First, it fires on all cylinders. Fiction is an act of juggling component pieces, and even the best stories can only pull off so many tricks at once, and inevitably something suffers. Sometimes the prose is too loose or too dry, the plot poorly paced, or the subtext misfires and you end up saying things you didn’t intend to say. So a piece that’s pitch perfect is an extraordinary accomplishment. A merely competent piece will be one an editor enjoys and knows needs to be shared; an exceptional piece is one that sets the editor digging into it, trying to figure out how the hell it was machined so perfectly.

Second, exceptional fiction changes the course of the conversation by either advancing the conversation, or rewriting it entirely. If we’re very lucky, it does so permanently. I would argue that exceptional Queer fiction reshapes the conversation by naturalizing Queer identity and representation.

You produce more diverse content in fiction by naturalizing diversity. Doing so is how you get people to sit up and pay attention. When you present the reader with diverse characters and identities in fiction—which is, after all, a more accurate representation of the state of affairs outside of fiction—and do it repeatedly, diversity becomes the normalized state.

This is because the majority of conversation about Queer content suggests that being Queer is in and of itself something exceptional, and the thing the story should focus on. Except, when the exceptionalism of queerness is the focus of a story, the story Others queerness instead of naturalizing it.

You make diversity a normal thing in fiction by not making the work about a character’s queerness, their race, their neuroatypicality, or any other form of diversity as the foregrounding feature. Instead, you make that story about how the character moves through the narrative trajectory of the piece. Woman warrior defeats ancient evil, is lauded as heroine, marries princess. Deep-space astronaut survives destruction of orbital space station, now must figure out how to survive to get home to see his husband again. And so on. If a character in a story is Queer in some respect, but that queerness never plays a central role, or is even just mentioned in passing? That’s still a Queer narrative. It’s representational politics at work. You want to see diverse content in published work? Build it into the background and the foreground of the story and it saturates the work you’re creating.

The only reason straight white male characterizations in North American and European fictions are so dominant is because they’ve been viewed so long as the default states for storytelling. If you work from the basis that white, male, and straight is your tabula rasa, then the act of writing about race, femaleness, and queerness becomes falsely perceived as a needless complication. But the assumption of default state is false bias: there is no default state for characterization in storytelling, let alone in Queer storytelling.

Here’s the thing:

I’ve done a lot of editing one way or another in the last decade and a half. And that idea that Queer stories are principally about being Queer comes up all the time. But it never came up quite so dramatically as when I was trying to put together two (aborted, long story) anthologies, Start a Revolution and This Patchwork Flesh. These books had the stated intention of featuring protagonists who fell somewhere along the larger QUILTBAG (and beyond) spectrum, but whose queerness was not the central narrative and focus.

Start a Revolution, an anthology themed around revolutions literal and more personal, was especially bad for submissions of stories that were about how being Queer was itself revolutionary. There are a number of reasons for this narrative showing up so frequently, but I’m going to lay at least some of the blame for it on how the majority of LGBTQ+ presses shape the conversation around Queer identity. By pushing the idea that a story must be centrally about being Queer in order to be representational of Queer storytelling, the conversation has moved to being Queer as an act of exceptionalism and away from normalization of Queer identity.

Which brings us back to what I was talking about earlier in terms of exceptional fiction.

See, the best things I’ve seen in the slush pile, and ultimately the things I recommended to senior editors or took for anthologies, were stories that decentralized being somewhere on the QUILTBAG spectrum. The stories I gravitated to were stories in which the queerness of the characters was a function of the story, not the main feature.

Work that features diversity without being exoticizing or appropriative does so by having diverse characters move through stories that don’t have the nature of their diversity as the focal point. Failing to do so leaves you with storytelling like the curebie narrative. Ultimately destructive narratives supposing that autistic or otherwise neuroatypical characters just need “fixing,” curbie narratives are stories in which neurotypical characters, through science or magic, “fix” neuroatypical characters by rendering them neurotypical as well; they suggest that, clearly, not being “normal” is a terrible thing, and these poor, malformed characters must wish they weren’t so monstrous. The “curbie” narrative is a deeply fucking terrifying narrative structure, because it’s a short hop, skip, and a jump from suggesting that fixing people so you’re less terrified of them is a normal course of action, to sterilization and eugenics narratives. And there’s a precedent for that leap: neuroatypicality and autism have historically been “treated” through the application of invasive medical treatments, heavy pharmacology, and eugenics primarily through sterilization–the same set of methods historically used to “fix” Queer people. On the whole that’s something I suspect most people who write curebie narratives don’t actually consider hard enough, or editors would see far fewer of those style of stories showing up in slush piles.

Now, the majority of the stories with Queer content that I’ve seen in slush piles fail at being good representation because they exoticize Queer identity. And that happens because most people produce what they think the conversation about queer identity is.

Sometimes that’s a function of very white, usually straight, writers trying to produce what they think, or have internalized, is the experience of the Other. The conversation about diversity, in all its forms, invites writers to create wider representation, so you’re going to get people writing experiences of lives other than their own. And you always hope that people writing about other cultures and trying to envision what it’s like to be the Other creates space for diverse writers to be able to submit their work and shift the conversation to a wider range of voices–or at least that attempts by writers of one culture to capture the voices of another come off in respectful and careful storytelling. It certainly can, and frequently does. But sometimes you also get something less desirable:

Given how prevalent the calls for diversity and representation are, an unscrupulous writer can use diversity as a gimmick to the point where it becomes a shortcut to publication.

Nowhere has the argument that diversity is just a set of brownie points we’re all trying to score been more prevalent than in the interminable screeds coming out of the Sad/Rabid Puppies and Gamergate camps. Which is total bullshit. People of colour, Queer writers, and neuroatypical writers aren’t writing from their experience just to get published. The primary reason to write stories with diverse characters is that diversity is a lived, internal experience. Writing diversity from an internal perspective is including yourself in the conversation. Appropriating diversity, however, is a function of entitlement.

That appropriation, that entitlement, shows up in the way we talk about diversity itself. “Diversity,” as descriptor, can function as a colonialist and dismissive act exactly because it positions anything non-white, non-male, and non-heteronormative as non-primary or Other. It’s not self-descriptive language, it’s ascriptive language–and thereby exoticizing. And that exoticism, relating to all kinds of diversity, Queer content included, shows up all too frequently in slush piles. Especially in horror venues, where the history of the genre has really not been good on diverse representation.

In my time as a submissions editor with Apex, I saw some of the worst exoticism, entitlement, and appropriation of diversity I’ve come across anywhere doing editorial work. You combine a publication that focuses on horror fiction and dark fantasy with a lot of white North American writers idolizing horror fiction’s historical body of work, with its hugely problematic issues around representation, and you tend to get stories that either pay lip service to diversity, or that fly in the face of it entirely. This often occurred in combination with the three principal story types that made up the bulk of Apex’s slush pile: the serial killer story (a disturbing number of these written by Texans–your guess as to why is as good as mine; I have no working theory there), the cannibalism story, and the rape/revenge-fantasy story.

The lack of diversity in multiple respects in the Apex slush pile was discouraging, not least of all in terms of the general lack of Queer content coming across the transom. And it wasn’t just Apex having those issues. Many venues are welcoming to Queer/LGBTQ+/QUILTBAG fiction, but don’t receive it in the slush pile. Yes, many are intentionally or unintentionally unwelcoming, and the submissions calls and guidelines put out often lead to white, straight writers appropriating diversity instead of people of colour, Queer writers, and neuroatypical writers getting their own work published. But there are venues that manage to actually run diverse and diverse-authored content, and do it consistently. Flawed as those diversity statements and calls sometimes are, they’re part of the necessary work of soliciting work from diverse writers in order to have the material to run.

It takes that consistent publication of more than token amounts of diverse and diverse-authored content to prove that a venue is actually interested in diversity. Otherwise, rightly or wrongly, a venue is going to be seen as just trying to make hay out of diversity itself. Especially since the magazines that curate diverse content on a regular basis do (or did for those that have since closed) it noticeably well: FIYAH, Arsenika, Koru, Ruru Reads, Glittership, Crossed Genres, Strange Horizons, Shimmer, Clarkesworld, Tor.com, Lightspeed/Nightmare, GigaNotoSaurus, Unlikely Story, and Lackington’s, among others.

Anthologies, too, have to get diversity right, and a publisher has to do it repeatedly across multiple projects in order for the publisher to be considered welcoming to diverse and diverse-authored content. The editors of those anthologies also have to prove that they can consistently curate diverse-authored content across multiple projects. Seeing publications getting it right or trying to do so was one of the things that made reading slush for the Glitter & Mayhem anthology way back when such a pleasure. Not everything that came in for that anthology was perfect. But the bulk of what I saw in my portion of that slush pile were pieces that were going hammer and tongs at diversity, representation, and general oddity in the best possible sense.

It’s funny, too, because you find that effective diverse content crops up in places you wouldn’t expect. All kinds of diverse content showed up in the slush pile for the Fearful Symmetries anthology, often in completely normalized, rather than exoticized, contexts. I say that with such shock because the bulk of horror fiction is just appallingly bad at doing diversity and representation well. This is primarily because horror fiction less frequently focuses on the uncanny side of horror, the numinous or otherwise transformative, and is instead transgressive and victim-oriented. Transgression itself is not my problem here, but rather who that transgression is perpetrated against and how. Because the different ways in which violence is directed in horror fiction perpetuates, by example, the idea of a stratification of victimhood: Who should you care more about as a victim? What skin colour, race, and other orientations do you most readily identify with?

Those stratifications of victimhood, and many of the functions of horror as transgressive wish-fulfillment fantasy, play into a fascinating, if disturbing, affirmation of heteronormative gender roles: Men prey on women. Men rescue women. These two functions are established as natural, and reinforced by their repetition. When women prey on men there’s subversion at work (with the qualification that this, too, can be a misogynistic trope). And when women rescue men there’s an upheaval of social roles that is totally intolerable to a wide subset of people. But you have to enact, and keep enacting, upheaval if you want to create space for diverse content. The sheer weight of fiction that elides diverse content is staggering, and requires a tectonic shift to redress. In earlier eras of fiction the elision of diversity was both an act of suppression and an appalling obliviousness to the racist, queerphobic, and otherwise dismissive agenda underlying the worldview of so many published writers. In modern fiction, that same elision is simply unforgiveable.

We all need to be creating upheaval in fiction. The representation of underrepresented groups and cultures in Western literature pushes against the bulwark of colonialist, hegemonic, heteronormative, white-centric narratives. They are reshaping the field. They are actively changing the conversation.

That’s the kind of thing you always want to see in a slush pile, whether the stories are Queer-centric or otherwise. Because as an editor, you always want to see the things that push the conversation further. And as a writer, you always hope you’re writing the piece that makes that happen.

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The Return of the Blog and Anathema 2018 Crowdfunding

 

So it was a busy end of year (and start to 2018). As you may have noticed from my not posting anything on the site since the beginning of December.

There’s a few posts I’ve been meaning to put up, including the end of year/year in writing entry I normally post just after the new year, and will be posting that once I have time — that and the 2017 recommended reading post once that‘s pulled together. The 2017 recs post will be going live probably closer to the 15th, making it less useful for providing Nebula recs, though it’ll be timely enough for other award reading. And that list is always a generalist approach to recommendations in any case, rather than specifically award geared, so I find it remains useful long after award seasons come and go. There’s also the usual sales and other update posts to attend to.

All of those posts are behind time because between work, things in my personal life, writing, and co-running Anathema, I ended up needing to neglect the blog some to get things done. I keep the Bibliography updated, but the rest had to temporarily go by the wayside.

And while I’d love to be attending to all of those overdue posts asap, the first of them that needs putting up is one relating to Anathema. Why? Because it’s crowdfunding season, motherfuckers! :D

Or, at least it is for us at Anathema. Because we would really love to raise our rates (double them to $100 CAD) and fund years two and three of the mag. Reasonable goals. Amounting to about $6,000 (CAD). With some stretch goals lined up just in case we surpass our original funding goal.

We had a pretty fucking amazing year at Anathema in 2017: Three of our stories ended up on the 2017 Nebula Reading List (“Everything You Left Behind,” “Learning to Swim,” and “Never Yawn Under a Banyan Tree”) and we’ve had one of our stories narrated in a professional podcast mere months after its release (“A Complex Filament of Light” at Cast of Wonders). Overall, we ran 18 pieces of original content (counting the one original cover), put out three issues, started a reasonably healthy subscriber base, and gave a platform and a megaphone (a small one right now, but it’s getting bigger) to some astonishingly talented queer POC/Indigenous/Aboriginal creators. All of that content available online free to read. So of course we want to keep doing that, always aiming to be self-sufficient financially. We made it part of the way there in 2017. Now we’re buying time to see if we can become entirely self-sufficient over 2018 and 2019.

Or, rather, we’re asking you to help us buy that time. And we have some fantastic perks on offer this year to do it: eBooks, subscriptions, short story edits, and critiques for longer work. And we’ll be adding still more perks as we get the remaining ones lined up.

We believe in the work our content creators have been doing, and we have so much more amazing, glorious writing, non-fiction, and art to share with you in 2018. So:

You can find the Anathema 2018 IndieGoGo campaign here.

Come help us out and contribute what you can. Or just spread the word if that’s all you’re able to do. Everything helps. :)

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2017 Award Eligibility Post +

Fair bit of time since the last blog. Mostly because I’ve been busy with freelance work, work on Anathema’s third issue (more on that shortly), oh and finding an apartment and moving. So, you know, had some things to do off the site. ;)

And though all of those things have taken up inordinately more time than one ever expects them to, I did still manage to get some of my own work published this year. As well as multiple issues of Anathema. And though we’re not past the end of year mark, I’ve nothing else coming out before January lands. So now seems an excellent time to post this and get back to work on all the other things that need doing before year’s end–and the things owing for the coming year. (Multiple things in the works, so a lot to be doing at the moment.)

I’m going to forego posting excerpts of my published work this year because this year all of the (*cough*both*cough*) things I had published are free to read online! :D

My Fiction:

And in That Sheltered Sea, a Colossus
(March 2017, Shimmer #36; Short Story, 4,000 Words)

Change as Seen Through an Orrery of Celestial Fire
(Reprint; August 2017, Augur Preview Issue; Short Story, 3,800 Words)

I’m not certain that the reprint is eligible for any award consideration? Though the Titan and Serpent story in Shimmer is if anyone’s interested in nominating it for something. (I love that story, so be my guest.)

And above and beyond my fiction, I want to mention the project that Andrew Wilmot, Chinelo Onwualu, and I have been working on throughout the year: Anathema: Spec from the Margins. Because the magazine only comes out three times a year it doesn’t qualify for semi-professional status necessary for some magazine nominations, but that’s not why I’m highlighting it.

I’m bringing it up because we published 17 pieces of original content, and one original piece of art this year. And those you can nominate for awards! :D

Anathema Original Content:

Anathema, Issue 1, April 2017

Olokun’s Children” by Pear Nuallak
(Cover Art)

A Complex Filament of Light” by S. Qiouyi Lu
(Short Story, 3,400 Words)

Swan’s Grace” by Tony Pi
(Novelette, 8,250 Words)

The Woman With a Thousand Stars in Her Hair” by Ayodele Olofintuade
(Short Story, 5,700 Words)

Blood Song” by Brent Lambert
(Short Story, 5,725 Words)

Aqua Mirabilis” by Stephanie Chan
(Short Story, 4,550 Words)

Being Otherwise: Between Starshine and Clay” by Alexis Teyie
(Non-Fiction, 2,200 Words)

Anathema, Issue 2 (August 2017)

Never Yawn Under a Banyan Tree” by Nibedita Sen
(Short Story, 3,025 Words)

Beneath the Briar Patch” by Craig Laurance Gidney
(Short Story, 4,575 Words)

Everything You Left Behind” by Wen Ma
(Short Story, 3,650 Words)

‘Punch God (in the Face)’ by the Harmnones” by Brandon O’Brien
(Short Story, 6,175 Words)

Eruption” by Jaymee Goh
(Short Story, 3,900 Words)

Say Her Name: The Eternal Lives of Get Out‘s Heroine” by Renee Christopher
(Non-Fiction, 1,700 Words)

Anathema, Issue 3 (December 2017)

The Poet and the Spider” by Cynthia So
(Short Story, 4,975 Words)

Learning to Swim” by Mimi Mondal
(Short Story, 2,975 Words)

Death Comes to Elisha” by Iona Sharma
(Short Story, 1,775 Words)

Diary of War” by Joyce Chng
(Short Story, 1,675 Words)

Why I Hate The Sparrow. A Lot.” by Diana What
(Non-Fiction, 3,150 Words)

Two of those stories from this year, Issue 2’s “Never Yawn Under a Banyan Tree” and “Everything You Left Behind” (by Nibedita Sen and Wen Ma, respectively) have already appeared on the Nebula Recommended Reading List, which is fucking fantastic! And we’ve seen a few recommendation posts throughout the year with Anathema stories on them. As the year winds down, it’s been great to see those crop up, and I’m still hoping to see more Anathema content show up on year end recommendation lists. (I know I saw one somewhere the other day, but I don’t remember off hand whose post that was, and I’m sure there are others I’ve just not seen.)

Which, as usual, reminds me I have my own recs post to pull together to post some time in January. Though the reading for that continues straight through the end of this year and on into next as I … might be way behind with that given everything else going on. It’s been a busy year. :D

Read anything good you want to bring to my attention for the (slowly) growing recs list I’m pulling together? Feel free to mention it in the comments so I can go take a look at it. I’m only looking at shorter fiction, poetry, and comics TPBs this year owing to time constraints, but all suggestions are welcome. :)

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