Start a Revolution: Update 1

A quick note before we begin: I’m tying all of these updates to the guidelines page for whichever anthology they’re written for (at the bottom of the page), so all the updates will be listed together for easy reference.

There are stories in the slush pile. Yay! I haven’t had a chance to read everything there yet. Boo!

Time constraints and what have you. And this is part of why the call is open for three months (because I’ll have more time towards the end of it to read through the slush pile than I do right now).

A good mix of submitters in the slush pile right now, actually. Seeing about 60/40 M/F representation in the subs. And a wide range of QUILTBAG submitters, along with Aboriginal writers, and some new generation writers. I am very pleased with this mix.

Only seeing about 34-35% Canadian submissions so far, but that balance will sort itself out down the road I think. It’s early yet.

Seeing a mix of more realist and fantastical stories which, also, is excellent. And I’ll talk more about that in subsequent updates when I’ve had a chance to do a more substantive read of what’s in the pile.

Some interesting stuff in there so far.

But, from what’s there a question does arise:

Where the hell are all the horror writers I should be seeing in my slush pile?

I think people are getting a little hung up on taking the title literally. Or focusing on the words “tolerance” and “community” at the expense of “change.” That last word is very important. And still more important is remembering that change is never smooth, never clean, never easy, always messy, and often brutal.

Though revolutions can have positive outcomes, they are not by any stretch of imagination pretty. (And any narrative that discusses how clean, how easy, how right and glorious a revolution was without talking about the horrors it entailed, on either/both sides, is rewriting history.) Whether it’s the State using brutal methods to crush a revolution (quiet, peaceful, or otherwise), or a revolutionary movement itself moving into more violent, militant, or morally ambiguous territory to achieve its ends, revolutions always have a darker component. Sometimes the State, the Corporation, or the identifiable antagonist is the monster; and sometimes the things we do in order to achieve our ends make those
fighting against those powers monstrous.

A book of entirely clean, upbeat stories about revolution would not only be insipid and boring, it would also be a lie in the face of what revolution is really like; a lie in the face of the things one has to sacrifice in order to actually enact revolution.

So show me the darker side of revolution–the actual side of revolution–alongside everything else. Some of the things in the slush pile are going there already. And I would like to see more of this.

Which is not to say that I don’t want to see lighter, more inspiring tales. Because I do. But I’m easily bored by single strain narratives not doing anything more interesting with their undercurrent. So send me complex, considered work.

I would very much like to put together a considered, potent book, focused on complexity in all regards. And to do that I need to balance out lighter tales with darker ones; overt narratives with more ambiguous, subtler, subtextual tales; ideally with a few tales willing to swallow their own tails in the telling and leave no moral centre to fall back on.

Every anthology needs a diversity of narratives to function. But if the majority of people send literal, straightforward revolution stories, then the stories that stand out are going to be the ones that don’t do that. And the latter stories automatically become more interesting to me (well, they are anyway, admittedly) at the expense of everything else in the pile.

I’m pretty sure part of why I’m seeing straightforward/unexamined/un-self-aware work in the mix is because it’s not terribly clear from the listings over at Duotrope, or The Grinder, or anywhere else, that there’s a potential for a darker edge to the storytelling in Start a Revolution. But you do all realize that you’re welcome to submit horror to Start a Revolution, right?

Right?

At this point I’m just going to draw your attention to my article “Kill is Kiss: The Potency of Words, and Horror as Mimesis” (if you’ve not already read it). It applies here.

And in less strictly horror, and more horrific, context:

Dystopias are a long-standing tradition in revolutionary works. Because a successful revolution doesn’t always mean good triumphs.

Orwell frequently wrote about successful revolutions: 1984 and Animal Farm are absolutely books about successful revolutions. Those revolutions just happen to lead to dystopian fascist regimes, rather than discussing the overthrow of same.

Stories like Baroness Orczy’s tales of the Scarlet Pimpernel, and Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities concern themselves with individuals willing to stand up to the Reign of Terror, but are tales more directly focused on Robespierre and the atrocities he committed/instigated during the French Revolution any less about revolution because they cover the Reign of Terror itself? Of course not.

And a play like Bridget Boland’s The Prisoner is no less about revolution because the revolution has already happened. The Prisoner is a very quiet, very dark narrative about the failure of freedom in a post-revolution State, and how the State breaks everyone. But the entire narrative is about struggle: specifically struggle between two men–both good men–one who works for the State, and the other who resists it. The moral centre here is difficult to chart, and the piece’s antagonist is neither of the two men the play focuses on, but the State itself; the State for whom the Interrogator has sundered his own moral compass. Indeed, the Interrogator, who knows the value of the man he is breaking, is as much a tragic figure as the Cardinal who, in the end, breaks.

And in speculative fiction, too, there are so many narratives that explore this ambiguous or complex territory brilliantly. That this post not become a litany I’ll just point out the first few recent ones that come immediately to mind–stories that will give you a taste of the complexity I’m looking for, and that approach their subjects in less overt and more subtextual fashion:

Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s “Fade to Gold” (from Jonathan Oliver’s End of the Road anthology) and “Silent Bridge, Pale Cascade” (Clarkesworld, Issue 87, December 2013) both present complex personal narratives set against the backdrop of war and revolution. One story discussing aftermath, the other discussing a war that does not end.

Catherynne M. Valente’s “Fade to White” (Clarkesworld, Issue 71, August 2012) is another complex personal story set in a world where the revolution has already happened, unacknowledged, behind the scenes. And the campaign by the State against its people is an ongoing process, in proper dystopian alt history telling. And Catherynne’s novel Deathless is a fantastic example of marrying the mythic and the revolutionary/war narrative, and of exploring how seamlessly those two narrative functions complement one another.

Theodora Goss’s “England Under the White Witch” (Clarkesworld, Issue 73, October 2012) is about the tragedy of aligning yourself with a cause; of choosing a side that leads you to become a monster. It is about the tragedy of giving oneself to the revolution at the expense of one’s own chance at life, and love, and anything but an endless, dehumanizing winter (there’s also a potential subtextual reading to be had here about nuclear fallout and perpetual winter). It is about the failure of moral strength.

Always, always, tragedy is as much a part of revolution as is triumph. And good does not always triumph, however we choose to define good.

Revolutions are not always straightforward, and can be decidedly dark.

Revolutions are not always a good thing.

Do not be afraid to cover darker territory in your submissions. Do not be afraid to write villains.

And now into some additional specifics, odds and ends, and other things:

Not to put overmuch pressure on anyone, but titles are more than a little important here. And I mention this because I’ve seen some excellent ones in the pile. And some not so excellent ones in the pile.

Your title tells me how to approach your story. It sets mood and tone, and (usually more than you think it does) tells me what you were trying to do with your story.

If your title is intriguing, I am more interested in reading your story. If your title is boring, unengaging, or commonplace, I am less interested in reading your story. And while I’m not going to cite anything from the Start a Revolution slush pile, there are a couple of titles in there that probably seemed like a good idea at the time that … really aren’t.

Puns, direct references, and title recycling can be interesting, but if your title has been used an inordinate number of times prior, even if it’s referencing something you think it should, think twice about using it. Find something that speaks more directly to the voice of your story, rather than someone else’s. A callback or reference to another story only works if your story is stronger than the story it’s referencing–if it’s not I’m going to be thinking primarily about the other story/reference your title brought to mind while reading yours.

You do not want to be splitting my attention in this fashion.

And now for a (not quite random, though admittedly abbreviated) link roundup, in case you needed something to get you going, or were looking for a springboard of some kind (with some links more geared toward the subject of revolution, some about community involvement, and still others leaning more toward the QUILTBAG side of the discussion–all unlabelled with respect to which article is discussing what so we can have
fun discussing, or at least thinking about, the intersections thereof):

Hamden Rice on Martin Luther King’s impact, and what it actually means on the ground

Ukraine’s new anti-democratic laws

And re the above, and ongoing repression of civil liberties in Ukraine, a BBC article on the protest movements

Being an Unperson (video)

Salt Lake City giving houses to the homeless

Not Far from the Tree

Banksy’s work

Laci Green on Sex Object BS (video)

Novels that speak truth to prejudice. Incidentally, yes and no is my response to this article. But the (admittedly short) list is an interesting look at one opinion on what constitutes speaking against prejudice, and not a bad jumping off point for larger discussion.

Becky Chambers’s review of Assassin’s Creed: Liberation (the ported edition), because of its talk about gender and racial representation, and other related issues

Hajime Isayama and Attack on Titan‘s non-gendered characters (as part of a larger ongoing discussion; I’m just leaving this here as a stub)

The foregoing is by no stretch of imagination comprehensive (and is largely composed of things that have caught my eye in the last few days), so if anyone feels like leaving links to other articles in the comments below, by all means, do so.

And because it’s terribly appropriate to the subject (and because I would post it even if it weren’t), and also because these posts often have too little visual content, here’s Patti Smith’s cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”:

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