#BookstoreRomanceDay 2019 at the Harvard Bookstore

Cecilia Tan, Margaret H. Williston, Satin Russell, Kerry Winfrey, Loretta Chase, Harvard Bookstore
Moderator Margaret H. Williston, with authors Cecilia Tan, Satin Russell, Kerry Winfrey, and Loretta Chase at Harvard Bookstore’s event for Bookstore Romance Day

I’m just back from a really fun night at the Harvard Bookstore thanks to a lively and uplifting panel discussion on romance of all flavors, held to celebrate the first ever national Bookstore Romance Day. If you haven’t heard of this type of nationwide event, it’s a thing encouraging visits your local independent record shop (on Record Store Day) or comic book store (Free Comic Book Day) or bookstore in general (Indie Bookstore Day).
This is a big deal because, let’s face it, some indie bookstores haven’t always been the most welcoming to the genre of romance. These days even the snootiest of literary culture stores will have mystery, science fiction, and the other fiction genres that grew out of the pulps of the 1940s, but many seem to think that romance is “trash” and therefore beneath them.
This is a trash opinion, of course, as I said on the panel.
But many indies in the wake of millennial feminism, scholarly studies on feminism and romance, and award-winning documentaries (not to mention a 2016 panel at BookExpo America on how to make your bookstore romance-friendly, and support from the American Booksellers Association and the RWA) are waking up to the fact that not only are they missing out on a billion-dollar fiction market, but romance has the same breadth and depth of talent, quality, style, and political messaging as every other genre.
Romance picks of the month at Harvard Bookstore displayed alongside The Mueller Report.



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#BookstoreRomanceDay at @harvardbookstore with @lorettachase1995 @satinr @ctan_writer @kerrywinfrey moderated by @mrsfridaynext

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In her intro to the panel, bookstore staffer Katharine told the story of how the Harvard Bookstore became romance converts 4-5 years ago. It started with staff members like her asking “Why don’t we sell romance?” and the negative answers eventually wearing thin. They added a section, and for the first year or so it didn’t do very well because for so many years romance readers had been told this bookstore didn’t carry “that kind” of book. But they gradually began to discover the change, and some previous romance-focused events helped spread the word.
“If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from reading romance novels,” she said, “it’s that sometimes you can make mistakes, but if you have someone who’s patient with you, you can earn people’s trust and a happy ending.” Now that the readers are feeling more welcome, the romance section is taking off and just doubled in size! (Not only that, once the Harvard Bookstore added romance to their shelves, publishers sales reps started nagging other indie stores in the area to do the same, since if the stuffiest of all booksellers could do it, why couldn’t they? I’m happy to report Porter Square Books has a nice selection, which I browsed and bought something from just last week.)
She then handed the mic off to our fabulous moderator, librarian and podcaster Margaret H. Willison, who kept the conversation lively all evening, giving each of the four writers ample opportunities to talk about what brought us to romance in the first place, how we had to overcome our own learned prejudices from the literary establishment, and why we feel writing love stories is so important.
The four of us write in drastically different sub-genres of romance, but what we found was that we had so much in common. Loretta Chase writes historical romance who had started out studying English literature. “What I found was that in these works of literature that I loved, though, was that the women in them, if they showed any spirit or interest in pleasure, they tended to end up dead. And I thought, well, if I write a book, I’ll fix that. Little did I know there was a whole genre of historical romance where writers were doing just that! The first one who really influences me was Edith Layton. I read one of her books and realized oh, here’s a woman who loves English history, who has a real ear for language, who writes beautifully, this is something I can get into!”

Margaret H. Willison, Loretta Chase, Satin Russell
Historical romance author Loretta Chase spurs laughter from Margaret H. Willison and Satin Russell with tales of her romance writing career.

Satin Russell, by contrast, grew up in a household where her mom read a lot of romance and she probably read her first romance when she was 12 or 13. She does a lot of author events at various locations. “One was in a local Elks Lodge. Downstairs they were having the manliest event ever: a meat auction. Up comes this guy after the auction ended to check out the fair upstairs, a big guy in his Harley Davidson leather jacket and boots.” She’d previously come to expect men at bookstores to pooh-pooh her romantic suspense novels, even though they’re suspense. “But you know, men fall in love, too. Men have romance. Why shouldn’t they read about it?” (He bought both books.)
Kerry Winfrey writes YA romance and recently branched out (up?) into romantic comedies for adults, too. She was wearing earrings with Tom Hanks’ and Meg Ryan’s faces on them, which might possibly be the most awesome, on-brand accessory I’ve ever seen, given that her book is called WAITING FOR TOM HANKS. “I majored in creative writing in college and we were mostly reading literary short stories that were super depressing. So I was secretly reading YA romance and not telling anybody. It took me a while to realize that I didn’t have to only read things that were super depressing! The point where I totally tipped over was about three years ago when I had my son, and I was up at all hours of the night holding him because he wouldn’t sleep, and reading with my phone propped up in my other hand. That was when I realized this is really all I want to read and I don’t care if there’s some kind of stigma attached to it. When you’re that sleep deprived you can’t read something heavy.”
Author Kerry Winfrey
Author Kerry Winfrey meets readers and autographs books at Harvard Bookstore.

I told the story about how I came into romance via erotica, “Talk about a genre that people have weird ideas about and want to shame you for writing or reading!” And one of the main things that kept me from having to struggle with any kind of stigma around it was not just the fact that I was starting to do it at a time when feminism had a wave of sex-positivity (the early 1990s) but that my mom went all in on normalizing it, accepting it, and just expecting everyone in the family and friends to follow suit. And they did. She never acted like it was anything to be ashamed of, and so no one ever tried to shame me for it. If they had those kind of thoughts, they kept them to themselves!
When my first big book, Black Feathers, came out from Harper Collins in 1998, my mom threw me a book launch party in backyard of the house I grew up in, in suburban New Jersey, with a tent and a band and our favorite filipino caterers. It was exactly like the party people usually throw for their kid’s high school graduation. She invited everyone who’d ever known me while I was growing up, all our relatives, my dentist, my schoolteachers, you name it. So everyone just kind of had to take it in stride that it was something to be proud of. (More recently my mom has had me come speak to her book club a few times and had them read my books, yes, even the really sexy ones.)
The panel ended with a really fun bang, as Margaret showed each of us a photo of a cute guy and had us cast him as a romance hero and tell his backstory. This was a total hoot as the photos she had picked were early “before they were stars” headshots of Chris Evans (complete with earring), Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (wearing the most confusing mix of bling and leather fanny pack — a photo which has apparently started a meme of people cosplaying as him?), Chris Pratt (with dark sideburns but long tousled blond locks), and young Stephen Colbert looking like (as I cast him…) “a young playwright about to drop out of his soul-crushing MFA program and reach his true creative dreams with the help of the supportive partner he’s always needed, but has never been able to admit his feelings for… until now! I think the gender of the partner is still in question, though.”
If you’d like to pick up some of our books, we autographed all the stock at the end, so if you missed the event, you can still go get the signed books. In fact, you can order the books pictured below directly from the event page on the Harvard Bookstore website.
Signed romance books on sale at Harvard Bookstore

InVocation, an art installation by Midori

Ancient, grimy-looking Mac keyboard from the 1990s.
Today I was inspired to ship off this ancient, grungy Mac keyboard (see photo) that has been gathering dust and grime in my office for over 20 years. I’m in the midst of cleaning out my office in general, unearthing all kinds of interesting things in the excavation, but this one was sent not to the dumpster but to Midori, who is collecting objects from queer sex workers around the world to be woven into an art installation she’s calling “InVocation.”
She texted me to ask if I considered erotica writers (or myself in specific) to be sex workers, and here’s what I told her: “I don’t think most sex workers would consider us part of their group, but I do, at least from a political coalition standpoint, because erotic writing work is subject to different laws and restrictions from other writing work on the basis of the sexual content. We’re treated differently, our product can be outlawed or flagrantly destroyed with no recourse for us, our books are hidden, etc.”
When you write erotic work, even places like Patreon restrict you. Even when what you do isn’t illegal, they make your page un-findable from the search bar (you have to know exactly what URL to put in to find any X-rated artist). Amazon does the same, plunging not only individual books but sometimes whole keywords into the “adult dungeon” where they languish, unfound by searches. Erotic writing is reportedly more likely to be pirated or stolen than non-erotic writing, as some people both feel shame about buying it and NO shame about ripping off a mere “sex writer.”
Erotica writers have to fight harder to get paid than non-erotic writers do and we’re offered less for our work (compare the $50 a story standard for erotica anthologies to the 8 cents a word standard demanded by the Science Fiction Writers of America = $200 for a 2500 word story). This despite the adage “sex sells.” Even in the wake of 50 Shades of Grey, the top selling book in English-language history, many bookstores still have no erotica section, and those that do have one often won’t label it visibly. Some stores won’t carry it because they believe it’s illegal to sell to customers under 18 and they don’t ID their customers. And so on.
All those barriers — moral, structural, logistical, societal, and legal — makes making a living as an erotica writer even harder than making a living as any other kind of writer.
I’ve been living with this reality for so long that I sometimes forget it’s there. But at the RWA conference a couple of weeks ago I took a step back and had it hit me all over again. So many of the avenues for building a career, gaining readers, promoting a book, and so on are restricted to non-sexual content. For example, Facebook ads are a huge part of most of the marketing campaigns of top-selling books these days. But Facebook won’t let us advertise a book that’s too sexy unless we can plausibly make them look “clean.” (Heck, even the website where 50 Shades was first posted as a Twilight fanfic and built up a huge following had rules against explicit content! They were just ignored…)
Anyway. Midori is creating a sculptural art installation at the Leslie Lohman museum in New York City, as detailed in her post here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/i-need-your-help-28998508
The sculpture will be part of an exhibition called ON OUR BACKS, and it couldn’t be more up my alley. To quote from the exhibition’s description: “This exhibition explores the history of queer sex work culture, and its intimate ties to art and activism. [It shows] queer and transgender sex workers’ deep community building, creative organizing, self-empowerment, identity/desire affirmation and healing and the use of pornography as a deft tool for queer and trans liberation.”
My manifesto, as I’ve been banging the drum since 1992, is that stories change lives. Fiction changes hearts and minds. And I write about sex and sexuality because our society has so many fucked up ways of thinking about those things that the only way to change people toward thinking about them another way is to tell them a story. I write a lot of science fiction and fantasy to change the viewpoint as far from “normal” as possible, but even a story like Daron’s Guitar Chronicles is saying the same thing: we who don’t love within the narrow confines of society’s enforced “normal” of heterosexual vanilla marriage need freedom in this world to exist and to express ourselves as fully accepted human beings.
So, yeah, off my grungy old keyboard goes. I had thought maybe I had one of my old old original laptops — I had a Toshiba T-1000 back in 1989! — but it appears I recycled them long ago because of fears their batteries were dangerous to keep around. But I have clung to a lot of ancient tech. Macs haven’t used keyboard with this style of connector since… 1997? You can see from the grime on it that this keyboard had a lot of mileage on it.
Midori wrote that what she is looking for is objects that were used in sex work that we’ve held onto but we’re ready to let go of. “Objects, which even as you hold on to them, you would like to let it go, give it a new home, recognize that it doesn’t need to take up space in your drawers or storage or heart, or something you’d like to respectfully let it dissolve into the universe. ” I didn’t have a dried out old lipstick case, but I did have this.
I’m looking forward to seeing the final installation.

Cecilia Tan: Readercon Schedule

I’m looking forward to Readercon this year after I had to skip last year because of a scheduling conflict. It’s one of my hometown cons and they always have the brainiest programming of any science fiction convention I’ve ever been to. “High level of discourse” would be the way to put it… but with a wacky sci-fi (pronounced “skiffy”) edge.
Here’s what I’ll be doing: Continue reading →

Last chance to buy or download SILK THREADS! Cutoff: 4/17

Silk Threads cover art on display

Okay, folks, the time has come! At end of day on April 17th we will be closing the ordering portal on SILK THREADS! So you have until then to purchase paperback or download ebook via:


I’m doing on e last push to try to get some more orders before we close down fulfillment because I under-estimated the shipping on the last batch of orders and now, whoops, I had to shell out that cost out of my own pocket instead of out of Kickstarter earnings. But if I can get ~20 orders or so, it’ll even back out. So spread the word! Last chance!
If you’re just hopping on this train for the first time: SILK THREADS is an erotic Japanese fantasy romance novella collection in three parts, written by me, Midori, and Laura Antoniou. Laura’s section is in a samurai-era past, Midori’s is in a magical shape-shifter present, and mine is in a cyberpunk future. We self-published it through Kickstarter in September 2019 and started shipping rewards to folks in December 2019. Thanks to Christmas printing delays, the Trump tariff war with the Chinese, the Canadian postal strike, and a couple of other snafus, the fulfillment of all the different reward levels took way longer than projected. The last 35 or so packages are going out this week, so that’s why we’re cutting things off now.
Well, and also because we’ve got a publisher! Riverdale Avenue Books will be taking over the book and distributing a bookstore edition through stores and e-tailers like Amazon!
Bookstore Edition!
There’s some chance that the bookstore edition will end up quite different from our Kickstarter edition. For one thing, Amazon may decide that the illustrations are too racy and they could block sale of the book until they are removed. They did that on my illustrated edition of The Prince’s Boy… even the illustrations I considered tame were too much for them.
And the cover. The gorgeous cover art by Stephanie Inagaki! Amazon may decide that a woman covered by her own hair is still a “nude” in which case… they could block the sale of the book the way they did for various books of mine in the past, including The Velderet, or Catt Kingsgrave’s One Saved to the Sea.
So if you want the book as we–the authors–intended, get it now, before you can’t get it anymore.

On my way to speak at #AWP19 with Erica Jong, Thad Rutkowski & more

I’m on my way in a matter of hours to Portland, Oregon, for AWP. For those who don’t know it, AWP is the “Association of Writing Programs” (i.e. MFA programs) and their conference is a massive, massive writers conference of epic proportions.
I’ll be speaking on a Thursday afternoon panel on “Hybrid Sex Writing” with Erica Jong, Thad Rutkowski, Larissa Shmailo, and Jonathan Penton.
Here’s the official panel description:
1:30 pm to 2:45 pm
R223. Hybrid Sex Writing: What’s Your Position?
B116, Oregon Convention Center, Level 1
(Larissa Shmailo, Jonathan Penton, Thaddeus Rutkowski, Cecilia Tan, Erica Jong)
In The History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault argues that sex was not repressed in past centuries, but codified. How does contemporary hybrid sex writing crack these codes? Is there a relationship between gender politics and hybrid writing? How does hybrid writing give voice to marginalized gender identities? What is hybrid ecstasy? Is there a special connection between transgressive sex and hybrid writing? Panelists will discuss these questions with a focus on 21st-century writers.
Ooh! Come at me Foucault! I’ve prepared remarks that cover a lot of ground, including the sex-positive feminist and queer literary movement of the 1990s, how societal expectations control erotic literature counter to capitalist freedoms, and how the #MeToo movement and the runaway phenomenon of 50 Shades of Grey are linked.
I’m also keen to hear Erica Jong speak about censorship in the literary era before mine. This should be loads of fun.
Meanwhile, the conference has literally hundreds of panels and workshops. Many other ones on sexuality and erotic writing of course, including: “Reaching Climax: Girls with Sexual Agency (YA),” “Write to Climax: Women Writers on Writing Sex and Intimacy” and “Assimilate This!: Queer Literary Community as Sites of Mobilizing & Resistance.” Sassafras Lowrey is on that last one and I hope I catch it!
Plus a ton of science fiction and fantasy, of course! The conference is so large there are not one but two tribute panels on Ursula K. LeGuin. I started making a list of my sf/f peeps to try to catch at the conference and ended up giving up. The list is long:

  • Nisi Shawl
  • Alaya Dawn Johnson
  • G. Willow Wilson
  • Maryanne Mohanraj
  • Alexander Chee
  • Carmen Maria Machado
  • Daniel Jose Older
  • Kelly Link
  • Nalo Hopkinson
  • Maria Dahvana Headley
  • Rose Lemberg
  • Jonathan Lethem
  • Karen Joy Fowler
  • Rebecca Roanhorse
  • E. Lily Yu

A highly diverse assortment of writers, too, I can’t help but notice. This fuels my optimism.
Of course what I actually should make sure I spend some time doing–whether I do it in my hotel room or in tea shops and cafes–is some writing. My plan is to not overdo my conference participation and to get a few hours of writing in per day. We’ll see if I succeed. There are a lot of people I want to visit in Portland, too! And so many excellent restaurants!

Writing the Other: Conflict and Inclusion Panel Discussion Recap from #ICFA40

Writing the Other: Conflict and Inclusion
ICFA 40 Panel with JR Richard, Keffy Kehrli, Usman Malik, K. Tempest Bradford, Nisi Shawl

This panel did not have a description in the online schedule, but I marked it of obvious interest to me! What follows in this post is my attempt to capture what was said. I believe I caught about 60% of the remarks, so this is not all of it, and sometimes I may have mis-typed, mis-heard, or misunderstood what was said, so please do not take these as direct quotes. They may be paraphrased. Please check with the individuals here before you quote them based on this pseudo-transcript.
The panel began with the panelists introducing themselves:
Nisi Shawl: I am a writer and editor, and increasingly this year a teacher! And I coauthored a book called Writing the Other with Cynthia Ward. I teach classes on Writing the Other with this woman to my right…
K. Tempest Bradford: I am a sf/f author and I’ve been co-teaching for Writing the Other workshops, and I admin the classes we don’t teach ourselves. We’ve been doing this for 4-5 years and it’s my fault Nisi is teaching more classes!
Usman Malik: I am a writer of sf/f, subspecializing in horror.
Keffy Kehrli: I am a sf/f writer and I only have shorts stories out. And I edit Glittership, an LGBTQ magazine We dont restrict to LGBTQ authors, so I get a lot of people “writing the other.” I’m also getting PhD in genetics so if I space out I’m probably thining about genes.
JR Richard: I’m a sf/f writer and playwright and I teach creative writing, playwriting, design, and slam poetry to school age children.
Nisi: The first thing I wanted to ask the panel for are some examples of inclusion and conflict in writing the other.
JR: I think that for me, it’s about educating ourselves: as someone with privilege and someone not with privilege—I am female and queer and I go by she/they, but I’m white. And in a previous panel someone said writers go “oh, I have awoken! so now I have learned and it’s done!” And that’s not how it works…? You are always evolving and learning. I have learned what is my lane and what is not my lane. I have learned when people are faking it. I am also Jewish and just read a musical that was written by people who aren’t Jewish and they got what a mitzvah is wrong. Being wrong can be hard for those with privilege. Conflict is hard for people with privilege to accept. When they say “I don’t even see color, I don’t care if people are pink and blue…” they are skirting a conflict that makes them uncomfortable.
Nisi: But do you have some examples?
Keffy: Specific works to cite… I’m trying to think. I tend to forget things that really piss me off. So I have trouble citing examples. There are two things I see a lot when it comes to conflict and inclusion. If you’ve read a lot of sf/f—especially older stuff even beyond just Tolkien—a lot of the models you get for conflict in fantasy works tend be to problematic. They tend to include the other as the enemy. So if you base inclusion on how you read it as a kid, it may be problematic to start with. Tolkien is a great example of how not to do it. The second thing is if you have come up with a villain and you realize you have a very white, straight story, and now you decide oh, I’m going to make this character black, you will possibly run into a very serious stereotype without having realized it. If you put in a queer character without considering how the intersection of that identity with stereotypes you will run right into a problem with them. I see it in submissions where someone decided to make a character queer without seeing how it impacts the story.
Usman: My thought process over the last few years has been A) when I write a story I don’t write the other, I write ME. But you need people who have lived that role. If they write that story, they write about their own experience. That is your cement block for me. We need representation in every sector you can think of, every art. B) Great writers or anyone worth their salt are trying to be authentic. Authenticity is the heart of all good art. It doesn’t matter if you need to know intersectionalism — it’s great if you do, but you don’t need to know any of that if you are working with authenticity and honesty. I have a story set in inner Lahore, Pakistan. I have lived in Lahore, Pakistan, but not in inner Lahore where my parents had lived. So I went back home and visited people there and then I wrote that story. Those are my people and I still felt I had to go and study them. In the Internet, in what I call the Troll World, the ones who are complaining are inauthentic to what they are doing. They are bad writers. That’s how I think about it.
Tempest: There are a lot of conversations about authenticity but also Own Voices writing, people writing within their own identity category. They are from the identity and they are writing that identity. But there becomes a conflict in which their authenticity is challenged by people whose idea of that identity comes from inauthentic things! (laughter) Kate Elliot gave a really great lecture on this about a review of Ken Liu’s book Grace of Kings. This one reviewer was like “when I set out to read this, I thought I would find an authentic experience of Asian culture, like what I saw in a movie I saw one time.” (audience groans) They have this view of what is “authentic” which is often a stereotypical or really offensive view, and if you do anything else, the audience is very against it. This also causes a problem with people who are trying to write the other and have actually learned the lesson and are doing it well. Say they write outside of their racial cultural whatever, and it’s very nuanced and layered and great, and they send it to an agent or editor. They get told “but you’re white, so you can’t write about Native Americans or black characters” or whatever. Or the editor will say this is not realistic because the black people are not in a gang. The Native Americans are not alcoholics. You didn’t write those stereotypes, but because it’s not what they expect they think it’s wrong. So the conflict comes when what do you do when your editor tells you something like that? We tell them: don’t let them make you put racist nonsense into your book. You may need to call an expert in the subject who has some clout. This happens a lot.
Nisi: I think, Usman, you do write the other when you write someone from a different economic class. You also wrote about orphans. Those are not you. But I take your point about your representation of the other. Recent someone was telling me how “diverse” the cast was from Crazy Rich Asians and I was like: it’s not diverse at all!
Tempest: They’re all Asian! Using the word “diverse” to mean “not white” is every problematic.
Nisi: Who is writing what and who’s including whom—in their anthologies and their publishing stables—those are questions we’re asking.
Keffy: I can say for Glittership I try to be as inclusive as I can, but it’s always a caveat because you can’t be perfectly inclusive. Because there are a limited number of stories, but there are an unlimited number of intersections. Usman gave a perfect example. It’s OwnVoices because it’s Pakistani but it’s not OwnVoices because it’s not inner Lahore. I have one benefit over anthology editors in that Glittership is ongoing, whereas an anthology is out. If you fucked up and put no women in it you’re stuck with it. Inclusion is a process. I’m always trying to reach out to people I don’t have represented. Sometimes though they send me something that I just don’t like. I try to write the nicest rejection letter I can so that they’ll send me more. One of my problems is that some of the groups I don’t have enough fiction from is that I don’t have enough authors sending them to me. Part of it is that there’s a perspective that LGBTQ fiction is very white and that you can have all the types of queers as long as they’re white. I have to be very specific I want more writers of color.
Nisi: But can you clarify? The authors you reach out to are …?
Keffy: I don’t publish any fiction that isn’t queer. There are many authors who I would love to have, but they haven’t written anything fitting for my magazine. I will literally just email people and say “yo, send me stories.” It’s so easy for poeple to get into the idea that if they don’t see a story from people like them, then they think they shouldn’t send theirs either. Sometimes as an author you don’t want to try. No one wants to get the rejection that is like “well, but none of them are drug dealers.” That’s rejection and getting stabbed in the heart. It’s on ongoing process. I go through Fiyah Lit Mag and email all their contributors “Hey got ay queer stuff?”
Tempest: I really feel like in sf/f we have a giant problem where there are not enough editors who are not white cis men. This is especially a problem in anthologies. Most of the major year’s bests are compiled by white cisgender men. The exceptions are like Ellen Datlow, which is great, she’s there because of her seniority, but sometimes there’s not a lot of new people being brought into that. Every time I hear about a new years best it’s edited by John Q Whitefellow. When it comes to talking about stuff like World Fantasy and them not inviting and black people or women to be guests of honor for example. They just invite NK Jemisin and if she says no, they just go back to John Q Whiteguy. They say there aren’t enough others around. (They’re wrong.)
Nisi: When I edited an anthology, Nalo Hopkinson was asked to do it first. And she said no, you should ask Nisi instead. One thing we can do is keep pushing off the requests to someone else you know. I have edited three anthologies now and helped edit a few others. I make a spreadsheet and I track where are things coming from, what races are they, are they bi or queer or cis, et cetera. I don’t go for a quota but I am very conscious with trackable data about who I am getting.
Tempest: It’s good we have some editors who make an effort to understand things outside their understanding. I think Neil Clarke and John Joseph Adams do a good job with that. JJA does a good job because as the SERIES editor for a year’s best he brings in annual editors who are from more diverse points of view. He’s had Charles Yu and NK Jemisin. And then that influence rolls on.
Keffy: I do see a definite impact of my identity on my submissions. I see many more trans and nonbinary stories and authors than I did at Shimmer magazine. There I saw many women who were driven by the female editors there. As a transman I know that is impacting who feels comfortable submitting to me. But so is the fact I’m white. People want to hope they’re sending to a warm, welcoming place for them.
JR: The situation in my hometown in the theater community is very segregated. Nebraska has about a million people and it’s ridiculously segregated. There was busing when I was in school. I produced a show called Woman in Omaha. The show had women each given 5 minutes to do a thing under a pink tent. I told them I went to Omaha Central High School and I haven’t done anything at The Union, which is in the middle of the black area of town. Me and my husband were the only two white actors they had that season. I asked my friend Beau if she would co-produce with me. Most of the theaters in town will completely whitewash a cast. The white producers keep saying [non-white] people don’t show up to auditions. But it’s because they think they won’t be welcome in that space. Denise Chapman tells a story that a guy came in to audition with his dreads inside a hat like he was trying to hide it. She told him, look be yourself, and he just began to glow once he could be himself. I think A Woman in Omaha was really great and a moment of intersectionality. Anoterh example, we were doing Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin; it is all about being a black woman in musical theater. And in the Q & A after this white woman in the back stood up and said “well, but why aren’t all of you auditioning at the Playhouse?” It’s because the Playhouse’s idea of being inclusive or adding diversity is to do The Color Purple and Raisin in the Sun.
Nisi: Which is like 60 years old. Let’s talk about is conflict inherent in inclusion? Does inclusion automatically mean exclusion?
JR: I hope inclusion doesn’t mean exclusion! I think it means I can walk into a room with people of diferent faiths but all have a respect from what each of us are doing. Discomfort in inclusion, when you have grown up as white as the default in Omaha, Nebraska, it can be uncomfortable to step out of that and realize white is NOT the default and then be scared to mess up and not be inclusive. If you’re not uncomfortable in a situation either you are not pushing yourself enough or you are comfortable in your little box.
Keffy: I think conflict is inherent in inclusion but it’s also just as much in exclusion. Conflict that has been externalized I brought inside and you have to deal with it. I think that’s where a lot of the discomfort comes from. It’s not about whether black actors get in the door, it’s about whether they’re being treated correctly once they’re inside. That’s part of it. It’s a reframing of the conflict that already exists. I don’t think inclusion automatically means exclusion, but sometimes inclusion just moves the exclusion line elsewhere. Like with the expanding acronym of LGBTQ etc where do you cut off the letters? Who is left off when the bus leaves the stop? I try to be aware of that. Being a queer magazine there are people who don’t think they’re being excluded.
Usman: Exclusion versus inclusion — usually exclusion is a variant of colonization. If someone is doing that, the end result is always supremacy of some sort. Whether it happens by set mechanisms or systemic change, conflict is going to happen. The other thing is you know we were talking about editors and submission before. ICFA and the sf/f world is very different from the MFA world and the horror world. A horror antho came out by a well-known, big-time writer and I was reading the TOC. Out of 27 stories, one was by a woman. That editor is a friend of mine. I brought it up, and he came on my page and got mad. I don’t think people are deliberately being evil. But people are too arrogant to admit that things should change. There is a lack of humility on the people who are perpetuating the system. Even in the LGBTQ community there can be that arrogance. Another thing when you are a 16 or 20 year old brown kid sitting out there, they don’t know what we’re talking about. This is a very European and North-American centric discussion. We are already excluding 90 percent of the world.
Tempest: Then people who are rarely excluded claim that inclusion makes them excluded. Like if there is a “slot” for a woman in an anthology they feel that slot might have been taken away from them. I had a conversation with a co-worker that every country has one representative in the U.N. He felt America should have a bigger say. But why? Why should that bother him? I was like: what are you talking about. Of course it should be one each. But he was thinking America is the best, we deserve more etc because that’s what he’s been taught. So in his mind automatically America should get more seats in the UN. But in anthologies they’ll say yeah these are the “best” even if they haven’t made any effort to reach out to other cultural contexts. They’ll say “You can’t ‘exclude’ these (white authors) because that’s exclusion!” There’s a weird sense of fairness to these people. When I did the reading challenge. This one guy was like “oh you’re right I’ve only read one women in five years!” But when I suggested he read only women for a year he was like “But that wouldn’t be fair!” like that was going “too far.” As if one year versus five would swing the balance too far toward women even though he just admitted that only reading one woman in five years was too little.
Nisi: I was doing a reading at a place in New Orleans through a college there. We went to a home in a neighborhood. Outside black kids were playing with their bicycles and baseballs and the organizers told me I want those kids to come to this reading because I don’t want them to think this isn’t for them.
Keffy: Many things have been improved by the Internet. In the days of postal submissions I would not get stories from Nigeria. So there is more outreach than there was. But I run into the problem that there are countries where if an author sent me a story they could be putting their life in danger. The Brazilian elections recently, they elected an extremely anti-queer president. He’s Super-Trump. But right after that, I went through my submissions and I had submissions from Brazil. There are people who are going that far to get their message out. Most of the people of color who send me things are part of a diaspora in some way, and rarely from the indigenous countries. It’s hard to reach out.
Usman: I think the organizations are very smug. SFWA and the others, they feel they are doing a lot of outreach. They don’t get a lot of funding. Arts have lost their funding. But we have Codex and SFWA and ICFA, but how connected are we with the rest of the world? When is World Fantasy going to be “World” Fantasy? It’s taken ten years for the most briliant writer in India to get a reprint into Nightmare magazine. The way we know about Vandana Singh and Maryanne Mohanraj is because we’ve MET them. They’ve been at the cons. What about all the out of the country writers?
Nisi: Yeah. A lot of the people I know are from Clarion West.
Tempest: But that’s where the whole rolling down the hill thing happens. You open the door a little wider each time. But for people outside the US it’s a different trajectory. The staff on the Writing Excuses cruise give a scholarship for writers of color. It’s a networking opportunity. We have all these people now in our network. Con or Bust is another organization that was started because of POC being economically disadvantaged.
Nisi: I tried to talk about this in an essay I wrote called “Unqualified.” One way you are made to feel unwelcome is by a high economic bar. Lowering that bar proves you are welcome. One who is really reaching out is Neil Clarke who is reaching out to people of different nations. About the cascading effect of when you open opportunities to clueful allies, if you open up to people of color, then again we can further that. Alex Jennings, Ghita, all of these are people stamped with the approval of science fiction credibility, and they can now open the road further for other people.
JR: I also want to talk about elitism here in the US that I see a lot of with my students. I run a playwriting workshop in a special ed program. Often they have never had a creative writing class of any kind, ever. I also work in low income public schools. A lot of the time there are refugees or kids in low income families and there is such a gatekeeping. You have to have a cover page. You have to use Times new roman font. Etc. Stories are rejected for these gatekeeping reasons. I have one refugee kid from out of the country and he had written a beautiful story. He had written it on his phone. We had to figure out how to get it off his phone. We had to figure out how to get it out of there and reformat it and all these things (and then it wasn’t even accepted). I went to an MFA program but not everyone can do that.
Nisi: Not everyone can take 6 weeks out of their lives for Clarion even if they get a scholarship.
Keffy: There are such problems with so-called standard manuscript format. I don’t really care. I get things in all kinds of fonts. It’s in Word. I just change it. There is no standard anymore. With postal submissions there was a high barrier to entry. But do any two magazines have the same format now? I had to copy my whole story into a notepad file to submit it in plain text into on magazine’s submission form… I decided never to do it again. Some of it is just… ugh. The thing is, I didn’t know anything about any of this until I started going to conventions. I would go to panels of editors, some of whom will remain nameless, but they would go on these tears about the (sarcasm) horrible things writers did like using the wrong font and how can anyone take that writer seriously? I have anxiety disorder so I was so worried I didn’t get absolutely everything right. I was afraid I didn’t speak the right lingo. So I am trying to make my submission handle-able for me and my co-editor. We have a submission form to make it doable for us, but it’s important when you are curating anything which things are really barriers to entry.
Tempest: What information someone has access to so often gets brushes aside. Someone types something into the Internet and they don’t know where they land has the wrong information. There are a lot of scammers out there. The people who get taken advantage of is because they accidentally landed in the wrong place. They weren’t dumb or not savvy. The only reason I know anything is I once opened the right promotional email and ended up here instead of the wrong place. and it must be even easier to land in the wrong place if you’re not from North America.
Keffy: Like JR said, there are a huge amount of places where they don’t have computers but they all have mobile phones. There are kids right now writing full novels in the back of the English class on their phone.
JR: There was a teacher at our school who was holding back giving notebooks to the kids because they had to “earn” them. Me and my boss were so mad at that. They are only reading white men from the 1930s and so if we go into the class and we say we’re going to write poetry they go “yuck! ugh!” because they think of writing as something that is for “him” and not for themselves. And I say no, we’re going to write what YOU want to write.
Nisi: OK, let’s open it to questions since we’ve got 45 minutes left. Oh no wait, only 15 minutes left! Where did the time go!
Tempest: We got talking.
(Then came questions from the audience but my fingers are cramping so I’m going to stop typing.)

G. Willow Wilson guest of honor remarks at #ICFA40

I’m in Orlando for the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA, pronounced “ick-fah”) where today the guest of honor, G. Willow Wilson, gave a terrific keynote speech at the luncheon in which she talked about how it is that some writers (particularly marginalized writers) get labeled “political” while others (of the most privileged groups) do not.
Some of you who read my blog might remember me getting into a Twitter storm in 2016 at a romance convention when I tweeted that a white, heterosexual, married writer had advised new writers “don’t be political on social media. Be Switzerland. Be neutral and don’t take sides.” My comment to that (on social media) was that only someone who is a member of the privileged class has the privilege to “decide” whether to be political. The rest of us don’t get to “choose” whether to be political or not because merely by existing we are perceived to be making a political statement.
G. Willow Wilson’s speech went right to the heart of that issue. What follows is a pseudo-transcript of about 60% of her remarks. I have recreated this from my notes, so please do not ascribe any direct quotations to her without checking with her first. Any errors are my own and I wouldn’t be surprised if I didn’t make a few while transcribing. (One little typo can change a “now” to a “not” and reverse the meaning of a sentence, entirely!)
I do these transcript-type blogs for my own record of things I find really noteworthy to talk about and to give folks who couldn’t attend the conference a taste of what was said. I stress again it’s only a fraction of what was actually said.
It begins with an introduction of the speaker by David Higgins, the vice president of the IAFA (hosts of ICFA) and then G. Willow Wilson’s remarks.
G. Willow Wilson GoH Speech March 14 2019 ICFA 40
Introduction by IAFA vice president David Higgins: You may have heard the Captain Marvel film just had a spectacular opening weekend, as the first female solo superhero film in the Marvel franchises, which has put to shame the [former Marvel CEO] Isaac Perlmutter’s wikileaked memos delineating his/the company’s anti-woman bias. I like to think that no one would be more excited by the success of Captain Marvel than Kamala Khan, the creation of our of our guest of honor, G. Willow Wilson.
Kamala is such a Captain Marvel fan, she writes fanfic about it, and [when she is imbued with superpowers] takes on the mantle of Ms Marvel. Although I myself have not written G Willow Wilson fanfic (audience laughter), I did help create the cover of this ICFA program. [Which depicts G. Willow Wilson and Mark Bould in comic book fashion fighting against unseen enemies.] Please let me let out my inner fangirl and gush about how much I love Ms. Marvel.
Let me also talk about the post-911 diversity efforts by DC to internationalize the Green Lantern corps. In the creation of Simon Baz there are elements combatting some problematic stereotypes while doubling down on others. Ms. Marvel, by contrast, is a great pleasure, and I teach Ms. Marvel in my class. Kamala doesn’t fit any of the easy labels that my students have been taught previously. Although they want to refer to her as Arab American but that’s not exactly true, she’s a second generation Pakistani American. My students arrive at [a really long string of words: second-generation Pakistani American millennial from Jersey City].
Part of the brilliance of Wilson’s writing is that Kamala’s identity isn’t oversubscribed to any one of those adjectives that describe her. Kamala comes to life and isn’t just a representative of a social category. Like her, Islam isn’t just one easy-to-understand thing. The fact that Kamala is a millennial is also important. Furthermore Kamala is loving, quirky, and inspiring. Wilson exhibits the same humor and sophistication in her other work. Cairo was recognized as a top pick by Library Journal, etc. [Long list of G. Willow Wilson’s accolades, and a detailed description of the novel Alef the Unseen.] Having finished a five-year run on Ms. Marvel, she has now started writing Wonder Woman for DC. And just days ago, The Bird King was released, a novel that tells the story of the last Emirate of Muslim Spain.

G. Willow Wilson: Wow, I’m apparently very busy! (Laughter) In my job, since I’m on these very specific comic book deadlines, you have to hit them month after month, but it’s easy to lose the forest for the trees. I have to move on to the next and the next. You don’t get to sit back and think, wow, I did such a lot of stuff. But hearing that list makes me think, wow, no wonder I’m so tired! (laughter)
Thank you for having me here. I can already see why so many of you love this convention so much. It combines the best of fan run cons like Westercon and an academically rigorous exchange of ideas. This has already begun to seed ideas into my brain. I wanted to talk a little bit about the theme of the conference this year: Politics and Conflict. I wanted to say something about the trends I see as a writer today in both books without pictures as well as comics.
When I saw the theme, I thought it could not be more timely than to talk about politics and conflict in genre. The roles that politics play in the genres we typically consider escapism, these are at the forefront of what we struggle with at the far end of the political spectrum. Not everybody who writes about politics is considered a “political” voice, while others are automatically considered political. It’s played out in interesting ways in my own career and life. Who is labeled “political?” To talk a bit more about that I’m going to tell you an origin story.
Once upon a time in 2009, I got the most extraordinary piece of hate mail. Every line was a different color. One was red, one was blue, the next one orange… Someone put a lot of work into this it, like a work of art! It was the old Internet so someone put a lot of work into a lot of highlighting to make it like that. This anti-fan or non-fan accused me of being part of the, now let’s see if I can remember all the parts: “socialist Islamist homosexual attack on America.” And as I read it back in 2009, I thought to myself wow, that is not a real thing. (laughter) But it sounds fabulous! (cheers)
This was before I took my email private so I used to get this kind of thing, but never one with such a load of hyperbole and such a work of art! But what was interesting to me was that I got this letter because I was doing a guest writer stint for J. Michael Straczynski on Superman. He was having some health problems and had to take a couple of months off, and I was going to tread water for three issues until he got back. Anyone knows that when there’s a big-name writer on the book who takes a break, the idea is you don’t change anything. You put everything back where it was when you started, and wait for the big-name writer to come back. I was told to “use Superman as little as possible.” I was happy to just have my name on the book and these filler issues were about Lois Lane reconsidering her life and going to her old stomping grounds. The artist they gave me came over from erotica and only knew how to draw women in 3/4 profile with this [stunned] expression her face. So maybe it’s not a surprise they weren’t very well received. But by writing these very mild, banal, filler issues of Superman I was labeled political. This occurred to me was something that was going to follow me. No matter how ridiculous and banal what I wrote was, I would be labeled political.
It was interesting to me to note that some people who wrote political stuff, on the other hand, were NOT labeled political. Some of you may know Fables by Bill Willingham, which is a large ongoing poignant exploration of fairy tales and fairy tale tropes. He was really the first to do that, widely imitated later; he created a genre-defining work. But he wore his Republican credentials on his sleeve. He is a friend and mentor. He was very generous with his time and insight, and when he was the toast of the comic book industry he would throw these infamous parties at Comcion. But he really wore his conservative politics on his sleeve. His beliefs come up not infrequently in Fables. I’ll read you this little bit:
The main character is talking to Gepetto, and there’s big conflict coming between fairy tale creatures. The main character says to Gepetto have you ever heard of Israel? Gepetto [asks him about it]. The character answers: Israel is a small country that is surrounded by countries who want to destroy them. They have a lot of grit and iron and I admire them. [Description goes on for a while.]
It really struck me that if I had said anything similar in my own work, praising real world events or countries, and putting them into the mouths of characters who were owned by a giant media corporation, I would have lost my job. But when I just tread water and write banal Lois Lane stories, here I get these hate letters. Bill Willingham could do this and face no reprisals. And all I had to do was exist and still face reprisals.
Why does that difference exist? When we’re talking about comics and graphic novels, these are a unique medium because they are visual. Those of use who are born with sight, we learn to interpret images automatically. But writing and drawing comics we learn to interpret things in a special way. You learn things as a comic book writer like if you want a cliffhanger it has to go on an odd numbered page, so it was be on a page turn rather than a spread which would be a spoiler. How do different readers interpret different gestures? It becomes political in a way other media do not because it goes straight into our brain that doesn’t differentiate truth from fiction. We believe what we see. And we begin interpreting what we see from the moment we see it whether we realize it or not.
And then when you are writing superheroes in particular you are using characters people grew up with. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the great irony is that superheroes are meant to reflect the zeitgeist, what’s going on right now. But people get very attached to the version of the character they grew up with. So when you reboot Spiderman and make him a black kid from New York or Batwoman a lesbian, and you do it just so you can tell a new story, something fresh and current, you get labeled political. That gets labeled a political and not artistic choice. Who owns those images? Corporations or writers or the fans? Who owns the characters, who owns the discourses around them? What do we do when there’s disagreement?
SF/F welcomes the reader to interpret the work because it is so symbolic. It invites us to put ourselves in the work and imagine things wildly beyond the bounds of our daily lives. There is conflict built into these genres that invite interpretation; interpretation invites dispute and discussion. It’s not always easy to know why we label certain things certain ways and not others. It’s been interesting to see this play out as I write Kamala Khan. My run on Ms. Marvel is done and I am now handing it off to Saladin Ahmed. The label of innate politicalness–here I am inventing words–is something that is kind of a spectre that has been hanging over this since the beginning.
I was talking with a mentor of mine and the editor on Ms. Marvel [Sana Amant] about how to navigate that political descriptor. I knew we were going to carry certain labels. A lapsed Catholic from Milwaukee with a typical American backstory wouldn’t get the same labeling. [Making Kamala Khan who she was] shaped the series by forcing us to put care and attention into every aspect of the series that we wouldn’t have examined otherwise.
We set our expectations quite low. We said let’s shoot for 10 issues and it will be really cool, and then we’ll probably go right back to what we were doing before. We didn’t know she’d have a shelf life. Kamala had the “trifecta of death”: new characters don’t sell, female characters don’t sell, minority characters don’t sell. The retrospective is that of course these various other projects failed for various reasons. But we had to create something that had joy and beauty in it and didn’t reflect the terror we were going through in the production of the series. Our editor Steven Wacker who championed us, our colorist, etc. the whole team. We worked more closely with the artistic team than any before or since because we knew there was zero room for error. When you have a character who doesn’t fit in a box, there is a burden of representation that unfairly falls under scrutiny. So everyone has to bring their A game at all times. Then we got to 10 issues, and then to 20, and then 30 and then 50, and then the trade paperback hit the New York Times bestseller list, and then the second one did. And we realized that we had pulled together a team that overcame the low expectations. Kamala survived and will outlive all of us.
[This success] can open the door for more. We have been living in a bottleneck for talent. When we didn’t consider representation [and only wrote/published for the dominant group/dominant paradigm] several generations of talent built up behind that bottleneck. That talent might have been lost if it weren’t opened at this extraordinary moment in history.
I’d like to close by saying nothing is impossible. If there is anyone who knows that for sure, it’s the people in this room. Thank you.

Silk Threads! Erotic novellas of passionate Japan – last day on Kickstarter!

Folks, it’s the last day of the SILK THREADS Kickstarter and it’s been such a whirlwind that I am only getting around to making this post now. The first draft I made was on the first day, but things have been changing so fast and growing so quickly, every time I came here to edit it, it was already out of date!
SILK THREADS is a book of three erotic, romantic novellas, all set in Japan, and written by me, Laura Antoniou, and Midori. Laura wrote a section in a samurai-era past, Midori wrote a paranormal present, and I wrote a cyberpunk future, all tied together with a magical silk element that runs through all the stories LIKE A COMMON THREAD ha ha ha (now you know what we called it “silk threads”). Each novella is a romance between a different couple, and there’s rope bondage and shape-shifting tengu and lots of passionate sex and women seizing their sexual agency and pleasure. Because that’s what we do!
We launched the campaign on Friday, October 12th, and it funded ($7,600) before 24 hours had gone by, and within 5 days had surpassed all our stretch goals ($15,000). So we made new ones. If we reached $25,000, we’d add 9 pieces of interior art and also send a set of custom chopsticks to every backer. We hit $25,000 on November 7 and the number has just continued to climb. We passed 500 backers yesterday and topped $30,000.
So now’s your chance to jump in, too! Want to know more? Watch our quick and entertaining video:

Why are you self-publishing this?

Now, some backstory. We didn’t intend to self-publish this at all. The idea first came up in 2010. We were at a BDSM convention hanging out together and I brought up the idea that my literary agent had told me that Harlequin was looking for anthologies of erotic novellas for the Spice imprint. Three novellas by three authors was very hot at the time. “Diversity” was also getting sought, so non-Western settings, non-white characters. Excellent! And it was when ebook erotica in particular was starting to explode with BDSM and kink topics. My agent’s words were “I think the world is ready for something like this.”
Well, here we are EIGHT YEARS LATER, and you know the world has changed drastically in that period of time. In 2010 can you remember 50 Shades of Grey had not yet sold 150 million copies in the English language? And Obama was still in his first term as president? Since that time the Spice line of Harlequin has been dissolved and Harlequin itself has been bought by HarperCollins. The manuscript made the rounds of every publisher. Some wanted the diversity but not the bondage, some wanted the bondage but didn’t like the paranormal fantasy aspects, etc. etc. Nobody wanted the whole package and in the end it came back to us with nothing but low-ball “we could take a chance on this for no advance” or such a low advance that we may as well publish it ourselves. One publisher offered $2,000 to be split among us. That would be $666 each! You can see why we opted for Kickstarter with offers like that!
And readers have come through in droves. Over 500 backers have pledged over $30,000. Half of that money will end up going to fulfillment costs of the rewards, printing, shipping, and the processing fees, but the other half we’ll keep. And it will be reader support that made the eight years of effort all worthwhile.
In thanks, every backer is receiving a pair of custom-printed chopsticks, a red silk bracelet, and a postcard set of the art.
If you want to see a bunch of the gorgeous art we’ve already received to put in the book, lots has been posted as Updates to the Kickstarter campaign, as well as on our social media like Midori’s instagram, my instagram, Laura’s Facebook, and more.

Sketches by Leen Isabel, Michael Manning, and Autumn Sacura in progress.

The campaign closes at 9pm eastern time on Tuesday, November 13th (which is later today, I’m posting this at 4 in the morning…). So jump in now if you’re going to! And thank you to everyone who has supported so far! Please keep sharing the campaign link:

* https://kck.st/2RPdiQa *