Monday, August 18, 2014

5 Things GenCon taught me about Writing

A friend of mine was kind enough to give me her ticket to GenCon Indy 2014, "the best four days in gaming," which I'd say earns it.  While I was there, I was reminded of what should be obvious, that these Sourcebooks have a unique publishing industry all their own, that the same writing skills you might need for that epic fantasy novel can apply just as well to the 3rd Edition of Mutants and Masterminds. I think it's a downfall of our creative writing education system that such opportunities never even get mentioned.  I only got a tiny glimpse into this world, and wish I'd had time for more.  I thought I'd share a few things I learned.

Some of what I learned was basic writerly things.  Don't overuse words2 or punctuation marks, and think about how they look when on the page.  Read your work aloud, especially if it's going to be read aloud in game.  And of course, get everything in on time.  Publishing
Pictured: Average Paizo, Inc. Freelancer
always has a lot of moving parts, a lot of people waiting on the one before them in the assembly line.  Getting your work to someone sooner makes it more likely they'll still be waiting next time.  After all, 

2. Publishing is a Relationship
An important part of a relationship is of course, communication.  It's important to be honest with your ability.  If you can't pump out 20,000 words in two weeks, your editors should know, rather than wait on you and shatter a schedule.3 Many writers will be afraid that by asking questions, seeking clarification or further instruction, they might be annoying, but, at least in Paizo, Inc.'s case, questions are good.  Far better to ask "How do people in the River Kingdoms feel about Cheliax?" early on than to structure a subplot around an incorrect assumption, and take advantage of the

3. "Distributed Memory"
At one of the panels James Sutter talked about how he's been spoiled working with the shared universe of Golarion.  With so many people building the world together, he doesn't have to keep track of all of it, he just has to keep track of who is best to ask about, say, Ustalav.4 This idea of "Distributed Memory," and the way fans will make wiki entries for everything, creates a safe, comfortable world to work in, but the gaps in the built world are all fertile, open territory.  However, the downside of "Distributed Memory" is that an editor might blindly trust that the writer did the fact-checking.  So,

4. Don't try to sneak anything past your editor.
If you want to write an epic chase across Molthune,5 but don't feel like bothering with the river?  Sure, you might be able to not mention it. Sure, maybe your editor won't notice, and it'll all get through.  But the fans will notice.  Fans can smell continuity errors like sharks can smell blood in the water, and that can ruin a writer.  It's the downside to "Distributed Memory."  If you forget something important, everyone will remember this horrible breach of trust.  Because, after all, 

5. Writing for Games is about Love and Trust
When I reviewed Adventures in Time and Space, I didn't talk nearly enough about how flawless the adventure paths that come with it are.  Because, well, they're flawless.  They're fun to read and fun to run. Full of personality and perfectly capturing the spirit6 of Doctor Who, they're probably some of the best adventure paths I've ever encountered.  I said as much to a man selling the books only to realize I was talking to Andrew Peregrine himself.7  It hit me that writing for games requires a full awareness of the way storytelling requires both writer and reader to create a world between them.  To write for an established universe, like Goalrion, the Whoniverse, etc, it's an invitation to the readers more than most books are, to enter a world of wonder and merriment.  It's a sacred duty, bound by trust and respect, to be the one to create these portals.  Which is a heavy task.

Many thanks to Christopher Carey, Judy Bauer, Ryan Macklin, Chris Jackson, Gabrielle Harbowy, Howard Andrew Jones and James Sutter for their excellent and informative panels. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Black Dragon of England, Red Dragon of Scandinavia

I've seen posts arguing that because Westeros isn't real, there's no need for it to conform to historical arrangements of race (or gender, sex, etc.), that because it's a fantasy there's no reason it couldn't have "Women and PoC equal to white men and stuff?" But here's the thing.  Many of these articles ignore the fact that we already have a universe where a Medieval European Inspired Epic can have racial diversity: Our own.

For whatever reason1 we like to envision Medieval Europe as an entirely White-Skinned Continent.  Our virtual pastCloud Atlas Quote portrays the whiteness of Europe, despite actual past being somewhat more complicated.  What I'm presenting here are a few reasons why it really is perfectly okay to have people of color in your Medieval Fantasy Epic.

1. Romans
Did you know the columns weren't white either?
At its height the Roman Empire covered over a million miles of conquered territory, many of whom would join2 the Roman Army in order to become proper roman citizens for all of the benefits that entailed.3  However, rebellions happen, and the last thing an Empire wants is to train soldiers only for them to rebel.  The solution?  Train soldiers and ship them off to the other end of the world.  A Romanized Citizen from Memphis might be tempted to fight for their people, but would be less excited about joining the rebels in Londinium.4

This means you're going to have people from Cypress shuttled up to southern Brittany and people from Assyria moved to the German lowlands.  Assuming my Londinium example, odds are Africans ad Middle Easterns were setting down roots in England before the Anglo-Saxons did.

There wouldn't necessarily be more than a couple dozen or a perhaps a hundred5 Romans of Color in the British Isles who would be phased out over the generations, but your big historical romance about the Celtic Woman and her Roman Lover torn apart by the war has no reason it couldn't be about a black couple.

2. Arabs
In all fairness, the Arabic world were pretty racist to Europe.
Another part of the "History no one talks about" is that while Europe turned into Chicago, the Middle-East and Asia carried on just fine without us, making great strides in culture, mathematics and technology, and anthropology too.  A number of accounts we have of Europe include Muslims travelling north to meet the Barbarians.  Ahmad ibn Fadlan6 and Ahmad ibn Rustah have told us just as much about the Vikings as the Vikings themselves did7.

While there weren't an excess of Arabs settling in what was basically a sprawling, continent-sized version of Detroit, it isn't at all strange to see an Arabic man wandering around with some Celts, especially in the 10th century when Europe was the place to be.  Of course, the Crusades also led to racial diversity, but people keep telling stories about the Crusades making crusaders into good people and it'd be great to scrap that genre altogether.

3. The Vikings
This is where it gets a little ridiculous.  We love the idea of the Big Blond Northman.  Sexy fair skinned people are a prominent Swedish Export.8 But it needn't be so.  There was a big stink when Heimdall was played by black actor Idris Elba, because as we know the Norse Gods can't be people of color, the Vikings hadn't heard of black people!  But the idea of a multi-racial Asgard isn't really that ridiculous.

"The Vikings were equal-opportunity invaders! We oppressed everyone!"
The Nordic Cosmology details a merger between two tribes, the Aesir and the Vanir.  Some historians have speculated a cultural merging between native Scandinavians and an Eastern Indo-European Pantheon, a racial diversity forgotten by gene pool but preserved in lore.

But you're not here for mythology, you're here for the raiders.  Vikings raiders saw the Capsian Sea, the Byzantine Empire and Newfoundland in their search for cattle, jewelry, gold, slaves, and women.  In the 9th to 11th century they established presence in four continents.  The reason Scandinavians are so attractive9 is because the most beautiful and strong people were the ones taken as slaves or concubines.  This means mongols, africans and arabs were all up for grabs, exoticism in a slave being an easy way to identify them as "The Other."  However, as slaves in Scandinavia could earn, buy, or be given their freedom over time or generations, you would likely see a number of free people of color tending farms or minding cattle on the slopes of the fjords.  So when you're getting around to adapting Hrólfs saga Gautrekssonar, would it really be so bad if Þornbjörg were played by Zoe Saldana?

I know it turned into #AbuserDynamics
by the later seasons, but Merlin was at
least pretty colorblind in its casting.
There are other examples of a racial diverse Medieval Europe, including a black woman buried with honors in Rome, an African Slave who became a Russian General, a Tunisian man buried in a 13th century priory, and this fascinating DNA study showing Indigenous American ancestry within viking populations.  And these are only the ones we know about.  While non-white folks may have faced some scrutiny for being outlanders10 and difficulty due to often starting at the bottom of the social ladder as slaves, racism wasn't as deeply ingrained as we like to imagine and a person could still be seen as an equal.

Am I saying you have to include people of color in your Historical Romance/Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Dystopia? Not necessarily.  There are times and places of racial homogeneity, and there were probably few places after the fall of Rome that were likely to have no more than a few token people of color.  A realistic Medieval Europe would probably not look like a 90's kid's show.  But the idea that you must not include people of color in your European Fantasy Epic is ludicrous, and romanticizes a period of history as a Whites Only zone, and allows us to perpetuate that never-extant norm into other fictions as well.  When we Europeans stop telling our own story as one devoid of racial diversity, maybe we'll stop thinking its acceptable to tell other stories in the same way.

Pictured: Not actually a thing.

Like, tell me you wouldn't watch "The Magic School Bus Raids Northumbria"

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Salsa Nocturna by Daniel José Older - Review

I think it’s fair to say that Daniel José Older was the Protagonist of Midwest Writers Workshop 2014. A lot1 of people responded positively to his presentations on the issues of Writing About the Other, especially in terms of his genre, Urban Fantasy.  His critiques of the genre and its relation to power are sharp, poignant and precise.

What?  You try to find a picture of a
Ghost of Color.  Source.
He asks why Gentrification isn't a bigger issue within the Urban Fantasy Genre, given that it's an actual urban issue, which is why it's a major theme in Salsa Nocturna.  It's marketed as an anthology of ghost stories, and the full title seems to be "Salsa Nocturna Stories" based off of the cover, but honestly it reads less like an anthology and more like a novel with an eclectic approach to narrators, a la Six-Gun Tarot.  I think this may have been a marketing fail, as Short Story collections don't sell nearly as well as Urban Fantasy.  Then again, Older has seen success with Long Hidden.2

Salsa Nocturna has two primary protagonists, Carlos, a withdrawn half-dead ghosthunter and Gordo, a laid-back old Cubano who writes music with the dead.  Their narratives slowly start to intertwine as they and the other characters deal with paranormal trouble in the streets of New York.  The cast is diverse, colourful, heartfelt and often hilarious.

I can't say enough about how much I enjoyed reading this book, how thoroughly attached I was to all the characters or their struggles, or how satisfying it was seeing a lot of characters of color managing to one-up their predominantly white bosses or antagonists.  That old idea3 that race and class power dynamics persist even into the afterlife says a lot about how pervasive these imbalances are in our world.

Which brings me to the thing about Salsa Nocturna that I want to talk about.

The Publisher's Weekly quote can be read two ways, given the dualistic nature of the word "Original." On the one hand, it means that this work is unlike others.  Ghost mammoths, burgundy hurricanes, shape-shifting slave sorcerers, this book is very new.  But Older's origins, as a musician, a paramedic, and a man of color are ever present in the narrative.  It is original in that it has clear origins. This history saturates the narrative, makes these stories about the dead come alive.  Salsa Nocturna isn't afraid of its blatant racial commentary,4 which is why it's very important.

Because here's the skinny: the publishing industry is full of a lot of deeply ingrained racism.5  Writers of color, trying to tell stories about people of color, have a harder time getting published, and when they do they're shelved in their own sections (African-American Lit as opposed to Sci-Fi).
Dealing with this massive problem that haunts the publishing industry is the reason #WeNeedDiverseBooks exists.  People reading, and publicaly talking about, books like Salsa Nocturna will help counter the ridiculous notion that "White people can't connect to the stories of People of Colour."  So when I say "Everyone, go read Salsa Nocturna", this time I'm not just recommending it as a moving, action-packed urban fantasy novel, I'm recommending it as an actual political act.

"Do not, under any circumstances, hurt the ghost pachyderm."

Oh, and watch out for Half-Resurection Blues when it comes out.

Look at that cover.

This cover is gorgeous.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith - Review

Saint Kazimirez shows up a lot.
Trust me, you’ll want to have read this book. Get hyped. It’s winning awards and taking names. Sony is all over the movie rights. And deservedly so.

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith1 is an incredible book. What’s it about?2
Short version: Teen deals with being bi while giant praying mantises attack.
Long Version: Austin Szerba is in love with his girlfriend and his best friend, and narrates his struggle as it intermingles with the lives of the people of3
Ealing, Iowa, as a plague of giant praying mantises emerge from the townsfolk. Along the way, he explores the nature of art, history, truth, and sexuality.

Grasshopper Jungle shouldn’t be thought of as a book though. Think of it as a very, very long symphony. It uses repeating phrases like musical motifs, creating a musical flow to frame the increasingly complex story.
  • It was not a good idea.
  • No one knew anything about it.  
  • And that was our day.
  • A real dynamo.
  • Bugs only like to do two things.
  • You know what I mean.
  • “Um.”

But there are more complicated ideas that repeat as well. For instance, Austin’s mother takes a lot of Xanax, which look like “little blue Kayaks.” The payoff? A chapter later we get the following:
I’d never seen my mother run one time in my life. Who wants to run when you can kayak everywhere?
Austin will continue to speak of drugs as Kayaks for the remainder of the novel. Simmiliarly, he regards his writing as “Recording history” and parallels himself to the cave painters of Lascaux and Altmaria, saying that neither tells the whole story, but merely shows the important parts, and lets you work the rest out.
We killed a big hairy thing. And that was our day. You know what I mean.
It’s a beautiful device, as it allows the narrator to be 1st Person Omnicient, a rare perspective and a bit challenging, especially for YA. It’s full of all these big grand ideas explored through how they relate to the protagonist, how precisely Austin is juxtaposed against the Vice President’s testicles. This perspective is a tad self-centered, but it fits the protagonist perfectly. Sometimes teenagers are self-centered, especially when they’re trying to figure themselves out.

Grasshopper Jungle gets being a teenager. For a while a problem I had with the book was that it was overly focused on the love triangle as Austin struggles to choose between Robby and Shann. The protagonists didn’t realize there was a plague of praying mantises attacking until 3/5ths of the way through the narrative because they were too wrapped up in their worries about love and sex.5

No quote.  Just enjoy the gif.  It's adorable. 
Then I realized, that’s a flawless metaphor for teenagehood.

Now, I know not all teens categorize things into “makes me horny” and “does not make me horny” 6 but it has a ring of truth to it. Whenever the narrator responds to a stimulus with “[this thing] made me horny” or “I was thinking about having a threesome with my best friends in [this new, probably dangerous place]” I was nodding along going “Yep. Been there, done that.” It’s a realistic portrayal of a teenage mindset.

The characters are realistic teens too. Robby Brees, acquiring a nosebleed from being punched in the face by bullies, tries to write “Grant Wallace Murdered Me” in his own blood. Spiteful, but believable. And hilarious.7  Meanwhile, Shann spends most of her time investigating the mysterious past of her house and how it connects to the mysterious things in her stepfather’s office.8

The narrator’s struggle to work out what he is and how to define himself is heartfelt, and does a good job of mirroring the sort of struggles I feel like a lot of queer teens go through. Austin more or less knows that he’s in love with a guy and a girl for the whole novel, but his coming to terms with it takes him a long, long time, and the word “Bisexual” is conspicuously absent from the narrative right up until right before the climactic battles with the giant praying mantises. He points out how hard it is to work it out, again bringing back the Altmaria paintings:
We made this stupid rule and this stupid rule.

Boys are not allowed to love each other.

Then we painted bison on the wall.
I will say this, towards the end of the novel the increasingly wide scope slows down what could have been a tighter, more action-packed narrative. But it’s a minor complaint about an otherwise stellar novel. I could rave for ages about it, but instead of that, why not go pick up a copy and save us both time?

"Bad Buisness Plan," Robby said.
"Fixing people's feet in a town everyone's 
desperate to run away from."

Friday, May 30, 2014

What to learn about Exposition from Skin Game: A Novel of the Dresden Files

Preface: I’m not gonna say much about the quality of Skin Game: A Novel of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. Of course it was phenomenal. Butcher always brings the goods. If you like Urban Fantasy, you need The Dresden Files. But given that the book came out 3 days ago and there are already over 200 reviews, once again I’m not needed to help sell this one either.1  So instead, I’ll use it as an example of how to do exposition right. 

Warning: From here it’s spoilers all the way down.

Butcher is a master of exposition. We’re fifteen novels into this series and his fantasy ‘verse is VAST.2  Butcher views world mythology like a giant treasure vault that he’s got the keys to, so pretty much anything can show up. 3 As this book brought back a lot of old characters for a big multiplayer heist narrative (They knock over the Vault of Hades. It takes like three days because Harry’s a badass.) Butcher was free to bring a lot of past stuff in.

One thing he brought in was The Genowska, one of the Forest People. Now, I’m an avid reader, but I didn’t remember them at all. I was wondering if I’d missed a book, and it turns out I had. The Forest People were introduced in a short story published in an obscure anthology I haven’t read.4 However, because Butcher is a master of exposition, he managed it subtly.

(Presumably the Zombie T-Rex has it?)
We’re introduced to The Genowska subtly. In the abandoned slaughterhouse being used as a base there’s a pen containing eleven goats.
Then ten.
Then eight.

Something’s eating them, one at each meal. We get about 170 pages to worry about what terrible, invisible monster Dresden’s employer is feeding. Dresden, being tactful as a jar of live bees, gets tired of being in the dark.

“Whatever big, ugly, stinking, stupid thing you've got hanging around in here with us probably doesn't deserve to be in this company. Given our goal, I don’t see the point in taking along a mindless mound of muscle.”

But then the Genowska removes its veil. We get a good paragraph of description of a big, hulking thing, like the side of a mountain, growling at Dresden’s rudeness. But it’s not the size, or the growl, or the eyes “glinting like an assassin’s knives from a cave’s mouth.” It’s that Dresden stops being a wiseass.

“An ogre?” Ascher asked. 
“Not an ogre,” I replied immediately.5 “He’s one of the Forest People.”

Dresden then launches into a description of a Forest Person tearing through “about twenty ghouls in a fair fight.” However, note the technique: Butcher doesn’t just tell us that the thing mighty, but gives us an example of exactly how mighty. We’ve seen Dresden struggle with just three ghouls a few chapters back, so this is an impressive juxtaposition.

To reinforce that he’s worried enough about this thing to be respectful, he apologizes to it. “Sorry about what I said earlier. I figured [my employer] had a troll stashed around here somewhere. Didn’t realize it was one of the Forest People. I’ve done a little business with River Shoulders in the past. Maybe you’ve heard of–”

And then the Genowska punches Dresden across the room.

"The Ice that should have entombed him just...drained away..."
“Consider this a friendly warning. I am not one of the whimpering Forest People. Speak of me and that flower-chewing groundhog lover River Shoulders in the same breath again, and I will devour your offal while you watch.”

This is what's called “The Worf Effect.” When you have something badass, if something else beats that thing up it proves how dangerous it is. Here we have the Genowska calling something that can tear through a score of Ghouls “Whimpering” and “flower-chewing.”

And thus we have a dangerous and powerful foe established, juxtaposed against characters the reader hasn’t met (if they didn’t know about the short story, like me) and a mythology built up around them, all done through a single scene that builds on a history that, for all I knew, could have been only in the author’s head, but I still understood all of it.
The "Dean of contemporary
urban fantasy." – Booklist

In this single scene, we learn enough a suitable amount about

  • The Forest People 
  • How dangerous they are 
  • The Genowska 
  • How much more dangerous he is

To review, Butcher built up this monster by

  • Hinting at its presence several times 
  • Revealing it visually 
  • Showing how a character reacts to it, to give context 
  • Gives it an action and a line of dialogue

At no point does the book flat out say “The Genowska is dangerous.” We learn that through action.

Exposition can very easily bog down a book, especially a fantasy book. The lesson here is that when introducing something important to the novel, give it its own scene, show how it interacts with the world in action, as opposed to exposition.

If you want to learn more about how to write good fantasy, go pick up these books. It’s one of he best choices an aspiring fantasy author can make.

This isn't really related to writing, I just wanted to remind everyone that
this is canonically part of the Dresden Files now.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Who Needs Neopagan Rites by Isaac Bonewits?

"That which is
remembered lives."

I’ll start by saying that Neopagan Rites: A Guide to Creating Public Rituals that Work is an excellent book. It doesn’t surprise me that so many of my pagan friends have copies, shared around to the point where people have lost track of whose book is whose. Written by the late Isaac Bonewits1 it is enlightening and well researched, benefiting from Bonewits longstanding importance in the community and years of writing liturgy. Exploring all the considerations necessary for creating Neopagan Liturgy, it manages to be an enjoyable read even in the slower sections, crackling with wit.
 "…you may be forced to have paper cups and plates on hand, but for Goddess’ sake, have them at least look dignified.  Using Styrofoam is probably a sin."
 This book doesn’t need my help to be read2, so instead of praising it, I’m going to give a bit of advice for potential readers.

This book is not for everyone. Somewhat light on examples, it assumes a certain familiarity with Neopagan ritual, especially group ritual, and a knowledge of some of the history of Neopaganism and magic. I would not advise this book if
  • You are only just starting out on a Neopagan path3 
  • You live in an area without an active pagan group 
  • You aren’t ready to take part in the Neopagan Clergy 
  • You have never participated in a public/large group Neopagan Rite 
  • You are easily offended by occasional jibes at Christianity4
"The Gods are watching us, so let's give them a good show!"
I would advise this book if
  • You are or plan to start leading group pagan rites, especially public ones 
  • You have practice with Neopagan rites and think you know what you’re doing5 
  • Your local Neopagan group needs to spice up its liturgy/shake up traditionalism 
  • You have a solid grasp of Neopagan theology/thealogy6 and history 
  • You want a valuable addition to any Neopagan library, personal or group 
Or, and this is the biggest reason: You don’t have any experience. You’ve only got a handful of other Neopagans in your area. You’ve got no leaders, no practice, no real unity, but you want them. An important aspect (often overlooked) that Bonewits stresses is for a ritual to include a reminder of continuity with rituals of the past and the future. This book provides that. It carries the feeling of growth, of little rituals building to big ones, faith groups that should flounder managing to soar. If you’re going to start from scratch, this may be the best place to start. If you’ve got nothing to go on, just pluck and sincerity, this will at least provide you with some sort of ground to stand on.7

"Remember that if you do a fall equinox rite at sunset, you will probably not be able
to get the sun to delay setting while latecomers straggle in."

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Syzygy, Beauty, by T Fleischmann - Review

My friend recently finished Dark Lord of Derkholm.1 When she gave it back to me, I darted upstairs to fetch Year of the Griffin2 for her, and she told me “I don’t think I’ll be able to get to it until the end of the Summer, is that okay?” I pshaw’d3 and told her not to worry, “I almost never reread books.”

 T Fleischmann’s essay Syzygy, Beauty, the second nonfiction book from Sarabande that I’ve reviewed, is a rare exception. In the picture above is one of my favourite quotes, and when I was first making it, it was only going to read "I have been so many places I must be sunlight. Listen, I have been diffused by clouds, by everyone who has touched me."4  But when I went back to check I hadn’t messed it up, I read the last bit, and understood the subtlety of being "destined for the earth."5 The whole book is like that, every time I thumb through it I learn something new.

"Your boyfriend is an atmosphere, there before
me and remaining to sustain you now."
Half art-critique and half meditative memoir over a series of relationships, Syzygy, Beauty explores art, gender, love, travel, loneliness, and a wide variety of other subjects. Fleischmann’s relationship with the omnipresent but never truly defined "You" feels both intense and ephemeral, the "You" always at arm’s length even in intimate moments, occulted6 by their lack of name and their other boyfriend(s) who often seem to eclipse the narrator. Intriguingly, when asked,7 Fleischmann said that "You" was not a single person, but an amalgamation of a variety of similar relationships. "If I ever said something bad about 'You', I could always say 'Oh no, that wasn’t you, it was the other one'"

 This hits at the core of why I love this book, and what it represents, the untruthing of the nonfiction genre. It’s easy to assume that nonfiction must succumb to what Esther Wolfe once called "The fetishization of reality" but Syzygy, Beauty deconstructs the ideas of reality and truth. While it may not tell the True-True or the Whole-True,8 it still tells truth, possibly more truth than it could tell if bound by reality. Fleischmann, in this book, is blurring the lines of reality and fact, the result being somewhere in-between.

"Keep kissing me, you'll see,
new houses aren't haunted yet."
This works remarkably well with many themes of the novel, whose narrator always seems to be in a state of transience. Between lovers, between city and nature, between boy and girl, the narrator always seems most 9 However, while the essay complicates ideas of gender and beauty and place, it never offers real closure. Most pages will open and close with a sentence about, say, Grayson Perry or Louise Bourgeois, juxtaposed with a body of narrative in-between.10 The reader is presented with ideas and left to make their own meanings, which might be the most nonfictional thing in the world.
happy in the middle, where what all of those things mean can be complicated. “When you held my arms to the bed, I felt like a femme fatale who could swing a hammer…”

A fantastic and emotional read, I've been slow to review it only beacuse I've been throwing it at everyone I know.  I think a lot of people could benefit from this book, especially people encountering this brave new world, that has such non-binary gender ideas in it.
"Even God can't really say what something is without burning stars."

Thursday, March 20, 2014

InPrint Festival of First Books 2014

Today was the 9th Annual InPrint Festival of First Books, and I’m so glad I went.  The authors were, as always, absolutely charming and unfalteringly personable.  In the words of T Fleischmann, "Y'all should realize you're really lucky to have this."

Suggested reading: Extremely
Loud and Incredibly Close

Proust, Virginia Woolf
Mario Alberto Zambrano1 read a few cards from Lotería.  Hearing him read is a real treat, as he really lets the voice of Luz, his protagonist, shine through, which makes sense, as it turns out her in-universe writing process mirrors his own process: both drew cards to inspire the next chapter.  He brings out her innocence, making his words feel vulnerable and therefore honest.

"You have to spend a lot of time with this person in your mind, if they don’t respond, be patient.  You have to meet their parents, ask where they came from."

Suggested Reading: The Body,
Times Square Red, Times
Square Blue 
T Fleischmann gave a reading not from Syzygy, Beauty, but from an upcoming work.2  For having a theme of breaking ice was surprisingly warm and fluid, the narrative exploring things taken away and things left behind. Also, they are the second InPrint Nonfiction writer in a row who told Sarabande “Yeah I have a thing almost done” before rushing to finish it.3 The lesson here is to always say you have something ready.

"People will say 'How dare you change this one little thing?' and, I never think each thing is literally true.  To me, pure truth doesn't exist."

Suggested Reading: Black
Aperture, Heart's Needle
Natalie Shapero’s reading may have been my favourite however.  Her voice while reading from No Object (and some new poems!) snaps and crackles, both charming and acerbic all at once, an interesting contrast to her normally bubbly personality.  In response to an audience question she gave the great advice that a writer shouldn’t worry about filling some sort of quota of gendered characters,  an important thing for writers to remember.4 

"An bird screams out my window like an alarm I have set to inform me that a bird is there."

I want to give a lot of props to Robert Stapleton who filled in for Jodee Stanley5 on such short notice and had great advice.  An editor for Booth, my favourite of his advice was “I’m always after the right surprise.”  He doesn’t generally publish things if he knows what’s going to happen, which made sense to me, as I found that my favourite fiction piece from this year’s Broken Plate6 was “Kiss” by Terry Savoie which goes to some strange, unexpected places and it’s awesome.

"I get the sense people don’t know what a story is anymore. A story is about arriving at a place where the world is different than it was in the beginning, the old world has evaporated."

There's something invigorating about a reading, not just hearing words come to life from a book but also about being there, being surrounded by other people who love to read and write.  At a reading, you go for the words but stay for the listeners.  Both are vital in that reminding us that the written world is still alive, still growing.

Oh, and before I forget, props to Brittany Means, Kaiti Crittenden and MaloriePalmer for giving great introductions to the authors.