Further Interviewification

More interviewing fun, this time courtesy of friend and fellow writer Chris Lynch, with whom I had the great experience of co-writing the story “This is My Blood,” published in Dreaming Again.

1. What are three of your creative keystones — books or experiences from your childhood that had a big impact on you as a person and writer?

1 – When I was a kid, my brother and I used to play a lot of “dramatic” play.  Batman and Robin, Legos, matchbox cars, stuffed animals. In the damp basement of our house, we created and destroyed civilizations, staged wars that raged for generations. We fed off each other in that way that kids do, talking through the game as we enacted it. “So now, this car, he’s using his superpower, making hundreds of little tiny force fields to change the currents of the water and make a tidal wave.” “Yeah, and Limousine, he’s all like, ‘Why this is terrible, my wax job is simply going to be ruined.'” etc. I suspect that early play helped assure that I’d develop a healthy (?) sense of imagination.

2- My first semester at college, I nearly hyperventilated the first time I went to a meeting of the campus LGBT support group.  Once I managed to get in the door I was overwhelmed by what I saw – women with butch haircuts, guys making feminine gestures, piercings and dyed hair everywhere. It all felt so marginal, so freakish, so gay. And then I felt terrified that I might be part of this, that I might be one of these freakish people, that all those taunts of “faggot” had turned out to be true.   A few months later I’d pierced both my ears and dyed my hair red.   

That’s really just one moment that’s emblematic of a whole bunch of experiences, when the ideas of “me” and “us” and “them” are not so certain, and the world is full of terrors and possibilities.

3- A few years ago I was mostly reading and writing science fiction, and it just wasn’t working for me.  I had moments of writing good stuff, but I don’t think I’d really written a successful story yet. Then I started reading slipstream/surrealist writers like Aimee Bender and Kelly Link, and I felt this intense sense of familiarity. I didn’t exactly think, “I can do this” – because who can do what Link and Bender do?  But it opened my mind up to another way of writing, driven less by plot and more by metaphor, moment, and voice.  It felt very liberating, letting my writing go in that direction.  

2. Imagine you’re writing a thesis proposal. What’s your thesis topic?

Is it cheating if I tell you the thesis I already wrote? “God and Human Suffering in Puerto Rican Literature” was my college thesis in comparative literature, because, you know, I never go for the grandiose. 

3. You sometimes worry that your stories are light and upbeat — though I think too few do it well, and nothing beats a well-earned happy ending. But in any case, you’ve expressed a desire to torture your characters a bit more. Most of your stories explore identity in some way, so creating identity out of a struggle with darkness makes a lot of sense. But I wonder what darkness you think lies within identity. Have you ever explored, or considered exploring, identity through an anti-hero?

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On a More Optimistic Note

After a long conversation about ROF, Hassan forwarded me this recent article in the Telegraph, which has a surprisingly optimistic view of how the recession (downturn? crisis?) will affect the publishing industry.  Here’s an excerpt:

While Breedt acknowledges that the recession is sure to dent sales, he has one area of hope. “The most spectacular area of growth in recent years has been in manga and graphic novels, which were non-existent in 2001. But sales have increased by almost 100 per cent year-on-year ever since. In 2008, 114,000 units were sold making £1.5 million. What’s great about this is that it’s a genre bought primarily by young people, which implies there’s a real future for the market.”

Publishers and literary agents are also staying on the sober side of upbeat. They all feel that, for true readers, books are not a “discretionary spend”. As Katharine Fullerton Gerould wrote in the Twenties: “If we have a dollar to spend on some wild excess, we shall spend it on a book, not on asparagus out of season.” But what sorts of books will we be buying through a recession? Most publishers agree we’re likely to turn away from the grimmer stuff. Misery memoirs will take a nosedive, as will “suicidally bleak” literary fiction. We’ll seek comfort between the covers of romances and murder mysteries.

The level of optimism from some of those quoted seems more spin than anything else, but it does make sense to me that some genres will do the same or better while others will take the hardest hit. In spec fic, I imagine YA, high fantasy, and light space opera won’t do too badly…. perhaps the darker subgenres may suffer more?  Of course, this doesn’t really have much to do with the print magazines, which were struggling even before the economy went kerplunk. 

The graphic novel upswing as evidence for optimism seems especially odd.  I don’t know a lot about it, but it seems like that’s really just about the big companies finally figuring out they could take nearly everything they put out and repackage it as trade paperbacks for distribution through book stores – not sure if it’s evidence of any trend beyond that.

More interview meme-ing fun to come later …

Personal Note About Realms of Fantasy Closing

It’s pretty much run rampant around the net for the past day or two that Realms of Fantasy is abruptly and unexpectedly closing.  Yet another victim of our tanking economy. ROF published some great stuff, from high fantasy to magic realism, with a lovely design and gorgeous illustrations.  It will be missed!

On a personal note, I’d sold a story, “Tio Gilberto and the Twenty-Seven Ghosts,” to ROF several months ago. For a little while I thought it might still make it into the final issue (which comes out within a week or so), but now I’ve confirmed that I wasn’t among those lucky few.  I’m waiting to hear about final details, but it seems likely that Gilberto will be searching for a new home some time soon.  I was pretty bummed about this earlier today – I’d been looking forward to seeing the story in Realms, and now that feeling of expectation seems to have abruptly turned into disappointment.  And with this being just the latest in a string of bad news from the publishing world, it feels like a rough time to be a relative newcomer.  And as a reader I’ll miss having that good stuff arrive regularly in my mailbox.

All the best wishes to Shawna, Laura, Doug, and the rest of the ROF team for all the hard work they put into making a great magazine.

Peter Ball Interviews Me

By this point, many of you have probably already soon this meme running around the Internet. Just in case you haven’t seen it yet, here are the Rules:
1. Leave me a comment saying, “Interview me!”
2. I will respond by asking you five questions. I get to pick the questions.
3. You will post the answers to the questions (and the questions themselves) on your blog or journal.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions. And thus the endless cycle of the meme goes on and on and on and on…

This interview of me is courtesy of friend and scholar-writer Peter M. Ball. Feel free to ask me to interview you – but be warned, I ask tough questions!

1) You’ve recently signed on as a columnist for Fantasy Magazine – what can we expect in upcoming columns?
Much the same type of stuff you see here – a bit of bread, a bit of magic. I’ll definitely cover prose fiction and comics quite a bit. And with Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse starting up, The Sarah Connor Chronicles heating up, and Battlestar Galactica wrapping up, it’ll be hard to resist the occasional foray into television. One column I have planned will be titled something like “Battle of the Comic Book Mega-Crossovers: Final Crisis vs. Secret Invasion.” Another likely column will look at Boy Meets Boy and how its treatment of LGBT issues makes it, to some extent, a speculative novel, despite its lack of any overt fantastic element. Some will be light; others will delve deeper into the So what? of our fiction.

2) You write Spec-fic, which has a long history of being a very white, hetero kind of genre. How does that history affect your reading and writing within the SF genre?
Some people get taken out of a story when, say, the physics of a cannonball is handled inaccurately. The same thing happens to me when I see the treatment (or invisibility) of a character that’s queer, of color, or female colored by some sort of prejudice. I recently watched Night of the Living Dead (the original) for the first time, and while it was probably ahead of its time in featuring a Black protagonist, the helpless screaming female characters were pretty non-credible to me. I feel the same way when I re-read classic Heinlein novels, where the women are all secretaries waiting to transcribe Jubal Harshaw’s stories while posing naked (or some-such). When that sort of thing happens, the writer has allowed a learned prejudice to make his or her characters less human. That not only contributes to a certain group’s marginalization, it also makes the story a weaker story – less true-to-life, less complex, and less interesting.

As a writer, my cast of characters tends to be more diverse than much of SF has been. Part of that is because of my own experiences as a gay, multi-ethnic Puerto Rican guy, and because the world I know is a diverse one. But partly it’s also because the themes that interest me connect to issues of identity and marginalization, which touch so deeply on the core of our humanity. A lot of early, golden-age SF is less interesting to me because it largely misses those big themes. In more recent decades – starting with the New Wave, really – we’ve seen SF go into that territory – which seems a natural fit, really. What better way to explore gender than by looking at an alien culture that doesn’t have gender in the human sense (as LeGuin does in The Left Hand of Darkness)? What better way to explore race and class than by extrapolating to a near future where racial and class divides have deteriorated to the point of violent anarchy across the country (as Butler does in Parable of the Sower)? What better way to look at monstrous adolescent bullying than through a monster story (as Kelly Link does in “Monster”)? That’s the sort of stuff I’m most interested in, as both a reader and a writer.

(King of the world, sparkly vampires, and “the gay question” below the fold…) Continue reading

Yet Another Cool Thing from Google

Among the many useful things that Google has brought into the world is AuthorsATGoogle.  Google brings authors to their HQ to read their recent books and have a bit of Q&A and informal discussion with their employees. (Um, I know.  Does your employer bring well-known authors to your workplace for informal chats with you, just as a little extra bennie?)  Then, of course, they put them up on YouTube (which is owned by Google), providing an endless source of pleasure and procrastination for all of us.  Here are a few I’ve recently enjoyed.

Karen Joy Fowler and Kelly Link–both writers of wonderfully weird stuff and both workshop teachers of Clarions past– in a joint appearance, with some interesting discussion of writing after the readings:

I especially enjoyed Karen’s comment about how readers react when a story that seems mimetic (subscribes to premises of realism) suddenly brings in a speculative element when the story’s more than halfway through.  “I’m always thinking what a delightful surprise,” Karen says, but apparently many people find this upsetting.

(John Scalzi and Aimee Bender videos below the fold.)

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President Obama

Was just chatting with Hassan and at one point he said “the President” in reference to George W. Bush, then quickly corrected himself, “I mean, the former President.”  And then we both laughed and took a moment to enjoy the fact that the meaning of the words “the President” had completely changed in the past few days.

Many many of my friends went down to D.C. for the inauguration this week, and a big part of me wanted to go with them, but an apparently larger part of me thought that a few million people on the Mall sounded like Times Square on New Year’s Eve times a factor of 23, and that was not something that enticed me.  Instead my Mom came up from Jersey, and we watched the speech and everything together, which was a memorable experience in its own way.

I think my favorite parts of the inaugural speech were…

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The Fantasy of Boy Meets Boy

boy-meets-boyFinished Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan last night at like 4 am.  It was completely unlike any other book I’ve ever read, and that’s something I almost never say.  It’s a gay-themed young adult novel about Paul, a high school sophomore who meets Noah, the new boy in town, and instantly falls for him.  The book is completely mimetic (i.e., no aliens, no elves, nothing outside present-day consensual reality), and yet it has the feel of a fantasy, because Paul’s high school is unlike any real high school in the U.S. (with the possible exceptions of the Harvey Milk school and maybe a couple places in the Bay Area).  The homecoming queen is Infinite Darlene, a transgender student who is also the quarterback for the football team.  Paul’s elementary school teacher helped him figure out that he was gay.  With telling details, Levithan creates a world where everyone accepts everyone else for who they are – and that’s a speculative element for a story if ever I’ve heard one.

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2009 as we imagined it

I have a new article up at Fantasy Magazine, cataloging some of the events in speculative fiction that were said to take place in 2009 – from Star Trek time travel and The Master’s conquest of Earth in Dr. Who to David Brin’s post-apocalyptic The Postman and the more recent monster movie Cloverfield.  Whoever did the graphics and layout did a great job on the design for the article, as is always the case at Fantasy.

You’re likely to see more nonfiction from me at Fantasy this year, so keep an eye out for it.

Carrie Vaughn on Urban Fantasy

Carrie Vaughn has a very cool series of posts up about the Urban Fantasy sub-genre, why it’s so popular these days, and how a genre that grew out of feminism is, at times, oddly anti-feminist.  (This last one is my own words, not sure if Carrie would exactly agree with that characterization, but that was how I read it.)  Check it out here.

If you don’t already know her work, when not creating insightful blog posts Carrie Vaughn is a writer of cool short stories and a series of novels about Kitty Narville, a werewolf who hosts a talk radio advice show for supernatural beings.

Must Read on Subway and Other Resolutions

When I was doing my round-up of books I enjoyed in 2008, I noticed I read much fewer books than usual this year – only around 20 books, which is probably half what I usually read in a year.  Part of this is because lately, I’ve been not-reading on my daily commute on the New York subway.  Instead I often just sit there thinking about the things I have to get done at work that day.  This cuts down on the reading I get done, and also probably just gets me stressed out rather than making me more productive.  So New Year’s resolution #1 is to read on the subway every day.  Other resolutions include…

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