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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Five Questions With Neth

Another interview. A shorter one this time. A bit lighter than most, I'm glad to say. Neth at Neth Space had a few questions for me. They include bits on Haggis and Cow-skin soup and nudity - not necessarily in conjunction. You can read it here.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Babel...

Every now and then I remember that Pride of Carthage lives out in the world in various translations. I get to wondering what people in those foreign countries think of it, so I go a looking online. Thing is, of course, I'm a typical American in that I don't speak any second language that well. I find pages and pages in Polish, Swedish, Italian, etc... but I can't read a word of it - other than my name as it pops up. What to do?

Babel Fish Translations! Or any of the many online translation machines out there. Figuring it's worth a try, I culled some chunks of review text in various languages and gave these linguistic machines a try. Here are a few examples of what I got for my efforts...

A chunk of text originally in Polish regarding Duma Kartaginy...

As we observe most slight details of (particularities of) events how (as) on great screens by microscope. And Rome, on fields Kannów and Zamy. Intimate contrast with this picturesque fresco, portraits to details (particularities) rich Hannibala and family, allies and enemies. We learn psychological portraits excellently zarysowane wodzów and slaves, priests and plunderers of corpses, beautiful (fine) women and vacant nobilów. We are witness of triumphs and disasters, determination and weakness, love and hate of people forming contemporary history.

Okay, now that I recognize as a bit of jacket copy. Not exactly a review. Makes me wonder, though, if the original Polish really did put extra emphasis on the beautiful (fine!) women? Maybe they sexed it up a bit...

Okay, here's one that was originally in Swedish, regarding Hannibal Karthagos Stolthet...

Can I type that the book is good only in order to it might myself that nörda away to the library after maps over ancient Iberien? Both Antiquity's fabler and means time even riddarromaner was of course in highest degree note renown spirit and I requires that such a book that has something to learn out can is considered that "better” than it that provides purely nonsense. If I count with the interest that Durham's book arouses at me, I must acknowledge that it is really good.

Hmmm. I think there's a compliment in there, although my reading of that is that what he liked most about the book was that it sent him out the library to do some real research. I can live with that, I guess.

And from the Italian about Annibale...

Lofty. In premising that I have read it in language originates them English, I think that this text merits without doubt a place of first relief in Mount Olympus of contemporary historical novels... Nicholas Guild, Allan Massie, Gore Vidal (giuliano) I interlace brilliant of history parallels that ruotano around to that great condottiero that was Hannibal I fresco of the ancient world with palpitanti personages. Never banal, never retorico, always deep and winning. The novel makes from inspired contour the historical events that have contraddistinto the tragic one rivalita' between two piu' high power of the Mediterranean. One chicca for the lovers of the ancient history, absolutely not to lose. One reading for all.

Okay, this one had some lovely bits to sink my teeth into. Mount Olympus of contemporary historical novels? Nice! Makes me want to shout, "One reading for all!"

I mucked about for a bit longer and pulled up a lot of completely garbled stuff. I think it's fair to say we have a ways to go in perfecting computerized translations. That said, once Acacia starts appearing the around world I'll be back at the Babel Fish again, regardless. Sometimes, one does come across some gems. Like this one originally written on somebody's blog in Spanish...

The thing is that, approximately 3 months ago, I began to read a called book "Anibal, the pride of Carthage" of Anthony David Durham and like the afternoons them step a little put in blogs, and sharpening details of the guideline, cost much to finish to me reading it. Not because it was not entertained, but that but that nothing by lack of time. I must say that at the end of the book, you complete pages have a so enviciante rate, that those 100 or 200 pages, I could not loosen them. In fact a day was walking and I had to stop under a little tree to finish to me reading.

Awesome. I love that. Somewhere out there in the Spanish speaking world a guy had to sit down under a little tree to enjoy the final chapters of my book. As the author, what more could I ask for?

Or, was that translated right?...

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Octavia Butler: Parable of the Sower


So I said a while back that I would recommend a book every now and then. Do my part to spread the word about wonderful writing and writers. You'll likely almost all know of Octavia Butler, but for those of you that don't I'd like to bring her to your attention. And if you know of her but haven't read her yet... well, I'd like to give you a push.

I'm putting out Parable of the Sower as a place to start, but that's really only because that's where I started with her. I've read more of her since, and every time I've been reminded how brilliant she is, how far-reaching her empathy. Her novels have great range, and I'm sure that as I read more of her over the years I'll discover new favorites.

But I really did enjoy Parable of the Sower. "Enjoy" is a strange word for it, of course, because the material she's writing about is grim in many ways. It's a near future that doesn't really look so unfamiliar. This isn't a novel of space travel and aliens - although Butler does those too. It's very much a version of our world just tweaked a bit. As such, it's frightening. I won't really go into the plot too much at all, except to say it involves the crumbling of our civil society, a collage of social conflicts, and a journey through a treacherous landscape of our own design. At it's heart is a young woman - a black woman, girl really - that dreams up a vision of a future she feels propelled to see made real.

Lest this all sound too depressing, do know that this novel is also filled with generosity and promise. Butler may be unwavering in her study of our crimes and passions, prejudices and fears, but she's also amazingly compassionate, and manages to convey the potential for love that's just as much part of our human nature.

So I recommend this one, or any other Butler book that looks interesting to you. She was a great writer, and I'm increasingly saddened that she passed away. Geez, I would've loved to have met her!

If you're interested in more information on her there are plenty of resources out there. A quick search brought me to this: New York Times Piece, Seattle Post Intelligencer, Seattle Weekly, Slate Obituary. Here's an NPR interview with Scott Simon and another with Jelani Cobb and another from CyberHaven/Amazon.com.

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Angry Black Woman on Acacia

I recently had the pleasure of talking all things fiction/writing/fantasy in an interview with an angry black woman. Fortunately, she was kind to me and we got along quite well, I think. The interview will appear later in Fantasy. For the time being, though, ABW has posted a review of Acacia: The War with the Mein.

You can view it here: Angry Black Woman Likes Acacia!

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Friday, August 24, 2007

A Mexican Bestseller?

Nobody ever tells me anything...

Okay, that's not true. My wife tells me things. La Gringa tells me things. The good people that write in here tell me things. So, more specifically... Nobody ever tells me when I make international bestseller lists!

I've got to find these things out myself every time. I've just discovered, belatedly, that the Spanish Language Pride of Carthage (Anibal, el orgullo de Cartago) made a cheeky, short-lived appearance on the Associated Press' Mexican Bestseller list. Thing is, it happened a few weeks ago, and the list is dated for the 10 of August. Proof here.

Cool. It seems like it was a one week blip, though. That got me wondering just how many books I might have sold in that week. Thought about it. Got no clue. Won't know anything about it for, oh... like nine months or so. For the record, it takes forever for the whole accounting of sales to get back to the lowly author. One must be patient. Still, I wondered. So I looked up Mexican book sales online...

Maybe shouldn't have done that. I came across this report on the subject by Senator Alfredo Ling Altamirano. Among other things, he said...

"The demand for books is directly related to the economic development of countries, if we consider book consumption per inhabitant. Annually, in the USA it is 89 U$S, in Germany 102 U$S, in Austria 95 U$S and Denmark 92 U$S. If, as the National Chamber of Mexican Publishing Industry (CANIEM) shows, Mexicans read 2.8 volumes per year, consumption per capita would be 8 U$S, which is pathetic. In Mexico 12 new books are produced daily. In the world, 4 thousand books are published daily. This means that Mexicans read little. In 1997, out of 93 million Mexicans, around 79 million had not been to a library in the previous year."

Oh. I see. So I won't be placing an order for that new Prius after all...

It's funny being an international bestseller. Feels a lot like not being an international bestseller, which, perhaps, is why nobody on the team has yet to draw my attention to it...

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Graeme's Fantasy Book Review

Graeme Flory was kind enough to review Acacia: The War with the Mein and to do so favorably. Cool. I dig this because I know this guy reads a lot of books in the field. We're pushing toward September now, and it seems my book may be his favorite so far this year. Fingers crossed that it stays that way.

(Which is not to say I don't want to see other good books published. I do, I do! Just, well... You know what I mean...)

You can see his thoughts here: Graeme's Fantasy Book Review.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Twins

So I had a wee breakthrough today. It's like this...

I'd had this prologue scene of The Other Lands (Acacia, Book 2) that I've been tinkering around with for a while. I wasn't quite happy with it, but I couldn't shake a feeling that is was important. Still, I'd cut it out a couple of times, only to bring it back in later, still unsure.

I'd started to think I'd cut it out again, partially because it's a rather depressing scene. It's about two siblings, twins, who are captured in a back story moment. Remember when the League staged a raid on Luana, taking all the children they could as Quota and only telling Hanish - who was ruling at the time - about it after the fact? Well, this scene takes place on that day. So it's a bit grim to watch these two kids stripped from their parents and herded with a lots of other kids toward the shore and to the League vessels that'll take them away from the Known World forever... Is that the best way to start a novel I want tons of folks to read? I had one idea for what happens to one of the siblings and how he/she would interact with our heroes years later - when The Other Lands (Acacia, Book 2) actually kicks off. But it didn't seem like enough. Until this morning...

I can't tell you what occurred to me, but gears that had been turning for a while without finding purchase suddenly locked into place. I realized what happens to both siblings, and I saw how it fit in with another plot element that I'd slowly been developing. Just like that, my "maybe going to be cut scene" meshed with some of the most crucial elements of the end of the series. And so the prologue will remain, and now I understand what it was all about, what it was setting the groundwork for.

I mention this little episode because I often work this way. I write things that feel important, but don't always know how these things are going to fit together until much later. The cool thing about having faith in this process - believing that even though I don't know now I will next week, month, by Labor Day, etc - is that when it works I come up with more intricate and meaningful connections than I could ever manage with conscious thought. It's almost like I'm trusting that my subconscious has a plan, I just haven't managed to shine light on the entirety of it yet. That only happens by having faith in the process, sticking with it, and writing as best I can on a daily basis.

This certainly happened in the The War With the Mein. As with all my books, there were props, scenes, hints of things that I sometimes didn't come to understand the uses of until a year or so of trying.

Anyway, that's my thought on this little aspect of my writing life. Does it happen to you? If so, great. If not, well... consider not fighting it. I do think that writing long fiction is a very cumulative process. My advice: have faith in that. It's one of the things that can make writing a novel worth the long effort and uncertainty.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Adventures Underground

No, I haven't literally had any lately, but I did have the pleasure of doing an interview for a very cool store by that name. They've got it up here: Adventures Underground.

At the moment, the bio attributes a few things to me that I can't exactly vouch for the truth of, but I understand that'll be changed soon. (I chuckled when I saw the Eskimo mention.) Anyway, if you're interested they also have signed copies of Acacia: The War with the Mein. Signed by me, that is.

*Update* As of later in the day... the sketchy bio info has been amended. Alas, I chuckle no more...

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Great Minds Think Alike... Athough Sometimes They Don't KNOW They're Thinking Alike...

I had an interesting exchange over the weekend. I noticed a post over at the blog Of Science Fiction. It was titled My Belated Response to the Latest Blog Wave - Racism in Writing. (That link takes you to the original post.) In it the author, texasboyblue, responds with thoughts spurred by my Color Blind Reading Post.

What struck me on reading it was that I dug everything he was saying. Agreed with all of it and thought it was well-written and thoughtful.

What double-struck me was that something in the tone of it suggested that texasboyblue didn't know we were in complete agreement. So I dropped him a little note basically saying, "Nice post. I agree. You know that I agree, don't you? If not, please check out my original post and I think you'll see we do."

Well, texasboyblue did recheck my post. You can read his response here, if you'd like. As far as I'm concerned, it was a wonderful outcome. A small thing, but nice to make that connection - and interesting to know it worked out because we were thoughtful enough to read each other carefully.

I mention it here as food for thought. I think we're somewhat conditioned to expect to disagree with people who are different from us in obvious ways - especially on things like race. Sometimes we hear disagreement when there isn't even disagreement. And when there is honest disagreement that's where all our focus goes - instead of also saving a little energy (and thought) for developing common ground. That's a shame.

On the other hand, this little exchange between me and this gentleman in Texas shows that with a little effort and respect common ground doesn't even always have to be built - sometimes it already there and all we have to do is see it.

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

A Rambly Response That's Meant to Give a Bit More Context to Where I'm Coming From

So I put out my invite to folks at the George RR Martin Forum that were talking about my "Color Blind" post. I said if they wanted to come over and talk with me directly I'd welcome them. I didn't get a lot of takers.

Yesterday, though, Altherion popped over and made some points. I'm very glad he did. I responded to several of his questions in the comments thread for An Invite to the Folks at the Martin Forum, but I wanted to post about the last few things he said here. Altherion, I hope you don't mind my using your comments. It just feels like a great opportunity for me to demonstrate the type of dialog I'd like to have with people, a type I think is too rare. I kinda wrote this as a response to Altherion, but it's here for any that are interested.

The parts that Altherion wrote are in bold. When he’s quoting from my earlier post it is also italics. The stuff in regular script is new material.

To address your original point (the one that started the thread): I was not born in the US and its divisions along racial lines are foreign to me. That is, I do not intuitively understand why you (and, judging by the other thread, many others) make such a big deal out of the amount of melanin present in the skin of an individual -- although it is very clear that it is important to you. I believe you when you say it has had it is part of your daily life and it has affected your career. But I simply do not see where you get the certainty to make statements like this one:

Small test... I'd be interested to ask each "color blind" reader when was the last time they read something by a black author. They might shrug and say, "I don't know. Remember, I don't pay attention to an author's race." My translation of that - they probably haven't read a black author since a college lit course, because if they had they'd KNOW they had.


How would they know? For example, my answer to this test is: a few months ago. But the only reason I can tell you this is because somebody in the thread at Westeros mentioned that Samuel R. Delany is black. I did not know it from reading his story and I don't see how I would have learned it otherwise.


Great point about Delany. I actually can't speak specifically as to whether I think there are obvious racial undertones in all his work because I haven't read him. I shall, but I haven't yet. I think it's possible that the story you read might not be influenced by race in any obvious way. But Delany is one in a million. He's a very unusual man that carved a path for himself into sci-fi. In many ways, he carved that path toward you, going where few black authors go.

So you might have read a story not at all informed by race. Bare in mind, though, that at least some of his writing was very specifically about race and sexual orientation. Delany is very openly gay and openly black, as he discusses in depth his memoir, The Motion of Light on Water. Also, his Dark Reflections is about a black gay writer that pretty much seems like Delany himself. I only know that from looking him up, and from the fact that I’ve read interviews with him before.

In any event, a Delany story doesn't change my belief that in the vast majority of cases (and I wasn't talking just about sci-fi or fantasy) black writers do write material in which the racial aspects of our culture play a role. For us it's hard not to, because it so does play a role. Think of Octavia Butler, for example. I haven't read all of her works, but everything I have has centered on a young black female protagonist dealing with many things - including race. I would be amazed to to discover a white writer that would choose to write book after book with black protagonists dealing with race (along side vampires, social disintegration, slavery, etc.). It has never happened that I'm aware of. The fact that Octavia wrote what she did is wonderful - and it came out of her identity as a black woman - a dark black woman, at that.

That leads me in to answering why I make such a big deal about melanin... Let me start by stating the obvious so that you know what we have in common... The color of peoples' skin doesn't matter one bit to our shared humanity. Not at all. I've known that all my life, and in a great many ways my work as a novelist is about bringing that truth to as many people as I can. That's always a theme that's in the back of my head, sometimes in the front.

*Begin Spoiler Alert regarding my novel Walk Through Darkness – Don’t read this paragraph if you might ever read that novel.*

My novel Walk Through Darkness is about a white man that comes to understand he has a black son. That son is spending his life in bondage, as a slave because his mother’s colored skin matters most in Antebellum America. The man chooses, for many reasons, to seek out his son, to acknowledge him, to connect so that he can know the future of his line and so that the son can learn about the man and the family that’s part of his heritage. He risks everything to do this. He does it because every now and then – I believe – people can and do rise above our easy classifications of race and do better. I believe that. I wrote a novel about it. My commitment to such belief is professional, financial, and very personal.)

*End Spoiler Warning*

As I've mentioned in earlier posts, my wife is white and European, my kids are mixed race and multinational. Of course I don't think that the color variations between us matter at all. Okay?

BUT (you knew there would be a but, I'm sure)... that's the ideal. That’s the truth I know with all my heart and intellect. I also know that race does matter because the way of the world makes it matter every single day. I'm fortunate to be able to say I've never suffered any major racial attack, but let me give you some small ones. These are just a few snippets of life in my skin. Small things, but very real.

Grade School: I went to a predominantly white school. I can't tell you how many times I heard kids make racist jokes. If they knew I'd heard they always assured me they didn't mean me. "We're talking about them." Well, yeah, but that them includes many people in my extended family. I knew this, even if they didn’t.

Every time a black adult walked into the school I was invariably asked by other students if he or she was my father or mother. Obviously, that question was the first thing out of my peers' mouths because they saw that person’s skin, and they saw mine, and they made instant conclusions because of it.

Several years we did Square Dancing units in gym. At the end of the unit we'd have a big dance. Each time we did this I was partnered with another black kid. It was assumed. It was taken for granted that Joyce was going to be my partner. (Yes, I remember her name.) It feels - in my memory - like I was walked across the gym floor and had my hand slipped into Joyce's by my smiling, well-meaning teacher. "Here, here's your partner. She's just like you so it's a perfect match.” I doubt that was said that way, but it was meant that way and I knew it. It didn't matter that Joyce was in another teacher's class and that we avoided each other like the plague. We still became partners that one day of the year. I doubt we said a word to each other the entire time we danced.

In class photos in grade school I was always seated at the center point. The one dark face on the page. The photographer put me in the middle, I guess for some sort of symmetry. Why? Because of my skin. And I knew it was because of my skin. Just like I knew the local bullies’ names for me and my best friend were based on my skin. I was "Dirty Durham". He was "Mud-mate." Isn’t that brilliantly cruel? I was dirty. My friend was covered in mud for associating with me – and there’s a sexual bite to it also. I’m amazed that those kids were so effective in their slurs at age ten.

I could go on for a while about Grade school, but let's move forward...

High school: There was lots of confusion in high school. I don't mind admitting that much of it came from black students. I tried hard in my freshman year to fit in with the black students (I was in a much more mixed neighborhood and school now). But I wasn't "black enough", and try as I might I just couldn't get it right. That's actually a long and complicated story.

And easier one to grasp is this... First love. (I'll be embarrassed if she reads this, but it's true and she'll remember it too.) When I was a Sophomore I met a girl that I was absolutely giddy over. She was lovely and smart and she liked me! She had quite an olive complexion and I felt that I couldn't have been luckier to have connected with her. Until her parents met me. They didn't say an unkind word to me, but the next day this young woman, teary in the school hallways, said that she couldn't go out with me. Her parents forbade it. Why? Cause I was some shifty character? Because they just didn't want her dating yet? Because I had a bad reputation? No. None of those. Because of my skin. Because they were white and they didn't want the world looking down on their daughter for being with me. They told her that. She told me that. It effectively squashed our little romance before it had begun.

More recently: Driving with my wife and kids on the motorway around Denver, CO. I'm driving along having a conversation with my wife, the kids were in their car seats in the back, listening to Harry Potter on the iPod. I noticed a large, big-tired truck pull up on the passenger side. I kept talking, but noticed it as the truck slowed and dropped behind us, and then pulled up on the driver's side. It stayed right there beside us for a while, and eventually I looked over. There was one guy in the car, a white guy, and he was driving with one hand on the steering wheel. With the other, he was stretched toward me giving me the finger. He just held it there, seemingly asking for me to respond. I didn't. I actually just kept the conversation going with my wife. She's knitting and hadn't noticed any of this. I knew it would freak her out if I did say anything, so I didn't. Eventually the guy gave up and sped away. I watched him as long as I could, until I saw him take an exit. Relief…

Now, as I drove on I wondered if I'd cut him off or something. But I hadn't. Did I have some offensive bumper sticker on the car that he was responding to? No... The most likely answer to what went on there is that he's a racist, maybe an Aryan. (This was around Denver, after all. I think they have a presence there.) He drove up beside us, saw my pale-skinned wife, noted the kids in the back seat, and then saw me. He drove around to inform me of just what he thought of my domestic arrangement. And why did he think anything of me? Because of my skin. Because of my wife's skin.

Are you seeing how this stuff matters? What if he’d been with friends? What if I’d done what I had every right to and flipped him the finger as well? It’s not too much of an exaggeration to think I could’ve ended up in a violent situation, maybe a news story. It does happen to people, and it happens because of other peoples’ reactions to the skin they wear.

One more thing: this one is more internal, more about me instead of the outside world. I'm aware every time I go some place alone with my kids that some people seeing me with them may not immediately understand that I'm their father. I'm not a very dark guy, but at a glance I'm a person of color and they're white kids. If you look closely I'm in them and it's there to be seen. My father is there to be seen. My mother is. Just as my wife's mother and father are. I know that completely.

But, think for a minute what it would be like to entertain in the back of your mind that somebody seeing you with your kids may wonder what you're doing with them.

Has anything ever happened because of this? No. Maybe people don't think about it. Maybe only I do. But I do, and that will likely never go away. Consider also that I could be a bit darker and my kids could still look the way they do. (Genetics are strange like that, as Tobias Buckell will tell you.) If I was darker I'd fear people misunderstanding who I was in relation to my lovely eight year old daughter even more. Are you hearing some of why I'm reminded daily that race matters? Hearing that so much of it is external, but that aspects of it can't help but be internalized also?

As you can probably tell by now, I'd much rather live in a world where skin color did not matter this much and the way I am trying to contribute to bringing it about is by not acting based on it and preventing others from doing so. For example, if I shopped at Borders (which I do not) and noticed that they segregate by race (meaning, by author rather than by subject), I'd complain and when this would most likely have no effect, I'd stop going there. But I would never buy a book from the segregated section just because it was from there -- that strikes me as a racist action.

Altherion, I'd much rather live in a world where skin color did not matter this much too. God, would I ever! But wanting it and wishing for it isn't going to make it happen.

And that's a big part of my objection to "color blind" reading. It's hard for me to separate it from wishful thinking. Of course I want to live in a world not so plagued by racial strife. It's simply that I don't think we get nearer to that by announcing that race just doesn't matter and hoping that doing so makes the problem go away. It does matter - and I hope some of the examples from my life illustrate that. If those examples give you pause for thought - good. If you read other black authors you'd find those experiences not at all unusual (they're often a lot worse), and you'd read many more things that would give you pause for thought. I firmly believe that we'd all understand each other better if we read more widely, and reading widely has to be intentional.

Would I want you to read something from a "segregated section just because it was from there"? Of course not. And I never said anything like that. My original post was about 1) pointing out that there is a segregated section, 2) noting that if you don't know it's there or go to it you're not being presented with enough options to make that "color blind" claim mean anything and 3) encouraging you and others to read diversely because there's so much great stuff out there, and reading outside your normal parameters offers a wealth of experiences and perspectives that can enrich your understanding of what it means to be a human on this planet.

Altherion, I'm about as picky a reader as you can get. I have very high standards and I set a lot of books aside because they're not up to them. I'd never ask you to read a mediocre book out of some literary Affirmative Action. But encouraging you to read diversely isn't the same as asking you to read just anything by authors of color. For example, if you were interested in knowing a bit more about what it's like being black in America I could suggest a list of excellent novels. I wouldn't point you toward mediocre titles. I'd point you toward some of the best books being written by some of the world's best authors - who happen to be black and happen to be writing wonderful fiction that explores race in our complex, interconnected world. That's all I ever meant when I began this.

Thanks for reading this far.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

An Invite to the Folks at the Martin Forum

So there have been many different sites out there talking about issues sparked by my post on being "color blind". One of the more lively ones was at the GRR Martin's Westeros Forum. I was chuffed (British word, means happy, thrilled, bucked up) they were talking there. Thing is, I found the tone of the conversation a bit different than at my own site. People were saying lots of things. There was a significant balance in it - and I'd been summoned - but still I thought the further it went along the less it had to do with me. I began wondering why these folks didn't drop over here and pose their opinions to me.

So I asked them to. What follows is what I posted there. I'll be curious as to whether my invitation lures anyone...

Hi, so yesterday or so I posted here saying I was glad to see folks talking. Said also that I found the discussion interesting, and that often when I disagreed with a point it wasn't long before somebody chimed in with what I thought was wisdom. There were so many different points, though, and so many folks were talking to each other, that I didn't really feel inclined to weigh in. I was tired, too.

All this is still true. I'm still tired. But I've also been thinking about a few things… It began earlier today when I remembered that a few folks here seemed to doubt my assertion that there even was a black literature section in Borders. (And it's specifically Borders that I mentioned.) I think somebody else said explicitly that there WASN'T such a section in Borders. That did disturb me. For one, they didn't ask me about this, but spoke here. For another, I was a bit surprised that something so basic to my whole discussion would be casually set aside.


For the folks that lean that way - on what is that assertion based? A gut feeling? The fact that you haven't noticed it before? The notion that you don't like the idea of such a thing and therefore assume it doesn't exist? And if that's your line of thinking... where does that put me? Did I make it up? Do I not know where my OWN books are shelved in one of the major chain stores in the country? Or am I willfully making it up?


I didn't open the discussion based either on lies or on vast misunderstandings of factors that have affected my life for years. Let me be clear...

Borders as a chain does have a section of the stores cordoned off for Black writers of fiction. It's not there just for people that are writing about black issues, although most of the writers there are doing that. B&N does not have such a section. Borders does. It's not the same as a Black Studies or a Black History section. I've been to these sections many a time. (Have you?) I've seen my books there, and I've seen many other authors' books there. The discussion of what such a section means is one topic. Exactly which books by what authors may be fluid too. It's also possible that your Borders is in such a white area that the African American section has been eliminated. There are plenty of variables, but I say without fear that such sections do exist in many, many Borders.

So that's what I was thinking about earlier. But this evening I saw this post from Tia Nevitt at Fantasy Debut. It's a thoughtful post, but what struck me was when she pointed out that she thought responses on my blog were... politer than they might be. She said, "I think most white people feel held back most of the time. I hate to generalize, and this may not be true in your particular case, but for the most part, I think this is true." I agree. I found the responses on my blog largely supportive and introspective.


Which makes me wonder... Why are you all talking here to each other instead of talking to me? I was glad to be summoned, but I started this on my blog, and I can't attend to this Forum as I do to my own turf. Bring your opinions over there, where I'm obligated to respond. I do think it's great that you're talking to each other about this, but when it comes down to suggesting that I've lied or made things up I’"d much rather you bring that to me. You want to know if there's an African American lit section in Borders? Ask me. Tell me to prove it. I'll walk out of my house, get into my car, go up to Borders and take pictures. (I'll get some white folks to pose in them, just for balance.) Challenge me on it. Don't just talk amongst yourselves.

A lot of you are talking about what I said or meant here, but not all of you are doing me the courtesy of asking ME about it personally. Some of you have misinterpreted and misappropriated things I've said rather drastically. I'd rather you didn't define what I've said or what I mean - not unless you're speaking directly to me to find out how I'd respond. I can't answer all of it here, but I will if your address comments, thoughts, questions to me.

So bring your thoughts to me. HERE'S THE PLACE. Let's talk. Call me on something and I'll answer. I'll always do so with respect, and I'll always try to be clear and try to hear your side of things as best I can. We might both learn from it.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Linky Post

Hi. I'm still stuck in to three days of "New Faculty" stuff here at Cal State. Not my favorite way to spend time. I just thought I'd take a minute, though, and link to a few things...

Over at the SF Site an interview I did with Jeff VanderMeer just went up. It was a pleasure to do. Jeff's a professional at all this stuff. (And he knows The Church - as in the band! Very cool.)

Do you know about the Page 69 Test? It's a site that has authors look at page 69 of their book and write a bit about whether or not it represents the entire book, etc. They tapped me and I took the test. You can read it here.

There's still a good deal of debate going on regarding my "Color Blind" reader post. (See below. )I find it all very interesting, and there's been more said them I'm actually able to comment on. Other than here on the blog, there are discussions up in quite a few places now. You could definitely check out The Fantasy Review, Neth Space and Fantasy & Sci-Fi Lovin' Blog for some other perspectives/discussions.

In particular, the George RR Martin Forum has quite a lively discussion going on.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

On Being a "Color Blind" Reader...

Hey, so if you popped in here because you're a fantasy reader who's been wondering if my novel Acacia: The War with the Mein is worth your hard-earned dollars I've got good news for you. It is. There are many posts here that talk about it and give good news and talk about fantasy stuff. This post, however, comes shaped by another aspect of my life on this planet. It's one of those race-related posts.

It came about responding to a comment that Larry from OF Blog of the Fallen made about reader responses to the interview I did with John Sclazi. I enjoyed reading most of the comments, and found some of them wonderfully encouraging and supportive. But, as with any thing race-related, there was a mixture of different opinions.

Larry's comment was, "After reading some of the comments at Scalzi's blog, I cannot help but notice how many readers unwittingly underscored your point about the acknowledgment of color/race by claiming that they were "color blind." I remember quite well taking a diversity class in a local university's social work program and being confronted with the fact that being "color blind" is quite a privileged position to be in the first place."


Yes. I hear you. On race issues people often "unwittingly" say things in denying racial concerns that actually prove how valid those concerns actually are. The "color blind" thing... Okay, before I say much let me make it clear that when I talk about this issue I'm not out to make any personal attacks. I'm just offering a perspective informed by a lifetime of inhabiting the skin I do. It's about asking folks to consider that they might not have all the answers - and that they might not have thought the entire thing through as much as they think.


My wife, for example, is Scottish. And I don't mean just that her surname is Scottish but she actually was born and raised in Des Moines... No, she's really Scottish, accent and all, red-haired, born in the Shetland Isles and raised in the Highlands and Islands. I met her in Edinburgh, and when I brought her across to America a year later she was new to all of our particularly American racial issues.

Now we've been together ten years. We've lived here and abroad and are raising two mixed race kids. Just yesterday she was commenting about all this by admitting that she had been and would likely have remained clueless about the myriad ways race impacts people of color's lives on a daily basis. She didn't know a thing before. With her open mind she'd likely have embraced the notion of being "color blind" - without realizing how misguided it is.

Fast forward ten years. Ten years of living with me, of discussing issues with me, of watching race affect my career, of reading about black history and reading black literature, ten years of pondering what our intermingled racial legacies mean for our children. AFTER all that, she admits, she understands things so much more now. Part of what that means is that she has no problem understanding the hand race plays in so, so many things. She knows just how racist the workings of the world are in ways that she had no inkling of before. She also admits that even now she has a ton to learn and knows that she'll never really understand the world as viewed from beneath dark skin.


Contrast that to the good people (most often white, I'd wager) that say they're "color blind" and that all this seeing racism in everything is just silliness. I think that most of them say that with the best of intentions, but every time I hear it I'm curious about a few things.

Small test... I'd be interested to ask each "color blind" reader when was the last time they read something by a black author. They might shrug and say, "I don't know. Remember, I don't pay attention to an author's race." My translation of that - they probably haven't read a black author since a college lit course, because if they had they'd KNOW they had. They'd remember it, and likely they'd have learned things from it.

Okay, second question... For white readers that shop at Borders - when was the last time you went browsing for a novel in the "African-American" literature section? They'd likely respond with, "The what? There's not an African-American literature section. Black history section, sure, but..." To which I respond that yes, yes there is a section of Borders - usually a small corner about a shelf and half wide - where the vast majority of fiction by black authors is shelved. It's where Alice Walker goes. It's where you'll most readily find Toni Morison. It's where I found Edward P Jones' The Known World for the first time. (After he won the Pulitzer and MacArthur "Genius" Grant and about every other literary award possible Borders might have saw fit to move him into the regular literature section. Might. But he began in AFAM.)

Honestly, this section of the store really exists, and all you have to do to get into it is to be black (not even American, just black at all).

I know all of this because that's where my first two novels (Gabriel's Story and Walk Through Darkness) go - when they're actually stocked at all. Yes, Pride of Carthage is in general fiction and Acacia is in fantasy, but my publisher had to push hard for the big chains to see the work instead of the color of its author. I know this. They told me this. And they said one of many reasons to get out of that tiny section was that it would immediately mean the stores would buy more copies, display them where people might see them - and therefore we’d sell more copies.

Does all of this sound like a racist conspiracy theory? Well, I can see how it would if it isn't part of your daily life. But it is part of my life and career to push through these boundaries and have my books placed within the general population. I know it. My publisher knows it. The bookstore executives and buyers and managers know it. The only folks that may not know that race is very much considered at all stages of publishing are a great many of the customers themselves.

So, to the "color blind" reader that has no idea they have NO CHANCE of coming across most black writers in the center of the store... I argue that the fact that you don't read with an awareness of color means that you're being a willing accomplice to institutional segregation. In that regard, being "color blind" also means being blind to a host of inequities, perspectives and realities that you would be able to see if you chose to acknowledge color and to see how much it affects all our lives. Doesn’t make being “color blind” seem so enlightened, does it?

So what's the remedy? Part of it, in this case, would be to put away that blindness and see the colors! When I come up with a reading list for a course I make sure it's racially diverse, and gender balanced, and I try to remember that we don't all have the same sexual preferences and that should be represented to. Do I have to scrape the bottom of the barrel to come up with good titles? Of course not. There's great literature written in all these perspectives and more. Don't be blind to them. Seek out diversity and you'll realize how rich it is, and how important it is.

By the way, my bookshelf isn't color blind. That's why I've included photos of it throughout this post. It's a rich tapestry of all sorts of writing from all sorts of places. It's literary and genre, white and black, European and African and Asian, straight and gay, old and new, etc, etc... I'm proud it, and I know it didn't get that way by accident, or chance. It's the result of many, many conscious decisions on my family's part. I think that's the only way we can know that we're doing the best we can to be racially sensitive and aware and informed. We have to act - and buy and read - consciously. And it's worth it. It really is.

So take the blinders off. You many find it's a very good thing.
(This is just my fiction collection, by the way. I've got the non-fiction in another room, respectfully granted the same sort of space and love.)

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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Fantasy Novelist's Exam, and SK on JK

This is a link I actually first saw at The Bookie Monster, so if you've been over there recently you'll have seen it. It's to David J. Parker's Fantasy Novelist's Exam, a list of things you'd do well to avoid if you're an aspiring fantasy writer. I have to admit I found it pretty amusing. I think I'm on safe ground on most of the points he makes. I do hit number 28 head on, but what's wrong with writing the first of a trilogy? It's gotta begin somewhere...

Oh, and you might also want to check out this essay on JK Rowling from Stephen King . Constance mentioned it on my Forum. (Thanks, C.)

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Subterranean Press!

A while back I had the pleasure of corresponding with Bill at the Subterranean Press. They do lovely special editions of selected works, mostly fantasy and sci-fi. They print them in small numbers, with original covers and illustrations, and usually with an authors' signature, I believe. Great stufff for the collector in you.

Anyway, they were kind enough to send me a few sample books...

I'm particularly happy about getting Lynch's Lies of Locke Lamora. I had the rather unfortunate experience of being at the same fair in the Netherlands as Scott, but somehow managed NOT to connect with him over the course of several days. No matter, we'll meet one day. And in the meantime I now have a lovely signed copy of his debut...

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Interview with John Scalzi

Hey. John Scalzi just posted an interview with me on Ficlets. He also mentions it on his stellar blog, Whatever. I'm thrilled about this. John's great. I admire his work and the life he's leading as a hard-core freelance writer.

I just popped over and checked out his blog and took a look at the comments so far. (One wonders if I should do this...) John gets a lot of visitors, so the comments are already lining up. One thing I'd note is that almost all the comments are about my answer to "racism in fantasy" question. Hey, I'm cool with whatever aspect of it gets folks talking, but it's funny that that's what gets picked up on. It was only one of the six questions, and none of the other ones had anything to do with race.

What about my days naked and fasting in the Arizona desert?

Or my answer to the question about a piece of writing advice I'd been given?

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Word of Mouth (Even Cyber Word of Mouth)...

is kinda amazing. Weird, really. As much as I've been watching the fantasy and sci-fi blogosphere I'm amazed at some things I miss until someone personally brings it my attention. For example, I'd never registered the name Tobias Buckell and hadn't, as far as I can remember, come across his books. This is especially weird because his second novel, Ragamuffin, pubbed on exactly the same day Acacia did. It's by a writer with Caribbean roots and features Caribbean characters in far flung worlds. All things considered, you'd think I'd notice this...

Fast forward a couple of months. I'm still clueless until Pat from Pat's Fantasy Hotlist drops me an email mentioning Tobias - and mentioning that Tobias was talking about liking Acacia in an interview he'd just done. Okay, cool, but one way or another I got offline before really checking Tobias out. Then, a few days later, Neth from Neth Space also mentions Tobias. Okay, I say, let me check this guy out...

And immediately it feels like he's everywhere. His Blog is great and highly trafficked. He's doing interviews. He's mentioned everywhere I look. His work sounds interesting - and his identity and objectives in his speculative fiction I greatly admire. So I drop him a few notes on his blog and he emails me straightaway. Cool...

And how did he hear of me? Word of mouth. Word of mouth! John Scalzi had slipped him an arc awhile back!

How very strange that in this world of interviews, reviews, promotions, bells and whistles of all sorts, it's a simple personal recommendation that connects two authors who for many reasons would've been on the lookout for each other - but maybe not have connected. I've got both of Tobias' books on the way to me now - and just like that he's become part of my permanent library.

About the same time I'm pondering this I notice the book my wife is reading, Tenderness of Wolves, by Stef Penney. How did she come by it? Her friend - back in Scotland, no less - recommended it. And just like that Stef Penney has another sale - to someone that hadn't a clue about her before that.

You know what my point is in all of this? Use your mouth! Spread the word about books you love. Perhaps it can help make a difference, especially among the crowded market and the visual overload anyone faces walking into a mega-book store.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Watching Those Amazon Rankings...

The New York Times recently did a story on The Highs and the Lows of Rankings on Amazon. It talks about the whole rating system and outs us writers as often compulsive in checking our figures. (Numerical figures, that is.)

Man, I so do that! What a waste of time, but I can't help it. It's either like an instant little pill of pleasure when the ranking is good or a quick kick in the teeth when it's not.

So why do it? I don't know. It's there. I can't help it.

Any advice on how to break the habit?

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

I been yapping away on other people's blogs...

instead of my own. Thought I'd give you links if you're interested. Two places I've been visiting in regard to discussions that came from that Boston Globe article are Neth Space and When Gravity Fails.

Any thoughts on the back and forth I've had there?

Oh, and I've recently discovered Tobias Buckell. He's a mixed-raced Caribbean Sci-Fi writer, author of Crystal Rain and Ragamuffin. He blogs too, and does it well. He's got a great post on Diversity In Science Fiction Markets and another, quite personal one called What Does It Mean To Be This Caribbean Writer. I like this guy, and I'll be checking out his work soon.

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Sunday, August 05, 2007

Strange Horizons Review

Hannah Strom-Martin reviewed Acacia: The War with the Mein for Strange Horizons. It's a beauty of a review. She starts it off with a mini-thesis on realism in the evolving fantasy canon, and then slips into discussing my little book in great detail. It's very thoughtfully written, and blush-inducingly positive.

You can read it here.

Do bear in mind, though, that if you haven't read the book yet and already plan to you might not want to go too far into it. It does mention some plot developments that spoiler-sensitive readers might find a bit revealing.

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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Another Acacia Giveaway

Over at the Fantasy Book Critic they're giving away copies of my book! Naw, I'm not pissed about it. It's a good thing, arranged with my publisher. So if you want to try for a freebie check out the giveaway here, and check out the Fantasy Book Critic in general. It's an active, dedicated site that churns out reviews, interviews and makes announcements at an impressive rate.

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Friday, August 03, 2007

Acacia's UK Deal!

I'm back from the beach - where the boogie-boarding was awesome, the raccoons were wee troublesome buggers, the seals barked late into the night and some questionable (but very nice) folks showed up at our campsite in the middle of the night. But that's personal stuff, not of interest to the general public...

I will say that I'm very pleased to announce that we've finally wrapped up a contract for the British publication of Acacia: The War with the Mein. It was a long process this time. I believe things opened up enough that we had discussions with a number of publishers, especially as this fantasy series is a departure from Pride of Carthage, the only novel of mine previously published in the UK.

Funny thing is that at the end of it all my Pride of Carthage publisher is the one we're going with. Transworld has signed on for Acacia 1 and 2! (Um... There's an extra bit of pressure to get that second book done.) Transworld has a diverse list with titles in many different genres. I'm happy to say that they also have quite a strong fantasy/sci-fi list that includes books by Steven Erikson, Christopher Paolini, Mary Doria Russell, David Gemell, Anne McCaffrey, David Eddings, Laura K Hamilton and Terry Prachett. And me!

What will the reaction be over there? What will the cover look like? No idea, but I'm glad to have the opportunity to find out.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Coast, and Poland

I'm about to head off with the family on another camping trip - to the coast this time. We've got a lovely primitive site booked that overlooks a sweep of coastline and dunes and hiking and biking trails. It'll be awesome.


Small bit of news for today is that Acacia: The War with the Mein has made the grade in Poland. It's going to be published by MAG JACEK RODEK in Polish. I don't know much about this publisher, but I do understand they're strong in fantasy. I'm very happy about it, and it makes my second Polish book, after Duma Kartaginy!

Okay, off to play in the surf!

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