Tag Archives: sfwa

Story is Everything and it is Nothing

I first encountered “The Jewel Net of Indra” in a class on Chinese Religions. My understanding is that it came from the Mahayana sect, and it’s attributed to a Buddhist named Tu-Shun (557-640bce). The Avatamsaka Sutra explores the idea through a question-and-answer format between the teacher and the student. I like sparkly things, so it was easy for me to fall in love with the image. That net is so constantly on my mind I’m thinking of weaving it and pinning it to the ceiling, much the way others would put a cross on the wall.

Picture, affixed to the sky, a vast net. At each juncture of the strings, there’s a little dangly jewel. As this jewel dangles, twisting in the breeze, it reflects and re-reflects off every other jewel. It is constantly changing as a response to its environment. So too, its motion appears on the surface of all the other jewels. Each jewel creates, and is co-created by every other jewel by virtue of these reflections.

This is the the Buddhist concept if intercausality. We simultaneously cause each other to come into being through our words, our actions, our nonverbal communication, all of it. As we exist, we change each other.

On board so far?

One more time: The jewel is mutable and intimately connected to all the other jewels. A change in one gem affects all the others.

Storytelling is much the same way. It is a livelihood. It is a lifestyle. It’s a vocation and a career. The stories we tell will survive longer than our laws. Story is the most honest way we can communicate who we are as a people across 4,000 years, and 4,000 miles. It is life.

And yet, story is also Futurama. It is a Wikipedia entry on the early life of Kim Kardashian. It is a jaunty adventure to entertain and delight. It is The Oatmeal and XKCD. It is a dirty joke, an empty boast, an erroneous Facebook meme, and a one-shot tabletop RPG session over pizza.

Story is everything, and it is nothing.

In light of this, I understand why people are upset about the Hugos; but I fail to see why broadening the field presents a threat to anyone’s livelihood. I agree that there are problems with representation and narrow worldviews within the genre. I agree we must do the work to address this; but I don’t agree that we should feel threatened, afraid, or guilty as a default mindset. Awards, like story, are both everything and nothing.

There’s a difference between honoring someone’s state of fear, and taking that fear on yourself. That isn’t the kind of light I want to cast on the people around me. You can do the work without stealing someone else’s thunder (or tissues).

We have always fought. Diverse voices have always been there. As new and old stories are brought to light, we will be changed. As we acknowledge the existence of those beyond our echo chamber, we will be changed. We will lose nothing but ignorance… and that’s perfectly fine.

Yeah, so I don’t necessarily see me or any one artist standing on top of a pedestal and changing the world from the soapbox, but we are pulling together, and I think it does pull consciousness towards something more enlightened.”

— Peter Kunshik Chung (Jeong Geon-Sik), creator of Aeon Flux and co-designer of Rugrats

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Sober-dialing my peeps, becaus Alyx Dellamonica knows what’s up.

Holy fuck. Girl, I don’t know you, but I wish I did.

In response to all the partisan insanity gripping the SFF world, here’s my addition to the conversation.

Mary Anne Mohanraj, you are the kindest badass on the planet. You are in the trenches calling out for justice and humor every day, and I admire you even more for sharing with us your family stories, your cooking, your garden, and your confrontation with motherfucking cancer.

Juliette Wade you brilliant woman you. I remember the day we met and thought you were some kind of untouchable pro — and in no time at all we’re sharing rack of lamb made by your fabulous husband. I love that you share knowledge on every level; from intersectional issues to rock-climbing adventures.

And on that fateful day I met Jon Del Arroz — oh my god! You are the absolute best, because we sit so squarely at opposite ends of the table and the discussions never harm our friendship. You’ve opened my eyes to so much about the way we talk about contentious issues. Plus, like, puns and drinking, and (oh my god, where are the frigging humor mags?). I honor and treasure you. I hope more people like us figure out how to do the same.

Griffin Barber, you too, man. There’s so much we’ve talked about that we can’t say publicly, because we understand how ideology can shape a conversation for ill. I am so grateful for your perspective, and your service, and your example to keep on keepin’ on even when the whole world blasts your kind.

One way to get to know someone fast is to take a road trip with them upon first meeting, right? Kevin Andrew Murphy, you are the shiniest goth I’ve ever met. I don’t think there’s any topic I could name that you don’t have knowledge of, from table settings and obscure poisons, to the literary context of cultural icons. If anyone has reminded me that you have to keep working, keep studying, and keep a healthy mix of curiosity and skepticism, it’s you.

Dave Thompson, for breaking it down, for believing in so many people, and providing a space for everyone to step up and tell the story behind the story.

David Gerrold, and Eric Flint — you guys are anchors in rocky seas. I love you both for holding our community to a higher standard of behavior, and making us laugh even while you scold us for behaving badly.

Lillian Csernica, Patricia H. MacEwen, Arley Sorg, Effie SeibergFrancesca Myman (a benevolent Lucrezia Borgia–I’ll always remember that description of you) and Vylar Kaftan — you connectors, you bridge-builders, you friend-makers. Thank god for you. Thank godlessness for you.

Who did I miss? Everyone, I’m sure; but this is just the beginning. We have more in common than we have in difference, so in deference to difference, I defer to you. High five. Read, digest, pass it on.

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Branding, Writing Under a Pseudonym, Book Covers and Gender

I’ve heard that it’s important for writers to have a brand. If you pick up something by JK Rowling, or Stephen King, you know what you’re in for. They have a particular style, particular themes, and of course genre. From a marketing perspective, some authors have found it useful to jump genres under a pseudonym, so that their current fans won’t be disappointed. The downside is that some fans appreciate good writing no matter what the genre. Perhaps it’s the voice, rather than the tropes, that make for a good read.

Astute as always, Kevin Andrew Murphy has this to say about one of his favorite authors.

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“I’m going to wade mildly into the fray currently in F&SF. I backed the Women Destroy Science Fiction! Kickstarter from Lightspeed and am downloading it, looking forward to reading the stories by numerous friends and colleagues. I was also wondering if Paula Volsky had any new books out since her Curse of the Witch Queen was my absolute favorite at sixteen–and still a favorite–but when you’re a writer, your reading time goes down. I discovered she’s got a new trilogy but it’s published under the pseudonym of Paula Brandon. As romance. But looking at the descriptions of The Veiled Islands Trilogy–The Traitor’s Daughtor, The Ruined City, & The Wanderers–they look like classic Volsky. Yes, a romance plot, but lots of action and adventure and fun magic. Plus zombies. But the covers? The Bridesmaid Dress, Return of the Bridesmaid Dress (now with more sparkles!), and The Bridesmaid Dress Revisited (now dripping with lace cuffs!). And the model’s head cut out of the frame.

While I curseknow a bunch of people have been saying, “Boys don’t read books by women” and I’ve been thinking, “But I’ve got piles of books by women! More than half my favorite authors were women when I was a teen!” they do not have covers like this. And that, I think, is the problem. Boys are fine with someone who looks like a competent, even prettily attired, heroine on the cover, but not with something that looks indistinguishable from an issue of Modern Bride.

And that’s part of the problem. How hard is it to have the heroine in the lavish gown fighting a zombie?”