Posts in SFF Community

Coming Full Circle: A Boskone Story (and Schedule)

The year is 2015. The place is Boston. The snow is everywhere. A younger version of me, wide-eyed with excitement, is sharing a hotel room with a writer friend and his girlfriend and checking out a con called Boskone. I am able to attend through the awesomeness that is Con or Bust – they had a last minute drop-out (likely due to all the snow) who donated their ticket to help a fan of color attend the con, and I took advantage. I had a secret goal to learn more about the Odyssey Writing Program, which my writer friend had already gotten in to, but aside from that, I just wanted to learn a few things.

By the end of that weekend, I had decided to apply to Odyssey, learned about the Stonecoast MFA program for the first time, met a ton of awesome people, discovered that tying plastic bags around your shoes to waterproof them does not work well on streets that slope to the side, and found that if you fall over enough times on the same sidewalk, a Good Samaritan may eventually offer you a ride the 2 blocks to the venue. But mostly I discovered that Boskone was awesome, and I set forth a goal to one day be one of the mystical and wise people on the programming who talked about their writing.

And lo, this day has come. I will be at Boskone this year, and I will be on the following panels:

Incorporating Cultures Into Fiction

Format: Panel
16 Feb 2018, Friday 17:00 – 18:00, Marina 3 (Westin)

In writing, it’s hard to navigate between inclusion and appropriation of a culture or cultural elements. But like it or hate it, people write what they know … or at least what they think they know. Complicating matters, the definitions of these two words are fuzzy for many. So, what is cultural appropriation? How do we incorporate cultures or aspects of cultures without crossing the line?

Name That Legendary Object

Format: Game Show
16 Feb 2018, Friday 19:00 – 20:00, Marina 2 (Westin)

Legendary objects of yore — from various worlds throughout the universe, and from myriad planes of existence — have been gathered together in anticipation of this special Boskonegame, for the entertainment and edification of the public. Our expert “historians” compete for the ultimate prize as they seek to identify these awesome articles, which may have once been owned by gods, heroes, villains … or the occasional ancient street sweeper. Audience participation is encouraged: bring your favorite enigmatic items to be identified by our adepts of the interdimensional.

Writing Workshops & MFA Programs Redux

Format: Panel
17 Feb 2018, Saturday 10:00 – 11:00, Marina 1 (Westin)

Thinking about attending a writing workshop or an MFA program? Wondering how to pick the one that’s right for you? Once you do: then what? There’s no magic formula to elicit an acceptance letter, but a solid application is a good place to start. Join representatives from various writing programs, and learn how to present the best of what you have to offer to win your place.

Saturday Night Special Event: Boskone Awards and Rapid-Fire Theater

Format: Event
17 Feb 2018, Saturday 20:00 – 22:00, Harbor II+III (Westin)

Saturday night’s presentation is a fast-paced theatrical extravaganza, featuring a set of mini-shows that resemble live-action podcasts (akin to a science fiction variety show with a short awards ceremony, an interview, a game show, and an original radio show with aliens).

9:30 p.m. — Boskone Radio Play: Boskone‘s Rapid-Fire Theater comes to an out-of-this-world conclusion with a short adapted radio play by Nat Segaloff about humanity’s first contact with aliens.

Women Who Write Science Fiction

Format: Panel
18 Feb 2018, Sunday 12:00 – 13:00, Marina 3 (Westin)

Mary Shelley, Leigh Brackett, Ursula K. Le Guin, Connie Willis, N. K. Jemisin —  women have been in the thick of writing science fiction for a very long time. Let’s discuss some of their landmark publications that captured our imagination. Why do we love these stories? What works should we look for the next time we’re browsing the shelves?

I could not be happier – not only have I achieved my goal, but I get to be a part of an amazingly welcoming group of fans and writers, new friends and old. And this time I have boots. What could be better?

An Amazing Year

It’s been so fun to read everyone’s end of year eligibility for SFF awards posts this year. Personally, though, I’ve had nothing published in 2017. I’m off the hook (well, I’m Campbell-eligible, but probably very very unlikely to be nominated for that). But even though I’m not eligible, I think it’s good to state out loud how 2017 has been going for me as a writer. Because it’s been awesome!

I have officially finished all of the writing that I need to do to get my Stonecoast MFA – my thesis has been accepted. I still have a presentation to give and a reading to do, but the stories that I have spent the last 2 years of blood and sweat and tears on are done. One has already been sold (it will be in The Dark in 2018 – yayayay!), and one helped me win what is pretty much the greatest honor of my writing career so far, the Speculative Literature Foundation’s Diverse Worlds Grant and Diverse Writers Grant. I applied thinking maybe maybe maybe I could get one of them, and somehow I won both. I knew this year that I would be focused much more on writing than on selling (though I tried to get a few flash pieces out to meet the 12 stories in 12 months challenge, it was ultimately too much for me by April/May), but even when you know you’re on a journey and nowhere near your destination, it means so much to see some heartfelt cheerleaders along the way.

But that’s not all! I have started to dip my toe into not only non-fiction (highlighted by a post on that let me go down the rabbit hole of dystopic fiction), but game writing (I’m working on a super fun Choice of Games project that is just what I need to lighten the mood when the stories I’m writing start seeming a little dire), and even slush reading (with the amazing folks at Escape Artists, where I’m an Escape Pod Associate Editor and was a Guest Associate Editor for Psuedopods Artemis Rising call, and my smart and deeply talented fellow students at the Stonecoast Review, where I was a Fiction and Non-Fiction Editor for issue #8). The number of incredible people that I get to work with all the time is pretty amazing.

At the end of the day, though this isn’t something that can be measured or linked to, one of my great joys of the year is that I really feel like part of the Speculative Fiction community now, which I absolutely love. I’ve gotten to speak on a few panels and give a talk, but more than that I’ve gotten to have conversations with fun, smart, engaging writers (and absorb all of their knowledge I possibly can). I’ll be going to a bunch of cons next year, starting with Boskone, and I’m already smiling thinking about it.

Finally, on a personal note, I got the amazing opportunity to travel to seven different countries this summer and try to absorb just a little bit of their setting and life so that I can think back on it when I’m trying to create worlds and cultures and people for my stories. I think that one of the best ways to put life on the page is to go out and live it, and I’m glad I had a chance to do that in a few beautiful places, even if I only got to know them for a brief moment in time.

Okay, enough bragging. Because it does feel like bragging. But writers as a whole (and I in particular) have a tendency to climb a mountain and then act like it was a molehill, to keep looking forward at where we want to go instead of looking and taking a deep breath and acknowledging where we’ve been. So here’s to the journey.

I can’t wait for 2018.



Writing (Speculative Fiction) While Black

It’s rare that a report full of facts and figures punches you right in the gut, but I just finished reading the #BlackSpecFic report (and accompanying editorials) by Fireside Fiction, and I am feeling all the feels. (Note: If you have no idea which report I’m talking about, read it. Read it now. It’s easy to get caught up in shock about the finding, which are that only 38 of the over 2,000 short stories published in speculative short fiction markets were written by a Black person, but there’s more to it than that and it answers a lot of the typical questions about submission rates and quality and all that. It’s worth the read.)

I should probably wait and try to process all of this before I write a blog post, but that isn’t the 2016 way, right, and I worry that I’ll start smudging the truth out of my words, hiding them underneath the veneer of civility and not wanting people to dislike me, so here goes.

I am a Black writer of speculative short fiction who is new to the field, and I have no idea where exactly I fit in. It seems like a ridiculous thing for me to write, honestly, even though it’s true. I mean, as neo-pro spec-fic writers go, I’m doing pretty well. I had the means and work situation/class privilege to be able to go to the Odyssey Writers Workshop for six weeks last summer (and thus qualify for Codex) and enroll in an low-residency MFA at Stonecoast this year.

I live in New York City, so I get to do things like go to the KGB Bar and meet awesome writers and stare in wonder at Ellen Datlow in hopes that I will mind-control her into publishing me one day. I’m a non-threatening short medium-brown skinned extroverted smiley black woman, and people generally tend to (or at least pretend to) like me. With the help of Con or Bust (which sends people of color to SFF conventions across the country), I’ve gone to cons and met some of the coolest spec-fic writers around, including many amazing writers of color. I’ll be at Midamericon II next month, and I’m sure I’ll have a good time. I should feel cloaked in the warm embrace of the SFF writing community. Right?

My burgeoning speculative fiction writing life should be wonderful, but every time I go to send in a piece of short fiction, I start thinking. I think:

This magazine has an awesome diversity statement, but what does that mean for me? I remember, a few years ago, a report revealed something I probably could have told you, that resumes sent in to companies with “black names” don’t do nearly as well as those sent in with “white names.” I don’t have that issue – the name Erin Roberts tends to have people picturing a red-headed Irish woman, not a dreadlocked black one (though for years, I made sure to have something on my resume to indicate that I was a woman of color, because I got sick of having interviewers thrown off by the reality of who I was, repeating over and over again that they “thought I’d have freckles” and ignoring my qualifications).

These days, though, maybe I have the opposite problem. Magazines want “diverse voices” but sometimes I wonder how they’re looking for them. Some authors are known to be people of color, or can be assumed to be POC from their last or first names, but black people are probably the ethnic group most likely to have a name indistinguishable from the Irish girl people always think I am. So how then, do I raise my hand and say – hey this is a diverse voice! Do I put a PS in my cover letter? Do I just keep my head down? Can people tell my background from the way that I write? Do I want them to?

If this story sells, what if I have somehow done more harm than good? When I was at Odyssey, I told my classmates that my biggest writing fear was to have something I wrote torn apart by one of the amazing writers of color who are always willing to speak truth to power. After all, I consume the same media and live in the same country as many of my white writing peers. How much prejudice have I taken in? How much am I unintentionally broadcasting back out, even as I try to use science fiction and fantasy to reflect what I see as the truth of the world I’m living in? What if this story demeans my culture? What if I am a self-hating anti-black sellout who is somehow giving ammunition to racists just by putting my work out in the universe? What if I just want to write about a dragon in Brooklyn? Does all my work have to mean something more? What does it mean for/about me if it doesn’t?

If this story gets traction (an award, a Year’s Best, etc.), how many people will assume it has nothing to do with my talent? I went to an Ivy League university. It was awesome, and a great reward for me kicking ass and grade-grubbing throughout high school. What was less awesome was the people who looked at me and assumed that my acceptance was because of who I was and not what I’d done. (And no, this isn’t an argument to get rid of affirmative action – the answer to one or two racially challenged assholes is not to let the system become just like them).

And now, just as I am starting to get my reward of publication for all the hard work I’ve put into building my writing craft, there are entire movements that seem to insist that a work of science fiction or fantasy that tackles race or gender, that is written by anyone who has had to personally tackle race or gender, only wins awards or get recognized in any way because the powers that be are giving out cookies to people who don’t look like them to satisfy their liberal guilt. That tells me that even if I believe in my stories, in my talent, there will be some people who won’t. And hey, that happens in the writing business, but there’s a difference between being told “I don’t think you’re a good writer” and being told “I don’t think there’s any way you could really be a good writer and don’t you know that people just say good things to you out of pity?”

I don’t have the answers to any of this. I’ve only sold one story. I’ve only gone to a handful of cons. I’m just trying to make my way. So why did I write this? I’m not really sure.

I guess I just want to say, to the other black science fiction and fantasy writers out there who nobody has ever heard of, who are just like me (or nothing at all like me, ’cause do you), to all the black people trying to make it in this field who will probably never see this blog post, I’m putting it out in the universe. I see you. I see you trying. I see you working. I see you submitting and getting rejected and submitting again. I’ll keep writing and trying to get my name out there and trying to get my voice out there, if you’ll do the same.

Let’s knock on the door until our knuckles are bleeding, until we’re sure they hear us, even if they don’t open the door. Let’s feel our feels and cry our tears and channel our passion into the best damn stories this genre has ever seen.

Let’s keep writing.

Five Things I Learned In The Last 10 Days

I have just returned to civilization after 10 days in Maine for my second residency (of five) in my low-res MFA program, where I’m specializing in popular fiction (sci-fi, fantasy, romance, horror, crime, mystery, etc.). It’s kind of like summer camp for writing nerds, and given all the insanity going on in the world right now, it was the perfect escape at the perfect time. There’s no way to really capture the experience, but I’m condensing all my Stonecoastian (that’s a word, right?) knowledge into THE five things I’ve learned and/or are taking with me until the next time I get to hang with my crazy awesome writer friends in Maine.

Drum roll please….

  1. Take risks. We had a whole seminar on risk-taking in fiction, but where I really saw this in action was during our student readings. Everyone gets the opportunity to read their work for 3 minutes, and most of us take it. Some are confident readers, some are nervous as hell, some stare down at cell phone screens and pray nobody calls for the next 3 minutes, some grip papers tightly in their hands. All are brave and inspiring. I loved how as the open mic kept going and nobody was booed off of the stage and/or burst into flames, more people tried to sign up for the last few open slots. Risk-taking. It’s contagious.
  2. Workshopping stories is THE BEST. I love being workshopped. Maybe I was brainwashed by my incredible Odyssey experience last summer, but there’s something so fun to me about seeing what people saw in your story, for good or for bad. As always, had two stories workshopped this go-round. Things I learned about them – it’s probably good to earn your endings, popular fiction students will see through your handwavium technology, and genocide is a downer. Can’t wait to dive back into these stories and get them up to shape and out to market.
  3. I want to be AllTheStonecoastProfessors when I grow up. Every night, we got to hear 3 or 4 of our teachers read from their work for 10 minutes. OMG. Talk about something to aspire to. Not sure how to really summarize the experience except to say, in the words of an old NYC TV commercial, “I laughed! I cried! It was better than Cats!”
  4. Our graduations are the rockingest. I’m not talking about the graduation party, though any group that turns out to the floor en masse for the Time Warp is filled with my kind of people. The graduation itself is just special. In maybe an hour, we were welcomed to the Republic of Poetry, asked to re-examine the blank page, and reminded to “stay gross” and always be who we are. Each time, I know the graduating class better and cry a little more, so I will probably just be a puddle with a cap on by the time I graduate, but it will totally be worth it.
  5. Community matters. One of the reason I love Stonecoast is that we all care about each other. It’s a heavy time in the world and there are always things happening in people’s lives outside of the program, but being at Stonecoast is like being wrapped in some sort of giant comforting creative hug of understanding. We stay up the extra hour to see how a friend is doing. We let the introverts have their time away. We dance into the night like we’re made of pure joy. We work together to make our writing better, to figure out what we’re each trying to say, and amplify each other’s voices.

I can’t wait until next time!

Why The Hugo Noms Make Me Sad

I’m new to science-fiction and fantasy. Not as a reader – I devoured Isaac Asimov short stories in elementary schools and loved Piers Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality in junior high and went through everything Philip K. Dick ever wrote by the time I finished high school. And not as a writer – while I am far from published, my second-grade story “The Witch in the Music Room” definitely had some speculative elements, and my little sisters loved my still unfinished epic about a woman fighting for her son in a all-female fantasy world of killer nuns. But I am new to the genre as an aspiring professional, to the behind-the-scenes dramas and conflicts. I never really knew how the sausage was made. This year, for the first time, I’ve been dipping my toe into the water of the great and wonderous world of sci-fi and fantasy publishing.

And that’s why the Hugo Nominations have made me so sad.

I am a supporting member of WorldCon for the first time ever, so I had the opportunity to nominate for the Hugos. I didn’t. Why? Because as someone just dipping their toe into the water, I hadn’t read enough sci-fi/fantasy this year, in my opinion, to make an informed decision. I read stories and books that I enjoyed, but I couldn’t say if they were the best of the year or not. In the end, I decided that I’d just vote instead of nominating – I would read everything nominated and pick my favorite. That way I’d be sure to know what I was doing. To me, the Hugo Awards are Really Important, and I wanted to give the process the respect I thought it deserved.

Apparently, I totally missed something.

From what I can tell from LiveJournal, Twitter, and more blogs than you can shake a stick at, over the past few years the nominations for the Hugos have turned into some sort of battle between people with a right-wing conservative ideology, who believe that authors who share their beliefs have been unfairly left out of the Hugo nominating process because of a slant in favor of those with more liberal/progressive views (who they call “social justice warriors”), and folks with liberal ideologies, who believe that the views of the right-wingers are hateful and that their books and stories have been left out of the Hugo nominating process because they just don’t appeal to the Hugo voters. The folks on the right, over the last few years, have specifically expressed their displeasure with the process by creating a slate of right-wing conservative authors and nominating them en masse for the Hugos. This year, in particular, they were quite successful, which is why one guy is nominated like 7 times in 3 categories.

Here’s the thing – where in here is anyone talking about the actual stories and books that are being written? We’re all writers – we know how hard it is to put pen to paper and create something that even sells, much less is read, much less is nominated for anything. Personally, I would hate to be nominated for an award because people like what I believe. I want people to one day nominate me for a Hugo because they like what I wrote.

If the Hugos turn into a culture war of SadPuppies vs. HappyPuppies vs. whatever, all it means is that a few influential people on each side of the line get to tell the rest of us what they think is good fiction, that we don’t get to decide for ourselves because we’re too busy trying to make some larger cultural point, that authors will start spending more time blogging about controversy and appealing to the masses and less time writing about what they care about.

That just makes me so freaking sad.

I get that ideology matters. I get that it colors our views. I have no problem with people liking or disliking a story because the writing supports or challenges the way they think.The whole reason I started writing in this dang genre is because I love the way that science fiction and fantasy use other worlds to show us something about our own. And I have no problem with people being upset because their writing isn’t appreciated by the field. I think it’s fairly inevitable as different styles come in and out of vogue – much like we don’t all still wear shoulder pads or rock mullets – but it’s still got to be frustrating to write something that’s good and feel like it’s gotten lost or ignored or been under-appreciated.

What I do have a problem with is reducing written works to the importance of the beliefs of their authors. If who wrote the story is the thing that makes you like it, and not what they wrote in that story, something is wrong. If the Hugos become a competition between people and beliefs instead of between stories and books and movies, then something is wrong. Don’t sway me to your side with screed about what you believe or what the world has become. Write something amazing and ask me to read it. Get my vote the old-fashioned way. Turn me into a reader.

Pick All The Awards!

I saw Selma with family over Christmas and I loved it. The acting was very good, but what really made it work for me was the direction – strong enough that I noticed it, but subtle enough that I only saw it as a good thing (kind of like a beard on a handsome man). There is a moment shortly after the film opens that made me gasp, despite knowing exactly what was coming, and cast an event I’ve known about for years in a whole new light.

And yet, it didn’t get a Best Directing Oscar Nod. From what I understand, screeners went out late or not at all, and I don’t think this was ever the type of movie that Oscar voters would go in droves see on their own in the brief window between release and when ballots were due. And so it goes – the little people don’t get to control things like that.

Except when they do.

I found out today that I can nominate for and vote on the Hugo Award by becoming a supporting member of Sasquan, which is this year’s WorldCon. On the one hand, I think I knew that – I vaguely paid attention to a voting controversy last year that seemed to center around block voting, but it still seemed like something that members of the elusive published in-crowd were debating. Nope. I can be a part of it! For just $40! I’m psyched. Not only does this get me more into the specfic culture, but it also means that I’ll get a chance to really consider some of the best stories of the year and weigh in. I can’t wait.