A brief note of thanks

There’s been a lot happening with Wiscon the past few weeks. I won’t go into it–there are other places you can read up on it– but this week the Wiscon Concom released this statement that Jim Frenkel is permanently banned from Wiscon.

I’m not going to go into the ban itself other than to say it was sorely needed–again, others did a better job of it of explaining why. Also I’m local, so I feel I’m too close to things to share my opinions in public. I’m also a relative newcomer to the con scene, so I don’t think anything I say about Wiscon will have much impact. But there is one thing I do want to say:

In the past few weeks I saw a lot of expressed anger and hurt feelings. I saw turmoil and disappointment. I saw several people step down from the concomm. I also saw a lot of people who said they were angry, but they weren’t going to give up on Wiscon. They were going to work to make things right.

These are the people I want to give their due. Because they worked hard, and they’re still working hard as I write this. And it’s not just local people. It’s people all over the country, people who could’ve just as easily boycotted Wiscon…

(…although this was probably the first time I saw the use of boycotting actually affect change. I’m so used to hearing people decry, “I’ll boycott X or I’ll boycott Y” and for the most part, everyone is like ‘meh’. Many of the people I spoke to who announced they were boycotting Wiscon wasn’t doing it out of spite. They were genuinely concerned for the con and the safety of its attendees. And that helped spur the change within Wiscon itself.)

An institution is only as good as the people that make it up. The Wiscon concom is not perfect, as so many of you pointed out. But they are working on it. And because Wiscon is my home con this is one of the few cons I can go to, the fact that there are people here who are willing to humble themselves, say they’re sorry, then work on change, makes me appreciate them. Deeply.

So thank you, Wiscon, for doing the right thing.

(8/7 Edited to add Skepchick’s wonderful post: Your Well-Written Anti-Harassment Policy is Insufficient)

 

Thoughts on Dialect (‘cause y’all keep buggin me ‘bout it)

So I’ve been following with great interest the discussion about dialect in fiction. It started off by Daniel Jose Older’s comments of a review of his anthology Long Hidden in Strange Horizons, and followed by Abyss & Apex doing an editorial post on the decision to post two different version of a story with a Carribean dialect. There have been many thoughtful essays on it, including Tobias Buckell, Amal El-Mohtar, and Ferrett Steinmetz, so I don’t think I have anything to add except to tell my experience. Which isn’t much, but it’s my two cents, so take that as you will.

Personally, I’ve struggled with dialect in my fiction. Growing up, I was the kid who was teased for "talking proper". I understood Shakespeare better than the slang kids used around my neighborhood. So when I write fiction with black kids, I always worry that they don’t "sound black enough". But now that I’m thinking about it, I was at least aware of it–we tended to drop our ‘g’s a lot, mainly in -ing suffixes. "I’m goin to the store."  Using the d sound for th–what’s dat? Is it over dere? You know what I miss? ‘Fin’. As in "She finna go to the store." "Did you wash the sheets like I axed?" "Man, I FIN to!" 

Interesting aside #1–my mother always mocked us when we said "ovuh dare" for "over there". She said it made us sound like country hicks. That was the only thing she corrected our speech on. Either that or I’ve blocked out what else she corrected us on.

Interesting aside #2–in college, I dated a white guy who one showed me how to use the ‘th’ sound. Up to that point, I didn’t think there was a difference until he showed me how to place my tongue at the back of my teeth. And by that, he showed me using his tongue. Looking back at it now, I have super mixed feelings about it: on the one hand, there’s the dynamic of a white guy teaching a black girl how to speak ‘properly’ (I’m sure he didn’t think about that at all–only thought he was doing a good thing). On the flip side, damn if that wasn’t the sexiest linguist lesson I ever had….

So I just wrote those two asides, and I thought huh. Actually, those two asides play a lot into how I write. I’m coming from a background where "proper English" was correct, not just grammar, but also pronunciation. My mother didn’t want me and my sisters to sound like uneducated hicks because she wanted us to have clear diction, which in her opinion would get us better jobs than working at McDonalds.. My boyfriend wanted me to speak the way he did. And in the African American community, we don’t have the option where the way we speak is consider a "second language" or a "foreign dialect". With us, "white english" equals proper and preferred, "black english" equals ghetto and uneducated. I could show proof, but ain’t nobody got time fo dat.

Angry aside #3–I once dropped a white ex-co-worker from Facebook because of that. Seemed to be a nice guy, went to church, volunteered at our community center. When he learned that Obama had been re-elected, he wrote on his wall "Mo welfare fo us all!" I wanted to say, "How can you mentor those kids at the community center and then turn around and write such a thing?" but I was too upset to respond to him Instead, I dropped him like a hot potato.

It would be good to change black english from being a stigma to something more legitimate. One way we can do so is through stories, because it allows us to tell our own narratives. The problem is that there are those who will always see those dialects as low brow and ignorant. How can we move beyond that? I don’t have an answer. It’s something that is far larger and deeper than I can touch on. The notion that I’ve been bending  towards the white dominant culture is something I’m just now beginning to recognize in my life. I’m working on a separate blog post about it–it’s pretty long and deep, and I’m still trying to decide if I’m going to post it here or somewhere not as public

But what I can do is strive to have more black dialect in my writing. And for me, that means becoming more aware, paying attention, listening. Advocating it more. And having more conversations about it. I liked what Apex Abyss did in putting both versions of Celeste Rita Baker’s story "Name Calling" on their site. (Interestingly, I found the original patois version more engaging. I could hear her voice in my head, whereas the edited version was okay, but more muted.)

Isn’t that the point of stories? To push us? Transport us? To take us out of our lives and put them into another’s?

We also need to give writers a safe space to write stories in their own voices. I thought the point of Long Hidden was to give marginalized voices a chance to be heard. And those voices should include ‘black english’ because that is just as legitimate. It has its own rhythm, its own music, and to erase that is to erase voices that groaned in captivity, that sang in both joy and sorrow, that shouted for justice, and to this day continues to unsettle, unnerve, and push comfort zones to make itself heard.

Now, if you excuse me, I finna go work on my writin, cause dat’s wha’ its’’ ‘bout, son.

My Wiscon 38 Schedule

It’s that time of year again! I plan to be at Wiscon 38 this year, with GoHs N. K. Jemisin and Hiromi Goto. And of course, I have a schedule!

Friday, May 23

Reading at Michelangelos
4:00–5:15pm

Come join me along with Greg Bechtel, David D. Levine and James P. Roberts as we read short stories. I’ll be reading “21 Steps to Enlightenment (Minus 1)”. Also, there will be chocolate!

POC Dinner, Room 629
5:30-7:00pm 

Are you a Person of Color? Going to Wiscon? Come to the POC dinner! Details can be found on the official FB invite. If you’re not on Facebook, we also have a Google Doc where you can sign up and specify the type of meal you want.

Dream Apart: A storygame of the fantastic shtetl, Solitaire
8:00-11:00 pm

I’m participating in a storygame with Benjamin Rosenbaum. A GM-less, collaborative, rules-light, historical fantasy storygame of sorcerers and scholars, midwives and matchmakers, soldiers and klezmers, dybbuks, gossip, pogroms, trolls, rebels, betrothals, demons, angels, blood libel, lusts, and secrets in an Eastern European Jewish shtetl, circa 1850. There’s still a slot open!

Saturday, May 24

Complexity in the World of Jem, Conference 4
4:00–5:15 pm

Join me, K. Tempest Bradford, Isabel Schechter and others as we talk ALL THINGS JEM! Let’s explore all this plus the show’s gender roles (why are Rio and Eric so controlling), how not to run a business (Starlight Records is a mess), and Jem’s curious distrust of the police and law enforcement (the Misfits never go to jail).

Sunday, May 25

No panels for me!

Monday, May 26

SignOut
11:30a to 12:45p

Stop by and say hi, and if you have the What Fates Impose  or the Dark Faith: Invocations anthologies, bring them by and I’ll sign them!

New story! “Sun-Touched” up at Kaleidotrope

I have a new story up! You can now read "Sun-Touched" for free over at Kaleidotrope.

You can thank Neil Gaiman for this one. In 2010, I was invited to attend “The Gathering of American Gods” at the House on the Rock. I was trying to think of a cool costume to wear and, well, okay, I was looking for an excuse to dye my wedding dress with tea. I came up with going as the Moth Queen, because I had a pin shaped like a butterfly, but this party would be at night, so moths fit better.

Well, the costume idea petered out, (I wound up going as a vaguely steampunk lady). But the idea of a Moth Queen stuck with me, and I began to play with the idea. How I went from a Queen to a Princess, Queen and Dowager, I don’t remember. but when I came up with the idea of butterfly people (papilion) being enemies of the moth people (doptera), and how the moth people are attracted to light, I knew I had a story.

I will confess, coming up with the backstory and history of the world was somewhat difficult. After I finished it, I shopped it around. One of the rejections I got mentioned that it was a very good story, but the editor wished the doptera and papilion were more insect-like. And this is true. But I had no clue how to make them more insect-like without making them relatable. And besides, I had a selfish wish to keep the figurines as is, which play a part in the story.

Hmm. Writing that though makes me wonder. Can I make a lead character that’s not human, completely alien, and yet make them relatable? At the time I wrote Sun-Touched, I didn’t think I could. Now? I might be able.

In the meantime, enjoy "Sun-Touched", and let me know what you think!

Review: Bodies in Motion: Stories

Bodies in Motion: Stories
Bodies in Motion: Stories by Mary Anne Mohanraj
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beautiful sensuous read. We get small tastes of life of several generations of Tamil families. They are small, but intense tastes: love, passion, heartache and drama revealed in the burning taste of curries. Also, I loved that there were several settings in Hyde Park, one of my favorite places in the world.

There were times when I had to refer to the genealogy chart in the front of the book, because the names and people blurred together and I couldn’t tell who was the daughter of who. But I loved the stories, and loved to see who sought saftey in the marrying/baby culture, who broke out, who married outside their race, who did not married at all. My favorite were both of Mangai’s stories.

Now I’m hungry for curry.

View all my reviews

New short story! “21 Steps to Enlightenment (Minus 1)” up at Strange Horizons

It’s now up! “21 Steps to Enlightenment (Minus 1)” is up now at Strange Horizons! It has an illustration! It has a podcast! It is so cool!

The inspiration for this story came one day when I was on Google Plus (why yes…I do go there from time to time). Someone had posted an album of different spiral staircase pictures, and when I clicked on the album, it posted all the staircases at once. Seeing all those staircases and spirals got me wondering: what if spiral staircases appeared at random, with no reason whatsoever. What would be at the top? And then I wondered…if spiral staircases could appear out of nowhere, who to say it’s just a normal staircase? What other materials could it be made out of? How fanciful could I make these staircases?

Oh, I had a fun time coming up with the different kinds of staircases. But I didn’t have much of a plot until I came up with the idea that the staircase was a metaphor for epiphanies and enlightenment. Around this time, I had visited my folks back in Chicago, and wound up watching the Help with the womenfolk of my family, including my grandmother, who is awesomely badass. Talking with her and my own mother about growing up and raising kids, made me want to commemorate their strength, while at the same time showing how opportunities seem to open up more for each generation. So I decided to make the spiral story more personal.

The Momma in the story is a mash-up of my mom and grandmother. There are other true parts too; if you know me, you’ll figure it out. I never snuck out of my house, for instance. But the boyfriend part? That’s mostly true. So was the feeling of optimism. My dad never wanted to join the circus though.

Anyway, check it out and let me know what you think. What would your spiral staircase look like?

Book Review: God’s Rivals: Why Has God Allowed Different Religions? Insights from the Bible and the Early Church

God's Rivals: Why Has God Allowed Different Religions? Insights from the Bible and the Early Church
God’s Rivals: Why Has God Allowed Different Religions? Insights from the Bible and the Early Church by Gerald R. McDermott
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an interesting read. The bulk of the book was McDermott examining the question through how the Israelites, the early church, and early theologians saw it. I appreciated the history because most of it I never heard of before. But the book raised more questions for me than answers.

I had a hard time believing the early church view that the different gods, who they considered real, were originally angels who rebelled against God. In fact these angels were supposed to be ambassadors to the other nations for God. But they got corrupted by power and took all of God’s worship for themselves. So let me get this straight: not one god stayed on God’s side? Not even one? Either we’re not getting the whole story, or God (excuse the blasphemy) is not a good creator.

(And here’s a third thought: who says the gods can’t come back God? One of the earlier theologians Origen, thought this might be possible. Then again, he was already considered a little wacky for castrating himself for God, when he was a teenager.)

What did strike me was how perception the spirit world changed throughout the Bible and early church history. In the Old Testament, there were other gods; God was considered the highest among them, and God used them to be ambassadors to other cultures. When we get to the new Testament, those gods are now angels who had become corrupted by their power; come early church history, those angels have been demons all along, and finally, we get to today’s mindset that there never were any gods to begin with–only God himself.

So which view is right? All of the above? None of the above? Was it just our understanding of the gods that changed, not the gods themselves?

Which leads to my second question “How did myth and culture influence the shaping of the gods in culture?” Anything to do with myth was completely missing from the book, which isn’t surprising, considering this book takes the spirit world very seriously. I think I’ll have to look for that answer elsewhere.

Despite my questions, the book did argue against treating other religions as taboo or something to fear. We can even use other religions to deepen our understanding of God. McDermott says other religions are not our enemies (although the spiritual beings behind them are, whatever they are). The reason why God allows other religions is to give a glimpse of Himself to him, and that we should use that glimpse as an invitation to open dialogue about Truth. But if that’s the case, why only glimpses? Why not fully? Why just reveal himself to just the Israelites? The only way I can see this working is if God revealed himself to earlier people in the beginning, and then each people group began to see God their own way, and then that became other gods and…

Gahhhh…now I’m thinking in circles. And as you can see, my questions are not answered.

I guess this book is good for getting the history of how other religions are seen in the church, and I deeply appreciate that. It did also give me a new way to look at other religions. But ultimately, I don’t think the book provides an answer to its own question.

View all my reviews

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