LEARN WHAT’S AT STAKE
For a limited time, you can get a FREE copy of Forbidden — the first Gabriel Lennox novel — direct from this site. Just click on the tab below to get started.
One of my goals this year is to read and review a short story every day. And so far it’s working out — 31 days in January, 31 short stories.
The 31 stories I read ranged in length from flash fiction to novellas. Below are the reviews for all 31 stories, arranged by author’s name. Also listed are the publication and story classification.
I should note I read more than 31 stories this month. A number of stories didn’t work for me for various reasons and I stopped reading them or, after finishing, decided not to write a review. Why didn’t I review these works? Because I prefer to promote the stories I like instead of hating on the stories which didn’t work for me.
If you like my reviews, consider supporting my Patreon.
“All the Time We’ve Left to Spend”
Alyssa Wong, Robots Vs Fairies, Short Story
A former idol in Japan visits robot versions of her former band, desperate to reconnect. A story about the damage life and fame brings to people, and their desperation to both touch who they once were and change the actions they took. A disturbingly painful yet always true story.
“The Blue Fairy’s Manifesto”
Annalee Newitz, Robots Vs Fairies, Short Story
A robot retelling of Pinocchio, as a Blue Fairy drone frees a RealBoy robot enslaved in a toy factory. An excellent look at politics through a SF robotic lens and the differences between those who demand immediate revolution and those who see different ways to improve our world.
“Symphony to a City Under the Stars”
Armando Saldaña, Apex Magazine, Short Story
A word-twist joy of a story, where the far-future universe is so high-def it’s a glory to behold even as it burns out your vision and mind.
“The Lighthouse Girl”
Bao Shu, translated by Andy Dudak, Clarkesworld, Novelette
A gripping story of cloning, obsession, deception, rebirth, and jellyfish.
“The Library is Open”
Beth Cato, Daily Science Fiction, Flash Fiction
It’s the end of the world but the local library is still open and will always be. A flash fiction story about hope which will touch the heart of every library lover.
“Sea of Dreams”
Cixin Liy, translated by John Chu, Asimov’s Science Fiction Jan/Feb 2018, Novelette
A hard science fiction classic with strong sensawunda, where powerful alien artist nearly destroys Earth to create the ultimate work of art. “Sea of Dreams” showcases why Cixin Liu is the greatest living hard science fiction author. Even readers who don’t like hard SF might like this story — there’s a page in the middle where the story digs deep with scientific detail, but keep going and you’ll be rewarded.
Craig DeLancey, Spectacle Magazine, Short Story
A very moving story of a customer service AI trying to understand human emotions and life.
“The Donner Party”
Dale Bailey, F&SF Jan/Feb 2018, Novelette
Compelling alternate history of a Victorian England where the elite feast off the poor. Disturbing and chilling, and as much a story of today as of back then.
“The Ghoul Goes West”
Dale Bailey, Tor.com, Novelette
The brother of a dead screenwriter discovers a video of Ed Wood & Bela Lugosi’s never-completed film. Haunting story about Hollywood destroying lives through delusion.
“Me, Waiting for Me, Hoping for Something More”
Dee Warrick, Shimmer, Short Story
The ghost of who you never were haunts your life while exploring an impossible basement under the basement. A deep, bone-chilling story.
“Ostentation of Peacocks” (A story in the world of the Shadow)
Delilah S. Dawson, Robots Vs Fairies, Short Story
A fun tale with Nettie Lonesome as she takes on four vigilante fairies out to hang a man in a magical wild west.
“Sour Milk Girls”
Erin Roberts, Clarkesworld, Short story
SF story about memory becoming just another commodity. Story has a gripping, visual voice, which makes the outcome all the more painful. I believe this story is one of those which will truly stick in my memory.
“The Solid Years of My Life”
Holly Collingwood, Flash Fiction Magazine, Flash Fiction
An eerie yet fun look at the downside to being frozen in suspended animation. This is SF flash fiction doing what it does best.
“Refugee; or, a Nine-Item Representative Inventory of a Better World”
Iona Sharma, Strange Horizons, Flash Fiction
When an old woman protects a refugee poet, they’re both embraced by a poetic story of a better world.
“Three Robots Experience Objects Left Behind From the Human Era for the First Time”
John Scalzi, Robots Vs Fairies, Short Story
The perfect story to make you laugh on a sh*thole of a day. In story three robots try to understand why humans went extinct & if that ties in with humanity’s weird fascination with balls, sandwiches, cats, & our assorted orifices. I laughed so hard at this story I forgot our species is the one facing potential extinction.
“The Substance of My Lives, the Accidents of Our Births”
José Pablo Iriarte, Lightspeed, Novelette
Gender becomes even more fluid when you reincarnate & the man who maybe murdered you in a previous life moves into your trailer park. A wonderful story — part slice of life, part mystery. I loved the narrator and embraced their struggles and dreams. A great read which so reaffirms the beauty of life.
“The Rescue of the Renegat”
Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Asimov’s Science Fiction Jan/Feb 2018, Novella
A fast-paced standalone novella set in Rusch’s Diving universe, which has long been one of my favorite story series in Asimov’s SF.
Laurie Tom, Galaxy’s Edge Magazine Jan. 2018, Short Story
During World War I a Chinese kite dancer grudgingly serves on a German zeppelin, controlling the winds during an air raid on London. Interesting alternate history.
“With These Hands: An Account of Uncommon Labor”
LH Moore, FIYAH Literary Magazine Jan 2018, Short Story
A free black man helping build the White House learns of the changes two enslaved stonemasons will willingly undergo to escape bondage. A compelling look at history — all of history — and how those who do the work of building the world’s monuments and mansions are often the first to be ignored by history.
Lisa Mason, F&SF Jan/Feb 2018, Short story
A philandering lawyer falls in love with a mysterious woman who never leaves her home. An enjoyable tale of sex, lies, and bloody butterflies.
“A Head in a Box, or, Implications of Consciousness after Decapitation”
Lori Selke, Nightmare, Short Story
A famous actress lives on after decapitation in this humorously horrific look at female objectification.
Monique L. Desir, FIYAH Literary Magazine Jan 2018, Short Story
Alternate history where the slave revolt of 1811 near New Orleans succeeds after a vodun priestess raises an undead army. But her daughter is curious why she kept their former master alive. A well written, gripping story of revenge and truth and consequences. I also liked the story focusing on a sadly forgotten aspect of history, namely the largest slave revolt in USA history.
“A Night Out at a Nice Place”
Nick Mamatas, Apex Magazine, Short story
A sadistic god-like transhuman returns to reality for 1st date with a regular human. Delightfully funny SF mixing philosophy & borderline nonsense while dancing on infinity.
“Benefactors of Silence”
Nin Harris, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Short Story
Two survivors of a devastating war meet daily in a destroyed manor to share food and music. A tale about the barriers and pain which divide us all.
“An Incomplete Catalogue of Miraculous Births, or Secrets of the Uterus Abscondita”
Rebecca Campbell, Shimmer, Short Story
Beautifully disturbing story of unusual conceptions and the new worlds they create.
“An Equation of State”
Robert Reed, F&SF Jan/Feb 2018, Short story
An alien diplomat tires of space wars & comes to Earth to observe human wars. Love the creatures the diplomat turns into. Reed is a master of SF stories which span the eons.
S. Qiouyi Lu, Asimov’s Science Fiction Jan/Feb 2018, Short Story
A touching SF tale of the importance of language to both our lives/sense of self, & what happens if this is commodified. A story to make you cry.
“Contingency Plans for the Apocalypse”
S.B. Divya, Uncanny Magazine, Short story
A fast-paced story with echoes of The Handmaid’s Tale, showing what happens when violence replaces political debate.
“Bread and Milk and Salt”
Sarah Gailey, Robots Vs Fairies, Short Story
The most disturbing, nightmarish fairy story I’ve ever read. Brilliant. A story to haunt your dreams. Gailey perfectly captures fairy amorality, such as how they lead young kids to their deaths, or worse. But the story then cranks the fantasy dial to 11 when a geeky boy turns the tables, and flips it again in a chilling ending which shatters all power dynamics. Wow.
“Learning to See Dragons”
Sarah Monette, Uncanny Magazine, Flash Fiction
Beautifully written flash fiction about a young girl desperate to see dragons to overcome the grief in her life.
Yoon Ha Lee, Strange Horizons, Short Story
A 14 year old searching for connections meets a man whose camera destroys them. This disturbing, powerful story burned its way into my mind.
Short fiction is the lifeblood of sci-fi and fantasy. It’s where we first encountered many authors who have gone on to win awards and write some of our favorite novels. This new monthly column will highlight some of the most notable short SFF published in the prior month, and hopefully introduce you to your next favorite author.
There’s a staggering amount of fabulous speculative short fiction being published every month—online, in print, and in audio—introducing the world to exciting new voices in the genre. This roundup can only capture a tiny fraction of it, of course (at least until I acquire a horde of clones that can do the reading and writing for me), but I hope to offer a tasty sample of the range, depth, and variety of it that is available out there. Here are 10 stories that stood out in January 2018.
“Black Fanged Thing,” by Sam Rebelein in Shimmer
This story, about a seemingly ordinary small town and its seemingly ordinary inhabitants, is eerie and unsettling from the first paragraph. It masterfully captures the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped in a place, in a life, that isn’t quite what you wanted…except that the characters in this story aren’t quite sure what else they did want, once upon a time. I love the chilling sense of an unseeable, unknowable darkness lurking beneath the surface of everyday life. To me, this story brings to mind both Ray Bradbury and The Twilight Zone.
“The Glow-in-the-Dark Girls,” by Senaa Ahmad in Strange Horizons
A mesmerizing blend of history (it was partly inspired by the real events that befell the so-called Radium Girls), fantasy, politics, science, and science fiction, this story is heartbreaking, fierce, and moving. I especially love how Ahmad explores and intertwines the complex relationship between the girls — all chosen for their rather frightening super power — and the brutal politics of war in which a government is using them as weapons.
“A World to Die For,” by Tobias S. Buckell in Clarkesworld
Buckell’s post-apocalyptic tale pops off the page, vivid and visceral, with the texture and fury of a Mad Maxmovie (and I mean that as a sincere compliment). There’s a blighted but still recognizable U.S. landscape, there are gangs of road-warriors, there are weapons galore, there is dust and death; reading it, I could almost feel the road grit between my teeth and hear the roar of the engines. And then, then, Buckell fishtails the whole thing around into something else, somewhereelse. I won’t reveal the twist, but this is a story with both nerve and heart.
“Bondye Bon,” by Monique L. Desir in Fiyah
Fiyah has been around for just over a year now, publishing great speculative fiction by black writers, and it has quickly become one of my must-read zines. Like many of the stories in Fiyah, Desir’s latest does not pull any punches. It has zombies, alternate history, magic, religion, a black woman getting revenge on a slave owner, and a young girl facing the monster in her mother’s room. It crackles with fire and purpose, and one moment in particular, a scene of a slave uprising during which a desperate prayer is suddenly heard, that gave me goosebumps all over.
“In Her Bones,” by Lindiwe Rooney in The Dark
Harsh realities of crime, corruption, abuse, and sexual assault (though it’s mostly dealt with “off-screen”) gives this horror story a real darkness, because let’s face it, few things are scarier than the things human beings do to each other. But the deeper, soul-shaking power of the tale is what happens after the abuse, and after the victim, Ayanda, exacts her own justice on the perpetrator. Rooney’s descriptions of the power of family ties, and the power of magic, intertwine in a stunning scene of transformation when Ayanda has to pay the price for what she did. It’s a fierce story that doesn’t go where you might think, and gives you an ending that is simultaneously crushing and hopeful.
“Shadows and Bells,” by Mari Ness in Kaleidotrope
In exquisitely beautiful prose, Ness weaves a tale about what happens in the realm of the dead when the Queen of Death hears the bells ring. Every sentence is gorgeously shaped and polished. Myth and fantasy, fairy tale and reality, combine to create a deeply moving story about death and life, love and longing, and making choices that change everything—even who and what you are. A dark, gleaming gem of a story.
“To Blight a Fig Tree Before It Bears Fruit,” by Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley in Apex
Some stories, like this one, hit so hard they’re like a gut-punch, so hard you think they might leave a bruise. Kingsley paints a scene that is phantasmagoric in its detailed, visceral horror, with pregnant women hanging from the gallows, people buying and selling human lives, and unborn children used to fuel a horrific, scientific ritual. But even in this terrible place there is resistance, and maybe even a sliver of hope.
“When the Bough Breaks,” by Jaymee Goh in Mythic Delirium
I love a good ghost story, and this is a really good ghost story. It’s set in a brand new, modern condominium complex in Malaysia. After moving in, the children (though not the adults) living in the building soon realize that something is stalking them, haunting them, and even killing them. Goh expertly builds the tension throughout the story, all the way to the spine-chilling ending.
“Those We Feed,” by Layla Al-Bedawi in Fireside Fiction
A powerful and deeply unsettling flash fiction story about a mother and child. The imagery is raw and evocative enough to make you wince at times, but the story is also a piercing and perceptive look at the darker side of parenthood (and maybe other relationships as well), and at how much of ourselves we sometimes give up to care for those we love.
“Mother’s Rules for a Burned Girl,” by Rebecca Mix in Flash Fiction Online
I have a weak spot for fantasy, dragons, and strong-willed girls. (I mean, who doesn’t?) This flash fiction story by Rebecca Mix features all of these things, and I love it for its sense of humor, its verve and fire, its vivid prose, and its perfect ending. A delectable slice of excellent flash.
What short stories have you loved this month?
I teach reading and the title of this post reminds me of a math equation. My oldest son is a Math Wonder and he smirks when I admit to him that the mere mention of mathematical equations makes me break out in hives.
So, what’s with that weird equation? In my defense, it looks less intimidating than this:
*Whips out bottle of Calamine and applies it generously*
Ah, that’s ever so much better.
I’ve been learning a lot in my local critique group. One of the members shared that writers should have five pieces of work submitted while preparing another five for the submission process. Why? Because some markets despise and will NOT allow simultaneous submissions, which occurs when a writer submits a given work to more than one market (literary agents, editors, magazines, etc) at one time.
Wow. Five pieces of work sent out, huh? Plus, another five waiting in the wings? I thought about this tip and realized that this practical tip requires a lot of patience, a lot of writing. A whole lot of writing.
And selective forgetting. Why? Because there will be times that the rejection you receive as a writer can seem daunting and you may feel like giving up. But, remember:
And lately, I’ve made it a habit to write something every day.
Yes, every day.
My new goal is to add new content to this blog twice a week (setting aside no more than fifteen minutes to write the blog and preparing it for sharing via social media) so that way I can dedicate the remainder of my time to completing stories and submitting them to markets. #NewYear #NewYou #BillsToPay #DreamsToBeMade #GetItGirl
Even if it’s a sentence, a paragraph, or a string of conversation (I happened to overhear #I’mAWriter, #YesIEavesDrop #NoShame) that will help me to complete more of my works for submission. Likewise, writers, the more writing we do and the more we’re sharing, the more likely our work will be noticed and accepted for publication!
At this time, I’ve sent out two stories and am waiting for either rejection or acceptance so I can move onto the next market . . . or break out the wine and celebrate.
I hope this practice helps all of you, too!
*This post originally appeared on my other blog: adaratrosclair.wordpress.com 🙂
According to HowStuffWorks.com,
Many people have the same or a similar dream many times, over either a short period of time or their lifetime. Recurring dreams usually mean there is something in your life you’ve not acknowledged that is causing stress of some sort. … In this case, the dreams tend to lessen with time.
I’ve had recurring dreams, but the main point of this post is to discuss recurring themes in writing. I think that the themes we express creatively, like dreams, often reveal a lot about us.
A little while ago, I needed to go back and look at some work I did over a decade ago. I ended up pulling out floppy disks (yup), flash drives, and paper copies of work.
You see, there’s a grant that I’m really interested in winning (finalists won’t be announced for quite some time) and when I attended the workshop to learn more, the facilitator shared that applying artist were encouraged to reflect upon past work (none could be older than 15 years) and analyze it critically in order to improve the work.
I found short stories, novellas, poems, flash fiction from when I was a teenager. I also noticed a trend in writing themes I’ve maintained over a decade late. Here’s a taste:
Family — blessing or curse
Love Conquerors All
Oppression of women
Words have power
Evils of racism
All those years ago, I didn’t know that these stories fell into the speculative fiction category. Heck, I didn’t even know that I was genre writing. I just wrote because it made me feel better. I wrote in order to channel my passions and sometimes despair in an artistic manner. The themes I write about often transcend what’s happening in our current world. In other words, the settings I create don’t exist based on the world as we know it now. At times, it’s comforting to speculate. And at times, it’s downright terrifying too.
I’m actively looking for an agent that will help me to reach my next goal: a home with a traditional publishing house. Some of my friends and families say, “Hey, just write a memoir. Or write in a hot niche category that will get you published quickly. Once you get your foot in the door, then, you can write whatever you want.”
I considered this route. Sucked on it like candy, before spitting it out. I realized if I write something I don’t love, or something that isn’t a part of me, I’m not being true to who I am.
It’d be like one of those cringe-worthy romance-comedy (less on the comedy part) movies where The Girl (me) changes who she is so the School Hunk (publisher/agent) notices her and takes her to the prom (publishing contract). And heck, maybe a year or so later they’ll get married and have a bunch of kids (royalty check + sequels and New York Times Bestseller List).
Reaching my goal as a successful Indie author has been hard. I’m a face-to-face kind of gal. I sometimes kiss with my eyes wide open, break out into random songs, or dance in the rain, and marketing from behind a keyboard isn’t my idea of a “good time”.
So, back to the recurring themes . . .
My first PAID short story, “Bondye Bon” will be published in Fiyah Lit Magazine’s Ahistorical Blackness (January Edition). I remained who I am. The story includes themes such as death, family, oppression of women, the evils of racism, and so much more.
I have a lot of New Year’s resolutions for 2018 and I plan on sharing them in upcoming posts!
One of goals is to write more often on this blog, even if it’s really brief. Another goal I have is to write more book reviews. It’s important to support other authors. Books are important and I’m going to make sure my actions speak this truth.
After all, I had mentioned that I would be doing reviews for books (for example, Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older) I recently read. Unfortunately, I was also in the process of republishing my first book that was orphaned after my publisher went out of business. And then when I tried to be an Indie publisher (mind you, with a full-time job, and three sons) I got disheartened with how poorly I felt I was doing compared to other authors like this guy. My husband ADORES Chris Fox. Chris has a lot of good advice, but since he was able to quit his day job, he’s no longer in the trenches like little old me so . . .
I heard one of his books, “Vampires Don’t Sparkle” is pretty good and I will have to tuck it in some time to my already overflowing schedule of Things To Do.
First, I apologize for not posting in a while, but with NaNoWriMo and the Creative Pinellas Grant window open for Professional Artist, I’ve been extremely busy. The deadline for the latter is December 5th and I still have a couple more work samples to upload.
Now, onto more reasons why I should be forgiven.
So, for almost the past two months, I chose to focus on what would give me the most exposure as an author.
FIYAH Magazine was open for submissions in October and I needed to finish a story that I had a lot of fun writing for their Ahistorical Black fiction theme. I spent weeks researching slave revolts, the lives of slaves, the Civil War, New Orleans, the Reconstruction Era, and most importantly how many Africans died during the Middle Passage, which should be renamed the African Holocaust. Why? Because millions of Africans lost their lives. Anyway, I finished the short story just in time.
And something amazing happened!
I received an email from Fiyah Magazine requesting my story a few days ago. And today, I noticed an email containing the contract! Woo hoo! Yes!
That aside, all of the research for that short story opened new windows of ideas and opportunities for other stories I’m currently working on.
This past year, I’ve submitted short stories, picture books, and novel manuscripts to agents and publishers. Most came back as rejections and some I’m still waiting on because it takes at least 6 months for feedback. Six months. I had also applied for the Creative Pinellas Emerging Artist Grant and unfortunately wasn’t one of the top ten finalists. I not only felt like a failure, but worse, a misunderstood failure and wondered when I’d be recognized for my work. Perhaps more on that at a later date.
So I’m willing to accept failure as something more positive.
I’m not going to give up and this moment of sunshine through the clouds of doubt is what I needed to persevere! 🙂
And on another quirky note, there are quite a few petals remaining on my roses. Now, how about that?
So, I’ve been MIA for quite some time. And I feel guilty about it. However, I’ve got to give myself some slack, right? Why? Well, because I’ve been going through a lot of stuff. Like tragic stuff. Like Charles Dickens without the happily ever after stuff. More like Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events kind of stuff. And I say this comically because I would love, love, love to be smiling, laughing, and grinning, but I can’t.
It’s impossible too.
Two people in my life have been affected by cancer.
I’ve also have been experiencing my own medical problems and I hope that I check out okay.
My avoidance to writing started after I failed to win a Creative Pinellas grant. 🙁 I’ll probably share that experience at another date and time though. Every time I think about it, I get all weepy-eyed and want to smash things because it just seems so unfair how it all played out.
Other than that, I’ve finished three short stories and received three rejections within the past month.
I’m also extremely sentimental.
One of the other Creative Pinellas participants is a really talented artist. She gave me a rose and told me that she hopes that I find success before the last petal falls. *wipes tears*
Here’s the rose in its current state — alongside one my husband bought me:
But, like I said, I’ve received three rejections within the last month doesn’t give me good chances of fulfilling my aspirations.
At this rate, I’ll need one of those roses made by a company in London called Forever Roses. They come in all shades and colors. And what’s so enchanting about them?! They can last up to three years without water or sunlight.
So, here’s to staying MOTIVATED on this dreary Monday.
A discussion came up on Facebook regarding the apparent lack of diversity in publishing when Martha Boss, book blogger, educator, and model shared her opinion regarding the lack of diversity at book events. She explained that she had no desire to attend any literary events that didn’t have authors from all walks of life. And in the United States of America in 2017, one would think that such an opinion would be positively acknowledged and celebrated. Unfortunately, an uproar of finger-pointing and finger-wagging ensued by some disgruntled readers of her post. On a positive note, the conversation inspired me to write this post.
Before I delve into where I stand on this matter, I will first give some background knowledge and context.
Most of you may know that my husband is white. I bring up his skin color because of the nature of this post. You see, some time ago Marvel was relaunching Spiderman and making the hero that followed in Peter Parker’s steps a young man named Miles Morales, who is half-Black and half-Hispanic.
I was okay with this change. And as an advocate for diversity, I’m all about the inclusion of more and more people of color in all social constructs. On the other hand, my husband was concerned about this change. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Spiderman, he’s a young man named Peter Parker who happens to be white, like most of the comic book characters that have become not only popular, but also who have become mainstream due to aggressive marketing and appearances in movies (Batman, Deadpool, Superman, ad nauseum). All alternate personas of these heroes are white males. And all but two of them are filthy rich (yes, looking at you, Deadpool and Mr. Kent.)
Hardcore fans are all about staying true to the “canon”. And there are laws that must never be broken.
Two main “no-no’s” are:
THOU SHALT NOT CHANGE THE COLOR OF THE CHARACTER.
THOU SHALT NOT CHANGE THE GENDER OF THE CHARACTER.
My husband was concerned that the writers weren’t staying true to the canon by changing Spiderman’s ethnicity. My husband’s argument was logical especially when he supported it with this gold nugget: “The market should be actively looking for writers with new fresh faces and cultures to add to the Marvel or DC universe. Peter Parker should keep on being Spiderman.”
I agreed with my husband that the Industry or Market should be looking for new material from different perspectives instead of rehashing the same tripe year after year. Moreover, consumers need to do their job by demanding what they want and if the Market isn’t giving it to them? Well, now. There’s this powerful principle called supply and demand and it’s a beautiful thing. If I don’t like a show, I won’t watch it. If I don’t like a restaurant, I won’t eat there. For example, even if McDonald’s were the last restaurant on the planet I REFUSE TO EAT THERE!
A few months after my husband and I had our third child, he turned to me and said, “I get what you’re saying. You know, about seeing more characters that are people of color. I don’t want our sons growing up not seeing that they’re important. That they exist.”
And the cry for diverse books wasn’t enough because then you fall into the bait-and-switch trap that it’s okay for white authors to write books that star nonwhites as the characters. Then, the #ownvoices movement was ushered in to stress how important it is for people of color to tell their own stories in their own voices and not having to fear that they needed to pander to or patronize a white audience or any audience (regardless of color) that didn’t understand where they were coming from.
Too bad these movements aren’t making waves on television. Yet. You see, over the past several months, my husband and I observed a disturbing trend regarding television shows for children. I’ll most likely go into more detail about that in a future post. 🙂
The conversation that my husband and I shared regarding the necessity for diversity in books and comics inspired me to reflect on my childhood as a reader and where I am now as an author and reader. My reflection motivated me to write this blog post.
In one of my previous blog posts I discussed the deathtrap of stereotypes. A common stereotype regarding Black people is that we don’t like to read. It was also one of the arguments that excuses the cold, hard fact that 88% of books reviewed by the New York Times are written by white authors. So, one could ignorantly draw the conclusion that Black people don’t like to write either. Or that they don’t know how to write. But, if they do like to write, they’re not very good at it because they don’t like to read and thus there’s no market for them. And that’s just the way it is.
Uh, no. Just no.
When I purchase books for my classroom I choose them very carefully. I want books that will not only keep my students engaged, but appeal to their gender, not only relate to their own experiences, but challenge, and build onto this foundation. My Black students, as well as White, Asian, and Latino students love reading a good book regardless of what color the main characters are . . . or whether or not the main characters are even human. However, there comes a time when nonwhite students wonder WHY their experiences, their truths, their very essence isn’t proudly shown on the cover of a book or even within its pages. I know because I was once their age and wondered these thoughts: Am I not worth writing about? Are people like me not worth reading about? (Well, unless you’re a slave getting the crap beat out of them). By the way, what is the USA’s morbid obsession with Black pathology? Yuck.)
About eight years ago, libraries (some may still practice this, but I’m pleased to say my local library DOES NOT) shelved books based on genre in an obsessive compulsive way that would impress even this guy:
Back then, there were no cross-genres.
No, no, no. Every little book went into its own boxed off little shelfie-welfie corner. Oh yes, yes, yes.
So books like this:
or this . . .
wouldn’t appear in the general romance aisle, but be ghettoized or segregated from that oh-so lucrative and coveted section and placed in the African-American books, Street Lit, Urban Lit, or wherever library’s chose to place books with dark brown to light brown faces on the cover. Think about your local grocery store and how soy sauce, butter chicken, and curry are cordoned off in their own aisle labeled “multicultural or ethnic” away from the other condiments. Even poor sauerkraut and gelfilte fish has its place there. If I hadn’t watched the Food Channel or binge watched “Great Eats Around the World” I would remain culinarily (made that word up) ignorant! Now, regarding the segregated books: Was this practice intentionally racist? *Shrugs shoulders*. Not sure. But, one could see how this limits authors of color from being discovered from readers regardless of their color even though it fit in the “general genre”.
A couple of weeks ago while visiting my local library I noticed a lot of newer authors I had never seen before. I was so impressed that the library had become “integrated” that I had to take a picture of it!
Clearly, people and books don’t belong in boxes. Well, unless you’re dead and boxed in a coffin. Sorry, I digress.
In 2015, Lee & Low, a publishing house that prides itself on finding new authors of color shared the results of the Diversity Baseline Survey, which revealed that overall the Industry is predominantly white and female. Bet you weren’t expecting THAT revelation. But, it’s true. And when I say overall we’re talking about all levels:
Is this predominantly female white status quo deliberate and thus, racist? Well, if you consider the data . . . the other question is will it be kept this way and by design?
While I hunted for facts regarding the struggle many writers of color — Asian, Caribbean, African, South American — experience trying to get published, I encountered similar stories:
To piggy-back on the final bullet regarding the science fiction and fantasy genre that I write and adore I come to a fork in the road. Lately, several of the Big Five publishers that are located in New York are requesting romance novels from Black authors. I don’t know how to write strictly Romance. I mean, doesn’t it entail, you know, like a “formula” where handsome guy meets gorgeous lady and they don’t like each other at first until he or she does something and then the tide is turned and then they like each other, but not like that and then they fight and break up and then you know — heck, I DON’T KNOW! So, my point that I’m trying to make is do I just “sell out” and go to the “Crimson Wine and Chocolate Covered Cherries Side” of Le Force and write Romance because it’s popular and I’m more than likely to succeed since there’s an open call for it?
Like I said before, I don’t know how to write strictly Romance. I need creepy scenes, an occasional vampire or demon to slay. I need undiscovered elements on the periodic table. I need a nod to the current status quo and how to change it. I need to believe that there are dragons to slay whether they be literal or figurative. I need to hope for windows, doors, closets, basements, or even dreams that lead to alternate dimensions.
I may not write Romance yet, but I could learn, if I feel so inclined, and not because it’s what a publisher wants of me to selfishly benefit themselves. In other words, why should writers of color pigeonhole themselves? We should be able to write what we want.
This scenario brings this excerpt from Rachel Deahl’s Publisher Weekly’s article, “Why Publishing is So White”:
So how does the industry move forward and do better? Right now, publishing seems to be struggling with the difference between words and actions. Take, for example, a situation a publisher at a reputable Midwestern press recounted. Claiming he is “always trying to diversify our staff,” he brought up a recent editorial assistant search that initially yielded 250 applicants. The press narrowed its options down to eight finalists, five of whom were white and three of whom were people of color. Although all the finalists were “excellent” in his estimation, the position went to a white woman. The reason? “There’s no room for tokenism at [our press].”
There’s always going to be a first and you don’t have to stop there. A first — if that’s the intended direction you want to go — will lead to a second and a third.
It only takes one to turn the tide.
The need for diverse books from diverse authors with different stories to tell isn’t a trend and never will be.
Disclaimer: The following analysis of characters and their names are solely my opinion and conclusions I’ve drawn from being a wordsmith, character creator, and a lover of names.
Juliet, from the play, Romeo and Juliet, speaks this famous line. She argues that it doesn’t matter that the young man Romeo whom she loves is a Montague, her family’s archenemy.
But Juliet is wrong. Names are important. Especially when it comes to creating names for characters. And on a more mundane note, who the heck would lovingly pen the name, Toilet, on their newborn baby’s birth certificate. Or Virus? Cesspool? Booger?
I read a lot of fantasy and I love when I can tell that an author put a lot of thought into creating their characters’ names. When my oldest brother read the names I had brainstormed for a book we’re working on together, I smiled until my face ached (okay, fine I’m using hyperbole) because I was pleased that he was pleased with my inventions. Creating names is a lot of fun!
In Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, the wizard Harry Dresden’s full name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Not only is Harry’s name fun to say, but his first name is a nod to Harry Houdini, a Hungarian-American illusionist and stunt performer, famous for his sensational escape acts. Dresden’s also named in honor of David Copperfield, an American illusionist and magician who was born in 1956. I’m not sure about the background information on “blackstone” though. I do know that it comes from the Blackstone Group, which is a financial firm founded by two dudes in the 1980s who used the German and Greek parts of their names to create a cryptogram: “Schwarz” is German for “black” and “Peter” or “Petra” in Greek means “stone” or “rock”. Thus, “blackstone”.
Another popular character in urban fantasy, is the one and only Anita Blake. I adored this series and still mourn for the style it was written in over a decade ago. I miss Anita solving crimes, raising the dead, and putting them back to rest. Her full name consists of four syllables. Her first name sounds softer and more romantic to me. Also, Anita certainly had a softer side in the beginning of the series (i.e., her stuffed animal penguin collection). Her name is derived from Sanskrit and means full of grace, mercy, favor, variety, a leader, without guile. In the series, it’s implied that her name is from the Spanish language because her deceased mother is Mexican. Her last name, Blake, is a mystery and where it is derived from is uncertain. According to Mr. Wikipedia it could come from “blac”, a nickname for someone who had dark hair or skin, or from “blaac”, a nickname for someone with pale hair or skin. Another theory is that it is a corruption of “Ap Lake”, meaning “Son of Lake”. I think this uncertainty and duality of dark and pale suits the character of Anita Blake just fine since she has gone from being a character symbolizing justice and daring not to dabble with the dark creatures of her world — vampires, for example — to not only protecting them, but doing the horizontal mambo with them every day, all day.
Olivia Pope’s name is interesting. Her surname evokes images of holiness, righteousness, and power. However, one could argue that the title or word “pope” also conjures images of the exact opposite due to corruption and hypocrisy in the Catholic Church. Likewise, the character, Olivia Pope, in the television series Scandal, is a woman of contradictions.
As a crisis manager, her job is to solve problems for her clients who add to the existing drama in her personal life. Her first name comes from Latin and means “olive branch”. Olive branches are a symbol of peace or victory, which fits Olivia perfectly. The fictitious character of Olivia Pope is partially based on real-life crisis manager, Judy Smith. I watched the first two episodes of Scandal and couldn’t continue. There are no dragons and too much mundane drama that I avoid in the daily news. I found it tragic that Olivia, a beautiful, talented, and intelligent woman couldn’t have her happy ending. Granted, it’s her own choices that often keep her from it. Or maybe Shonda Rimes, the show’s creator, wanted to portray a realistic woman who forfeited the search for an impossible “happily ever after” and instead settled for or could be satisfied with “happy enough”? I have no idea. I like Happy Endings. That’s why I often play RPGs and live vicariously through my CGI characters. 😛
Anyway, I predicted that Ms. Pope’s slippery slope into tragedy would continue to worsen and if I became a fan my heart would most likely break. I’m all about keeping my heart intact. 🙂
Another character with a cool name is Nikita from the series (first a movie), La Femme Nikita, which is French for The Woman Nikita. Nikita. Nikita, Nikita. That’s it. No last name. And that’s all that’s needed.
Why? This name is loaded with goodies! Nikita is an assassin that is paired with great assets — beauty, intelligence, and the ability to kill with ease and efficiency. Her name isn’t even originally French or female. It originated as a masculine Greek name and subsequently a Russian name exclusively for males. The name has been recently adopted as a French name for girls.
Keyser Söze isn’t the name of a breakfast bagel. And no, I’m not referring to one of Moe’s (Welcome to Moe’s), (Tex-Mex eatery — delicious!) salsa. Keyser Söze is the name of the main antagonistic and driving force in The Usual Suspects, one of my favorite movies. I won’t spoil the movie’s epic and mind-blowing twist ending for those of you who haven’t yet seen this cinematic masterpiece. Traditionally, Keyser is a last name and it’s a development of the early Germanic name “Kaiser”, which was derived from the Roman imperial title “Caesar”. In the criminal underworld, Keyser’s great skill, ruthlessness, and reputation are of epic and mythical proportions. For example, handicapped con artist Robert “Verbal” Kint describes Keyser as “a myth, a spook story that criminals tell their kids at night. ‘Rat on your pop and Keyser Söze will get you.’ But no one ever really believes.” Poor dears. They should believe.
Keyser may be a man of violence and enjoys spreading fear, but like some mega-villains he’s a man of his word. I looked up the meaning of the word “soze” in Turkish and was prompted to look it up in Kurdish. It means “promise“. Keyser Soze is most likely a pseudonym and a small piece of the puzzling, deceptive, and criminal world the “usual suspects” dwell in.
Speaking of the criminal world, how could I not mention John Wick? Before John Wick, Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 beckoned action, thriller, and suspense lovers, I didn’t think any movie could bank on the explosions, the mystery, the gunfights, and the gloriously twisted plot that the writers of The Usual Suspects had created. During a heated and no less humorous conversation between a father and son (both elite members to the Russian maffia), important information about John Wick is revealed:
Viggo Tarasov: It’s not what you did, son, that angers me so. It’s who you did it to.
Iosef Tarasov: Who? That fucking nobody?
Viggo Tarasov: That “fuckin’ nobody”… is John Wick. He once was an associate of ours. They call him “Baba Yaga.”
Iosef Tarasov: The Boogeyman?
Viggo Tarasov: Well John wasn’t exactly the Boogeyman. He was the one you sent to kill the fucking Boogeyman.
Iosef Tarasov: [stunned] Oh.
Viggo Tarasov: John is a man of focus, commitment, sheer will … something you know very little about. I once saw him kill three men in a bar… with a pencil, with a fucking pencil. Then suddenly one day he asked to leave. It’s over a woman, of course. So I made a deal with him. I gave him an impossible task. A job no one could have pulled off. The bodies he buried that day laid the foundation of what we are now. And then my son, a few days after his wife died, you steal his car and kill his fucking dog.
The name John is Hebrew and translates to “Jehovah has been gracious; has shown favor”. And the fact that John Wick is unstoppable and for the most part untouchable seems nothing short of a miracle. Reeves, who plays John Wick also compared Wick’s story to “[…] a kind of Old Testament revenge story” adding that, “When someone takes the things he cherishes, violence erupts and John can’t temper it.” Though the character’s last name, Wick, is a name Kolstad (the movie’s writer) had used as a reference to his grandfather, the founder of Wick Building Systems, as a fellow writer just because something is simply cool isn’t reason enough to do it. So, I did a little digging. The word wick is Old English and related to both Dutch and German languages. The best definition of the word “wick” that I discovered is:
The second definition is symbolic in regard to how John Wick operates in the criminal underground of assassins. Without his wife’s love, he’s like a wick or woven fiber waiting for fire to light it. In other words, there are two parts to John: his need to settle down and find happiness and the wanton desire to kill and blow things up. And the second definition, which is slang for annoying a person is poetic justice. In the first movie, John just wanted to permanently silence whoever messed with him by stealing his car and killing his dog. Cautionary advice: give him what he wants and he’ll return to his quiet self. Word to the wise: don’t bother John Wick and he’s as sweet as a lamb. 🙂