In which Nora fangirls; Revisipalooza; SFWA Bulletin interview

I am utterly in love with this video by Janelle Monae, which has been blowing up my friends’ lists all over the blogosphere:

I bought the album, which you should do too if you like this song. The whole thing kicks ass. The cyberpunkish theme continues throughout the album, with nods to Philip K. Dick, Asimov’s Laws of Robotics, anime, and more. I also love the way she weaves in the old stuff — James Brown and Little Richard most obviously, but Parliament Funkadelic, The Brother From Another Planet, and Sun-Ra too. Also, that “doo doo doo” thing she does? Does the tune sound familiar? It’s from this, which was done by the Pointer Sisters back when I was growing up, and which gives me a total nostalgia buzz.

It’s always so thrilling to see another black geek. Sometimes I feel a little alone out here, ya’ll — but truth is, I’m not. The older I get, the more signs I see that there are actually quite a few of us out there, soldiering on in various fields and being true to ourselves in ways that society often resists. For example, there are only two other black female fantasy writers, to my knowledge — Nnedi Okorafor in children’s/YA fiction, and Carole McDonnell in small* press. I can’t think of a single black male in fantasy. What’s up with that? Yet I’m seeing more and more of us emerging in hip hop. To me, that suggests a bigger support network for artists there.

Speaking of support networks, the folks in my current and former writing groups, and some friends, have now read the first draft of Book 2 and graciously given me feedback on it. (The bruises are purpling nicely, thanks.) So for the next 9 days, I’m going to be doing virtually nothing but revising. Guess I’ll be listening to a lot of Janelle Monae. Wish me luck!

Am also — shhh! — beginning work on Book 3. Writing some test chapters to get a feel for it. The “shhh” is because the ideas are very fragile in my head right now, and messing with them too much may make them bolt or mutate. (The latter is not necessarily a bad thing… but the former is equally likely, so…) So be vewwwy vewwwy quiet and don’t ask me about it until I get the outline down!

Also, I’m in the “New Member Focus” of the latest (December/January) SFWA Bulletin! I’m not sure this bulletin is available to anyone who’s not a SFWA member, or I’d urge people to run out and buy it. If you’re really interested in getting the Bulletin, maybe contact SFWA and ask. They did a nice little interview with me, which I’ll ask them about reprinting here.

And that’s the news in Noraland.

* I’m not sure Juno/Prime counts as small press, because I’m not sure how such things are measured. I’m calling them small only because they’re new, and thus far not owned by a multinational corporate entity (that I know of). They put out great stuff, is all I know.

13 Responses »

  1. >I can’t think of a single black male in fantasy.

    David Anthony Durham?

  2. D’OH. You’re right — and I just met him for the first time at WFC last year. ::facepalm:: OK, stupidity on my part.

    Also, now that I think of it, there’s an even more prominent example that I stupidly forgot: Charles Saunders, author of the Imaro novels. He has a new book out. I KNEW THIS. I can’t believe I forgot him.

    ::makes offering in atonement::

  3. :loans you a butterfly net that we have at work (don’t ask), in case Book 3 tries to escape:

  4. “For example, there are only two other black female fantasy writers, to my knowledge”

    Er, Nalo Hopkinson, Nisi Shawl, Helen Oyeyemi? Or are you specifically talking about full secondary world fantasy?

  5. Just plain fantasy. Everything I’ve read by Nalo, short and long fiction, is SF (though I haven’t read her more recent stuff, note). Ditto Nisi Shawl — SF or horror (haven’t read her latest collection). And I haven’t read Helen Oyeyemi at all — though you’re right, have heard her work described as fantasy by some (magical realism or spirituality by others).

    Would you consider their work fantasy? (Wow, I need to get to readin’! Shameful.)

  6. Addendum to myself — I also considered adding Tananrive Due, whose work feels very fantasyish to me. But she gets shelved in horror, so…

  7. I think we’ve just encountered different work by them; I know Hopkinson has written sf, but I’ve read the fantasy, for instance. I do recommend Oyeyemi, though what I’ve read of her work could indeed be described as a variant on magical realism. You’re right that it’s much harder to think of black writers (either male or female) of just-plain-fantasy fantasy.

  8. (Is there a word for just-plain-fantasy fantasy?? As opposed to SF-with-fantasy-elements or mainstream-with-magical-realist-elements or whatever? I am now obsessed with nomenclature.)

    People keep recommending Oyeyemi to me, and I’ve been remiss in not reading her. Thanks for the additional recommend!

  9. I try not to be too obsessed with nomenclature, but as a British sf reviewer-type I am obviously fully qualified to talk about it, and find it interesting anyway. [g]

    I don’t think there’s a single word. I think there are actually lots of different labels. Probably three main approaches. Approach one is to say, well, just-plain-fantasy fantasy is the stuff that occupies most of the shelf space in bookshops, so let’s call it “commercial fantasy” or “genre fantasy”. Advantages: gets across that it is different to the sort of fantasy that gets published as mainstream, gets across that there’s a community element, gets across that it’s popular. Disadvantages: can seem a bit sniffy, and it can obscure the fact that there’s plenty of fantasy published as genre that could be published as mainstream.

    Approach two is a more refined version of approach one, as used in the Clute/Nicholls Encylopedia of Fantasy, where you have a cluster of terms that describe subsets of this stuff — Fantasyland fantasy for the really generic stuff (after Diana Wynne Jones’ Tough Guide to the same), high fantasy or epic fantasy or sword and sorcery for better-done versions with slightly different emphases. Advantage: that it’s more specific. Disadvantage: that nobody can agree on what those last three terms mean (so far as I can tell).

    Approach three is the one Farah Mendlesohn uses in Rhetorics of Fantasy, which is to look at how a given book handles the fantastic. She suggests four categories — Portal-Quest (protagonist leaves home to enter the location of the fantastic), Immersive (story is set in a complete, independent secondary world with no connection to ours), Intrusive (fantastic breaks in from somewhere else), and Liminal (when it’s hard to pin down the exact nature of the fantasy…). She attaches all sorts of caveats to each category, but the broad shapes are, I think, fairly intuitive, and her schema produces some interesting assignments. (e.g. she argues that Lord of the Rings is Portal-Quest, not Immersive, because the Shire has basically the same function as our world does in the Narnia stories.) The disadvantage is that you lose a lot of the historical/community emphasis of approaches one and two.

    I hope that doesn’t sound too lecture-y, but you did ask … for what it’s worth, based on the descriptions of your novels on this site, if I was talking to j. random person I’d probably call them “epic fantasy”, and if I was talking to someone who reads a fair bit of fantasy I’d probably call them “secondary-world fantasy” or “immersive fantasy”. Reserving the right to change my mind when I’ve actually *read* them, of course!

    P.S. Looking at your bibliography, I realise (a) you wrote “Cloud Dragon Skies”, which I really liked when I read it a couple of years ago, and (b) you’ve got it down as “Dragon Cloud Skies” in your bibliography.

    P.P.S. Helen Oyeyemi has a book coming out in May, so no time like the present! It’s either called Pie-Kah or White is for Witching, depending on which Amazon entry you believe.

  10. (Also, apologies if I’ve just told you a lot of stuff you already knew, which now that I’ve posted the comment suddenly seems horrifyingly likely.)

  11. No, no — looking at fantasy from the critical side is new to me, since I didn’t come out of a lit background. I’ve been meaning to read Farah’s book since WFC when I attended a panel where she literally just blew me away with her knowledge and framing of things I understood intuitively, from reading the field, but had never been able to articulate. So I’m glad to get more of this, and am reminded once again to get her book ASAP.

    And yeah — “Cloud Dragon Skies” was actually “Dragon Cloud Skies” in its original form, and I changed the order of the name for reasons I don’t honestly remember. But sometimes I slip and list it under the original name. ^^;; Will fix. But I’m glad you liked it! I’ve been trying to write more “liminal” stuff now and again, because I have a numbingly literal mind and I think it would actually help my work to become more flexible about style, etc. That was my first effort, so you can’t imagine how cool I find it that a reviewer likes it. =)

    Shall read your post/article shortly.

  12. Just saw this video from your link in your more recent post.

    As someone who grew up with British Invasion and New Wave, this video also has elements of the 2 Tone movement (that began as ska revival).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2_Tone

    Pauline Black, singer for Selecter, is one of my favorite singers of color.

Dreamblood Book One:

The Killing Moon

The Killing Moon

Read Sample Chapter 1


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