Making Lemons into Stuff: Appreciating A Decade of Hand-made, Artisinal Lemonades.

It’s the last day of my Making Lemons into Jokes campaign! Thanks to absolutely everyone who has contributed, supported, signal boosted, chuckled, and etc. And there’s still a little time to chip in! There are three stretch goals left —

$850 – A satirical essay by Greg Machlin on the topic of how I, personally, destroyed science fiction.

$900 – I’ll write a silly story based on a prompt that John Hodgman gave SFWAns at this year’s Nebula banquet.

$950 – I’ll write a silly story based on all three of his prompts.

$1000 – I’ll hire a professional to make the whole bundle into something pretty.

It would be nice to hit the last one; I could probably use the help. 😉

 

I’ve written a bunch about the harassment and the campaign this month. On Ann Leckie’s blog, I talked about why the common advice to ignore trolls isn’t enough. On Mary Robinette Kowal’s, I wrote about some of the threads of oppression that make solidarity personally important to me. On Jim Hines’, I wrote about coping with harassment as a vulnerable person.

Today, I wanted to write a little about the places where the light is increasing.

When I started selling my writing in 2005, if I wrote a story with queer characters, I had to think about where I could send it. Not all markets would publish things that pushed those boundaries. Even editors who had no problem with queer content might have to deal with things like school library distribution, where some librarians (more than do today) believed that “gay” = “sex” = “inappropriate for children.”

These days? I don’t even think about it.

These days, when a young trans writer asks me whether there are people with non-normative genders in the industry, I have instant access to an array of publicly known names like my former student, An Owomoyela, one of the fiction editors of the Hugo-winning Strange Horizons, Keffy Kehrli, a brilliant writer who is also running his own queer-themed podcast, and Charlie Jane Anders, whose beautiful writing has been acknowledged with well-earned awards.

In 2005, a venerated old, male writer grabbed a woman’s breast without her permission, on stage, in front of thousands. The science fiction community was befuddled, tripped over its own feet in confusion, and nothing decisive proceeded.

Now large numbers of pro writers have signed pledges not to attend conventions without harassment policies. Activists like Elise Mathesen, Genevieve Valentine, and Rose Fox, among so, so many others, have stood up to make those policies mean something.

And yet more activists, like Mary Robinette Kowal, Michael and Lynne Thomas, and Mari Ness, have come up with a similar pledge about accessibility policies, to try to extend that energy and protection to disabled congoers.

In 2008, fans of color stood up to be counted, because people didn’t even really believe they were there.

I think most white people know better now. It’s been a long time since I saw someone suggest everyone who said they were brown was a sock puppet.

Con or Bust did that. Tempest Bradford did that. The Carl Brandon Society did that. Smart, dedicated, writers activists and fans, did that, by raising their hands.

When I came into the field, I knew a little about post-colonial and Indian diasporic science fiction because of my anthropology classes, and I’d been reading some Japanese fiction in translation. But it’s only been in the past several years — thanks to the efforts of American translators like Ken Liu, and international critics and writers like Charles Tan and Lavie Tidhar — that non-anglophone speculative fiction is being widely read and heard in the United States, leading to the recognition of powerful, non-Western writers like Liu Cixin and Hao Jingfang.

Every single moment of progress has had its backlash, of course. When Nora Jemisin came to deserved prominence as one of this century’s most important, emerging voices, jealous graspers harassed her, to try to put her back in her “place.” Elise Mathesen and Genevieve Valentine are still subjected to victim blaming.

But they made a difference. They’re still making a difference.

If my post on Mary Robinette Kowal’s blog was about why people still need to stand together, then this post is the light side of that. When we push hard, and when we bear the costs of pushing, we can make progress. We have.

Posteriors for Posterity: An update on my fundraiser for LGBTQ health

It’s halfway through my Making Lemons into Jokes campaign, and I wanted to give an update.

Among other things, I wanted to clarify why I’m doing this. For people in the know, the reasons are obvious–but obviously, most folks aren’t.

Let me start by repeating a modified version what I said in my original post:

In my family, humor has always been a way of putting crap into perspective. When life hands you lemons, make jokes. And then possibly lemonade, too. It is coming up on summer.

 

In that spirit, I’m trying a self-publishing experiment. And that experiment’s name is “If You Were a Butt, My Butt.”

 

If my Patreon reaches $100 by the end of the month [Note: it has!], I will write and send “If You Were a Butt, My Butt” to everyone who subscribes with at least $1.

 

I will be donating the first month’s Patreon funds to Lyon-Martin health services. Lyon-Martin is one of the only providers that focuses on caring for the LGBTQIAA community, especially low-income lesbian, bisexual, and trans people. They provide services regardless of the patient’s ability to pay.

 

You don’t have to keep on paying into my Patreon  in order to participate! It’s just fine if you want to sign up, get your silly thing, and just support Lyon-Martin. I’ll send out a note after I release “If You Were a Butt, My Butt,” and remind folks to unsubscribe if they want to.

 

I also release a piece of original flash fiction or poetry to all my subscribers each month, so you’ll get June’s, too, along with the Butts, whether you keep on subscribing or not.

 

Humor can turn anything ridiculous. That’s part of its healing power. When that’s the aim, being mean-spirited or nasty defeats the point. I can’t promise I won’t make any metafictional jokes, but I’m not going to focus on it. The rare times I do, it will be silly.

That’s the plan! But I didn’t include the why of it all.

Short version: A bigot is using the Hugo Awards to harass me and LGBTQ people, so fuck him. Let’s follow the Scalzi strategy–and raise money for something he hates.

Long version: A few years ago, I wrote a short story called “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love.” Sometimes stories take off, and this one did. I was honored by how many people it moved–people still come to me at conventions, and over social media, to tell me that the story was important to their lives.

“If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” was nominated for the Hugo Award and the World Fantasy Award, and won the Nebula Award. For some folks in the science fiction world, this was cause for such a clash of sturm und drang that they aren’t over it years later. I admit I remain baffled as to why. There have been award winners throughout my life that I disliked for aesthetic or political reasons. The correct response–if you decide to respond at all (I usually don’t)–is talking about it, and mobilizing. It isn’t harassing authors.

Unfortunately, some of the folks who are in a snit have decided to go for the harassing. The white supremacist ring-leader has targeted minority writers before, including successful African American author N. K. Jemisin. He used our writers’ union’s resources to propagate his hateful, racial harassment, calling this accomplished writer a “half-savage” and implying she should be shot. The first, unmoderated comment on his post added that she should be gang raped as well.

I was one of the people on the union’s board at that time. So were other authors he has subsequently harassed, including John Scalzi and Ann Leckie. I am proud to have stood up for Nora against his harassment. But it put me on an enemy’s list–and here we are.

Although he and his followers are happy to use any excuse to harass me–anti-Semitism, sexism, fatphobia–mostly he’s gone after me and my readers for being queer. The bigoted rhetoric is especially nasty to trans people. And come on. Like they need more crap.

That’s where the Hugos come in. Since trolls gotta troll in order to justify their petty lives, they decided to troll the Hugo Awards. Want to know why? The same reason the neighborhood bully knocks over your Lego tower. They can’t figure out how to make one of their own. Using underhanded tactics, they nominated a “satire” of my work to the ballot, which the white supremacist posted on his own blog. As the publisher, he included a comment saying I should be killed. Sure, it’s phrased as a “joke.” But the dogs can hear the whistle.

Luckily, there’s a hilarious silver lining. Because he and his followers are the kind of juvenile people who assume “gay = porn” (apparently, the word “gay” causes them to compulsively think of gay sex, which must be alarming for a homophobe), they also nominated a piece of porn about a dude who has sex with dinosaurs. It’s called “Space Raptor Butt Invasion” and it’s hilarious because the story’s author, Chuck Tingle, is some sort of subversive, queer, meta-fictional performance artist. Remember when Stephen Colbert hosted the white house correspondence dinner because no one bothered to do their leg work? It’s like that.

It’s been a pleasure watching the trolls get trolled, but let’s be clear–there’s still harassment going on.

Fuck that.

I deserve better, and so does the LGBTQ community. Let’s be fun. Let’s be silly. And let’s raise some fucking money for poor queer people who deserve the same medical care as everyone else.

Would I also like people to support my Patreon? Sure. Real talk: I’m an author, and no matter what you’ve seen on Castle, most of us don’t make much dosh. My household is looking at a 50-66% reduction in income over the next year, so I need a hustle or two. I’ve built my career writing art house short stories. Perfectionism takes time! And when you’re doing freelance piecework, more time means less pay.

But you don’t have to support me at all. You can still have fun, participate in something silly, and send all your support to Lyon-Martin. They deserve your help!

So far, I’ve collected enough money to write “If You Were a Butt, My Butt” and make an audio version, too. I’m very close to reaching $300. Help me get there!

  • At $300, I’ll add another hundred dollars of my own to go to Lyon-Martin.
  •  At $400, I’ll also release a silly version of “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” about cuttlefish. Because cuttlefish are bizarre and awesome. You know it to be true.
  • At $500, cartoonist Liz Argall — creator of the Things Without Arms and Without Legs — will do an original comic on the topic of butts. Check out her work here: http://www.thingswithout.com/
  • At $600, I and several other authors will write a short story together about dinosaurs. Authors to be named later — believe me, they’re awesome.
  • At $700, puppeteer, audio book narrator, and all around awesome person Mary Robinette Kowal will record the audio version of “If You Were a Butt, My Butt” in her professional studio–and she will be amazing. Here she is reading some tweets by John Scalzi. Erotically.
  • I don’t have a goal yet for $800. Make me come up with one!

I hope you’ll consider donating. Because hate in the world is the worst, but we can counter it by doing good in the world. And by remembering to laugh.

And with butts.

pablo (1)

Awesome Patreon: Carmen Maria Machado

I’ve been trying to set up a new series to draw attention to cool Patreons, sort of like John Scalzi’s The Big Idea or Mary Robinette’s My Favorite Bit, but more haphazard. A couple of weeks ago, I accidentally linked to Carmen Maria Machado’s Patreon in advance of when I had everything ready. So–oops.

If you don’t know what Patreon is, it’s a website that matches creators with patrons who help directly support their art. Some patreons are set up by project–for instance, my friend Barry Deutsch receives payments whenever he finishes a new political cartoon. Carmen’s is set-up on a monthly schedule. It’s a cool way for fans to make sure their favorite creators can keep making art.

Carmen is one of my favorite new writers. She crafts beautiful, accomplished mergings of literary and horror fiction. She describes her own writing as “about sex, sexual agency, sexual violence, sexual oppression, desire, queerness, the female experience, illness & death, pop culture, hypochondria, the uncanny, the human body & its fragility, storytelling, myths, and fear.” I think she’s a strikingly original, inspiring talent. Last year’s Nebula-nominated novelette, “The Husband Stitch,” mingles immersive, psychological surrealism with campfire horror stories.

Carmen also agreed to do a short interview with me, which is below. Whether or not you decide to toss a few dollars her way, you should definitely check out her beautiful stories.

I really love your writing. One of the things I find most beautiful about it is the way it seems to wing free from traditional structures, and yet come together in this lovely, unexpected way that still feels satisfying and impactful. How do you approach structure as you write?

Every project is different. Sometimes I start off with a form in mind. Stories of mine like “Inventory,” “Especially Heinous: 272 Views of Law & Order SVU,” “We Were Never Alone in Space,” and “Help Me Follow My Sister into the Land of the Dead” were all born with their shapes intact. I wanted to write projects with certain kinds of forms or formal constraints, and that’s what I did.

But in “The Husband Stitch,” for example, the formal elements of the story didn’t come until later drafts. “The Husband Stitch” was initially just the main narrative—the woman living her life with her husband—and the parts where I tap into other urban legends only came later because I wasn’t satisfied with what I had. I also have another recent story (I don’t want to give many details; it’s on submission now) where I started off thinking about formal constraint and tried a few different ones, but the story really resisted, and so I backed off and wrote it without one.

Insofar as a story is alive, or at the very least a discrete thing with its own Platonic self, I think the story either absorbs artificial forms or rejects them. I just try to figure out what the story needs.

Horror. A lot of us grew up on, and recapitulate, fairy tales — me, Kat Howard, etc. Another thing I’m excited about in regard to “The Husband Stitch” is that you play with more unusual, but still culturally significant, narratives. Ghost stories, urban legends. Sofia Samatar and Genevieve Valentine have done a little of that as well, and I’m very intrigued by how it plays out. What about those narratives calls to you?

I once read this really great essay by the writer Hubert Dade where he talks about being compelled to write horror because life is horror—because we live in a world where people go to schools and shoot children and people kidnap and rape and murder and that he himself has his own fears about his life and what he has and what could be taken away from him. I always assign it to my students when I’m teaching horror because I think it directly addresses a common problem students and other early-in-their-art writers sometimes have, where they’re intrigued by the trappings of horror but are less interested in what makes something actually horrifying. (Lovecraft also addressed this in “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” where he separates “fear-literature,” which touches on cosmic dread, from “a type externally similar but psychologically widely different; the literature of mere physical fear and the mundanely gruesome.”) They have their characters run from monsters or get cut up all bloody-like or experience ghosts, but there’s no weight behind it, just splatter and gore and roaring.

I think that good horror always has a metaphorical component of some kind, where the story is touching on real human fear. What does it feel like to not be believed? What does it feel like to be up against something you can’t control or conquer? And so on. You can build any kind of narrative/world/trope over top of questions like that, and the story can be horror. (And it can be other genres, too. These are really basic human questions.)

This is a very long way of saying that horror calls to me because I am at times overwhelmed by life’s many terrors—death, illness, gendered violence, loneliness, well-intentioned evil, wasted time, the power of societal pressures and expectations, and so on—and I find the exploration of that (both in my reading and writing) to be a satisfying way to deal with those emotions.

The Iowa question. [Note: Carmen Maria Machado and I are both graduates of the Iowa Writers Workshop.] Tell us a thing or two you learned that the rest of us should know.

I don’t think I learned any kind of magic advice at Iowa that no one else has heard of, but there was one thing I saw modeled again and again that I really respected: honoring the project, and the writer’s intentions. A good teacher—and a good workshop in general—will be helping the writer make their story the best version of itself, rather than something they themselves would write. This isn’t always simple—sometimes the writer’s intentions are not exactly clear—but trying to get a story to switch genres or attacking it on the grounds of what it’s doing compared to your own fiction’s standards, as opposed to its own standards, is useless to everyone involved. This applies in any direction, whether it’s criticizing a story for not being “genre enough” (or genre at all), or criticizing it because it contains spaceships or aliens or monsters or fairies. These elements in and of themselves mean nothing; what is the author trying to do, and is their story doing that?

This sort of loops back to the idea of the story’s Platonic self. Lorrie Moore’s “Terrific Mother” (humorous realism) and Kelly Link’s “Magic for Beginners” (liminal & metafictional fantasy) and Alice Sola Kim’s “Hwang’s Billion Brilliant Daughters” (science fiction) are all perfect stories that are doing, in my opinion, exactly what they set out to do. Suggesting that they switch genres simply because you dislike or don’t understand one of those genres is ludicrous. I’ve seen this in workshops and writing groups and elsewhere and it’s always very disturbing to me. You might as well criticize a house for not being an apartment complex. Rather: is the house doing a good job of satisfying its own purpose, and if not, what can be done to make it better?

So, yeah. Ask yourself what the writer is trying to do. Respect the project.

What’s the worst writing advice you’ve received? 

“Write what you know.” It’s not that it’s the worst, precisely, just that despite its good intentions (helping young writers ground their narratives in experiences with which they’re emotionally familiar) it’s just very limiting. I think a better version would be “Start with what you know, or what interests you, and move outwards from there. Don’t be afraid.”

You get to walk into any horror story or urban legend in any role you want. Who would you be? 

Okay, I have thought about this question for, like, half an hour (seriously—I went and made myself a fresh pot of coffee and everything) and I think the answer is “none” because urban legends and horror stories never exactly turn out happy, well-adjusted, alive people at their ends. But I guess life doesn’t, either? I’ll stick to this role—my own—where I’m reasonably sure that supernatural things don’t actually exist, bring down the number of bad and sad things that can happen to me from “infinity” to “slightly less than infinity.”

Tell me about your Patreon and its goals. What projects are you working on that it will help fund?

Right now, I balance my teaching income (which, as an adjunct, is quite low) with freelancing. The freelancing is great and flexible, but time-consuming. My goal with my Patreon is to be able to replace freelancing projects to free up time for my fiction (which, at the moment, includes a few short stories and a novel project). At just over $100/month, I was recently able to drop a monthly assignment that’d been taking up about 10 hours/month. Any new contributions will build toward a second foregone assignment. And if you’re considering contributing: thank you so much! You can email me with any questions about my Patreon or other means of support at carmen dot machado at gmail dot com.