Thursday, 17 July 2014

Interview: Sandra McDonald

This week saw the publishing of Gardner Dozois's The Year's Best Science Fiction: Thirty-First Annual Collection. Dozois's annual collections are among the oldest and foremost of the genre, and we're happy to have no less than two stories from We See a Different Frontier on it: Sunny Moraine's A Heap of Broken Images and Sandra McDonald's Fleet. A while ago, I interviewed Sandra about life in a different cultural environment, gender identity and colonialism. Here it is:

1. Where are you from originally? Did you live in other cities and/or countries? Where are you living now? Are you doing something now besides writing or are you a full-time writer? 

SANDRA MCDONALD - I’m a transplanted New Englander living in North Florida, and of Florida I’ve heard it said that the more north you go, the more South you get. Which is a roundabout way of saying there’s a large cultural gap between where I was and where I am now, and I got here through a similarly roundabout route of living in New York, England, Rhode Island, Virginia, Guam, Newfoundland, Key West, Connecticut, and California. Every new place is a discovery and delight. I don’t think I’d be a very good at living in the same house on the same hill in the same town for most of my life. Also, I’d probably be very bad at staying home and writing every day. I teach creative writing and other English classes at area colleges, write novels and short stories, publish some of my own work digitally, and feed every stray animal in my neighborhood. I’ve just passed my first decade of being a published author, and that includes 8 published novels and more than 70 published short stories. It’s all going very well.

2. You were a U.S. Navy commissioned officer working abroad. Where did you travel to and what did you see during your Navy time that might have inspired you to write Fleet?

SMD - What was fascinating to me about Guam in the 1990’s was how Japanese newlyweds would come to Guam to honeymoon “in America” but most Americans had no idea where or what Guam was, or its role in World War II. My apartment in the village of Yigo wasn’t far from the South Pacific Memorial Park, where Japanese soldiers killed themselves while American troops retook the island in 1944. For recreation, many of us would go “boonie-stomping” in the jungle and find abandoned tanks or other relics of war. Guam is lovely, rugged island stepped with a history of invasion and colonialism, and seemed like a natural fit when I saw that you were seeking out tales of post-colonialism.

3. Do you speak other languages than English? What was your experience in bridging the gap between your culture and a different one whenever you were abroad? What were the challenges? (Both in work and in

SMD - Two years ago I was in Paris when a lovely old couple stopped to ask me, in French, how to get to the Eiffel Tower. To their amusement, the only sentence I could say in French was “I don’t speak French.” I know a smattering of helpful travel words in different languages but nowhere near enough for a long conversation in a pub. I’m actually sad to be monolingual, but traveling with English-only skills seems to be easier these days than it was when I was an exchange student based in London. Bridging a gap between cultures can be done through music, food, visual arts and other means, so I try not to let my lack of language keep me from interacting with locals and new places.

4. Gender identity and colonialism: two hard issues to tackle, and you managed to get them both very skillfully in your story. Why did you choose to tell the story of Magahet/Isa, and in such a setting?

SMD - She’s a transgender character following in the footsteps of Diana Comet, the titular heroine of my first collection of short stories that won a Lambda Literary award, was a Booklist Editor’s choice, and became an American Library Association “Over The Rainbow” book.  How we define, defend and debate gender in the U.S. is fascinating to me, and certainly there are clashes between cultures where gender is rigidly enforced vs where gender variety is protected.  For years now i’ve tried to explore those schisms and honor the men and women who live outside the boxes we try to stuff them in. First and foremost in Fleet, I wanted to write about how the post-apocalyptic residents of Guam, so cut off from the world, would prepare for the inevitable return of outsiders in a way opposite that of the Pacific cargo cults after World War II. That led me into an exploration of its tragic colonial past. Isa’s birth gender was a secondary consideration. The sexual harassment she suffers is a offshoot of what it’s like to be a woman in our own age, but I carefully set up that she has a loving husband, strong friendships, and the support of her community.

5. "Stories on the themes of colonialism and cultural imperialism focused on the viewpoints of the colonized," as it was written in the pitch for WE SEE A DIFFERENT FRONTIER. Do you think your story is about revenge? Stories written by the colonized are (or should be) always about revenge? Or there is a glimmer of hope for understanding in a postcolonial world?

SMD - I don’t see it as a story about revenge, but instead about the extraordinary measures one society takes to protect itself for as long as possible from the world that has always done it harm. In my own personal belief system, which is mostly Buddhist, revenge is pointless. We only harm ourselves when we harm others. But for civilizations that have been enslaved and destroyed by others, revenge fantasies can be normal or cathartic. My hope for the locals in Fleet is that they preserve their lifestyle as long as possible, given the scarcity of resources and lasting environmental damage, before change washes ashore again.

Friday, 18 April 2014

The Social Justice Network

It's still very surreal for me. 

I'm frequently asked by interviewers and friends alike how I've managed to create the network and amass the loyal following that I have.

I'm always flattered and grateful because people don't have to read my writing or support my endeavors. So the fact that they take time out of their schedule to read my thoughts and ideas is both honoring and humbling.

April 2003 seems like only last week when I was using the invite codes to start a new blog on this wicked cool sight known as Livejournal. At the time I only had 2 readers. 

Fast forward and after approximately 11 years, 5000+ blog posts, eight articles gone viral, 14 con appearances, 3 book signing events, 2 books, an audioshort, a PSA video and countless other endeavors, it feels like I'm only getting started and having a cult following (any following) is still a difficult concept for my brain to process.

The fact that my next book, West of Sunset, is coming out on April 30, is still kinda difficult for me to fathom. He says while currently working on line edits.

Some may believe it's luck, I'm sure that's a factor, but as a wise friend once stated, there's definitely a lot of hard work, and the meeting of preparation and opportunity.

While Lady Luck may have been a factor, I certainly made it a point to stack the deck, sacrificing nights, weekends, holidays, a social life, to hone my craft and to elevate my art and career to the next level.

The irony, I never set out to build a network or get involved with social justice/equal rights. In fact when I first began blogging, I rarely discussed those issues for the sake of my mental health. Sometimes Fate can lead us down the unlikeliest of rabbit holes.

So how did the 'network' come to be where I'm constantly the go to guy for signal boosting news, resources, cross-posting articles, and multitasking with a frenzy on my iPad, Macbook, and iPhone that I feel like the male equivalent of the Oracle?

Much like getting published, I don't believe there's one set path to making connections and building an audience. I will say however, the following techniques and advice have served me well over the years and hopefully they'll do the same for you.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

New Issue: 2014.29

“Somos las nietas de todas las brujas que no pudistéis quemar.”

—International Women's Day chant, Barcelona

 [ Issue 2014.29; Cover art © 2014 Robin E. Kaplan ] Issue 2014.29

Download e-book version: PDF | EPUB | Mobi

Saturday, 18 January 2014

A sentimental journey into copyediting

Guest post by Valeria Vitale

The reason I have chosen the word «journey» is not merely metaphorical. Actually, it is pretty accurate: I read the draft version of We See a Different Frontier seated on the upper deck of the number 59 bus from Brixton to Aldwych.

I had been asked to proofread it, looking for typos, mainly, but also little gaps in plot, inconsistencies or other things like that. I agreed because I was curious about the stories, and that’s how it started. Every morning, for a few weeks, I waited at my bus stop with the book in my hand and a quite serious look on my face. I would greet the driver with a little nod of solidarity (we were both on duty on that bus) and march up the stairs.

Then I sat on the first available seat and started reading, holding an imaginary red pen, happy to prove myself useful. But books and journeys often do not go in the way we expected. Other things happen. For example that you get carried away with the stories and completely forgot that you were supposed to spot mistakes. So, when I was reading Sofia Samatar’s “I stole the D.C.’s eyeglass” or Rochita Loenen-Ruiz’s “What really happened in Ficandula”, I suddenly realised that I had to start again.

Two times.

Three times…

Some other times it may happen that the writing is so good that you want to go a couple of pages back and read it again, just for pleasure. With Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s “Them ships” or Benjaun Sriduangkaew’s “Vector”, I was really tempted to poke the person sitting next to me on the bus and telling them, «Do you want to hear something really awesome?!» Sadly, after a little hesitation, a sense of social appropriateness always prevailed.

You may also find that some of the stories contain such powerful images that you feel like you have to stop reading and close your eyes for a little while. I did it when I was reading J.Y. Yang’s “Old Domes” or Lavie Tidhar’s “Dark Continents”. I wanted to visualise what the words described, in my own imagination. In the eye of the people seating next to me, I must have looked pretty much like one of those commuters that take quick and not too comfortable naps on public transportation. But I wasn’t sleeping: I was observing an army of giant cockroaches taking over London, and I was meeting the anthropomorphic spirits of old buildings.

I didn’t just read WSaDF’s stories. I talked about them, discussed them, explained what I liked and disliked and why. So, they became more and more mine; the characters more and more real. They used to keep me company on my journey back home, on the same bus, 59, Aldwych to Brixton. Often very late, when I was usually too tired to read but not to get lost in my own thoughts. I could almost see them out of the corner of my eye: a long-necked mechanical bird lurking from the front window, a were-tiger purring just behind my neck, a barefoot girl running up and down the empty deck.

I’ve been seeing them less and less in the last months. But they haven’t left me. They live somewhere in my memory and conscience, shattered in images, ideas, words. And they are not inert. They have been growing and reproducing themselves, copulating with other images, ideas and words.

That’s why each time I know that the book got a good review or a nomination for a prize, I feel happy as for the success of a friend. As everyone, I had my favourites, according to very personal (sometimes slightly irrational) criteria. But all the stories in this anthology are worth reading, all the stories have left me something. And I am glad I had the opportunity to write this post, mainly because I can finally thank all the authors for bringing those stories to life. I can’t wait to read more.

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

SF twitfic contest for young writers

To celebrate the recent successes achieved by the We See a Different Frontier: postcolonial speculative fiction anthology, we're going to run another "twitfic" microfiction writing contest over the first couple weeks of the new year. If you are under 20 years old, this is your chance to win a handful of lovely prizes by writing a short story that fits within a single tweet (with space for hashtags) on the topic of colonialism-themed speculative fiction.

The rules:
  • To be elligible to enter, you must not yet have reached your twentieth birthday on the day you post the tweet
  • Your entire story should be under 125 characters long. Post your story in a tweet along with both the hashtags #wsadf #YAscifi
  • Your story can be in any of the subgenres of science fiction, fantasy, horror or even surreal or magical realist, whatever works for you, so long as you include the theme of colonisation from the perspective of the colonized
  • For an idea of what sort of stories themes might work, see the original call for submissions for the colonial SF/F anthology
  • The closing date for entries is midnight UTC on Wednesday January 15th, 2014
  • Prize-winning stories may be used in promotional contexts and other materials for the We See a Different Frontier anthology. All other rights, including full copyright, remain with the authors.
    The prizes:
    • One winner will receive a hardcopy of We See a Different Frontier; a one-year e-book subscription to Crossed Genres magazine; a signed copy of Sofia Samatar's A Stranger in Olondria; a reading slot in the outro of an instalment of one of the Escape Artists fiction podcasts; a copy of Ilike Merey's graphic novel a+e 4ever from Lethe Press.
    • At the judges' discretion, one or more runners-up may in addition be offered e-book copies of the WSaDF anthology.
      The judges:
      The winning story and runners-up will be selected by the panel of judges, made up of:
      • Malinda Lo (author of Ash and Huntress)
      • Catherine Krahe (Alpha Workshop and Strange Horizons)
      • Regina de Búrca (TFF co-editor and YA author)

        Sunday, 29 December 2013

        New Issue: 2013.28

        “What is your writing engaging with, if not power, history, social forces, injustice, culture, moral issues, personal fears and interpersonal values?”
        —Stephen Volk, Coffinmaker's Blues

         [ Issue 2013.28; Cover art © 2013 Chris Cartwright ] Issue 2013.28
        Download e-book version: PDF | EPUB | Mobi

        Saturday, 21 December 2013

        Acclaim for We See a Different Frontier

        Today's been a good day.

        The We See a Different Frontier anthology has been receiving good press; we're very happy with most of the reviews we've seen, and will be surprised if some of the wonderful stories in our pages don't end up on various awards shortlists in the new year. Sales have also not been bad, for a small press publication. We're delighted with the quality of the anthology, but we're also very happy with the reception it has received.

        Today got even better.

        1. First we learn that Gardner Dozois Year's Best Science Fiction anthology for 2013 contains two stories first published in WSaDF in its pages. This means that, in Dozois's estimation, of the many thousands of SF short stories published in the last twelve months, two of them were in this small press publication. That's a pretty good endorsement. (Table of contents.)
        2. On the same day, as a cherry on the top, BFS award-winning SFF reviews site Pornokitsch listed WSaDF in their five favorite anthologies of the year (which is saying something, as I think it's been a great year for anthologies).
        There have been lots of other good things said about WSaDF in the last few months (see the reviews and endorsements listed on our press page, for example), but today has felt like icing. I'm especially happy that this anthology is being read and enjoyed by general science fiction and fantasy readers, not only those interested in social justice, diversity and postcolonialism who supported the fundraiser last year.

        To celebrate, we're going to run another Twitter writing contest (this time for young authors) just after christmas, with copies of the anthology and other goodies to give away. Watch this space.

        If you would like to find out whether you agree with these acclaimed anthologists and reviewers, you can buy the We See a Different Frontier from all the usual online booksellers. Links again on our press page.

        Saturday, 16 November 2013

        Winners of the WSaDF twitfic writing contest

        The results are in! At the end of October/begining of November we held a colonial speculative fiction themed twitfic writing contest, basically asking people to write short-short stories (up to 124 characters) along the lines of the WSaDF anthology. There were many brilliant entries (see all of them collected on this page), but after long and in-depth discussion, our three judges (Amal El-Mohtar, Fabio Fernandes and Nisi Shawl) have picked a clear winner and three runners-up. Just look at the spareness and efficiency of this writing...

        The winner

        The runners-up (in no particular order)

        Congratulations to all winners, and thanks to everyone who took part, the lovely judges, and the generous donors of prizes (including Bart Lieb of Crossed Genres, C. Allegra Hawksmoor of Vagrants in the Ruins, and the inimitable Ernest Hogan).

        Tuesday, 12 November 2013

        Guest post: Ways of Seeing

        Guest post by Stephanie Saulter

        I’ve been enjoying the stories in the We See a Different Frontier anthology of postcolonial science fiction, and thinking about how I could contribute to the blog carnival that the editors had devised to accompany its release. I’d already written about the constraints on expectation, the presumption of a small and specific sphere of interest, that marginalised cultures can have for the literary output of their own people, and I didn’t want to repeat myself. I’m also aware that, as a person of relative privilege within both my birth country of Jamaica and my adopted homeland of the UK, I’m not particularly well-placed to rail against inequity. Besides, the big injustices are easy to spot. It’s harder to unpick the small, everyday presumptions about what is standard and what is strange, the subtle and mostly unremarked prejudices that inform judgements and guide aspirations.

        Given that the ethos of the anthology is to shift the reader’s perspective from the dominant to the dominated, I thought I would write about just how challenging that can be, both in life and in fiction; and how important it is to explain and persuade, when sometimes what we really want to do is bludgeon and blame. But I couldn’t quite find a way in to what I wanted to say; it all felt a bit amorphous, as difficult for me to pin down in prose as it can be to identify in action.

        And then I went to Bristolcon, and had a conversation that brought it all into very sharp focus.

        Thursday, 7 November 2013

        WSADF contributors round robin interview Publishing recently put out an anthology titled We See a Different Frontier, which includes sixteen science fictional or fantastic stories about colonialism, told from the perspective of the colonized. We have brought together almost all of the contributors (authors, editors, etc.) for a circular interview; each participants answers a question, and then in turn asks one of the next in line.

        Aliette asks Djibril:

        For me, We See a Different Frontier is an important watermark in genre, presenting the perspective of the third world/the colonised instead of the usual (white) Anglo-American hegemony. As someone who lives in the UK, how do you relate to this hegemony, and what do you think should be done to counter its effects?