Escapism & Representation

So I spent the weekend at the TweensRead book festival in Houston, which was wonderful and amazing, and I found myself having some thoughts.

First of all, if you were still of a mind to question the need for many kids to have books about people like them, this would dropkick it from anyone with an ounce of sense. Over and over and over I heard stories from authors going “I am writing these books because they’re what I needed when I was a kid.” Our keynote speaker, the utterly amazing Jason Reynolds, talked about how he quit reading at the age of nine because the books he was given in school were no one he’d ever met, in a world nothing like his, and had nothing to say to a nine-year-old from D.C.

I sat on panels multiple times with amazing authors, gazing at the back of my fun little book about hamsters, and thought “This is a great truth. We are all writing the books we wanted or needed when we were kids.”

Then I stared at my hamsters and thought “Jesus, what am I doing?

I thought of all the books I read when I was young. Star Trek. Narnia. Roald Dahl. Robin McKinley. Andre Norton. Harper Hall. Earthsea. My struggles to get through The Hobbit. Watership Down. Books of fairy tales. Books about dinosaurs. And then a tween asked about the books we liked to read as kids and why we liked them, and I found myself saying “I didn’t want books about my life. I knew all about my life. I was an expert on it, and books had nothing to tell me about it. I wanted books about dragons and aliens and talking animals. I wanted something else.” And then, because that seemed rather curt, I added “Escapism rocks!” (I try to be very enthusiastic, even when I’m babbling.)

I was the kid who never read a Sweet Valley High book, or the Babysitter’s Club. I liked Honestly, Katie John, which I think my mother picked up at a garage sale or something, but her attempts to get me to read Jacob Have I Loved and Jane Eyre were met with moaning and/or sulking nine-year-old resistance. I was only really willing to read about kids my age if they had horses or if they were stranded alone on a desert island (my copies of Island of the Blue Dolphins and Call It Courage fell apart from re-reads.) I read Little House in the Big Woods because it was frontier competence porn, not because of any great attachment to any of the characters. I had a massive collection of those weird books that were written from the point of view of a non-sentient animal–Yellow Eyes, about cougars and Red Ben about foxes. (I think there were a bunch about foxes, actually. And one about a lynx. And enough Jack London to build a fire with.)

I didn’t want a boyfriend. I wanted a fire lizard.

(As there is no world where a middle-school boy lives up to Tor or Luthe or Ged or Bigwig, I stuck to a rich fantasy life.)

This does not mean, for the record, that I was Not Like Other Girls or any such foolishness. I fit quite nicely into the female nerd archetype, which many of you are likely familiar with. I am certainly not recommending this as a Better Way of Being. (Actually, in some ways it’s probably worse. My understanding of relationships with other people mostly involved Vulcans, survival on desert islands, and a lot of Edgar Allen Poe, which prepares one nicely for being buried alive and not much else. As some of y’all might have noticed, my social skills are finely honed in extremely narrow channels and if you get out of my particular area of emotional expertise, I will go skipping across a minefield whistling and then wonder why things are exploding behind me.)

Now, obviously it is infinitely easier to have the option to read books about kids like you and to reject them then to not have the option in the first place. I wasn’t being erased, I was being annoyed. There were eleventy million Ramona books and Judy Blume and Paula Danziger and at once point or another, I probably read most of them, although I recall a certain weird cynicism toward many elements. (When Ramona is going to say a bad word and says “GUTS!” I recall thinking “Jeez, that’s the best you can do?” I was extremely sheltered in a great many ways, and even I knew far better swear words than that.) We had to read Skinnybones in fifth grade, and I believe to this day that the book would be improved by a desert island, or possibly having the protagonist trapped in a room with the air running out, trying to dig their way free with a spoon.

My memory of the third grade is a bit hazy, except that Having Your Name Written On The Board was the worst thing that could happen to you in class, and our well-meaning teacher, Mr. Christensen, tried dozens of variations on the writing-your-name-on-the-board thing, including one where everybody’s name was up with a window next to it, and if you misbehaved, you got a crack in your window. I remember, though, that as my parents were divorced, I went to talk to the school counselor once a week. I think I was given pamphlets or something about kids with divorced parents that were supposed to be written from their point of view. I have a vague memory of feeling intense contempt toward these pamphlets. Christ, what a waste of type. Not a dragon to be seen.

(I would spend the rest of my life with an intense dislike of Very Special Episodes and After School Specials. Every time they showed us a video in health class of kids struggling with alcoholism or sucide or teen pregnancy, I would slump in my seat thinking “The real issue here is that these people are too stupid to live.”)

I am the only me that I know, so I cannot give you the report from the other me in another timeline who had no books about kids like them. It seems likely that since I had a thousand options of representation, I was free to reject them all and read about dragons. I had the option to view Ramona as a peculiar anthropological oddity (what the hell was zwieback? Why did people eat it?) and identify with Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web. Having that option is vitally important, even if only so that you can choose not to take it. I could afford the luxury of contempt.

No escapism without representation, maybe?

Do I have a point? Oh, probably not, or I’ve forgotten it already. Maybe just that in any class, you will likely have one beady-eyed little contrarian who wants nothing to do with the books that they are supposed to identify with, and would rather take their life lessons from Spock or Hazel or Bilbo.

Maybe just that at the end of the day, all of us authors on those panels really were writing the books we needed as kids. And some of us desperately needed to be acknowledged, and some of us just wanted to escape. And here I am, today, still trying to write books for that beady-eyed little contrarian who never had enough books about talking animals.

Anyway. Great book festival, great people, great everything. Recommend it highly if you’re anywhere near Houston next year.

(And does anybody else remember getting their name on the board?)

 

ETA: By the way, this is NOT to say in any way that fantasy/SFF is free from the responsibility of providing representation–far from it! People want to know that people like them are welcome in fantasy worlds, too! More musings on the weird divide between people wanting books about their world and some of our strong desire to kick that world to the curb…

World Fantasy Nomination!

So I was at Anthrocon and was in fact at the after party run by the Dorsai Irregulars when an online friend, Ultragotha, congratulated me for my World Fantasy nomination.

Now, the ballot’s been out for awhile, and I wasn’t on it, so I thought it was just an awkward misunderstanding…and then Cassie, my most faithful of minions, called me and explained (three times–there had been rum) that the ballot had been revised and a short story was moved to novella and thus a slot opened and I was now on the ballot for “Jackalope Wives.”

So…uh…whoa.

I am still a little befuddled (there was rum! I’ve been at a con!) but it appears this is really happening.

Whoa.

Nebula Award

So, um…I seem to have won a Nebula Award for Jackalope Wives.

Holy crap. I didn’t see that one coming.

For those of you who don’t follow this all that closely, one of the other nominees was Eugie Foster, an enormously talented writer who passed away last year and When It Ends, He Catches Her was her final story. I assumed she would win. I was all set to cheer when she did. (I met her husband at the con, he’s very sweet, and as it happens, I did the art for the cover of one of her self-published anthologies, a fact I’d forgotten because brain, sieve, etc.)

Did I want to win? Well, of course, but I didn’t want to want to win, if that makes any sense, because hey, I’ll write other stories. Maybe one of them will get nominated for a Nebula. And as I learned from the Hugos, the statue is fantastic, but the nomination is actually the thing. When they say “It’s an honor just to be nominated,” cliche as it sounds, it’s true.* The statue, sure, maybe you compete for, but the nomination is a gift from the people who believe in you.

I truly believe that if it’s not a gift, it’s not worth much of anything.

And I suspect that I also truly believed I wasn’t going to win, because before the Hugos, when people had been telling me I had a shot, I couldn’t eat for sheer nerves, and I cheerfully polished off a chicken dinner and a glass of wine at the Nebula banquet, and mostly was sweating for Sarah Monette, aka Katherine Addison, aka author of The Goblin Emperor which book gave me all the feels forever and who is a lovely person and I was hoping hard for her.

When they called my name, I, being the cool operator I am, said “What?”

Then I said “What?” again, several times.

And Kevin said “What?” which was good, because then I felt slightly less out of the loop.

Then I noticed that all the people at my table (we were sitting with a contingent of Chinese science fiction authors who had come to cheer for Cixin Liu, and the founder of Strange Horizons, among others) were all looking at me and cheering and Kevin was rooting through his sporran for my speech, which I’d written for the Alternate Universe Nebulas that take place afterwards, where everybody gets together in the foyer and reads their acceptance speeches for the alternate universe where they won.

The speech that, because I had written it for that alternate universe, addressed the audience as if they were giant chickens.

It occurred to me that I had possibly made a tactical error.

I took the speech and went up to the front and I am actually almost good at this part because I am thinking gotta make a speech gotta make a speech not holy crap I’ve won a Nebula and then they handed me the big cube with the planets in it and I accidentally thought holy crap I’ve won a Nebula and that was a big mistake because then I turned to the microphone, and my voice cracked and I said the first thing that came into my head, which was “Aw shit, guys, you were supposed to give this to Eugie.”

Grace under pressure, thy name is someone else.

But I gave the speech, and fortunately explaining the giant chicken bit got me past the bit where I was getting choked up and then I was just giving the speech which was mostly telling stories about tattooing and selkies and then I walked back and people were congratulating me on the way.

I went to the Alternate Universe Nebulas. There were some really good speeches. Some of them were fiery and some were impassioned and some had weeping. Any of them would have been just as good as mine. (I hold out that I was the only giant chicken, though)

And honestly, there was not a single name on the ballot with mine that didn’t deserve to be there, and any of those authors could have walked up on stage and taken the trophy home and earned it just as much, possibly more so.

When you hit the top handful of short stories of the year, it’s all a matter of personal preference after that, and who was in the mood and who had read all the stories except the one that they would have liked better than yours. I won’t say there’s never been a bad Nebula winner** but this year was good. It was an honor just to be on the same page with those other people.

And yes, it’s easy for me to say because I’ve got the big Lucite paperweight (and incidentally, that thing sets off the X-ray machines at airport security like you would not BELIEVE.) But damn, I wish we could have given out trophies to all seven of us.

The trophy looks good on a shelf. The real prize is that you meet these incredible writers and realize that somebody thinks you deserve to stand alongside them.

(Seriously, go read their stories.)

Anyway. I took home a very heavy trophy, and my shoulder is still grumbling about carrying it through the airport, and I do not yet believe on any level that I have actually won one, and by the time it actually sinks in, six months will have gone by and then it will look very stupid to be like “HOLY CRAP YOU GUYS I’M A NEBULA WINNER.” But I’ll manage.

Thank you to everybody who congratulated me by text and twitter, and to the members of SFWA who voted for me. My fellow giant chickens, I am very grateful.

 

*Also, believe it or not, But it’s a dry heat is 100% true.

**A number of you just thought the words “Mormon space-whale” to yourself.

 

Wonder Noir

She leaned against the doorframe in the burned-out building, listening to the distant sirens. It was amazing they even bothered with sirens anymore, down here, but there they were.

The red glow of her cigarette was the only light in the building. The street lights had been blown out long ago. That was fine. She didn’t need much light, and anyway, there was nothing down here worth looking at.

Everyone of any importance was dead, but there was no point in whining about it. Start whining and you turned out like one of the old guys. It was pathetic at first, and then it was just exhausting.

Anyway, she wasn’t going back there. Nobody there could mind their own business. Last time, they’d tried to stage a goddamn intervention for her–tried to get her to give up the relic, muttering something about appropriate grieving, which was pretty fucking rich coming from somebody who ran around the city dressed like a bat because his parents died thirty years ago. Appropriate grieving, my ass.

He wasn’t even a good bat. Bats had scrunchy noses and enormous ears. His proportions were all wrong. She’d showed him an endless parade, from flying foxes to bumblebee bats, and not one of them matched, and apparently “Stylized Bat-Like Figure Drawn By Someone Who’s Never Actually Seen A Bat-Man” wouldn’t fit on his business cards or something.

Anyway, point was that she wasn’t going to cede the moral high ground to a whiner who didn’t understand bats. She’d suggested once that he spend some of that money finding a cure for white-nose syndrome and instead he’d gone and blown a quarter million on a Bat-themed jet-ski. Jerk.

Fine, maybe she was spending a bit too much time shifted. It wasn’t a crime, was it? The green dude had showed her brainscans and tried to explain something about the problems with brains being shoved into tiny little spaces for long stretches of time. He was the most decent of the lot. His whole civilization was dead, but he didn’t bring it up in casual conversation. She’d tried to keep herself to bigger shifts after that, but it wasn’t easy. People noticed a rhinoceros on the street the way they didn’t notice a rat.

It was very pleasant being a rat. The world went to whiskers and tails and a symphony of smells. A mouse, now–being a mouse was bad. Her brain started to feel squeezed. There wasn’t enough there. She was always slow and stupid when she came out of mouse-shape.

Lately, though, her thoughts seemed to echo inside her skull whenever she was unshifted. She’d shrunk somehow, and there was too much space left.

Maybe it was the space he’d left behind.

Perhaps today she’d turn into a rat and stay that way. Would it be such a bad life?

She ground out the cigarette under her heel and opened the box. The relic inside was a shrunken as a monkey’s paw. It only granted one particular wish, and only to her, but that was all she needed.

She took out her dead brother’s severed hand and folded her fingers against it. “Wonder Twin powers, activate,” she whispered, and felt the power take her away.

…this is all John Scalzi’s fault. I accept no responsibility whatsoever. Address all complaints to him. Forever. Oh god, I was supposed to finish a book today, and instead I started writing Wonder Twins fan-fic.

The Obligatory Award Eligibility Post 2014 Edition

Okay, so let’s talk about happier stuff for awhile!

We’re sliding into the end of the year and the award eligibility posts are going up, if any of you are voters in such beasts and so inclined. So, without further ado, here’s the stuff I’ve written this year that might qualify for something!

Flash Fiction:

Godmother – self-published, approx 600 words (as T. Kingfisher)

Short Story:

Jackalope Wives – Apex Magazine (written as Ursula Vernon)
The Dryad’s Shoe – Women Destroy Fantasy, Fantasy Magazine (as T. Kingfisher)
Toad Words  – self published, (as T. Kingfisher)

Novella:

Boar & Apples – self-published as part of the Toad Words & Other Stories anthology, approx 25K (as T. Kingfisher)

Novel:

The Seventh Bride – self-published, approx 57K (as T. Kingfisher)

Podcast:

The Hidden Almanac (with Kevin Sonney)

I think that covers everything of significance I’ve been doing lately. If you are so inclined to vote for one of those, thank you!

The Dryad’s Shoe

My short story in the Women Destroy Fantasy collection is available to read on-line!

The Dryad’s Shoe

If you enjoy it, please consider buying either the e-book or print volume from Fantasy Magazine of the whole issue–it is some super cool stuff.

And can I just say how awesome it is to have been involved in this project? I was so honored that Cat Rambo seized this one. I frequently lack the energy or the sanity to really get both hands into all the worthy causes that I should and being able to be part of WDF and the whole we-are-part-of-fantasy-no-matter-what-th

e-haters-say awesomness of it is just…whoa.

(It’s also T. Kingfisher’s first trad publishing credit, so, y’know. How cool izzat?)

Coming in November!

bridecoverfinal

Coming in November, an honest-to-god novel! This is another fairy-tale retelling, best known to long-time blog readers as “The One With The Hedgehog.”

(Seriously considered calling it that, but it’s a pretty weird dark story, so I decided against it. Also, if I put the hedgehog on the cover, people would probably get entirely the wrong idea about cute little stories with woodland critters…)