A. M. Dellamonica, 2014, photo by Kelly Robson
Joanna Russ was one of those people you had to read, as a young feminist geek. Not just How to Suppress Women’s Writing, (though obviously How to Suppress Women’s Writing). The Female Man, We Who Are About To…, and The Adventures of Alyx were all so intrinsic to my experience of growing up, coming out, and realizing who I was going to be as I moved through the world that I cannot imagine doing without them. One need only look at the way I tweaked the spelling of my first name to see how deep the influence went.
So it will come to as no surprise to anyone that I am thrilled beyond words to announce that my first ever foray into the world of editing will be as the guest editor of the 2016 Heiresses of Russ: The Year’s Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction series. I will be doing this for Lethe Press with the inimitable Steve Berman.
In case you haven’t heard of it before, this is a reprint anthology. I have already begun reading, albeit slowly, because I am under a mountain of grading so high it requires supplemental oxygen. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and so far it has been a delight.
Projects like this are labors of love. I have fond memories of shipping off manuscripts to Nicola Griffith and Steve Pagel for Bending the Landscape, as a dykey baby SF writer. It was a really different world, or so it seemed. Books like BtL were the Queers Destroy Science Fiction (and Fantasy and Horror) of their time, and it seems apparent to me that if people like Nicola and Steve hadn’t been bending things then, we might not be in a position to destroy anything now. Anyway, whenever I find myself despairing about the state of the world (as I think we all do) I count up our wins. For me the jewel in the queer rights crown is marriage equality, long a development I thought I would not live to see. And now my government is apparently tabling transgendered rights legislation. I suddenly have to wonder if I’m living in a magical world of Oz.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of broke in the world, so much still in need of fixing. And even wins don’t remain wins if you don’t keep an eye on them. Progress is like a newly shingled roof; time passes, the elements attack and something that seemed so very secure starts springing leaks and throwing shingles. We see this with every political gain… there’s always someone keen to try to roll it back.
And so, in this remarkable year when women swept the Nebula Awards, I want to just open up a can of nostalgia and smell a few of those chapter headings Joanna Russ used to splatter my worldview across a student newspaper office one day in 1985:
She wrote it, but look what she wrote about.
She wrote it, but she shouldn’t have.
She wrote it, but she isn’t really an artist, and it isn’t really art.
Remember that? Screw that. Write what you shouldn’t, people! Projects like Heiresses of Russ: The Year’s Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction are just one way to nail down the shingles, to keep the the rain off as we figure out how to build out the house, to widen the circle to an ever more wonderful and diverse group of writers.
One of the reasons I am driven to write fiction is so I can try to capture, in words, the essence of those rare, truly profound experiences that life occasionally hands out. The things that are, by their very nature, difficult to capture truthfully without being trite. It’s hard to talk about bliss and heartbreak and transformation, about love, birth, marriage, or loss, without sounding like a greeting card. My students run up against this all the time; trying to put sincere human emotion on the page and beating their fists bloody against the wall of words.
At some point this past Nebula Awards weekend I realized I was not only in the midst of something that intense–the opposite of crisis, yet every bit as all-consuming–and that part of why it was dialled up to nine was tied to an earlier trip Kelly and I made to Chicago, in 1997, on our way to our second Worldcon in San Antonio. Out of that trip came, among other things, the seed of my Asimovs story, “A Slow Day at the Gallery.” I won’t go on, because a) I need to process; b) what I just said, above; and c) I mean to make art out of it all. But it was a seriously big deal. And a thoroughgoing source of joy.
The con also offered many delights that weren’t quite so all-consuming, including:
- People: I go to cons hoping to develop deeper friendships with people in my social media orbit. This weekend I had several long, thrilling conversations, with individuals who I’ve Liked, many times, and wanted to know. I feel very blessed every time this comes together.
- Dancing: When SFWA releases the official video of Emperor Stardust and the Eunuchs of the Forbidden City, I will post it. We were, dare I say it, awesome.
- Brain food: I wasn’t alone in noticing that the quality of programming, the exchange of knowledge and ideas at the con, was extremely high.
- Body food: Chicago lived up to its delicious reputation. The breakfast joint we settled upon, The Goddess and the Baker, was especially good.
It feels significant, in this context, that Kelly and I have been in Toronto three years as of this very day. On the plane home to our little apartment, our beloved cats, our wonderful neighborhood, with two suitcase heaving with books and someone’s ginger liqueur (you know who you are!) my luminous Nebula-nominated wife, of whom I am so justifiably proud, was aglow. “I couldn’t possibly be happier,” she said.
Know what? Yeah. Me too. Things are just that stunningly good right now.
A Daughter of No Nation
The delightful Angela Slatter interviewed me on her blog last week, in a wide-ranging conversation covering topics from my childhood reading to my currently-up-for-an-Aurora Award novel, A Daughter of No Nation.
In other news, and as many of you probably already know, I am off to Chicago this week to attend the Nebula Awards Banquet, and to cheer for Kelly, who is nominated for her novella Waters of Versailles. As with all Dua trips of late, there will be dance videos, coffee shops, art museums, and pilgrimages in search of baked goods worthy of the name. I also expect to see and celebrate with so many lovely friends.
We will be home just in time to mark the third anniversary of our move to Toronto, and the kittens'(well, not really kittens anymore) second birthday. I have mostly stopped telling people we are new to Toronto. I haven’t stopped telling people I love it.
Monday night: I am parked on the bed, tip-tapping away, with both cats lounging beside me as Kelly writes in the next room. It was a cool and sometimes blustery day, but now the sky has cleared and the evening light is pleasantly mellow. Our birch trees are putting out teeny tiny leaves. I love the spotted crepe-y look of birch trunks; I missed them when we moved away from Northern Alberta when I was eleven or so. I associate the look of them, somehow, with contentment.
We were at Ad Astra all weekend, seeing people and talking books, so today I mostly worked through a logjam of teaching tasks, as well as figuring out out the plotty heart of one of the three novel concepts I’m incubating. I am calling these concepts the stork babies, since some species of stork hatch multiple offspring, who then duke it out in a rather grisly game of survivor, the stronger voting the weaker out of the nest, kersplat, until only one remains. If I ever wrote a book called Things I learned from David Attenborough, there would definitely be a bird chapter entitled “Nature’s Most Beautiful Assholes.”
The storks’ current working titles, in birth order, are Tom the Liar, Glory Days, and Magic Fairy Sparkle Princess. I expect all of these titles to change no matter who outwits, outlasts and outwrites.
I am also pleased because I’ve realized the Poldark series is finally available via my preferred media vendor. We’ve been waiting for this to happen for months! Now if only iTunes Canada would unlock Grantchester S2…
Strangers Among Us: Tales of the Underdogs and Outcasts is newly out from Laksa Media. Edited by Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law, it has stories by Kelley Armstrong, Suzanne Church, Gemma Files, James Alan Gardner, Bev Geddes, Erika Holt, Tyler Keevil, Rich Larson, Derwin Mak, Mahtab Narsimhan, Sherry Peters, Ursula Pflug, Robert Runte, Lorina Stephens, Amanda Sun, Hayden Trenholm, Edward Willet and A.C. Wise. The intro was written by Julie E. Czerneda.
The stories in the anthology seek to, as the editors put it, “explore the delicate balance between mental health and mental illness,” and a portion of the anthology’s net revenue is being donated to the Canadian Mental Health Association. (Laksa Media’s motto is “Read for a Cause, Write for a Cause, Help a Cause” and you can learn more about their philosophy here.)
My own story, “Tribes,” might be said to be about sweeping your problems under a rather large rug. I have only had my contributor’s copy in the house for a day, so I’ve barely dipped into the stories here. But it’s an exciting ToC, and a cool project, and I’m delighted to have been a part of it.