Ten years

Ten years.
A decade. A life.

Alan Dundes was the first person – and the only mentor I’ve had – who saw me as a whole human being. In him, I had someone who accepted me as I was, who was interested in me as myself, not a construct in his mind. He made me feel that I mattered. He did this to many, many students. He was an incredibly generous person. He meant the world to me, and to very many others. You did not have to always agree with him to love him. We disagreed on many things.

He was larger than life.

I miss him, still, very much. I don’t think I will ever not miss him.

Story sale to QDSF!

I am absolutely thrilled to report that I’ve sold a full-length story, “How to Remember to Forget to Remember the Old War,” to Seanan McGuire for Queers Destroy Science Fiction! special issue of Lightspeed. It will be my first appearance in Lightspeed. The fiction lineup for QDSF! has just been announced!

“How to Remember to Forget to Remember the Old War” is a story about two interstellar veterans in the Bay Area. It’s inspired by very real stories of “Greyhound therapy,” a custom of sending the homeless and/or mentally ill one-way to California on Greyhound buses. I first learned about this while living in Berkeley, CA. This practice is, unfortunately, still ongoing.

The story is dedicated to Bogi Takács. E’s not the first person to encourage me to write more science fiction, but usually these attempts are unsuccessful. Not in this case. I am also grateful to Lisa M. Bradley, whose words of encouragement carried me through the writing of this story.

Bogi emself will have a flash piece in QDSF! and I am very happy about that, too. This is a fabulous lineup.

Two podcast sales!

My magic realist story “Seven Losses of Na Re” (originally in Daily SF; to be reprinted in Sisters of the Revolution ed. by Jeff and Ann Vandermeer) is slated to be podcast at Drabblecast. I’m really happy about this.

Second, my SFnal story “Stalemate” (Lackington’s) has been accepted by GlitterShip, a brand-new LGBTQIA podcast run by Keffy R. Kehrli. Keffy is running a Kickstarter to support the podcast: if you have a moment, please take a look! I am thrilled with the lineup hints I’ve seen so far, including some of my favorite 2014 stories like A. Merc Rustad’s “How to Become a Robot in 12 Easy Steps” and Bogi Takács’s “This Shall Serve as a Demarcation.”

Assorted News, with Long Shadow

I have assorted news to report today, including one of epic nature.

My curse poem “Beastwoman’s Snarled Rune,” aka the Monsterpoem (first published in Bull Spec 4, 2010), will be reprinted in Angels of the Meanwhile, an anthology to benefit PopeLizbet.

My essay “On the pitfalls of merit,” published on this blog last year, will be reprinted in SpecFic 2014: The Best Online Reviews, Essays, and Commentary edited by Renay and Shaun Duke.

My slightly edited essay “Encouraging Diversity: An Editor’s Perspective” has been reprinted in today’s issue of Strange Horizons.

Finally, “Long Shadow” has also gone live in today’s issue of Strange Horizons. “Long Shadow” is an epic poem in the Journeymaker Cycle, in which we return to the world of the Journeymaker and her lover, Keddar. Perhaps most well-known of my published Cycle poems is “In the Third Cycle”  (also in Strange Horizons), which took first place in the Rannu Competition as well as in the SH Readers’ Poll, and was nominated for the Rhysling award in the long category. “Long Shadow” features some of the same characters, but you don’t need to know anything about the Cycle in order to read it.

This poem is set in the marsh, where the Journeymaker attempts to figure out what to do about Long Shadow, a ghostly child born of buried wars, and the children Long Shadow steals. There are no easy answers here. It is, however, my personal meditation to some of the pervasive tropes we see around, most immediately the narrative beautification of warfare. When prettily told wars are done, children – people – continue to suffer.

…How will you go
about this help? To keep it warm,
whose children will you choose, and spill their blood
to feed Long Shadow?

          There must be another way.

What way do you envision
while battles suffocate below,
yet are still living? All those hatreds that have grown
like poison ivy through the hearts of city dwellers
and village folk—where do you think they come from?

This poem is one of my major poetic accomplishments. I hope you give it a read. There will be a podcast later in the month, in which I read this poem in five voices. I’ll let you know when it goes up.

The Privilege and Necessity of Writing

I want to engage with Kameron Hurley’s chewy and important essay on “The Privilege to Publish and the Power to Persevere,” in which Hurley considers writing as an activity that is supported by privilege.

Sometimes I think it’s because the only ones of us left in this business are the writers with safety nets. The writers who have another way to eat, and have the privilege, yes, privilege, of persevering even in the face of constant rejection. I’ve been aware at every turn that I had advantages others didn’t: middle-class parents who didn’t insist I get a real career. A grandfather who paid for graduate school in a cheap foreign country. No children of my own, or parents or siblings I had to care for. Medical debt, yes, but not enough to bankrupt me.

Writing as privilege is something I have considered deeply and repeatedly. Writers who need basic income to survive too often cannot take the time off work to finish a longer project. Many networking and professional opportunities are not available or harder to access without financial backing – e.g. con travel, an MFA degree, workshops such as Clarion, etc. However, I am also concerned that Hurley’s essay strongly focuses on both privilege AND success in terms of class (financial resources; financial gain). I believe that both writing and success should be considered intersectionally.

I could not write until my early thirties because as a twice-immigrant, none of my languages felt adequate – nor was my English “up to snuff” until fairly recently. I now tell my writers that immigrant and variant Englishes are not only ok, but welcome, and as an editor I welcome these Englishes and these writers with open arms, but nobody told ME this. My partner currently cannot accept payment for eir work due to visa limitations. E needs the income, eir writing sells, but being in the US on F1 (student) visa means e cannot accept payment for eir work. People who do not have visa limitations, who speak “standard” English (or the standard of the language in which they are writing), who are not immigrants, etc., have the privilege of not grappling with these issues.

Folks who are supported by parents or spouses do not need to worry about income as much as folks who have no backup. Folks who have a decently paying stable job often have an advantage over those who don’t. Those who are not caregivers may have more available time. Able-bodied people do not need to worry about writhing in pain after writing 500 words. So yes, there are definitely privileges/advantages that can make writing easier. I wish I could write without pain, and I wish I could write without worry that I’m neglecting my job. I cannot not prioritize my child, and I do not regret this. I wish I could stop constantly working. And even as a queer, disabled twice-immigrant who is also a caregiver, I have advantages other people may not have.

However, I think that positioning writing as a privilege does us a HUGE disservice by overlooking those of us who write without privilege. Every time we look, we see that there is a literature of the marginalized, literature of resistance and struggle, literature that persists due to the sheer necessity of voice, the voice that proclaims our existence, our vitality, our wisdom, our pain, or histories, work that creates and maintains communal ties that help us persevere despite overwhelming odds.

A prolific, sustained, acclaimed, mainstream-published writing career that focuses on novels is difficult to kick-start and maintain without privilege. Not impossible – difficult. Which is why we have poems, songs, oral narratives, tweets. We have doodles, graffiti, flash fiction. We have blog entries and communal calls for help and action, which are definitely narratives. A poet who can write a single incredible poem which will sustain a hundred revolutionaries is not less worthy than a writer who sold thirty novels to mainstream presses. For me (and for many), Nisi Shawl is a beacon of meaning, vitality, and power even though she has not sold thirty novels to mainstream presses. Amal El-Mohtar, another source of vitality, meaning, and support in our community, does not have a novel out.

I would like us to accept that success is not universally defined. Value is not predicated upon volume or sales, although in a capitalistic society it is too often the only yardstick by which we are measured. But it shouldn’t be. Let’s please not self-marginalize. Writing – voice – may be a privilege for the privileged, but it is a necessity for the underprivileged. We use our voices to combat our erasure and dehumanization. It’d be good if that also came with a consistent and sustainable income, but most often it does not. This is a problem, but it does not invalidate our endeavor.

Write because you feel you must write. Write as you can, how you can, when you can, as little or as much as you can. Voice comes in many shapes and sizes. For many us here, silence is a price too terrible to pay.

——–
Thanks to Andi Buchanan, Nino Cipri, Lev Mirov, and Melissa Moorer for their early reading and suggestions.

Perseverance and the editorial process

Charles Tan has kindly storified my tweets on perseverance, writing, and the editorial process. Today I saw a few people wanting to refer to this conversation in blog entries, so I have very slightly tweaked these tweets and am putting them in an entry format here. This conversation continues various conversational threads from #dontselfreject (also kindly storified by Charles), which I should also make into an entry here.

——

My life as a writer changed radically in 2010, when I decided to start my own poetry market, Stone Telling. I saw first hand how hard many of the submitters worked, and how many were rejected for reasons other than “this sucks.” I had to reject for many reasons, chief among them, the work did not fit my vision. I had, and continue to have in all my editorial projects, a very strong vision – and there are many, many pieces in every slush. Even as a beginning editor, unknown, editing poetry, which is perhaps less densely populated than fiction, I received a lot of work to consider for the first issue of the magazine. Some of it I wouldn’t publish for love or money, e.g. there were fatphobic and homophobic pieces sent to this fat, queer editor. Such work was in a minority. On the other hand, there was a lot of competent work that either did not wow me, or wowed me but did not fit my vision. Some work was good, but I felt the poet was not done growing yet. I sent personal rejections a lot. Some I would not send now. Let’s face it, rejection – even the kindest, most personal – sucks. It perhaps especially sucks when you’re starting out. Personal rejections, even sensitively worded, can devastate a beginning writer.

After reading for a few issues, I noticed a curious thing: some of those “good but not exactly there” poets submitted work again. Others did not.

What I saw in those submitters who tried again and again was courage. It was the courage I lacked myself as a writer. because, writing from my own gut and all too often about my own marginalizations, from a place of pain and struggle, rejections hurt me and taught me to self-reject. But my submitters, my Stone Telling submitters whose work I did not even buy, taught me courage to keep trying, keep working, keep improving.

Not everybody can do that. Mental health issues surrounding writing can be overwhelming, and all too often impossible to overcome. Rejection hurts. Having one’s most heart-wrenching, gutful work rejected hurts like little else. To say, “Everyone can do it!” – is ableist as well as unrealistic. Not everybody can, and if one cannot, it should not be a value judgment.

But – I want to tell you a story. We’d just accepted a poem which was pretty much perfect. I am not going to name the poet. This poet’s work was in the slush from Issue 1. Over & over this poet sent work to us and was rejected. Between 2010 and 2015, this poet sent in 17 submissions. Over these years, I saw them grow and grow. The work went from good to excellent. Some of the work we rejected sold elsewhere, and was nominated for awards. It was STILL not right for us, but it got closer and closer; and then it was perfect.

As an editor, I am so, so proud of this poet. As a person, I am so, so grateful for the lessons of courage and good cheer they taught me (in case you wonder, yes, this is a marginalized person.)

I couldn’t have done what they did. 17 times! I would self-reject.

Stone Telling submitters – and then, An Alphabet of Embers submitters – gave me courage and helped me understand how sending work out looks from the other side. Since 2010, I completed and sent out many more poems. While poetry became easier for me to submit after 2010, prose was still often a struggle. Reading for An Alphabet of Embers gave me a window into prose. I completed and sent many more fiction pieces after AoE, and I was at peace with the process. It became easier, even though rejection is still difficult.

I have been here since 2008. I have noticed a pattern. Some writers seem to emerge perfect and polished, and they sell and sell (though some of those people later burn out). Others – more often, I think – have a great story and sell it. Then, other successes don’t come. or don’t come as easily. For others, even that first sale proves elusive; they write and submit consistently, but do not sell. Very often, there is a long, hard slog between that first acceptance and the next one (or at all) – a long, hard slog of writing/learning, sending out and being rejected while watching other people sell and sell. That’s where many people self-reject, and even leave.

Frankly, yes, this long, hard slog is discouraging and demoralizing. “What’s the point?” I have certainly thought many times. I started in 2008. It is 2015 now and I sell a lot more than when I started. (My bibliography is broken down by years, if this is interesting). I sold no prose in 2009, and not for the lack of trying.

I have talked earlier about the myth of “rapid, youthful rise” which works for some, but is hurtful and demoralizing for many. Not everyone can keep slogging, not for everyone it’s meaningful even to try. But, as an editor, I have seen so many people grow. in the 5 years I’ve been editing, I’ve seen my repeat submitters improve – because writing/submitting usually teaches you something. Often improvement is slow, so that the writers themselves may not even notice it. Often you not only need to improve your writing, but to hit that exact right note with the exact right editor.

Personally, I prefer the slow method of growth because it taught me so much about the process; it also taught me so much about people, and it is people, always people, who are at the core of my endeavor as a writer and editor.

I want to address two frequent concerns. First, It seems that many people worry about annoying editors by submitting again and again. I do not think it is a danger, unless your work is offensive to that editor (e.g. you sent a homophobic piece out to a queer editor), or unless you disregard guidelines. So yes, please follow guidelines, and if you feature diverse characters, please do try to get things right. However, repeatedly sending work that does not offend but does not make the cut is NOT A PROBLEM. Editors want to buy excellent work, and not hitting bulls-eye from the get-go does not disqualify you. If an editor is telling you to submit again (including via a form), that means “please submit again.” There’s no trick in this.

I also want to briefly address the concern of falling behind. Yes, there are a few prodigies who probably have never felt behind – but many, if not most writers I talk to feel they are “behind.” I find this troubling. First, we cannot all be behind. Second and more importantly, there is something damaging and painful about the idea of ahead and behind. It’s as if there is this huge herd of writers all running in the same direction towards a judge with a little red flag, and maybe a rope. But we’re not a herd, there’s more than one road to run, not everyone is able to run, and there’s no ultimate judge either. We move at a different pace, towards different goals. Some of us must take breaks before we can move again.

I personally find comparisons to other writers, as well as envy, unhelpful, but I am not a jealous person, it is not an emotion I have. I am speaking as a person who walked a long, hard, frustrating and painful and demoralizing road between my first sale and today. I did not run my road. I walked it (stopping), and I am nowhere near done. I’m simply somewhere different from where I’d started. I like this place I’ve reached. Would I have liked to have an agent and/or a book contract by now? Yes, of course! But I am not “behind.”

There is a Russian proverb, dorogu osilit idushij, “the one who walks will manage the road.” If this road is for you, keep moving – keep moving when it is easy and when it is tough, take rest breaks when you need them, remeber that self-care is #1, but don’t self-reject. If the road is not for you, that’s completely legit. That’s not a statement about your worth, either. As always, please remember that I am only a single person and everything I say gets filtered through the lens of my own thoughts and experiences, so if what I am saying does not work for you, that’s absolutely legit as well.

Sale: “The Book of How to Live”

Michael Matheson has made a few announcements regarding Start a Revolution: QUILTBAG Fiction Vying for Change. This anthology was originally supposed to come out from Exile Editions, a Canadian publisher; it will instead become a crowdfunded anthology later in the year.

The new version of the anthology features my novelette, “The Book of How to Live.” I originally wrote it for this call, but at over 11k, it ended up being too long for the market, as Michael was only able to accept a limited amount of material from non-Canadians. When Michael went indie, he asked for the story back. It will be in very good company; I am especialy glad to see Amal El-Mohtar’s “To Follow the Waves” and Bogi Takács’s “This Shall Serve as a Demarcation” in this lineup. I love both stories fiercely.

“The Book of How to Live” is a Birdverse novelette set in northeastern country of Laina, and it is told by two queer women: Efronia Lukano, a peasant inventor who traveled on foot from the northern edges of Laina to study at the university, and Atarah-nai-Rinah, a Khana inventor who lives in the city. It is a story of academic and societal exclusion, finding one’s own community, nascent revolutions. It is the first story I’ve sold which is an explicit critique of Western-style academic establishments, but it is most certainly not the last.

I am happy with this for sale for multiple reasons, not least of them is the fact that I’ve sold three Birdverse novelettes in the span of two months, to appear in 2015. All of those pieces are queer (Birdverse is very queer), and all three of them feature autistic protagonists. “The Book of How to Live” has Efronia, an Aspie; “Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds” has Kimi, a minimally verbal autistic child; and finally, “Geometries of Belonging” features Dedéi, a nonbinary teen with speech and motor difficulties.

I am very happy that my Birdverse work is gaining traction. I hope you too will love these stories and these people and their world. I am most certainly working on more; there’s no end to these stories.

A Birdverse Novelette Sale!

I am thrilled to announce that I sold “Geometries of Belonging,” a wannabe novella (it’s 17000 words long!) to Beneath Ceaseless Skies. This story is told by Healer Parét, who is actually the father of Taem from “Held Close in Syllables of Light,” my first published Birdverse story (also at BCS).

Here’s how “Geometries of Belonging” is described on my Projects: Birdverse page:

Parét, a famous mind-healer, is asked to cure a young autistic patient – but his patient does not consent to be cured. Meanwhile, Parét uncovers a carefully wrought intrigue against his lord and lover. (consent, mind-healing, autism, non-binary and queer protagonists, D/s).

Parét’s would-be patient is, of course, Dedéi, the protagonist and narrator of “Two and Five Syllables” (better title TBA), a YA novella I am serializing on Patreon. It might end up being a novel, though.

Very, very pleased with this. And, it so happens, I might be in a position to announce some news of a similar nature in a week or so. Stay tuned!

Rhysling nominations

I am pleased to announce that two of my short poems have been nominated for the Rhysling award this year:

“Dualities” in Mythic Delirium

“Landwork” in Goblin Fruit

There are still a few days left to nominate poems for the Rhysling, so I am linking a post by Bogi Takács on Stone Telling poems eligible for the award. I hope you give them a look even if you are not nominating – so many wonderful poems in there!

Uncanny, Podcast, and a Birdverse Legend

Today, my poem “Archival Testimony Fragments/minersong” has become available for free in the second issue of Uncanny. I am very happy with this poem, a piece in the Boundless Universe; and it already garnered two positive reviews (that I have seen). Lisa at Over the Effing Rainbow writes:

The structure of this poem did, I admit, make me a little nervous at first glance, but my fear that I wouldn’t get it was quickly left behind because whether or not I got the complete message, this felt surprisingly – delightfully! – easy to follow. In fact, I was drawn in remarkably quickly, and I have to say that whether you’re an established fan of poetry or a dabbler like me, this is one you should give your attention to.

Charles Payseur at Quick Sip Reviews writes that it was “a good read with a unique style,” and supplies an insightful analysis of the poem. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s an interesting mix of voices, mostly the ship’s but with the voices from above, as well, the training instructions from the company that owns the planet and the voice of one of the miners who hears the voice calling out and decides to try and respond. In some ways this read to me as a poem about the power of history and workers.

There’s also an Uncanny Podcast with my poem as read by C.S.E. Cooney. I rarely listen to podcasts of my work, but I wanted to listen to this one and, knowing something about Claire’s extraordinary reading abilities, I knew it would be good. Then… I listened to it.

People, omg, if you like my work at all, you HAVE to listen to this one. OMG. What have I done to deserve this? Wow.

*ahem*

These are the moments which make everything worthwhile.

Also in the podcast is Amal El-Mohtar’s “Pockets,” which I love, and which has also become available to read for free today.

In other news, yesterday Birdverse Patreon update was that of the Starcounter of Keshet doodle. I am really fond of this one, and so I am posting it here. (Also, I probably should stop calling them ‘doodles'; they are drawings). This one refers to one of the many versions of the Birdverse creation legend; you can read more on the Patreon page, since this update is free. I’m pleased with my first month of Patreoning (January) – during which I posted 3 paid updates and 4 free updates, as promised. February is going to be the same – 3 paid and 4 free updates. You can get access to all the goodies for as little as 1$ per creation (3$ per month.)

starcounter

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About

Rose Lemberg is a queer immigrant from Eastern Europe. Her work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Unlikely Story, Uncanny, and other venues. Rose co-edits Stone Telling, a magazine of boundary-crossing poetry, with Shweta Narayan. She is currently editing a new fiction anthology, An Alphabet of Embers. For a quick taste of Rose's writing, try the Sampler. You can support her work on Patreon.

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