On Writing: Drafting, Revising, and the Critique of an Ever-Shifting Present

One of the perils of writing–or, more specifically, revising–the sort of near-future science fiction that I write in the slow manner that I tend to write it is that the issue that sparked the story often changes significantly by the time I get around to polishing up said story.

Stepping back a bit: I’m in the camp that believes that one of the purposes of science fiction (and really, any form of literature) is to critique some element of the present. Yes, these stories should be full of interesting characters having interesting conflicts while doing interesting things. But there should also be something that grounds readers to the present, or something through which they can view that present.

But what happens when that present suddenly and dramatically shifts?

What got me thinking about this is that I recently came back to a story that I drafted in 2014, a near-future SF story about a young new mother whose repressive family twists the circumstances and narrative around her child’s birth. Back in 2014, I wanted to explore the collision between recent research on altering memories and the usual reproductive rights issues that find their way into my fiction.

And then in 2015, we saw a religious backlash in the US to the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling, a backlash that gave a platform to certain southern judges and county clerks.

And then in 2016, the current US administration was elected, sort of.

And then in 2017, the Texas legislature passed laws that allow child welfare agencies to deny adoptions and discriminate against prospective parents based on the agencies’ “religious freedom.”

And so on.

Which left me wondering, should events in the intervening years affect the story? Or the world-building around it? Given the damage done to reproductive rights in Texas in the last legislative session and the real threats to religious freedoms handed down from the state and federal levels, should I alter the society as I’ve imagined it?

The readers of the story will be inhabitants of 2018 (or 2019 as publishing schedules usually go), so it makes sense for me to address anything that no longer works with current policy and so forth.

But ultimately, the question must be what will make for the best story? If I just want to explore the consequences of a given law, then I should just write an essay or a blog post. If I want to write fiction and affect readers, then any changes have to be in service to that end. The critique has to be secondary.

After all, if no one is moved or intrigued or delighted or enraged by a character, then what’s the point of telling her story?

Ursula K. Le Guin: An Appreciation

Most of the appreciations of Ursula K. Le Guin have focused on her fiction, but the SF master also wrote speculative poems. Like so many in the field, I began writing SF after reading her lyrical, intelligent prose. That lyricism, of course, we also find in the intelligence of her poems.

I’ll admit here that I haven’t read as much of her poetry as I’ve read her prose. That said, one of the most striking speculative poems I’ve read in a while is hers: “Werewomen.” which I encountered in The Moment of Change, edited by Rose Lemberg. (As an aside, the anthology is a solid collection of speculative poetry that I highly recommend. Read a review by Brit Mandelo on tor.com here.)

The poem is a cry of an older woman who, like the younger women and urban women she aligns herself with, implores the reader to “Listen what I need is freedom,” including the freedom to walk alone at night. In an era of #metoo, marches against the current US administration, and other calls to raise our voices, we should keep the last lines of the poem with us:

“All kinds of women
talk about walking alone.
When the moon is full
listen how they howl,
listen how they howl together.”

And so, we keep howling. Howling on placards and protest chants. Howling through calls and letters to our elected officials. Howling through our online posts. Howling through our stories.

From Around the Web: 23 October 2017

A few links of interest from around the web:

From Around the Web: 9 October 2017

A few links of interest from around the web:

From Around the Web: 3 October 2017

A few links of interest from around the web:

  • A couple podcasts featuring SF authors: Gary Wolfe and Jonathan Strahan interview Nnedi Okorafor on the latest Coode Street Podcast. And Gregory Benford, David Brin, Geoffrey Landis and Larry Niven appear on a recent episode of Planetary Radio.
  • Here’s a poem featured on Rattle by Raye Hendrix, on the “death” of Cassini: “ELEGY FOR A SPACECRAFT
  • And for those of you in the North Texas region: I’ll be reading at this year’s Art & Words show, curated by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam.

More Destroying Science Fiction!

The Destroy! series of science fiction anthologies continues, this time from the folks at Uncanny.  From the Kickstarter:

Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction will be in the same vein as the previous Destroy special issues (Women Destroy Science Fiction, Queers Destroy Science Fiction, and People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction), featuring editors, writers (both solicited and unsolicited), and artists with representation from all across the sliding scale of disability.

The project has already funded, which is great to see.  But alas, the “Bespoke Space Unicorn Art of You” reward has already been claimed.

From Around the Web: 3 July 2017

A few links of interest from around the web:

Guns, Girls, and Glory: Part I

At a recent book sale to benefit my local elementary school, I happened to find a copy of Herland near a copy of Nebula Award Stories 8, edited by Isaac Asimov. Both I grabbed, the former because my current copy is an ebook, the latter because the anthology boasted stories by Clarke, Anderson, Pohl, Ellison, and others.

Herland and Nebulas 8

Among those “others” in this 1972 paperback is Joanna Russ; her story “When It Changed” won the Nebula for best short story published that year. In this story, a planet populated entirely by women is visited by men. The men on the planet had died hundreds of years before, so none of the women had first-hand knowledge of men—a parallel to Herland.

What’s strikingly different is that while Gilman’s all-women society is a utopia, the society that Russ created, the planet Whileaway, is not. Children are communally raised in Herland; society conducts itself in a “feminine” manner. On Whileaway, a sense of individualism permeates the culture. The narrator considers her twelve-year old daughter’s imminent coming-of-age: “Some day soon, like all of them, she will disappear for weeks on end to come back grimy and proud, having knifed her first cougar or shot her first bear, dragging some abominably dangerous dead beastie behind her, which I will never forgive for what it might have done to my daughter.” Though men are absent from the planet, a sort of stereotypically male relationship between people and nature—and among the people themselves—remains.

Aside from the obvious differences between these two takes on women-only societies, one notable distinction between them struck me: guns. Guns are conspicuously absent from Herland—they’re not needed in a society without conflict. On Whileaway, they’re a part of daily life. And in spite of their presence, what guns they have are not enough to protect the women there: “Men are coming to Whileaway. When one culture has the big guns and the other has none, there is a certain predictability about the outcome.” Katy, the narrator’s wife, never touches her rifle, because, as she says after she nearly shoots one of the men who do come to their world, “’I knew I’d kill someone.’”

As a Texan following our current legislative session, I’m not surprised that I focused on this difference. A number of bills have been put forth that would make owning and carrying guns far easier than it is now—and that’s not to say that it isn’t already quite easy here. And as a Texan, I hope common sense will prevail and that these bills will not pass. And as a writer of science fiction, I’ve been considering the ways in which state and national bills and legislation will affect us in the future.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be writing posts about gun ownership and mental health, gun ownership as a signifier of social status among the middle class, and how gun training might be implemented in public and private schools.

In the meantime, y’all, I’ve got letters to write.  From The Dallas Morning News: “Texans could carry a handgun without a license under a House bill that’s stuck in the chamber.”

From Around the Web: 20 March 2017

A few links of interest from around the web:

From Around the Web: 13 March 2017

A few links of interest from around the web:

  • From The New York Review of Books, Masha Gessen explores the role Russia is playing in the Trump administration and in our conception of it: “For more than six months now, Russia has served as a crutch for the American imagination. It is used to explain how Trump could have happened to us, and it is also called upon to give us hope. When the Russian conspiracy behind Trump is finally fully exposed, our national nightmare will be over.”
  • In “definitions depend on which field you’re in” news, the latest episode of Planetary Radio asks “Hope for Pluto—Should We Re-Redefine Planets?
  • And on the topic of Pluto, check out The Future Fire‘s interview with Toeken, who illustrated my story “Over the New Horizon.”