Fireside Fiction's 2015 Subscription Drive

Fireside Magazine was my very first fiction sale. That story was Children of Rouwen, published just a few weeks ago. It was overshadowed by the bigger release from a couple of weeks earlier, though, because Fireside Fiction was also my first (and so far my only) novel sale. That book is of course Revision.

Working with Fireside has always been a joy, even aside from that giddy halo of finding a publisher who believes in me; their processes are kind and collaborative in all the best ways. I've written about that elsewhere. These are good people, trying to do good things in the world.

And not just from where I sit, either. I'm not the only creator Fireside has done business with -- of course not. Fireside has brought us stories from celebrated writers like Daniel José Older, Elizabeth Bear, Chuck Wendig; early-career writers, like me and Sunil Patel; not to mention a never-ending stream of exceptional art from Galen Dara. Go on, look at the archives and see what they've been doing. It's wonderful.

One of Fireside's founding principles is fair pay for writers. As such, Fireside pays a whopping 12.5 cents per word for short fiction. That's twice what qualifies as a "professional rate" in this day and age.

And now Fireside needs me -- and you -- to keep the party going. This is the last few days of Fireside's funding drive. After years of stressful and funded-at-the-last-minute Kickstarters, Fireside is trying to shift over to Patreon and subscriptions to keep the lights on. 

On July 15 (that's Wednesday), they're going to have to take a good, hard look at the money coming in, and figure out what to do about a budget shortfall. It might mean lighter magazines, and so fewer stories for readers and less opportunity for writers, I don't know. It might mean Fireside starts slowly winding down, and a force for diversity and higher pay for fiction fades into the West.

Please, please, we can't let that happen. They need $21,000 to produce a full year of stories and art all-out. That works out to $1750 a month, and that funds a whopping 10,000 words of fiction, plus art and production costs. But as I write this, Fireside is only funded to about $8600 for the year -- that's less than halfway there. 

If you've read Fireside and thought the work was good, now is the time to step in with your couple of bucks. If you haven't, go ahead and do some reading back issues; I think you'll find Fireside is worth saving.

I'm putting my money where my mouth is, too. I'm a Fireside supporter on Patreon, and I've supported prior years on Kickstarter. You can contribute through Patreon too, or buy a subscription for three months, six months, a year. Join me in keeping this thing going, and maintaining a precedent where writers get paid in cash, not glory. It helps raise the bar for everyone else -- and you'll get some fantastic reading out of it, too.

The Always/Only Test

Lo these many months I've been using a quick rule of thumb to explain how I identify offensive, stereotypical, or even just atrociously thin characters through a variety of intersectional lenses. And I thought I would share it with you! It's called the Always/Only Test. It is very simple! Only two questions! They are:

Does the character always have that attribute?
Is the character the only one to have that attribute?

For our purposes "a character" can also mean "a class of characters in this story." So: people of color, fat people, disabled people, you name it.

Let's see how this plays out with, oh, sexual objectification of women. If your women always have sexiness as their role in the story, then what you have is not a character so much as the embodiment of a fantasy. If you only ever have women who are sexy, and none of the men are ever sexualized at all... hm. Hmmm. Yeah that's pretty sexist.

But if you have a story where men and women are both viewed as sexual objects and they also have more character traits than that.... awwwww yeah that's what I'm talkin' about.

OK, let's try this one: If black characters are always drug dealers; if black characters are the only ones to deal drugs.

If fat people are always eating donuts; if only fat people eat donuts.

If Fundamentalist Christians are always violently racist; if only Fundamentalist Christians are violently racist.

A yes/yes answer is potentially problematic and stereotypical, depending on what the character type and attribute is that you're using. If you all your lesbian characters obsessively love flying kites, this doesn't play into an existing stereotype, so it might be shallow characterization, but it's not actively hurting anyone. Fine! Sometimes shallow gets the job done.

Yes/no and no/yes can be a little trickier. They are by and large better than a straight yes/yes, but can still be kinda not OK. If you have a Wall Street film where all the Jews are greedy, but actually all of the characters are greedy, that's less troubling than it would be otherwise, though it probably still bears extra scrutiny. Or if you have a single greedy Jew who hoards food, rejects close relationships with others, and engages in self-harm behind closed doors, you have a complex and multi-faceted character who isn't a caricature of the avaristic Jew, though again: still bears extra scrutiny.

And then no/no means you're probably looking at an awesome, super interesting, complex, and non-hurtful character. 

This rule of thumb can't completely solve the thing where media is sexist, racist, ableist, all the -ists. But as a writer and a consumer of media, this tool helps me to put my finger on what it is about some media that bother me, and also where I may be falling into hurtful stereotypes in my own writing, too. Maybe it can be useful to you, also! Let me know what you think.


How to Not Be a Bullying Mob: Version 1.0

I've been very concerned the last few years with how easily we are rallied into howling mobs baying for blood on social media. There's a certain joy to being a part of it, the feeling of being just and righteous and striking a blow for good. It's a very human, natural behavior, and it cuts across all lines of belief and political stances. But it also does a lot of damage, especially because sometimes there's no true villain involved -- just regular, flawed people, and mobs that pit them against one another.

It's one of the most crucial tasks of our new era to work out new social norms and etiquette to deal with the implications of social media. How to be kind to one another, even when we're angry, even when we disagree about things that are important. So I'm taking a stab at what that kind of etiquette should look like.

The guidelines I've used are aimed at allowing people to express their anger, but in ways that don't wind up targeting specific people for harassment. The more general guidelines as I see them are:

  • Don't escalate a disagreement by crossing privacy barriers or bringing in uninvolved parties.
  • In general, target institutions and non-human entities by naming them, but not people.
  • Be mindful of when an issue isn't yours, and you're just adding fuel to an inferno.

I obviously don't think I've solved the problem of people being outraged on the internet. (But man if I did, Nobel Prize Committee, you know where to find me!) This is more like a jumping-off-point. At the very least, we can collectively start thinking about what just and appropriate behavior is.

Social norms like "don't bite your friends" and "sneeze into your elbow" go a long way toward making civilization more bearable to live in for all of us. And the first step to adhering to social norms is figuring out exactly what those norms should be.

Imaginary Friends

A few years ago, my friends at Stitch Media had a wonderful idea. What if you could give your child a book, and have the events of that book spill over into the real world? It would require a little help from the parents, of course -- but as parents, we already bring the Tooth Fairy and other small, personal sparks of magic into our children's lives. What if you could expand those little sparks into a full-fledged adventure?

And so Imaginary Friends was born, a concept for how we could provide a story and framework for children and parents to build something magical together.

That's how I came to write Circus of Mirrors. You can call it an interactive children's book, but that's not doing it justice. It's not an app where you can click on the flowers and watch them sproing. It's not a book with a website attached to it. This is a story where the characters are the child's friends, where they rely on the reading child to help them out of a pickle again and again. This is a book that lets the reader be the hero.

And the world of this book is, I think, full of whimsy and delight: magic mirrors that take you to an enchanted circus; cotton candy that tastes like lightning; the Strong Lady and the Bearded Man. Also: a mean witch! A mysterious fortune teller! A missing magician! This is a story full of love and sadness, mystery and deception, unbridled joy and mild sibling rivalry.

Right now, Imaginary Friends is being Kickstarted. But it's already down to the last couple of days, and it's not quite there yet. If you'd like to visit the Circus of Mirrors, get your ticket while you can. 

"Ready?" Sofia asked.

Max pulled back for a moment. "Wait a second," he said.

Sofia squeezed his hand as tight as she could. "Come on," she whispered. "Don't you want to have an adventure?"

Just on the other side of the mirror, the mysterious colored lights of the circus glowed, warm and promising. The music urged them to come closer. A crowd they couldn't yet see cheered. The scents of fresh popcorn and hot sugar drifted toward them.

Max smiled. "I'm ready. Let's go," he said.

Karen Memory

Let's just get this out right away: Elizabeth Bear's novel Karen Memory is a flawless jewel of a book. This has all of the qualities of something I wish I'd written: inventive, thoughtful, fun, with elegant prose and a plot that winds around itself into a perfect, self-contained knot.

It starts with the voice. First-person Karen Memery herself is a rich and fully realized person with her own distinctive cadences and color. Frankly the voice alone is so enjoyable to sink into that it almost doesn't matter what else happens in the story at all. Spending time with Karen listening in on her thoughts is that good, you guys. She feels like someone you've almost met before. Someone you might even run into today waiting tables at a truck stop in Montana.

This is a big deal to me, because a lot of books lose me at the prose level. I'm sensitive to choice of words, I suppose. And sometimes when a book doesn't have music to it, when the language doesn't flow right, it grates on me so much that I have trouble enjoying any other element of the book, even if the plotting and pacing are perfectly executed. This one, though: this is all music, and nary a sour note or an off beat.

But there's more to love here, too. Karen Memory takes place in a fictionalized Gold Rush-era a lot like Seattle. But this isn't the Old West we're used to; this is both more and less real than that. On the less-real front, we have that whole steampunk angle; this is a world that includes surgical machinery and a Mad Science Tax on your Inventor's License.

But for all that, this novel incorporates a lot of the realities of life in the west that tend to get glamoured out of the picture: the way Seattle was built up an extra level to deal with the sewage problems that came with high tide; the disproportionate number of "seamstresses" in Gold Rush towns, a euphemism everyone knew perfectly well meant prostitutes; virulent racism and its consequences, including the threat of lynchings and the law looking the other way instead of protecting people of color; sex trafficking; the true fact of a diverse and cosmopolitan city. 

That all makes Karen Memory sound relentlessly grim, but for all that underpinning of profound realism, this book is at its core fun to read. It moves slowly at first (but not too slow), letting you get your bearings in the world. Indeed, it starts out seemingly as a small-scale drama about a brothel vs. the law, or maybe vs. the religious folk. But the scope and the pace ramp up gradually and inexorably until by the end you've found yourself on a rollicking adventure full of explosions and fist fights, local and international politics, romance, and Saving the Day.

So good. So good. You should buy it. I fully expect this one to take home a bucket of awards next year, and if it doesn't, I... I might be a little angry. I'm already warming up my nominating finger, I tell you what.