Posts Tagged ‘diversity’

Misogyny in SF/F – Some Thoughts

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This last weekend I attended the local MALcon just a few minutes down the road from my house. I only went on Saturday, to see if it was something I’d like to participate in in the future, and with departure for Loncon just days away, I didn’t want to spend too much time away from home. On the whole it was rather enjoyable; quite small, but there was a good variety of panels on writing and topics of interest to me.

DCF 1.0I was particularly interested in the panels on powder keg topics and misogyny in SF/F. The latter one had only two men scheduled to be on the panel, so I was invited to join them up front, but I declined because I’m not good talking about political topics, even the ones I’m passionate about. They did find a really well-spoken woman from the audience (I’m pretty sure she was a scientist) to join them in the discussion. My one disappointment though was that the topic got so derailed onto gender differences being cultural vs genetic that we seemed to spend very little time actually discussing misogyny and bigotry in the SF/F field. Near the end, the discussion turned finally to the problems women and minority writers face in the field, but mostly to talk about how boys won’t read female narratives and how women writers can get boys to engage with their SF/F. It was suggested that writers could start out with male characters then ease them into female characters.

While I’m in favor of trying to get boys to read more female narratives, my personal feeling is that this method is just more of the status quo: female characters must be propped up by male characters. And what about adult fiction? Must we hand-hold men lest they scoff and close the book? Should I have made the Bone Flower Trilogy a mixed narrative of both Quetzalpetlatl and Topiltzin’s POV, even though Topiltzin’s story has been told over and over again, in hundreds of years of myths and even in modern books such as K. Michael Wright’s Tolteca or Kenneth Morris’s The Chalchiuhite Dragon? Maybe I should have, then I wouldn’t have been told by a big publishing house that my story was “too feminist” for their predominately male epic fantasy audience. Despite all this, I have no regrets about making Bone Flower Quetzalpetlatl’s story rather than Topiltzin’s; her voice was one lost to time and reduced to little more than a tool for the amusement and ambitions of male gods. This method of couching female narratives through the filter of men and their experiences feels an awful lot like telling stories about native cultures through the eyes of their white colonizers, so the perceived predominately-white audience has someone to grab onto and relate to without having to do any work on a personal and cultural level (and man did discussion of this particular literary device cause a yelling match on a panel at WorldCon in Reno a few years back! I thought one panelist’s head was going to explode when a female panelist said that was a crappy way to write about alien cultures, or other human cultures, for that matter).

Because of the direction of the panel for most of the hour, we didn’t get into much discussion about the negatives of this approach, or what other options are available to writers, which is a pity. These are important discussions to have. From my own experience, there’s multiple points where blockades are put up against women/minorities and their stories; most are cultural and will be extremely difficult to overcome, but some are inherent to the capitalistic nature of publishing and are perhaps a bit more easily changed. Readers can only read what is available to them, and if publishers are not publishing women/minority writers/stories, then readers aren’t going to see them. The chance for exposure and change is being cut off at the source in favor of narratives that are “safe money-makers”. I often hear people defend the status quo by telling those complaining, “Well, if you don’t like it, why don’t you go write the stories you want to read then?” Newsflash: lots of writers do this, but those stories aren’t being published because they aren’t the safe, time-tested product that publishers know they can rely on to sell. Thank goodness for self-publishing and small presses these days, or else truly deserving and compelling narratives–like Sabrina Vourvoulias’s Ink–would never see the light of day. I’m torn on the whole publisher part of this equation; I understand their need to turn a profit so they can publish more books and not go under, but at the same time that very factor is contributing to the silencing of important narratives and stalling the expansion of the art form, based mostly on an inkling of what does and doesn’t sell (not to mention that often when they do take a chance on a non-status quo book, they don’t put the necessary push behind it to help it succeed in the competitive marketplace because of fear of investing too much money and losing it all).

file4501243625430Culturally speaking though, we need to teach boys from a young, young age that women’s/girls’ stories are worthwhile, and provide them with a multitude of narratives throughout their early lives, and get away from the whole “this is for boys, this is for girls” BS. Girls are already being taught from early on that men’s narratives are as worthwhile as women’s narratives (sometimes even more so than women’s), so we should be doing the same with boys. To me, it comes down to parenting, and is supplemented by teachers at the elementary school level. The more we expose children to a multitude of view points, the more open-minded they will be as adults.

One of the panel members mentioned a comic he saw on Facebook where two skeletons were sitting at a table holding beers and the caption said something like “what happens when men sit down to try to understand women”, and pretty much every woman in the room agreed that it was stupidest thing they’d ever heard, but also not surprising. Boys are taught from a very early age that they should only immerse themselves in things considered male while avoiding things perceived as female lest it taint their masculinity, so no wonder they grow to view women as mysterious. Quite honestly, if men want to understand women better, they can start by reading women characters and writers, and reading those genres supposedly geared towards women. Read a romance, read an epic fantasy that follows the lives of female characters rather than male characters, read mysteries with female sleuths–like Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta books–and read literary fiction centered around female characters. And even better, seek out books from minority female writers about the female experience. One will soon find out that women are not inscrutable and mysterious, but are in fact human beings, and in turn their relationships with their mothers, their sisters, their girlfriends, their wives, their daughters, and their female friends will greatly improve. This doesn’t mean giving up reading the comfortable male narratives they enjoy, just expanding their reading horizons to include more challenges to one’s view of the world. Let us teach our sons that not only is Harry Potter’s story awesome and meaningful to their lives, but so is Katniss Everdeen’s; Superman and Batman are awesome, but Buffy kicks ass too. If we do this, then there will be more demand for Katnisses and Buffys, and then maybe publishing will take more chances on female narratives in epic fantasy, comics, and hard science fiction (places where androcentrism is currently at its strongest).

Men, stop living your whole literary life in safe comfort and the selfishness culture has taught you, because your comfortable reading habits are making things more difficult for those of us who don’t have the privilege of being white male cis. Be part of the solution, not a part of the problem. And women and minority authors, continue writing your narratives and trying to get them heard, no matter what publishing or the broader culture tries to tell you about their worth. Keep fighting the good fight, for your stories deserve to be told and heard.

Promoting Diverse Books will Help Save Diverse Books

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the-bone-flower-throne-displayA lot of stuff said around Facebook and Twitter has got me thinking lately about my own lack of promotion on my book. Confession time: I intentionally don’t talk about my book very much because I’m afraid of a backlash of “OMG, she talks about her book so much! Ugh!” or because it feels immodest of me to do so. Somewhere along the line, I learned that modesty in general is a good thing, and bragging is unattractive and vulgar, particularly for a women, and I don’t want to be any of those things. And yet, if I never talk about my book, how will anyone know to buy it?

More confession time: my sales haven’t been good. They started off all right but they’ve slowed to a crawl. I know I need to do more promotion, get more word out about the book so that it can sell more, but gosh how that desire to not look like I’m bragging or begging for sales is so overwhelming. I love my book; I put blood, sweat and tears into it for 4 years, and I’m putting the same into the next two books, just on a shorter timeline.

Third confession time: when all the talk of diverse books, particularly SF/F was going around, I didn’t mention my book at all despite the fact that it has zero white people in it, takes place outside the normal pseudo-medieval European setting, and features a strong female lead. Why? Well, at the risk of repeating myself yet again…it feels immodest to mention my own accomplishments (not to mention the added fact that I’m a white woman writing about PoC–people like me get taken more seriously than PoC writing those same stories, so why bring extra attention to myself at the expense of PoC writers?).

This post by Kate Elliot brought all this frustration and fear to a head for me. I’m part of the problem; I write diverse books, and yet I’ve done so little to bring it to the attention of readers who might actually want to read what I write because “fear! I must not be immodest about my accomplishments. I must be silent and humble!” A publisher took a chance on my book, and I’m not paying that favor back very well. Well, fuck that shit. I wrote a book that people are looking for, the kind of book everyone has been talking about wanting to see more of, and it’s time they know about it. So I’m going to tell you about it.

My book, The Bone Flower Throne is a historical fantasy retelling of the myths of the legendary Toltec priest-king Topiltzin, told from the point of view of his half-sister, Quetzalpetlatl. Topiltzin is the blood son of the god Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent, but Quetzalpetlatl herself is rather special, for the god gave her the ability to call on his powers when she needs it. And with her uncle having murdered her father, taken the throne of Culhuacan, and seeking to eliminate Topiltzin at every turn, she’s going to need those powers to protect them both as they grow up in exile.Winning back her father’s throne is only the first step in the god Quetzalcoatl’s grand plan to finally end human sacrifice in Mesoamerica. But her uncle has his own powerful, divine ally; the dark sorcerer god Smoking Mirror, who seeks to bring a new era of mass sacrifice as none have seen before. And only Quetzalpetlatl herself can stop him.

The book come with a warning though; it deals with a good number of triggery subjects: rape, incest, graphic violence, self-harm. While it’s a coming-of-age type story, it is by no means young adult (a lot of readers seem to go into it believing it is, because of the protag’s age at the beginning). Reviewers have made comparisons with Mists of Avalon (which feels so…squicky for me these days), so if you enjoyed that book, Bone Flower Throne just might be for you.

You can find links to the various vendors where you can buy it (in paperback or ebook) here: http://tlmorganfield.com/novel/the-bone-flower-throne/

If you’ve read this far, I have a suggestion that I hope other authors will embrace: if you write diverse books, talk about them, loud and often. In fact, share this link to Kate’s post and spend some space talking about your book and selling the shit out of it. Especially if you’re a woman writer who has trouble promoting your own work. Let’s spread word of our diverse books far and wide. And make sure you include a link to where folks can buy your books! Let’s get the word out to readers!

Ten Books…For Your Holiday Shopping List

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Everyone’s been doing this meme about 10 books that have stuck with you, but I don’t like to play by memes. However, with the holiday season upon us, perhaps you’re looking for books to buy for your book-loving friends or loved ones, or even for yourself (because you’re going to need that escape from the realities of holiday stress), so I give you ten books I’d like to promote. I may or may not have read them, but this is the season for giving, and authors need as much exposure as they can get. So, onto the books!

Channel Zilch by Doug Sharp

From the publisher’s website: Stealing a space shuttle was the easy part.

“Hel claims that her hacker friends are a bunch of freaking geniuses. A Sidewinder up the tailpipe would be a brutal way to learn that Hel overestimates her geek pals’ expertise.”

Channel ZilchFired by NASA for stunt-flying a space shuttle during re-entry, ex-astronaut Mick Oolfson now spends his unhappy days spraying manure over soybeans from his ailing DC3, dreaming of returning to space. So when testosterone-surfing geek goddess Heloise Chin offers him an astronaut gig on Channel Zilch, a pirate orbiting reality show, Mick jumps at the chance. What Heloise doesn’t mention is that the dream gig involves stealing the space shuttle Enterprise.

Getting back into space is worth a little risk, but Mick never signed on for Russian gangsters and nightmare journeys on reeking Turkish freighters. He also didn’t expect Tobias Ishwald, the relentless head of NASA Security—and the man who got him canned—to try to ruin his dreams a second time. Trusting Hel will probably get him killed, but with a little fancy flying Mick just might see the stars again.

A near-future, hard-science thriller with heart and purpose, CHANNEL ZILCH is a smart, fast-moving adventure you won’t soon forget.

I had the privilege of reading this book in my critique group and I can tell you it is a quirky riot. Doug and I went to Clarion West together back in 2002, and what makes this book so special is that it’s proof of Doug’s indomitable spirit. You see, Doug suffers from a rare neurological disorder called Central Pain Syndrome, which can make life a living hell for those afflicted with it, but he hasn’t let this stop him from achieving his dreams of publication. He wrote at length about his struggles to write this book over at John Scalzi’s Big Idea, and you should know that a portion of every book sale goes to the Central Pain Syndrome Foundation, for research for a cure.

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The Golden City by J. Kathleen Cheney

From the publisher’s website: For two years, Oriana Paredes has been a spy among the social elite of the Golden City, reporting back to her people, the sereia, sea folk banned from the city’s shores….

Golden CityWhen her employer and only confidante decides to elope, Oriana agrees to accompany her to Paris. But before they can depart, the two women are abducted and left to drown. Trapped beneath the waves, Oriana survives because of her heritage, but she is forced to watch her only friend die.

Vowing vengeance, Oriana crosses paths with Duilio Ferreira—a police consultant who has been investigating the disappearance of a string of servants from the city’s wealthiest homes. Duilio also has a secret: He is a seer and his gifts have led him to Oriana.

Bound by their secrets, not trusting each other completely yet having no choice but to work together, Oriana and Duilio must expose a twisted plot of magic so dark that it could cause the very fabric of history to come undone….

I’ve started reading this one but like so often happens, it’s been temporarily set aside because I have writing to do (I don’t read books while I’m working on a novel). What I have read so far is fantastic, and historical fans will really appreciate the vivid attention to detail in this alternate Portugal.

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Divinity and the Python by Bonnie Randall

From the publisher’s website: “The driver’s window—perfectly intact when she and Andrew had arrived this morning—was now a shattered chrysanthemum of broken glass, and a weapon, a hammer, hung like a calling card from the frame. She grabbed her cell. Their quarry was clearly on the loose. Finger on speed dial, she reached with her free hand for the hammer.”

Divinity and the PythonThe Python is the hottest nightclub in freezing Edmonton: all skin, no substance, and definitely no spirituality. Bartender Shaynie Gavin knows better—all things have a soul, and on an evening she’s come to call Hellnight, The Python left a dark stain on hers. Now Shaynie’s moving into another place that’s more than what it seems—Divinity, the old morgue she’s refurbished into a Tarot lounge. With all her passion focused on launching the venture, Shaynie is rattled when Divinity appears to orchestrate a connection between her and superstitious hockey star Cameron Weste.

Shaynie’s reaction is nothing compared to The Python’s. Vandalism, violence, an omniscient stalker— the parallels to her lost, bloody Hellnight in the club are unmistakable. But equally undeniable is the protection emanating from her old morgue.

All things have a soul, and Divinity’s seems aligned with Shaynie’s own—but whose is twinned with the Python? As Shaynie starts hunting her stalker, it’s clear only one soul will survive.

A fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat, supernatural mystery, “Divinity and The Python” grips the reader from the first page to the shattering climax.

I haven’t had a chance to start this one yet, but man, that’s an awesome title! And the cover is beautiful, a kind of Stephen King/Harry Potter mash-up. As I understand it, it’s a kind of urban fantasy/paranormal romance story, with hockey and buildings possessed of spirits both good and evil. So if you’re a fan of either urban fantasy or paranormal romance, but are growing tired of the same old tropes, this could be the right book for you; in fact, I’m so not a fan of UF or PR because of those tropes of vampires and werewolves, and I picked this up because it didn’t have any of that.

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The Dragon and the Pearl by Jeannie Lin

From the publisher’s website: Former Emperor’s consort Ling Suyin is renowned for her beauty; the ultimate seductress. Now she lives quietly alone–until the most ruthless warlord in the region comes and steals her away….

Dragon and the PearlLi Tao lives life by the sword, and is trapped in the treacherous, lethal world of politics. The alluring Ling Suyin is at the center of the web. He must uncover her mystery without falling under her spell–yet her innocence calls out to him. How cruel if she, of all women, can entrance the man behind the legend….

Jeannie Lin writes historical romance set in Tang Dynasty China for Harlequin, and everything she writes is absolutely top-notch; there is not a single book/story she’s written that I didn’t like, but of all of them, this one is my most favorite. It defied my expectations on many levels; the hero was a character I’d absolutely loathed from a previous novel, and yet here Lin turned him into my favorite hero of all her books–so weird, huh? While reading Butterfly Swords, I found myself muttering, “OMG, someone kill him please!” but once I was through with this book, I couldn’t even fathom why I had ever thought that. Plus the heroine is not what you think she is…. The cultural immersion is really fantastic here as well. If you’re a historical romance fan and you haven’t read Jeannie Lin yet, why are you wasting your time reading this blog? Go and buy her entire backlist and binge on it like I did when I first found her last year.

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Aegean Dream by Dario Ciriello

From the publisher’s website: A true story set on Greece’s real ‘Mamma Mia’ island of Skopelos.

Aegean DreamComic and tragic by turns, Aegean Dream is a story of love, resilience, and the power of friendship. A compelling window on the daily life of a small Greek island and the spirit of its people, this book also provides striking insights into the broken institutions that would soon shake the entire global economy.

– What’s it really like to live on a tiny Greek island?
– Why is the Greek economy so messed up?
– What IS ‘The Secret’?
…and what do mysterious skulls, Russian prostitutes, President Bush the elder, and Pierce Brosnan have to do with it all?

Dario Ciriello’s ‘Aegean Dream’. All story. All true.

Dario and I went to Clarion West together too, and we’ve kept in touch since then, first with our critique group Written in Blood (which he started) and most recently with his publishing venture Panverse Publishing. A few years back, he decided to pursue his dream of living on a Greek island, so he and his wife moved to Skopelos; Aegean Dream is the story of that journey, and it’s compelling as all-hell; you will laugh, you will cry, you’ll wish you were there, you’ll feel glad you aren’t. I read it for critique while on a camping trip in mosquito hell in the mountains, on a stack of paper printed out in trade paperback format, and I pretty much forgot I was in Colorado instead of the Mediterranean for the duration of that trip. A good one for non-fiction fans who like good human drama.

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Obsidian and Blood by Aliette de Bodard

From the publisher’s website: A massive fantasy omnibus containing all three novels in the Obsidian and Blood series:

SERVANT OF THE UNDERWORLD
Year One-Knife, Tenochtitlan – the capital of the Aztecs. The end of the world is kept at bay only by the magic of human sacrifice. A priestess disappears from an empty room drenched in blood. Acatl, high priest, must find her, or break the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead.

Obsidian and BloodHARBINGER OF THE STORM
The year is Two House and the Mexica Empire teeters on the brink of destruction, lying vulnerable to the flesh-eating star-demons – and to the return of their creator, a malevolent goddess only held in check by the Protector God’s power. The council is convening to choose a new emperor, but when a councilman is found dead, only Acatl, High Priest of the Dead, can solve the mystery.

MASTER OF THE HOUSE OF DARTS
The year is Three Rabbit, and the storm is coming…

The coronation war for the new Emperor has just ended in a failure, the armies retreating with a mere forty prisoners of war – not near enough sacrifices to ensure the favor of the gods. When one of those prisoners of war dies of a magical illness, ACATL, High Priest for the Dead, is summoned to investigate.

Yes, this is actually three novels in one, and they are near and dear to my heart, for obvious reasons. Aliette is a dear friend and a member of my critique group Written In Blood, so I got to see all three of these books at the pre-publication stage. We often complain that fantasy is very white and western in flavor, but Aliette’s Obsidian and Blood series takes you outside that pseudo-European zone and plunks you down in the middle of something you’ve probably not read before. For those who’ve read The Bone Flower Throne but not any of Aliette’s novels, our books might share a similar cultural setting, but they are very different types of stories. If you like mysteries in unfamiliar settings, you would probably like these books; if you like fantasy following the lives of non-European characters, you’d probably like these books; if you like to mix the two, jackpot.

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Strangers in the Land by Stant Litore

From the publisher’s website: Stant Litore’s The Zombie Bible retells biblical tales and ancient history as episodes in humanity’s long struggle with hunger … and with the hungry dead.

Strangers in the LandFour must stand against the dead. The aging prophetess Devora. Hurriya, the slave girl. Zadok, a legend among warriors. And the widower Barak, who has sworn to defend his homeland from a migration of walking corpses greater than has ever been seen.

Devora is all too familiar with the unclean dead. She was there when her mother was pulled screaming from her tent by zombies. And when her mother rose, famished for flesh, it was Devora’s hand that ended her hunger. Now Devora has struck an uneasy alliance with those she fears most among the living. Yet the strangers in the land must stand together if they are to rid the land of its curse.

I’m no usually a fan of zombies–never even had any desire at all to watch The Walking Dead or the plethora of other zombie movies or shows out there–but this one drew my curiosity because it’s not post-apocalyptic, but rather historical. And anyone who knows me knows that history is my thing. Stant and I were on a panel together at MileHiCon this last October, on Non-Western Fantasy, and when I heard he was writing Bible stories with zombies, I knew I had to give it a try and see what the angle is (and it turns out it’s really quite interesting). I’m not finished with this book yet, but so far it rocks. He has a newer one out, that 47 North is releasing as a weekly e-serial through Amazon, and for US readers it’s only $1.99.

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The Soul Mirror by Carol Berg

From the author’s website: Anne de Vernase rejoices that she has no talent for magic. Her father’s pursuit of depraved sorcery has left her family in ruins, and he remains at large, convicted of treason and murder by Anne’s own testimony. Now, the tutors at Collegia Seravain inform her that her gifted younger sister has died in a magical accident. It seems but life’s final mockery that cool, distant Portier de Savin-Duplais, the librarian turned royal prosecutor, arrives with the news that the king intends to barter her hand in marriage.

Soul MirrorAnne recognizes that the summoning carries implications far beyond a bleak personal future – and they are all about magic. Merona, the royal city, is beset by plagues of rats and birds, and mysterious sinkholes that swallow light and collapse buildings. Whispers of hauntings and illicit necromancy swirl about the queen’s volatile sorcerer. And a murder in the queen’s inner circle convinces Anne that her sister’s death was no accident. With no one to trust but a friend she cannot see, Anne takes up her sister’s magical puzzle, plunging into the midst of a centuries-old rivalry and coming face-to-face with the most dangerous sorcerer in Sabria. His name is Dante.

This is actually the second book in the Collegia Magica series, but it’s my favorite of the three. I do think it stands well enough on its own that it’s not entirely necessary to start with the first book The Spirit Lens, but a reader will get so much more out of this book if they do. Carol has been writing a wide variety of fantasy for Roc for a number of years now and everything of hers that I’ve read is very good, so you couldn’t go wrong picking anything from her backlist. She also has a new series coming out in August of next year.

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Oz Reimagined, edited by John Joseph Adams and Douglas Cohen

From the publisher’s website: FOREWORD BY GREGORY MAGUIRE, NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF WICKED.

When L. Frank Baum introduced Dorothy and friends to the American public in 1900, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz became an instant, bestselling hit. Today the whimsical tale remains a cultural phenomenon that continues to spawn wildly popular books, movies, and musicals. Now, editors John Joseph Adams and Douglas Cohen have brought together leading fantasy writers such as Orson Scott Card and Seanan McGuire to create the ultimate anthology for Oz fans – and, really, any reader with an appetite for richly imagined worlds. Stories include:

  • Oz ReimaginedFrank Baum’s son has the real experiences that his father later fictionalized in Orson Scott Card’s “Off to See the Emperor.”
  • Seanan McGuire’s “Emeralds to Emeralds, Dust to Dust” finds Dorothy grown up, bitter, and still living in Oz. And she has a murder to solve – assuming Ozma will stop interfering with her life long enough to let her do her job.
  • In “Blown Away,” Jane Yolen asks: What if Toto was dead and stuffed, Ozma was a circus freak, and everything you thought you knew as Oz was really right here in Kansas?
  • “The Cobbler of Oz” by Jonathan Maberry explores a Winged Monkey with wings too small to let her fly. Her only chance to change that rests with the Silver Slippers.
  • In Tad Williams’s futuristic “The Boy Detective of Oz,” Orlando investigates the corrupt Oz simulation of the Otherland network.

And more…

Some stories are dystopian…Some are dreamlike…All are undeniably Oz.

Includes stories by these authors: Dale Bailey, Orson Scott Card, Rae Carson, David Farland, C.C. Finlay, Jeffrey Ford, Theodora Goss, Simon R. Green, Kat Howard, Ken Liu, Seanan McGuire, Jonathan Maberry, Rachel Swirsky, Robin Wasserman, Tad Williams, Jane Yolen

I’ve fallen out of the habit of reading short fiction in the last couple of years, so I haven’t read this, but many of these stories sound pretty interesting, and there’s some quality names attached to them. I just might have to give it a try myself. Doug Cohen is a good friend who used to be an editor with Realms of Fantasy and he’s since turned his attention to his own writing, but I’m glad to see him still keeping a foot in the editing hot-tub, and especially pleased to see him pairing up with the already fantastic anthologist John Joseph Adams. This one is sure to be a winner.

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One Night with the Laird by Nicola Cornick

From the publisher’s website: Can true love be born from scandal?

One Night with the LairdShe is young and beautiful and fashionable, Edinburgh’s most flirtatious hostess. But within the merry widow beats a grieving heart. Lady Mairi mourns the husband she lost two years before—and no matter how accomplished a lover Jack Rutherford may be, their wanton night together was an encounter of the body only, and Lady Mairi would prefer to forget it.

But when Mairi is threatened by a blackmailer, Jack is the only man who can protect her. As they work together to uncover where the danger lies, their passion reignites. Little by little, the masks they wear burn away, and their most private secrets come to light….

This post is actually the first time I’ve heard of this book, so you’re probably asking why it’s here. Well, I decided to reserve one slot on this list for a book by one of my twitter followers, picked at random; I closed my eyes and scrolled through the follower list, and after several times of landing on folks who either weren’t writers, or were writers but had no books published, I landed on Nicola, who–to my joy–writes historical romance for Harlequin. Historical romance is the only genre of romance I read, and I haven’t heard of Nicola before, so I’m going to give her a try; and, in my experience, 9 times out of 10, Harlequin puts out good, entertaining reads.

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Bone Flower Throne on Scalzi’s The Big Idea

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the-bone-flower-throne-displayI got the opportunity to talk about my new novel The Bone Flower Throne over at John Scalzi’s blog, so if you’re curious about what inspired the story and why it took me four years to get it finished, hop on over there and give it a read. Here’s a little sample:

I’m an Aztec geek; whether it’s history or mythology, I devour it all. It’s a love affair that began in college and has taken over my fiction writing life. It gives me immense joy to immerse myself into that world, digging up the forgotten treasures and intrigues, and finding voices and figures my high school history and English classes never bothered to mention.

Like Quetzalpetlatl, the most famous woman no one knows anything about: the woman the gods used to ruin Mesoamerica’s greatest hero.

Diversity in SFF – Why Aztec?

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Why Aztecs?Yesterday on Twitter, the hashtag #DiversityInSFF was trending and lots of people were saying a ton of really good things about the issue of diversity in SF/F, whether it be in books or publishing as an establishment. I did a lot of retweeting but not a whole lot of talking; other people were saying the things I might say much better than I ever could. Last year, at MileHiCon, someone asked me why I write about Aztecs, something I’d never been asked before, and I really struggled to give an answer; I felt the need to give a really compelling answer because the question was posed by a Chicano, but I managed only to mumble something completely stupid because I’d never really thought about why. I’m sure my flustered response probably left him considering that I was just another white person robbing his culture for the “oohs” and “aahs”. I can’t begrudge him the curiosity about my motivations though. And with my first novel coming out soon (which has zero white people in it), perhaps it’s time to really address that question in a serious, thoughtful way.

Why do I write specifically Aztec science fiction, fantasy and romance?

Well, I can’t imagine writing anything else; even if I never published again, the urge to write these stories would not go away. Hell, I left my agent because I thought that, to continue down the traditional publishing path, I would have to give up writing Aztec-influenced stories, and quite frankly, I would rather have no traditional publishing career than do that (and I think she knew this and so gave me no answer when I flat out asked her if that’s what I needed to do). I have no way of describing it other than “It’s where my heart lies.” When I try to think of anything else in my life that I’ve ever felt this passionate about, there is nothing. The only thing that kept me from pursuing a higher degree in Mesoamerican studies was my lack of Spanish-speaking skills (oh, if only I could go back to high school and insist on taking Spanish rather than French….)

Growing up, I had very narrow ideas about the Aztecs; all I knew was the human sacrifice stuff, and cities of gold. We never studied them in high school; there were far more important things to study, like European history and literature, because in American academics, that is the center of the world. No one talked about things like plague blankets or the Trail of Tears, or how disease massively depopulated Central America in the decade following the Spanish Conquest. Mexico was this mysterious, colorful place full of maracas and sombreros and burritos, filled with people my stepfather called all kinds of terrible names for no apparent reason I could ascertain.

Then, in college, I took an introductory history class on Native Americans, which covered the North American tribes, but also the Inca, Maya, and the Aztecs. My professor was Chicano, and he spent a great deal of time talking about Aztec culture, with a lot of passion, and he stripped away all of my childhood misconceptions and provided a glimpse of things I never knew, had never heard of. I was already quite interested in mythology in general by that time, so learning the basics about Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca and Huitzilopochtli lit a fire in me; I’d never heard of them, and I’d never read anything about them, in either fiction nor nonfiction. But I wanted to. This was back in the days before Amazon, so finding such work was no easy task; in fact, I never did find anything like that back then.

The following year, I got into Clarion West and they encouraged us to try new things with our writing; strive for greatness and not be afraid of failing while reaching for it. So I decided to write what I couldn’t find, and I’ve been doing that ever since. I took still more classes in Mesoamerican studies as part of my degree, and learned still more and more interesting things about the complexity of Aztec culture. There was so much to tell, so much that everyday people were mistaken about Aztec culture and religion, and this fact is really at the crux of why I write what I write.

I’ll pretty much try reading anything I can find that has to do with either Aztecs or the Maya, because there’s so little out there, and while there is some really good stuff–stuff that shows care and passion for the culture–there’s also a great deal of simplistic focus on the more “sensationalist” aspects, like blood sacrifice; and overwhelmingly, that focus is negative. The default setting for Aztecs in fantasy is as the bad guys, using human sacrifice and blood magic to do evil things, and this focus serves to demonize not just the Aztec culture, but Mexican culture by proxy. And not just in literature, but in real life; probably the most disturbing example I’ve seen was an article in an American police publication calling for Mexicans to forsake their native heritage and the Nahuatl language as evil because Mexican drug gangs embrace it–and implied that only criminals would embrace it. There’s a long tradition in Western culture of demonizing Mesoamerican culture, starting all the way back with the Spanish conquistadors and their exaggerations and outright lies to justify the wholesale slaughter of the native peoples, and it’s time we said enough–particularly white people.

Stop with the evil Aztec blood magic already!

It’s fucking lazy at best, but mostly complete ignorant bullshit. There is a ton more to Aztec culture and history than just human sacrifice (and our modern, Christanized view of it), and it’s all as important and worthy of attention and understanding as western history and literature. Everyone knows who King Arthur was, but how many of us know about Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl? How about why human sacrifice was practiced at all? How many people know what the Triple Alliance was, and about the politics of the Valley at the time Cortes landed? Anyone who claims that Mesoamerican culture contributed nothing noteworthy to western civilization is just stupid (and yes, I’ve seen this said in discussions of why Mesoamerican history is not taught with the same depth as European history in primary school). There are countless stories worth telling, history worth knowing, and that’s why I write what I write.

And as this is not my culture, I know I will get things wrong; it’s inevitable that my upbringing in white western culture will cloud my view and influence the way I tell stories, but that’s no excuse to not try. It’s no excuse to not keep learning and trying to do better with the next story/novel. It will be uncomfortable–sometimes even painful and embarrassing–facing my mistakes, but I will become a better writer–and human being–for doing so.

Authors to read:

Ernest Hogan

Sabrina Vourvoulias

Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Aliette de Bodard

Zoe Saadia