Wednesday, January 31, 2018

ConFusion Recap: Nisi Shawl Interview w/Jim hines

Some brief notes from the Fan Guest of Honor interview: Nisi Shawl interviewed by Jim Hines.

Shawl's a Michigan native, and ConFusion was the first con she attended!
We learn about Shawl's punk-rock experience: bands "the Insex" and "Accidental Suitcase" who primarily covered "bands with X in their name". "The Polysterene of the Midwest". "Then, I figured it's easier to become a writer than a punkrock bandleader."

From a 2016 Tor interview, Hines asks her about the idea of embracing failure but going for success anyway.
Bravery is doing things you're afraid of.
Part of the process is messing up and getting better at it.
A lot of people leave out the part about "getting better" after they've become successful, and it's even worse when they leave out the part about trying.

On the question of internet witch mobs as a threat to failing publicly:
It's unavoidable to some extent. Bear in mind that internet time is one seventh of human time, you'll be notorious and hated for a nanosecond. And you may also gain some traction by admitting that you're wrong.

How do you teach Writing the Other?
You talk about it, you do it, and then you talk about what you just did. A lot of it is avoiding the two extremes of stereotypes: everybody is just the same, or everybody is wildly different. Writing the other is about realizing that people are a little of both.
Other exercises include writing as a celebrity about someone else: Elton John talking about someone who is black and straight, for instance. That double-removal helps students think about differences and how to write them.

Hines: as a straight white male author, ticking all of those privilege boxes, are there any stories or characters that I should just not write?
We have to go on a case by case basis. There are absolutely individual stories that should not be told by people to whom the protagonist is other, but there's no whole classes of those stories.
There's more to representation than just you writing that story. If there's anything that you can do besides write that story to get other people's versions out, you should do it. Edit anthologies about people writing about their own stories (#ownvoices), recommend and nominate other good works. "How to be a social justice bard."

On origin of interest in fantastic:
Shawls' father told improvised stories about witches & dragons. Part of being a fantasy writer about holding onto the magic of childhood.

How do you hold onto that?
Writing helps. You have to keep your eyes and ears open to see all the magical things going on around us. Religion helps, being aware of immanence, that the true beauty of the universe is all around us.

Hines: I have it on very good authority (from some dude on the internet) that science fiction is opposed to religion.
Shawl was at an event in Raleigh years ago, with a scientist, a theologian, herself and Kim Stanley Robinson. Stan's stance was that there really is a big conflict between religion and science, so for SF/F you need to pick one. Shawl's take is that there doesn't have to be, her religion has gods of science, even a kind of scientific method.

What keeps you coming back to science fiction and fantasy, the genre and the fandom?
I don't know about the fandom.
But the material itself, there's this whole possibility of doing anything. I can tell anybody anything if I can do it convincingly enough. I can get in people's heads and make them believe things, if I just do it right.

What's your biggest fansquee moment?
C.J. Cherryh here at ConFusion. Glad she was so articulate, because "I was all vowels".

Is it true you have a forthcoming middle grade fantasy novel in the works?
Sounds like  yes! Speculation, about African American girls in the 1960s who find their great-great aunt's ghost-revealing glasses. Basically a eubonics version of Edward Eager. Probably coming out September 2019.

Opinions on The Last Jedi?
Fine great fun, lots of explosions. Loved the way that Ren dances on the villain/hero/probably a villain line. Also that Rose line about saving what you love, not destroying what you hate.

The Carl Brandon, Jr. society was founded in 1999, how has it progressed?
Lots of positive changes: more writers editors, publishing houses of color. There is pushback, but (despite the makeup of this room, to laughter), there's much more diversity in this convention and fandom in general. I think we're winning, because we're saving what we love. We're winning, but we haven't won.

So what else has to change?
More of the same, really, and willingness to accept that things are changing.

What can we do to further this mission?
Be a social justice bard! Nominate for awards, edit anthologies if you can, talk up Everfair, donate to the Brandon Society, use social media to chime in where helpful. Bake things for the Tiptree auction!

What's the biggest challenge facing fandom in 2018?
Other than being blown to nuclear bits? Paying more attention to what we love. Take time to read and share.

Questions about her online critique class:
Talks about the format a bit, (Milford-style critiques), learning how to teach novella as she writes her first one now. Not a hybrid of short story & novel, it's is own thing. Talks about how K. Tempest Bradford changed the class (and her life). "Proactive is the word."

Talks a bit about some other ongoing projects:
Short stories "Conversion Therapy" and "Street Worm", with a shout-out to the Cordyceps zombie ant fungus. Working on a forthcoming anthology of her work, and a novella called The Day and Night Book of Mardou Fox, Kerouac's pseudonym for Alene Lee, an African American woman in the Beat scene, but with magic.

Twitter questions:
Why is the rum gone? Offered to gods & ancestors, I swear.
Suggestions for LGQBT teen-friendly SFF? Shawl & audience suggest Shawl's story "Otherwise", collected in Brave New Love, Johnson's The Summer Prince, Stiefvater's Raven Cycle, Sturgeon's "The World Well Lost".

Some more great discussion of the kind of exercises, online and in person, that Shawl uses in the Writing the Other classes.

Great interview. Check out Nisi Shawl on her site, Twitter, and Facebook. And read Everfair if you haven't, by the way! (Think Galactic loved it.)

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