Monday, September 24, 2007

Call for Submissions: The WisCon Chronicles, Vol. 2

Aqueduct Press is seeking submissions for volume two of the series, which will deal with WisCon 31 (2007). We are interested in papers that were presented as a part of the academic track at WisCon 31 as well as essays engaging with WisCon 31 and its programming. We are especially interested in essays on the following panel topics:

What if You Don’t Want to Have Kids
: Is not wanting kids the last feminist taboo? For more about this, see the discussion on Ambling along the Aqueduct.

The Future of Feminism: How does feminism need to change? Is it time for a reassessment of what feminism means? How can we take more action? Some people attending the panel felt that it was too much about white, middle-class, middle-aged feminists worrying about passing the torch to the younger generation. How would our thinking change if we looked forward to the issues likely to challenge us in the near and middle future, or if we looked laterally to the organizational strategies and tactics of the many feminist movements that are so vibrant and active in the third world today? As readers and writers and critics of feminist sf, surely we can expand our view of what feminism could be in the future!

The Romance of Revolution: Why in sf circles is the romance of revolution always so white, when in real life, postcolonial revolutions are so common? We would be interested to see essays addressing not only the discussion that took place at the panel* but the issues that arose in the aftermath of the panel. Are “utopian aspirations” useful for feminists and other progressive activists? Is the romance of the revolution important for sf? Why, in sf circles, are revolutions frequently so white? We’d be especially receptive to an essay that draws on more diverse images of revolution and relates them to images of revolution in sf.

*This panel was rife with controversy. When a person of color in the audience asked the panelists to include examples of non-American, non-European revolutions, one of the members of the all-white panel ironically remarked that he “liked the Pol Pot revolution” and then suggested that it’s not possible to “retrain” people, so that you have to “start from scratch” if you want to change a society. He later said that he alluded to Pol Pot’s genocide in order to make a point about the dangers of “utopian aspirations.” In addition, some audience members were outraged when another panelist asserted that the Indian Revolution was successful only because the US pulled Britain’s loans after WWII. For more about the controversy, see two posts at Ambling along the Aqueduct

Unfair to Middle-class White Guys: This was a discussion that quickly moved beyond its satiric but misleading title to address issues of increasing racial, cultural, and gender-based diversity in the field. Can editors transcend their own cultural limitations to publish works that appeal to the diverse world of science fiction readers? Are the ones who can’t doomed? Or is it the genre itself that will end as bleached bones kicked to the roadside of literature?

What These People Need is a Honky: Tom Cruise is the Last Samurai. Kevin Costner wins the heart of American Indians with his wolf dancing. Orlando Bloom, in Kingdom of Heaven, goes from medieval England to Jerusalem to teach the Arabs how to sink wells and transport water. Is there anything that can be done about this plague of Orientalist white-guy Mary Sue-ism?

If you would like to write an essay on a panel or panel topic that we haven’t mentioned, please query us. Chances are good that we’ll be interested.

The deadline for the submission of papers and essays is November 1, 2007. Preferred word length: 1000-5000 words. Payment will be nominal.

Email or postal submissions/queries are both acceptable.
Send email to
Send postal mail to PO Box 95787, Seattle WA 98145-2787.


L. Timmel Duchamp
Eileen Gunn
The WisCon Chronicles, Volume 2

Shora---the final installment

Gwyneth Jones posts the conclusion to her three-part retrospective look at the state of feminist sf. In it, she asks, "What should a feminist do, in war time?"

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Stuff to Check Out

Niall Harrison has a long conversation with Kimberly Todd Wade’s Making Love in Madrid.

“The characterisation there is fine, subject to my criticisms below, but if you enjoy this story, it won’t be for the characters, it will be for the affect. If I’d got around to reading the copy of Ice by Anna Kavan that I’ve had sitting in my TBR pile for the past couple of months, I suspect I’d be making a comparison with Wade’s novella; as it is, the writer I’ve read most recently whose work was called to mind by Making Love in Madrid is Zoran Zivkovic, most particularly in the sense that the uncertain landscape and strange events described have some meaning just beyond my grasp.”

Jeff VanderMeer has a conversation with Rachel Swirsky:
“I’m currently studying with Johnathan Ames, who is an interesting writer. One thing he said this week that resonated me was that writers need to hang out. That’s how we refill our creative energy. Very often, the solution to writers block probably isn’t to sit at the computer and try harder. It’s to find new people and new situations that ignite one’s desire to write.”

On Thursday, that fount of awesome authority and intelligence, the President of the United States, claimed that Saddam Hussein killed Nelson Mandela. This must come as a bit of a shock to the man who survived years in apartheid South Africa’s worst prison.

In a new experimental study, Princeton psychologists Jessica Salvatore and J. Nicole Shelton show that people subject to subtle (as opposed to overt) forms of racism suffer a particular sort of cognitive damage:

“As reported in the September issue of Psychological Science, black volunteers who had witnessed unfair but ambiguous hiring decisions did much less well on the Stroop test, suggesting that they were using all their mental resources to make sense of the unfairness. Interestingly, white volunteers were more impaired by overt racism than by the more ambiguous discrimination. Salvatore and Shelton figure this is because whites rarely experience any racism; they do not even notice the subtle forms of racism, and are thrown off balance when they are hit over the head by overt acts. Many blacks, by contrast, have developed coping strategies for the most hateful kinds of racism; it’s the constant, vague, just-below-the-surface acts of racism that impair performance, day in and day out.

Friday, September 21, 2007

SF/F Influences on a Literary Writer

By Nancy Jane Moore

I haven't read Junot Diaz yet, but a profile on him that appeared in Thursday's Washington Post got me interested in his work. I am partly drawn to him because I get the impression that he is writing very honestly about what The Post interview called "the myth of hypermasculinity, the notion of how real men are supposed to behave."

He's also clearly an SF/F reader: In the interview he talks about how time travel stories do a better job of explaining the immigrant experience than realistic novels (he's Dominican by birth) and makes the observation, "Some of the myths that nation-states hold dear are no less absurd than Hobbits." Apparently he likes to throw Tolkien allusions into his work, too.

But perhaps what most intrigues me about Diaz are the other authors he loves. He discovered The Borrowers as a child and it changed his outlook. And his choice for the greatest living American writer? Samuel R. Delany. He specifically recommends Dahlgren.

How can I not read someone who likes the same writers I do? Alas, my local library seems to have only the audiobook of Diaz's new novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and I'm damned if my first exposure to a new author is going to be through a recording.

Monday, September 17, 2007

SciFi in the Mind's Eye

I've just received contributor's copies of SciFi in the Mind's Eye: Reading Science through Science Fiction (Open Court, Fall 2007), which is on the expensive side but handsomely made. It includes work by two of this blog's contributors (Helen Merrick and me) plus other familiar names like Nicola Griffith, Nancy Kress, Terry Bisson, and Tess Williams. And it's got a blurb on the back by Gwyneth Jones:

"A fascinating collection of essays, where-for once!-modern science-fiction novels get the close analysis treatment, alongside the inevitable (but here fresh and interesting) studies of Star Trek politics and the Aliens franchise. Consistently entertaining and illuminating: I particularly liked Margret Grebowicz's introduction, and the investigation of exactly how cyberpunk's ideas and images influenced the development of real-world cyberspace."

The description on the back reads:

"What does our favorite science fiction tell us about the culture of science? What do stories of cyborg women and genetic engineering show us about how science and values interact and how science and politics affect each other? In SciFi in the Mind's Eye, leading scholars look at the way science fiction informs and inspires contemporary research in science and technology, and how scientific breakthroughs spur authors on to yet more creative science-fiction narratives.

"Alongside investigations into the meaning of science fiction, SciFi in the Mind's Eye gives us previously unpublished 'interventions' by acclaimed science-fiction authors L. Timmel Duchamp, Nicola Griffith, Nancy Kress, Terry Bisson, and Stanisław Lem."

So far I've only read the introduction. But here's the table of contents:

Introduction: Down to Earth—Margaret Grebowicz


1. Race Through the Alpha Quadrant: Species and Destiny on “Star Trek”Harvey Cormier

2. The Island of Dr. Moreau: Interpretation of Images of Race and SpeciesNaomi Zack

3. It's in the Meat: Science, Fiction, and the Politics of Ignorance—Nancy McHugh


How To Do Things with Ideas—L. Timmel Duchamp


4. Pygmalion’s Legacy: Images of Cyborg Women in Science Fiction—Janet Vertesi

5. Tepper’s Republic: Feminist Separatism and the Question of EssenceEdrie Sobstyl

6. Clone Mothers and Others: Uncanny FamiliesStephanie S. Turner

7. Embodying Change: (R)evolutionary Theories of an Alien SynthesisTess Williams


Identity and SF: Story as Science and FictionNicola Griffith


8. Sciencepunk: The Influence of Informed Science Fiction on Virtual Reality ResearchJeremy N. Bailenson, Nick Yee, Alice Kim, and Jaireh Tecarro

9. Fictitious Contagions: Computer Viruses in the Science Fiction of the 1970sJussi Parikka

10. After the End of the World: Critiques of Technology in Post-Apocalypse LiteratureAndrew Pavelich


Ethics, Science, and Science FictionNancy Kress


11. Modest Witnesses? Feminist Stories of Science in Fiction and TheoryHelen Merrick

12. Cracking the Code: Genomics in Documented Fantasies and Fantastic Documentaries—Marina Levina

13. Knowing, Being, and the Reality Police: Science Fiction as Science StudiesDennis Desroches


Between Garlic and Eternity: Fragments from an Interview with Stanislaw LemEwa Lipska


14. Cognitive Constraints on Imagining Other WorldsE. Thomas Lawson

15. After the Space Age: Science, Fiction, and PossibilityMartin Parker

16. Learning from Ender’s Game: Childhood, Education, and WarMargaret Grebowicz

AfterwordTerry Bisson

Saturday, September 15, 2007

I'm Not Superstitious (or, How I Spent My Mini-Vacation)

Vacation. n. A period of leisure, sans editing, of at least 24 hours spent away from home in eating, drinking, conversation, pleasure reading, and walking and otherwise taking in the local sights.

Earlier this week I took a mini-vacation (i.e., of a half week) on Guemes Island with Tom. (Proper pronunciation: GWEE-mus.) Guemes is a five-minute ride from Anacortes on the tiniest car ferry I’ve ever sailed on. This ferry is basically a floating platform with a pilot's tower and radar, a couple of engines enclosed in metal sheds, and a narrow cabin seating at most a dozen passengers. It rides so low to the water that you know they’re not kidding about the posted weight limit. Skagit County runs it, not the Washington State Department of Transportation. It makes even the smallest of the DOT’s ferries seem large and sophisticated. Riding that low on the water, though, gave me a sense of what a duck’s view of Puget Sound might be. The smell, of course, was divine.

When we booked our reservation for a small cabin with beach access, I imagined the weather would be chilly & rainy if not overcast. But in fact, we had brilliant weather with temperatures in the 70s when we arrived and sun with slightly cooler temperatures the next day. And though the third day started out socked in with fog and clouds, every bit of the cloud cover had burned off by two in the afternoon. (On the fourth day, when we left, the fog was so thick that as we crossed on the ferry to the mainland, we didn’t see it or the dock until we were right on top of it.) I don’t mind rain when I’m on a coast of Puget Sound or the Pacific Ocean, but the clear skies and pleasant temperatures gave us a rare treat, since the main feature of the cabin we stayed in is a spectacular view—of Mt. Baker straight on, of other mountains in the Northern Cascades, of mountains in British Columbia, of a lot of islands, many of them even smaller than Guemes—and a long beach that curves around the southwest tip of the island, affording even more views, including the Olympic mountains. And though we faced northeast and thus could not see the sun sinking below the horizon, the sunsets produced a rich Alpan glow on Baker and transformed the surface of the water into alternating bands of mauve and blue, a special effect I hadn’t seen before.

Beaches on Puget Sound vary dramatically. Walking a couple or three miles on this one, I found it the cleanest I’d ever had the pleasure of visiting. It had no bits of plastic or Styrofoam washed up from the sea, no cigarette butts left by beach-walkers. We spotted one pair of expensive child’s running shoes, full of sand, sitting on a driftwood log, a square piece of plywood balanced on the branches of a driftwood tree that was exposed only at low tide, and the ropes binding a half dozen driftwood logs together into what once must have been a raft. Tom and I made up stories about the children’s shoes, but the remains of the raft must have struck me as too prosaic even to think about, since I never gave it more than a half a minute’s notice. Although there were lots of clam shells and a couple of dead crabs, we saw little marine life beyond a lot of barnacles, a modest amount of seaweed, and numerous starfish, pink and purple. Oh, and there were birds, of course. Besides the usual, a blue heron, fishing, and a sandpiper. It was an unusually quiet beach.

We weren’t content, of course, merely walking the beach and looking out at the view and sipping wine: we had to drive around the island, scoping it out. Guemes has a few hundred year-round residents, even more summer-only residents (who have second [or who knows, given the many multi-millionaires in the US today, third or fourth] homes on the island), one “general store” (also the only place on the island that serves food, pumps gas, and rents out DVDs) but no real grocery stores and, unlike some of the other islands in this area of Puget Sound, no commercial district whatsoever. We observed a church, a fire department, a community center (with a small library), an “emergency helipad,” and the occasional sign advertising various crafts for sale—pottery, soap, “magic compost water” teas—and a sign announcing a “produce exchange” at 5 p.m. on Sundays. The island clearly doesn’t get enough tourists to even try to cater to. We spotted several working farms and a few small orchards, but little sign of how most of the people living year-round on this island support themselves. They can’t all be retired or working on the island’s many construction sites. Do most live off investment income? Hard to believe. Do many of them travel to the mainland every morning to work? (By private boat, one would assume, since it looks like a fair number of people on Guemes have boats tied up on their waterfront.) Do they telecommute?

When we ate lunch at the general store, Tom spotted on the small placard advertising Happy Hour and their menu of wines by the glass “Writer’s Block Zinfandel.” (It was the most expensive glass on the wine-by-the-glass menu.) At first I thought it must be a joke. I jotted it down on my notepad so that I could Google it when I got home. But when we were looking through the grocery part of the general store, looking for seltzer water (which they didn’t have), we found that the store stocked Writer’s Block wines—zinfandel, cabernet franc, and syrah. Tom offered to take a photo of the label, but I said, oh no, I want to buy a bottle. Timmi! he said. Since when have you become a target for clever marketing? (Is it a coincidence that he was in the middle of reading Jennifer Government at the time?) “I need to prove I’m not superstitious,” I said. Although I didn’t take any editing with me, I did take the manuscript of STRETTO to work on. So later that afternoon, after our walk on the beach, when I was working for a bit on the manuscript, Tom opened the bottle and gave me a glass. Very fruity, it was. But that’s zinfandel for you.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Universal Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Yesterday, after 22 years of diplomatic negotiations, the UN General Assembly passed The Universal Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a non-binding resolution calling for the recognition of the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination and control over their land and resources, over the objections of the US, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. (Eleven countries abstained from the vote.) According to Haider Rizvi’s article at

Before the vote many indigenous leaders accused the United States and Canada of pressuring economically weak and vulnerable nations to reject calls for the Declaration’s adoption. Initially, some African countries were also reluctant to vote in favor, but later changed their position after the indigenous leadership accepted their demand to introduce certain amendments in the text.

The Declaration emphasizes the rights of indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their institutions, cultures, and traditions and pursue their development in keeping with their own needs and aspirations.

It also calls for recognition of the indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination, a principle fully recognized by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, but deemed controversial by the United States and some of its allies who fear that it could undermine their rights to rule over all their current territory.

In return for their support, the African countries wanted the declaration to mention that it does not encourage any actions that would undermine the “territorial integrity” or “political unity” of sovereign states.

Though the African viewpoint was incorporated into the final version, the Declaration remains assertive of indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination and control over their land and resources.

The big question, of course, is whether this will make an actual difference to the status and lives of indigenous peoples. I find myself wondering why the governments of Guatemala and Mexico, for instance, voted for the resolution; it’s hard to believe they have any intentions of changing their internal policies. Rizvi notes:

Though pleased with the General Assembly’s decision, some indigenous leaders seemed unhappy that the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand did not accept the Declaration.

Canada has shown its true colors on our human rights,” Arthur Manuel, a leader of Canada’s indigenous peoples, told OneWorld.

Those in opposition have said the Declaration is “flawed,” mainly because of its strong emphasis on the right to indigenous self-determination and full control over lands and resources. In their view, these clauses would hinder economic development efforts and undermine so-called “established democratic norms.”

The United States has also refused to sign on to a UN treaty on biological diversity, which calls for a “fair and equitable” sharing of the benefits derived from indigenous lands by commercial enterprises.

Meanwhile, threats to indigenous lands and resources persist, say rights activists, in the form of mining, logging, toxic contamination, privatization, large-scale development projects, and the use of genetically modified seeds.

“The entire wealth of the United States, Canada, and other so-called modern states is built on the poverty and human rights violations of their indigenous peoples,” said Manuel. “The international community needs to understand how hypocritical Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States are.”

Recent scientific studies have repeatedly warned of devastating consequences for indigenous communities in particular as changing climates are expected to cause more floods, hurricanes, and other extreme weather events across the world.

The United States and Australia have taken particular criticism also for their refusal to join the majority of the world’s nations in efforts to combat climate change.

The issues are connected, of course, even if that isn’t often recognized. Glad to see it recognized in Rizvi’s article.

Monday, September 10, 2007

A Handful of Reviews

Here are a few reviews to check out:

*Mark Tiedemann reviews Kelley Eskridge’s Dangerous Space.

“Yeah, Kelley is rough, but not in the sense of unpolished. She writes some of the most seductive prose I've ever seen. It's impossible not to think of sexual similes—you read her and you think, "Wow, very sexy, this'll be nice, a very fine one night stand" and you wake up the next morning in love. Or at least unwilling to stay away. I choose the comparison intentionally, because the title story is about sex. About music. About the psyche you find in the mix, where music touches that which is most intimate, and the only other thing that comes even close to such an affect is sex, the best sex, the sex that teaches.”

*Collen Mondor reviews Dangerous Space for Bookslut.

"In her new collection, Dangerous Space, science fiction novelist Kelley Eskridge pushes the boundaries of the status quo. She has put together a series of stories that make readers ponder issues of gender, sexuality, and the nature of free choice."

*Sean Melican reviews the third novel of my Marq'ssan Cycle, Tsunami, for Ideomancer.

“[Duchamp] invents an entire socio-political system and then systematically deconstructs the very nature of human social systems.

*I review Logorrhea (ed. John Klima) for Strange Horizons.

*And I also review Kaaron Warren’s The Grinding House in the August 2007 issue of The New York Review of Science Fiction (off-line).

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Gender Delusions and Gaps

About a week ago, Nancy Jane Moore posted on what, following Gwyneth Jones, she calls “The Great Divide.” Today, Mark Liberman has posted The "Fiction Gap": Empathy, Prestige, or What? on the Language Log, showing just how far the obsession with gender differences can go. (With thanks to The Mumpsiumus for the link.) Liberman begins by noting recent reports that the women purchase 80% of books of fiction and men 20%. His post surveys various explanations for this apparent gender gap.

Theories attempting to explain the “fiction gap” abound. Cognitive psychologists have found that women are more empathetic than men, and possess a greater emotional range of traits that make fiction more appealing to them.

Apparently the theories for explaining the “fiction gap” even wander into the territory of “mirror neurons.”

The research is still in its early stages, but some studies have found that women have more sensitive mirror neurons than men. That might explain why women are drawn to works of fiction, which by definition require the reader to empathize with characters.

Liberman summarizes a study of gender differences in mirror neurons based on magnetoencephalography and discusses whether or not its results (based on a sample of ten young Taiwanese men and ten young Taiwanese women) are statistically significant and then moves on to the 2004 NEA report on reading and decides that since the differences between racial and ethnic groups were as large or larger than the differences between males and female that the argument that gendered differences in empathy explains the gap is dubious.

What strikes me as really weird about the various “theories” Liberman cites is their apparent failure to notice that if this gap actually does now exist in present-day US, Britain, and Canada (and Liberman notes that he’s by no means certain that it does), it is a reflection of a particular cultural juncture and not a hard-wired biological imperative controlling the behavior of men and women. I seriously doubt that the 80/20 split (if it’s real) has always existed for as long as fiction has existed and I would be surprised if the same results were reproduced in other cultural milieus. That any cognitive psychologists or neuroscientists could entertain for a moment the idea that women are hardwired to read fiction and men aren’t stinks of nineteenth century pseudo-sciencethe kinds of “science” that used calipers to “prove” that Caucasians are intellectually superior to non-Caucasians and that men are intellectually superior to women. I find myself wondering why these people are so obsessed with “the Great Divide” that they are apparently unable to ask reasonable questions. It shouldn’t be possible for someone still cherishing such discredited assumptions to get an advanced degree in any science. The amount of time and money spent trying to demonstrate hardwired sex differences for shoring up the credibility of the Great Divide is scandalous.

If I were certain there was a “fiction” gap between men and women (and of course I’m not), what I’d write about what it might mean in light of the domination by male critics and reviewers, male tastes, and male values of all literary discussion. The critic gap certainly exists: we all know that. But that’s not the kind of gap anyone but women are interested in thinking about, explaining, and discussing, is it. And certainly not the relation between the critic gap and the “fiction gap.”

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

A Brief Conversation with Cat Rambo

I haven’t performed introductions with my previous interviewees, but since Cat Rambo is a relative newcomer to the f/sf field, I thought a few words of introduction are in order. I first met Cat two summers ago, when I was teaching at Clarion West. She was one of several feminists in the class but stood out for her air of calm, good-humored competence and always struck me as utterly unfazed by the stressful demands and wild intensity of the workshop. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of numerous encounters with her here in Seattle. Although her hair color is subject to radical change without notice, everything else about her seems remarkably constant. She’s made numerous sales over the last two years. Just to mention a few: her letter to William S. Burroughs appeared in Aqueduct’s Talking Back (Conversation Pieces Vol 11),; “The Surgeon’s Tale,” which she wrote with Jeff VanderMeer, is available at
Subterranean Press
; “The Dead Girl’s Wedding March” appeared in Fantasy Magazine; and she recently sold "Kallakak's Cousins" to Asimov's SF.

Timmi: You were a student in the MA writing program at Johns Hopkins before you started writing science fiction; and then you stopped writing for more than a decade until you decided to begin writing science fiction and attended Clarion West (Class of 2005). Such a hiatus is unusual. Was it difficult picking up after such long disuse of your writing chops? And why did you decide to write science fiction instead of literary fiction? Do you think the classes you took at Hopkins provided you with the narrative skills and tools you need to write science fiction? Or have you had to acquire a whole new set of skills and tools?

Cat: I got sidetracked after Hopkins and ended up in the network security field over the course of a long and winding story. Writing kept nudging at the corners of my brain, though, usually in the form of poems at first, and then eventually as full blown stories and ideas for novels connected with the online game I work with. Coming back to writing fiction felt tremendous, like one of those good long stretches where you can feel your bones and muscles pop into place.

I had actually been writing what some would consider genre fiction at Hopkins: stories about talking chickens and dolls, Bigfoot, and a novel about superheroes that was pronounced unmarketable by several publishers. It also made sense to go with the field that I most enjoyed reading. I've always been an f/sf reader—it was The Hobbit in 2nd or 3rd grade that first got me hooked on reading, and I knew that was the sort of thing I wanted to write.

In my experience, f/sf workshops teach students a great deal more about the nuts and bolts of writing basics than graduate lit workshops do. I've told non-genre beginning writers to take an f/sf workshop just so they get exposed to that sort of hands-on talking about things like the effect of the present tense vs. the effect of the past tense on the reader. I enjoyed the Hopkins workshops and I did learn a lot from them, particularly from John Barth and Steve Dixon who were both amazing. But there was also a certain amount of wankery of several flavors.

There is a weird rancor between sf workshops and lit workshops, though, that I am loathe to fuel, so I will hastily add that I think anything that gets you writing and thinking is fine, and that such things come in different shapes/compositions/textures for different people. The smartest single thing I heard at Clarion West was Syne Mitchell saying "Find out what works for you and do it. Lots."

Timmi: Since attending Clarion West in 2005, you've attended several other workshops. Do you also have a writing group you meet regularly with? I know it's not unusual for writers to make workshops an important part of their writing lives, but as someone who'd been writing fiction for more than twenty years before attending my first workshop (Sycamore Hill in 2003), I am always a little surprised to find that many people begin their writing lives with the classes and workshops and then continue to attend workshops and form writing groups with other writers. Clearly, workshops work for you. Do you think it makes writing a less lonely, isolated art? Could you talk, please, about how and why workshops work for you?

Cat: I do have a face-to-face group in the form of some local Clarion West graduates, and I've recently started meeting with a small group of local writers who have a lot more writing credits than I do. Workshops force me to produce, both due to the pressures of producing something to be critiqued as well as fueling my own competitive nature. And while I get fabulous critiques from my group, I think the most important aspect of workshop is giving critiques, because it makes you articulate your stance on things like adverbs or foreshadowing as well as making you examine why you like one piece of writing but not another.

One piece of wisdom I've heard and agree with is that it's important to find a group that is at your level (or higher, and gracious enough to let you leech off their experience while you work at scrambling upward)—and by level, I mean (a) skill at critiquing, (b) talent, and (c) knowledge of how words and story elements work.

Workshops and reading groups can be great for fueling writing—for example, when Escape Pod recently had a contest for flash fiction, someone mentioned it on the message board for my CW class. A slew of us wrote flash pieces to submit as a result of that, which ended up with several selling pieces to Escape Pod. I belong to Codex Writers as well, which is a neo-pro group, and they have constant internal contests going on—right now there's a Halloween one and a collaboration one—whose sole purpose is to spur people on to write. And there's something about hearing about other people's sales that gets me to go open my submission spreadsheet and make sure everything's out that can be.

Timmi: Does the sociological and/or ideological composition of the workshop group make a difference, and if so, what kind of difference? Does gender make a difference? Genre? Race? Class?

Cat: It's important to find a group that is open to your work. Feminism, for example, informs my writing, and it would be hard to have to start every crit session arguing about whether or not being feminist made me humorless.

Myself, I like a good mix of people because I want to have my ideas and assumptions challenged when they're going astray. I think I would have a difficult time in a group that was nothing but male, but I value Mark B., who has been our only male member up to date VASTLY because he can see things from an angle that I have a hard time with. The other day he was talking about how men make overtures of friendship to other men and what that's like in a way that made me go back and look at some of my stories to see how I could make them ring truer in that regard. My group has something approximating a range of class levels but could be a lot better.

Unfortunately, that points to the fact that here in the f/sf world, there aren't as many class and race differences as there could be. One of the phenomena that I find very problematic is the idea of cons. Don't get me wrong, I love going to them-—but they are available only to people who can spare the money and time, and they do provide valuable networking that has the potential to affect someone's career in a way that isn't there for the people who can't make it to them. To some extent, the Internet compensates for that, but even there the group is limited to people with computers who are relatively Net savvy.

At the same time, while f/sf has at least made stabs at exploring issues of gender and race, it has been less eager to explore class. And the ongoing f/sf vs. literature debate I mentioned earlier is, in my opinion, a symptom of that. It could be read as a class-motivated sort of knee-jerk anti-intellectualism where the speaker is trying to position themselves as working class/part of the masses in a way that may or may not be justified and may or may not be a mechanism for avoiding examination of where they are in the system.

This is an attitude I sometimes see expressed-—and it comes from all manner of spec-fic writers, high fantasy to military sf to hard science--that what the "literary" writers are doing is creating Art that can be appreciated by only a small group of highly-educated readers. And sometimes that gets pushed further and loaded with intimations of effete snobbery. There are all sorts of class undertones at work in this discourse that I think are just fascinating.

It's certainly entertaining to maintain that literary writers hack up words in hairball-like fashion onto the page and don't actually do much beyond that and that they're as nude as a newly-clad Emperor. But I can testify, having at least attempted to work at that level, that it's pretty frickin' hard. All writing is hard, and good writing on any side of the genre fence is extra hard because it means an intense effort at examination of the self and the world.

There is some interesting class-examination work going on in spec-fic, though, and I'm really curious to see how the Plunkett Award will affect that. Your Marq'ssan cycle is a good example of that. I just finished Morgan Howell's Queen of the Orcs, which takes some classic high fantasy tropes and turns them inside out in a really interesting way. China Mieville. Sarah Monette. Michael Swanwick. Parts of the Mundane SF movementthere's increasing amounts of good stuff out there that takes class issues into account.

Timmi: Was it difficult to develop a sense of your own, particular aesthetic judgment, or do you think your workshop experience has helped you to do that?

Cat: (imo) Developing a sense of one's own, particular aesthetic judgment is an on-going, laborious, joyful challenge that we work on all the time, because it's the creation/amplification/redefinition of the ideals we hold our own writing up to. Workshop experience has been only peripheral to that in the past for me, but who knows? Maybe the next workshop I'm in will be the one that leads me to a major redefinition. Which might be fun.

Timmi: Thanks, Cat. I appreciate your taking the trouble to articulate all this.