Tag Archives: Octavia Butler

Lambda Literary Emerging Writer’s Workshop, Day 2

purple keyboardWe’re here, we’re queer, and we’re critiquing each other’s work. So came the second full day of the retreat, enshrouded in mist once again and with a chilly breeze that made me glad I’d chosen a sweater vest for the morning. Thank goodness I discovered how to command hot water out of my shower, because a second event of freezing liquid was just not going to work for me. I woke up at 6:30 and went through my new French press coffee routine, then groomed myself.

I’d read two more stories last night and done my best to provide guidance without dissection. I tucked a small notebook into my pocket so that I could jot down the authors and titles of recommended reading (I’d missed two or three references on Monday). I chatted with people in the dining hall over steaming bowls of creamed wheat and not-so-fresh squeezed orange juice. One of my colleagues was dog-tired and held her head in her hands. And before I knew it, she was crying.

I’ve been in this place of sudden compassion before, and it has always involved a decision between sitting quietly so as to let them have their emotions, or filling up the space partway to offer a hinge they can swing from if they want to. So I told a very short story to express empathy in an indirect way, and she thanked me and then got up. Sometimes I wonder if spending so many decades divorced from my feelings hasn’t made me more able to connect to people now, because I refuse to pretend humans are strictly rational. I’m making up for lost processing time. Read More…

Lambda Literary Emerging Writers Workshop, Day 1

san fernando valleyOkay, here I am. I can stand on the slant of the hill and gaze upon the San Fernando Valley, when the mist and/or the smog isn’t hiding it, that is. It’s pretty, and like a lot of the West Coast, covered in desert plants. None of the palm trees I see are native to Southern California, but I appreciate them anyway. Palm trees, for me, mean that I’m somewhere not considered home. They ring vacation to me, because you can never really lose the New Jersey, I guess.

I have sat in a room with Samuel Delany for hours now, have wandered across a campus with him, hoping our noses will lead us to the dining hall (for better or for worse), acting like such engagements with him are totally no big deal. This man taught Octavia Butler. Octavia Fucking Butler. AKA one of my favorite writers of all time. But hey, let’s chat about how much we hate stairs. (Answer: A lot) I don’t pretend that Mr. Delany will have any idea who I am by the middle of next week, but he’s personable and so brilliantly smart he may be solely responsible for the huge sun spot that flamed out last week. I have great admiration for Malinda Lo, who is teaching the YA/genre section, I have scads of respect for Sarah Schulman, who inspired my many years of involvement with the Lesbian Avengers (which she cofounded), and I always revere poets like David Groff because I’m completely inept at poetry. Read More…

Why I Miss Octavia Butler

Like a flailing restaurant patron who has a chunk of beef stuck in his windpipe, I write speculative fiction. It’s a messy process, of combing through research so I retain a kernel of accuracy in the story, say of physics or history, of plot points and character sketches, scratched out, erased, and written over in my notebooks. There are many notecards and scraps of paper tucked into my journals, so many that I tend to break the bindings of lesser-made books. Don’t forget this detail, that sub-theme, this one scene that keeps popping up in my daydreams. I go back, rewrite, reconceive, get frustrated, re-execute, finally feel satisfied.

Octavia Butler and her booksIt could very well be that all of my energy is in vain, and none of it is any good. I think it’s healthy for writers to drink a cup of hubris with a side of humility every so often. There is so little that keeps us honest. Writing is supposed to be sellable, and to make it to the commercial market, it needs to be definable—what’s the synopsis, who’s the audience, is it like any other bestseller out there, what’s the genre? It had better not fit in too many boxes, or the marketing department at the publisher will implode like an old Vegas casino.

Octavia Butler was one of those writers who defied pretty much everything in publishing—its tightness on genre categories, certainly, but also its expectations around audience appeal, topics that could be covered in fiction, and what bestselling authors should look and sound like. Read More…

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