Sunday, June 01, 2014

P.S. to Politics in sf, or, which side am I on?

(Just posted to Facebook -- after hundreds of Likes and scores of comments -- and reposted here.)

Folks, y'all have ranged far beyond the topic of my original post. May I ask those who'd like to debate Will Shetterly to do so on his blog, his Facebook page, etc.? 

My purpose at the outset was simply to share King's letter and state my allegiance with the marginalized in our field, lest anyone be confused on that point; and based on all the responses pro and con, I do seem to have done that. 

I have no illusions that the field is my own ten toes to wiggle as I please, and I feel no need whatsoever to wear down in debate everyone who disagrees with me, on this point or any other point -- especially since what we're debating here, at base, is Right and Wrong, the most personal and individual of classifications. 

I am content that I have examined, and spoken, my own conscience; I invite others to examine, then speak, their own -- using their own pages, their own blogs, their own panels, their own writing. It is -- I say this once more, for emphasis -- a necessary conversation. 

And if you'd like to have a face-to-face talk about all this, next time you see me shambling about the Circuit, you'd better buy me a drink first. Politics is thirsty work. 

In the meantime, I'll be pruning subsequent comments in this thread as needed, to keep this spiky hedge we've planted together from overrunning the place. 

And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm on deadline. -- Yours in our great work, Andy D.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Politics in sf, or, which side am I on?

(Just posted to Facebook, and reposted here.)

Many friends, colleagues, and acquaintances in the science fiction/fantasy trades, assuming that I will agree with them because I have known them for years, or because I admire their work, or because I seem in sync aesthetically, or (sometimes, I sense) simply because I am a white man with a Southern accent and gray in my beard, have expressed to me lately that sure, diversity and sensitivity are great, but what's gotten into all these youngsters and LGBTQ folks and people of color and -- especially -- women? Why do they keep picking on us? Why are they complaining so loudly? Whatever happened to civility? Why does everything have to be political, since we're all just storytellers, comrades around the fire? Why do they act like we've done something wrong, when in fact we have done nothing wrong? What's their beef, anyway? Aren't these "politically correct" people (the argument continues) the REAL bullies? And who are these people, anyway? We've never heard of them, so what right do they have ... ? 

And so forth. 

I've been hearing all this a lot. 

So, to save time, let me respond to all of these people -- the ones I know well and love, the ones I barely know and dislike, and everyone in between -- all at once. 

Simply put, here is my position on all this. 

First: The increasing diversity of our field is an unalloyed good. There is nothing at all wrong with it. 

Second: This ongoing discussion about the field and how it treats all its members -- a discussion instigated and driven by all these newcomers -- is likewise an unalloyed good. There is nothing at all wrong with it. It is the necessary growing pains of a field moving from awkward adolescence into maturity. 

And if you're still feeling bruised and resentful and don't understand where all this unrest, this agitation, this backlash is coming from, may I suggest that you re-read, as I just did, Martin Luther King Jr.'s letter from the Birmingham, Ala., jail. It was addressed to you, to me, to us.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

The story of "Beluthahatchie"

I'm delighted that the May issue of Clarkesworld reprints my 1997 story "Beluthahatchie," alongside new stories by Maggie Clark, Matthew Kressel and E. Catherine Tobler, plus another Southern reprint -- Howard Waldrop's "Night of the Cooters" (1987). I'm in great company.

To honor the occasion, here is the afterword I wrote for my out-of-print collection Beluthahatchie and Other Stories (Golden Gryphon Press, 2000). Re-reading it makes me realize that in pairing "Beluthahatchie" and "Night of the Cooters," Gardner Dozois, Clarkesworld reprint editor, paired a Strother Martin/Dub Taylor story with a Slim Pickens story. Science fiction editors don't get to do this very often.

This story began in one of my graduate classes at North Carolina State University: Short Story Form & Theory, taught by Angela Davis-Gardner. Each student was required to do a presentation on the technique of one short-story writer. I don’t remember what writer I picked, but one of my classmates picked Zora Neale Hurston – whom I never had read – and specifically Hurston’s “Story in Harlem Slang,” accompanied by Hurston’s own glossary. That glossary, drawing upon African-American folklore much older than 1920s Harlem, included several vividly named suburbs of Hell, the most vivid, to my mind, being Beluthahatchie. My first thought was, “I’ve read a lot of stories set in Hell, but never one set in Beluthahatchie.”

Months passed, during which I toyed with various terrible ideas for a story set in Beluthahatchie and titled “Beluthahatchie.” At one point, I decided to write the story of a boundary dispute between the sleepy suburb of Beluthahatchie and the bustling city of Hell, and wasted time looking into the intricacies of annexation law before blessedly losing interest. My salvation, if I may use that word in this context, began when I started researching African-American folklore about Hell, figuring I needed to know a lot more than a list of place names. This research led me to the folktales of the slave John and his owner, Old Massa, who forever played cruel tricks on one another, united only in rascality and in mutual terror of the Devil. My research also led me to the Lake of the Dead, a myth apparently widespread in my homeland of central South Carolina that I, growing up white, had never heard. But most crucially, my research into African-American visions of Hell led me to the songs of the late Delta blues artist Robert Johnson – and once I realized my suburb-of-Hell story also needed to be a Robert Johnson story, all the story’s main elements clicked into place in my head. (I’m glad I didn’t know then, as I know now, that enough fantasy stories about Robert Johnson have been written in recent years to fill an anthology; I might well have abandoned the idea, assuming it had “been done.”  Advice to writers: It’s never been done, until you do it.)

I didn’t attempt to write the story down until several months later, during the first week of the six-week Clarion West writers’ workshop in Seattle in summer 1994. We were expected to write a story a week, and I had come prepared, with a suitcase full of notes. What made me turn to “Beluthahatchie” first was, I am ashamed to admit, spite. During the first day or two of the workshop, one of the manuscripts we discussed was a fine Devil story, set in the Louisiana bayou, by my classmate, Syne Mitchell. One of our classmates, I forget whom, announced that he/she was prejudiced against Devil stories, was in fact heartily sick of Devil stories, hoped indeed never to read another Devil story in her/his life. I thought, “Well, you’ll read ONE more, like it or not.” 

I went back to my dorm room and started the draft of “Beluthahatchie” that very afternoon, banging away on the typewriter I had borrowed upon arrival from Eileen Gunn. (My computer hadn’t arrived yet.) I found out later that my start-and-stop typing at all hours of day and night, loud enough to be heard up and down the dormitory corridor, drove many of my classmates nuts – though they were too polite, that first week, to say so. But Eileen had told me this was a Lucky Typewriter, on which she had written her first published stories, and so my hopes were high.

Flash forward to the following January, and the registration table at Chattacon ’95, a science-fiction convention in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Standing in line near me was one of my Clarion West teachers, Michael Swanwick, whom I greeted happily. “Hello,” Michael said, “and congratulations.”
“Congratulations on what?” I asked.

“Gardner is buying your story,” Michael said.

I had submitted “Beluthahatchie” to Gardner Dozois at Asimov’s months earlier, but had heard nothing. Sure enough, I came home from Chattanooga to find Gardner’s acceptance letter waiting for me. It was my first fiction sale. 

Three years later, the membership of the World Science Fiction Convention named “Beluthahatchie” a finalist for the Hugo Award for Best Short Story of the year. And now it’s the title story of this, my first book. A lucky typewriter indeed, Eileen!

While I’m acknowledging people, I should note that of all the comments I received on the story at Clarion West, the most helpful were Syne Mitchell’s exhortations to work in as much of the applicable legendry and folklore as possible – to make the story, in short, Mythic with a capital M. “If you don’t take Syne’s advice,” Eric S. Nylund said at the time, “then you’re a fool.” Eric and Syne are married now; how could she resist? 

A final note: People ask me where my idea of the Devil came from. It mostly came from the late actors Dub Taylor and Strother Martin – check out Bonnie and Clyde and Cool Hand Luke, respectively. But when I read his lines aloud, I sound a lot like Strom Thurmond, whose South Carolina hometown is about a half-hour’s drive from mine. As my grandmother would say about a family likeness: I get it honest.
Cutting and pasting this, I just remembered one more relevant anecdote.

After the story first was published, many people stumbled badly when trying to pronounce the title. People introducing me at readings simply gave up and asked me to do it. Granted, no one from the Southeastern United States had any trouble, because Southerners are used to place names ending in hatchie, which means "river" in the regional Native American tongues. Still, a lot of people had trouble.

Nevertheless, when I told my editor-publisher at Golden Gryphon, Gary Turner, that I didn't know what to title the collection, his instant reply was, "We're going to title it Beluthahatchie and Other Stories."

"But Gary," I said, "no one can pronounce the title."

He retorted, "They pronounced it onto the Hugo ballot, didn't they?" And I had no answer to that. In fact, they soon pronounced it onto another ballot, as Beluthahatchie and Other Stories won the World Fantasy Award for Best Collection. A decade later, I titled my second collection The Pottawatomie Giant and Other Stories. Why tamper with success?

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

I'm a Hugo and Nebula finalist

My co-writer Ellen Klages and I are finalists for the Nebula Award and the Hugo Award, both in the Best Novella category, for "Wakulla Springs" (, October 2013). illustration by Gary Kelley.

We're delighted, of course, and thank all the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America members who put us on the Nebula ballot and all the World Science Fiction Convention members who put us on the Hugo ballot.

Congratulations, too, to everyone on the ballots. The only other novella up for both a Nebula and a Hugo this year is Catherynne M. Valente's Six-Gun Snow White, published by Subterranean. Other Nebula finalists in our category are Vylar Kaftan, Nancy Kress, Veronica Schanoes and Lawrence M. Schoen. Other Hugo finalists in our category are Charles Stross, Brad Torgersen and Dan Wells.

According to Mark R. Kelly, who keeps track for me and everyone else, "Wakulla Springs" is Ellen's second Hugo nomination and my third, while it's Ellen's fourth Nebula nomination and my eighth. We each have one Nebula win but no Hugos -- yet!

Nebula winners will be announced May 17 at the SFWA banquet in San Jose, Calif. Whatever happens there, I'll still have three months to savor being a Hugo finalist; the Hugo winners will be announced Aug. 17 at Loncon 3, the 72nd Worldcon, in London. Ellen and I both plan to be at both these events. Y'all come, too.

Coll's "King of the Khyber Rifles" (1916)

I can't afford to bid on this 1916 Joseph Clement Coll illustration -- one of a series that accompanied Talbot Mundy's King of the Khyber Rifles on its original serialization in Everybody's Magazine -- but I sure did enjoy clicking the Large view, at the auction site, to study the penmanship up close. Wow!

The auction is for a worthy cause, the Locus Science Fiction Foundation. The illustration is from the collection of the late Locus publisher Charles N. Brown.

Mundy's adventure stories, many set in a mysterious and mystical India during the Raj, have influenced a number of fantasists: Leigh Brackett, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Andre Norton. S.M. Stirling's The Peshawar Lancers (2002) is a more recent homage.

Coll was just as influential among fantasy illustrators, for his pen-and-ink wizardry and his iconic visualizations of Arthur Conan Doyle's Professor Challenger and Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu. Al Williamson is one obvious descendant. As collector Jim Vadeboncoeur puts it on his Coll appreciation page:
There were science fiction stories before The Lost World ... just as there were authors before Mundy and Rohmer who wrote horror and adventure stories. What there wasn't, before Coll, was the illustrative style and technique to match the literary ones. Coll invented that style, developed it, popularized it, and disseminated it to the coming generations of artists who saw it and knew that it was right.