Tag Archives: Diversity

Asian Monsters : Margret Helgadottir

The World Tour of Monsters

by Margrét Helgadóttir

I am so happy that Asian Monsters is now out from Fox Spirit Books, after one year of work. Asian Monsters is the third volume of the annual Fox Spirit Book of Monsters series. We started with Europe in 2014 and continued with Africa in 2015. Next stop will be the Pacific area in 2017 before we end the world tour at the continent of America.

This year we stop in Asia. We present you tales of beasties from the nights of urban Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and Lahore to the monsters of the mountains and forests, told by fourteen authors who are either from, have lived in, or have another strong connection to this wide stretching continent. We want to show the world not only all the great monsters but also all the wonderful authors in the world who tend to be ignored in the western popular culture. Who else should tell us about the monsters from their regions but the authors who know them best? Thus, from volume two (Africa) I have searched for authors from the region who can either tell a tale based on local folklore or even come up with a monster of their own. I also try to locate illustrators and graphic artists from the regions we visit but have not managed to have this hundred percent in the books.

Photo Credit Margret Helgadottir

What I have learned from the monster book series, is that every country and region in the world has wonderful dark and eerie tales of monsters, some of them really old, maybe even thousands, of years old. No matter where you are in the world, the monsters have been someone to blame when bad things happen (sudden death of dear ones, bad luck, ship wrecks) or a source to explain mystical things happening around humans (like thunder and lightning). Many monsters also challenge the humans’ thoughts and fears of what happens when you are dead, or the relationship between human and the animals in wilderness.

If you are familiar with the book series, you might have noticed that we were two editors on the first two volumes, yours truly and the lovely Jo Thomas, who knows 25 Ways to Kill a Werewolf. Jo had a special responsibility for the graphic stories and the art. In the last volume, African Monsters, Jo unfortunately had to step aside for parts of the production. Following up on this, we decided that I will edit the coming monster volumes alone. Then we’ll see. It wasn’t an easy decision, since the monster books are an idea and concept Jo and I created together three years ago, our baby so to speak.

Three years ago we demanded that something had to be done. We strongly felt that the monsters of this world are watered down and overused in the popular media, transformed into creatures which either long to be included in the human society and/or fall in love with a human girl. Also, some monsters have dominated the public scene in the last decades—vampires, werewolves, ghouls, demons, zombies—and they have mostly been from Western popular culture.

So Jo and I both felt it was about bloody time to show the world all the marvellous monsters which lurk, sneak, jump, glide, wander or fly around this planet, or even under your bed (you know they are there!). We also dreamed about giving the monsters a renaissance as real monsters, a comeback so to speak, their fifteen minutes of fame, with gorgeous art and in the style of a coffee table book so they will achieve a central and visual place in the humans’ homes. 

Photo Credit Margret Helgadottir

The monsters in the Fox Spirit books of Monsters don’t sparkle or have any desire to be a human or part of the human society. These monsters have no interest in you except tearing you apart or putting terror in your heart. Bless them.

In the continent of Asia you find the shape-shifters, the flesh-eating walking dead and the great monsters of the lakes and sea. Also, what has struck me while editing this volume is all the spirits and ghosts who exist in much of the Asian folklore. Several of these spirits and ghosts are mischievous, some quite terrifying, many sad.

The stories in African Monsters were about place and origin, about immigration and going home—maybe a strong witness of how much the soil of Africa means to these authors. Home is an underlying theme in Asian Monsters too but here it’s not so much about the place but about the family itself and the strong relationships between loved ones, dead, living or not there.

This time we have managed to include one translated story, the lovely story by Xia Jia (translated by Ken Liu), something I am immensely happy about. Hopefully this is something I will also be able to include in the coming volumes and I am grateful for any recommendations of authors who tell great monster tales in other languages than English.

I have tried to be loyal to Jo and my mission with the monster books and hopefully I have succeeded in this with Asian Monsters. I wish to thank all who have made this book possible: Adele Wearing and her fantastic team at Fox Spirit Books, people who have helped out with research and local knowledge, Daniele Serra for his wonderful cover art, and all the amazing authors and artists. Thank you!

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Margrét Helgadóttir is a Norwegian-Icelandic writer and editor living in Oslo. Her stories have appeared in a number of both magazines and print anthologies such as In flight literary magazine, Gone Lawn, Luna Station Quarterly, Tales of Fox and Fae and Girl at the End of the World. Her debut book The Stars Seem So Far Away was published by Fox Spirit Books in 2015 and was shortlisted as Best Collection to British Fantasy Awards 2016. Margrét is co-editor for the Fox Spirit Books anthologies European Monsters (2014) and African Monsters (2015). African Monsters was also shortlisted (Best Anthology) to British Fantasy Awards 2016. She is also editor for the Fox Spirit Books anthologies Winter Tales (2016), Asian Monsters (Dec 2016) and Pacific Monsters (Nov 2017). Learn more on her webpage http://margrethelgadottir.wordpress.com or chat with her on Twitter (@MaHelgad)

Waxing Lyrical : Accept no Substitutes

Accept no Substitutes.

by Adele Wearing

Please see the Waxing Lyrical category for more information on being part of this series. 

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A little while ago there was a lot of excitement over an openly gay character appearing in an established science fiction universe. The author was a straight white man. There is a lot of this going on, with writers recognising (at last) that people like to have the option of reading about characters more like them. The rise of the #weneeddiversebooks campaign, targeting mainly the young adult arena, certainly drives this point home.

diverse books

In itself, this greater representation seems like a good thing. We do need diverse books, we need to see the real variety the world provides represented in our reading, so on the one hand, yes we should all be pleased people are writing more diverse characters. For one thing, it makes books a bit more interesting. For another it’s important that everyone recognises the need for diversity and engages with it the best they can. I just want to take a moment here to stress; no one is saying that anyone else shouldn’t write more diverse characters. Not here anyway.

Of course this apparent progress has given rise to its own issues. How valuable is diversity that is only page deep? What is it people really want? Do we want straight white cis men to be representing everyone? Is that actually diversity or is it just the old guard hanging on to their dominance of genre fiction by telling other people’s stories for them instead of letting them tell their own.

In awards terms this year; The Hugo’s have shown that women and writers of colour are more than capable of writing their own stories and representing themselves, so perhaps the industry needs to open up more space for that and let them. As a side note, the Clarke award demonstrated that it is still ok to be white and male in science fiction, it turns out you just have to write really great books (therein may lie the actual problem for many of the writers crying SJW).

speak for myself

It’s an insidious issue, because it’s easy to claim the mantle of ‘ally’ by writing diverse characters and it’s very difficult to challenge reasonably. After all it’s not generally that LGBT writers don’t want straight writers having LGBT characters, it’s just, they want a chance to write their own books, their own characters and tell their own stories their way. It’s a near perfect soap box, it’s hard to tell a man who is trying to be an ally to women that he’s not helping, especially as the intentions may be entirely genuine, but if women can’t be heard, can’t be seen due to the sheer number of men selling feminism, then isn’t that at risk of silencing women just as effectively as the people who openly tell them to sit down and be quiet? Effectively you are talking over them, drowning their voices out and you might as well order off the menu for them while you are at it.

It amounts to this for me. If you really want to be an ally draw gay writers into your discussions about gay characters, help them to share some of your platform and be heard.  Readers, if you really want to support diversity you need to read diverse books and that means you need to seek out diverse authors: Nnedi Okorafor, James Bennett, Tade Thompson, and Zen Cho are a few good starting points. You may have to look a little further but when it comes to diverse reading accept no substitutes.

Waxing Lyrical : Reality is just the consensus anyway

 

I have talked about the importance of diversity in writing before, in detail, so I won’t go into that at length again today. I mention it only because it does relate to what I want to talk about today, which is how stories are given and received.

I often say you need to study English Literature while you are young. That’s because as you get older and maybe a little more jaded, you start to realise that writers are people. Worse, they are people with deadlines and insecurities and tea addictions and family problems and hospital appointments and crummy landlords and all the same crap we have. Actually it’s not a bad thing, in fact if writers weren’t real people they’d be way less interesting. There is something of a loss of mysticism though and that makes it harder to really believe that the placement of the cigarette in the mug instead of the ashtray meant something deep and symbolic about how the character felt about themselves and the state of their relationship and you know the economy or puppies or something,  (like your eng lit teacher would tell you) and you start to suspect the writer forgot they had put an ashtray within reach, but remembered the character hadn’t quite finished the coffee (because that happened loads when you were a student). My dear Mrs Chapman (my eng lit teacher) I am truly sorry, but it turns out that the vast majority of the time the curtains are simply blue.

curtainsareblue

This leads me on to the point that intersects neatly with why I love diversity. Everything we read goes through two key filters (putting aside agents, editors, proof readers, etc etc ). The first filter is that unique element of every story, the story teller. If you give a dozen people the same brief you get a dozen different stories (essentially this is how anthologies happen) because everyone has a different experience of life that they bring to their work. The more varied you want your reading experience to be, the more varied your writers should be. If your shelves are full of writer type a you are experiencing fiction through dozens/hundreds of very similar filters. Try something different. I promise it makes it much more interesting.

The second filter then is equally unique. The second filter is the reader. Which is interesting because it means not only do no two people write the same story the same way, but neither do any two people read the same story the same way. Not exactly. We all affect it through our experience the same way the writer affects it with theirs. However as a reader you will only truly experience your own reading, so you must look for your diversity in writers. I know, it’s a drum I keep banging, but that’s because it matters. And I’m right.

This throws up an interesting question. If the writer simply forgot about the ashtray, but the reader takes meaning from stubbing a cigarette out in the mug is the reader wrong? Can the curtains only ever be blue?

found on zazzle

found on zazzle

I’d suggest not. I think its ok to read more into it.  That if the reader finds it speaks to them in a different, deeper way then actually that’s great, they’ve got something they needed or wanted. I have never believed that stories need to have a deeper meaning. I have always held that stories are important for their own sake and the idea that a tale has to have a purpose, a message or moral is a disservice to the importance they play in our lives in the first place. I would never deny anyone the right to find more in a story though. I am quite sure I have.  It’s ok to take whatever you take from a story.

That the writer wasn’t cleverly concealing more meaning in an action or a choice in no way negates that the reader gets that from the story. I don’t generally ask ‘did you mean for your book to have this impact’ because it doesn’t matter. It had the impact whether it was intended or not.

So after all that do I have a point?

I think I do and I think it goes something like this.

The writer will write the story they want to write. That may not be the story the reader reads. That’s ok.

I’d also add, because it can never be said too much in my view, that stories matter because they are stories and really, they don’t need to be anything more.

Things I learned from Cult TV : Brian Baer

Going into the World 

As I grew up, Cult TV provided a precious escape from suburbia. Being trapped in a cul de sac in a small, dull town was somehow more bearable when I could imagine Fox Mulder and Sam Beckett out there having adventures. The more escapist, the better.

Initially, that’s what drew me to Star Trek. The outside world never seemed bigger than when I was watching Kirk, Spock, and McCoy in the 23rd century, overthrowing evil computers and having their three-headed debates about human nature. Their Technicolor sets were often little more than cardboard, but they still hinted at an intergalactic grandeur that inspired me. But I didn’t travel for myself, at least not at first. That didn’t happen until I discovered Doctor Who.

tardis

I was one of many who came onboard after the 2005 relaunch and began devouring every episode, new and old, that I could find. Doctor Who‘s scope of adventure seemed even larger, as I watched those lucky companions travel through both space and time, but it was also somehow more grounded. It was easier to picture myself as part of the action. It was no longer simply watching someone else experience a new place, it was practically an invitation to have my own adventures. It was an invitation I couldn’t refuse.

So I went out into the world. I visited the Torchwood tower in Cardiff and attended a Star Trek exhibition outside of Berlin. I took blind trips, stepping off of a bus in a strange country with no idea what language they spoke, what sort of money they used, to better feel like I’d just beamed down or stepped out of the TARDIS. As great as it was, I began to realize I’d overlooked the underlying point of these programs.

Star Trek was never really about exploring the stars. Doctor Who isn’t about running from Daleks. They’re both about exploring humanity, discovering our strengths and our flaws, and how to be our very best. They promote acceptance and celebrate diversity. That shiny veneer of the future I’ve been drawn to is these shows’ inherent optimism, the belief we could get over what plagues us now.

Cult TV has inspired me to try new things, go to new places, and consider new ideas. It shows us that the future can be a better place, and encourages us to be better people as well.

 

Waxing Lyrical : A little help from my friends

I didn’t expect to do another of these quite so soon however, I have engaged in a few conversations on Twitter this week that demonstrated a couple of things. The first one is that when everyone is polite and behaves like adults its perfectly possible to discuss emotive subjects without descending into trolling madness. Most importantly though, it highlighted that writers who do not fit the mainstream in their genre in terms of race, colour, geography for example, still feel and almost certainly are disenfranchised. I knew this, of course I don’t technically live under a rock, but sometimes you see several things in a single day and it really drives it home.

You all probably know by now my belief that since the only truly unique thing about a book is the person writing it, the more diversity we have in writers the more richness and variety we have in the writing. Still the market is what it is and many writers are unable to get traction or find suitable markets.

I said on twitter yesterday that as a small indie press in the UK it’s hard to gain traction, we are battling massive amounts of white noise on the internet. There is no shortage of good genre fiction so getting noticed is really hard. Part of how we are tackling that here is through the british league of independent presses. BLIP is an informal facebook group. In our case we chose to focus on small press rather than self pub, because there are certain elements of being a press specifically we wanted to be able to discuss with others in the same boat. It’s a private group so we can speak freely and plan to share launches and tables and information etc. A lot of us go to the same sorts of events and we all have limited budgets, working together just makes sense.

together

Here is the description of BLIP
‘BLIP is a group for small presses in the UK to share information, knowledge, resources and generally help each other out.
We are counting podcasts and ‘zines too. You all get stories out there.’

We don’t allow using it for direct selling or bypassing submissions.

(If you want to join please message with your click so we know the group is the right place for you).

As I said on twitter I would always encourage anyone to start something similar in their area or country or applicable to something specific to them, because while there are loads of writers out there, it’s by its nature an isolating thing and working together can benefit everyone. A group of non UK/US writers might between them actually have a good list of friendly US/UK markets for stories for instance. You can’t do everything alone, it’s too hard and too much and for most people doesn’t work. Find support, as the Prof always says a rising tide floats all boats. Together you can help change the tides in your favour.

Aunty Fox and Friends

Aunty Fox and Friends

There are so many incredible writers out there all over the world, but not everywhere has the level of publishing activity that the UK and US have, not everywhere are writing groups common and local, not everywhere has a massive list of events in different genres for industry and fans. Even here such things are often hard to find until you find the first one (we are bad at promoting the literary I find). Grouping together informally via social media can help you discover more connections, more events, more opportunities and it costs you nothing more than a little time.

Aunty Fox guest post on The Asian Writer.

You are probably all familiar with the fuss over the Hugo’s and therefore Worldcon. Well I was fortunate to be invited to comment on diversity in SF and the events scene on The Asian Writer and the article went live today.

You all know that diversity in spec fiction is important to me, I’ve posted on it before, but it would be a real shame if we let the puppy contingent be seen as speaking for our community.

diverse

Aunty Fox on Diversity

The thing in fiction that is unique is the writer. For this reason, if for no other, we need diversity in our writers.

As a publisher I care about stories, the telling of tall tales, the spinning of yarns, the coming together around a fire and sharing urban myths. A good storyteller is the real world Rumpelstiltskin creating gold from straw.Wolf at the Door web

To me the fundamental reason for wanting diversity in genre fiction writers is the uniqueness of every voice. The richness of experience and the alternatives views of the world and events in it that comes from being a different religion, ethnicity or gender.

diverse

I am not saying that, for example, only writers of colour should have protagonists of colour. I think all writers should write the stories and characters they want. Still, as important as it is to have diversity within stories, it is, to me at least, even more important to have diversity behind the story. That is the only way we can truly enjoy the deep, glorious potential of storytelling.

Cover 1 Book 2

Cover 1 Book 2

This is why at Fox Spirit we focus on stories. In our selections we would rather work a little harder with authors for whom English is not a first language and get the great stories. It’s because we love storytelling in all its forms that we organise live reading events for all local writers not just our own (Fox Bites), which in Leicester is a wonderfully multicultural affair.

Fox Spirit is deliberately open when we do submission calls, allowing for interpretations of a theme to encourage people with different voices and ideas to take a chance where they might otherwise be cautious and while we cannot say we are truly diverse we are definitely bucking the trend in gender bias, which is a start.

 

A diverse issue

Moderately often I find myself drawn into discussions about equality, diversity and representation in genre fiction. The thing trotted out generally in defence of the status quo is ‘the focus should be on quality not equality’. To which my question is continually ‘Why are they seen as mutually exclusive?’

The thing that angers me is the idea that quality and diversity/equality/ representation are mutually exclusive. They are not. No one is robbing an editor of the right to select the best stories by asking them to consider approaching a broader range of writers in the first place.  In fact it’s entirely possible that is a good way to get the best stories. It saddens me that I still find myself drawn into these discussions, because it means they are still occurring with alarming regularity. People are still trying to argue that in publishing and on convention panels you can have quality OR equality. Not true, it’s totally possible to have both. This, my friends is a cake we can all have and eat too!

cake

I believe diversity, equality and representation make for a richer experience in fiction (as in life). All those different perspectives, the breadth of experience, the cultural richness of it can only be a good thing for SFF and Horror. I want more Asian mythology, history and religion in my fantasy and urban fantasy reads. These things are less familiar to me and therefore endlessly fascinating to read, but I’d like more (not all) of those books to be by Asian writers because, well they have a different perspective on it than a white British writer for example.

Also as a friend of mine pointed out (you know who you are), it’s all well and good having more gay and bisexual characters in books but if they are all written by straight people nothing has really changed, that isn’t real representation or diversity and it does nothing for gay or bisexual writers. It’s not a bad thing in itself for straight writers to write gay characters, everyone should write the stories, cultures and characters they want. Writing African protagonists should not be restricted to African writers, nor should gay female writers have to write gay female leads, but those characters AND those writers should be part of big picture.

I want diversity in the books I read. I want characters, settings and cultures of all kinds and I want them written by all kinds of people. I want to see an end to whitewashed covers, I want panel parity to not be needed as a ‘thing’ because it’s so normal for women, writers of colour, people who do not identify to a single binary gender or sexual identity and the rest to be on panels. I want the ‘broads with swords’ and ‘women in horror’ panels to vanish because the women who write horror or epic fantasy are talking about it on the other panels.

So this is my stance folks. Diversity in fiction isn’t a good thing, it’s a great thing! An essential thing! A needful thing! Please Embrace it.

*As an important aside, I entirely accept that it is possible to send out invitations for an anth to a good mix of people and still largely get back stories from white men, it happens and it is entirely unfair to hold the editor accountable for then publishing an all or almost all male, white T.O.C. The simple principle on this is the more diverse your invitation list the better the chance is you will get a diverse T.O.C.*

Some interesting sites and articles although this barely scratches the surface of quality discussion on the matter.

Islam in SF

List – Mindblowing SF by Women and Writers of Colour

Article on Feminist Science Fiction

A couple of posts on whitewashing by InsideaDog and Booksmugglers

LONTAR a journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction

Lizzie Barrett on Panel Parity