The Rhetoric of N.K. Jemisin’s Wiscon Guest of Honor Speech

It’s no secret that I’m a huge, giant, slobbery fan of N.K. Jemisin.  I’m such a huge fan that I usually get about two sentences in to describing how much I like everything she does and want more from her before a voice that sounds distressingly like Neil Gaiman pops up in the back of my head and goes, “Now, now.  Nora Jemisin is not your bitch.”  And then I whine at the voice and go, “But she’s so good!  Surely I’m entitled to demand more of the good stuff from her.”  The voice is so very polite, and so endearingly English that I bite my tongue and whoever I was talking to wonders why I started stuttering mid-sentence. This is a thing I share so you can guess at some of what was going on in my brain when I approached her the day after her guest of honor speech to ask whether she’d be okay with me analyzing her speech at the rhetorical level.  It was important to me that I ask since 1) Analyzing the rhetoric could be seen as being dismissive of the very important and worthy content 2) I know enough writers to know they trend toward neurosis and having somebody examine how their sausage is made could in some small way contribute to her writing or arguing less which is the opposite of what I’d want and 3) It’s polite and given that she was right there, was easy to do. Things I learned from asking her if she’d mind: 1) No, she doesn’t mind 2) It’s really hard to communicate coherently when you’re having loud arguments with phantom Neil Gaiman in your brain about where the line between gushing fangirl and creepy-entitled-fan is and 3) She probably actually has no idea that I’m the person who wrote a review of her book that consisted mostly of, “I want to eat her liver.”  I’m pretty sure I’m still going to have to answer for that someday. At any rate, I have her blessing, and the rhetoric in that speech is very cool, so here goes the analysis.  The whole speech is here, and you should go there to read it.  I’m going to quote it here extensively, but it’s better if you go read the whole thing on its own, first.

I’m tempted to just stop there, drop the mic, and walk offstage, point made. Chip’s a hard act to follow.

This is the first moment of rhetorical greatness in the speech.  One, it’s a really evocative image.  She doesn’t have to literally walk of the stage to borrow the impact of doing just that, which nicely lures the audience in.  We’re invested in listening to what she says from this point, because she didn’t just walk away, point made.  She’s taking the time to share more, and we want to hear what it is.  But it’s also very generous to the audience, crediting them with knowing and understanding exactly why should could just stop there and walk off.  It’s a signal that she’s assuming we’re peers.  The subtext is very “Friends, Romans, Countrymen,” in nature.  Given where the speech goes, building this relationship with the audience is critical.

Like Chip said, this stuff has always been here. It’s just more intense, and more violent, now that the bigots feel threatened.

And it is still here. I’ve come to realize just how premature I was in calling for a reconciliation in the SFF genres last year, when I gave my Guest of Honor speech at the 9th Continuum convention in Australia.

There’s a ton going on here.  One, we’re tying the current situation back to the past, while invoking the authority of somebody external.  That gives legitimacy to the points we’re making about the current situation while bolstering the authority of the peopple we’re citing.  Then we follow that bolstering of authority up with a confession of error.  This is really neat because, set up this way, admitting the error becomes a means of reclaiming a position of strength in the rhetorical space.  You’re swapping out the current, weak position for a new one which as of this moment us unknown but untainted and therefore potentially stronger.  This is what many bad apologies try to do, and they fail becuase that’s the wrong place for this technique.  In a badass call-to-arms, however, it’s great, especially since minor admissions of error are humanizing and endearing, making the speech-giver somebody the crowd is more inclined to follow.

During the month or so that it took SFWA to figure out what it wanted to do with this guy, a SFWA officer sat on the formal complaint I’d submitted because she thought I had “sent it in anger” and that I might not be aware of the consequences of sending something like that to the Board.

The whole paragraph is a beautiful bit of summary, letting the audience know context and history in case they don’t with enough commentary that it’s not a straight-up “As you know, Bob.”  That’s important since it would undermine the assumption of peer-ness established early on and risk being patronizing.  It also does a fantastic job of drawing clear lines between the us and them.  I call out this specific sentence from the whole paragraph because it strikes me as the meatiest.  Before this sentence, the facts could be read as ones of the system working: bigot misbehaves, bigot gets punished, why are y’all upset?  This line torpedoes that possible interpretation while also drawing attention to the fact that while she’s not patronizing us, they patronized her rather ferociously.  The ironic tone taken in the whole paragraph gives “sent it in anger” an extra bite.  Of course she sent it in anger – she’s angry, and behavior like this is exactly why.  That extra bit isn’t something an audience is likely to be consciously aware of, but it gives some extra depth and stimulus for them to hang on to and keeps them engaged and listening.

But I suspect every person in this room who isn’t a straight white male has been on the receiving end of something like this — aggressions micro and macro. Concerted campaigns of “you don’t belong here”.

This is straight-up “my problems are your problems, and your problems are my problems.”  Peer-group building.  “Us” reinforcement.  She just co-opted everybody who isn’t a straight white male into her cause.  The “aggressions micor and macro” part is especially critical since it gives permission to everybody who hasn’t received death and rape threats to feel like they belong in that group.  Me, I was doing the, “Er, not really?” until that line.  After that line, well, all the stories I could share are fundamentally boring, but there are plenty.

(Incidentally: Mr. Various Diseases, Mr. Civility, and Misters and Misses Free Speech At All Costs, if you represent the civilization to which I’m supposed to aspire then I am all savage, and damned proud of it. You may collectively kiss my black ass.)

And here, gentlefolk, is the line where I went, “Oh hells yes, am I need to go blog the rhetoric in this speech RIGHT THIS VERy SECOND.”  This line is brilliance laced with crack.

1) It reclaims rhetoric used against her, turns it around, and makes it a bludgeon for counter-attack. Suddenly “half-savage” is so mincing and weak.  It’s a variant on the trick used with the admission of error earlier, but with an added layer of pulling the rung out from under the “them.”  Intead of switching positions from weak to strong, it recharacterizes the position she’s in.

2) You-my constructions reinforce the us-them dynamic she’s building.  Not all speeches need an us-them dynamic, but all calls-to-arms do, and the success of said call depends on how well the lines around us and them are drawn.

3) “Kiss my black ass,” is a cultural cliche.  Everybody, including Hollywood, knows that a mouthy, defiant black American is willing to whip out this particular invitation as needed.  It’s an ethnic middle finger.  Using it here reinforces the power of “all savage.”  It’s an assertion of the ethnic and racial tones, a claiming of ownership over them, and an aggressive declaration that they are, in fact, a strength.  And since she’s drawn her us-them lines very effectively up to here, everybody in the room gets to share in the power of that assertion, whether or not they’re in posession of a black ass to be kissed.

(I don’t even need to name a specific example of this; it’s happened too often, to too many people.)

Nice reinforcement of us-them.  It gives the audience permission to not know exactly what she’s talking about after she’s gone through a long list of things that anybody following closely could tie to this or that specific event.  It’s okay that you aren’t following closely – it’s ubiquitous, we all  know that, we’re a team, let’s move along.

Yeine, the protagonist of THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS, was almost a white man because I listened to some of what these people were saying.

The objective brilliance of this particular line is questionable, but it gut-punched me.  That would have ruined that book, and the thought that it nearly happened fills me with a sort of existential terror that has brain-Gaiman sighing in polite exasperation.  I suspect anybody who loves this book correctly, that is to say the way I love this book, would feel the same way.  Anybody else, this is a wasted line.  But her audience was a convention where she was Guest of Honor – it’s a pretty safe place to make a gamble like this.

For the first time in my life I was diagnosed with high blood pressure earlier this year. It’s back down to normal, now, but bigotry kills, you know.

Our second admission of weakness, a pause in the rising rhetoric of power-claiming.  We’re humanizing again, putting an intimate, tangible face on the violence and consequences of the violence referenced in summary and abstraction so far.  We’re all in this together, we’re all cheering for our speech giver, and look at the sacrifices she’s already made, the personal, specific damage already wrought.  This is critical, because it sets up the need for assistance that justifies the call to arms.

So. If they think we are a threat? Let’s give them a threat. They want to call us savages? Let’s show them exactly what that means.

And from here on we’re in a tumbling, climactic, super-empowering call-to-arms.  There’s no weakness here.  It’s all assertion and instruction. It’s a claim of ability supported by concrete guidelines for how to execute it.  This is where she cashes in on the setup of the earlier speech.  This is where she closes the loops she openened earlier, ties up her loose ends, justifies staying on the stage even though she could have just dropped the mic and walked away.

Fucking fight.

Short, sweet, to the point.  Yes, ma’am.

Minutes from the Anaea Lay Semi-annual Business Meeting

I told people I was going to have a business review meeting where I wore all my different hats and gave performance reviews.  And I mentioned how none of my hats were very happy with my other hats.  There was a request for the minutes.  Here they are.

In Attendance:

Anaea Lay, Business Manager (Real Estate)

Anaea Lay, Realtor

Anaea Lay, Chief Executive Officer

Anaea Lay, Hobby Keeper

ALB: We’ve already completed over 16% more transactions this year over all of last year, with a total revenue so far this year equal to last year’s total gross.  Hiring of additional staff has increased operating expenses but projected increased revenue should more than cover that.  Additionally, we’re trimming marketing expenses that no longer perform sufficiently.

ALCEO: Excellent.  Are there any major revisions to the projections developed at the December meeting?

ALB: No.  At our current rate we’d exceed projections through the end of the year, but we’re expecting a taper in the market beginning in late June and, of course, there will be an extreme taper in October due to the structural overhaul in the business.

ALHK: You’ll all appreciate me more then, won’t you?

ALCEO: Let’s move on to the next item on the agenda – Performance Reviews.

ALR: Good.  I have complaints.

ALCEO: Shut-up.  You’re in trouble.

ALR: I’m in trouble?  It’s not even June yet and I’ve already done more work this year than I did last year. I’m tired. I’m cranky. If things don’t shape up around here, I’m coming after you for running an abusive work environment.

ALB: You have nothing to complain about.  We’ve made significant investments in your hardware and work environment which were not in the budget projections from last year.

ALR: Whose fault is that?  It’s not like we didn’t know a ten inch netbook wouldn’t be reliable forever.

ALB: And you’ve been slack in your basic duties.

ALR: (Pause for stunned, infuriated silence) I’ve been slack?  Were you listening to yourself when you were talking earlier?  I’ve been performing like a champ. I’m a fucking nerdy real estate god. I’m converting leads, closing deals, and satisfying customers phenomenally well, with cat jokes and references to Cthulhu the whole way.

ALB: You haven’t had an open house since March.

ALR: I’ve been busy on Sundays.

ALB: Open houses are a cornerstone of our client prospecting strategy.  Moreover, you like doing them.  You just haven’t.  Since March. We’re in the middle of peak open house season, and you’re not doing them.

ALR: Are you shitting me?  I haven’t been doing them because I’ve been out with clients.  Multiple clients.  Am I the only one who remembers three-client Sunday? Probably, since IT WAS EASTER.  Two of them wrote offers.

ALB: If we don’t prospect for new clients, we’re depending on chance and Zillow for new clients.  We do not have enough clients in play to meet our optimistic projections, so prospecting is essential if we’re going to survive the infrastructure transition.  And open houses are only part of it.  You’ve dropped your Craigslist postings, too.

ALHK: About the transition, I have pertinent information.

AL CEO, B, and R: Shut-up.

ALR: You know, I’m not the only one you have on staff.  Maybe you should work on those delegating skills you claim you have and give that “additional staff,” something to do.

ALB: I suppose that’s a fair suggestion.

ALR: And while you’re at it, maybe some time off, ever.  I’m a little burned on this 24/7 thing.  We’re not really in start-up mode anymore, so I think it’s time we stopped treating me like slave labor.

ALB: You are constantly asking for time off.  You are one constant stream of, “Oooh, I’m going to take Wednesday afternoon off.  Hey, I’m taking Friday off to read.  Yeah, Sunday’s getting spent cooking and doing yard work!”

ALR: Do any of those things actually happen?

ALB: …

ALCEO: I think what B is trying to say is that you whine a lot.  We’re tired of hearing you whine.

ALR: I’m not whining.  I want more than a day off a month.

ALCEO: It says here you took a whole week off in April.

ALB: You did.  We had to hire staff to cover that.

ALR: That was a week away, not off.  I navigated a bunk appraisal, mentored the new staff, and taught a buyer’s agent how the financing and appraisal contingencies work on the paperwork that got updated four years ago.

ALB: She’s whining again.

ALHK: Can I speak now?  I really think you guys should let me speak.

ALB: What do you even do?

ALHK: I take care of all the things we do that aren’t day job things but involve money.  Remember, you gave me a mandate that all hobbies had to start paying for themselves or get axed.

ALCEO: Oh yeah.  How’s that going?

ALHK: Pretty well, actually.  We’re officially getting paid to read. This is supplementing the vice-fund when writing income doesn’t keep up with our non-grocery food and beverage consumption.

ALB: Still no chance of kicking the bubble tea habit?


ALB: Just asking…jeez

ALHK: Also, the voice acting has started to pay.

ALB: Speaking of hardware investment, we just spent significantly more in recording equipment than we’ve seen in voice acting income.

ALHK: The difference can come out of the vice-fund.  It has a surplus.  And the equipment upgrade will make it easier to get more paid work.  In fact, we’ve had a few feelers coming in that indicate the voice work might be able to contribute to the expenses of the impending infrastructure overhaul.

ALB: Say what?

ALHK: It’s nothing solid, but we might get a thing over the summer which would cover a significant portion of the expenses associated with that.

ALCEO: That’s fantastic!  Why didn’t you say something earlier?

ALHK: Excuse me?

ALR: They’re fucks, aren’t they?

ALCEO: You’re the one in charge of making money off strangers, and the one with the filthy mouth?  I don’t think we did this personality division optimally.

ALR: I went into the office three times this week. You’d have a filthy fucking mouth, too.

ALCEO: Are there any agenda items left?

ALB: No.

ALR: Yes there are.  We haven’t actually fixed my time off problem.

ALB: Yes we did.  We’re relocating your problematic performance areas to the new staff’s job duties and you’ll quit whining.

ALR: The only thing that actually changes is that I stop asking for things to improve.

ALB: So?  If you wanted to escape sadistic management, self-employment was not the way to go.  Have you met you?

ALR: We’re blaming the victim now?

ALCEO: That is a thing we do.

ALHK: I think she should get more time off, too.  I’m kinda suffocating on just her dregs over here.  I get that I’m just the vice-fund, but let’s face it, we’re made of vices.  I’m important.  Also, wear her out enough and she’ll start solving problems with homicide, and that’s really expensive.

ALB: True.  We don’t have enough flexibility in our budget, even if we meet the optimistic projections, to afford homicide.

ALCEO: It’s three-to-one now?

Nods from all the hats

ALCEO: Fine.  You can flag three days a week for potential days off.  Schedule showings accordingly.  Real estate work that takes less than an hour does not invalidate its status as a day off, though.  Aim for one day, or three half days, off per week.  Fair?

ALR: Behavior like this is why we’re afraid of labor uprisings.

ALHK: Oh come on.  You wouldn’t know what to do with yourself if you regularly had a proper weekend.

ALR: I could learn.

Glares from all hats.

ALR: I’ll take it.  It just isn’t fair. (Muttering) My boss sucks.

ALCEO: Okay then.  This meeting is adjourned.  We’ll reconvene in late August to plan the structural overhaul.

My WisCon Schedule

It’s WisCon this weekend, and I’m trying super, super hard to take the whole weekend off form work and actually be at WisCon.  I’m even on programming for once, so you know I’m serious.  (I also am planning to make sure I get my bubble tea fix ahead of time so that, unlike last year, I don’t have “Tapoica tapoica tapioca, NEED TAPIOCA,” as my constant subtext)

Here’s my schedule:


Tiptree Bakesale – 12:45 – 2:15.  Come buy baked goods for a good cause.  I’ll sell them to you!


With Jetpacks to the Dragon’s Lair 2:30-3:45 – a reading featuring Alisa Alering, Anaea Lay, Sarah Frost, Vylar Kaftan, and Keffy R. M. Kehrli.  Speaking of baked goods, there will be some.  I will be breaking from typical form and reading something I’ve planned ahead, instead of making the audience choose their own fate.  There are reasons for this, but they’re boring, so I’ll let you make up your own explanation.

Towards a Female Gaze 4-5:15 – How can media move from the default hetero male perspective to another way of seeing? What intermediate steps can help the audience learn to see differently? Moderator: Jim Hudson. Email fellow participants Jim Hudson, Anaea Lay, Jessica Plummer, Margaret Swaney, Aileen

I plan to bounce enthusiastically while talking about how sexy Arrow is and oversharing about how much fun it is to sit in the Archives-Navy Memorial D.C. metro stop and cat-call the sailors in uniform. You cannot bear to miss this.

Book Signings and AMAs, Oh My!

For any of you who just don’t hang out with me enough, or hear my dulcet tones reading enough fiction, or have a burning need to ask me questions in a public forum, you’ve got some opportunities to get those needs fulfilled coming up.

First of all, I’ll be doing a reading/signing thing at A Room of One’s Own here in Madison on May 8, at 6pm.  You should come hang out.  It’s entirely possible I’ll bring something of a food-like nature to bribe people into liking me.  It’s extremely likely that I will at some point get confused and forget my name.

I’ll also be part of a big AMA on Reddit on May 13.  You should check that out, especially since it’s a Tuesday.  Nothing ever goes hilariously wrong on Tuesdays!  Wait…

No baked goods at the AMA.  I wouldn’t want to clog up the tubes that power the internet with crumbs.

The Hands Down Best Part of Writers of the Future

There are two sides to the “of the Future” contest, the Writers and the Illustrators.  Before going out for the workshop I’d paid exactly 0 attention to the Illustrators side.  I know a bunch of artists, have massive appreciation for visual arts, but don’t actually know all that much about how that side of the industry works.  Then I got there and there were twelve artists and this whole other parallel thing going on and I was immediately fascinated.  I knew, intellectually, that one of the artists had done an illustration of my story, but I hadn’t really put any thought into it.  I’ve had stories illustrated before (the artwork Waylines has paired with A Long Fuse to A Slow Detonation is nice) and there were about hundred thousand other things that were taking up my brain space.

Then they did the reveal on Thursday.

This was both the simplest moment of spectacle Author Services aka ASI (the people who run the contest) arranged and, for me, the most effective.  They put framed prints of all of the artwork up in a semi circle, then sent the authors off to go find their piece.  I started at the left side of the circle and worked my way around methodically, determined to not embarrass or shame my artist by picking the wrong piece or failing to recognize mine.  Thirteen pieces of artwork.

Did I mention that the artists, as a whole, are much younger than the writers?  They are.  The why of that was one of the things I spent the week trying to figure out while digging into how the other side of the contest works.

I got to piece four or five and there was a world inside a bubble.  My story is set in a bubble universe.  It could have been mine, if the artist didn’t read the story very carefully.  It was a lovely piece, but the atmosphere was wrong, and the details didn’t have much to do with anything.  Probably not mine, move along.

When I say young, I mean that the night the artists arrived, a group of us writers pounced on them by the hotel pool.  Everybody was enthusiastic and friendly, but some of the artists seemed a little nervous and shy.  It felt a little like we’d loudly barged into freshman orientation – they were happy to have us there, but we didn’t fit and they weren’t sure what to do with us.

Piece eight had somebody on a bicycle leaving town.  My story has somebody who leaves town on a journey.  It’s possible that could be a badly rendered scene from my story.  Maybe?  I’m getting low on artwork.  Was it the one with the bubble after all?

Unlike the writers, the illustrator winners each quarter don’t get ranked.  They just have three winners per quarter, and all twelve winners go against each other for the grand prize.  Winning one of the illustrator quarters is basically just winning entry into the real competition, which is who does the best illustration for their story.  The artists get their assigned story, then have to deliver three thumbnail ideas.  One of those ideas gets greenlit, and they do the full workup of that one.

I get to artwork piece number eleven.  Nope, not mine.  And I’m getting worried.  Did I mention that the artists are adorable and I’d really rather not dash somebody’s dreams and ambitions?  Obviously one of the pieces I picked out as maybes were mine, and I’ll have to study the remaining two pieces as carefully as I have everything else so far, then beeline to one of them and claim I knew it the whole time, but wanted to take in all the artwork before announcing my discovery.  Which one, though?  Also, oh god, I am going to have to lie through my teeth about loving it and it being awesome and my tact wells are, at that point, completely drained.  But no way am I going to be the snotty writer who crushed the poor illustrator by huffily not appreciating the work that went into making a visual rendering of their vision so I just have to guess the right one and summon the resources I don’t have…


Then I see piece number twelve.  Glance a thirteen.  Look at twelve.  Glance at eleven.  Nope, twelve is still there.  Not going anywhere.  Not a hallucination.  Not a cruel prank designed to guarantee I make an ass of myself.  It’s really there.


“Uhm,” I say, looking around the room at the other people mistakenly milling around at other pieces when they clearly ought to be drooling right here, “If this isn’t the artwork for my story, I have a serious beef with the author of whatever story it is.”

Understatement of the year.

“Hi.  I’m Bernardo.  Do you like it?”

Bernardo is eighteen.  He was seventeen when he won.  He’s still in high school.  He is the best artist on the planet.

He was also adorably nervous about whether I’d like it.  The prints weren’t true to the digital colors and this bothered him so much he pulled out his tablet to show me what the colors should look like.  “I don’t know why they assigned me your story.  I’ve never done anything like that before,” Bernardo said.

It doesn’t show. I was obnoxiously enthusiastic about my art, and Bernardo, for the whole rest of everything.  I’m not sorry.  I’m still obnoxiously enthusiastic.  The print of the artwork is getting shipped to me and I am not being particularly patient as I wait for it. Want. The pretty. Now.

Bernardo has put up with my undignified gushing remarkably well given that I’ve got a decade of “Knows how to behave better,” on him.  I may have interrupted a dinner conversation to give him my card and demand that he send me everything ever immediately.  It’s possible he’s afraid I’d fly to Portugal and hunt him down if he didn’t comply.  If so, he’s perceptive as well as talented.


But how could you not be enthusiastic?  He made a clay model for reference.  And he sent me his sketch sheet where he was working through ideas, just like the neat extras you get at the back of comic book collections sometimes, except this is about my story.


And the thumbnails that didn’t get selected as the piece for him to finish were full of good ideas.


I was in fantastically good hands with Bernardo, and had no idea until the reveal.That smile is fantastic, and a great detail for him to have picked up from the story to highlight.


What I really like is that so much of the this story was about the aesthetic, the atmosphere, and he captured it throughout.  He got it.  This is awesome, because I totally am the writer who’d look at the art, pout, and then whine about how they didn’t get it. Hopefully, not where the artist can hear me do it, but yeah.  That was the day where I got to melt with genuine squee instead of pretending to.

Somebody give Bernardo a job.  He’s about to graduate from high school and I don’t want him to do something sensible like go into banking.

Review: Under the Skin

I saw this over the weekend, knowing nothing before walking in other than that it had Scarlett Johansen and wasn’t the one of her with the trailer in front of Captain America.  (Man did that movie look good until they explained the premise).  So when it opened with an extended sequence of staring into a light that slowly morphed into an eye I started surprised, then immediately adjusted to “Oh, I’m in an art movie,” mode.  Thanks gratuitous and heavy-handed light-eye imagery!

If you’re looking for a successful attack on traditional story telling technique in film, or a movie carried almost entirely by its images and performances, this is your thing.  It was very well done, and I’m very inclined to pick up the book it was based on, if only to see how that story got told in prose.  (I still haven’t looked up anything about the movie, so all I know about the alleged premise is what the people I went with explained over dinner after)

I spent a good while after the movie pondering it, and did a lot of listening to the six other people I saw it with talk about it – what they liked, what they didn’t like – and by the time I’d polished off the delightful walnut-gorgonzola-cranberry salad concoction I had for dinner, I’d come to a very solid conclusion: It was a really well done movie I did not like at all.

The brilliance of the movie is that it’s very easy to construct a narrative of what happened, and seven people who all saw it can then proceed to argue about what the actual narrative was without any of them being conclusively wrong or right.  I love successful narratives that require their audiences to do some of the heavy lifting.  But what isn’t debatable about what happened are the following: (I’m about to spoiler nearly everything that can be spoilered about the movie)

1) Scarlett Johanson’s character starts of as a non-human, gender-role swapped predator, driving around and picking men without family or connections who are out walking alone at night

2) This ends badly for the men

3) She decides to stop doing the predator thing after encountering a deformed man who is the opposite of the skeevy guys she’s been encountering all film.

4) Experiments with being “normal” or “more human” lead her to spend some time with a genuinely nice guy, but all fail and lead to her freaking out and running away.

5) A lumberjack tries to rape her, realizes she’s not human, then sets her on fire.

6) The end.


It’s possible I’ve never said this before, but I am completely dissatisfied with that unhappy ending.  At the metaphorical/thematic level, it’s asserting that we (maybe just women, maybe everybody) have a choice between being a predator, or being raped and set on fire, a proposition I could spend a great many words taking issue with. At the more concrete, literal level, it seems to be claiming that a creature capable of single-handedly luring men to their demise with phenomenal consistency can’t handle a randy lumberjack and just gets abused and burned alive? The only other woman in the entire movie drowns while trying to rescue her dog, so if it’s trying to present the thematic content as something to then discuss and criticize, the discussion and criticism is completely absent.

I mean, I’m all for setting people on fire as a means of problem solving, especially plot problems, and cinders are a great end point for character development. But this movie didn’t earn it.

My WotF Acceptance Speech

I’ve got this weird quirk where I write my speeches after I give them.  That doesn’t mean I get to a podium and give a speech completely from scratch – I’ll have put a ton of thought into it before I get there – but I don’t write anything down first.  What I want to say, how I want to say it, maybe a couple clever phrases, all that I’ll work out first, but in my brain.  The first two lines I generally know.  From there, it’s all about how the audience is reacting.  If they’re dead, I’ll shut up and get the hell off stage.  If they’re enjoying it, I could keep going forever.  What can I say? I’m a pantser.

Anyway, I had to give an acceptance speech at the Writers of the Future gala last Sunday.  I think I did a good job.  I may have accidentally set myself up as an inspiration to children?  If so, woops.  You probably don’t want me inspiring your kids, folks, but that doesn’t mean I won’t if you ask me to.  It’s probably a good idea to read what somebody writes before asking them to share wisdom with your twelve-year-old, though.

So here’s my speech, as written by me, after I’ve given it.  This isn’t a transcription.  I’m writing it down from memory.  If you want to know what I actually said, you can watch it as part of the stream of the whole ceremony here.  It starts around the 2 hour, 1 minute mark.

I don’t think anybody at the contest knows this because I’m a bad person and never told them, but my very first story submission ever was to Writer’s of the Future.  I was sixteen, I’d been at this writing thing for about twelve years, and I more or less had it all figured out.  The plan was to enter the contest, be the youngest winner ever, and go from there.


I’m now twenty-eight.


That’s the beginning of my story for how I got here.  I don’t know the end yet, and I’m not going to speculate on what it will be unless you’re paying at least $.05 per word.  But I know what this chapter looks like.


This year is going to be a big year of transition for me.  A lot of the things leading up to this contest has been what I needed to figure out my priorities and know what I needed to do to get what I need to be happy.  I’m grateful for that.


In the time since the contest overlooked my teenaged brilliance, I’ve learned a lot.  I’ve learned what this contest means to other writers who are starting out.  There are people who write four stories a year, one for each quarter of the contest.  This contest gives them their identity as writers, gives them the external deadlines they need in order to finish their stories and learn by doing that.


That’s what makes it so touching to see so many people who work very hard for this contest, making sure it lives up to the dreams of those new writers.  To each of the people who spend their time and effort to make sure the writers and illustrators at this event get what they need, are supported and nurtured, thank you.


To my sister back in Virginia with the rest of my family, who went to bed before we started instead of watching…I could have said something nice about you now.


To Luc Reid and everybody at the Codex writer’s forum, without which I wouldn’t have written this particular story, thank you for being awesome.*


And last but not least, my best friend Karl, who’s been here with me this week, thank you.  I would not have made it here this week if you hadn’t been keeping me sane during the insanity that led up to it.  Seriously, thank you.**


Thank you all.

*I did not say this during the speech.  I was supposed to.  I’m really sorry I missed it, and putting it in this version as a small way of correcting a big error.

**I have some major espirit d’escalier on this point – there was a much cleverer way for me to have done this, but this particular point didn’t occur to me until I needed to end the speech, and then it was obvious. There’s a price to pantsing, and it’s asterisks when you write it later.

Your Cities to be Reprinted in Fantasyscroll

Hey, hey, guess what!  My little story about cities rescuing us all from the horrors of suburban life has sold for the third time.  Fantasy Scroll is going to reprint it in either their second or third issue.  They’ve paid me already, so it must be real.

I’m rather delighted by this since I spent a little time in the story take extra care to take shots at L.A.  And I’m about to spend a week in L.A.  I haven’t been back to southern California since before the first time Your Cities was published, so any and all wildfires or earthquakes that come for me shall be taken as evidence that I have caused offense.  Lack of natural disaster will be taken as evidence that I was right, and L.A. isn’t a real place.

That’s how reality works, right?

An Open Letter to the Parasite in my Sister’s Uterus

Dear Erasmus,

That’s your name for now, because I’ve asserted my Aunt’s Privilege to name you while you’re a fetus.  Don’t ask where it came from – the joke was barely funny in the moment and wore thin the first time I repeated it.  Just know that before you made the transition from parasitic cell bundle to squalling bag of vomit and shit, you were Erasmus because I said so.

“Because I said so,” is probably a phrase you’re going to hear a lot.  Your mother and I were raised with that line, so it’s probably permanently imprinted on her brain.  It’s a terrible justification; patronizing, dismissive, and unhelpful.  By the time you’re an adult, those four words are probably going to have driven you pretty thoroughly nuts.  You’re right, and your mom knows it.  If it helps, what your mom really means when she says it is, “I love you, but I don’t have time or energy to get into this now, so let’s move on.  Someday we can sit down to discuss it, even if that day is ten years from now when you keep me up past my bedtime because we’re hanging out and enjoying being adults together.”

I’m pretty confident, here in 2014, that you will get to the point where you enjoy being an adult with your parents.  Right now, they’re both cool, interesting people who have their acts together in an impressive fashion and have made a lot of good decisions in preparation for when you’d come along to ruin their lives.  Parenthood is probably going to make it harder for them to be cool and interesting – you’re about to take away all their free time and spare energy – but they’ll come through.  Keep that in mind when you’re dealing with their latest incarnation of irrational injustice.  They were cool once.  Someday, they’ll be cool for you, too.

Once you’re born you’re going to get fed a steady diet of saccharine nonsense about blood being thicker than water, the power of unconditional love from parents, how children transform the adults in charge of them etc. etc. ad nauseum.  Most of it’s not true.  We tell lies to protect the future of our species, and we’re a successful species because we’re really good at telling lies.  Right now, your mom is tired all the time, distressed to realize that having boobs does change your physical presence in the world, and miserable at the smell of cooking garlic.  These aren’t good things.  This isn’t love.

She’ll get there, though, not because her hormones are going to cook her brain until she doesn’t know better, but because she wants to.  You’re going to find as you grow up that love is a stupid, malicious, dangerous thing.  Wanting to have it for somebody already has you pretty far down the road toward being infected with it.  I think that makes it mean more than the tripe they’ll feed you in kids’ movies and books – your mom loving you isn’t an accident of nature, but a disease she deliberately contracted for you.

I don’t love you yet, either.  I’m not even sure I like you.  I want to, I’m hoping to, but you’re stealing my baby sister from me in a way that me moving and her getting married never managed.  People relocate, marriages fail, but despite my steady campaign for legalized infanticide, you can’t un-have a kid.  You’re going to be the blood relative with the top priority.  Your potential siblings are going to cram into the #1 spot there with you, bumping me back just a bit further.  I’m not jealous – that’s not the sort of thing that triggers jealousy in me – but I am sad about it.

You’ll probably understand; your mom is at the top of a very short list of people who are my favorite people in all of the world for all time, and I’m not finished with her yet.  I still want to be able to plan trips together to places neither of us have ever been.  I want her to be able to drop everything and come see me for a few days so I can take her around to eat eight different kinds of macaroni and cheese when we aren’t plopped on the couch watching obscene amounts of television together.  I want to keep swapping recipes for ever more elaborate desserts.  I want to find the hundreds of other things we’d wind up doing together if she weren’t about to make raising you her primary time-suck.

And I worry about her a bit.  She used to play saxophone, and she was phenomenally good at it.  Your parents have definitely bonded over shared marching band experience, but jazz was where your mom belonged.  She did absolutely gorgeous art, too.  It’s not your fault these things dropped away – she fell out of them in college so I can’t even really blame your dad for it – and I don’t think your mom feels like she’s missing something without them.  But I notice them missing, and I worry a bit that someday she will, too.  Or that the important things in her life now will fall away when she takes on her new life with you.  I worry about your mom way, way more than I need to, but I love her and she’s far away so that’s what happens.

I hate children.  I’m going to be the aunt who makes everybody a little uncomfortable because she forgets that not everybody thinks it’s appropriate to joke about confusing the turkey and the baby at Thanksgiving.  And your dad is already terrified of the corruption and damaging influence I’m going to rain down on you.  (So far, he’s being a champ about it.)  Don’t take it personally; it’s childhood, not you personally, that I can’t stand.  Being a kid is awful.  It’s all about being ignorant and helpless and being expected to be grateful to the people around you just because you happen to be ignorant and helpless near them and they haven’t smothered you yet.  But when adults complain about being adults, usually what prompted it is that they’ve come up against ignorance and helplessness again when they’d expected to leave that behind with childhood.  The biggest difference between kids and grownups is their capacity to deal with that.

I can’t change the choices your mom made that put her where she is now.  I wouldn’t if I could, because she’s made the choices she needed to make for her to be happy.  And that means you.  For at least the next eleven years, you’re going to be a child.  But I love your mom, and having you is going to make her happy which means that whatever I’m losing out on, whatever downsides there are, you’re important to me.  That’s not love, not yet.  It’s a start, though.  I didn’t like your mom for the first few years, either, and now look at where we are.

It is my sincere intention to be the coolest, most awesome Aunt in the history of big sisters.  I’m going to spoil you so rotten you won’t have a choice but to like me, and I’m going to try being the kind of adult in your life you’ll go to when you’ve got awkward questions about life you don’t want to talk about with your mom and dad.  I am probably going to screw this up.  I’ll be too far away to be properly involved.  I’ll be condescending or patronizing or obviously uninterested.  I’ll wind up doing one of the thousands of obnoxious things adults do to kids because they aren’t real people and you’ll be clever enough to remember I did it and hold it against me when I get better.  I’m sorry.  I hope apologizing in advance makes it better.  I really hope you’ll be enough of a smart ass to tell me off for it, cleverly, so I can shut my fat mouth and do better.

Mostly, I hope we like each other.  I hope the little pieces of your mom that I’m losing are just an investment in getting another person to put on my short list of people who are my favorite people in all the world forever.  I hope I’m the kind of aunt who you care about enough that being on that list means something to you.

And I hope you’ll smother me in my sleep with a pillow if I ever feed you a saccharine platitude about love, family, or growing up.

With fond expectations,


Women Destroy Science Fiction

I already mentioned this once, but I think it merits a second mention.  The Kickstarter for Women Destroy SF is in its final legs.  There are five days left, and they’re close enough to hitting their final stretch goal that there’s a decent chance of reaching it.  I’d like to see Fantasy destroyed, so I’m going to urge you to take a look at their shiny reward tiers and pick one.

In case you aren’t convinced that I’m sincere, I gave them an essay.  That’s right – they got writing for free from me.  You do know how I feel about giving away work, don’t you?  Yeah, I’m serious about this being a cool project.  The other essays they’ve put up have been interesting, too.