Once & Future

Charlotte Ashley – Book seller, collector, writer, editor, historian

February 8, 2016

Apologies to Clockwork Canada

I’m here to fess up. I have been a tremendously terrible person.

Last month, I went to a launch of Exile Editions’ latest anthology, Playground of Lost Toys (ed. Colleen Anderson & Ursula Pflug.) I didn’t really want to go. Lost Toys? I imagined an anthology of creepy dolly stories. And who were those editors, anyway? I went to the launch because I had friends in the anthology – sorry guys – that’s it.

I should have known better.

I’ve been familiar with Exile as a Canadian publisher for years, but up until a few years ago, I’d thought of them as a literary small press. They published Morley Callaghan and George Elliott Clarke; Leon Rooke and Daniel David Moses. Good ‘ol Canadian Literature. Not, frankly, my hat, but stuff we dutifully stocked at the store.

Then, out of nowhere, they published Dead North, an anthology of Canadian zombie stories. I thought this was super-weird, coming from Exile, but the cover art was so good that I overcame my boredom with zombies and bought it. I was pleasantly surprised: Dead North was a solid mix of literary and speculative fiction, zombie stories that did more work than just being gory thrill-rides. Then came Fractured, stories of the Canadian post-apocalypse. Another subject I thought had been done to death, but Dead North was good enough that I opted to give the creative team a chance. Fractured was another very solid book, managing to present original, literary work despite the well-trod path it started on.

Then came Playground, and, like I said, I thought the subject was silly. Despite loving the previous two anthologies, I let my prejudice rule my head. Toys are dumb! It’s probably all going to be horror, anyway. The publisher obviously doesn’t know anything about speculative fiction! Rawr, I am a jerk!

Well, the launch was amazing, for starters. Six readers, great stories, and one impromptu Bowie serenade. The food was good, there was beer, and my friends were there. I bought the book to be generous, but I read through it in two days. Fully half the stories made me laugh out loud, and I am a tough customer. The book was great. It looked so stupid (again, sorry) but it was great.

I learned my lesson, right? Ha ha! Ha! Ha.

About a year ago, Exile put out a call for their next anthology: Clockwork Canada. Yep, Steampunk. And – you’d think I would know better by now – I rolled my eyes. Like, Steampunk, guys. Doesn’t Exile know this has been done to death? I know, I am the worst. Not a generous bone in my body. Only after I spoke with the editor, Dominik Parisien, did I even consider submitting, because he assured me they were looking for “Canadian alternative history of all kinds,” not just your usual airship stories. Yah, after four amazing anthologies, I still needed a tête-à-tête with the editor to convince me to even think about it.

Oh my God, am I ever glad I did. Dominik bought my offering, “La Clochemar” (no doubt because he had no idea what an asshole I had been about the whole Exile project,) and Exile managed to get us this ridiculously beautiful cover (right.) I am alongside some absolutely brilliant writers inside – writers who were probably far less diva about the whole thing than I was. All in all, the book seems set up to be another brilliant addition to what has been a brilliant series of speculative/lit short story anthologies. I… well, I am very excited.

Exile, Dominik – I am so, so sorry. You’ve never let me down! And look, people – here’s my pitch: we won’t let you down either. This is gonna be great.

You can pre-order Clockwork Canada now! It’s slated for release in early May 2016. Available from:

Exile Editions

Amazon.ca

Amazon.com

Chapters-Indigo

You can also drop us a note at our Goodreads page.

(Sorry!)

January 4, 2016

2015 By the Numbers

I do enjoy statistics. I like to look at my accomplishments as sheer numbers, compare them year to year. Find the way of spinning them that makes me look best. 2015 was a rotten year personally, but maybe it wasn’t so bad from a writerly point of view?

In 2015, I submitted 10 stories 30 times. I sold 6 of these 10 stories, trunked 2, and continue to submit another 2. In 2014, I submitted roughly the same number of stories 76 times and only sold 4, so this is a distinct improvement.

In 2015, I read 14 novels. Much better than 2014’s “fewer than 10!” I also read scores of short stories, anthologies, and some Hesiod – the Theogony. A dozen of the novels I read this year were by women, half of those were women of colour. The other two novels were Jeff VanderMeer. My favourite book of the year was probably Hillary St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, though Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy, Snow, Bird came close (the problematic ending ruined it,) as did Jo Walton’s Among Others (a wonderful, cozy book!) I’m starting 2016 mired in Herodotus’s Histories, though, so I don’t expect nearly so good a show of 2016.

In 2015, I attended my first two conventions as a panelist (Ad Astra & SFContario) and did my first “author reading” at the former. I published reviews at Apex Magazine, Publisher’s Weekly, and the Quill & Quire. I ran the Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest once again. I was invited to submit to my first two (!) anthologies. I did a SFSignal Mind Meld, was on io9, and went out to more book launches & SpecFic talks than I have ever been to before in my life, ever, total. I did a whole bunch of interviews and was even File 770‘ed, which was cool. I got around.

In 2015, I wrote 40,000 words of new fiction and another 17,000 words of non-fiction. I completed 3 new short stories and made significant headway on another two. This despite nearly three full months without writing a word. I’ll take it. It will do.

In 2015, I slowed down, but I did not stop. I like statistics because they give me something concrete to look at. My feeling will always be that I did nothing or, at least, not enough. But looking at the numbers, I feel better. If 2016 is at least this successful, I will be satisfied.

May 2016 be even better.

 

December 31, 2015

Emergence & Depression: An Interview with Charlotte Ashley

Let’s get the statistics out of the way! 2015 was a solid year for you. What did you publish, and what have you got ahead of you?

Thanks! Yes, 2015 was weirdly consistent from a publishing point of view. I published five short stories – ‘The Will of Parliament’,  The Sockdolager, Winter 2015, ‘Eleusinian Myseries’, Luna Station Quarterly #23, September 2015, ‘The Posthuman Condition’, Kaleidotrope Summer 2015, ‘Sigrid Under the Mountain’,  The Sockdolager Summer 2015, and ‘La Héron, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction‘ March/April 2015. I also sold two more, forthcoming in 2016: ‘More Heat than Light’ to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and ‘La Clochemar’ to an anthology, Clockwork Canada.

You were busy!

That’s the weird part: I wasn’t. I actually had a horrifying personal year and spent a lot of time depressed, in shock, and unable to work. My relationship was on the rocks, I lost my daycare subsidy and had to pull my kids out, was forced to drop to working part time, found a strange lump on my daughter’s neck, lost editorial work, learned way more than I wanted to about the mental healthcare system, the children’s aid society, and substance abuse; and got poison ivy – in my eye. Everything is a lot better now, but for a while there it was everything I could do to just get out of bed, feed my kids & show up to work. Write? Submit? Ha!

And yet, I sold more stories than I ever have before. And I sold them more quickly and easily, to better venues, than ever before.

Your craft must be improving!

Well, maybe. All of my “pro” sales were new stories – written in late 2014 or early 2015. Maybe these were better than the stories I wrote in 2013 and 2014. But most of them – including the stories I am most in love with and most proud of – are old. They’d been submitted 10-20 times. I’d trunked some of them, sure they’d never sell. And yet.

Blind luck?

Maybe. Swing enough times and, statistically, you’ll hit, right?

But something was different this year. The same stories that were form-rejected in 2013 mysteriously bypassed the slush pile and landed me sweet, thoughtful personal rejections from the top editors in the field in 2015. I had one story go from submission to published inside of a month.

And the best part? 4/5 stories I published this year were the “featured” stories from the issues they appeared in. My work was singled out by editors, reviewers, and readers. 2014 was the year of feeling lucky, or maybe like someone had made a mistake. In 2015, I started to hope I deserved the attention I was getting.

I think I see where you are going with this.

In Toronto, we have an arts grant that is earmarked for “emerging” writers. I used to think that was an odd designation – emerging. Because you had to have several professional sales in order to qualify as “emerging.” I thought of “emerging” as being a butterfly half-cracked out of its cocoon, or a baby that’s crowned but not delivered. Emerging. Not yet emerged. All writers are emerging. Surely a writer with pro credits has emerged?

I see now that “emerging” means something else. It’s a designator of momentum. It means “on the rise.” It has nothing to do with how much you have or haven’t written. It isn’t even an indicator of talent or success. It’s a muddier thing, a sort of metacultural sense that, at some point, you will break through. It draws the eye. Arts organizations like to invest in it. Publishers want to get in on it. Other people want to be associated with it, in the hopes it will drag them along in its wake.

That sounds powerful. So, you think you are “emerging”?

Well, not necessarily. I don’t think it’s the sort of thing that is or isn’t, but I could see it this year. I was close enough to glimpse it and feel its effects on my career.

Do you think you will continue to “emerge” in 2016? 

I hope so. Traditionally, I am pretty strategic in my approach to – well, anything. I’ll capitalize on anything I can get hold of and leverage. Traditionally.

But I tell you what throws a wrench in that kind of ambition: depression. In my case, ambition is powered by a combination of hubris, manic energy, and a reckless love of new experiences. Depression is like descending to the bottom of the Marianas Trench. Everything is dark, oppressive, and heavy. You try to work yourself up, but it’s like wading through shoulder-deep mud. Nothing moves fast enough. Nothing sparkles. You get tired and need to lie down.

People talk about self-care, about just burying yourself in blankets, drinking tea, and binge-watching Outlander. But some days I feel like there’s a shooting star passing right over my head, and if I got out my net, I could hook it and ride it to somewhere amazing. But I’m mired in sludge, my limbs are too heavy, and I won’t get unstuck in time to catch it…

You’re starting to make me uncomfortable.

Ha! Sorry. But let’s face it: this is a conflict a lot of creative people feel. Madness and art has gone hand in hand for millennia, and I don’t know many creative people who don’t also struggle with one form or another of mental illness. A lot of us feel like our neurodifferences are what give us that creative spark and treating it can be scary. But the lows can be equally devastating. And all the while, the creative markets want the wildest, maddest parts of us. Those years when we are at our worst might produce some of our best work.

Where are you at right now? Producing your best work at your worst, or taking care of yourself?

I’m hoping to prove to myself that it doesn’t have to be either/or. I’m doing a lot better now. I’ve finished two new stories for submission and just started a new La Héron story that I love already. I feel like the act of just settling into a good story, not worrying about whether it will be publishable or “what people want”, is self-care in and of itself. One of my new stories is 100% catharsis – and I love it. Wouldn’t it be great if my best work was the stuff that makes me feel better?

Your work has never struck me as being very touchy-feely.

No, no, it isn’t. What makes me feel better isn’t tea and blankets – it’s kicking my problems in the face. There is a lot of ass-kicking in my catharsis.

Phew.

I know, right?

Do you have any resolutions for 2016? Where do you expect to be on January 1st, 2017?

I think my resolutions are probably going to be the same as they were for 2015 – only maybe I will succeed this time. Write more, read more, focus.

And January 1st, 2017? I expect to be here, doing exactly this. Though, maybe with a lottery win or an awards nod under my belt. How about it, life? *wiggles eyebrows* Come at me, 2016.

Charlotte Ashley is a writer, editor, and bookseller in Toronto, Canada. When she isn’t interviewing herself or engaging in her three professions, she is managing the affairs of her two genius daughters, training at parkour, playing Hearthstone, baking, and starting ill-fated secret societies. She really appreciates being solicited for submissions, interviews, and opinions. She can be reached at charlotte@once-and-future.com.

July 17, 2015

When I Was a Kid…

I have, admittedly, been trying to turn my kids into nerds since slightly before they were born. Comics and graphic novels have been part of our bedtime routine since before they were age-appropriate, and there was a mushy time a year or so ago where it looked like my intentions had backfired and the elder child was having nightmares about Bone‘s rat creatures. (I am not the world’s best mom – maybe only second or third best.)

But this year, all of those sewn seeds have taken root and flowered in a most spectacular way. It helps that the comic market for the under-ten set has exploded. It also helps that some of the best and brightest comic creators in the world are trying their hands at children’s picture books with wonderful results. Even mega-best-selling and award-winning children’s book franchises like Mo Willem’s Piggie and Gerald books are essentially gateways into comics. You’d have to be childless under a rock not to be swept into – well, not just comics, but excellent comics.

M&O love, LOVE James Kochalka’s Dragon Puncher books.

I brought my two daughters – now 7 and 4 – to the Toronto Comics Arts Festival this year, where for the first time they led the way. They spent every penny of their own hard-earned money on books, sketches, bookmarks and buttons. We still have books on the shelf we haven’t tried yet, distracted, as they are, by their favourites.

I’ve learned a lot. #1 thing is that what I like and what they like are two very different things. This sometimes leads to fights at storytime, power struggles over whether we’re going to read Moomintrolls or whether I have to drag myself through Power Ponies again. Nevertheless we agree on a number of gems, a lot of them new, so I’ve assembled a little roundup below.

Dragon Puncher by James Kochalka

Kid’s Rating – 5 stars
Mom’s Rating – 5 stars

These are short, simple and thoroughly tongue-in-cheek comics about the titular hero (played by Kochalka’s cat, Spandy) and her self-appointed sidekick, Spoony-E (played by Kochalka’s son.) I was reluctant to buy them because they didn’t seem to have much substance to them, but they are hilarious. Good old slapstick, absurd premises taken seriously, and innocent fun make this pretty much the ideal small-child indie.

Princeless by Jeremy Whitley

Kid’s Rating – 3 stars
Mom’s Rating – 4 stars

I wanted to like this one. A high-fantasy adventure starring a stubborn, resourceful girl of colour with a pet dragon and a mission to save her sisters? Sign me up!

And it is amusing – for me. The kids? Well, the younger one liked the dragons and action. But most of it went right over their heads. Princeless draws a lot of its humour from subverting existing Disney/comic/fantasy tropes about the roles of women and princesses – tropes my kids know nothing about. The idea that a princess needs a prince to come save her? Yup, my kids heard it first here. It’s possible that kids better-acquainted with Disney will get the jokes, but mine were just lost.

Maddy Kettle: The Adventure of the Thimblewitch by Eric Orchard

Kid’s Rating – 4 stars
Mom’s Rating – 3.5 stars

This is a beautiful book. So beautiful that my kids refused to read it for the first few months because the strange creatures and eerie setting were “scary.” I was enchanted and eventually just started reading it myself, and, like cats, my children wound up on my lap reading along. They loved it.

But a few pages in, I found myself frustrated with the storytelling. The plot moves too fast and there isn’t a lot of character-building. My kids didn’t care. The images and ideas were perfectly-paced for them. I can see how this book has captured their imaginations, even if I felt it could have been written better. A surprise little-kid hit.

Ana & Froga by Anouk Ricard

Kid’s Rating – 5 stars
Mom’s Rating – 3 stars

Strip-style comics about a group of friends doing pretty ordinary things. These are funny, I guess – funnier to the kids than me. I found the comic a bit mean. The characters are all sort of jerks to each other. My kids don’t care. They think these are hilarious. The friends never seem to really hold any grudges and they do all kinds of interesting things together… so I guess I should chill out about their jerkiness. Maybe that’s just “real.” Anyway, I’m torn on this one. The kids love it but the interactions leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Monster on the Hill by Rob Harrell

Kid’s Rating – 5 stars
Mom’s Rating – 4.5 stars

This was an unexpected hit. This is the story of a “lame” monster who lacks the self confidence to monster properly. The town he is meant to be terrorizing is pretty disappointed in him and send up a doctor to “fix” him. Adventures ensue.

Author Rob Harrell is probably better known for having inherited the abjectly terrible daily syndicated strip, Adam @ Home, which immediately put me at my guard. But the art in Monster is so lush and the world so fantastically fun that my reservations were swept away. The humour is occasionally pretty lame in a way that was over the kids’ head, but it didn’t distract too badly. My only major complaint is the total lack of any female characters at all. The kids have no complaints and have read this thing into the ground.

Gon by Masashi Tanaka

Kid’s Rating – 4 stars
Mom’s Rating – 3 stars

Gon is a wordless comic (like Andy Runton’s popular Owly) about a baby dinosaur in our own world, living in various biomes and befriending and/or terrorizing the animals there. My elder child, obsessed with nature and animals, loves these to pieces. They are gorgeously-drawn and expressive, featuring lots of really interesting real-life animals we never see.

On the other hand, I find wordless comics – even Owly – exhausting to “read” to the kids. These are dramatic performances, not readings. I look forward to my kids being willing to sit alone with these, rather than wanting my involvement.

My Little Pony by various committees

Kid’s Rating – 4+ stars
Mom’s Rating – 3-4 stars

Okay, not exactly high literature, here. But it would be misleading for me to suggest my kids are reading all these great books without owning up to the fact that we have read 10+ volumes of pony comics to pieces over the last two years. They love them. They can’t get enough of them. They rush to the pony shelf first thing when we get to the comic shop. Le sigh.

But, okay, as far as mainstream brands go, MLP is really not bad. The “mane six” ponies are well-developed, strong, interesting characters with relatable strengths and weaknesses. They go on incredibly epic adventures of every conceivable kind. The comics give more nods to adult readers than the cartoons do – they are probably written for the adult fan base, not younger kids. Lots of visual geek gags including some incredibly meta Discord/Q (from Star Trek) jokes. MLP’s major weakness is a big racial blind spot (yah yah, the ponies are a rainbow of colours. But they are also all white. Zecora the Magic Negro Pony is a zebra and there are indigenous bison. The clear implication is that ponies are white, white, white.) Later seasons of the cartoon have tried to de-white the state of ponyness, but it’s still pretty lame.

But wait, there’s more! A lot more. If you’ve fallen out of touch with comics and think Marvel/DC is all there is to offer, I really recommend you get yourself to a comic book shop – any comic book shop – with haste. I’ve barely scratched the surface of what we have on my kids’ bedstand here, let alone what is available in stores. Some of the most imaginative work in any genre is being done in this medium, in my humble opinion. It’s worth catching up.

June 29, 2015

Every day I’m publishin’

June 2015: I have to remember this month. It has been a serious banner month for me as a writer, and I’m only just beginning to really digest it all!

I’ve had two stories published!

The first, “Sigrid Under the Mountain,” is in the Summer 2015 issue of The Sockdolager. This is a light and funny story about a feisty and rather cranky woman just trying to live an ordinary life in a world filled with magic, monsters, heroes and villains. “What’s the point of marrying a great, celebrated hero if he won’t even keep kobolds from harrying your cow?” Indeed.

The second, “The Posthuman Condition,” is in the Summer 2015 issue of Kaleidotrope. This is the story of Jesse, an unpaid intern at a transhumanist nightclub, having the worst night of her life. It lands somewhere between splatter horror and cyberpunk with a dose of myth thrown in. TW: suicides. “The God of Post-Man: Who Chooses the Posthuman Condition? A Folly by Jesse Bauman. And Friends.

I’ve also sold three short stories this month!

I have sold my alt-history Revolutionary-era Quebec novelette, “More Heat Than Light,” to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. This will be my second appearance in F&SF and I’m OVER THE MOON about it. Publication date unconfirmed, but possibly early 2016.

I sold another alt-history, “Eleusinian Mysteries,” to Luna Station Quarterly.This is the story of a Javanese-Dutch mapmaker who discovers a map of a city on the moon, and a secret Dutch East India Company plan to travel there. Publication date September 2015.

The third sale is still a secret, but I hope the TOC will be announced soon! I like having announcements. This is a thing I could serious get used to…

March 31, 2015

Interview @ the F&SF Blog!

The F&SF blog has posted an interview with me about my piece “La Heron”. This one was really fun to answer and gave me a chance to rant a little about women in martial cultures, high vs low literature, the total plausibility of brawling nuns, and so on. Anything pique your interest? Comment here or there! I like discussions.

March 25, 2015

Mind Meld!

Over at SF Signal, me and about a hundred other people gave up our thoughts on our favourite (recent) short fiction! It’s a big article, but the key is to look for those stories and writers who merited multiple recommendations…

March 19, 2015

Ad Astra 2015!

I will be at Ad Astra Toronto next month – April 10th-12th 2015 – participating as much as I could possibly manage to participate, so as to maximize the fun I will get out of this, the rare convention I am actually able to attend.

My panel and reading schedule is as follows:

Deconstruction: What Happens When You Take Tropes Apart
Friday, April 10th, 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Panellists: Gail Z. Martin, KW Ramsey, Leah Bobet, Me
Genre fiction thrives on tropes, from the stalwart hero, the damsel into distress, and all the way to the nefarious villain, but what happens when a show takes those tropes and turns them on their head. Join us as we discuss how and why to do this and examine when it’s done right and when it’s done wrong.

Giving It Away For Free: But You’ll Get Great Exposure!
Saturday, April 11th, 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM
Panellists: Chantal Parent, Chris Warrilow, Erik Mohr, Me
“I’ve got a cousin who could do that for peanuts, why should I pay you so much?” Sound Familiar? Advice and anecdotes from professionals who have been treated unprofessionally.

Genre Crossing: Please Watch for Slow Moving Pathetic Fallacies
Saturday, April 11th, 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM
Panellists: Ada Hoffmann, Karina Sumner-Smith, Nancy Kilpatrick, Me
Sometimes you just want to read, write or direct a paranormal romance during the robot uprising on the medieval planet of urban fariy hipsters.

New Toronto/Ontario Writers Reading
Saturday, April 11th, 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM
Panellists: Elaine Chen, Malon Edwards, Tonya Liburd, Me
Four up-and-coming Toronto writers will be reading from their newly-published work.

How to Sell SF to General Readers as Literature
Saturday, April 11th, 4:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Panellists: Derek Kunsken, Erik Mohr, Leah Bobet, Me
It is nearly impossible to get a non-genre reader to even look at a book – much less read it – unless HBO has kidnapped it for a mini-series. So how do you prove that SF/F is more than pulpy star-ships and elves with perfect hair?

Interactive Fiction: No Coding required!
Sunday, April 12th, 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM
Panellists: Alice Black, Leah Bobet, Matthew Johnson, Me
Thanks to tools like Storium and Twine, the ability to make interactive stories is now available to everyone. Find out how to get started without having to write a single line of code.

Intersection Between SF and Contemporary Issues
Sunday, April 12th, 4:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Panellists: Adam Shaftoe, Cathy Hird, Derek Newman Stilles, Me
Panelists discuss SF stories that take on problems of the present, and old SF that has incidentally come back around to address what ails society today.

And just a reminder that I am that rare thing – an extroverted writer – so don’t be shy about coming to talk to me at the Con! As you can see, I like conversation.

February 25, 2015

La Héron Free on Amazon!

Today’s best news ever? My swashbuckling historical fantasy, “La Héron”, just went up on Amazon! So while I encourage you strongly to subscribe to F&SF in print (because it is awesome,) or seek out the issue in your local book or magazine store (then take a picture and send it to me!) – you can also download it as a Kindle Digest edition for free from Amazon right here.

The come back here and let me know what you thought, yes? 😉

January 13, 2015

Hug a Critic (Or Nominate them for an Award)

Clavis Aurea is, by the way, eligible for the Hugos’ Best Related Work. And me for Best Fan Writer!

A lot of ink has been spilled, by me as much as anyone, about the genre ghetto. The mainstream publishing industry pointedly ignores genre in all those spaces it considers respectable, like newspaper reviews, literary awards, and adult conversations. Meanwhile, genre fandom often resists analysis and criticism from mainstream culture, insisting that their corner of literature has its own rules and standards that a “non-fan” can’t understand merely by reading a genre book. There are a lot of shots lobbed about high culture and low, the people versus the establishment, fans versus experts.

And yet there is more self-aware crossover now between literary fiction and genre fiction than there has ever been, in the short fiction markets in particular. The golden age of pulps might have passed on, but in its place is an incredibly fecund culture of online literary ‘zines with expressly speculative mandates. When I stopped reading fantasy fiction fifteen years ago, we were still in the age of Locus, Asimov’s, and Realms of Fantasy. When I returned a couple of years ago, most of these glossies were dead, but the internet was teeming with stranger things, more experimental things. The internet had this effect on everybody over that fifteen-year period: anybody can publish anything, so they do. Fringe projects abound, but there’s a difference in SpecFic:

It pays.

Literary SpecFic isn’t the fringe. It’s an increasingly sustainable share of the short fiction market with a demanding, critical audience willing to pay for the product. In no small part because of the precedent set by the pay rates of the old pulps (and the writer’s unions that sprang up around them,) literary short fiction markets with genre flavours now pay more and more reliably than most “mainstream” literary markets, a distinction you can see in the talent they attract. (These inroads have been less marked in novel-length works: there, a literary SpecFic work is still likely to be marketed and branded as “literary”, downplaying the genre aspects of the work.)

The overtly hybrid form is being led by short fiction. SpecFic short fiction is good. It is important. And it is all but invisible to the mainstream.

A year ago, there was a lot of talk on Twitter about a need for more serious criticism of this fiction. Not only is there more material being released than your average reader can sort through, but much of it is complex material that benefits from a close read. Critics help to sort and decode, to lead the conversation.

There were (and are) some phenomenal critical sources, like Strange Horizons and The Cascadia Subduction Zone, but these focused primarily on full-length works, including anthologies. Other places – Tangent Online, Fantasy Literature, and Locus Online – covered short fiction in brief; overviews without much analysis. There was a need for regular, ongoing, critical coverage of the wealth of material coming out of the periodicals.

As it turns out, there was a need for a lot of regular, ongoing critical coverage of this material. Once the spores took root, short fiction review columns popped up like mushrooms in October. I like to think of 2014 as the beginning of a new critical era in genre fiction. Now we have Amal El-Mohtar’s Rich and Strange up at Tor.com, K. Tempest Bradford covers short fiction at io9. Fantastic Stories of the Imagination has Gillian Daniels and just a couple of months ago, Nerds of a Feather started a “Taster’s Guide” to a flight of interesting short fiction each month.

And, of course, I have maintained Clavis Aurea now for over a year.

In a recent Twitter discussion about award eligibility, Niall Harrison (Strange Horizon‘s editorial force) pointed out that while critics are technically eligible for the Hugo Awards’ Best Fan Writer, “…it’s a poor fit and almost never happens.” Individual essays occasionally get nods (such as last year’s winner, “We Have Always Fought” by Kameron Hurley,) but it is hard to define a critic’s body of work as a whole. You could perhaps nominate their blog or a single, standout column. Critics have not, historically, had their own brands the same way fiction writers do.

I believe this year is different. The same ‘zines who have raised the bar for quality SpecFic short fiction are housing and branding critics with definable, nominate-able bodies of critical work.

I would love to see this trend recognized in this year’s awards season. Literary criticism in genre isn’t new, but it is newly normalized. There is a new critical culture. We’re showing that genre isn’t a ghetto: it’s a metropolis.

You are eligible to nominate for the 2015 Hugo Awards if you were a member of Loncon 3, a member of Sasquan, or the 2016 Worldcon, MidAmericon 2. The nomination period opens January 31, 2015. You will be able to nominate up to five people or works in each category.

Critics and their works are generally eligible for both Best Fan Writer and Best Related Work. You could nominate the critic (say, Amal El-Mohtar) as Fan Writer, and their column or blog (say, Rich and Strange) for Best Related Work.

Let me rephrase that. You should nominate a critic for Best Fan Writer, and their body of work for Best Related Work. I hope very much that you will consider nominating me and my column, Clavis Aurea.

Critics are a vital part of the literary landscape and they work hard. As literary SpecFic continues to push boundaries, reach new audiences, and gain new respectability, these critics will have had no small part in the shaping of the genre. That’s a role that deserves to be recognized on the ballot.

Hug a critic!

***

Next week, I’ll be laying out my own choices for the categories I intend to nominate in! Stay tuned!

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