My first love in reading and writing has always been genre fiction. By that, I mean science fiction, fantasy and horror. These are what inspired me to write in the first place. So if there's a panel with some awesome writers in the genre, sign me up! The second panel I attended at BookCon was put on by Tor, one of the giants of genre publishing, and looked to be right up my alley.
I wasn't disappointed, either. The four panelists (pictured below) had the audience constantly cracking up with their dry and often self-deprecating humor.
The subject of the panel was Resistance in Science Fiction. And the panelists were eager to explain what resistance meant to them and how they tried to implement it in their writing.
[When I take notes at an event, I write it out longhand in a notebook, and I must say I'm not always the fastest transcriber around. I paraphrased the questions/answers that I didn’t manage to write down verbatim, but I tried to stick as closely as possible to what was asked/answered.]
There wasn't a moderator, although the panelists took turns asking questions to help keep the discussion moving. The first question/statement was about whether politics had any place in science fiction, referring to the recent behind-the-scenes conflict in genre fiction between conservatives and liberals. This sparked a number of jokes, in addition to some deeper discussion of the subject.
Annalee – "Basically by lying and setting our books in alternate history and in the future, we can tell stories we can't tell with nonfiction."
Cory – "One thing science fiction can do is not predict the future, but give us a direction to head towards."
John – SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) always had political conflict. During the Vietnam War, half of the organization took out a full page ad supporting the war. And the other half took out an ad against the war. Mr. Scalzi gets emails from readers who disagree with him politically and say they won't read his books anymore. He sends back an email saying, "Kiss my ass."
Annalee – "Politics are a huge part of our lives and that's what makes it interesting. … Humans are into conflict."
Charlie – "There's no way to depoliticize science at this point. … People have different views of science in politics. … Science fiction is about the future, but writers and readers live today."
Charlie – "How can we as science fiction writers give people the tools to resist?"
Annalee – "What I like to see in science fiction and what I try to do … [are] when things aren't as black and white." Like speaking up at a racist statement made by a co-worker/boss and losing your job – that is an ambiguous problem. "A complicated character in science fiction can't just be Superman."
Cory – "I think there's something that changed in science fiction and technology. … [A] vein of technorealism now coming up in science fiction. … Science fiction is engaging with technology that people use in their lives" every day, like computers.
John – Being a straight, rich, white male, "I am not the right person to write resistance from lots of different viewpoints. … The literature of resistance that comes out of me is from where I am." [Got a round of applause from the audience.]
Charlie – "I think we should do much more to … decolonize our field." Talked about what she termed "wonk-punk," – books that are wonky, like about tax law, etc. that fall outside the direct genre boundaries.
John – Do writers have the duty as individuals to be a beacon?
Charlie – "As a visible transgender person who is dealing with my shit, I think I am making a statement just by existing." [Got a round of applause from the audience.]
Cory – The way he decides how to balance the actions in his life is by asking himself the question: "Will I regret this on my deathbed?"
Question: How are science fiction and fantasy received in non-democratic countries?
John – "Circumstances on how the reader reads the book will have an influence on them." Readers find things in the work that the writer didn't mean to put in there.
Cory – The internet helps propagate science fiction in non-democratic countries.
Annalee – Also, these authoritarian places produce some great science fiction.
Question: What about gender in science fiction?
Annalee – "Expectations [are] based on gender," but genders aren't assigned.
John – As an experiment, he wrote a book with Chris, an ungendered character, to see how people would react. Women were evenly split. Half thought the character was female, half thought male. But with men, it was about 97% who thought Chris was a dude, which he thought was interesting.
Question: How can a writer characterize oppressors?
Charlie – "It is important to get into the heads of all your characters. … What's interesting about fiction is it lets us identify with villains as well as heroes."
John – "Very few people ever think they're the bad guy."
NEXT BLOG POST: Part 3 will be about Margaret Atwood's panel on The Handmaid's Tale.
I have three kids, so I don't often get to go to writers' events. Once in a while, I'll go to an author reading, but it will have to be pretty darn special to lure me out. For example, one of my literary heroines giving a talk in New York City – that would do it. Especially if that speaker were Margaret Atwood.
I first read Ms. Atwood's writing when I was a teenager – I started out with her best-known novel, The Handmaid's Tale. I won't spoil it for those who haven't read it, since I think it's a must-read, but it's a chilling tale about cultural, social and religious trends carried too far.
So when I found out a few weeks ago that Margaret Atwood would be one of the speakers at BookCon, I signed up at the last minute and asked my sister to accompany me (who is also a fan of Ms. Atwood).
Ms. Atwood's panel was near the end of the day, but there were so many fantastic writers there that it was hard to choose which panels to attend. I'm going to break up this blog post into four parts – one for each panel I went to. There was a lot of great advice, plenty of humor, and a sneak peek into the writing and publishing trends of today.
Within the past year, I've started writing a new genre – romance. And being half-Japanese, I like to include diversity in my stories. So a natural panel for me to attend was called "Diversifying Love." It was packed with eight romance writers from a variety of backgrounds and styles. They are pictured below.
From left to right: Sarah MacLean (moderator), Tracey Livesay, Seth King, Mara White, Nicole Blades, K.M. Jackson, Cecilia Tan, Denny Bryce.
When I take notes at an event, I write it out longhand in a notebook, and I must say I'm not always the fastest transcriber around. I paraphrased the questions/answers that I didn’t manage to write down verbatim, but I tried to stick as closely as possible to what was asked/answered. Anything in quotes is straight out of the horse's mouth. All questions were asked by the moderator, Sarah MacLean, with the exception of the audience questions at the end.
Question: Why write romance?
Tracey – "I write romance because it's what I love to read. … I believe in happily ever after. … I believe in love. … It's what makes the world a better place, honestly."
Seth – "It's an essentially human thing."
Mara – "No matter what I was reading … it was the relationship that spoke to me the most."
Nicole – [Romance is] "… the search for ourselves."
K.M. – "I was always drawn to the love story, no matter what genre I read. … Romance was an easy fit for me."
Cecilia – "Started out as a science fiction writer. … I always wrote to change the world. … It's [writing romance] the most effective tool in making the world a better place."
Denny – "Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan fic … led me to writing romance." [This got a big cheer from the audience.]
Question: Talk a little bit about the kind of stories you go for – what are your core stories?
Seth – "Death." It stays with you. He's moved by the darker stories, the macabre – it makes things more powerful. "I remember what devastated me."
K.M. – "I always go back to the stories of hope and redemption and forgiveness in my stories. I like to have battles between my characters, break them apart, bring them back together."
Mara – "Culture clashes."
Tracey – "Overcoming issues in your childhood" because she "watched a lot of Oprah" growing up.
Denny – "Family, trust and status. … I love tortured heroes, I love tropes."
Nicole – "Identity, family, for sure, and the search for our best selves and through that comes up the top of reinvention … compassion … I'm very, very interested in that."
Question: Do you feel like you're imbuing your work with your politics, the way you want the world to be?
Cecilia – "Yes!" [Got a laugh from the audience.]
Tracy – "The personal is political." Race isn't the central conflict, other things are. Race is background.
K.M. – "I'm not writing about the way the world should be, but the way it is." Puts in African American women having fun, lighter rom coms – why not? It's normal. "That might come up as being political … that's just life."
Cecilia – "Marginalized people … mainstream [fiction] only wants to see their pain. … Romance isn't about that. … Happiness is a part of our story, too."
Question: What's the power of happily ever after and what's the power of NOT happily ever after?
Cecilia – Happy ever after is the "safe space."
Tracey – "Women like me are worthy of the happy ever after."
Seth – "I like to make room for reality and show things the way they are in order to make them better." NOT happy ever afters.
Nicole – "I don't think I'm against the happy ending. … In life, you don't always get the happy ending." She goes "where the characters take me."
K.M. – "Romance was always an escape, a way of self care. … I look for those happy endings," but don't like them TOO sweet.
Question: How do readers respond to happy ever after versus not happy ever after?
K.M. – "I like dark books. I love the struggle. … Whatever it is you want to read, it's being written."
Question: Let's talk about sex. This is where romance sort of lives. We are the genre that produces it.
Cecilia – "My core story is sex as transformation … sex as the way you escape the box that society tries to put you in."
Mara – "Personally, as a writer, it's more of the buildup to the sex rather than the actual act itself."
K.M. – "There's nothing worse than reading a bad sex scene. … Writing the sex scenes are the hardest part. … Often romance gets trashed for the sex scene and that just burns me." It's hard to do well.
Tracey – "It's not about the sex, it's about women being pleasured in sex. … That's the problem … that we're writing about [is] women enjoying sex."
Question: Where do we go from here? What do we think should come next?
Seth – "Forward. … More stories are coming into the center. Forward is where I'd like to go."
Cecilia – "Writers … and readers … go outside your comfort zone. … You vote with your dollars."
Mara – "Having books that reflect the world we live in."
K.M. – "I'd like to see a lot more choice for readers."
Question: Do you believe there can be too much diversity?
Everyone on the panel – "No!"
Question: How to move forward with so much hostility nowadays towards marginalized communities?
Seth – He has a book cover with two men kissing. "If you have to resort to shock value, then do it." Haters will hate.
K.M. – She tweets #weneeddiverseromance. Her books are sold side by side with white writers, not separated. Before, black writers would be market together and white writers together. Now, she's just another name on the list of both black and white writers.
Question: To Seth – have you experienced any hostility from religious people, etc.?
Seth – "Yes, I got death threats … [but] if you can reach even one person, it's worth every death threat."
Question: Nowadays, there is an assault on first amendment rights. What to do?
Cecilia – "Fiction writers are a bit more protected than journalists … [we] can say it's only a story, but that's why stories are so important."
Question: What about writing diversity if you're not diverse?
Nicole – "Something to be said for writing what you don't know. It forces you out of your comfort zone … and to look at human beings as human beings."
Question: Recommend your most impactful romances you read?
[Unfortunately, I didn’t hear every writer's answer. But here are a few that were recommended.]
Seth – Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell.
Nicole – Nicola Yoon.
K.M. – Alyssa Cole, Piper Huguley, Farrah Rochon, Phyllis Bourne, Synithia Williams.
Cecilia – Alisha Rai/Alicia Rae?, L.A. Witt.
Denny – Romance Novels in Color – a good resource run by Laurel Cremant.
Tracey – Nalini Singh.
NEXT BLOG POST: Part 2 will be about the Tor Science Fiction and Fantasy Panel, which was focused on resistance in science fiction.
It's hard to create a story arc in 100 words, but I love the challenge. 101 Fiction publishes an issue of themed speculative fiction drabbles each quarter - 100 words for the story and 1-word titles. Recently, my story "Pretty" was published for the "Devils and Demons" Issue 15. I decided to bring in a bit of my heritage and examine a demon that is unique to Japan. I hope you enjoy reading it!
Anyone who has read my blog knows how much I love flash fiction. I actually just wrote a blog post about the subject for an international writer's collective where I am a member, called Reader's Abode. My blog is about ten of my favorite free flash fiction magazines (actually eleven, because I cheated and snuck an extra one in). They are all amazing magazines, and I definitely recommend them.
I'm also lucky enough to have my own flash fiction published once in a while. Today, two of my short shorts were published, and both are free to read online.
The first is a drabble (a story of 100 words) called "Reciprocal," published in Microfiction Monday Magazine. It's a story that I wanted to tell, but it was hard to write, considering the subject matter.
The next one is slightly longer, nearly the flash fiction limit of 1,000 words. Called "The Separation," it was published in Five on the Fifth today. It was also an emotionally tough story to write, but in a different way than "Reciprocal."
Both of these stories are ones that I thought should be told and have resonance to me, as a person and as a writer. I hope you enjoy reading them.
First, a little about Ms. Higgins, in her own words: South African writer and coffee addict, Baileigh Higgins, lives in the Free State with hubby and best friend Brendan and loves nothing more than lazing on the couch with pizza and a bad horror movie. Her unhealthy obsession with the end of the world has led to numerous books on the subject and a secret bunker only she knows the location of.
Baileigh, thank you again for doing the interview with me! So, without further ado, here we go: I am a huge fan of the apocalypse genre, and based on the two book series you have published, you seem fascinated by the idea of it, too. I know that what I consider a great book in the genre is more than just a gore-fest, but it will delve deeper into an exploration of the human condition in the face of disaster. What originally drew you to explore the subject of apocalypse, and what keeps you captivated with it?
I have always been fascinated by the idea of an apocalypse. Whether it be aliens, zombies, disease, or climate change, it doesn't matter. Though I will confess that I have a soft spot for zombies. The first book I wrote was a Zombie Apocalypse novel and will always be my favorite for that reason.
What draws me to the genre is the depth and range of emotion it evokes. The way it peels off the outer layers of pretense that we all wear. I believe that when law and order are stripped away, your true inner nature is revealed. Add to this the stress of surviving in adverse conditions, being faced with the suffering of others, especially loved ones, and you will find you are a very different person than you always thought you were. The sheer strength of will, tenacity, and survival instinct people exhibit during disasters never ceases to amaze me. Though conversely, the depravity and horror to which some give way always pains me. I am the kind of person who prefers to think we can rise above such dark impulses. That even when you are at your lowest, when you experience your darkest times, you can always choose to be more, to be better than you are, and I hope my writing reflects that.
I completely agree, Baileigh. I think it is exactly that type of emotional nakedness that draws writers and readers alike to apocalyptic fiction. I always wonder--as I'm walking down the street or buying groceries in the store - what would I do it the apocalypse happened right this second? How would I react? Sometimes, my husband and I will jokingly talk about our zombie contingency plan. Do you have a serious or not-so-serious plan for the apocalypse, and what type of apocalypse are you mentally girding yourself for?
If I'm honest, I'm not as prepared for any kind of disaster as I'd like to be. I don't have a bug out bag, or emergency supplies, or a secret bunker. (Damn but I'd love to have one!) I don't even have a weapon. Add to that the fact that I can't run to save my life, and I'd probably be one of the first to die in an apocalypse. This is a running joke between me and friends. Seriously though, I am planning on getting my act together. I'd love to go green. Plant my own vegetables, use solar polar etc.I might even buy a treadmill!
Oh, and as to which type of apocalypse I'd like to prepare for: Zombie of course! Or aliens. That's the most fun type to plan for. Much more interesting than something political or environmental. Though if zombies really took over or aliens invaded, I'd probably panic and do something stupid. Maybe heroically sacrifice myself for loved ones. (I like to think I'm that noble but who knows?)
My in-person writer's group has a survey that applicants have to take in order to be considered. We've found the most important question to determine if someone will fit in with the existing members of our group is: "When the zombies rise up, what is your plan of action?" My answer to that question was similar to yours: "Probably die, ha ha." After all, in a zombie apocalypse, someone's gotta be the zombies, right? :)
In your most recent book, The Black Tide I: Remnants, you tackle a different kind of apocalypse than zombies. A very virulent and deadly plague sweeps across the world, eventually ending up in Ava's South African hometown of Riebeeckstad. I thought it interesting that the story is told from what I feel is an underrepresented subset of survivors. Ava is a young adult, and her sister Lexi is ten years old. What made you want to explore an apocalypse from a younger and less worldly perspective?
I wanted to write about younger survivors because I believe children and teens can be very resilient and strong when called upon. Much more so than adults give them credit for. I also think surviving an apocalypse at such a young age would change them in radical ways, ways that I would be happy to explore.
With the release of The Black Tide I, you said on your blog that, "I wrote this book with Ava being as real to me as any of my friends. She lives in my head and in my heart, whispering (and sometimes demanding) certain directions in her life story." As a writer myself, I know that not all characters are created equal--some you love and some are just a compilation of words. When you write, does a story (or characters) often get away from you and take on a life of its (their) own? What is your writing process for a book like The Black Tide?
My process is pretty simple. I find a basic story line and start writing. As I go, I create characters and events on the spot, doing research as needed. Ava and Lexi were created that way. I'm a total pantser. But with The Black Tide, I had certain ideas of what kind of book I wanted, and I tried my utmost to force Ava in that direction, thinking I knew best. While it was not a complete failure (early readers liked it) I was never happy with the result. I knew that what I had written was not true to the real Ava, and I ended up rewriting the whole thing.
Ava certainly took on a life of her own. She was a very vivid character right from the beginning with real flaws and quirks. During the rewrite, I allowed this to show more, and let her nature dictate where the story would go. I'm now very happy with the final product and confident that I represented her as she is, warts and all.
What are you writing right now? Any new series in the works?
I'm currently working on three different series'. Variety is the spice of life, after all! The first is my Zombie Apocalypse Series of which book 1 and a complimentary short story collection is out. Book 2 is due out end of May. Then there's The Black Tide II - Rebellion, of course! That one is now on pre-order and will go live on 18 July 2017. The third and final series is called Death's Children. It's a series of novelettes about the adventures of children and teens during the Zombie Apocalypse. Cat's Eye is out and I'm now working on Ryan's Luck which is the second in the Series. So yeah, I'm a busy girl and there's lots more to come for my readers.
I'll have to check out your other series - sounds like a lot of great reading. Now the final questions - where can readers find out more about you and your writing? Will you be doing any readings or appearances soon?
The best place to find out more about my available books and upcoming works is my website. There you can also sign up for my newsletter and get the first book in the Death's Children Series for free. Hint: I give lots of free stuff away. I also have a Facebook page you can like and an Amazon Author Page you can follow.
I do not do appearances or readings at the moment as I live in South Africa and most of my readers are located elsewhere. But I'm always available for a chat and love connecting with my readers. Simply contact me through my website.
Great, thanks so much for chatting with me, Baileigh!
I love writing drabbles. Have I mentioned before that I love writing drabbles? Especially humor ones, like "The Race," published this week at Fantasia Divinity Magazine. In the story, not everyone who participates in the race will end up a winner - and you don't get a medal for second place.
The issue is free to read online, so I hope you enjoy it.
I am a freelance writer and poet with over sixty short pieces published in magazines and anthologies. When not writing, I review books for the ezine Bewildering Stories. If the Walking Dead isn't on, I draw pictures and do origami meditation in Connecticut, where I live with my husband and three children. If the Walking Dead is on... shhhh! The Walking Dead is on!