“…a lot of people I feel like sort of move into these camps where you could either be true to your art or you can be a commercial sell-out hack, you know, f****r….and this is all you’ve got. And to me it really was more like okay so this is the puzzle box that we’re working with which is like I’ve got my values, there’s the commercial space that I want to be in if I want to transmit my values. Is there some kind of win-win? And you’re looking for that idea that there actually is, if you’re a clever monkey, you can figure out the win-win scenario. And so a lot of my early work was trying to figure out what’s my clever monkey version of like the win-win, where I get to talk about exactly things I want and the publishing houses are like ‘nom nom nom nom.'”
“Surreal, you know? A lot happens in one week [at Writers of the Future]; there was a lot of good stuff. And there was also a lot of stuff that I could have done without in terms of racism, from the judges and the organization. My fellow co-winners were great, and they were really supportive whenever they happened to be in the room, and then they heard something quite shocking. During one of the workshop classes, somehow they got to talking about my winning story. And then one of the judges said that “You know we get a lot of entries from the Philippines every year and when we picked yours out of the pile, I had to check for plagiarism because it was that good.” One of those backhanded compliments that’s really not a compliment. I was just sitting there and trying not to let my mouth fall open, and I also couldn’t look at anyone else because ‘oh, what must they be thinking.’ I don’t know.” [sad laughter]
“If your goal is to maximize the number of fans who buy your books, and the two strategies you see before you are one, to terrorize them into thinking if they fail to buy them, and still read them, that you will come and take their house away, and the other is to convince them that you’re the sort of person who deserves to get paid, neither will be a perfect strategy, but of the two I think the one that’s more sustainable is the latter.”
Cory Doctorow—celebrated author, essayist, blogger-journalist, and human rights activist—visits the podcast to talk about privacy, security, monopoly power, the innate conservatism of AI, moral reckonings, technothrillers, and his latest book, Attack Surface, part of a series which motivated a generation of hacktivists, thinkers, and techies to fight for freedom and equity in our increasingly digital world.
“[W]hen we think about maps, we think about external maps. We think about something we can look at. And it is important in a number of ways to place yourself in space. And I mean that either in the three dimensional space or the two dimensional space of a map….But the other thing that I have really come to understand over the years is that when people write…a lot of times when they think about map making, they’re also not thinking about the internal map that they’re bringing to what they’re writing….
So an external map might be a topographical map, where we can see where the mountains and the rivers are, and we can place the cities here and we can gauge how long it will take us to travel from this city to that battlefield or that village…..now these things begin to develop together. But one of the other things that happens is people don’t think about the internal map they’re bringing. And the internal map they bring to their creation, to world creation, and I include myself, is all the assumptions, the expectations, the stereotypes, the things they don’t know about.”
“[T]here also anxieties about security in Mexico, and in many parts of Latin America, Central America — we have a very insecure situation, with drugs, with cartels, with police attacking the population rather than defending them. So that’s reflected, obviously, in the writing. That’s why we have a thriving thriller scene in Latin America, because it reflects our anxieties. So in the United States, you don’t necessarily have those anxieties. You don’t necessarily walk around as a second generation person thinking about things like — ‘What if the narcos come into my house and blow my brains out tonight?’ You have other things. So, there’s very different modes of production. I think one of the problems with publishing is wanting everything to be just one story and this specific story and not being able to even think — ‘Would it be interesting if we could tell this other story?’ But going — ‘No. We only want to tell this tale. It has to fit these parameters.’ And if it doesn’t, then it’s something that’s not going to be viable.”
“Growing up with games was sort of my pathway to self exploration. Building my own competence. Role-playing allows you to explore identities that are not your own, but also to maybe form your identity better, with less of the fear that you’re gonna be judged because you’re not playing yourself, you’re playing a character and so you can experiment with how your voice may sound, and who you are. And as a brown kid growing up in a deeply white set of schools and communities, I felt alienated constantly and really, really had a hard time with it. It was very, very painful for me growing up. And role playing games were one of the few refuges along with books that I could find that gave me my own space and my own voice and to experiment. But all of these role playing games were like made by older, white men that had no context of my lived experience.” — Ajit George
“Learning to revise your work yourself, or learning to work with a crit group, or theater readers, or places where you can develop the skills to self-edit is far more valuable than paying someone else to do the work for you, because it will pay dividends over the course of your entire career.”
Friend of the podcast Liz Gorinsky arrives to share her experiences as an editor, from her early days of reading comic books, to her work at Tor.com, and finally starting Erewhon Books. Mary Anne and Ben inquire about the technical and career aspects of editing, as well as the importance of grappling with their internal editor in their own writing process.
“South Asian work in particular, it’s interesting because I feel like…a modern South Asian science fiction sensibility, if there is one, is still forming. And of course, I mean, we’ve talked about this, how diverse South Asia is, so many different strands. So whether you can even say there is “a South Asian sensibility” is disputable. But at the same time, I do think that South Asian countries have this deep wellspring of myth…and religion, which is nothing if not speculative. Like, that’s, to me, that’s the definition. It’s like we don’t know things; therefore, we will speculate about how reality is constructed. And so drawing from that is this really fertile ground that I think people are still just beginning to tap into.”
“I come out of a literary tradition in the Caribbean of privileging common speech. And that’s a movement that started when my father, who was a poet, a playwright, an actor, was still alive, and there’s people like Kamau Brathwaite, like Louise Bennett-Coverley, who are saying “We speak like this.” It is not ‘bad English;’ linguists are discovering it has its own grammar rules, it has its own logic. And so there began a movement of writing the way people speak. So I already have permission, is what I’m saying. And also everybody’s speech is beautiful. I mean, if you listen, just listen to people talking on the street where they’re not trying to censor themselves for an English class. They flow. So one of the things I will do is put myself back in that space. I mean, my Caribbean English is middle class English, it still has its own stuff, but it’s not as, it’s not as deep, it’s not as basilectal….There’s three words I’ve learned from linguistics and they are acrolectal, mesolectal, basilectal. And it’s a way of not getting into the trap of saying “This is upper class speech, this is lower class speech.” So they actually go to the center. And they measure speech by how far it is from the center.”
“So I teach at Smith, and one of the things we’re really interested in is how women self-select and, you know, it’s ridiculous how easy it is to take it personally that it’s your work, as opposed to men who say they’re messed up. So the women decide that my work isn’t good. And the men decide – and this is like, you know, over decades and we still haven’t shifted this – that the editor doesn’t know crap.”
“You know, everything I’ve known about human nature . . . we have this innate quest for power and dominance. And if we had the power with just a few spells to undo armies, we would be the rulers. Whoever had that power would rule, they wouldn’t be the adviser to the ruler or someone who lives all alone in a tower. So you have to look, you know, if you’re gonna make pigs fly . . . it’s gonna change the pork industry. [laughter] Hugely! Capturing pigs is going to be much harder. So think through everything where you depart from real life, and where you don’t depart from real life. Make sure you learn everything you can about what you’re writing about, whether it’s, you know, medieval armies, or armor and weaponry, or care and feeding of horses, or whatever it is, try to get it right. Because if you get it wrong, somebody will notice and write you letters about it. [laughter]”
Stepping down momentarily from being a co-host, Ben is interviewed by Mary Anne and Jed about his newest book, The Unraveling, a tale of social unrest in a far future society. The trio explore the themes of gender, pronouns, societal structure, parenting, and even surveillance that are brought up in Ben’s story. Watch Mary Anne, Jed and Ben’s conversation here.
In movies, shows, and books, the aliens often invade the biggest, most iconic cities in our world. But what if the aliens chose to inhabit a place like the US Virgin Islands? In this episode, Mary Anne and Ben interview Cadwell Turnbull on his sci-fi book, The Lesson, and what its representations of aliens, violence, language, and culture says about our own troubled history with colonialism. For the edited, audio-only podcast, click here.
“But it’s really hard to learn and grow because the opportunities as a Black artist here are not significant. Part of that is there were never many Black venues. And largely white venues only booked certain types of things. You can be Black and play rock and still not get the rock club guild. And then you can’t go to the Black club if you don’t play the right music. Now it doesn’t matter because all the clubs are gone. You know? Or they all are jukeboxes. Getting to play live here is not what it used to be. Campus used to have venues all up and down the street, bars where you could play live. You could do a whole week of shows on campus, do it again and do it again. And all of those places are gone. And so Columbus just developed its culture, you know, the artistic culture out of itself. And it’s only largely interested in it now because it needs to sell.”