“Accessing the Future” goes live on Indie GoGo

The publishers of We See a Different Frontier and Outlaw Bodies are putting together a new anthology that continues their social justice streak. The new anthology, Accessing the Future will explore “disability and intersecting nodes of race, nationality, gender & sexuality”.

From their Indie GoGo page:

This anthology will call for and publish speculative fiction stories that interrogate issues of disability—along with the intersecting nodes of race, nationality, gender, sexuality, and class—in both the imagined physical and virtual spaces of the future. We want people of all abilities to see themselves, as they are now and as they want to be, in our collective human future.

[…]

Accessing the Future will be a collection of speculative fiction that places emphasis on the social, political, and material realms of being. We aren’t looking for stories of “cure,” that depict people with disabilities (or with other in/visible differences) as “extra special,” or that generally reproduce today’s dominant reductionist viewpoints of dis/ability as fixed and a problem to be solved. We want stories that place emphasis on intersectional narratives (rejection of, undoing, and speaking against ableist, heteronormative, racist, cissexist, and classist constructions) and that are informed by an understanding of dis/ability issues and politics at individual and institutional levels. We want to hear from writers that think critically about how prosthetic technologies, new virtual and physical environments, and genetic modifications will impact human bodies, our communities, and the planet.

I just became a backer this morning. If you’re interested in expanding the diversity of perspectives within science fiction, this is a great opportunity to get behind a project on the front lines of imagining a more socially-just humanity.

 

Ok, so on the last day of Camp NaNoWriMo, my word count is pretty sad. (I’m currently at 26385). BUT! I plead giddiness, as for the past week or two most of my free time thought bandwidth has been taken up by the subject of the photo below.

Larissa_ring

I’m engaged!

(And yes, I do intend to continue trying to finish the novel).

Sandra McDonald on Gender, Colonialism, and Fleet

Sandra McDonald’s story Fleet appeared in the post-colonial anthology We See A Different Frontier (along with my short story Remembering Turinam). My story received an honorable mention in the recently released 31st edition of The Year’s Best Science Fiction — Sandra’s went all the way and earned inclusion in its pages.

Congratulations Sandra! And I’m honored to have been included in the same anthology with you.

Recently, The Future Fire interviewed Sandra about gender, colonialism, and the story she wrote for We See a Different Frontier:

How we define, defend and debate gender in the U.S. is fascinating to me, and certainly there are clashes between cultures where gender is rigidly enforced vs where gender variety is protected.  For years now i’ve tried to explore those schisms and honor the men and women who live outside the boxes we try to stuff them in.

You can check out the whole interview on The Future Fire editor’s blog. There’s a smattering of some Buddhist perspective in there too.

FocusWriter – Low Distraction Word Processor

I’ve tried several of the minimalist word processors out there. For Windows only, I’d say Q10 is my favorite — clean, simple, and fast. However, I’ve been on the go a lot and find myself using all three major platforms (Windows, MacOS, and Linux) during the course of a typical day. If I want to sneak in a bit of writing at any moment, a cross-platform solution has turned into a must. I also realized that I do miss certain features that many “minimalist” word processors might consider extravagant.

I’ve fallen in love with FocusWriter for drafting new stories. It is not only cross-platform, but comes with a greater degree of control over the writing environment, without sacrificing the simple and clean approach to the writing itself. Put a different way, it’s actually not minimalist — it has everything that a fiction writer would want, and simply nothing more. Features: full-screen mode, instant word count, daily targets, session timers, scene dividers, and customizable themes.

Below is a screenshot of the custom theme I created to work on my Camp Nanowrimo novel, working title Red Soil Through His Fingers. Since the novel takes place on a Mars colony, the writing environment lends to the mood. (Don’t judge the writing sample too harshly… its a first draft idea dump…)

Screenshot from 2014-07-13 14:41:52

The background is a shot from one of the Mars orbiters, with blue-grey Georgia 16pt on 85% opacity black in the center. Ping me if you want the theme file.

Summer Writing Plans

I’m back from a very refreshing week in Vermont and Maine, the latter with other writers (and a lot of fried clams and beer on the beach). Compared to the day to day survival stance that first-year teaching forces on the mind, how I feel now is nothing short of fantastic.

I’m ready for a summer of writing.

I had a chance to parse through and reflect on the year or so of work I’ve put into Vihara, the novel I had in progress. I realized that I’m trying to say too much with it. I had at least three major premises: 1) the sociopolitical consequences of corporate control of space, 2) the idea of what Buddhism looks like in a spacefaring society, and 3) an exploration of quantum graphity as a cosmological theory.

In other words, there isn’t really any one particular thing that Vihara was about, just an overlay of ideas that I find interesting. That doesn’t mean that the work was wasted — it helped me think through these ideas and the characters.

So a few things are happening. I pulled out the first layer and refined it: What happens to ordinary people if a weak public space policy allows corporations to run the show in space colonization? Then I “zoomed in” within the Vihara worldspace and fleshed out one particular location: a Mars colony situated near the Hellas Planitia. I defined three new main characters (using a cool new method I’ll talk about in a later post), and feel like I am in a good position to make a character-driven (as opposed to world-driven) story.

Finally, to give myself some fun motivation, I’ve signed up for the Camp Nanowrimo summer writing challenge with my writer friend Brian. We’re both aiming for a 50,000-word rough draft by the end of July.  Working title: Red Soil Through His Fingers.

An interplanetary homesteader accepts a deal with a Mars colonization company to start a new life on humanity’s bold new frontier in the solar system. But staunch idealism turns to unease when the fine print becomes more than it seems. To what lengths will a private corporation go in the balance between human lives and profit? An exploration of the consequences of weak public space policy during this, our dawn of the private space age.

(And if you’ve seen George Lucas in Love, yes, this is actually an agricultural space tragedy.)

I’ll put up a widget or something to help track progress.

Emerging from Hibernation

When I logged into the blog this evening and saw all the red notifications, I thought yup, it’s been awhile. When I saw that the last post was dated September 30th, I actually laughed out loud. It’s a sad thing, but being a first year teacher in an urban public school really does suck the life out of you. I don’t think I’ve ever known levels of exhaustion like those I have experienced this year.

So, that’s what happened to my writing these last seven months.

The good news is that it’s getting better, and looks to stay that way. Next school year shouldn’t be nearly as bad, since I won’t be rolling so many lessons from scratch. And for now, it’s Spring Break, with summer hot on its heels, so I’m optimistic that the long winter of no writing is over.

On the front burner: I’ve got a short story in progress for the Ploughshares 2014 Emerging Writers Contest, which I also see as part of an identity novel that’s been percolating in my head for a few years now in various forms. This story marks the first actual prose that I’ve written on the theme of South Asian American identity, and so far it’s flowing well at about 3,000 words so far. I hope to have a draft of the story done by the end of the week for a writer’s group meeting on Friday, feedback from which I hope I can incorporate by the May 15th deadline.

Apropos of the writer group… it’s been great to make a few writer friends here in Boston. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that I have been discovering that several friends are also writers, and on that basis forging closer friendships with them. Exciting news: my girlfriend and I, both writers, have made plans with another writer couple for our own little writer retreat up to Maine this summer! Details in a later post.

Vihara remains in progress, and I have vague plans of finishing it by the end of this summer. In terms of word count, its over two-thirds of the way toward my target, but there are much deeper problems than that. I’ve been finding that I really need to work on characterization.

I have plenty of premises, social systems, technologies, and such bouncing around in my head, and I don’t think my prose is too shabby. But almost universal feedback from submissions and friends is that, in general, my protagonists tend to feature too much narrative distance and not enough character arc to really be as meaningful as they could be. In response, I’ve been working hard on writing exercises and re-framing how I approach writing ideas. I hope it pays off!

Lastly, I want to congratulate a new lit mag I’ve been keeping an eye on.. Jaggery just released its second issue of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and artwork by or about the South Asian homeland and diaspora. I’ve been intrigued by its content anyway, but especially now that I am starting to write more identity fiction, I want to keep tabs on the literary conversations running though this magazine.

That’s all for now! I hope to be better about updating this blog (and writing more fiction of course) over the next few months.

 

Review and Interview about “Remembering Turinam”

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to do anything writing related, including update this blog. But there has been exciting news!

First of all, We See a Different Frontier is now available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, among other places. Please support this much anticipated anthology!

The anthology is overtly political from the standpoint of the editors:

This anthology of speculative fiction stories on the themes of colonialism and cultural imperialism focuses on the viewpoints of the colonized. Sixteen authors share their experiences of being the silent voices in history and on the wrong side of the final frontier; their fantasies of a reality in which straight, cis, able-bodied, rich, anglophone, white males don’t tell us how they won every war; and their revenge against the alien oppressor settling their “new world”.

But this does not mean that the collection is one-sided or polemical. I have been alternately intrigued, challenged, angered, and inspired when reading this anthology.

Blogger Margrét Helgadóttir has published an interview with me about my story, Remembering Turinam, on her blog. Excerpt below:

Nalin has written the short story “Remembering Turinam,” a complex story which spoke to me on many levels. It is a sad story about a meeting between a young man and his grandfather. Also, the idea of language as a tool in colonization is strong in the story, something I believe to be very true. One thing is a dominant military force, but the silent conquer through education, language, culture, is perhaps even more brutal. Like the editors Fabio Fernandes and Djibril al-Ayad write in the introduction in the anthology: «That suppression of culture and especially language are common tactics in the repression of a people, and as effective as violence itself.” I really liked how Nalin weaved the plot around this.

The story gives much food for thoughts and pondering, which I love. I’m so happy Nalin took the time to answer some of my questions.

You can read the interview in full over at her blog.

A complete listing of publication venues and reviews is available from the editor’s blog at The Future Fire.

 

Early Praise for “Remembering Turinam”

Tournevis at the blog Le Pouding à l’arsenic has posted an early review of the colonialism-themed anthology We See a Different Frontier. The anthology will be published this month in both print and electronic versions and includes my first professional sale, a short story called Rembering Turinam.

I’m honored to have been called out for particular attention in the review:

I could laud every single story in the collection, but let me turn the light on two in particular that have stayed with me and even found their way into my dreams.

[…]

A more powerful exploration of Politics of Memory is found in the incredibly well-written, nearly perfect “Remembering Turinam” by N.A. Ratnayake. Here the scholar Salai walks from his world’s (a future-Earth maybe) equivalent of a university the Heremitian Anushasan, formely [sic] specialized in the exploration of the abstract sciences. He goes to visit his grand-father, a former member of the same Anushasan, now living as a near hermit in his very final days. […] Ratnayake is brilliant in showing the subtleties of Salai’s colonized mind. More importantly, the author displays in all its tragedy the paradoxes of cultural survival in the face of conquest: how only those who choose assimilation can live long enough to ultimately reclaim the culture that has been willfully lost.

Wow! I am so happy to hear that others have enjoyed my stories, and that they have found deep personal meaning within them. Nothing like the warm fuzzies as motivation to keep writing!

Thinking About Style

Friends and family seem to like The Parched Lands and I’ve gotten some good feedback from others. I like the story well enough. And as a science teacher, I will undoubtedly continue to think about the issues that the story explores.

Looking back over it though, I think I could have done a lot better with the prose.  I was writing this story on deadline — wanting to submit before CG’s theme Expectations closed at the month’s end. In that mindset, I paid a lot more attention to story and ideas than the writing.

Many might say that’s a good thing, that style is dead (or at least unnecessary) and I should just tell the damn story. This admonishment seems to hold particularly true for science fiction. Certainly, if pressed to rank them in terms of importance, I would put story ahead of ideas ahead of style, for both reading and writing. But style does matter.

Writing is a craft that is not just about conveying information and ideas. It is also about connecting human beings. Style plays with our conscious and subconscious awareness of the words, and helps the writer to craft an overall emotional response. And there are few stronger ways to connect people and ideas than through subconscious emotions.  My opinion is that to say style doesn’t matter reveals some level ignorance or laziness. And I’m pointing my finger mostly at myself.

Sometimes simple things like adverbial phrases poke out at me:

“Mr. Daveys” Kassidi said sharply. “Something’s wrong with Amanthi!”

[…]

“No harm, no harm,” said Mr. Daveys with a reassuring smile.

And I see many places where it would have been more effective to show instead of tell:

She felt self-conscious and tried to appear casual.

More broadly, I agree with my friend Brian Powell’s feedback that having Amanthi dream of being a writer might be a bit too self-referential, and that placing a story within a story for plot purposes can come off as contrived or forced. (for the record, he had a lot of positive feedback as well).

Perhaps I will always see ways I could have improved anything in hindsight — no work of creativity is ever done, after all. I really don’t think of myself as a perfectionist (just take a look at my room or the pile of dishes in the sink), but I do always want to improve my craft. Moreover, I want to spread a greater appreciation for style, aesthetic, and humanism in the genre, both as a reader and a writer. So I think the way to frame it positively is to take lessons for future pieces where possible.

In this case, I’m proud to be published — and I want to set the bar higher for myself.