rinue: (plunge)
I've stepped down as poetry co-editor of Strange Horizons after a couple solid years with increasing operational budgets and 2 Hugo nominations (which we didn't win and the poetry department likely had little to do with). I still like the magazine and will probably be tangentially involved for another few months, in that I've accepted works that haven't run yet.

I think in my secret heart of hearts I aspire to be the eccentric wealthy shut in from A Little Princess, who mainly prefers to withdraw from the world except when he whimsically decides to lavishly remodel a total stranger's attic without warning or explanation. This is a tricky aspiration as concerns longstanding institutional power.
rinue: (Default)
Probably every tenth poem submitted to Strange Horizons in August was about either cannibalism or killing a child. Not uncommonly both. If you've slush read, you're used to these micro trends (one month it's all fairies, another month Snow White). In this case, I think my liklihood of publishing any of them is pretty slim. I'm particularly annoyed because baby eating seems to be all they've got. If you're going to send me a poem that isn't about anything real, your description of a cigar better not be a description of a cigar.
rinue: (Default)
Welp, looks like the piece for The Review Review is dead. The interviewer had not one but three reading comprehension fails and wound up offending basically everybody enough that none of us wanted to deal with finishing it out. I did my best, but there's only so far one can go while being asked to generalize about the demographics of a group while also being attacked for not treating every individual as a special snowflake. Here's the stuff I wrote that I thought had any value. So if somebody not me later quotes me out of context, there's this context.

It's long, though. And obviously I'm cutting out not only the questions, but anything anybody else said, some of which was more interesting than what I said. (I'm also cutting out my direct responses to that stuff.) Otherwise, this is pretty unedited (i.e. rambling). And gets more hairsplitty as it goes on, because I was asked to be increasingly hairsplitty.

Read more... )

Dude Haiku

Aug. 18th, 2014 06:52 pm
rinue: (Yes Thanks)
I'm participating in a roundtable for The Review Review which is not going to run for another month or two, and one of the questions for discussion concerns whether as a poetry editor I've noticed a difference between poems submitted by women and poems written by men. To which the answer is, not really, not in the genre I work in. Both men and women are sending me feminist revisions of fairy tales. Both men and women are sending me stuff about space exploration. Both men and women are sending me ghazals, surrealist humor, doggerel, zombie stuff, dissection stuff.

Poems about sexuality involving water are more likely to be from women, but this is not foolproof.

But the following phrase drifted to the front of my mind: dude haiku.

I think just about every haiku submission I've seen has been from a guy.

I don't know why this would be true; I don't think haikus are especially masuline. But it is true.
rinue: (Default)
[copied from an e-mail conversation with [personal profile] valancy]

Val: http://authorearnings.com/the-tenured-vs-debut-author-report/

Me: Related if you haven't seen it:

http://community.scratchmag.net/book-advances-gender/

Although the author is interested in exploring the gender breakdown of advance size (for first fiction books), I find the genre breakdown more intriguing. As we all know (I think) the standard advance for a first SF book is in the $5000-$7000 range. This is not so true of "mainstream" fiction advances, in which a "low" first advance appears to be an advance under $50,000. (By which I mean more than half of the first-time fiction advances are more than $50,000.)

The reason this struck me was because of two prevalent outlooks among genre writers. Number one is the chip-on-the-shoulder idea that agents won't represent SF because they think it's "not good enough." In the context of this information, it doesn't seem to be a quality judgement at all, and is instead market driven: if the first advance is going to be so low, I can't afford as an agent to take on too many first-time SF authors (given that my payment is a percentage of the advance), who are almost certain to make me at least ten times less than an author in another genre. (Seemingly there is wiggle room with YA.)

Number two is the perception that SF markets are "more friendly" than literary and mass markets (because for instance they accept unagented manuscripts). Instead, SF book markets would be better regarded as token-payment or semi-pro, and therefore more willing to take what they can get.

I don't say any of this to be resentful or to suggest one can't make a living as an SF author; we know that's not true. And anyway, we write this style of fiction because it speaks to us.

However, it suggests that whatever cultural perception exists around "geek culture" becoming mainstream, SF fans either don't buy many books (whether because there are still very few of them, or because they skew young and low-discretionary-income, or because they're more likely to read things for free on the internet or at the library, or because self-professed "geeks" are now much more likely to read comics, watch movies, or play video games), or buy books in a format with a low per-unit profit margin ($7 paperbacks instead of $20 hardcover).

In other words, we're still a niche genre; we're still pulp. When we get annoyed about the "good" SF being shelved as literary/general fiction, we should perhaps take it in this context: it sold well enough to distinguish itself as a "real" book instead of, essentially, a book-length limited-circulation semi-pro magazine.

Food for thought, anyway. And it puts into context [Val's] link [above], which seems to show that self-published SF e-books from first-time authors do comparatively well: SF fans probably ARE more likely to read in screen format, and probably ARE more interested in buying a lot of "cheap" books; they are also less likely to care about the prestige of an imprint. None of which is good for advances but which has some compensations on the e-book side.
rinue: (inception train)
I'm a showman of the old school, by which I mean my goal is to strike a balance between meeting audience expectations (give the people what they want so they'll keep coming back) and defying them (because if I'm only showing you what you already know you like, what do you need me for?) It's the reason I am, at bottom, a filmmaker, even though I am prolific at other forms of expression; film, particularly as constructed in the US, sits halfway between commercial art and fine art. But this approach holds true pretty much regardless of the medium. Depending on your affinity for this philosophy, you could call it a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, bait and switch, boundary pushing, setup and punchline, subversive manipulation, or an editorial eye.

(Key problem: I am horrible at guessing what other people expect. I don't think it's exaggerating to say it is the pinacle of my incompetences. However, I am good at being pleasant, which often suffices. In any case, this proclivity of mine is probably more apparent in the things I like than the things I make.)

It is not something I do by instinct, although instincts are involved. It is something I do deliberately.

I don't think it's particularly in step with this cultural moment, which seems to be about purity. But! I think purity is kind of horrible, more shortcut than ethic. I do not particularly want single-sourced cocoa beans; I want a nice rounded blend, with an amount of cocoa butter that gives a good mouth feel even though it means a lower percentage of cocoa solids.

A couple of weeks ago, Strange Horizons published an article partly by me called "Defining Speculative Poetry: A Conversation and Three Manifestos." If you've read it, you know it's a stretch to call what I wrote a manifesto. It provides something of a manifest; you get a not innacurate sense of my personality and can guess at least a little how this influences my editorial choices. However, it fairly obviously takes an external point of view to define a genre (this is how people seem to apply this title; these are characteristics of some of the markets; here I'll describe back to you what you're saying to me). Which is a fairly tricksy vantage point to claim when I am an insider with direct influence on the future of speculative poetry.

But there's that key giveaway line, buried way down there: "I look to speculative poetry to push the mainstream forward."

Which, given my actual rather than assumed vantage point means: I am actively publishing liminal work which I hope will redefine both this subgenre and poetry at large, but am trying to do it in a friendly enough way you'll keep reading, because I can't manipulate an audience that I've driven away. And I understand you, I think, because look there I just described what it seems to me you like, in the most flattering possible terms.

I do this not just for me, but for you, because it's what I want you do to for me in return. I would prefer your mix tape throw in some bizarro obscure spoken-word piece at track four. One you think I'd enjoy the fifth time through, if maybe not the second time.

However (so many howevers): This puts me in a sometimes difficult position as regards outsider art. Because: I can only publish so many poems. Sometimes: I think it is a good thing to publish something there is no way you'd see if I didn't publish it. On the other hand: I know the poet is not skilled enough for me to want to read more than one thing by them in a lifetime; what attracts me is the serendipity.

And there are other poets who I do want to see more work from who I would be passing on because I know I will see more work from them. And it's awfully unpleasant to see something published in a magazine that's rejected you and think "I am so much better than that." It makes me stop reading the magazine a lot of the time, because here I felt welcomed and like we were on the same page, and clearly we're not.

On the other other hand: I am absolutely terrible at predicting how other people interpret my artwork.

On the other other other hand: Although I talk about curating as the artform of the 21st century and mean it, found art is inherently hostile. Friendly hostile. But hostile. Both to the people viewing it and to the people/context appropriated from.

And yet: Lines of power are what they are and if they can't be permeated, that's its own unfairness. And yes, it's awful to be the first woman to attend the Citadel and it's awful to be the first family to integrate a neighborhood, and maybe you're subjected to a lot of violence. A lot of violence. An outsize amount of violence, some of which is visible and some of which is invisible. But does that mean the person who let you in hurt you? (I think yes? And yet they would also have hurt you by not letting you in?)

I am maybe more aware of the ethical conundrums of being a gatekeeper than is practical when the name I'm playing with is not my own. I'm not the founder of Strange Horizons. I'm not the sole or even senior editor. And yet I was hired for being myself, which I have been the whole time.

Anyway, I'm not agonizing over this. It's just that when I'm going through submissions, and I run across something I like, a certain amount of the time, the thought follows: the other editors would not choose this one. And I'm never quite sure whether that means I should give it less attention or give it more attention. Particularly since I always like more poems than I have room to publish. I wish I could show you some of the stuff I reject. I really love it.

Meanwhile, I still have a cold. Multiple colds on top of each other. Drinking a lot of water. Drinking a portion of limoncello. King David and the Spiders From Mars is out. I have a story in it which among other things tells you the process that happens to you biologically if you're burned alive.

And I almost never talk about things that haven't happened yet, less out of superstition than because I don't like getting advice from people (unless I specifically ask, in which case you know because I've asked) and because I find it excruciating if I don't do something I've told people I'll do. That's not leverage I like to hang over myself if I can avoid it. But even if this doesn't go anywhere, it's nice: I've agreed to give a British director named Paul Gay (who directed the first couple episodes of Skins) a short-term free option on "A Robot Walks Into a Bar and Says. . ." to shop around and see whether he can get a feature greenlit.

No idea how likely that is, and no idea whether the critical success of Her is an advantage or disadvantage, but it's nice to be asked. Nice because it's fun to imagine, and nice because Jonathan Lethem was nice when I wanted to adapt one of his short stories, and that generosity meant something to me.
rinue: (Default)
Sent off another Arc essay; writing these makes me nervous in a way other submissions don't, for structural reasons. They start out friendly and jokey, and then stay superficially friendly and jokey but are stealth critical essays that try to run you through a lot of data to support an argument I am making (which I may not have stated directly), and then on the last page I suddenly base jump while screaming "I am a science fiction authorrrrrrrrrrrr." At this point, I propose a radical philosophical shift in how we think about technology, usually with some accompanying shift in public spending priorities, which you are maybe suckered into thinking is not radical because I have given you a lot of data, but which maybe you think is a joke because I have been superficially friendly and jokey.

Contextually, this ending should not be a surprise, since that is why you are reading an essay by me and not somebody else. But out of that context (or in light of the high percentage of works classified as science fiction that do not do this), it has a "wait, what did I just read?" quality. It is perhaps the nonfiction equivalent of a prose poem.

However, this particular essay struck me as odd in an additional, different way, which is as follows: the science is mainly mammalian biology. And it is presented as a wonderous fronteir.

It's odd for that to be odd. But it kind of is. Science fiction, speaking broadly, has a love for shiny surfaces. (Or these days, gritty pitted surfaces.) Bio is squishy. Human bodies are not otherworldly. Of the poetry submissions I receive at Strange Horizons that I would classify as science fiction and not fantasy, ballpark 90% of them are about astrophysics. 9% are about mechanical technology - robots, spaceflight, internet. 1% are chemistry or number theory.

Bio is not so much in there. I am not sure science fiction people think of it as one of the hard sciences, possibly because it is entangled with medicine, which is not science as much as it is a combination of technology and religion. Yet science fiction people are comfortable writing about technology, and about religion. And cell biology, for instance, should be unaffected by this, but only mitochondria are considered SF-worthy.

It reminds me of an attitude I somehow picked up in high school, or maybe even middle school, that bio is for girls and physics is for boys. (Chemistry, which is my favorite, was kind of bisexual and kind of a consolation prize for people who weren't good enough at physics.) I don't know how this was communicated to me, and I don't remember it being stated (except the bit about Chemistry being a physics stepchild), but it was communicated as clearly as math is for boys and English is for girls. Or for that matter Science Fiction is for boys and Fantasy is for girls.

Never mind that my classes in all these things (and the genre readers I knew) were pretty evenly gender divided, and my teachers were similarly not gender segregated. The masculinity of physics/math/scifi and the femininity of bio/English/fantasy simply were, in the same way words in Latinate languages have genders. And in all cases, of course, the male subjects were indefinably superior, indefinably prestigious, and widely accepted as more difficult.

This last part is boggling to me. I know a lot of people struggle with math. But math has one right answer. English does not have one right answer. And in physics, I can derive stuff, but in bio I have to memorize it. Harder.

I don't know whether I defaulted to the "harder" sciences (in both the SF sense and the percieved difficulty sense) because of this perceived prestigious maleness, or because I would have anyway. (I am not big on memorizing, although who knows why, because I'm good at it and for instance learn my lines as an actor without any fuss. But this is a reason piano performance went nowhere for me; I just don't want to memorize the sheet music, out of pure stubbornness. Somebody wrote it down. I respect that.) It took me easily ten years to shake off my feeling that learning about biology was "slumming."

And I am glad I did, because biology is a lot more hackable than physics. Not to mention really, really weird. Much moreso than black holes.
rinue: (Yes Thanks)
Inscrawl 6: The Journey is live. If you remember my "best spec poems of 2012" list, you know inkscrawl was well represented. I love this magazine to death.

This issue includes a poem of mine, "The End of Tim," which some of you may remember me playing around with an early version of about a year ago. Back then, I was fiddling with making it a very short story, an ultra-flash, but I eventually realized that it worked better as a poem - the rhythms became clearer. This is my first publication in inkscrawl and by coincidence this issue also includes poems by both the other Strange Horizons poetry editors, as well as a number of our regular authors.

Anyway, read it. Read everything. It's free to read and the poems are very short, so you have no excuse.
rinue: (Fox)
[Part of an e-mail conversation with a submitter about a lost submission. Submitter's e-mail italicized; mine plain text]

Also, a lot of magazines are using 'submittable.com' which lets the artist track the status of the submission without needing to query. I like seeing that when I submit poems or other work, as I know the submission won't be lost.

Regards,
[name removed]


Dear [name removed],

I like Submittable too. However, given the size of our editorial staff across all departments and the high volume of submissions we receive monthly, Submittable would charge Strange Horizons $1100 per year to use their system. As a donation-funded magazine with an all-volunteer staff, that's a tenth of our annual budget, and the same as the cost of publishing 9 months of poems. (At present, we do not accept any advertising, and aside from the cost of web hosting, 100% of our budget goes to paying our contributors.)

Unfortunately, I'm afraid we're stuck with our current cobbled together but mercifully free system, and the occasional lost e-mails that result.

Regards,
Romie

[/end conversation]

Always interesting to me to see how a given individual imagines (or doesn't imagine) how infrastructure gets paid for, maintained, etc. And I do mean always interesting; I'm not using "interesting" to mean "stupid." There's something nice about the way there are invisible people taking care of us, working very hard so we don't notice them. Our society has so many parents.
rinue: (Default)
Rose Lemberg (editor of Stone Telling) is pulling together a compilation which asks the poetry editors at various genre magazines for their top five from 2012 (excluding what their own magazines published). I have not yet decided on my top five, and in any case you would have to wait for Rose's compilation, but here is my longlist, most of which can be read online. If you know of anything wonderful I'm missing that comes from a print-only magazine, I probably haven't seen it; drop me a line by Saturday night and I'll take a look. (It must have been published in 2012.)

note: I am not only not considering Strange Horizons poems; I am also not considering poems by Strange Horizons editors. Therefore, special shout-outs: Blueshift by Sonya Taaffe in Goblin Fruit; In the Firebird Museum by Soyna Taaffe in Stone Telling; Letters to Lost Friends & Imaginary Lovers by AJ Odasso in Strong Verse (which is really not speculative poetry but I like it so I'm linking).

A sad goodbye to Jabberwocky. An abundance of poems this year about golems and about Persephone.

To the list!

In no particular order. . .  )
rinue: (inception train)
Although I was originally scheduled to read the Strange Horizons poetry submissions for January, we've shuffled the schedule a little and A.J. will be on deck this month instead. I'll be reading submissions in February.
rinue: (Default)
I spent the afternoon slushing the first half of the October Strange Horizons poetry submissions and was pleasantly surprised by the quality floor. I have been in a lot of coffeehouses and heard a lot of deeply bad poetry. Similarly, I have spent time slushing fiction and read some deeply dubious paragraphs. Unlimited free internet submissions of poetry to a market that pays decently and is down with stuff about vampires and gods? It seems like it should be a beacon for countless terrible, terrible, bleach your eyeballs afterward poems.

To my surprise, the bad stuff wasn't all that bad. It wasn't all that good, but it was more "eh" than "I want to revoke your keyboard access." It was immeasurably more coherent than the bottom-of-the-barrel slush we'd get at Reflection's Edge, which is astonishing - it takes much less time to write a poem than a short story, and SH pays better than RE.

Perhaps the bad poets confine themselves to coffeehouses, whereas bad story writers don't have an outlet other than slush piles. Perhaps most bad poets don't realize that poetry gets published in places other than chapbooks. Perhaps poetry naturally attracts people who have low opinions of themselves and fiction attracts megalomaniacs. Perhaps poetry is a flexible enough form that odd constructions and shifting tense seem deliberate instead of jarring. Perhaps poems are short enough that writers look them over a few times before pressing "send."

I could also have just gotten lucky. Bad poets might be busy in early October.
rinue: (Default)
The poetry department of Strange Horizons operates on a rota system; there are three of us, and although we speak frequently (both online and in person) and have a shared vision (which is mostly "we like poems that are good"), we alternate, on a bimonthly basis, which of us accepts poems. Functionally, that means not only that we use reading periods - we aim to accept 4 to 6 poems each calendar month and rarely hold poems over* - but that depending on the month you submit, your poem is read by a different editor. Unsurprisingly, Sonya, AJ, and I are not identical. There's considerable overlap, but there are also, shall we say, foibles.

I'm not going to try to break down what the editors at large are looking for, but I can tell you a little bit about my preferences, and that I mainly read submissions sent in August/September and February/March.

My favorite poetry, spec or otherwise, delights in its own creation. I like Frank O'Hara's "I do this; I do that" poems. I like slant rhymes and clever distortions, like those found in Ogden Nash and Edward Lear. I'm extremely fond of the Best American Poetry series, Albert Goldbarth, David Kirby, Jennifer Knox, The Hat, and Boulevard. It is fair to say I have an appreciation for the Absurd.

I believe poetry, science, and speculative elements do well together because they aim to enter the same heightened, liminal space.

My favorite Strange Horizons poems of 2011 and 2012:

"Lost Letter," by Sofia Samatar
"Scene I, graveyard," by Rachael Jennings
"The Second Law of Thermodynamics," by David Barber
"bell, book, candle," by Gwynne Garfinkle
"The Vampire Astronomer," by Chris Willrich
"Tongueless," by Mari Ness
"Wendy Darling Has Bad Dreams," by Sally Rosen Kindred
"Reconciling Fundamental Forces and Matter," by Marci Rae Johnson
"The Book of Drowned Things," by Adrienne J. Odasso**
"Come to Venice," by Cythera

These poems offer much in little and take advantage of their poem-ness to open a chink in the wall. Each of them does one or more of these things:

1. Has an image that is haunting, unique, and expressive, which will reoccur to me throughout the next several days.

2. Expresses something satisfying when taken on its own, but also comments on something outside itself, whether cultural, psychological, or philosophical.

3. Uses language that is specific and bracing, but leaves shadow in which things can flutter. I don't know a better way to put this; some things are throbbing and if you nail them down they lose their vividness. When trying to express the uncanny or the infinite, it can't be taken head-on. For me, this is where SF poetry really comes into its own; it can give unsettling half-glimpses and put the world at an angle, whereas in fiction the author would really need to lock that down.

4. Feels grounded in real emotion or real experience, even if the subject is fantastic. I think it's very easy for poetry to get maudlin, with word choice that is either sing-song or tortured, rote or cryptic. When I feel like you're showing me a piece of truth, giving me a window into a real moment, that's something special - that's a gift, an experience I get to have that didn't come from my own life.

In terms of what I'm less interested in, I don't usually care for highly allusive poems - these feel mostly like they're congratulating you and themselves for getting the references, not like they're really adding to them. I'm also not partial to long-form narrative poetry. (Yes, I know, Beowulf and Homer and so forth, but I feel like that sort of poem is all about memorization and recitation and performance, and isn't a native fit for the Internet.) I don't like poems that draw my attention to the work the poet is doing rather than the ideas expressed. I like when poems defy gravity. It is, of course, possible to have this lightness of touch and still be an allusive long-form narrative, such as "The Birds" by Josh Burson, which I liked a good deal.

Classical mythology is an extremely hard sell to me. It feels uncomfortably played out and parochial as references go, and I'm bored by it. I view the Norse pantheon with similar although slightly less prejudice. If somebody's going to write about gods, I want gods that could shake up my life. If somebody's going to write about a doomed romance, I want the woman involved to feel like a flesh-and-blood woman and not an outdated ideal. In general, if the mythic figures you're writing about are just an abstraction or archetype to you, I don't see how they're supposed to make me feel something. (Think about this if you're writing an alternate-perspective fairytale as well.) If you're going to make allusions, what is fandom but a shared language of references? Your audience didn't grow up translating Horace, but I bet most of them watch Dr. Who and read Dragonriders of Pern.***

What I'm looking for from speculative fiction poetry is the new pantheon, new symbols. I want poems about the Internet, about radium, about drone warfare, about space elevators. If dragons, what is a dragon now, a dragon from your neighborhood? How do you feel about the shifts of understanding in paleontology from cold-blooded to warm-blooded to feathers and scavengers, and do you find that parallels your own life? When you think of Death, do you think of a skeleton man in a hood, or do you think of white nose syndrome? What does it mean that more and more of us are cancer survivors and how do mammograms relate to banshees?

Bear in mind also that I like humor. I like ease (or unease). I'm not saying everything has to be funny, which is not always appropriate. But I'm going to be more impressed by fresh insight in a shambling style than really polished stanzas that feel airless. Unless they're supposed to feel airless and it's a poem about vacuum, in which case, well done.

If any of that sounds like something you might write, send it my way in October. Submission guidelines are at the website.

In terms of possible future plans for the poetry department, some projects I dream of us taking on include:

- Adding photos/illustrations/diagrams to some poems, and otherwise taking advantage of the electronic nature of our medium

- creating (perhaps even pioneering) poetry music videos

- pulling together an SF poetry anthology, including both poems and essays (and perhaps debates over whether such a genre even exists, and if so what it is. I tell you now my position: existentialism but with spaceships)

- bringing about encounters and collaborations between scientists and poets

- researching grants for the above

- writing and soliciting essays on common poetic SF symbols (dragons, spaceships, stars, etc)

- holding readings at the Grolier if they'll let us

- attending relevant conventions

- broadening the pool of people who submit to us by cold-calling poets and scientists I find interesting, who may not think of themselves as SF poets or know that SF poetry exists (see previous mention of debate on whether it in fact does)

I look forward to seeing your poems and/or your comments. Boldly go.

Regards,
Romie

* So if you're sending a poem in August/September, you are being judged against August/September poems, and you will probably get an acceptance or rejection by the end of October.

** I'm copying this list from one I assembled while I was being interviewed, before AJ or I were editors and before I'd met her or had any notion she was also applying to be an editor, so it was kind of a nice surprise to see this name turn up on my list and go "oh, right, that was her!" Incidentally, I also published a poem in Strange Horizons some years ago, "Summer and Austin Have Left Their Apartment for a House," and to round things out, here's one of several by Sonya.

*** In other words, what I want is completely counter to the usual fiction guideline, the rote "no Tolkien elves and Vampire: The Masquerade vampires." I do want that. I want your poem in which Data has a conversation with Maria from Metropolis. And I want you to be explicit about it; I don't want "hmm this seems a lot like Data, but he's got a different hair color." And - this is the important bit - I want you to tell me what makes Tolkien or roleplaying or androids mean something beyond themselves.

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