Summer Vacation: Albuquerque and Houston

This post will not be long. It’s hardly even a summary … more of a précis … but I’m not going to give you every detail of my trip, because I am selfish and secretive with my sweetest memories.

My main reason for visiting Albuquerque was the chance to meet Dvorah Simon face to face after years of virtual interaction. If you’ve read my second book, you know Dvorah. She wrote the poem that the Faerie Queen recites to Dllenahkh and Delarua, and she’s also on the dedication page. In addition to being a poet, she’s a full-time psychologist and part-time muse, an excellent hostess and a great friend. She has exquisite taste in art, music and food, and as she took me to her favourite haunts I was amazed to discover that Albuquerque is very much a city of artists and artisans. Such artistry does indeed include food, and food includes chocolate! I was confronted with massive amounts of really really good chocolate!

Albuquerque felt like blessed earth, and I hope to return there very soon.

Houston was fabulous. Karen Burnham is pretty much one of my favourite people ever, and her family (husband, toddler-son and dog) is lovely. She took me to her workplace. She works at NASA. NASA! I tried to play it cool, but by the end when I’d finished the tour and seen the films and touched the moon rock and all, I was moved beyond all possibility of playing it cool. There may have been tears.

I also had a highly enjoyable meetup with Gretchen (who is also on the dedication page of The Best of All Possible Worlds), visited Galveston, found even more chocolate, and met John DeNardo of SF Signal (the site that hosts SF Crossing the Gulf and does other amazing things, like win Hugos). John is cool! He’s down-to-earth and funny and makes you feel like you’ve known him for a long time.

None of this is in precise order. Don’t expect pictures. I did snap a few with my phone, but in general I find that the pressure to document and verify gets in the way of enjoyment. I don’t want the writer brain on when I’m having fun. I don’t want a camera between my eyes and the view.

I left Houston happy and tired and ready to crash, and fortunately I had scheduled a break in Asheville, NC for that very purpose. More on that in my next post!

What I did on my summer ‘vacation’

Rather a lot, as it turns out!

I joined Samuel Montgomery-Blinn for a radio interview with the folks at WUNC 91.5, North Carolina Public Radio.

About a week later, I had another interview/discussion with Sam and the hosts of Carolina Book Beat.

I posted in advance about the readings at various libraries and bookstores and my week as Amazon Writer-in-Residence at Shared Worlds, but I have yet to post about how they went. Short version – brilliantly! Long version … that will take time and separate posts. I’m still winding down from all the travel, and I have to ransack my overstuffed memory to come up with a coherent and chronological account.

And it was a vacation, at least partly. I got to hang out with old friends and newer friends, and I also made new friends, some of them in unexpected places. I encountered children who love to read (and I owe two of them a list of recommendations!) and discovered new books and new authors in a wide range of age levels. I saw four states and several cities/towns and a whole lotta interstate. I ate a lot of good food, and drank good wine, beer and smoothies (yes, smoothies. Karen Burnham makes the best breakfast smoothies). I encountered a ridiculous amount of chocolate but kept in control (sharing is key). I packed, unpacked and lifted so much luggage that my right arm is now noticeably more muscular than my left. I learned to do a proper cartwheel. I listened to authors – they made me laugh, they made me cry, they gave me chills.

In time, in time. There is much to do here, but I will post again soon.

Readings, Shared Worlds and more readings

I should have done this a long time ago, but I’m travelling and I’m distracted. Here is a schedule of what I’ll be doing over the next two weeks, starting tomorrow.

Malaprops Bookstore, Asheville, North Carolina

SCI-FI/FANTASY SHARED WORLDS Reading & Signing

28 Jul, 3 pm

Karen Lord, Robert V. S. Redick, Will Hindmarch, Nathan Ballingrud and Hugo Award winner Ann VanderMeer and World Fantasy Award winner Jeff VanderMeer.

Shared Worlds, Wofford College, Spartanburg, South Carolina

Amazon Writer-in-Residence, 29 Jul-3 Aug

Various locations, North Carolina

AUGUST 2013

3 (Saturday) 7 to 9 pm — Quail Ridge Books hosts the annual Bull Spec summer speculative fiction event. This year it is an absolutely fantastic lineup with Karen Lord, Nathan Ballingrud, Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, Robert V.S. Redick, and Will Hindmarch all coming up from the Shared Worlds Teen Writing Camp at Wofford College, being joined locally by Durham author Mur Lafferty. We had a blast hosting Ann and Jeff back in 2011 and it’s sure to be another great evening. And! From 9 pm to late,The Raleigh Review is hosting an after-reading “meet the authors” reception (also free and open to the public) at their Writers’ Loft. And! See below for more info on additional events with Karen Lord while she is in the Triangle area. More info: http://bullspec.com/2013/03/29/announcement-the-third-annual-bull-spec-summer-speculative-fiction-event/

NEW: 4 (Sunday) 3 pm — The Orange County Library hosts Karen Lord for a meet the author event at its main branch in downtown Hillsborough. More info:
http://engagedpatrons.org/EventsExtended.cfm?SiteID=6923&EventID=177489

NEW: 5 (Monday) 4 pm — The newly renovated Chapel Hill Library hosts Karen Lord for a “meet the author tea” event. Refreshments served at 3:30 pm ahead of the event. More info: http://chapelhillpubliclibrary.org/txp/?s=News&id=896

NEW: 5 (Monday) 7 pm — Chapel Hill’s Flyleaf Books hosts Karen Lord for a reading and signing of her deep future anthropological sf novel, The Best of All Possible Worlds. More info: http://www.flyleafbooks.com/event/karen-lord-caribbean-speculative-fiction-bull-spec

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SF Crossing the Gulf, Episode 16a

We discussed the short fiction of Cordwainer Smith in our latest episode of SF Crossing the Gulf, and there was so much to say that we had to break it into two parts. So here is part a:

Episode 16a: The Rediscovery of Man, by Cordwainer Smith

We cover two short stories, ‘Scanners Live in Vain’ and ‘The Lady Who Sailed the Soul’. It was a very enjoyable discussion. Smith’s short fiction has lots of complexity and really lends itself to both literary and genre analysis. This is another example of an author whose work has aged well.

 

 

SF Crossing the Gulf, Episode 15

A new episode of SF Crossing the Gulf is now available at SF Signal:

Episode 15: Flatland by Edwin Abbott, and ‘The Shadow Postulates’ by Yoon Ha Lee

Not only is Flatland one of my favourite books, but it is the oldest book we have discussed on this podcast (publication year 1884). When we compare and contrast it to the social sci-fi and math-fi of Yoon Ha Lee, a brilliant contemporary writer, you will see that it has aged extremely well and deserves to be called a classic of the genre and of literature in general.

These works discuss perception, worldview, paradigms and scientific discovery – in effect how scientists and their work are influenced by culture and personal bias. Fascinating stuff. I highly recommend this podcast if you have an interest in the history and philosophy of science.

 

 

 

 

Guest Post: Not another black Superman story, by Robert Sandiford

It’s been far too long since I spoke about the Caribbean literary scene, but fortunately today (on Canada Day!) I have a great guest post from Bajan-Canadian Robert Edison Sandiford. In this post, he tells us about how his early visions of Caribbean superheroes inspired him to write the novel And Sometimes They Fly, published this month by DC Books,

Draw him, colour him, dress up as him—I think every kid remembers the first superhero he created.  Not that first ideas are always the best.  My concept, at age eight or nine, was awful.

The character was wealthy Reginald Van Buren.  His sidekick was his muscular manservant—whose name I can’t recall—and very British.  Their alter egos: Black Butterfly and Brown Derby.

Years ago, on safari, Van Buren discovered a giant black pearl that gave him, when rubbed, the powers of a butterfly, including wings.  I hadn’t fleshed out an origin for Brown Derby, whose name came from the kind of hat he wore.  (As I said, first ideas.)  I got two or three pages of very rough colour pencils done in a blue Hilroy exercise book before I moved on to my next comics project: Lieutenant Laser Eyes!

These dreams of a grade school comics creator were derivative, built on conventions of the genre: wealthy hero, able sidekick, fateful adventure, mysterious powers.  The ideas behind the characters needed converting or embellishing.  Where the characters had true merit was in my aspirations: all the lead heroes mentioned above were black, with traits and speech drawn from people I knew, people who looked, sounded and acted like me in Montreal’s West Indian community, my community.

Throughout high school and university, this trend/inclination/artistic choice (I’m not sure what to call it since I wasn’t conscious of it at the time) continued.  My character Bobcat, leader of a Canadian superhero team, was black.  Safeguard of the North—my answer to Captain Canuck and Guardian and Northguard—was black; or at least not as white as the great northern country he represented might expect him to be.  Despite buying comics where the main heroes were usually white—or maybe because of this—it never occurred to me how unusual my choice was.  I was a black boy creating black heroes.  What was so unusual about that?  Seeing myself in them was about making reality more real, more complex and complete.  Still, it was a decision I should not take for granted.

I teach research methods and research paper writing to BFA Graphic Design students at Barbados Community College.  A number of my students are into graphic novels.  They read them and write them and draw them in their spare time or as part of their major and minor graduation exhibition projects.  According to the 2012 Census, eighty percent of Barbados’ population is black, and sixteen percent is of mixed black and European ancestry.  My students’ environment is, therefore, visibly black. When these students enter the programme, however, many of them show work that is heavily inflected by anime and manga; their panels are not populated by characters who look like them or the people they are most likely to meet in their neighbourhood.

One of my students shared a story in class about creating a character in high school that was a protector of Barbados.  The hero’s familiar was a water dragon.  When one of his teachers asked him why his hero wasn’t black, or why the character didn’t reflect its creator’s own culture in other ways, he told her these thoughts had not occurred to him.  At all.  Another student in the class, fairly well-read and also an aspiring graphic novelist, said he could never find the epic in Caribbean stories, that spark to fire great works.  The cartoons from Japan he and his colleagues followed, the comics from that country they absorbed, seemed more resonant than anything their history or reality might make possible.

The crime—let’s call it that—wasn’t that too many of my students couldn’t see the epic in their own people’s stories, which included the Middle Passage, slavery, colonialism, post-colonialism, neo-colonialism, indigenous mythologies and folklore.  The crime was—is—that they had never thought to fan the fire themselves: to create what was missing, to suggest what was possible, to write the stories about their own people that they wanted to read.

Part of the problem was the social engineering they had undergone as Barbadians, which I examine in my new novel And Sometimes They Fly.  My students and many Barbadians like them were raised to believe other people’s heroes saved the world, not their own.  Who would these worthy men and women be anyway?  Their politicians didn’t call in the good guys when the going got tough; they considered themselves the good guys, and had put commemorative plaques on buildings and open spaces all around the island that essentially said so.  Coupled with a decline in oral storytelling not redressed by a more active publishing industry, this belief in the outside hero has spelt the demise of the fantastic in much of Barbadian Literature.

Not entirely, of course.  Barbadians—and their stories—are more tenacious than my students might think: more entertaining, more epic, and hence more enduring.  Try, as Bajan or world critic, to dismiss writers like Kamau Brathwaite, Geoffrey Drayton and Timonthy Callender.  You’d be missing out if you weren’t aware of others like Glenville Lovell, Ronald A. Williams, Karen Lord, and Matthew Clarke.  It takes cultural consciousness to resist the drag of negative foreign incursion; the kind of cultural consciousness that can conceive of anything, including a black Superman.  But not a black Superman.  Despite successful renderings of, say, a black Green Lantern or a Latino Spiderman, I never wanted coloured-in versions of my favourite heroes.  I wanted originals of my own, fighting battles people rather like me would fight.

And Sometimes They Fly

When I came to write And Sometimes They Fly about fifteen years ago, it was not as a literary fantasy novel but as a superhero comic about a group of young people who fought to save the world.  At some point over the years, I decided to tell the story in prose instead, yet I, too, was still missing that sense of the epic: Who were these young people, meaning where did they come from, and whose world were they fighting to save?  The tragedies of 9/11, which seemed to touch on everyone’s life everywhere on this planet, provided the necessary perspective, as metaphor for cataclysmic conflict, and moment for godlike redemptive intervention…if one so chose.  Yet it was the folklore of the Caribbean, of Barbados specifically, that provided contemporary context, the proper symbols, and an ongoing socio-historical discourse out of which the story could emerge.

The epic in any work comes from the writer’s understanding of his people and their place in history, what we might call Time, here; even if his people are embodied in an individual or their place is no larger than a village.  His people, regardless of their number, race, faith or colour, are inevitably humanity itself, or his conception of it.  Events in Egypt or Syria can have magic or tragic consequences for a family or woman in Barbados or Trinidad.  The epic reveals the possibilities of a grander world, one made up of the worlds we already know and of others we still struggle to explain.  To imagine ourselves onto that boundless landscape, as writers and readers, is no privilege, then, nor should it be viewed as a burden.  It is merely our right, and our responsibility.

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Robert Edison Sandiford is the author of eight books and co-founder with Linda M. Deane of ArtsEtc Inc. His novel And Sometimes They Fly will be released in July by DC Books.