A beautiful cycle

We’re trying to get better at the Speculative Literature Foundation at actually *telling* people when we do cool things. And then they write about them. It’s a beautiful cycle. Look, it’s our 10th Deep Dish!

(Maybe it’s time we stop calling ourselves Chicago’s ‘new’ SF/F reading series — we can be Chicago’s fabulous SF/F reading series…)


The SLF’s October membership drive has started, and we’re almost to our first milestone, of 25 new members! We need 250 new members in October so we can move forward with this project immediately — I think we can get there, with your help. We’re planning to roll out the first stages in January 2020.

We hope you join us in transforming the field, and the future! http://speculativeliterature.org/membership/

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Here’s the BIG NEW PROJECT for the Speculative Literature Foundation. I spent some time in Dublin at WorldCon talking about the problem of affordable creative writing writing instruction with a host of writers, editors, and fans.

It’s a pipeline problem — if people are barred from participating in classes and workshops due to financial and other barriers (and it’s marginalized populations who are most disproportionately hit by such barriers), then our field is impoverished as a result. So many people don’t get the teaching, the encouragement, the support they need to survive and thrive as writers.

We think we can help with that.

I’d love to announce a fabulous name for this new project — we’re still fine-tuning it. (As all writers know, names are hard.) But in my head, I’m thinking of it as sort of Khan Academy for creative writing, or the SLF’s free creative writing instruction project. I know, that’s not catchy. We’ll get there. But here are the components:

– we build a set of master-class interviews on aspects of craft and put them out as podcasts, on YouTube, and on our website — so far, we’ve recorded George R.R. Martin on epic fantasy, Paolo Bacigalupi on message fiction, Kate Elliott on worldbuilding

– we interview exciting emerging writers from around the globe, to build a better understanding of what it means to be a speculative literature writer today — so far, we’ve interviewed Minal HajratwalaVida Cruz, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia

– we work with professors, editors, agents, publishers, librarians and more to build out a database of resources of use to writers: from an essential reading list of climate fiction, to a collated set of fabulous articles on craft, to a guide to indie publishing your first novel, and more.

– we initiate a mentorship program (we ran a pilot once before which did well), pairing apprentice writers with journeymen in small online groups for three months of mentoring, advice, and mutual support

– we start building out a network of in-person local chapters; we’ve started the Chicago one with the Deep Dish reading series, and are looking to add instructional writing workshops this year (they won’t be free, but as low cost as we can manage, and always with scholarships available), facilitate writer groups for peer workshops, and schedule in-person meet-ups for co-writing and support

Niall Harrison (former editor-in-chief of Strange Horizons) has agreed to come on board at the Speculative Literature Foundation to help us address that. (He’s not nearly as formal as this photo makes him look; we just couldn’t resist the rather ridiculously throne-like chair at our hotel.) He and I will lead this project together. With his help, we’re going to build something fabulous.

Your help too — though we’re primarily volunteers, there will be some costs associated with this, from space rental to publicity to scholarship aid. The SLF’s October membership drive has started, and we’re almost to our first milestone, of 25 new members! We need 250 new members in October so we can move forward with this project immediately — I think we can get there, with your help. We’re planning to roll out the first stages in January 2020.

We hope you join us in transforming the field, and the future! http://speculativeliterature.org/membership/

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Plurality University

Let me tell you about Plurality University Network (https://www.plurality-university.org). One year ago, I was invited to Paris for an inaugural Founders’ conference of Plurality University. I had no idea what this was, and in the midst of a hectic semester, I almost didn’t go. But a free trip to Paris (a city I’d never visited) was not to be scoffed at! And when I started looking at their materials, I was intrigued. I went, and am so glad I did. We all walk around this world with blinders on, and sometimes you don’t know what’s missing until someone shoves it right in your face.

The Plurality University was conceived as something of a response to Singularity University (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singularity_University). They raised the question of whether ambitious visions of the future should be coming primarily from Silicon Valley tech bros, or whether we wanted, needed, a more diverse representation of viewpoints and worldview. (Obviously, YES!)

Here’s the current mission statement: “The Plurality University Network (U+) is a global, open organization that connects artists, designers, utopians and activists who use the power of imagination to enable alternative futures.”

They brought together (and funded travel for) writers and artists and designers and tech folks and futurists from around the world. (In France and elsewhere, futurists are referred to as perspectivists, and more than one I met started as a historian.) I met the woman who serves as futurist for the International Red Cross, a design student building VR cities, and writers, of course. Many writers. They asked us to imagine together what a Plurality University might look like.

The conversation was held primarily in English, which was obviously a relief for monolingual me (I understand Tamil but cannot speak it, I’ve forgotten almost all of my four years of Polish, and my high school Spanish is barely enough to get through a brief, functional conversation — hablo como un pequeño niño. Lo siento. Those who had more English would sometimes translate quickly the more complex concepts we discussed, and somehow, we muddled through.

There were times when it seemed like we’d never come to agreement. We had so many DIFFERENT ideas of what was needed, of what could be done. And many of us were running our own projects at home, and didn’t really see how we would fit into this larger effort. Many of us were strapped for funding, and our most urgent question was always — where will the money come from?

There were class differences and globalization issues too — even the cost of a cab and simple dinner in Paris was magnified tenfold or more for someone who came from a country with a relatively poor exchange rate. We stumbled, sometimes, over such things. Mistakes were made, as is perhaps inevitable when you draw together dozens of strangers.

But there was so much goodwill in the room, for those three packed days. So many fascinating people. And over whiteboards and screens and delicious dinners, somehow, we figured quite a lot out, and took our first steps together. We weren’t strangers to each other by the end of the weekend; we’d started to find our common interests and define our common goals.

The Speculative Literature Foundation’s Deep Dish reading today (Chicago folks — see you at Volumes Book Cafe at 7 p.m.) was already co-sponsored by SFWA, who gave us a grant that let us fly in acclaimed and award-winning Canadian writer Silvia Moreno-Garcia as one of our featured readers. She’s staying with me, and when she got in from Vancouver last night, we stayed up for an hour talking about academia and teaching writing and SF friends in common (hello, Nick Mamatas!) and the state of the Mexican and Canadian SF/F scenes. It’s so different from the U.S., with micro-presses or no presses at all in many places, without a cultural history of SF/F conventions, and it left me even more committed to finding ways for the SLF to help emerging writers around the globe.

Plurality University Network is also sponsoring tonight’s reading, as part of its Many Tomorrows Festival, a distributed event where members of last year’s Paris conference will hold events on a related theme (tonight’s is ‘trans-‘), and send questions and answers back and forth along the chain, connecting one event to the next. They’re paying for photography and videography, which will help us extend the reach of tonight’s event far beyond Chicago — potentially to the whole world, in fact, or at least as much of it is on the internet. Together, these three organizations are stretching the boundary of what’s possible.

Note that your event can still potentially be part of the Many Tomorrows Festival — details here: https://manytomorrows.plurality-university.org. You can also be part of the Interview Project, which I’m participating in: https://www.plurality-university.org/chain-futures/

AND, you can actually join us as a member. (Membership is free.) Details here: https://www.plurality-university.org/become-a-member/

I met incredible, talented people, and learned so much those three days in Paris — my head was spinning by the end of it, packed full of new ideas, new ways of looking at the world. Under the able guidance of Daniel Kaplan and
Chloé Luchs Tassé, amazing projects are on the horizon.

I can’t wait to see what else we’ll be able to do together!

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Hosting Deep Dish during the SLF membership drive

Um. This week, with the launch of the SLF’s membership drive and hosting Deep Dish and developing the new instructional project, I have put in 25 hours on the SLF. I guess this is why Kirsten Jackson started making me track my hours last month, even though I don’t get paid. Eep.

That’s 25 hours of potential novel-writing, 25,000 words, half a novel drafted. I can’t think of it like that, though, or I might go a little nuts. It is too parsimonious an approach for me, measuring out my writing time in jealous increments. I love doing this work, helping to raise up other writers, sharing their fabulousness with the world, and I have to believe that it feeds my writing too, that it helps keep me connected and inspired. But still.

All credit to my Deep Dish co-host, Chris Bauer, who has taken on the bulk of the admin duties for Deep Dish itself, and has just volunteered to co-chair our Chicago chapter in the next year. Woot, Chris! He is a prince among men.

That said, generally, I suspect community service is mostly the unpaid labor of women (hail to all the PTO volunteers who supplement our children’s education, building a brighter future for everyone. Pem Hessing, I see you.).

Service to the community work is still work, and it takes time.

We should count it and support it.

(Pictured: last night’s Deep Dish reading (our tenth!), Chris Bauer, Anaea Lay, Jeremy JohnSue BurkeScott HugginsJane Rosenberg LaForgeMary Anne MohanrajSilvia Moreno-Garcia).

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A Feast of Time :-)

Good morning! Can I say, I am LOVING this new policy of no meetings scheduled on Fridays — I am SO GRATEFUL to whomever on Facebook suggested it to me. If I wanted, I could just hide in my shed all day. I’m ensconced there now, with the candles and incense and little space heater going, a blanket around my legs and this rose visible through the window. So cozy.
The plan for today is to work on SLF stuff in the morning, cook a nice black pork curry and some Sri Lankan red rice, maybe a cabbage sambal, then lunch with Roshani and Silvia, followed by a walk (look, exercise), and then either organizing the basement some more or writing fiction, depending on what I’m in the mood for. There’s also some laundry to put away. But it’s all very leisurely and after several highly-scheduled days, it feels like a feast of time. 🙂
Jed arrives at some point today (I seem not to have written down when) for a long weekend visit, and then we actually have very little scheduled for the weekend either — I think technically all I HAVE to do is shuttle the kids to three soccer games.
I get to complete Anand’s bedroom and the playroom re-org, maybe putter with a tiny home decor project in my own bedroom, maybe just lie around reading Le Guin (I’ve been re-reading Left Hand of Darkness for the umpteenth time, as I teach it to my lit. students).
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The Cost of a Writing Education

As a university writing teacher, I really struggle with the cost of writing programs. I ended up $40,000 in debt after my MFA, despite getting a tuition waiver in the second year (when I was working in the Writing Center and as a grad assistant to a lit. class).

I was panicky when I graduated and realized that there was no tenure-track job waiting for me. I’d be lucky if I was hired to teach a few classes at different schools: cash-strapped schools struggling to stay open with slashed education budgets often don’t want to hire you to teach full-time because they’d need to give you benefits.

Freeway flying and teaching freshman composition — that’s the fate of many MFA grads, often for years and years, while they struggle to write a novel that may, perhaps, sell. It’s not like going to med school, where there’s a guaranteed job waiting on the other end if you graduate.

In retrospect, it was probably a huge financial mistake, taking on so much debt for that degree program, but the truth is that most MFA programs don’t offer a lot of funding to their students. Even though I felt like I learned so much in my program, from talented and generous teachers, I hesitate to recommend to my undergrad writers that they go on to an MFA. But they do want more writing instruction — they need it. So what are they to do?

They can try to learn what they need on their own, by reading voraciously and writing as much as they can. That’s essential, of course, but many are looking for more. They can study out of writing books and participate in online writer forums. Those can be great, but they’re generally not very structured, not in the way a good creative writing program can be.

They can attend local writing workshops (some of which can be quite expensive). They can go to conventions, if they can afford to, attend all the writing tracks and, if one is offered, participate in the writing workshop. They can travel, if they can afford it, to one-week or six-week workshops.

There are huge financial barriers & time barriers (many can’t actually leave home for a week or even a long weekend, due to care commitments, health constraints, and/or job requirements).

More and more, it seemed like the SLF should be able to do something about that, should be able to offer some alternatives. And with the internet come new possibilities. Khan Academy is a brilliant model for how open-source free math education can be extended to the entire world. Can we do the same for creative writing?

I think so. In my next posts, I’m going to talk in more detail about a few aspects of how we hope to go about it, with your help.


The SLF’s October membership drive has started! Check it out: http://speculativeliterature.org/membership/

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Speculative Literature Foundation, raising money to help kids see Black Panther

Yesterday, I talked about the ongoing projects of the Speculative Literature Foundation, and I’m about to go on to what we’re planning for in 2020. But I wanted to pause for a moment and point out that sometimes, we do spontaneous acts that expand gorgeously.

When Black Panther came out, many of us in the field were talking about how great it was that Black kids could finally see themselves on the big screen as superheroes. It was groundbreaking. But I was also very aware that in the neighboring Chicago community of Austin, there were plenty of low-income schools full of Black kids who wouldn’t be able to go see the movie in theaters. I thought we could do something about that, so the SLF started a little fundraiser — “Let’s raise $1000 to send some of those kids to see Black Panther!”

We didn’t know how the community would respond, but with the help of Scott Woods, Columbus arts organizer extraordinaire, the effort succeeded beyond our wildest expectations. We ended up raising $5000 in a week for those kids, sending classes from four different Austin schools (along with their teachers) to see Black Panther on the big screen. We even added in a little money for their library budgets, so they could buy some more graphic novels and SF/F stories to inspire future creators.

One week, $5000, over 400 kids having an incredible experience, thanks to the generosity of the SF/F community. That’s the sort of thing we can do, together.

That’s why we’re asking you to join us as annual members, to extend our reach — there’s so much more we can do.

Wakanda Forever!

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Already people have so generously signed up as new members of the SLF!

You guys are THE BEST. I was so harried yesterday, for the start of our membership drive, that I didn’t even finish the posts I was planning to make, talking about what the SLF does now, and what it’s doing in the future. I may have collapsed into my bed at 6 p.m. instead and re-watched Eat, Pray, Love while playing Polytopia instead. Oops. (I do love Julia Roberts. And pasta.)

And nonetheless, already people have so generously signed up as new members. It warms the cockles of my community-loving heart. Thank you, thank you!

I’m going to refill my coffee, and then I’ll be back to tell you a little more about the SLF, and why I hope you’ll join as a member and support our mission!


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Want to help me design the class?

So, today I’m going to try to teach 9 4th and 5th graders (mostly around age 9, I think) about fantastical game design. Specifically, without tech in the room, I think I can do RPG and possibly board / card game. We have 8 weekly sessions coming up, each one 60 minutes. Also, it’s right after school, so the kids have been sitting for hours, and will likely be wiggly.

Want to help me design the class? I was thinking we’d start with RPG — I wouldn’t be surprised if none of them have actually played D&D yet. So maybe we play through a quick adventure today, and then next session, they start designing their own characters, shared world, etc., working in groups of 3. I was thinking we do 4 weeks on RPG, and then 4 weeks on card game design, starting with teaching them Magic: the Gathering.

For today’s adventure, I’d serve as DM, and give them pre-rolled characters. Can I have them share a character this first time out, just to keep it manageable? Two kids assigned to the wizard, the fighter, etc.? I can see that being good for them getting to know each other (since they may be in separate classes during the day), and also start collaborating. Or is that a recipe for disaster?

Thoughts? Advice? Anyone here who’s done this kind of thing?

(Mary Anne suddenly realizes that she’s never actually DM-d a game herself, and wonders what she’s gotten herself into…)

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