If this conference had existed a decade ago, my career might have had a very different trajectory. It’s exciting, being in a room with a host of women who are really engaged in current mainstream literary endeavors. It’s a little like grad school, with excited exchanges about this amazing book they just read (The Story of a Brief Marriage), or frustration with an essay in Best American Essays (the Laura Kipnis one, about dating your professor). There’s frustration with the challenges of finding an agent, and commiseration, and support. It’s a lot like a great grad program, actually, which I was lucky enough to attend.
But BinderCon is in New York, which somehow changes the tenor of the conversation — a lot of the women I’ve met are actively working in the New York publishing scene in one way or another, and I ended up having a sense that if I could’ve come to this convention in, say, 2004, when I was getting ready to publish Bodies in Motion, I might have been able to make some connections that meant a different group of people would have read my book, a more plugged-in literary set. A missed opportunity, maybe?
I mean, I was very lucky already — the book was well-supported by HarperCollins, and got glowing reviews from places like the SF Chronicle and the Boston Globe; I don’t mean to imply that it was doomed to obscurity because I didn’t live in New York and didn’t meet the right people. It was translated into six languages, which still astonishes me. But then, the buzz died down. Sometimes there’s a little bit of a boost you can get, if you’re in the right place at the right time? I keep thinking about Aaron Burr — “I want to be in the room where it happens.” It can make all the difference in the world, having the right conversation at a critical moment.
And personally, I am feeling very torn, because there’s a part of me that just wants to immerse in the science fiction world, which is mostly what I’ve been doing the last two years, to some success. I’ve published stories in Asimov’s and Clarkesworld and Lightspeed, I’ve started writing for Ellen Kushner’s Tremontaine, and have continued writing for George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards, which is now being picked up for tv — there’s a sense of momentum building, which I’m very excited about, and I am crossing all my fingers and toes that my agent will like the SF novel I have given him, that he can sell it and turn it into a series and maybe that will end up on tv someday, and all of that would be tremendously exciting, the stuff of writerly dreams.
But there’s also a part of me that wants to do what these women are doing. Writing cultural criticism for the Washington Post, writing about parenting and domesticity and politics. Shaping essays that reflect the realities of my life and the lives around me. I’d still be addressing the same sorts of things I’m trying to write about in my fiction, I think — but with a different lens, a different focus, a different audience.
And nothing says I have to pick, that I can’t do both, but you can’t be in two rooms at the same time. By choosing to come here, I couldn’t go to World Fantasy, which is the major professional con of SF/F, and which is, and will likely always be, the same weekend as BinderCon. Which one will I go to next year? I don’t know. Maybe I’ll alternate, and maybe that will be okay, or maybe that will dilute and distract my energies.
I keep hoping that all the disparate things I want to write will come together in an exciting synergistic way, but I am just not sure. It’s not how the business usually works; it’s not how you build a brand. But I don’t know that I can carve away and ignore things that are important to me. When I had cancer, I *had* to write about it, for my own sanity, if nothing else. When I parent, I have to write that too. And when I grieve for Sri Lanka and its decades of ethnic conflict, when I read about the Syrian refugees, it informs both my science fiction stories, like “Plea,” and my fear of what will come if this election goes badly, what it will mean for my mixed-race children. I can’t separate it, so I guess that I will just keep on as I have been, and hope the market will pay attention, will notice, and will be kind.