“We need to talk about diversity,” has been the conversation starter in SF/F as of late. But the best fiction, as the saying goes, shows, not tells. The anthology Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older, reveals representation as more than a tally-count concerning diversity, and highlights how the act of reading across difference can be an intensely immersive experience.
Reading Long Hidden very much felt like sitting in on late-night conversations in a room full of strangers, darting from one conversation to the next. I might not immediately recognize the context of one tale or another, nor did I feel pressure or ridicule for not knowing something beforehand. What was important was recognizing the generosity and trust in which these stories were being told, and letting the conversation flow.
I’ve had the pleasure of conducting such a conversation with Rose and Daniel after my read. We discuss their challenges and joys during the editing process, the logistics of outreach and crowd-funding, and the impact of marginalized voices in the future of speculative fiction.
Note: I’m taking off my Ay-leen moniker for this one.
Diana: Let me start with what struck me when I first glanced through the Table of Contents: several authors included in Long Hidden don’t typically write genre fiction. I encountered many for the first time reading through this volume (or is my woefully under-read cred showing by admitting this?) Many of your contributors come from writing programs or have teaching posts that certainly have a more literary bent to them. Rion Amilcar Scott, Jamey Hatley, and Michael Janairo were a few of the other people I was curious about.
Rose: We reached out directly to a number of authors, and then we had open submissions. I had previously spoken with Victor LaValle about his book The Devil in Silver, which we both agreed was horror even though it was labeled “literary,“ so I was pretty confident that he would be interested in doing an overtly speculative story for us.
Daniel: I love what happens when authors stretch themselves outside of what they’re used to. The work itself often has a freshness and vibrancy to it and it improves the genre as a whole, imbues it with new life and voices. Jamey Hatley immediately comes to mind with this—she doesn’t write short stories or speculative fiction, but I bugged her and she relented and the piece was one I fell in love with instantly.
Diana: Do you think connecting with writers outside of genre impacted your anthology in ways you didn’t expect?
Rose: Not especially, but then I don’t really see our authors as being “outside of genre.“ Historical fiction is a genre; literary fiction is a genre. The Long Hidden concept overlaps a great many genres and we always wanted our authors to take all sorts of approaches to demonstrate that.
Daniel: I do. Besides the variety of cultures represented in Long Hidden, there’s a fantastic diversity of narrative styles and voices. That’s one of my favorite parts about it, really. The question of in and out of genre is definitely a complicated one, fraught with politics and marketing and style disagreements, but I do think having brand new authors and authors that don’t normally write spec-fic strengthens the book as a whole, especially having their work in conversation with well-known authors and authors that write almost exclusively spec fic. Kemba Banton is a brand new voice; she writes with such a grace and confidence that the story stands up and walks off the page while you’re reading it. Rion Amilcar Scott is another—I knew his work from magazines on the more “literary” end of the spectrum and it’s always jumped out at me. Most of the work I’d read by Kima Jones was non-fiction (she had written spec fic before though)- it was work that stunned me and woke me up and I was so excited to see what she did with the fantastical elements in her piece.
Diana: I also greatly enjoyed the illustrations too! How did you find the artists involved?
Daniel: We trolled around tumblr and deviant art and reached out to folks whose work we loved. They all did fantastic pictures. David Fuller’s story was actually inspired in part by Aaron Paquette’s art, so we invited Aaron to illustrate the piece and the result is brilliant.
Diana: Authenticity has been a concern when writing the Other, and there have been a variety of methods that people have considered (including Daniel’s popular Buzzfeed article on the subject). Were there any thoughts you kept in mind about authorial intent versus outcome while considering submissions?
Rose: I didn’t want stories that were about “the other.“ I wanted stories about “us” and “we.“ I wanted stories from trans* authors about trans* people, from queer authors about queer people, from marginalized people about their own lives, from the descendants of marginalized people about their ancestors’ lives. And most of the stories that clicked with us came from that perspective. Sofia Samatar’s story “Ogres of East Africa” embodies this in a lot of ways, which is part of why we put it first in the anthology. That story tells you right away that the white male (presumably cis and het) character invading and exploring an “alien” land, the character who has always been the viewpoint figure of SF/F, is no longer the viewpoint figure. White male cis het readers who envision themselves as protagonists and their own stories as the default stories may find this deeply disconcerting. That’s fine with me. The point of Long Hidden is to give a different reading population a turn at imagining ourselves as protagonists. We are no longer “the other.“ In this space, we are just “we.“
Diana: Another recent conversation is the popular spread of short stories versus essays on social media (on Storify here). I’m interested in revisiting your thoughts about this discussion.
When it comes the genre community, how do you think ideas found in short stories versus in essays are disseminated? Are there differences in discussions between readers than between writers?
I’m not implying that essays aren’t discussed, but I think that critical essays usually become the focus of discussion for the ideas they contain rather than short stories for theirs.
Daniel: I posted an essay on gentrification yesterday and with just one tweet, the conversation was up and running, RTs and hashtags and that’s fantastic—I love that that happens, but it always strikes me how different that is from what happens when I post a short story. Short fiction doesn’t generate buzz on social media, at least not that I’ve seen. But we group watch TV shows and essays explode across the timeline. I think part of this might be that folks don’t like to read fiction on the computer—I know I don’t—and don’t like to be distracted and step out of the world of the story to tweet about it. So when we released my story Anyway: Angie on Tor.com last month, I specifically asked people to livetweet their reading experience, hashtag it and see what happens. The response was profound, a huge reaction, but it really did take work and intentionality to get there. I think it’d be great to livetweet reading more. There’s folks starting up an #SSS hashtag, Short Story Saturday, which I think is super excellent.
Diana: I’m also thinking, as a comparative example, about conversations I frequently have with casual steampunk fans about representation and diversity. They may not follow genre awards, or may not even be an frequent SFF reader per say, but they go to conventions perhaps, or got into the steampunk community through fashion, video games, as a Maker etc. Often, I’d send recommend these people short stories that I think handle non-Western world-building and/or non-white characters very well (also, sort of as proof that this story can be considered part of the steampunk genre and how it doesn’t always have to be a glorification or whiteness or empire). For people who don’t usually read SFF but like steampunk as an aesthetic, I’ve found this pretty handy in getting them to re-examine the roots of their fannishness.
Basically, I’m thinking about how Long Hidden got started by a conversation—how do you see this volume adding to this current discussion?
Rose: I don’t know that it will, necessarily, because it’s a book rather than an online magazine; when I think of “the spread of short stories” I think of people sending one another links to Strange Horizons or Clarkesworld. Anthologies are bought and consumed and borrowed and shared as a whole. We have some truly marvelous short stories in ours, and I hope to see some of them on next year’s awards ballots, but I feel like the anthology format inherently places those stories in the context of the anthology rather than in the context of online conversations about short fiction.
Daniel: I agree with that distinction and it’s made me question whether to submit to anthologies, when an online posting can generate so much more conversation and reach so many more people. Jury’s still out. Having said that, I do feel like with the Kickstarter’s whirlwind success and the excitement that’s already in the air about what Long Hidden is, there will be some amazing conversations happening on that hashtag for a long time.
Diana: Many of the stories included in your anthology deal with characters during times of historical upheaval and strife, most noticeably during times of war and occupation. Is this purely coincidental?
Rose: Well, no, of course not. In order for people to be marginalized, other people have to push them to the margins. Marginalization doesn’t just happen. The people in power do it. And when there are struggles for power and conflicts between cultures, the people in power will most aggressively marginalize people and oppress those who are marginalized in order to maintain their power. Also, we explicitly wanted stories that “don’t get told, or have been told wrong,“ and times of war and occupation are times when the experiences of marginalized people are most often overlooked and suppressed. For example, when you’re enslaving people, you don’t want to hear about what life as an enslaved person is like, because then you might start to question your own rightness and righteousness. So you spin myths of happy slaves singing in the fields and of your own benevolence, and you do your best to make sure the real stories never see the light of day. These stories haven’t been “long hidden” because a mountain happened to fall on them. They were deliberately buried, and we are deliberately digging them up and bringing them to light.
Diana: I’m also curious about how we support our fiction nowadays. Long Hidden was funded through crowdsourcing. Do you see this as becoming a more popular method that anthologists should consider versus taking traditional routes? What was some of the unique challenges and rewards you got from crowdsourcing?
Rose: Any publishing method has its pros and cons, and anyone planning to make a book should consider all of them. The great advantage of crowdfunding is that you find out right away whether your idea is viable. In our case, we were astonished and humbled by the outpouring of interest and support for Long Hidden. We knew there was a large and deeply interested audience out there for this book. That motivated us through the entire project (and still kind of takes my breath away). The great disadvantage of crowdsourcing is the accounting and reward fulfillment, which can be as time-consuming and tiring as writing an entire extra book. We were very fortunate to be working with Bart Leib and Kay Holt at Crossed Genres, who took on the business side of things—as any good publisher should—and freed us to focus on selecting and editing stories. Anyone who crowdfunds without a publisher involved should be aware that they are in for a LOT of work. Self-publishing is publishing, and for self-publishing to get you anywhere, you have to really be a publisher as well as a writer or editor.
Daniel: I second everything Rose said. The Kickstarter blew my mind, it was incredible to be a part of. The downside of crowdfunding is also that it’s not sustainable long term. We can’t keep going back to loyal readers and asking them to fund the books they want to read and really, we shouldn’t have to. So I see it as an important step, but it’s definitely a step.
Diana: If you had to do this project all over again, would’ve you done anything differently and why?
Rose: I would have liked to reach out more to people I know who write historical romance, and encourage them to send us stories. Love is such an important part of life on the margins—sometimes it’s all you have, all that keeps you going—and while a lot of our stories are about love in one way or another, I feel like we could always use more. I also think the historical romance genre is long overdue for some stories about marginalized people; so much of it is about lords and ladies. I’m just starting to see occasional novels about servants, poor relations, factory workers, and others who made it possible for those lords and ladies to live their glittering lives. I’d like to see a lot more, and I think some well-publicized romance stories in Long Hidden could have nudged that along a bit. But maybe what’s really needed is a separate Long Hidden–like book that’s just historical romance!
Daniel: I love how broadly we outreached and in retrospect I would’ve reached out even more broadly, or I should say, with even more intentionality and precision. I would’ve reached out more specifically to indigenous communities, for instance, and I would’ve posted on more message boards that never see calls for submission to spec fic anthologies.
Diana: Finally, is a second volume in the realm of possibility?
Rose: We’ve certainly talked about it. (I make jokes about calling it 2 Long 2 Hidden.) The Crossed Genres folks have suggested doing a book of children’s stories along the same lines, which would be quite marvelous. Daniel and I are both tremendously busy with other projects, though, and of course we’re waiting to see how this one does—whether it has legs beyond the thousand wonderful people who funded the Kickstarter. We both absolutely loved doing this project, and I think if we had infinite free time and guaranteed income we’d already have a call for submissions out for volume two, but editing an anthology is a great deal of work, and publishing one is too, and that work has to earn us money because we’re stuck in this terrible capitalist system where it’s not enough to just make art that’s socially important and esthetically pleasing, so we need to get some sense of whether a sequel would be commercially viable before we really seriously talk about making it happen.
Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History will be available from Crossed Genres in May 2014.
Ay-leen the Peacemaker (or in other speculative lights, Diana M. Pho) works at Tor Books, runs the multicultural steampunk blog Beyond Victoriana, pens academic things, and tweets. Oh wait, she has a tumblr too.