Blasting out

As commented by Timmi Duchamp in the discussion, Erotics of Gender Ambiguity,

“Pronouns, as I think I said a few months back, are red herrings. Red herrings aren’t just irrelevant, they distract. And an obsession with penetrating missing pronouns is partly what this story has to show us-as in a mirror.”

All through this discussion, (which I am coming to long after its inception), I get the feeling of pioneerism. I am not a young woman and I kept thinking uh huh I’ve heard all this before so many times over the decades. But I think it is important to continually explore the issue so that maybe in the next century people can simply live their lives without interference from anyone who thinks they *know* better how they should live. Trying to bring this around to an actual question, did you have some of the same mind set when you wrote “Strings”? In that story you hit on the big issue for me in my life, why the heck should another living soul tell you how to live or interpret life? Only the most real of my friends can bear to be around me because I won’t live falsely. That is falsely to myself, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s all about gender as there are so many other ways to manipulate behavior that also attempt to inhibit people.


I don’t mind general rules about murder and rape and theft and traffic: rules help us to negotiate our differences with less misunderstanding, and give us some structured recourse when people do damage. (Social gender rules don’t fit this model for me — I can’t see much about them that lessens misunderstanding.)

Some folks take things a step farther, into the realm of “wouldn’t it be so much easier if we didn’t have to grub around with all these messy differences in the first place.” Maybe they do it out of fear, to minimize conflict and change. Or maybe to avoid having to think too closely about the choices they make. And some genuinely believe that their way of doing things is Right in some universal sense, and if the rest of us were just a tiny bit more reasonable, or mature, or community-minded… well, there’s no way to win that argument, is there? The scary thing is that some people are willing to legislate behavior if they can’t manipulate it any other way, and they are convinced of the rightness of their cause: they only want what’s best for us, and that gives them all the permission they need to improve us, in spite of ourselves.

But maybe I should answer your question instead of going on a rant about people who believe that there’s only one way to be a good human (grin).

It’s interesting to think about “Strings” in this context. It’s not where my head was when I wrote the story, but it’s not unrelated. The idea for Strad (the protagonist of “Strings”) came from a television profile I saw about a violinist named Nadia Sonnenberg (think I spelled that right). She was so amazingly passionate about her music: she vibrated the entire time she played. She was right there, inside the music. I found it attractive and I identified with it. I felt there were so many things inside me that wanted to come out (including writing), and here was a person who a) knew what was in her, and b) knew how to bring it out.

So that’s where it started: with a desire to let it all come blasting out. Music seemed like a perfect metaphor, and the best way to make the blasting-out point was to put Strad in a situation where she was required to keep it all in, and then examine what it would take to make it come out anyway. There’s not a lot of distance between that and examining why people are afraid of difference, because I think it’s the sense of being different that makes a lot of us keep our passions, our selves, reined in. I could be so much larger than I am. I want that. I’m working on it in life as well as in fiction.

The wandering path of Solitaire


Congrats on your new virtual existence. Hope that the virtual pint will turn out to be as filling as a good glass of bitter.

Has your publisher planned any hoopla for the release of Solitaire? Will there be a local appearance/reading at a bookstore (or pub) in the Seattle area? (Actually, the pub thing might even work –a literary Tuesday night at the local watering hole).

Nicola has a brief mention of your emergency appendectomy. Hope it didn’t turn into peritonitis (really, really, painful) and thus require an extended stay at the hospital.


Mmm, bitter.

Hoopla-planning is in progress, with hoopla being a relative term. The only thing I am sure of right now is a reading at University Books in Seattle, on September 25 at 7 pm.

In most cases, there is little fanfare for first novels, even those published in hardcover. That’s not a blanket statement of course, but generally a first novelist (especially in sf) can expect print advertising/reviews in trade publications like Locus, and reviews in some of the friendlier newspapers and periodicals, along with a local reading or two. Maybe some local media coverage. Perhaps a national review (New York Times, Washington Post) if one is lucky and one’s publicist has been playing nicely with the media. There are fewer outlets for review of sf novels than of literary novels, and genre prejudice is still alive and well in the critical world.

Having said all that, I’m not yet sure what to expect for Solitaire. The book has been on a strange and interesting path that has shattered all my assumptions about what will happen with it.

I sold Solitaire to Morrow/Eos as a mass market original. One of the basic rules of mass market originals is that there is no hoopla. There is a print ad in Locus and maybe a local reading if the author has made friends with the bookstore folks. Review copies are sent out, and the publicists do a fine job of making the books sound engaging and worthwhile. I’m not dissing the publishing people: they have to work with a high volume of product and they do a great job in making sure that every book gets a chance. But, along with genre prejudice, there is also “format prejudice.” Hardcovers get more credibility. Reviewers are more likely to pick them out of the pile of books. Sales reps will be more familiar with them. Again, no disrespect intended: it’s a hierarchical system, and although I don’t like it I can certainly understand it. Everyone needs a way to prioritize their work, and this is one of the ways it happens in publishing.

So I knew that Solitaire would get little support. I decided that I could accept that if I knew I had done everything in my power to support the book myself. So I made several reading copies and sent letters to some of the writers that I’ve had occasion to meet over the years, asking if they would read the book and consider giving it a promotional quote. I am fortunate to know some people who were generous with their time, and liked the book well enough to give it some advance praise.

And then my editor, who is a goddess of publishing, was able to use the quotes and her considerable force of personality and professional credibility to generate interest among key people at the publishing house. This is no mean feat: the people who oversee sales and marketing and publicity are busy. But they did take the time to read the book and reconsider the format, with the result that one day I found myself getting the call about being bumped into hardcover.

Now Borders has selected the book for the Original Voices program. I can pretty much guarantee that would never have happened if the book had been published as a mass market original, even though it would have been exactly the same book. It’s a huge thing for me because the Borders program is “literary”, not “genre” (and don’t get me started about these kinds of artificial distinctions, they make me so grumpy). Will Solitaire have the chance and the ability to cross over to some non-genre readers? That would certainly be a fine thing for me, since I feel pretty much the same about book category labels (like sf or literary fiction) as I do about sexual identity labels.

So now I’m hoping for a reading or some event at a Borders store in Seattle, although that is not yet certain. Possibly readings in Portland or Bellingham. Maybe some local press? A review in Publisher’s Weekly. Who knows? It’s all pretty interesting, an unexpected treat no matter how it turns out.

I like the idea of a literary pub event! I will tell my publicist.

And no peritonitis, thanks for asking. They got to the appendix just before the bursting point, and I was actually home less than 12 hours after the surgery with some good drugs and lots of food brought around by friends. I feel fortunate.

Sexual salad bar sci-fi

I’ll definitely be reading Solitaire. I am curious, is it lesbian sci-fi or straight sci-fi? It won’t make a difference, but I just want to know. Thank you.

Katia N. Ruiz

I’m glad for this question: I need to practice answering it, and I have so many different answers that it’s easy to get tangled up in them.

The straightforward factual answer: Jackal has a primary emotional and sexual relationship with a woman in this book. She also has (consensual) sex with a male friend.

The deeper answer is: neither. Because the only stories I’m inclined to characterize as “lesbian” fiction or “straight” fiction are those that pointedly grapple with issues of sexuality. As an example: I just finished reading a really lovely young adult book called Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson. It’s the story of a thirteen year old girl who is raped and has to deal with the psychological damage of the attack at the same time that she’s trying to cope with her first year of high school. It’s a gorgeous book that wrestles with a lot of issues, including sexual power dynamics among heterosexual adolescent people. I can’t imagine that anyone would ever characterize this as straight fiction, but for me it’s much more “straight” fiction than my book is “lesbian” fiction.

Lots of people will call Solitaire a lesbian book because of the relationship, and some people will think that the sex with a man makes it not a “real lesbian” book after all. I suspect I am going to get a certain amount of grumpiness from several directions. I’m glad that it won’t make a difference to you: I don’t see why it would to anyone, but there you go.

I can’t even really categorize Solitaire as bi-sci-fi. Sexual identification just isn’t an issue for Jackal in any way in this book. There’s sex in it but it’s not about sex or the consequences of sexual choices. And just as I resist being labeled in my private life, I resist it in my professional life. Solitaire is character sci-fi, it’s inner-landscape sci-fi. If we must put a sex-related label on it, let’s call it sexual-salad-bar sci-fi, a category that I would be happy to pioneer.

Give a little, get a lot

You’re giving away stories on your website, which is fairly cool, but aren’t you worried that you’ll lose sales? What about copyright?


I’m not at all worried about losing sales — quite the opposite. I think there’s no better way to market writing than to give some of it away, and in that spirit I’ll be posting the first chapter of Solitaire on this website as soon as I can.

I think it’s vital to do everything I can to keep my short fiction alive and available. Stories are so ephemeral, particularly given the ever-shortening shelf life of anthologies and magazines these days. And I want people to read my stories, but most of them are no longer available in print, and I certainly don’t expect anyone to go to all the trouble of hunting them down. So the easiest thing is to dress them up nicely and make them available for a date.

I’m proud of my stories. I want to share them. I’m a more experienced and more accomplished story writer than I am a novelist. Not to say that the novel isn’t good! It is. But short fiction is a different beastie, and one that I’ve been living with comfortably for more than a dozen years. I love writing a good story, and reading one — it’s a concentrated, dense experience. If a novel is a feast, then a really well-written short story is like the best damn Belgian chocolate truffle in the world (or maybe a Butlers truffle from Ireland. Mmmm.)

It only benefits me to have as many people as possible read my short work. I hope that many of them will like what they read well enough to take a chance on the novel, and to follow me from there.

As for copyright, I’m not giving anything away by making the stories available online. They still belong to me, and I’ll guard them fiercely. I’m happy to share them, and happy for people to print them out for personal use or give a copy to their friends. To me, that’s like buying a CD and then copying it onto my computer (since I do 90% of my music listening while I’m working). (And ask me sometime how hugely pissed off I am about the notion of CD protection that doesn’t allow music to be copied this way.) But I wouldn’t buy a disk and burn copies for 10 friends for free. And just because I’m putting the stories online doesn’t mean I’m giving anyone the right to republish them on another website, or in a book, or on a disk.

There’s been a lot of agitation in the last several years about this issue, and about the length of copyright in general. Every once in a while, especially (it seems) in science fiction and fantasy, some bright spark gets the mistaken notion that if it’s published, it means it’s public. I will be very happy to disabuse anyone of this peculiar idea, should it become necessary.

Grrrrrrr, she said. And having said all this, I’m not in favor of perpetual copyright. Right now, in the case of my work (since it was all created and published after 1978), the copyright belongs to me and my estate for my lifetime plus 70 years. That seems long enough.