Yesterday, I posted up Part One of a conversation about the crowdfunding campaign for the speculative fiction anthology, Accessing the Future, which will be calling for stories that explore the intersectionality of disability, along with gender, class, race, and sexuality. I’m very enthusiastic about this project, because I believe that telling fiction stories is the way to begin ensuring representation of all people in all places. Once we are comfortable seeing “the other” represented as “normal” in our art and entertainment, whether high-brow or otherwise, I believe it becomes easier to accept this new normality in daily life.
(And yes, I realize that using “normal” is kind of a land mine, but what I hope people will understand what I mean is that depictions of “the other” – whether women, people of color, people of other cultures, people who don’t fit the expectations of ability – are still seen as “abnormal.” As long as the default main character in mainstream media is predominately white, male, and perfectly abled, our definition of normal is exclusionary. I’d like to see that change.)
The other great thing about this anthology is that they are crowdfunding in order to be able to fairly compensate their contributors. As a writer of short fiction, I can get behind that goal 100 percent!! At this point, they are only about $1,000 away from their goal of bringing us great short spec fiction from authors who have been paid for their work. Please go check out the link – their contributor rewards are pretty badass.
The second part of this blog post contains five questions that the anthology editors have posed for authors to turn the lens on their own works and examine why this SF discussion is necessary. For me, this was a bit uncomfortable. My characters – at least the main ones – often look a lot like me, white, middle-class, abled, and – mostly – straight. In fact, my first book, Soft Target, was written with two main characters who pretty much are drawn from the stock buddy movie. When my friend told me she was enjoying the “Strong Woman Character,” it took me a second to remember to whom she was referring. But in the spirit of self-examination, and in the hope of providing some entertainment so that people will go check out the campaign, here are the answers to the questions about my current work in progress, Steel-Toed Blues.
Q: Tell us about your Work In Progress (WIP) / Current Read (CR) and the world it’s set in.
Steel-Toed Blues is an urban fantasy novel about a blues musician who is down to her last dollar, and trying to make the most out of her current gig – playing for the singer Tamekia Spring, who is poised on the edge of blues stardom. An Army veteran who is currently living out of her 1982 station wagon with her Basset hound, Frank, Rose Allen Lee finds herself caught between the fault lines of normality and the underworld of the Fae. As this otherworld intrudes into real life, Rose Allen tries to shut it out, so as not to jeopardize the thin line of her so-called career. (Still working on this blurb…)
The world is the contemporary United States, mostly in the Deep South, characteristics of which are echoed in the Fae underworld, which has become as Americanized as any of the other immigrants from the Old Countries – and some of whom were brought here in similar ways.
Q: Who are the most powerful people in this world?
The most powerful people in this world are people with money. They are the ones who don’t have to worry about paying the rent, fixing their cars, paying for health insurance – and they are the ones who pay for the tickets to the gigs on Tamekia Spring’s tour. Anything that jeopardizes the money flow – including freaking out on stage over green fire and Fae folk – will be kicked from the tour. Tamekia has loyalty to her musicians, but you’ve gotta make a living. Money brings you respectability, and power, and adds a weight to words when speaking to authority.
Rose Allen Lee understands this fact, and doesn’t spend a lot of time bemoaning it, but she also has to negotiate her way along the precarious cliff of juggling dollars and cents. When her friend Jimmy Dee joins her for the tour and offers to help pay for gas so she can get to the next venue, she refuses at first, because it makes her feel dirty and obligated. Jimmy, for his part, wants to help her because she is firstly an old Army buddy, and with the recent suicide of another friend, wants to spend time with her to make sure she is all right. (And a visit from some geas-laying Fae gives him a little bit of a spur as well.)
Q: Where does their power come from?
Power comes from money. Money buys you food, and a place to live. If you have more of it, it can buy you positions of authority, elections, respect in the community, and the ability to affect the lives of people with less money – such as musicians, artists, authors, etc. If you have money and choose to support live music, you can directly affect a musician’s livelihood. If you have money and choose to illegally download music, you have the power to diminish that livelihood. (IS Note: Can you tell this is a thing with me?)
Q: What physical and/or mental characteristics underpin their positions of power?
I’m not sure if there are a certain set of physical/mental characteristics that underpin this power, or rather, if the money gives you the power that then translates into people making assumptions about your physical/mental characteristics. No matter what people may think about you behind your back, if you have money, they will never say it to your face. Of course, it’s easier to obtain and keep that money if you come from a certain family, or class, or gender.
For Rose Allen Lee, these concerns are peripheral to her main goal in life, which is to have a steady diet of live gigs to keep gas in her car and food in Frank’s bowl. But she can’t help but be aware of them, because they directly affect the musicians, like Tamekia, who employ her. If the people aren’t coming out to the gigs, she is not going to be able to live her life. And right now, life on the road is the only thing she can stand.
Q: How does this affect the weakest people in the world?
For the weakest people, those without money, this adds up to a huge amount of uncertainty – uncertainty about food, uncertainty about how to pay for medical care in case of an emergency, uncertainty about paying the rent. For Rose Allen Lee, this is a conscious decision, and she accepts the uncertainty, but then again, she is a combat veteran and used to living in environments with a high degree of stress and uncertainty. For others, such as her friend and bandmate, Sweet Mae, this uncertainty leads to feelings of helplessness and degradation, especially in her case, dealing with her partner of many years who is undergoing cancer treatments on a teacher’s pension. Even for those who are not poor, per se, but simply don’t have jobs that fit the idea of the normal nine to five, 40-hour workday, dealing with other people’s perceptions of their lives can lead to stress and uncertainty.
Conclusion: One of the reasons I’m writing this novel is that I’m exploring some of these issues of the artist’s life, of women as combat veterans, of music and how it provides value to our lives. I know many people, myself included, who left that life and turned to something more secure because they were tired of dealing with that uncertainty. As I move away from my current, secure position and back out into the world of freelancing and independent authorship, these ideas of power and money are becoming even more important. I don’t think I’ll be hitting the road with my Basset hound any time soon (he takes up a lot of space, I only have a Ford Focus, and my other puppy would feel left out, as would my partner), but I have great respect for those artists who take the plunge, and I hope I’ll represent a character for them who embodies that strength and respect.
Again, I encourage you to take a look at the Accessing the Future campaign page, or peruse the Future Fire blog and read some of the other stops on the tour. And last, but most definitely not least, please contribute. And if you can’t contribute monetarily, please print out a flyer and hang it in your library, share the campaign Web site on your social media, or perhaps take these questions and participate in the blog hop yourself.