Saturday, September 14, 2013

Strange Chicano in Stranger Con - Parte 2

Below you'll find my Chicano's note to publishers, editors and agents, as well as details on my Paolo Bacigalupi questions I presented on the panels: 1. Magic Realism, 2. Chicano Science Fiction, or 3. SF/F as Covert Commentary on Current Social Issues. If you already read the first installment, you can scroll down to the section El Nuevo, for new material.

I'll complete coverage begun last week of the LoneStarCon3 (WorldCon 2013 in San Anto) I attended--one of three largest science-fiction/fantasy (SF/F) conventions (cons) in the world.

These words are intended for Anglos who want to know more about latinos who get so "sensitive and uppity" about publishing. From knowledge can come affinity.
They also provides non-SF/F latino readers and writers with material for advancing the art. Esas y eses, we need mucho más of it, to educate others.

Links and information verify points I raised, or books and authors mentioned at the Con. They come from notes and my collecting the work of others. Sections begin with panel descriptions, taken from the Con program.

The previous installment featured latino novelists explaining difficulties they met in getting published; Black novelist Samuel Delany's famous essay Racism and Science Fiction; Sherman Alexie--“I know a lot more about being white than [whites] know about being Indian;”  and his frackin' funny message: "White folks, that's applicable to Chicanos; and latino Junot Diaz: "The problem isn't in labeling writers by their color or their ethnic group; the problem is that one group organizes things so that everyone else gets these labels but not it. No, not it."

El Nuevo

Update on latino exclusion from SF/F: The impressive booklet, One Hundred Years Hence: science fiction and fantasy at Texas A&M (a school three hours from the Con location), was distributed at the Con. It "highlights the treasures of [A&M's] Sci-Fi and Fantasy Research Collection and touches on authors, history, themes, and the unexpected connections that exist in the science fiction world." [my emphasis] Their library contains one of the "top ten collections of science fiction and fantasy in the United States."
Note that the "Diversity in SciFi" section (p. 40) features, yes, black authors, but no latinos, assumedly a reflection of their collection. [Boys and girls, how 'bout diversifying your collection?] In their "Star Trek" section (p.70), there's no mention of Jesus Treviño (more on him below).
Update, Not all Con females happy, either: Check here for some of the hullabaloo--as they say in Tex.-- on the panel Yellow Roses: Texas Female Authors and the Issues They Face. Wish I hadn't missed that!
Manuel Ramos
Update, anything goes: Manuel Ramos proposes that a new article "adds another dimension to the cultural appropriation discussion, an Asian American writing about the American South and critics questioning the authenticity. The article makes a good point--judge fiction on the basis of what constitutes good fiction, not on what race or ethnicity the writer happens to be." While Ramos and I haven't hashed this out, you can consider decide for yourself.

Panel – Magic Realism, Science Fiction, Fantasy. "How can you use these terms to describe the varied work of Angélica Gorodischer, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Laura Esquivel?" Moderated by Darlene Marshall.

I possibly startled the audience by proposing that at times Anglos seem to believe magic realism is something inherent to Chicanos or latinos, like the old stereotype that black people have natural rhythm. And I presented this as a definition of magic realism, attributed to Gabriel Garcia Marquez: "I aimed to destroy the line of demarcation that separates what seems real from what seems fantastic." [my emphasis]

Appropriate for the panel's opening blessing, I read the opening to G.G. Marquez's 100 Years of Solitude:
"Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, General Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.  At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point."

There was not time to read the original: "Muchos años después, frente al pelotón de fusilamiento, el coronel Aureliano Buendía había de recordar aquella tarde remota en que su padre lo llevó a conocer el hielo. Macondo era entonces una aldea de veinte casas de barro y cañabrava construidas a la orilla de un río de aguas diáfanas que se precipitaban por un lecho de piedras pulidas, blancas y enormes como huevos prehistóricos. El mundo era tan reciente, que muchas cosas carecían de nombre, y para mencionarlas había que señalarlas con el dedo."

I shared this from NPR critic Marcela Valdesm: "I don't think magical realism is a major reference for writers in Latin America anymore. I think people continue to use it as a frame of reference because we still haven't seen a novel in the U.S. that has had the same impact as Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude." [My emphasis. Okay, Chicanos--you want a challenge?] The article included: "Magic realism has become kitschy, a commodity," from the scholar Ilan Stavans.

My one contribution that some others seemed pleased with was an observation that, using Marquez's description, we might realize that much of the time, we are surrounded by the thriving, true Magic Realists. Creatures who live in a world where sometimes no line of demarcation exists between reality and fantasy. Children, mostly under the age of six. Hey, think about it.

Other works mentioned included Alejandro Morales' The Brick People (1988) and his combo-SF-magic realism work Rag Doll Plagues (1991). We certainly missed the participation of John Phillip Santos (Places left unfinished at the time of creation) wasn't able to attend.

Panel – Chicano Science Fiction. "Is there a subgenre of Chicano-authored SF literature? Why or why not? How has the Chicano protagonist been portrayed in mainstream SF--archetypes or stereotypes? Will there come a Golden Age of Chicano SF? Our panelists discuss the evolution and current landscape of Chicano SF authors." Moderator Ben Olguin.

I proposed we should not think that Chicano sci-fi is latino sci-fi, such as from Junot Diaz et al; cultural differences can be significant. How different? Here's Ernest Hogan's goes as far as to say this about what it means to be a Chicano: "Chicanismo is a sci-fi state of being." And here's the link to my three-part series, "Spic vs spec - Chicanos/latinos & sci-fi lit" from last summer.

For the Chicano sci-fi subgenre question, the week before the Con I did a Wikipedia search for "Chicano sci-fi" and turned up zero. Googling gave me my novel and those of fellow Bloguista Ernest Hogan. The New Yorker Sci-fi issue this year featured Junot Diaz, but no Chicanos. At least in novels, this subgenre is thin and our Golden Age is not evident.

I believe some Chicano spec authors have avoided Chicano protagonists, for fear of the "not marketable" rejection from U.S. publishers and agents. My response was to parody a Chicano novel that had no meaningful characters in its Texas story, by injecting Chicano characters into that scenario. You can read that in the chapter Guillermo's in The Closet of Discarded Dreams.

My tentative list of the Chicano SciFi subgenre (traditionally published books):

1922 Campos de Fuego, breve narración de una expedición a la región volcánia de "El Pinacate" by Sonora Gumersindo Esquer. "A Mexican Jules Verne." This came out after the Border got put up, but this bloguista still claims Esquer as a precursor.
1975 Los Pachucos Y La Flying Saucer, a short story by Reyes Cárdenas, first published in Caracol magazine. "A wild romp of the kind of joyous mayhem that happens when you plug sci-fi into a different culture."
1976 Victuum by Isabella Rios, where psychic development epitomizes with the encounter of an outer-planetary being. O.O.P., expensive if you can find it.
1984 Afro-6 by Hank Lopez. According to his NYTimes obit, Lopez was "born in Denver of parents who had emigrated from Mexico." A futuristic thriller about a Black, armed take-over of Manhattan. [I don't know why the copyright also includes Harry Baron, though he's not listed as co-author.]
1990 Cortez on Jupiter by Ernest Hogan (of mexicano parentage), which was a Ben Bova Presents publication from Tor Books. "Protagonist Pablo Cortez uses freefall grafitti art--splatterpainting--to communicate with Jupiter's gaseous forms of life."
1992 High AzteCH, also by Ernest Hogan. Renegade Chicano cartoonist Zapata creates a virus capable of infecting human minds with religion.
1995 The Fabulous Sinkhole by Jesus Treviño, Film/TV Director/Writer (Prison Break, Resurrection Blvd. Star Trek Voyager, Babylon Five, Deep Space Nine). "Stories into magic realism: spunky teen Yoli Mendez performs quadratic equations in her head."
2000 Places left unfinished at the time of creation by John Phillip Santos. "A girl sees a dying soul leave its body; dream fragments, family remembrances and Chicano mythology reach back into time and place; a rich, magical view of Mexican-American culture."
2001 Smoking Mirror Blues also by Ernest Hogan. Tezcatlipoca (the Mirror that Smokes), warrior/wizard god of the Aztecs. Western Civilization thought it wiped him out centuries ago. He's back.
Writer/Director Jesus Treviño
2005 The Skyscraper that Flew, also by Jesus Treviño (Arte Público Press). An enormous crystal skyscraper mysteriously appears in the Arroyo Grande's baseball field. Then the stories begin.
2006 Gil's All Fright Diner, A. Lee Martinez, born in El Paso. He has other books, but from my understanding, considers neither his books nor himself latino. [Disqualified from list?]
2009 Lunar Braceros by Rosaura Sanchez, Beatrice Pita and Mario A. Chacon. Not yet on this author's "recommended list."
2012 The Closet of Discarded Dreams by Rudy Ch. Garcia. A Chicano alternate-world fantasy. With a Chicano protagonist. Honorable Mention, SF/F category, 2012-13 International Latino Book Awards.
Disqualified from this list: The Outlander (1991) novels, called “the smartest historical sci-fi adventure-romance story written by a science Ph.D. Author Diana Gabaldon calls herself "an American." She says her name is not pronounced Spanish; instead go with: “GAA-bull-dohn”—rhymes with “stone.” Don't label her Hispanic, Chicana, Latina, etc. 19 million copies sold, so maybe it doesn't matter.
Correction about The Daedalus Incident (2013). Author Michael J. Martinez doesn't consider himself Chicano/Latino; he was Texas-born by a father from Spain (and mother of Lithuanian descent). I spoke with Martinez, who doesn't want any misunderstandings, which means don't label his book latino.
Addendum: If the list was extended to YA and children's, other authors, like Matt de la Peña, would be added, for Infinity Ring: Curse of the Ancients (2013). "Sera sees the terrifying future, but can’t prevent the Cataclysm while stranded thousands of years in the past. The only hope lies with the ancient Maya, a mysterious people who claim to know a great deal about the future."

Panel – Should SF/F be Covert Commentary on Current Social Issues? "The science fiction genre has long provided a useful vehicle for discussing controversial contemporary issues and has frequently offered insightful social commentary on potential unanticipated future issues. The presentation of issues that are troubling for an audience can be made more palatable when they are explored in a future setting. Does current science fiction continue to explore social and political issues? Should it?" Bradford Lyau, moderator.

The other two panelists were Liz Gorinsky of Tor Books and Chris N. Brown, editor of Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic.

Considering books like 1984 or Ernst Callenbach's Ecotopia. I believe the panel agreed that the question is rhetorical, if the writing/commentary is done well.
At the panel, I mentioned MGM Studios' Samuel Goldwyn who told his producers, "If you want to send a message, use Western Union." That American mentality and sentiment carries over into American where some believe politics has no place in Star Wars stories. But as one panelist noted: "Of course SF is a vehicle for commentary--covert or otherwise--and among the best works, is pretty overt! In light of the accelerating globalization of our planet, there is so much to discuss."

Paolo Bacigalupi
I quoted SF/YA author Paolo Bacigalupi, on his YA spec lit: "Right now all of our myths are focused on how to become rich and successful—we tell stories about ourselves as explorers, as adventurers, as extractors. So I’m wondering about the creation of another set of myths and models [my emphasis] where we start to get excited about the possibility of being a sustainable species rather than a rapacious species.
"I think about writing for kids who can be inspired to develop in different ways than their parents. One of the exciting things about science fiction is that it’s been an inspirational literature for young people. When I grew up it was all about rocket ships, and boy, you sure wanted to be a NASA scientist when you’d read about rocket ships enough. And I wonder if there isn’t some way to write science fiction that says, 'Boy, isn’t it cool to be a wind engineer and develop wind turbines,' or 'Boy, isn’t it cool to really study species and figure out ways for us to live inside of our niches.' ” 

In the panel, I stated I admired his ideas, but had yet to see this development through his first two YA novels. Liz Gorinsky explained that Paolo is working on that. But to deepen the question for all those writing YA spec, new types of engineers aren't enough. The legacy of early sci-fi in this country was also that technology could solve everything. Alien invasions or asteroid impacts were manageable and the species could always come out of top, if authors added a little individual heroism.

Our reality is that technology is responsible for much of our horrors, up to termination of the species. Global warming, fracking pollution of groundwater and soil, oil and chemical spills, FrankenMonsanto seeds--and we could add much more to the list--they're technology. Technology as THE savior is worse than mythic; it's dystopic.

I believe Paolo's other proposal is more powerful: "the creation of another [different] set of myths and models where we start to get excited about the possibility of being a sustainable species rather than a rapacious species." It's here that his call to, "Give up on the adults! Give up on the adults!" makes significant sense. When I put his two sentences together, it results in this in my new YA MS: "She had learned that innocents suffered wherever adults controlled the dreams. That too much power in mature hands doomed her kind and only the young might save it. By taking it in their own hands."

The question I now wrestle with through fiction is, how to equip, enable and encourage such in all youth in spec lit. Without telling, showing, lecturing or instructing. And what exactly are those myths and models? Can authors create a protagonist who is not The Leader/Savior, but still appeals to kids? How would such a story be plotted--as crowd-sourced, Occupy group-dynamics? But that's another discussion for another time.

A Chicano's note to publishers, editors and agents:
Before the Con I had been advised, "Anglos don't like hearing about white privilege; they get defensive." Added to that, the words sales and marketing came up so frequently in workshops, they felt like the invisible, reeking elephant in the room. Or the absent, not-so-benign gods.

The publishing hierarchy may not enjoy reading the hyperbolic Memo from The Publishing Industry to all You Awesome Aspiring US Latino Authors, satirically aimed at U.S. publishers, by novelist Alisa Valdes of The Dirty Girls Social Club, the critically acclaimed NY Times bestseller (now out with her 14th book, The Temptation of Demetrio Vigil). Alisa, you so bad!

More seriously, in her YouTube, Why We Need More Latino Acquisition Editors, former Simon & Schuster editor Marcela Landres states, "We don't need more Latino authors. We need more Latino acquisition editors." In the interview, she explains this is the reason so many Latino books have flopped, and how you can become an acquisition editor." Her words are also intended for the publishing establishment.

What's my unsolicited, ignorable advice for publishers, editors and agents (PE&As)? What might make unruly, maligned Chicano authors happy? Let me clear the air first. Some form of affirmative action wouldn't do it, although certain latinos might disagree. And PE&A who are content with lily-white issues, journals, anthologies, imprints and series can skip this section. Those who think that including Black or Asian authors in their publications somehow accurately reflects today's America must've missed the last decades of U.S. Census reports. Also, if you haven't noticed, Blacks and Asian-Americans aren't stand-ins for Chicanos, mexicanos and latinos in general. We are not all the same, just because we're all "colored." That's a little colonial, so two centuries ago.

Having a hard time getting submissions from Latinos, you say? Putting the historical reasons for this to the side, if you're interested in latino submissions, send your Calls for Submissions to us, to, to, to, to any number of latino websites that are reaching aspiring authors. Whatever we get we publicize and pass along to others.

Marcela Landres
Marcela Landres suggests diversify your staff. I say, diversify your circles of friends, Facebooks, Twitters, etc. If we are the Other to you, make that not so. Have your staff ignore an author's Spanish surname and read or consider publishing the writing on its own merits. [I won't go as far as to expect literary worth, not marketability, be the standard.] The elephant still sits amongst us. [How many latino books or imprints (Rayo) have failed because of grossly inadequate publisher support and promotion is a question for later.]

Everyone expects for today's PE&A establishment to mostly cease to exist in the new Internet world of self-publishing. But the untapped, ignored latino audience could give the print industry a few more years of profits. If it seeks us and our authors out.

As I said last week, I believe this dialogue can be conducted at a higher level, but not by "respecting" wrong opinions, like prejudice, but by grounding ourselves in history, facts, logic and persuasion.

Also consider Black authoress N.K Jemison--an insightful, intelligent voice for progress and diversity--who advocates "blind submissions," i.e., submissions where publishing company readers wouldn't be able to tell the ethnicity of authors; so prejudice wouldn't cloud the process. Read her entire Continuum GoH Speech.

David Brin
Lastly, here's extracts from a Comment to my post last week:
"I well understand that your struggles and endeavors can be frustrating and I admire your steady perseverance! I do not say this to minimize but to encourage! Science fiction has always been at the edge, exploring and tweaking assumptions. It is a source of solace to know that you WILL win. In some fields, quality overcomes preconceptions. Alas, you never can predict how efficiently it will happen and sometimes bad luck or fashion can be harsh friction. But SF means well and it is one of those fields. Good luck and persevere!
With cordial regards, David Brin

At the risk of burning a potential bridge that just appeared across the spec-lit chasm, I'd disagree that I'm frustrated; writing these posts and attending Cons invigorates me. But it's great to be noticed by the great. I did note his words, "understand your struggles and endeavors . . . admire your steady perseverance . . . not to minimize but to encourage . . . a source of solace to know that you WILL win . . . SF means well and . . . and persevere."

Some might take that as condescending; I read it as, concerned and well-meaning. For that reason, I'd encourage David Brin and others to continue making sure that "SF means well," such as by not pulling back, but in fact advancing against certain 1950s thinking, attitudes and prejudice in the SF world, like those of Theodore Beale, this summer. Right on! More of that might diversify SFWA and Cons' attendance.

It's also good that he understands our struggles. I think I understand his. He's a successful, famous full-time author--yeah, gringo--who entered spec lit's upper echelons that are plagued by backward-thinking GOBs. Since he can't wait for all the old fogies to die, I wish him well with ridding the anachronistic mendacities from his industry. I also fully expect him to ally with us so we "WILL win." It's called diversity, and a healthy body of literature. Gracias, David, por su solidaridad.

Last week's Comments alone are worth a read, lesliesmith's, among others. As always, we welcome opposing, or simply other, views and input; us Chicanos enjoy the mi-casa-es- paradigm.

Es todo, hoy,
RudyG, aka Rudy Ch. Garcia, author of the Chicano fantasy The Closet of Discarded Dreams--honorable mention, SF/F category, 2013 International Latino Book Awards. Unabashed self-promo: A LoneStarCon3 participant shopping around for an agent/editor for his YA fantasy, Bruised Hearts, Mended Dreams.



Almost too much to think about!

juan tejeda said...

yeah, rudy ch. good article/commentary on the sci-fi literary world. just wanted to mention that reyes cardenas ends his book, reyes cardenas chicano poet 1970-2010, with from aztlan to the moons of mars/a chicano verse novela, his latest installment of chicano sci-fi. juan

Stina said...

great post. i'm very glad we met. (oh, and thanks for the link. :))

Anonymous said...

Stina linked me here; I'm glad she did, and I'm glad you wrote this, and I'm glad I read it. I learned things (and discovered a rec list of fiction by authors I might not otherwise have found out about, which is always good.) Thank you for that.

Melinda Palacio said...

Great outline for a non-fiction book, possibly academic that straddles popular culture. Maybe memoir, my life in sci-fi. Don't forget some of Daniel Olivas's work.

Neil in Chicago said...

For people not familiar with the science fiction community and it's odd habits, a little context might help. There is a World Science Fiction convention every year, but it is put on by a different committee, in their home city. So there is a built-in range of variation. And one place it shows up is in programming; creating and filling dozens of panels, or a few hundred for a Worldcon, is a real challenge, and personality and circumstance have large effects.

Having been to a lot of cons, I have a good idea what the usual people have to say about the usual subjects. For me, as for many, cons are primarily a social occasion, and Worldcon most of all.
As the importance of Worldcon as a professional event has grown, some of the socializing has been dampened, alas. I certainly hope for your increasing professional success, but -- in your particular "minority" situation in the particular situation of San Antonio, how did you feel when you were out in the crowd or at parties?

Anonymous said...

To Neil from Chicago,
Thanks for your two comments. Yes, there are other cons, also in the SW, where authors can hawk even their Chicano hero novels. I attended some and will do more, as I'm able.
I've done best at the big cons when I've got a gringo friend/chaperone who's part of the in-crowd to present me to agents, editors, etc. Get yourself one. Or two.
I'll check out Ink and Salsa Nocturna.