Readercon is awesome. The conference for speculative literature is always worthwhile, as it offers a deep dive into issues and concerns that are at the forefront of literature.
So I got to hear luminaries like Michael Dirda and Peter Straub talk about their development as readers and writers. (Dirda doesn’t have time to reread books; Straub is rereading Iris Murdoch right now.)
I got to hear Samuel Delaney read for a work in progress that is from the point of view from a young Herman Melvill(e), and includes scenes during his life and times in Albany.
I learned a lot about the difficulties of living in space (the weakening of the body in low gravity; the politics of funding); about how authors try to strike a balance between fulfilling and subverting readers’ expectations (though one panelist argued that very little writing is truly subversive); and that some Readercon attendees bring really killer bourbon and are very generous with it, late into the night.
Most of all, though, I met some great people — writer and readers — but people who share my values for the importance of story.
The highlight, though, was the group reading of seven writers whose works are included in the much-praised anthology “Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History.”
Even better, was being asked to autograph my story. This is something that I have never done before. With the journals and anthologies in which I have been published before, I never had a chance to attend any of the events related to the release of those publications. Mostly because they were far away: in Japan or on the West Coast; or my day job and life made it too hard for me to be there.
As I stood in the Dealer’s Room at the table for “Long Hidden’s” publisher, Crossed Genre, I felt two things: (1) This is cool; (2) This is exactly as it should be.
My good friend Amy Biancolli always says that when it comes to writing there are always few moments of victory, and that those moments should be relished. So I relished them (see bit above about bourbon).
Another thing that I truly like about Readercon is the trust that exists between readers and writers. I was so happy when someone who had just bought “Long Hidden” and then asked me to sign it and then asked me what my story was about. So they knew nothing about me, and yet they had plopped down their cash for the anthology (which is really quite good, if you don’t mind me saying).
So I gave a quick synopsis that the story was about a girl and a magical creature in the Philippines during the Philippine-American war in 1900, and how together they help thwart an American convoy.
The book buyer then asked why I wrote the story, and I ran through some possible responses:
- I had no choice — I’m one of those people who feels like he always has to be writing
- The story of the Philippine-American war — which I’ve written about in academic papers, in newspaper book reviews, in nonfiction and fiction — is something that needs to be told and retold so more people can know the truth of American history
- I’ve been reading more and more recently about Philippine folk tales and mythological creatures and wanted to incorporate them in my writing (such as in the poem “Aswang,” which you can read here)
- I had come across a story of a priest — a real historical figure — who had helped lead Filipino rebels in fighting the Americans, and that true story seemed so unbelievable I knew I wanted to use it in a story somehow (which I did)
- When I heard about the call for submissions for “Long Hidden,” a shock wave went through my body. This was part of the call, and when I read it I knew I had to submit something:
- Your story must be set between the years 1400 and 1920 C.E., and take place primarily in our world or an alternate historical version of our world. (Travel to other worlds, other dimensions, Fairyland, the afterlife, etc. is fine but should not be the focus.)
- Your protagonists must be people who were marginalized in their time and place. By “marginalized” we mean that they belong to one or more groups of people that were categorically, systematically deprived of rights and/or economic power. Examples in most times and places include enslaved people, indigenous people, queer people, laborers, women, people with disabilities, the very young and very old, and people who do not share the local dominant religion, language, or ethnicity. Many people belong to multiple marginalized groups, and many are marginalized in some ways and privileged in others. Your story should acknowledge the complexity and intersectionality of marginalization.
- Your story must contain a significant element of science fiction, fantasy, horror, or the weird, without which the story would not work or would be a substantially different story.
- All submissions must be in English.
But then it occurred to me, by the way the reader was looking at me, what she was really asking. So I said: “My father’s Filipino; that whole side of my family is from the Philippines. So I’ve always been interested in that part of my history.”
Then she said the thing that I hadn’t heard in quite sometime, but it has often been one of the main motivations for my writing. She said, “You don’t look Filipino.”
I nodded and smiled and talked about my Irish-American mother, and said something like “I get that often,” though I was thinking about how often in my life (though not recently) her statement and ones similar to it made me feel strange and distant from myself, about how bland and banal it was for my appearance (see above) to be seemingly at odds with my identity, about how most people don’t know what to make of my family name., and about how, as an undergrad, a friend called me “brave” for being upfront about my last name and family history, because she knew another guy who had confessed to her that he lied about his heritage, saying his family came from Spain, when they were really from Mexico.
I wished I had said something like, “I wrote this story because I have to follow where my heart and mind take me, coursing through the mixture of my ancestry and that constant question — the primary question, really — of how it is possible that I exist now, a fully conscious being, in this time and place, where I have the privilege to put down words and share them with others.”
Instead, I said something like, “I’m sort of like President Obama, but where people look at him a see a black guy, and forget that he was mostly raised in a white world, people look at me and see someone white, without knowing that I grew up living closer to my Filipino relatives on the East Coast than my Irish-American ones in the Midwest.”