To my great dismay, the head of the Boulder nonprofit Humanwire, established to crowdsource support for Syrian refugee families, has been arrested and is being tried for theft from the organization. Because I cannot verify that my funds have reached the families they were intended for, this month I will be making a donation to a more long-established nonprofit in equal amount to what I previously provided to Humanwire. I will continue donating 50% of funds from sales of Rasha’s Letter to relief efforts for Syrian refugees, but will not be routing these through Humanwire, but instead to either UNICEF’s relief mission in Syria or to Doctors Without Borders, both of which continue to deliver critical aid.
This is one of the most pressing humanitarian crises of our time, and I urge you all to do what you can.
Look at all of these beautiful books! My Patreon members have made these possible, funding my work and encouraging me as I’ve attempted some rather ambitious fiction. You all keep my head above water, and I appreciate it more than I could ever say. That $1000+ a month is my salary for creating exciting novels and stories for you, and it has helped keep my family fed and housed while I work. And it has given me a reason to keep going at the most difficult moments — I always know of well over a hundred committed readers who have my back and want the next story.
For both old and new fans of my work, I’d like to invite you to join my Patreon family. See work in progress, go behind the scenes, get copies of the books. Here is the link. It’s very easy to join, and you decide the membership fee. Maybe you’re a $2 member, or a $5 member, and for that $5/month, you get all my ebooks and get to be part of making (and seeing) them happen. Come join us. And thank you.
People of faith: All our lives, we have seen our faith weaponized against our neighbors. We have seen the gospel and the Sermon on the Mount brushed under the rug repeatedly in favor of an idolatrous defense of long-held cultural prejudices. And this week, we saw the Nashville Statement, a manifesto written and signed by many church leaders that was as unsurprising in its creed as it was cruel in its timing. Just as trans members of our armed services wait anxiously to hear if they will be able to continue to serve, and just as Hurricane Harvey leaves thousands of our neighbors unhomed and at risk, this is the moment that some of our kindred in the church have chosen to publish public statements about which cultural prejudices they hold more sacred than Christ, and whose rights “we deny.” As I type these words, they are offered not in judgment of my fellow Christians but in grief at the brokenness and hurtfulness in many of our religious communities, and in anger at the violence that has been done and is being offered to people I love.
So here is the resistance.
Here are multiple coalitions of church leaders who are no longer content to see their beliefs, traditions, and symbols weaponized. With thanks to Nancy Hightower for the links. These statements are powerful but they are also late. They are a public recognition that our silence is used to support and affirm public acts of hate, legislation that strips away civil rights, and that in our silence, powerful voices will claim to speak for us as they do violence against our fellow human beings.
These statements issued in rebuttal to “Nashville” are a promise, long-delayed, that we will no longer be silent – a promise that now each of us must fulfill. In Charlottesville, interfaith clergy formed a human wall against violent white supremacists. But not all violence is being offered under a swastika, and Charlottesville is not the only place where we must form a human wall between our neighbors and loved ones and those who would attack them.
If these statements below are to be more than affirmations, we need to follow them by flooding Congress with phone calls; we need to follow them up with support for those organizations that are defending LGBTQ+ people. “Faith without works is dead,” and words and prayers without action will not protect the lives and rights of those who are threatened right now, nor will they atone for past silence. We need to show up. We need to love. We need to advocate for others the way the Holy Spirit advocates for each of us.
May these words from many of our fellow churchgoers and leaders inspire us to loving, just, and relentless action:
Excerpt: “In every generation there are those who resist the Spirit’s leading in various ways and cling to the dogmas and traditions that he is calling us to rethink and reform…. We affirm that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God and that the great diversity expressed in humanity through our wide spectrum of unique sexualities and gender identities is a perfect reflection of the magnitude of God’s creative work; we deny any teaching that suggests God’s creative intent is limited to a gender binary or that God’s desire for human romantic relationships is only to be expressed in heterosexual relationships between one man and one woman. We affirm that those who are born as intersex are full and equal bearers of the image and likeness of God and are worthy of full dignity and respect. We affirm and support intersex individuals in their journey of self-realization and embracing their unique, God-created sexual orientation and gender identity, whatever it may be… We affirm that God designed marriage to be a covenantal bond between human beings who have committed to love, serve, and live a life faithfully committed to one another over the course of a lifetime; we deny that God intended human romantic relationships to be limited to one man and one woman and declare that any attempts to limit the sacred or civil rights of humans to covenant and commit to love and serve one another is an affront to God’s created design.”
“As floodwaters still rise in Houston, many prominent Christian leaders released the Nashville Statement. This document released a flood of its own, only this time instead of homes flooded with water, it was hearts flooded with grief. Yet again, powerful people of means use the platform of the Church to demean the basic dignity of gay, bisexual, lesbian, trans, intersex, and queer people…. We believe that people of all sexual orientations and gender identities are fearfully and wonderfully made, holy before God, beloved and beautiful as they are. We believe all people have full autonomy over their bodies, sexual orientations, and gender identities, and the diversity of identities reflects the creative power of a loving God. We believe that God is love, and that ‘anyone who loves is born of God and knows God’. (I John 4:7) God is honored in any consenting and loving relationship between adults, and therefore, all such relationships deserve honor and recognition. We believe that same-sex relationships and marriages are as holy before God as heterosexual marriages. We stand in solidarity with LGBTQ folks, and commit to standing alongside them in the work of resisting those who persecute them. We don’t believe LGBTQ folks need our approval or affirmation–they are affirmed first and foremost by God.”
Excerpt: “We affirm that God has created humanity out of love and for the purpose of love. We deny that God intends marriage as a gift only to be enjoyed by those who happen to be heterosexual, cis-gendered and fertile.”
Exuberant at unpacking the library…finding books I have been missing (and wanting) for a while. Just unboxed my copy of Khun Chang Khun Phaen, the Thai epic. Relieved I hadn’t lost it. Time to sit in a comfy chair and read for a bit.
Now, an update on my (re)discovery of Khun Chang Khun Phaen: I heart this epic so much right now.
1. I have a weakness for long epics anyway. (Yes, I’m looking at you, magnificent 20+ volume I-executed-a-forest-just-to-get-printed Mahabharata).
2. Reading it aloud soothes Círdan. Because nothing says daddy time like love affairs and warfare in sixteenth-century Siam.
3. YOU GUYS, the first 100 pages are about families. . Those chapters are about childbirth and toddlers and getting kids to eat things they don’t want to eat and about fleeing with your son through the woods because your government wants to enslave you. And about the discomfort of sleeping in trees. And about outlaws riding war elephants into town while spahgetti Western music plays in the background (or that orchestral score might just be in my head) and about standing in front of a charge of water buffaloes with just a spear in your hand and true grit. And about getting an omen of your death and saying goodbye tearfully to your kid the next morning because otherwise you might not get to. It’s a story about parents. I haven’t enjoyed an ancient epic that much since the Odyssey (which is also about wives and husbands and kids and parents). This is no Iliad or Beowulf (not that I don’t love both of those). This is the Epic of Oh Shit Your Father’s Not Coming Home and There Are Guys With Torches Coming This Way And We Have To Go Right Now RIGHT NOW SON And Crap Now We’re in The Forest And You’re Throwing a Tantrum And What The Hell Do I Feed You Out Here, I Used To Be Rich, I Have No Idea, Don’t Cry Son, We’ll Make It.
Oh to have the visions of Elisha, and see the chariot of fire, and the horses of fire blazing across the land; to hold up my hand to shield my eyes and cry, “abba! abba!” The courage I would have then! and the tears, weeping at such beauty.
But, living a goodly long time after the ages of myth, I will encounter the Creator of the heavens and the earths in the sound of a baby’s giggle.
Research of this kind fascinates me. So much of how we translate and interpret the Bible is driven entirely by Roman ideologies and Roman cultural obsessions that we have inherited, and by the fact that Greek and Hebrew have been filtered to us through Latin. (Even our modern Greek dictionaries and lexicons tend to offer Latinate English vocabulary for translations.) Thus we almost completely misunderstand what the New Testament means by ‘truth,’ as I get into here in my post on aletheia.
Thus: we completely miss that the diatribe against homosexuality in Romans 1 is a paraphrase of Paul’s opponents in the Roman church and a parody of their over-the-top judgmental rhetoric (the whole point of Romans 1-2 is to dismantle the idea that Christianity and judgmental rhetoric are at all compatible). You can read a bit more on that here. And, bizarrely, we never think to question why this issue only comes up when Paul is speaking to Rome, the ancient world’s most homophobic culture, and never once when he is speaking to various Greek cities in which homosexual and bisexual relations, and an array of gender performances are both normal and expected.
Thus: we mis-translate passages on gender in the Pauline letters in a way that’s completely ahistorical (but that serves the status quo in our own society), as the early church was spread, organized, and facilitated by women. The connection of “head” to “leader” or “authority” is a specifically Roman idiom that we’ve inherited. That idiom didn’t exist in Koine Greek.
Thus: we mis-translate passages as instructing women to ‘submit’ to their husbands, when ‘hupotassomai’ doesn’t mean to submit; it means to deploy yourself in support of; it is a military metaphor. ‘Obey’ is a completely different word in Greek (hupakoe — and even ‘hupakoe’ doesn’t mean ‘obey’; it means to listen attentively to; it is a word used always for children, never for spouses, in the New Testament). And we miss the context (because we’re fond of reading communal letters in isolated little chapters and verses and chunks), so we forget that first-century Christian women are being asked to deploy in support of their spouses because most of their spouses were not Christian, most early Christians were women, and Christian wives of non-Christian men had to figure out how the heck to deal with that situation. It is situationally specific advice about not trying to convert the spouse but instead bring love to the table. It has nothing to do with obedience at all, and the verses that follow roll out an idea borrowed from Judaism that was profoundly subversive in Rome’s ultra-patriarchy: the idea that women “are fellow heirs in the grace of life.” Rome takes the idea of heirs very seriously. In Roman law and custom, women were not heirs; women were property. This idea of “fellow heirs” was radical and threatening to the Roman patriarchy.
Thus: we misread Genesis 2 as describing women as a “helper” sex. But “helper” (ezer genegdo) in Hebrew does not mean maid or servant; it means something a bit more similar to the modern phrase “partner in crime.” It is also the only case in the Old Testament where the word is used to describe women. In every other case, the word is used for God. Chavah (Eve) is a helper in the same sense that God is a helper. It is our post-Roman anachronism that translates ezer genegdo as “the help,” the servant class.
You will be awed (and horrified) at how thoroughly the history of agrarian Europe’s first feminist movement was excised, erased, and finally hijacked and replaced by the Roman patriarchy.
There is a wealth of scholarship on this and has been for years, and there is more all the time, but … for reasons that are probably self-evident … this research rarely trickles into mainstream religious culture.
The reason that Rome was so fervently opposed to Christianity in the first and second century was that Christianity was seen as a profound threat to family values. “Family values,” in the sense that we usually mean it, was originally a Roman idea.) Roman law required women to have children and to do so by a certain age; Christianity created large sisterhoods of unmarried women (the “holy widows,” who were not secluded at that time but socially active, running nonprofits and neighborhood schools).
Rome placed the man in ownership of the household and gave him – at one time – the legal right to execute family members who shamed the family; Christianity undercut that structure. Rome relied on a strict caste system; Christianity insisted on the essential equality of all people regardless of ethnicity, gender, or social class (while exhorting its members at times to obey the law of the land to the greatest extent possible, because Roman torture-death penalties were no joke, and though there were things they were willing to die for, these people wanted to survive – so Christians found loopholes, lots of them, like the legal loopholes that allowed for women to enter holy sisterhoods and gain a marriage exemption if they were priestesses. And since in early Christian doctrine, every Christian woman was a priestess of Christ, this provided a very large loophole, one the government usually couldn’t close because doing so would disrupt other Roman religious institutions that were seen as supportive of the state).
Pliny whines to Emperor Trajan in the early years of the second century about his work torturing ‘two slave women, who in their church are officials.’ The underlying tone of his letter is a frustrated “What the hell, Governor, they have slave girls leading their religion.” Christians were called “the atheists,” because they worshipped at no shrines or temples. And most of all, they were hated because 1) the religion had its origin in foreign immigrants, especially groups of first-century emigrating Jews (Rome was very anti-Semitic), and 2) Roman women converted in massive numbers, and then taught Roman children their superstitious, unmanly new faith. Christianity, to the Romans, was a woman’s religion and “the eunuch’s faith,” prizing compassion over honor, and love over duty, and relationships over hierarchy; there were popular superstitions and prejudices that men who converted out of love for their wives would lose their virility.
We miss out on an exciting episode in history that has tremendous relevance to our own time — a moment when a radically egalitarian ideology and way of life threatened to upend hierarchical and oppressive structures — because men a few centuries later found it useful and convenient to erase that history while appropriating some aspects of the early faith in service to power. (This may sound far-fetched…that in three and a half short centuries, a religious institution might come to stand for many things that were the exact opposite of the teachings three centuries before, but it actually happens all the time and in much briefer spans of history … just look at the way Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words today are appropriated and twisted to sound like they support the status quo, in fact to support statements that are the very opposite of MLK’s arguments and convictions. Ditto, the American founding fathers.) Mistranslate or misconstrue a few abstract concepts in ways that support the status quo, or rip a few passages out of their context, and you can turn a radical faith movement or a new ideology into a nice, tidy, stagnant institution pretty quickly.
We miss out on an exciting episode in our history because certain men a few centuries later chose to erase it and rewrite and replace it (in some cases literally chiseling the faces of female bishops off of monuments), and we still believe their version. Their version still drives our politics, our prejudices, and our cultural norms. But their version was a hijacking of something that looked very different, something worth remembering, something inspiring and provocative, something that calls into question who we think we are.
This is part of what I write about.
Want to read more? Get Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose When We Read the Bible in Translation, and Way to Read the Bible as a Call to Adventure.
Charlottesville hurts more than I know how to say.
This is what happens when we treat racism, white supremacy, and nationalism as something that can be ‘tolerated’ or ignored or just talked down. It’s what happens when we don’t listen to our neighbors when they tell us that black lives matter and they need our help. It’s what happens when the vandalism at the mosque down the street is someone else’s problem, not ours. It’s what happens when we see a gunman kill fifty people at an LGBTQ+ dance club and we still watch from the sidelines while bathroom bills and gay discrimination bills get passed. It’s what happens when we don’t take fascism and hate seriously, when we treat it as a mere joke. It’s what happens when we ignore the radicalization of white youth, or when we let racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia just slide. It’s what happens when we stand by and let violence occur in our absence for year after year. Our complacency adds up to this.
Today hurts too much.
If you think this is it … that this is the worst it can get … you are wrong. I wish you weren’t, but you are.
Pictured here: An excerpt from Richard Dawkins’ angry response to an American radio station that canceled a talk with him because of protests from the local Islamic community over Dawkins’ continuing abusive speech about Muslims. In his open letter, Dawkins claims loudly that he differentiates between Islamism (meaning fundamentalism) and Islam, and challenges the radio station to provide examples of any anti-Muslim speech from him. The immediate problem being that the very same paragraph contains multiple examples of Dawkins failing to differentiate between Islamism and Islam, when he speaks contemptuously of Islamic “scholars” (the quotation marks are his) and decries the “mysogyny and homophobia of Islam.” Then he demands, “Why does Islam a get free pass?”
Sir, you can’t have it both ways in the same paragraph. As one academic to another, I can tell you that this is exactly why Islamic communities, many of whom have come under literal attack here in the U.S., are saying that you engage in hate speech against Islam. These are examples of why people think you are engaging in bigoted rhetoric and not just critique of fundamentalist movements as you claim.
I admire Dawkins’ work on popular science very much (his “Greatest Show on Earth” book on evolution is an eloquent, intellectual, and well-argued book, and one of my favorite works of popular science), but when he begins ranting about religion – especially Islam – his rhetoric gets very sloppy and he resorts to the kind of sweeping generalizations that he eschews in his other work.
And in America right now, doing that hurts the lives of American citizens.
That’s why an American radio show is cancelling your talk, Mr. Dawkins. It isn’t because they want to give “Islam” a “free pass”; it’s because the kind of rhetoric I underlined right here in your letter gets mosques burned in Texas and gets hijabi women attacked on subways in Oregon and gets Americans killed.
And as an academic, you know better; this is an intellectual laziness that carries a cost in lives and that we simply can’t afford.
I want to take a moment to talk up the master craftsmen, craftswomen, and craftspeople we have here in Colorado. Geekify (www.geekifyinc.com) is a local company, and you should all go check them out. They are a bunch of extremely nerdy people (my people) who design custom kindle cases, iPad cases, gadgets and pendants and D20 dice cases and maps and replicas of famous books from fantasy lore. They are remarkable.
This is the kindle cover they made for me. It has a TARDIS on the front, because my library is my TARDIS, through which I explore all of time and all of space. This cover is a tiny little thing that is much bigger on the inside: it will hold inside it a library more vast than my ancestors could have dreamed.
On the back, the White Tree of Minas Tirith, a symbol of hope that persists across oceans and millennia, a reminder that new blossoms can flower from what appears dead. As well as a list of my oldest fandoms, the stories I return to over and over again.
On the spine, the inscription ‘Stant Litore’ – the motto, pen name, and life story I adopted for myself two decades ago. Latin, from the Aeneid. When Troy is burning and the sky is full of ash and smoke, the refugees fleeing down to the coast can see that everything they have ever known or loved has burned away. It is simply gone. Forever. But ahead of them, someone is yelling out: Hurry! Hurry! The ships stand at the shore [stant litore puppēs], they are ready to take you away. The anchor is already drawn up. Hurry!
What none of the survivors know at that moment, what they can’t know, is that once they embark on those ships and cross the wine-dark sea, they will found Rome, a civilization that will last – in one form or another – for three thousand years. There is a future ahead of them that is more vast and beautiful than they can possibly imagine. It does not change anything that has been lost. It does not erase the loss. It simply means the story has not ended. Not yet, not nearly.
That is something I have always needed and wanted to remember: the story and the name at the heart of all my stories.
And go check out Geekify. I adore their work. Buying local is easy when it is so beautiful. Here are glimpses of other projects they have made for me over the years.
A Neverending Story tablet cover:
And a leather-bound, rebound Book of the New Sun omnibus. We took the ‘Severian of the Guild’ paperback from Gollancz (a UK publication) and bound it and added a ribbon. The book is surprisingly durable:
Remembering now that one of the side effects of sleep deprivation is paranoia. Whoo boy. I feels it. At times like this, though, I just have to remind myself of the immortal words of Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard: “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean there isn’t an invisible demon about to eat your face.”
To my American readers, happy 4th! To everyone: What a summer this has been! I am overwhelmed and joyous. Besides the release of a new time-travel novella (Ansible: Rasha’s Letter), I am delighted to report that I have a new son, and a new house. And there’s quite a story behind both…
Círdan Leto Litore Fusch is named for the Elven shipwright Círdan, keeper of the Grey Havens, who appears often on the coasts of Middle-Earth to rescue refugees and bear them across the sea – like an Elven Dunkirk.
His middle name Leto is from Dune. Duke Leto is a noble character, known for statements such as “Without change something sleeps inside of us, and seldom awakes. The sleeper must awaken.” Leto II, his grandson, is the God Emperor – part human, part giant sandworm. You can see a little of the resemblance in Círdan Leto in this photo, in which the young God Emperor is not amused:
His sisters River and Inara are named for characters in Firefly. Yes, we are a most nerdy family. My oldest, River, has entirely adopted baby Círdan:
Young Círdan Leto is healthy and strong, and about 7 1/2 pounds (roughly 3 1/2 kilograms, for my metric readers in Europe and elsewhere), and I am so excited to get to know him better.
The other big news from this science-fiction writer’s life is that we are moving this month to a new house. This started as a crisis: our landlord announced unexpectedly that we had a few weeks to leave the home we’re renting — this despite having a special-needs child and a new baby about to arrive. We negotiated with her for a little more time, but the long and the short of it is, we need to move. Quickly. I was taken aback, but I sent up the bat signal and called for help. The beautiful thing is that we have many people who care about our family: local readers and fans, other writers in our city, our faith community, colleagues at work. A host of some twenty to twenty-five people showed up a couple of weekends ago and helped us pack up the entire house. Usually I expect from readers only that they enjoy my novels (or don’t); to have so many fans of Ansible, The Zombie Bible, or The Running of the Tyrannosaurs show up to help us box up a house we were being ejected from – that touches my heart deeply. Some fans and writerly colleagues even instagrammed or tweeted it:
I am more grateful than I know how to say. I have few ways to say thanks other than having offered pizza on packing day — and other than writing many more stories for my friends and fans to enjoy, but that I certainly will do.
While all this was taking place, we rushed about looking at houses in our town, found one, went under contract, went through inspection, and now we are just waiting to close. (It has been a flurry; I don’t recall having been this sleep-deprived in many years.)
So this began as crisis (no one wants to move rapidly while a new baby is arriving, especially in a high-cost housing market where there may not be any room at the inn), but there was a gift hidden inside the crisis. Yes, we are buying a home. And, to our shock, it’s our dream home. And no one else wanted it. All the young yuppie couples in our town are looking for two-story, American farmhouse-style homes. We wanted a one-story ranch: perfect for Inara, who will do most of her moving around by wheelchair for some years yet. It’s also an open floorplan. River was zooming Inara around the long living space in her wheelchair, cackling with delight:
It’s big, and there’s a spot for a basement study where I can put in a window and some rugs and bookshelves and write. It’s astonishing to us that we were able to offer on this place affordably. It really is our dream home, though: Inara’s life can be lived on one floor, and there is space for her medical equipment and, well, everything. It’s immense.
This is Inara and her big sister River, seeing Wonder Woman recently at the theater.
Also Inara. One of my readers saw this photo and said, “Why am I just immediately assuming she’s pulling an assassin’s knife out of her hair? Because it was my IMMEDIATE thought.”
I won’t be writing as much for the next month, except for scribbled notes and partial sketches of scenes on the backs of receipts and index cards, but I think this will be a lovely home to write in. And after years of renting apartments under the persistent pressure of medical bills and scribbling down novels on dining room tables – and then finally renting a house but only for a short while – this is a luxury I can barely imagine. The children are excited; we made looking at homes as much of an Adventure for them as we could.
For me, when I think back, it has been a long journey. I was born in a trailer perched on a little hill on five acres of rocky ground, and later as a boy I lived in a mobile home. To step today, unexpectedly, into a house like this makes me want to weep. Let’s hope everything goes very smoothly with closing.
The real hero of all this story, however, is my wife. Jessica is unstoppable and improbably indefatigable. As I write this, she is coordinating and planning an effort to get a bill in front of our state government to require that landlords give more advance notice when requiring that a tenant with a disability vacate a home. Earlier this season, she took our daughter in her wheelchair and held in-person meetings with our local congressman (after months of persisting in getting an appointment), and changed his mind on a healthcare bill at the eleventh hour. (Few human beings survive an encounter with my wife unmoved.)
She delivered baby Círdan by C-section and was out of the hospital in less than 48 hours:
The next day, while weepy from baby blues, she said a brief goodbye to baby Círdan, kissed me, and headed right out to the car that was waiting to take her to a local social justice summit, where she gave an impassioned speech on accessibility.
I said to her before she left, “Go change the world. I love you. I’ve got the kids.”
I watched her go, sleepily, deeply admiring of her. Then I tucked baby Círdan into my arm and took him back inside the house. I saw that his big sisters were napping, momentarily as exhausted as their parents. Círdan looked wakeful and needed entertainment. A light bulb went off in my head as I walked to my desk: “Come on, baby boy, Daddy’s going to show you how a PS4 works.”
I sat down, revved it up. “Check this out…”
In roleplaying terms, my wife is serious DPS (damage per second), while I am the bard, the minstrel, the sometimes-healer. She changes the world. I tell the stories and hopefully move a few others to change the world, too.
Lives is the story of my daughter Inara’s journey through illness, and my journey with her. It is also a freefall through the Greek text of the Beatitudes: both memoir and devotional. It is from the heart: The story behind all the stories I write. I hope you will enjoy it and find something in it that moves or inspires you.
And I imagine there will be more photos of Círdan Leto on my blog soon. Meanwhile, you can also support my family and my fiction by becoming one of my Patreon members, which grants you complimentary access to the ebook editions of my novels and a behind-the-scenes look at new science fiction and fantasy projects in progress:
I hope one day to have 1000 readers on Patreon. This is a really significant number to me.
I want to write stories that move people’s hearts and make them cry and give them hope when hope is hard to have. When I started sharing my novels and short stories, someone asked me what “success” would look like to me. I said, “If I move the hearts of a thousand readers, then my stories have done their work.” I want to build a community of 1000 readers in my Patreon family. So come take a look.
If you would like to explore my fictional stories further, check behind Door Number 1, 2, or 3:
Choose wisely, as great dangers await…
Thank you for all for reading, and may your year ahead be filled with beautiful stories and much imagination, and maybe with unexpected gifts (though I don’t wish on any of you that the gifts come hidden inside of crises).
Yesterday I got to see my favorite comic book character on the big screen. Jessica got to see her too. And my daughters got to see a little girl like them grow up into a woman who believes in truth, love, and courage, who may make mistakes but will never let others’ mistakes or their opinions on how she should do things hold her back, and who kicks righteous ass. In the Year of Trump, I don’t have words for how much this means to me.
When Diana of Themyscira walked up onto No Man’s Land and strode across that wartorn landscape with that determination in her eyes, I was cheering, and I’m not ashamed to say it.
When she saw wounded people hurting and disinherited or enslaved and demanded the world stop for them, my heart melted and warmed.
Of all the comic book characters of my childhood and teenagerhood, Diana speaks to my heart most because she is our conscience, because she never stops believing that we can choose to be the best that we are rather than the worst, and because, as the Doubleclicks sing it, “her heart’s on her sleeve and the truth’s in her lasso.”
So I am still riding the glow from yesterday.
Other notable items from the movie:
– Badass middle-aged fighters of varying body types on Themyscira. Not an island of young wispy supermodels. That was pretty damned awesome.
– Trevor — beautifully scripted character. Highly competent, driven, confident in and humorously aware of the masculinity he’s performing, strong and true-hearted though haunted with demons, a well-written hero/spy who never overshadows Diana but whom the script-writers never shortchanged. What I loved about Trevor was he knew who he was.
– Nuance. Covert (Trevor) and overt (Diana) ways of fighting injustice and genocide get in each other’s way, but both respect each other, and … in the end … learn each other. It would have been nice to have a few more lines of dialogue to explore this, but I liked seeing that as well-handled as it was.
– Gal Gadot. Enough said. She blazed in that role.
When a community of well over 100 avid readers came together to support my fiction on Patreon, it meant the world to me. Not just because it happened at a time when my family was in medical and financial crisis, but because finding such a community and kindling their hearts with stories was what I set out to do with my fiction in the first place.
I want to write stories that move people’s hearts and make them cry and give them hope when hope is hard to have. When I started publishing novels and short stories back in 2011, someone asked me what “success” would look like to me. I said, “If I move the hearts of a thousand readers, then my stories have done their work.”
Now I want to build a community of 1000 readers in my Patreon family.
Patreon is a monthly membership that allows me to keep my stories independent and keep them coming — and gives you backstage access to the stories you love!
If you’ve been moved by my books or my posts — come be a part of this! http://www.patreon.com/stantlitore. Membership dues are whatever you set: be it a dollar or two a month, or five dollars (the cost of one overpriced latte), or more. And you get the books. You get in on their development, on the early sketches for art and illustrations, and you get to read the new stories long before they are released to the public. Come join us! If I can move 1000 readers, who knows what these stories can do in the world?
All my characters are somewhere inside me still, inside my heart – even the evil-minded ones. But the good ones, too. Having written their stories, I hear them speak again, from time to time. When times are darkest, I am especially glad that Polycarp and Sahira are still in there. Polycarp asks his friends, when they are despairing, “What do we believe? What do we know to be true?”
I believe in love that endures.
I believe in the irreducible value of every human being.
I believe in tikkun olam: repairing the world, each day, by doing justly and by telling stories.
I believe stories have the power to change lives and to change the shape and course of the world.
I believe that stant litore puppes, that even if half the world is burned to ash, what grows in its place will still be beautiful, because renewal and resurrection and new birth is written into the rhythms of existence, and because ash is very fertile. And though the next chapter does not change what was lost, it is never the end of the story.
I believe in never giving up.
I believe in education, that ‘knowledge is our ally in the night land, our shield against terrors.’
I believe my first duty is empathy. I believe in compassion and in paraklesis: in standing by another who is vulnerable, hearing them, and advocating for them.
And when I am weary, I will reach into that place in my heart where Polycarp and Sahira still stand by me, paracletes themselves, ready to help me to my feet and kindle my heart with a story and walk with me to stand together between the one who is hurting and the one doing the hurt. I am often glad they are there.
I believe in stories. No less now than when I was seven.
Art credit: The image above is an illustration of Regina, a detail from Lauren K. Cannon’s cover art for my novel What Our Eyes Have Witnessed.
I am so tired of reading about kids being shot, or kids being blown up, or kids being knifed, or kids dying of things kids don’t need to die of. The same day, I hear about a black college student being murdered in the open by an ‘alt-reich’ college student, and I hear about an explosion at a concert in Manchester because some terrorist figures if you kill some kids, you’ll get attention, and I hear about yet more children starving to death as famine spreads in the Near East and sub-Saharan countries. Ain’t enough anger in the world for that shit.
Will keep doing what I’m doing:
1. Find someone to help.
2. Find someone who IS helping, and help them.
3. Tell a story – so more people want to help, and more people believe that they can.
Dear fellow SF&F authors who are conscious of social issues and diversity…
[Note: If you are a) not conscious of social issues and diversity; b) don’t care; c) only care about accurate representation of some people and not others; or d) are a Nazi, then this post is not intended for you, and it will make you growly and probably not do you or me any good.]
For the rest of us: I’d like to submit a few thoughts for our consideration.
When we are writing a novel that foregrounds marginalized people, and readers who are a member of that marginalized people reach out to us with upset at how they are being portrayed in the book, a helpful response is: “I am sorry; I didn’t realize it could have that impact. I’d like to understand this better.”
And it’s helpful if we’re sensitive to the fact that marginalized people are being asked constantly to explain (and justify or prove) their experiences, over and over and over again, and that by asking them to explain it yet once more, we’re asking for some emotional effort on their part (and their time).
It’s something we ask if we’re really genuinely serious about wanting to understand our fellow human beings better and about wanting to tell complex, riveting stories, rather than just peddle stereotypes (knowingly or unknowingly). We ask it because we want to learn. For the same reason that we ask astrophysicists and biologists and geologists all the questions we ask them, for the same reason we’re reading science updates all the time, so that we can get new ideas, challenge our current understanding of the universe in which we operate, and tell stories that do the same for our readers.
If we stop listening and learning, the stories we tell soon become flat and shriveled and empty and dead.
I really believe that.
We are storytellers because we are such avid listeners and learners that we are constantly bursting with wonder and we are driven to share the wonder with other people. We spin stories because the world is so damn cool and so damn tragic and so damn comic sometimes too, and we can’t hold it all in.
We want to tell stories that make the world bigger, not smaller.
That’s why, I hope, we wrote stories that included marginalized people in the first place, rather than just stories about straight white dudes traveling to other planets and sticking flags in the soil.
Now, as with any feedback we get, we will have to make our best judgment as to how to take that feedback, what weight to assign it, and how to learn from it for the future. People have different experiences, and we will get contradictory feedback. But it behooves us to listen openly first, and hear it.
I mean, if we can survive 591 rejection letters from editors, we can survive hearing a little feedback from people whose lives are impacted or influenced by the stories we tell, so that when we make our best judgment as storytellers, it’s a more informed best judgment than otherwise.
This is especially the case if you are hearing similar feedback from a LOT of people about the portrayal of their lives in your book. Just as if you received feedback from a whole bunch of astrophysicists who all agreed that your science was complete and total bunk, it’s worth paying attention if you’re hearing from lots of marginalized people that your work is tapping damaging stereotypes and misconceptions that you might not be aware of.
So, a helpful response is: “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize it could have that impact. I want to learn more.”
Unhelpful responses include:
“I’m sorry that you’re upset.” (That’s not an apology. It’s a dismissal. It’s also a passive-aggressive invitation for matters to escalate swiftly.)
“Well, my one black [or gay, or trans, or Native] friend told me…” (Please, for the love of God, do not ever play the One Black Friend card. “One Black Friend” is not research, and going there makes you look like a shmuck. Even if your One Black Friend is Frederick Douglass back from the dead, don’t go there.)
“I am among the least racist/sexist/transphobic authors in the genre, just look at all my credentials, and I think you’ve taken it wrong.” (Not only will this make you sound like Donald J. Trump, which isn’t a good look, but it is defensive and silly and what it sounds like you are saying is: ‘I know more about your life experiences and the experience of being marginalized in the way that you’ve been marginalized than you do, and I have no need to learn anything more.’ So, whereas the One Black Friend card makes you look like a shmuck, the I Know More About Your Marginalization Than You Do card makes you look like a pretentious and arrogant shmuck.)
“I did my research. I know what I’m talking about.” (This isn’t helpful, because we’re always learning more, and because when someone says you’ve misrepresented them, that’s a learning opportunity. That is literally a new research opportunity. Don’t disrespect your readers by not taking advantage of the opportunity to listen.)
And, by the Hugos and the Nebulas and all sacred science-fictiony things, by all that you hold dear on this green earth, don’t elaborate on your “I know what I’m talking about” with: “I shared the idea for the story with all my friends [who look just like me] and they adored the idea!” That’s…not research. Really, it’s…it’s not. (And, stepping back for a moment, if your primary reaction to being challenged is a PR-focused reaction, then it’s worth pointing out that more research earlier in the process, before actually publishing the novel, might have proven helpful.)
The point is, even if you are an award-winning author, you are always learning. As storytellers, a certain humility and eagerness to listen is expected of us, by the nature of what we do. And if we aren’t interested in learning more and more about our universe and the people in it, we might be in the wrong line of work. I mean, if we’re just here to pontificate and be worshipped, we might want to try running for a position like President of the United States. It’s an easier job to get with lower entrance requirements and it pays better, too. On the other hand, if our work and craft is a matter of listening to as many stories as we can, learning as much as we can, and then passing on the stories we hear or weaving their materials into new stories, that’s hard work, and humbling work, and exciting work. Our stories have impact, because we understand our lives and our community and our world through our stories. We are the weavers of dreams, and dreams create the hopes or fears of a community. There’s no task I would rather be engaged in — but it’s also not a task to take lightly.
How I want to work: Learn, listen, then tell the best story I can. Then learn some more, listen some more, and tell an even better story.
I know of specific things I flubbed in earlier books of mine, and I don’t doubt there are some things I flubbed of which I’m currently unaware. You know what I do once I realize that’s the case? I listen, I learn as much as I can, and I try to WRITE ANOTHER, BETTER BOOK. And I will keep trying to write another, better book until I die.