Women’s History Month – Introduction

This year is celebratory, I’ve decided. Things are so very tough for so many people I know (including myself!) that I want a small time out from dealing with life and a month spent enjoying the wonder.

Initially, i was going to start this in February and give you the Women’s History Month I failed to deliver on last year because life was just a little too exciting. Merely. Barely. But then I started writing a novel while doing quite possibly too much else. Until now I’ve had the luxury of writing novels in the interstices. Even the novel full of chocolate and sarcasm and sheer rage from last year (which will be published in a year) was written when a lot of my teaching faded from view. This time, though, I’m doing everything at once. I had twenty deadlines of various sorts this week, and I should meet them all by working nice long days, but… this meant I had to rethink.

My celebration has a main theme, which is writers telling us about other writers who are flying under the radar and ought not be. It also has occasional posts on other women’s history subjects. I have some wonderful posts because my strict rule is to ask people whose work is also worth reading. Whatever these friends are writing on, they have voices worth hearing.

I’m so glad to be so much past the worst of a very challenging period, and to be able to be part of Women’s History Month again. One day, the Australian celebrations will mention those of us who started the ball rolling. I worked with a writer over summer and they had trouble understanding that one of the biggest chains on positive cultural change – to do with many histories, including those of women and minority groups – is the tendency for the wider community to forget and to silence. My celebration is another way, a happy way, of working to bring back many voices and to start conversations. We don’t have to accept the silencing being thrust on us.

News (mostly writing)

I’m seriously thinking that I need to create a newsletter, so that everyone who wants gets an update once a month. That’s how quickly things are happening.
The US (BVC) edition of The Time of the Ghosts will be out in March, all going well, and my short stories out soon after.

I”m working hard on the new novel. I’ve decided that both strands I shared are useful. Chronic illness is an iceberg. Not even the doctors know what most of them feel like. Having that intimate and probably uncomfortable first person view balanced by a third person view where one sees how little shows to the outside world will work, I think. The third person bit is where all the plot happens, and I’m still asking friends for road trips to various places to get more reference pictures.

Right now, I’m working on the intimate first person bit, because it reflects the hard work that’s going on the reduce how many symptoms I carry every day. I get to live the discomfort short term and to give my character all of it. She won’t have quite my symptoms, for her illness is different and harder to control, but I really want to get that emotional bond with her right for this part of her life. So many characters who are ‘othered’ in fiction are ‘othered’ by the writer not seeing them as part of their own lives. It’s so important I not do this with this cahracter.

She has a name, thanks to a kind patron and with that came came so much of her background. Some names are perfect from the moment they’re suggested and was delighted that this was one of them. I’ll announce it with the next Patreon newsletter.

I still need at least five more names (2 female, 3 male). Both female and at last one of the male characters will be major characters. The naming helps me with the income to write. It also does something that makes me realise how important my readers are to me: it gives readers a bond with the work. A path into it that’s not the regular path. I like this, a great deal. if it weren’t for my financial situation and my patrons’ generosity, I’d never have discovered it!

My research has ground to a near-halt. I wanted to write at least a chapter over summer, but, while Patreon has helped me put aside enough money to write the novel two days a week, the rest of the week still needed income. Thankfully, I have that income and am enjoying the work needed to get to it, but it pushes my research off the calendar. Not entirely. I’ve used my summer viewing and reading to work out more about how our world-building can create unintentional problems for minorities. The shock of that discovery (that friends of mine do it, with the best intentions!) has not quite worn off, but I’m well on the way to finding what I was missing in how we build worlds for our fiction and what that means to society as a whole. I’m at the stage where I can teach it but, alas, not many people are interested. They want classic world building courses. My compromise is to teach the classic world building, but to make sure that we talk about the ethics.

And that’s my news! (It’s both on Patreon and on my home page, so that few people miss out.) Actually, it’s not all my news. Three announcements (three!!) when the stars align. Watch all the spaces, or maybe subscribe to a newsletter if one magically appears in a week or so.

The other big news isn’t actually mine. It’s appearing here and it’s amazing, but it’s not mine. A group of writers is joining me in March for Women’s History Month. This year is extra special and there will be a bit of a lead-up with a couple of article that were due last year but that my impossible situation last year impeded. Watching spaces is a good thing. A friend once did an anthropological study where she watched a piece of ground for a few weeks to see what strange things appeared. Regard it like that. My spaces would make a fine anthropological study.

Happy New Year

After the last few years, I wasn’t expecting ‘normal’ to be a part of my life, but right now, it is. I have a novel to write and editing to finish, both in the next short while. I’ll post when I can, for I’m still researching. It’s like walking between the raindrops, however, and I won’t be able to chat as much about related subjects as I have been. I could do this and give up sleep, of course.

I’ll post when I can, therefore, and sometimes it will be passionate rants inspired by my research and sometimes it will be historical tidbits, but… if I don’t, it’s because, until March, things are busy. Given that I’m the kind of person who likes working twelve hours in a day, for me to say ‘busy’ is unusual.

This year my main publications will be two BVC editions of novels (The Time of the Ghosts and Langue[dot]doc 1305) and my first collection of short stories. Books and stories are falling all around me in a delightful but manic manner, and I can’t tangle my fiction with my research. The fiction may test the research (and it does) but they’re quite different processes and require quite different approaches. Walking between the raindrops…

The Wizardry of Jewish Women – sequel

ASIM published Impractical Magic and it was listed as recommended reading in a Year’s Best before the novel it was sequel to ever reached print. Processes are so much slower for novels in my life that the novel was written first and everyone met Judith through her sequel.

A few years ago, Bob Kuhn did a reading of Australasian SFF for a US convention, supporting Australian and New Zealand writing. Some of us followed up with him and he recorded a story of ours. His is the production copyright and mine is the story. To be honest, I hear Judith as more sarcastic and then complain-y than Bob does, but the tones of Ashmodai are precisely the way they echoed in my mind when I wrote the story. This recording always reminds me that any piece of fiction can be 1000 things to 1000 readers.

Happy Chanukah!

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(You can find Wizardry here.)

Chanukah present!

So many people I know are enjoying Star Wars. The present tonight is alternate universe Star Wars. It was the community open day for Canberra organisations. I was there being a writer and during my break (when I visited other stalls and gave bread to friends) this happened…

Chanukah present

This year I’m littering the internet with presents rather than keeping them all in one spot. The first for you here, on my home site, was the questions offer. The second, is a picture.

Feminist biscuit

This is my answer to the much-asked question “What do Belinda’s feminist biscuits look like, in The Wizardry of Jewish Women?” Seriously. I get this question time after time. All the serious stuff is “Yeah, we got that,” but the biscuits are a major concern. They’re straightforward biscuits, suitable to go with a cuppa, and they’re swirled with purple and green. Have I ever made these biscuits for feminists? Of course I have.

Passing Thoughts

My week was exciting.

First, the outcome of it. I was interviewed for a wonderful job, but I didn’t get it, alas. I did get to the UK for the interview, however.

Quite a few of the questions at my job interview were about teaching. My teaching links where the students are (specifically – not in a vague sense) with the outcomes they need for each course. I often link it to current events or students’ lives or things that have come up in the last little while, or books we’re reading, for I find that grounding the teaching in tools of this kind makes it more memorable to most students.

What I’m doing on Tuesday and Wednesday is to translate some of the stuff I encountered during the interview trip into material for each class.

The Tuesday class is looking at writing in their own voice. We already have the first half of the session planned, by the request of the students. They were getting so much out of our last exercise we did, that they want to do it again. It tests their voices against the others in the class, so that they start to understand the difference between the way they write and the way other Canberrans write. The rest of the session will use papers and journals and other documents I carried back from the UK for them, and my students will look at some of the wider ramifications of the English language: how what they know fits in (or doesn’t )with what they read in the new sources.

My Wednesday course is all about stories. We’ll use the same material as placemarks in stories, and the whole session will be about structuring.

I collected most of the material as I found magazines and newspapers and route maps in my travels. This pile of paper became handy when the video failed on the long flight back. It was less handy when the baggage people took so long to deliver the baggage in Sydney that a lot of people missed their next flights.

This was oddly synchronous. When I got off the train to the city for my job interview, my suitcase rolled too quickly and I fell flat onto the station platform.
While I’d love to say that the fact that I was jetlagged and covered in bruises on one side is why I didn’t get the job, but my reading of it is cultural. Every university has their own culture and for some reason, this university’s humanities culture in general didn’t hear what I was saying. Those candidates who had mixed with other people from the university in conferences and other events did far better than me. It was strange to be pushed away from my excited explanations about projects and teaching: this is how far I was misread. My guess is that they didn’t realise the cultural element and thought that I was rather unsociable.

Educated Australians of my particular background are not so common anymore (and we certainly don’t appear in Aussie soaps), so it’s hard for people to assess me like that. Many other Brits are wonderful in discovering much about me from my speech – I love doing panels and giving papers in Britain because of this. It’s very neat.

Such a varied island is Britain. I noted a lot of the verbal conventions this week because I’m working on how we formulate language for certain types of fiction and how this applies to cultural ownership. It also makes sense of the interactions I had for my assessment for the job. Life is always better when one understands.

As ever, everything is linked.

Thoughts and questions about research

I’ve finished the two-month round of conventions and a bunch of interesting things have happened. This post is about one of them. It’s on Patreon and on my blog. Where follow-up happens depends on response. If there’s no response, I’ll continue at my pace and there will be no news on this subject for years. This means no results for the Helsinki conference paper until everyone forgets I delivered it. Let me apologise for that now. Let me also suggest that you comment on this post and add your opinions, for that will help make things happen.

Let me explain why.

Universities are not employing many people and I do not yet have a regular job. Given the current climate I may never get one. I’m getting less teaching at university these days, too. It’s not good. My research gets better and better and my teaching gets better and better and I have to do more and more of it outside the academy.

Suddenly all my work is in touch with present reality and if only I had a regular academic job in Creative Writing I could do all kinds of amazing things and find a regular way to get that big database. But I don’t and that’s also our present reality. There are very, very few academic jobs and I’ve been interviewed a number of times, but with no job yet, I can’t assume that a lectureship will be part of my future. (This isn’t just a shame for my research – it also means I don’t get to do most of the teaching that makes me so very happy. It’s sad for me all round. It’s also sad for thousands of other scholars who are equally bereft– we’re living in a very tough time.)

I gave my papers in Helsinki and in Melbourne knowing that the research might not progress beyond that because my on university doesn’t see most casual staff as researchers. I research on my own time and using my own money and resources. This makes research very slow, for earning money has to take priority and so does my fiction. It doesn’t matter how important the research is, it has to be secondary. It also means I’m reliant on the books libraries obtain in order to create my database for a critical bit of the analysis, which is a profound problem given the nature of my research.

So, what is my research?

My big project boils down to the shape of narratives, how narratives influence each other and the role novels and their contexts play in encoding, transmitting and communicating key elements of culture and identity. I’m analysing things like genre markers, world building, the nature of story space, cultural issues, transmission issues.

I’ve done preliminary testing. The big project is viable and I’ve sorted out how to go about it. The reception of my conference papers on aspects of the project and the discussions I had with a lot of academics in my travels made me realise that I’ve opened up critical subject for many people. I checked this out at three different conferences after Helsinki, with academics, with writers, with readers, with editors and even with a few publishers. The reaction was the same across two continents and any number of conversations. I was astonished to find this, and it changed my thinking about my research. That’s why I’m writing this post.

I’m already incorporating the research into my teaching. I’ve had four different workshops called ‘inspiring’ because of this. Four in a row. This isn’t because I’m amazing (alas), but because the early results gave really handy insights into how we put the cultures of others into our fiction and how different aspects of culture can be decoded by writers to help them write by choice.

The research, then, has already helped a bunch of writers unpick what they do and start thinking of what they can do. Some writers are scared. Some are excited. And this is just the beginning. For more, I need to do this big project. And it is a big project.

Certain aspects of my big project require a big database.

Waiting for funding won’t do the trick. I’ve applied for funding for a number of my projects and I’ve had answers for ¾ of the applications and the answers all told me apologetically how many people applied.

I was going to give up on the big project and just do some of the small side elements. I take comments on my work very seriously, however, and the comments from August and September added up to “We need this stuff and you need to teach it to us and write about it.”

Getting my database is obviously the first step in this. Data is the big thing that’s lacking, the time-consuming thing that prevents me moving on at anything less than glacial progress. I’d need at least 8 years to read over 2000 books and bring them into my study.

A few people suggested I crowdfund.

I’d rather do a crowd form of reading. This would actually work better for the project as a whole than me being the sole reader (especially if the readers come from a number of countries), for it would significantly reduce my personal biases and the limitations on what books I could get hold of. Anyone who read a book who wanted to add the details I need to analyse to a spreadsheet could participate. Not just me, but many readers. Everyone would get acknowledged. I’d stop the collection when it had covered enough works covering all the types of works I need in enough detail.

Today, this is just a concept. I could report on my blog or through Patreon. Patreon would work best if the participants were all patrons and my blog would work best for wider participation. Either way, through Patreon I could offer people my research thoughts as the project advances. It could be the crowdfunding if anyone specifically wanted to support this project and learn about it and might help give me some income for my research, the way it’s made such a difference with my fiction. I’d share my conference papers, some articles, and maybe do specific essays on interesting aspects or progress. Patrons finding out first. I’m suggesting this because of the interest my patrons had in that first conference paper.

Right now, I’m after questions and opinions and a general indication if anyone would be willing to add a bit of information about the books they read to a database (although if you want to discuss the Patreon aspect, feel free). The database information would partly be bibliographical (publication details, country of origin of both author/s and publisher) and to do with the background and roles given to characters. I’d list the questions that need answering. There’d be no reviews or long thoughts. It’s the data collection essential to make the project happen much faster. Entries could be from anyone who reads novels. One entry for each novel.

My questions today are:
1. Is this a good idea?
2. How many people want to join? (there is no funding – this is entirely voluntary)
3. Why can’t I find a better name than ‘crowdreading’ for it? I keep reading it as “crow dreading’ and this is not good.

Friday Events at Conflux

At Conflux a couple of days ago, I had my Friday celebration of still being alive and of having a career despite all kinds of big things going wrong. There were a bunch of people there (which – in the middle of a work day – is not a given) and some books were bought and my food was much enjoyed. The not-so-good was that my voice is still weak after the laryngitis and everyone was so busy chatting that most of them didn’t listen for me. I had to ask a friend with a stronger voice to get enough attention to give out door prizes, and only a few people heard him. This means the reading I prepared didn’t happen and the questions people told me they wanted answered didn’t even get asked. I regret this very much. It added to my list of what disabilities do when those around them don’t pay enough attention: those with voice or hearing issues have to deal with situations like this everyday. I knew this in theory, for friends have told me how they had to rejig something or how their experience wasn’t the one reported on but it really makes a difference to understanding when it happens to one, personally. One of the things events managers should be watching for is ambient noise (music and etc) in areas where there will be events. One of the things those of us attending events need to watch for (listen for!) are effects from this on people who can’t raise their voice above them. This is important and I needed the reminder.

My workshop went well. We had to shut the door to keep out the music and hall noise that were a problem in the launch zone, but we had a door to shut, so we were fine. My participants were bright and thoughtful and are now rethinking the big stuff, which is my perfect outcome.

And these last few days I’ve been thinking of what ‘Own Voices’ means in everyday terms. This fits in with my thoughts a few blog posts ago. If we don’t let people communicate their culture their way (if we offer to do so for them rather than clearing a path) we’re claiming hierarchical superiority on the subject. This came into the workshop a little, but mostly is coming into my life as I find out how various of us do the everyday in Australia and what it means to belong to this group or the other.

How to avoid me at Conflux

Conflux this year is easy. There’s a day and a half you can enjoy without me being near. That’s relief, because this warning is late because I have 7 types of food to bring for tasting tomorrow afternoon and I had to finish them first. My hands are stained green and red and all of the food has tested edible.

Friday
10 am I’m running a two hour workshop on Questions of Culture (enrolments are open right up to the last minute, so sleep in or go to a panel – you’ll be fine). Let me give you the official description of what you’ll be avoiding:
“This workshop provides a practical approach for writers in recognising how they use their own culture in their writing, especially in novels, and how to recognise stereotypes. Participants will develop tools to open doors to new ways of thinking, to looking at their own work from new perspectives and to think and research in new directions. It is based on Gillian’s own extensive academic research and writing on these subjects. Rather than talking academic shop, however, Gillian will cover what writers can do with their writing, in their genres and with their own cultural background informing their work.”

1.30-2 pm The program says there’s a book launch, but actually there’s a celebration. There are seven types of food, including feminist biscuits (from Wizardry), teengoth biscuits and homemade gingerbread (from Time of the Ghosts) and some experimental food to show you what is to come, since it’s for a novel I’ve not yet written. Oh, and there’s challah.
I’ve promised a reading and to answer questions, but this is me in celebration mode, so of course it’s about the food. And the door prizes. Over a dozen of them. Some great and some silly. Because I felt like it. It’s been a very tough couple of years with some amazing things happening and I have paper copies of Wizardry for sale and… it’s time to stop and smell the gingerbread. (You may want to BYO drinks – one of the bottles of wine I was going to serve is now a door prize for the celebration and the rest are door prizes for Monday.)

And the rest of Friday there’s no avoidance, because I go home to be virtuous and very Jewish.

You don’t have to avoid me on Saturday because I’m being virtuous and very Jewish.

Sunday
3.30 pm I’m joining the Fairy Tale Ring for an hour. They’re a great group who have much knowledge and some very good tellers of tales, so be thankful I can’t be there for the second half. This means even if you’re avoiding me, you can go.

4.30 pm I’m on a panel about “Magical practices beyond the fairy tale” It asks how fairy tales have borrowed from real-world magic systems? Me, I’m wondering if I get to talk about gematria. We’ll see.

6 pm GUFF Auction – with much good stuff, some of which I have in a bag right now. A couple of us have been collecting material to raise money for the fan fund and some of this stuff is amazing and… you won’t want to miss it. Just pretend I’m not there.

Monday
10 am Meet Book View Café, meet Irene Radford via Skype, and meet me (except you already know me). We have bunches to talk about, including books and writers, of course. We have giveaways. Amazingly cool ones. Plus a couple of bottle of wine and a mug for those who look as if they need just a bit more.

1.30 pm Writing across cultures without @#!!*#@ing it up
Look at the harmony in my programming! I start with one aspect of the subject and end on another aspect. Anyone would think I’m researching stuff like this as part of my cultural analyses. This is, of course, because I am. I will talk about my own writing if people ask. To ask, though, you’ll have to give up on avoiding me.

Sad note: I made a terrible error when buying chocolate and we have sweets instead. To make up for this, we have enough sugar to send a spaceship into low orbit. Ask me for a sugar hit anytime you need one. The best ones, will, of course, be at my workshop and celebration on Friday. I’m only bringing the more common ones on Sunday and Monday.