My 2017 Award Eligibility Post ._.

I have put off writing this post for months. That doesn’t make me special — I am not the only writer, by far, who cringes at the notion of having to beat their own drum. But others have already written theirs, and prioritizing my cringe over everyone else’s is nothing but complacence.

2017 has been a year of many disappointments and personal struggles for me, but it has also been a year of exemplary kindness from quarters I did not expect, and working with a lot of wonderful, talented people. It was the first year I was solicited to write anything at all, and the “What? Me? Really? Are you sure?” sensation of that hasn’t yet subsided. I worked with editors and teams from India, the US, the UK, Australia, Canada, which is… not quite an achievement on the literary scale, and yet is for me, for where I come from and who my people are. I am writing this post in the spirit of celebrating all these amazing people who have given me opportunities and love. I feel very blessed.

1. Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler

Eligible for: Best Related Work at the Hugo Awards; Best Non-fiction at the Locus Awards

2017-12-03 13.33.00.jpgThis book was a labour of love. That’s a hackneyed phrase, but no publisher (or editors) expect to get rich from a nonfiction anthology that presumes the knowledge (and love) of another author’s work. I came into this project only halfway through, and I accepted it because it was a book I believed should exist, a vision that gave me strength and hope at a time little else did. That is the same reason Alisa Krasnostein and Alexandra Pierce of Twelfth Planet Press started it. Every contributor in this book – well-known or not – has written out of love; and I hope everyone who has read has imbibed it from their words.

This is the entry I am campaigning the hardest for. I believe 100% in its capability to win All the Awards. If you really like me and for some reason want to spend a vote on me, vote Luminescent Threads up, please.

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An excerpt from Gary K. Wolfe’s review in Locus Magazine:

[B]y far the most moving section consists of contribu­tions by recipients of the Octavia Butler Scholar­ships to Clarion, not only because some of them have begun auspicious careers of their own (such as Rachel Swirsky and Indra Das), but because their own accounts are often powerful tales of self-discovery, even when they repeat the same points: no one expected to get in, no one certainly expected a scholarship, no one thinks Octavia would remem­ber them. Maybe not, but the point now is that they remember her, and they do it beautifully. She’d be cool with that, if a little embarrassed.

2. Missive from a Woman in a Room in a City in a Country in a World Not Her Own

Eligible for: Best Related Work at the Hugo Awards

I’ll be honest – this is a very long shot. This is more of political/identity/intersectionality article than an SFF article. But it is one of the first things I wrote in 2017. It loosened up an awful knot in my chest; brought me back from a very dark, unproductive place. I would love for some of you to read it again.

An excerpt from Charles Payseur’s review in Quick Sip Reviews (which I’ve posted before; my apologies for repetition):

This is an essay about erasure and about place. About feeling like you belong to a parallel dimension. Or that you’ve passed through some portal and instead of the fantasy realm where things were going to be magical and just, you find a banal and ruthless place that is actively seeking to create a past that never existed.

3. On Translating the Stories Yet Unwritten: A Dalit Perspective from India

Another political/identity/intersectionality article I wrote last year, touching only very slightly on SFF. It’s eligible for the same as above, and an even longer shot. Once again, I would mostly love for you to read it. I had never published this kind of nonfiction before these two articles. They are probably a new direction in my life, both as a writer and a human.

I have received heartwarming feedback about this essay, but I don’t think I can point to a review.

4. Learning to Swim

Eligible for: Best Short Story at the Nebula, Hugo, Locus Awards

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Honestly, the above line took me five minutes — and a lot of facial-muscle-and-diaphragm exertion — to write. I don’t believe yet that I’m ready to win any awards for my fiction. (I will tell you about the many, many really great stories I read last year that are. Let me do that on Twitter, since I’m rarely ever here, and so are you.) But this is the only story I published in 2017, and once again, it reflects all the thoughts and anxieties I was going through last year. I’ll be very glad if you read it. It somehow happens to be in the Nebula Reading List.

An excerpt from A. C. Wise’s review in Apex Magazine:

“Learning to Swim” is a beautiful story, even as it touches on the painful subjects of xenophobia, prejudice, and the way marginalized groups such as immigrants and religious minorities are too often treated in Western countries. However, it’s also a story of hope, found family, and community building, reminding us there is kindness in the world. Samantha and Raon’s refusal to give up on Uma, and the way they see her truly even when she cannot see herself shows that sometimes reaching out to someone in pain can make all the difference in the world.

Okay, that would be all. Hope all of you are having a very lovely 2018 so far, filled with beautiful stories and other things.

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WisCon 40, OR a Very Nice Ending to One Year in the United States

Actually, if I quit writing in understatements for a moment, it was probably the most perfect and apt ending that this year could have. And now that I’m back home and recovering from jet lag and the overall fatigue of the year, the fact that I spent the last long weekend in Madison, WI, hanging out with a thousand spec-fic people is putting a huge smile on my face, and reminding me why I do what I do.

It’s been almost exactly 12 months for me in the United States. I first landed in America on 18 June 2015. It was on the West coast, in Seattle, where was picked up by Huw from the SeaTac airport and driven (on the right side of the road!) to the Clarion West house, where I was about to spend probably the most enriching six weeks of my life. I left earlier this month, on 1 June, from the JFK airport in New York. I haven’t travelled across the country, but I’ve had a long, eventful year. I went to Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Madison. I met a lot of (mostly) interesting people in different places. I was caught unawares and overwhelmed by the generosity of strangers, not-quite-strangers but friends I’ve known only a little, friends of friends whom I had never met. I shared a couple of kisses replete with tenderness and joy. I encountered covert racism and sexism from people who don’t espouse themselves as practitioners of such. I had a lot of remarkable conversations – and, on one occasion, some excellent homegrown weed (Disclaimer: this was in LA; totally legal homegrown weed) – with Uber drivers. I lived through a few dark months of self-hatred and soul-searching, and learned a few things about myself that I didn’t know or acknowledge before.

I wrote a few stories, and a few beginnings of stories.
I wrote a couple of memoir pieces, which I’ve never done before.
I wrote a draft-y poem for a love that had run its course.
I signed a book deal, which wasn’t in the US, but I printed out and scanned back the contract from the printing machine in Armitage Hall, where I had a little office.
I taught a class; admittedly, not with the greatest enjoyment.
I packed up and moved out of an apartment on my own.

Neil Gaiman wished me a happy birthday over Skype in July, which I don’t think he’ll do again this year, but well.

One’s first year in a country is always long and eventful, but I think my first year in the US has been much richer in experience than my first year in the UK. In the UK, for the longest time, I lived in the furthest interiors of a remote Scottish campus that was off the highway from a deadbeat town. Then I shifted to London, and lived with a partner who – for all his good qualities (of which he had many) – was aggressively unwilling to be social. I travelled a lot in my UK year, mostly out to Europe (Germany, Luxembourg, Hungary, Spain), but also to Oxford, Canterbury, Wales, Manchester, but I met fewer people, did fewer things that I’d never done before, and nursed different delusions about myself.

WisCon was the fourth con I’ve ever been to. The first three were all in England – DiscworldCon and WorldCon in 2014, then EasterCon in 2015 (I also went to the Hay Festival in 2014) – but con-going experience is very different when you don’t know anyone, and no one knows you. The ex-boyfriend and I attended a lot of panels. We played games with strangers at DiscworldCon; he chatted with and got books signed by his favourite author at WorldCon; there was that hilarious story of (literally) running into George R.R. Martin, but mostly what we did was hang out with each other, and discuss with each other the new things we’d seen and heard, and then go home. WisCon was very different from all that.

This time I went with friends: Julia, Magpie and Nibs from my Clarion West class. This time I knew a few people. I had started running into people going WisCon-wards right from my stopover at Minneapolis, so even before it officially started, it had begun to feeling like a large festival, a pilgrimage. The people I knew introduced me to other people. I had breakfasts and lunches and dinners and dances and ice-cream walks and 2-a.m.-cigarette-hunts with lovely and interesting people I’d never met before. (I was also aggressively propositioned by a stranger inside an elevator, but this was not a con attendee, and well, real life always finds a way to intervene.) I felt validated. I felt like I didn’t need to feel validated, which is an even nicer way to feel. I felt my brain engaging at its 100% capacity, zero indifference, which is probably the nicest way to feel, and beats every other emotion. Even my body felt rested and healed, almost energetic, even though it was a complete wreck. 

Since Clarion West ended last August, I felt like I was gently drifting out of touch with the speculative fiction community. The world of the MFA is very allied to “mainstream” writing; and Philly has a few spec-fic people, including my friend and Clarion West classmate Christine, but obviously everyone’s on their own schedule, as I was on mine. There was too much real life and too little nerding out all these months; and while real life isn’t essentially a bad thing, there’s that thing they say about too much of anything. I almost didn’t go to WisCon this year – I stayed around in Camden for a month after my classes ended; I missed two buses on the night I left and nearly failed to catch to my flight to Madison – but I’m glad it worked out. I’m glad I made it. I’m glad I now have other directions to go. It has been a good year. 

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Many good things have been happening, but my Internet connection hasn’t been strong enough to keep up with them. Firstly… well, I’m not yet allowed to talk about the ‘firstly’. (I’ll post about it and put a link here as soon as I am.)

So, secondly. PodCastle put up my story on the third day of February, narrated by Elizabeth Green Musselman, who was excellent with this multilingual universe I loved the way the story sounded. (All those horrors abated.) And everyone at PodCastle – and especially editor Dave Thompson, who bought the story in January – was very nice and very positive about the story. And now I’m diligently following the story’s discussion thread on the Escape Artists forum, where other people are saying other (largely) nice and accurate things about it.

I have been building and obsessing about the Johuree universe for so long (I started writing the first story in 2009 back in UG3; never finished it) that I keep needing to remind myself that this is the first Johuree story that has actually seen the light of day. If anyone wonders what the inside of my head looks like (though I cannot imagine why anyone would), do go and listen to the story!

Kindle illustration for 'Hip-Bone Butterfly'
Kindle illustration for ‘Hip-Bone Butterfly’

There was another publication, equally happy-making. On the second day of February Kindle published its latest poetry edition, and my very old poem ‘Hip-Bone Butterfly‘ finally came out in it. The poem is from 2011, but it is one of the last poems I’ve written (I hardly write poems any more), and it had won the first prize at the Poetry with Prakriti festival the winter when I was interning with Blaft in Chennai. I had this blog even then but I hadn’t mentioned it on the blog – although it was the first time I received a reasonably important prize for my writing, and I was super kicked – because back in college I was too cool for all that.

And now I’m too old to be cool, but I cannot for my life imagine that to be a bad thing. :)

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2014 was a long year in many ways, involving struggles with physical illness and depression, failing to study or work as much as I should, failing to talk or keep in touch with people, but also interspersed with stubborn faith and new love (which is now slightly old love, and has sent me a bouquet of roses nearly as tall as myself as a reminder).

It was perhaps fitting that I woke up with sudden, vehement fever on the morning of the 31st and couldn’t go out anywhere for the new year’s eve.

On the second day of 2015, by the time my fever- and social-seclusion-induced misery had pretty much hit rock bottom, however, I received an email from Podcastle informing me that a story I sent them has been selected for their ‘Artemis Rising’ event. The story will be recited, recorded and podcasted on their website sometime in February, I believe. This is going to be my favourite news of the year for quite a long time.

Podcastle was the first podcast the Corvus made me listen, while he was initiating me to the joys of listening to a story instead of reading it. I had tried listening to audiobooks (novels) before but hadn’t had much success. But, as someone famous (TBA) once remarked and I remember, short stories are probably the precise length of the stories that were once transmitted by telling. And I love Podcastle – love their selection, love their presentation, love the way the website looks and the font they use for their posts. It’s all so neat and beautiful. Of course, it’s a different, more vivid kind of joy to see yourself be published at a venue you enjoy that much. Also, there’s storytelling to happen, and none of my writing has been performed by other people before (oh well, a poem I wrote was excerpted and recited in a very bad play many years ago, but let’s try to never revisit that horror!)… so I’m twice as nervous and excited about that.

A story, a poem

A poem I wrote in 2011 was recently published, in an online magazine called The Missing Slate. Here is a link. And here‘s a link to the original, which is one (punch)line longer than the version that was published. It is ever interesting to discover how people read your writing. I’d have thought that last line essential, but the editors of the magazine found it redundant to the poem.

Sometimes, these are lessons.

Of course, I no longer feel the bruise under which that poem was written. (Other scars have covered it.) Distancing is so often a blessing.

efiction

The other, the story, is one I originally called ‘Interview with a Bollywood Screen Goddess’, which was published in the November 2014 issue of eFiction India. I have not seen this one yet, since the magazine can be purchased either as a digital or a print edition, and I am waiting for my print copy to arrive.

‘Interview’ (which the magazine no longer calls ‘Interview’) was a great story to write; it cheered me up during a period of otherwise intense depression. The story starts out as a magazine interview with a famous Bollywood actress, which is something I always find fun to fictionalize. I think anyone who’s ever been an entertainment journalist has had that thought running through their head – what if you could make up all of this, rather than, let’s say, about 60% of it? What if the person you’re interviewing literally represented those adjectives like enchanting, mesmerising, unearthly… and then, in ‘Interview’, it turns out that they do! A very generic, easygoing fantasy story, set in Delhi (the Other City of this blog, whose habits and memories are still fresh in my mind) that made me very happy.

There is something to be said for this sudden surge of publications. It is that I have finally (I think) overcome my reluctance to publish. Of course, the transformation is less sudden than it seems. I had started writing ‘Death of a Widower’ in 2011, abandoned it, picked it up again in the summer of 2013, finished and send it in to Rupa, and An Atlas of Love was published in early 2014. That’s not quite sudden. I write maybe a poem or two a year. It’s hardly enough for a sustained publishing record, and as for fiction, for most of my life I have not been able to think in short stories. Any idea I had was always the length of a novel, and I’d start writing it, and of course, I am yet to complete a novel. I wish I was prolific, but I’m not. And while I never retouch my poems after I’ve written them, I find myself rewriting my stories most of the time, hopefully making them stronger and better with each version. It is a craft I am still learning. I hope one day I will be good.