I didn’t have an FAQ page earlier because I wasn’t being asked too many questions frequently. This seems to have changed. So here are some answers. (Scroll down or ctrl+F “Dalit” on your browser for Dalit-related questions. Unfortunately this page doesn’t have a collapse-answers feature.)
) Where can I contact you?
For anything lengthy and work-related, I prefer to be contacted at child(.)without(.)god(@)gmail.com, take out the brackets. For a small note, hello, or comment on my work, I am available on Twitter and Facebook. You will notice that the Facebook link is a page, not a profile. I really don’t appreciate being contacted on my personal Facebook profile. Facebook screens messages from people outside the user’s friend list, and I don’t check that Other inbox for months.
Also, please don’t add me as a friend on Facebook, even if you have work interests. My Facebook profile is entirely for family and friends. I understand that this may not be the case with some other writers, but it is with me. Email is an entirely effective way of reaching me. I check every day.
) But don’t you want to be my friend? I am nice, respectable and/or also a nerd!
Uh, no. As you may have noticed in real life, friendship doesn’t work that way. While science fiction and fantasy (SFF henceforth) is a somewhat informal community, so are places like school and college, and not everyone there ends up becoming your friend, even if you share common interests.
You are a stranger to me. You can’t decide for me that we’ll become personal friends. Chasing me around for friendship is honestly very inappropriate behaviour, more so if there’s a romantic intent to it, which is always apparent, whether you think so or not. As a woman, it makes me feel stalked and unsafe. If you do it long enough and often enough, I will notice your name, but only as the person who needs to be blocked and avoided forever.
) But you responded to me on Twitter!
I possibly did, and it was very certainly regarding something impersonal. I respond to people I don’t know on Twitter, as well as on my Facebook page. An interaction like that doesn’t entitle you to my personal life.
Of late, I have started to consider if I should stop responding to strangers altogether, because it’s bringing me some people who are invasive, stalkerly and just don’t back off. What does it take to not politely harass a female-identified person off social media, folks? And you call yourself “nice”? (Really. Do some soul-searching there.)
) But your life and/or appearance seems very curious and unusual, and I just want to…
Stop right there. Don’t even finish that sentence. That is fetishizing and highly inappropriate. From my end, it comes across as extremely creepy and insulting. Instant block and report, probably to the police if you go over a limit. Those messages you’re sending can be screenshot, you know?
) I’m not a creep, I promise! I just need some reading recommendations and/or also want to be an SFF writer, and have no idea where to start.
This is the better class of people, but it’s still difficult for me to help each new person cross this threshold again and again. I’m really glad to see more people interested in reading or writing SFF, but please understand the limitations on my time and energy. Instead, have some advice I’ve already given several readers and aspiring writers:
- If you want to be a contemporary SFF short-story writer, especially in the international market, you have to read other contemporary SFF short-story writers and know what they’re writing and what level. Having read all of Asimov or Lovecraft won’t help you here, just like having read all of Dickens or Jane Austen won’t help you become a contemporary realism writer.
Where can you start reading? This page on the website of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America lists a number of magazines which are generally considered top-notch in contemporary SFF. It’s not a list of all such magazines, but it’s a reliable place to start, and one where I started myself.
- If you want recommendations for South Asian SFF writers specifically (as you should, if you’re South Asian yourself), I recently wrote a two-part article for Tor.com that’s largely full of recommendations. Here are Part I and Part II.
- Yes, there are a lot of names at those links, and no, I can’t condense them further for you. Reading as many of them as you can and deciding what fits your reading and writing tastes is your homework as a writer.
- If you’re not from the US and want to get into the American SFF scene, attending a workshop helps. I highly recommend Clarion West and Clarion UCSD, which take place over slightly less than two months every summer in Seattle and San Diego, respectively. You don’t need contacts or even recommendation letters to apply to these workshops, just your writing sample. Also, they almost always manage to give scholarships to international applicants in need, so it’s worth a try.
- If you absolutely cannot travel, Writing the Other has shorter, usually specific-concentration workshops, which are conducted entirely online. These workshops also offer scholarships.
- Get a Twitter account and follow specifically SFF writers, editors, magazines and other members of the community. This is how you make friends, hear about interesting recent publications, find calls for submissions when they’re announced, and many other things. I’m not going to take a social-media class right now, but it’s useful to concentrate your Twitter account on this and stay active, because your news feed phases out relevant information when you don’t. If you have a lot of other interests on Twitter, no one’s stopping you from having more than one account.
) Will you at least read my story and tell me if it’s any good or not?
I am a professional editor, which means I do more efficient critique than your friend, who may be a very intelligent and perceptive reader, but the difference between an intelligent amateur and a professional is the presence of a toolset. Any application of that toolset isn’t free. It took me a lot of money and many years of my life to acquire it, and it’s what now pays my rent.
To be honest, reading a story and telling you if it’s good or not in a casual way doesn’t require the full application of an advanced editorial toolset, especially if you’re a very early writer. Will I do it for free, then? No, still won’t. That kind of feedback is still work. (Teaching kindergarten is work, just like supervising a PhD is work. The kindergarten teacher’s job isn’t free.) Your friend does it for free because they love you. Somebody in your writing group does it for free because you’re giving feedback on their story in turn. If I started doing that for every stranger on the Internet, I’ll never do anything else.
) Can I hire you for money to read and/or edit my stories, then?
Yes. Write me an email and we will talk about my freelance editorial rates.
Fair warning: The rates are in US$, and aimed at raising a mostly finished piece of writing to the level of publication, usually in the US. That’s probably not what you want to pay if you just want to check out if you can even write or not. Teaching you how to write is called coaching, and is a different service that I don’t currently provide. Writing your story for you is called ghostwriting, and is also a different service that I don’t provide.
I do have a small $15 tier on my Patreon (first-come-first-serve for three people), for which I critique short stories at any level. This is a very high discount on my regular rate, and the only place where I give opinion on completely amateur writing.
Also, please don’t ask me to edit your realism fiction, nonfiction article, longform journalism, academic dissertation and other kinds of writing. I am only a specialist in science fiction and fantasy, some horror, and some Young Adult fiction. I read those other genres sometimes, sure, but for them I am the intelligent amateur, just like you or your friend.
) Will you contribute an original story or an article for my magazine/anthology/other publication for free?
No. Thank you for your interest, but I’d rather send that original story or article to another venue that pays me for it. I do sometimes consider reprinting a piece for free, but that depends on if I have a previously published work that fits your requirements. First publications unfortunately are never free, or lower than standard industry rate.
) Will you do a live appearance at my reading/panel/conference/convention/other event for free?
No. I do convention panels for free, but only if it’s at a convention where I was already going, as does everyone else in SFF. I do fewer of these panels now because I don’t have the money to go to conventions. You want me to actually spend money on travel and accommodation to come do a live appearance at your thing? Who has that kind of money? Not me. I barely make my rent and living expenses.
) Will you teach a class or workshop for free?
) But there are some things you still do for free — I’ve noticed!
Yes, for my own personal reasons. Very likely it’s a for a friend, a cause I care about, or some kind of professional advancement. You can’t force your way into those categories. This is not to say your thing isn’t valuable for another person, or in itself. It’s just not a good fit for me.
) Some discount for people and/or venues in India? The US$ conversion is really very high.
Dear god, don’t I know. Every time I run out of money and my parents have to pay me for even one day of existing in New York, it takes a chunk out of their pension. I’d love to be more accessible from India, but the fact is that I live in New York and very narrowly cover my expenses. I don’t have an inheritance. I work all the time. I wouldn’t be eating if I took any payment in INR that wasn’t the exact equivalent of the US$. Blame that on the economy. I’m just one person.
) Ok, different subject. Why are you Dalit?
Because I was born into a Dalit family. (Why I was born into that family is not the kind of speculation I’m good at doing.) Dalit is an ancestry, not a club membership. A Scheduled Caste certificate is something one has to acquire by making an application, and some Dalits don’t have it for various reasons. That doesn’t stop them from being Dalit. It does stop them from getting quota advantages for school, college or government jobs, because to apply for that quota you have to produce the certificate.
One also doesn’t have to be a Dalit issues activist, scholar, politician or any other kind of professional to be Dalit, just like one doesn’t have to be a professional priest to be Brahmin. I’m an SFF writer and editor, who is Dalit by birth and upbringing.
) But the word Dalit means “oppressed,” right? If you’re not oppressed, can you still claim to be Dalit?
That is the etymology of the word, yes, but in usage it signifies a race and ancestry. Just like in usage the word Black signifies a race and ancestry, it doesn’t mean the colour code #00000. No human being is the colour code #00000. Black people come in a whole range of skin colours, including some who can almost pass as White, but they’re still Black. This is really not a difficult concept. Try.
) But you look and sound just like us. You don’t get/have never got any discrimination for being Dalit. Why do you have to be divisive?
Firstly, “don’t get” or “have never got” is a very presumptuous thing to say when you don’t actually know a person’s life. Discrimination doesn’t only happen at the poorest levels. It’s also discrimination when someone has to be twice as educated or work twice as hard to receive the same level of remuneration and respect. It’s discrimination when they are denied promotions, not allowed to marry into certain families, treated with suspicion and microaggressions in friendships, expected to “be grateful” for the basic courtesy that everyone else is receiving, and so on. You shouldn’t be comparing my life to the poor or uneducated Savarna person; you should be comparing it to the Savarna person who is supposed to have exactly the same life as me.
Discrimination against Dalits exists at every level. It exists within Hindu communities outside India. I’m not being divisive here. I’m only naming the division that already exists and Savarnas refuse to acknowledge it, while practising it nevertheless.
) But I don’t “see caste” or treat anyone with discrimination.
“Not seeing caste” is a casteist position, for the above-mentioned reasons. The only non-casteist position is to acknowledge that the discrimination exists and actively try to avoid practising it as much as you can. As well as believe a Dalit person when they say they have received discrimination, even if you can’t “see” it.
) Do you hate all Savarna and/or Hindu people? Do you hate the Hindu religion?
No, and no. Some specific Dalit movements and people may have an explicitly anti-Hindu stance, but that’s not my stance. And like I said, Dalit is an ancestry, not a club or political-party membership. Not every Dalit has the same stance on Hinduism.
I grew up within the Hindu religion and studied it extensively, and probably know more about it than many casually practising Hindus. Because it’s mandatory in India to have a religion to your identity, I am still officially a Hindu, though I don’t practise the faith. (This is true of every citizen of India who’s atheist or irreligious. You officially belong to the religion you were born in, unless you change it to another religion. There’s no no-religion option.)
I have no hostile opinion towards Hinduism itself. I have friends who are Savarna and/or Hindu, both by ancestry and practice. Obviously, these friends are only the non-casteist Savarnas, and the ones who actively try to unlearn their socially imbibed casteism, and acknowledge that my experience of life has been more difficult than theirs. Savarnas who are casteist (including the “not seeing caste” kind of casteist) are obviously not my friends or people who like me very much. Can’t say I entirely miss them.
) Will you give your expert opinion on this or that current Dalit issue?
*sigh* Again, no.
I do write about being Dalit a bit, but I only talk about my own identity and lived experience. I’m really not an expert on Dalit issues. My opinion on those issues is an intelligent amateur’s opinion. I’m not acquainted with every Dalit-issues scholar and activist. I definitely don’t know every other Dalit in the world. (There are over 200 million people! I don’t know all of them. Nobody knows all of them. Each of them is an individual with their own opinion.) This is not my profession; my profession is SFF writer and editor. Please go talk to an actual expert.
) But you still claim to be Dalit?
Dalit is my ancestry and lived experience. Does every Savarna have an expert opinion on Hinduism and the global Hindu community? Why does every Dalit have to be either an expert or not “allowed” to be Dalit?
) Why are you putting your Dalit politics in my SFF? I don’t want it there!
*sigh* This is where I want to retort “Why are you putting your casteism in my SFF? I don’t want it there either!” But I’ll try to be rational about this, since I’m the professional and the people saying this are mostly amateurs.
SFF has inherently been a genre that very closely examines politics. SFF fans largely enjoy this, but a lot of them get uncomfortable when the political lens is turned on them and their ingrained biases.
Now, am I really “putting my Dalit politics in your SFF”? Am I closing doors on you or saying only Dalits can be part of SFF? In all the articles and interviews I have done so far, I’ve talked about all Indian (and South Asian) writers and readers of SFF, whether I praise or criticize them. Absolutely 100% of those people are Savarna, unless they’re from other religious communities. I don’t even know another Dalit writer of SFF. All I have said is that I am Dalit and that seems to be enough to set off some triggers. If that is not casteism, I don’t know what is.
If you’re casteist to the extent that you refuse to even exist in the same space as me, that’s clearly your problem, not mine. If you close the door of international SFF on yourself because I got there first, that’s not on me. If it hurts your self-esteem to take help or solidarity from a Dalit, go find someone else, I’m not stopping you. If you attack, hurt or threaten me in the process, obviously I’m going to be afraid of you and avoid you in the future. But I’m not going to un-Dalit myself for your approval, nor am I going to lower my standards or boundaries as a professional. I don’t dislike Savarnas or Hindus even a little bit, but horrible casteists are where I draw the line. :)