Thanksgiving Weekend has come and gone and so has LosCon 2022. It was a busy week for the poets of SFPA.
We had two poetry panels. Pictured is our poetry reading “Imaginative Verse: A Reading of Speculative Poets” with Jean-Paul L. Garnier, Denise Dumars, Neil Citrin, Robin Rose Graves, and Wendy Van Camp. During the panel, we announced to the public the Rhysling Long Form winners and I read Beth Cato’s winning poem during our opening.
Our second panel was “The Art of Poetry” lead by Denise Dumars. Denise did a wonderful job showcasing our poets and explaining to the public what speculative poetry is and how to gain the courage to perform your poetry in public.
We also hosted a fantable for the SFPA giving out old copies of “Dreams & Nightmares” (a big thank you to David C. Kopaska-Merkel for his donation!) and copies of “Star*Line” (with thanks to our Star*Line editor Jean-Paul L. Garnier). I’m happy to report we had a few new sign-ups to join SFPA, and we certainly brought our organization more awareness.
Facebook reminded me this week of a trip four years ago. I had the rare and wonderful privilege of spending almost two weeks immersed in writing, steeped in the power that place can exert on creativity and identity.
I applied, in the final year of my MFA in Creative Writing program, to a writing residency in Ireland – a place I’d always dreamed of visiting. Except for the briefest of trips across the border into Mexico and Canada, I was a Gen X-er who’d never traveled outside the United States. I had a list in my pocket of places I’d visit and a current passport, should the opportunity (and funds) ever arise.
Likewise, the MFA was a goal I’d held close for, well, decades, if I’m honest. The program ended up opening the door, as well, to this dream of international travel. My gratitude for this has only grown in the past year, through all the isolation and restrictions.
It took almost two days to make that trip from Colorado to our final destination – an inn on the island off the coast of Ireland called Inis Oirr. It was a “planes, trains, and automobiles” kind of trip. Two planes, a bus, a small ferry boat, a horse drawn buggy (for our luggage), and a hike up a steep cobbled road from the docks, to be exact. The trip was like winding back the decades, one mode of transport at a time.
I’m remembering, as I write this, the crowded Galway park, full of locals enjoying the warmth of a relatively rare sunny day. Our cohort assembled to await the ferry, lying about on the greenest of grass (which is not a myth, by the way ; ) I fell asleep for a bit, exhausted from the travelling, feeling somehow safe in the midst of all that activity. Then came the crisp, refreshing wind in our faces as the ferry boat bumped its way over the rough open sea to the island. The thrill of seeing the island rise up out of the water ahead, crowned by a diadem with castle jewels. The fishy smell of the docks as we hopped off the swaying boat. The clop of horses’ hooves on the cobbles. The lilt of a warm greeting from the innkeeper in Gaelic. The savory smell of fresh seafood chowder for dinner, served with stories from fishermen playing pool nearby about the catch of the day.
Feel that sense of place? : )
I could add a few bumps along the way, to be sure. But I find myself recalling mostly sensations, memories that make me smile. Experience again those spacious moments. Walks by the sea. Sunsets so late at night. Lovely language and kind community. The writing the immersion opened in me.
Perhaps it’s in sharp contrast with feeling so confined much of the past year, between lockdowns and perpetual smoke and ash last summer from the fires here in Colorado. The feeling of loss all around – its own sense of place.
Ireland was an embodied experience of what I’d vicariously tasted as a teen, exploring the strange new worlds of science fiction and fantasy. Places that (as a young queer person who wouldn’t find acceptance for years to come) inspired feelings of hope and belonging in a wider world. Settings and societies that expanded my definitions and horizons beyond the messy, violent urban neighborhood I grew up in. Written by authors who knew how to create new potentialities by conveying a strong sense of place.
John Varley, for example, in his classic Gaia Trilogy, transported me to Titan, the being/world whose 12 distinct lands he personified on the page. Each place – and Gaia as a whole – acted as a foil for the astronauts stranded there (and those soon to follow) requiring characters to confront their limitations and biases. Allowing them to discover fuller identities (including sexual identities). To reach unexpected potentials beyond the limited selves they were on arrival. All through sustained interaction with a place far beyond their current experience.
Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series pulled me into world where the dragons, themselves, were inextricably tied to the biology of a world inhabited by a people who were (in the original trilogy) beginning to question their ancestry. Their sense of place. Where individuals were questioning their identities as this evolution began. Where young people could empower themselves, be supported in putting hard situations behind them, and pursue their gifts. Could use them in service of surviving, thriving, and creating in this place. Responding to questions whose answers challenged every assumption they’d held about their connections with each other, the dragons, and Pern.
I’ve found myself rereading these and other authors with this talent in the past year. Reaching, almost obsessively, for that expanded sense of place, as my outer world shrank to the size of my apartment. For that spaciousness I’ve always found on the page. What I’m now enjoying, again, through the pictures of my time in Ireland. Revisiting that lived experience of revising, in a deeper way, my sense of place in the world. Seeing it reflected in my writing.
We can be of service, I believe, as writers, by reaching beyond the experience of place we know. Not by appropriating others’ stories, their unique sense of “place.” Rather, by reading those stories – real and fantastic. Stretching our own lived experiences, where we can. Cleaning out head junk that likes to whisper, “What you’ve known is the only place.”
Think of the impact we can have, dear writers, if we work at conveying, as best we can, insights we glean by taking deep dives into place. Imagining less limiting futures. Creating stories and worlds our readers want to visit – even revisit – that expand their own definitions, as others’ stories have for us. The hope and resilience we can help bring to a “place” that really needs it right now. ❤
D.M. Rasch is an author of LGBTQ+ speculative fiction (and an occasional poet) who lives in the Denver, CO area with 2 sister kittens who are pretty tough in the editing department. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing and balances being a working writer with her work as a Creative Coach, Mentor, and Editor (as Deanna M. Rasch) in her business, Itinerant Creative Content & Coaching LLC . Find her publications on the linked Amazon page and look forward to upcoming publications: a YA science fiction novel Freedom’s Cost, as well as the first in a series related to her story At the Movies, recently featured in Other Worlds Ink’s anthology, Fix the World: twelve sci-fi writers save the future. LinkedIn Amazon
When you add a review on Goodreads or Amazon or mark off the number of stars you deem a recently-read book worthy to receive, you may not realize how important your rating is to your favorite author. And likewise, if you hurry on to the next book without bothering to leave a comment or mark the stars on a book you’ve just finished, it may not occur to you that you’ve done a slight–but important–disservice to an author whose work you’ve enjoyed and want to see more of.
Once upon a time, people bought books in bookstores and depended on either newspaper/magazine reviewers or knowledgeable booksellers for recommendations, as well as their friends and families. In today’s world, a large percentage of books are purchased online, without the opportunity for readers to ask a friendly bookstore worker for advice, and many people live far away from the friends and family members who share their reading tastes. Newspapers and magazines have drastically cut ‘lifestyle’ sections like book reviews. And while it’s true that citizen journalist reviewers have rushed in to fill the void, their work is less accessible than the reviews that were delivered with the morning or evening daily newspaper.
That means readers looking for a new book or a new author make spur-of-the-moment decisions based on the free online excerpt available on sites like Amazon, or decide whether a book will be helpful or to their taste from the reader comments, ratings and reviews either on Amazon and other bookselling sites, or on Goodreads.
Even established bestselling authors like to hear from readers who have enjoyed their work. I’m not sure that any author outgrows wanting to be told that someone liked their book. And even famous authors wince when at negative reviews, particularly if the language is unkind. (Yes, authors read reviews, even though everyone tells us not to. We celebrate the good ones and despair over any that are less than glowing.
But beyond sending a message to your favorite author, book ratings, reviews and stars are increasingly important as bookselling becomes an online transaction instead of an in-person interaction. With the shrinking number of physical bookstores, it’s difficult for readers to wander the isles searching for a cover or title that strikes their fancy. And since many of the existing stores have cut back on inventory, they’re less likely to stock as many specialty and special-interest books as before. Small press books rarely make it onto bookstore shelves unless the author is local or the subject is of local interest.
Add to these trends the reality that the big publishing houses have cut back on new books from many established authors who are well-regarded but not quite mega-bestsellers. These authors then bring out their new books with smaller publishers, and may have difficulty getting shelf space in stores. Advancements in digital printing and ebooks have dramatically increased the number of self-published and small press titles. Readers looking for a new book face clutter, confusion and a fragmented marketplace.
Reader reviews, stars and ratings, as well as citizen journalist book bloggers are the beacons in the storm, helping baffled readers find the books best suited to their interests.
If you like a particular author or enjoy a certain series, the best thing you can do (in addition to buying a copy of the book and encouraging your friends and local library to do the same) is to rate and review the books you enjoy. By helping your favorite books and authors rise above the crowd, you’re helping to ensure that their sales sustain the publisher’s interest in more books in that series or by that author.
Likewise, please think twice before down-rating a book for anything other than poor writing. Slow shipping, damaged covers, and other production mishaps are out of the author’s control. I’ve seen authors given a one-star review because the reader didn’t like the package Amazon used to ship the book! Trust me when I say that the author was not the one doing the shipping.
I’d argue that “I wish the book had done X instead of Y” is also not a reason for a poor review. The author wrote the book in the way he/she saw the story going. It’s his/her story, and that’s the author’s right. If you feel strongly that a different story would be better, write that different story with your own characters and settings. Many a career has started this way!
Ratings on Amazon factor into how often a book is suggested in the ‘if you liked this, you might like that’ bar. Amazon’s algorithm to suggest books, as well as the visibility boost that comes from being paired to a similar bestseller, is one of the most valuable things that can happen to a book. Your comments help the books you like to get the attention they deserve.
So if you like an author or a series and want to see more, use the power of your voice to give the ratings/reviews that will help more people discover the book!
Check out my new Steampunk novel Iron and Blood, co-written with Larry N. Martin, set in an alternative history Pittsburgh in 1898. In stores July 7!
The Hawthorn Moon Sneak Peek Event includes book giveaways, free excerpts and readings, all-new guest blog posts and author Q&A on 28 awesome partner sites around the globe. For a full list of where to go to get the goodies, visit www.AscendantKingdoms.com.
Gail Z. Martin writes epic fantasy, urban fantasy and steampunk for Solaris Books and Orbit Books. In addition to Iron and Blood, she is the author of Deadly Curiosities and the upcoming Vendetta in her urban fantasy series; The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven, Dark Lady’s Chosen) from Solaris Books and The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn, The Dread) as well as Ice Forged, Reign of Ash, and War of Shadows in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga from Orbit Books. Gail writes two series of ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures and the Deadly Curiosities Adventures and her work has appeared in over 20 US/UK anthologies.