Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

The Responses To Our Request About Steampunk Universe, And Our Decision

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[edited to correct a pronoun referent; my apologies.]

About ten days ago, I asked folks to comment on the state of Steampunk Universe, and I want to thank everyone who did so - whether on Facebook, on the blog itself, via the web form, or in an e-mail to me. I'm going to summarize the responses here before giving our decision, using a few selected quotes (which were either made publicly or I got permission to share here). I chose public quotes whenever possible to ensure that the context was transparent.

While some of the people who responded (and I quote below) are those who submitted or perhaps even got tentatively accepted for the anthology, it's worth noting that I directly solicited feedback from those who criticized me most harshly on Twitter in Feb.. Some of them responded, some didn't. And one of the people I quote below I actually disagreed with (and still do) about their reading for the call for submissions. It is especially good to hear from people who don't automatically agree with me.

First, the biggest critique I got was from Rose Lemburg, who, sadly, didn't share it directly with me, but instead on Twitter without tagging me personally or tagging the publishing account. While I feel that their comments on Twitter reflected many of the same concerns that I'd brought up in the initial blog post, they raises many good points succinctly, and is well worth checking out. I collected the tweets using Storify at //storify.com/uriel1998/a-critique-of-my-call-for-critiques.

There were several comments that delved into possible reasons why we may not have gotten as many responses as we expected in the calls for submissions. These were good reasons. For example, as Elizabeth Hopkins said that the conditions for submission felt stifling to her because "[w]hen you said that steampunk had to be relevant to the disability, I didn't see how that would work unless they were using a specific form of technology (which limits it to wheelchairs, prosthetic limbs, hearing aids etc.)"

Liam Hogan, who did submit, echoed this in an e-mail: "I wavered because [the idea I had for a story] was only ticking one of the boxes for your brief, and then I had a horrible feeling I was shoe-horning something that wasn't very good merely to meet the brief."

Dale Cameron Lowry added, "I got the sense from the anthology call that you all were trying to accomplish too many things at once with your call for submissions, given the time frame. Are there lots of steampunk writers who can write from a disabled perspective? Yes. Are there lots of steampunk writers who can write from a non-white perspective? Yes. Are there lots of steampunk writers who can write from a non-Western perspective? Probably fewer, but still significant numbers. Are there lots of steampunk writers who can write from a non-English-speaking perspective? Probably fewer, but still significant numbers. Are there lots of steampunk writers who can write from all of these perspectives? Probably not. ... Are there people who can write from all four of these perspectives but never considered writing steampunk? Huge numbers."

There were other comments about ways to continue encouraging diversity of submitting authors, which were all well-recieved ... even when they pointed out possible shortcomings in my own efforts. Rose Lemburg said on Twitter "[Y]ou don't know how to diversify your slush/ToC? 1) Solicit. Solicit. Solicit. Solicit. Solicit. Solicit.". She also shared the link to her essay "Encouraging Diversity: An Editor's Perspective", which was published in Strange Horizons, and is an excellent read.

But when it came to the work itself, and the questions I asked in the blog post, there was near-universal support from authors, readers, and fellow editors/publishers.

Stewart O'Fee said "Even if you do not have 100 percent diversity in the writers themselves it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go ahead with what you have collected as publishing this book will open more doors and create more discussion which will encourage more writers with disabilities to come forward with their stories through a creative medium."

Sami Clara echoed that thought, saying "As for me, as a reader, I can tell you that I suffer from an extreme case of obsessive compulsive disorder, BPD and depression, and I am always, always reading novels, short stories and poetry that speaks to me, that tells my story. I crave that solidarity with the character. But never have I been concerned whether or not the writer is disabled or suffers from a mental illness themselves. So long as their story is engaging, and their characters real and represent the true side of what I live through, I am more than happy to read their words."

Dale Cameron Lowry continued this thought, saying "As for whether the authors are disabled themselves, I don't feel strongly about this as long as they portray characters realistically (given the world they've built) and tell a good story. I am disabled, but I don't have every disability that I write about in my stories. I am queer, but not in all the manifestations that arise in my stories. I am multilingual, but sometimes write from the perspectives of people who are fluent in languages I'm not really good at. I don't think it's a problem when I do it, and I don't think it's a problem when other people do it, as long as they use empathy and research."

Liam Hogan in an e-mail said "I get the doubts. But, if I may, maybe you're trying to hard. I'm very keen on publication calls that encourage a wider range of protags and indeed, authors."

Jess Nevins said on Twitter (1 & 2): "I think that if you've exhausted your efforts, then you run what you've got. I don't know what more there is you can do. If you've done all that could be expected of you, then there's nothing more to be done."

Matthew Bright added, "I respect your reservations, and I respect the idea that, in an ideal world, this might be edited and entirely written by a non-abled/non-neurotypical editors/writers, but it's not an ideal world, which I think is important. There are very few other anthologies coming close to trying to dissect the assumptions and prejudices of the genre, and having read Steampunk World I can certainly confirm that your commitment to the diversity of the collections and ensuring the representation is not exploitative are solid. I am a supporter of the idea of 'own voices' insofar as I would encourage people to seek out minority voices telling their stories; if perhaps there was an ocean of writers or editors putting out anthologies as diverse as this perhaps I'd be less sure, but the bottom line is, you are one of very few, and we would be far better off for this anthology existing."

Matt Sloan said "While these fears are valid, you are doing something wonderful and commendable. The world needs this anthology and others like it, and you have already gone above and beyond to give a voice to the marginalised, without even considering the suggested add ons."

So it's full steam ahead! I'll be setting up the Kickstarter soon (I've got to finish some things for the last one first!), so stay tuned either to this blog or to the official e-mail list.

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