Sunny Moraine, friend of The Radish and all-round awesome human being, has a collection of essays out today–and they were kind enough to write me a lovely essay about the importance of non-fiction in genre.
I’m not sure what actually made me decide to collect two years of essays and blog posts into a book. It’s not that any of the content is exclusive – it’s all online already. It’s not that I expect an essay collection to do fabulously well, because I know they tend to be a tough sell. I think it was more that I just wanted to see if I could, or at least if I could without hating myself and life and word processing and Adobe Acrobat. Turns out that was possible, and now I have a book. That I made all by myself.
In some ways, compiling two years of nonfiction writing turns out to be very different than surveying a collection of short fiction. There are challenges that fiction does not, I think, tend to present. Blog posts can contain massive numbers of hyperlinks, and indeed mine often do. I puzzled over what to do about this for a while. In the end I decided on footnotes, which is massively clumsy – I’m in graduate school, and in five years of that I learned to despise footnotes – but which seemed to be the most approachable solution at the time. I puzzled about how to arrange the pieces – chronological, or no? Chronological didn’t seem to work at all; thematic organization made a lot more sense to me, and in the end I came away with four sections (writing, games, technology, and life in general) that bleed into each other in some ways that I personally find useful.
But perhaps most significant, at least for me, was the difference in how I relate to my nonfiction writing versus the work I do that’s arguably fictional. When we talk about writing in this community, it’s easy to overlook everything else in favor of fiction. The idea of collecting a bunch of blog posts into a book and calling them essays – even when most of them could be said to adhere to that format – seemed a bit pretentious. Wasn’t my fiction what I should be focusing on? I published this book under my SFF writer name, which is not the name I often blog under – was that confusing? Are the clear lines of connection I’m drawing here too clear? Is this something that might not work in my favor, in ways I can’t foresee?
Nonfiction writing does matter. Blog posts matter. Blogging matters. Among those of us in genre, the last few years have been fraught – let’s face it, things have pretty much always been fraught for the people who have the audacity to argue that SFF shouldn’t be almost entirely straight and white and cisgender and male – and our blogging has been part of how we make our voices heard. It’s been part of how we work through ideas, how we call out the bullshit, how we form community with each other. How we share news. For many of us, I think, our blogs have served as our supply lines and our communication with the front. We need them. The writing here is every bit as important as our stories, because really, it’s all our stories. Fiction doesn’t have a corner on the transference of knowledge. That much should be obvious.
But in this book and in my writing, I also have a foot in the academic world, and there blogging still has an even harder time of it. In many circles, it’s still regarded as not only mostly useless but something to be actively avoided, something you shouldn’t put on a CV because people will wonder why you indulged in such distractions. Too many people don’t see it for what it is: a way to do academic work publicly, to engage with people we might not otherwise talk to, about theory and research and teaching and everything. It’s a way to fumble through concepts, to make conceptual leaps and connections without having to slog through the ponderous, frustrating, and increasingly morally bankrupt process of academic publication. It’s a nimble, fun way to do the work I’m in grad school to do, and of all the work I’ve done since I got here, it’s actually been the most intellectually rewarding.
So in the end, what I took out of this process was a new respect for this kind of writing, for my writing, and a public stance that it’s something valuable. That it literally has value, in every respect. I can do this. I did do this. And now it’s out in the world, and I’m proud of it.
If you pick it up, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did over the two years in which I produced its contents.
For more of Sunny’s non-fiction, pick up A Brief History of the Future in paper or electronically. Or check out their fabulous blog And if you’re interested in their fiction, check out Line & Orbit (more) or Crowflight (disclosure: I am acquisitions editor at Masque Books, publisher of Sunny’s Casting the Bones trilogy)