From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

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Nonfiction

Still We Write

For me, writing is not an easy thing. Of course, there are days when everything flows perfectly, when the words dance out of me like they were always meant to exist and all I have to do is let them flow. But those days are far outnumbered by the ones when the blank page mocks my efforts, or when the words I want are trapped in a corner of the back of my heart and I know that unearthing them will bring forgotten baggage tumbling into the light, or when someone with a face like my father is shot dead in the street for no justifiable reason and I have to figure out how to work my pain and anger and helplessness into a story about faraway lands.

Some days are harder than others. Some days are harder for “others.” Still, I write.

I write imaginary injustices in undiscovered countries that stand in for those that are all too real. I write the feeling of taking your hands out of your pockets so nobody can accuse you of holding a weapon, of wishing, when you hear of violence in someone else’s neighborhood, that neither the victim nor the perpetrator looks anything like you.

I write the boys who didn’t see me as the kind of girl you date in junior high and the house I visited in Alabama during college whose chained-up dogs weren’t “exactly members of the NAACP” and the time I painted a ceramic unicorn with hair of gold at nine years old because I didn’t know magic any other way.

I write fun and escape—conflicted shapeshifters and incompetent fairy godmothers and dragons on the streets of Brooklyn. I write double-dutch on a summer day and my sisters convinced that my prom date was a secret vampire and hearing tall tales at a family barbecue. I write triumph over incredible odds and love in the face of hatred and the lilt in someone’s voice that carries their homeland with them wherever they go.

I write all of it, all at once sometimes—a jumble of meaning and belief and fun, of faraway worlds and backyard adventures and magical lands, trying to make it all make sense outside of my head. And once I have collapsed in a heap of sweat and creative exhaustion and one too many semicolons, I remember: this may just be the easiest part. Because now I have to get someone to read it.

On its face, the science-fiction and fantasy publishing world, especially in short fiction, is an egalitarian paradise. Every magazine is seeking a diverse set of viewpoints. Everyone (okay, almost everyone) says the right things on Twitter. Every writer is welcome if they are talented and hard-working and articulate enough; it says so right there in the submission guidelines. And if the faces at all the major conventions are a little monochromatic outside of the umpteenth “Writing The Other” panel; if the same five names come up whenever diversity is mentioned, like silver crosses warding off any accusation of even unconscious bias; if too many writers and editors and readers who can envision magical spells and mystical worlds can’t stretch their creativity far enough to allow something besides fantastical Europe into their imaginations? Well, that’s just coincidence. Right?

Maybe this sounds harsh. It’s not meant to. I love the speculative fiction writing world. I’m a part of this community, if a very new one. I went to Odyssey. I’ve attended a few conventions. I spend plenty of time on Codex. And more than that, I’ve gotten love from so many individuals, from the ones who retweeted my very first published story to the ones who give me advice when I’m flailing to the ones I talk to every week about my writing and whose encouragement so often keeps me going. Some of those are brown faces. Many are not. Heck, I’m writing this essay for People of Colo(u)r Destroy Fantasy! because people, many of whom look nothing like me, shared words that I wrote. If I play my cards right, maybe I’ll be one of those five famous names someday. But that is not the point. Because this is not about me. This is about us.

It seems sometimes that for us, for writers of color, the gulf between writer and traditionally published writer (or even better, well-known award-winning respected writer) requires some sort of magic key to cross—some hidden platform at King’s Cross Station or fantastical wardrobe or mystical tornado. It turns out that it is one thing to pour your heart or dreams or imagination onto the page and it is another to have them understood. It turns out that the worlds you imagine may not be the ones that the people doing the buying can wrap their heads around, that you’ll be told your language is too confusing, your metaphors don’t make sense, the references you grew up with are too obscure. It turns out that when diversity doesn’t exist in the masthead of a magazine, too often it doesn’t appear in its pages either. It turns out that when you point this out, you may be told that people like you don’t write in this genre, and if they do, they probably just don’t do it well enough. It turns out that even egalitarian paradises have messy hidden corners.

Still, we write.

Many bridge the gap by publishing on their own, by building their own infrastructure and amplifying their own voices. Some share that shine with other writers, create things like Rosarium Publishing or Omenana or FIYAH. Some simply keep writing and submitting and writing and submitting, figuring out whose editorial statement of diversity means something and whose is just words.

The truth is that this fantasy writing world is a wonderful place so many days, but there are days when it is hard. There are days when I fear that I’m doing it wrong—letting down my culture, letting down myself. There are days that I feel like the doors will never open. And on those days, it is you—writer of color, creator and destroyer and dreamer of worlds—who keeps me going.

Because I see you. I see you scribbling away at your computer or notebook or scrap paper, jotting ideas down in your smartphone or on a bar napkin or on the back of a receipt. I see you writing your soul into the page and putting it out into the world however you can. I see you dreaming of your first sale, your first review, your first signing or reading or award acceptance speech. I see you hustling to make those dreams a reality. I see the worlds you’re creating and the world that we’re all trying to write ourselves into. I see you knocking down barriers and building bridges and shining bright. I see you. I am you.

So let’s go out there. Let’s share our truths, tell our stories, put our dreams and lives and imaginations on the page. Let’s bang on the gates until our knuckles are raw, slide our papers and truths underneath every door, flood the market with so much talent that they can’t help to let us in and call them out if they dare to try. Because no matter what anyone says or does, no matter if we’re scared or angry or hurt or full of the joy of a perfectly turned phrase, we win if we write. We are strong if we write. If still, always, we write.

—With a hat-tip to the great Maya Angelou.

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Erin Roberts

Erin RobertsErin Roberts has always loved to tell stories, but has only recently gotten into the habit of writing them down. Her debut short story appeared in PodCastle earlier this year. She is an MFA student at Stonecoast, a graduate of the 2015 Odyssey Writing Workshop, and a member of Codex. You can find her musings on life, the universe, and all things writing at writingwonder.com and @nirele.