Nicola Griffith was nine years old, she wondered how bows
and arrows worked. She had probably read a book about them;
she has always read books about history and people and how
they shape each other. So she made a bow out of a tree branch
and string. She found a stick of bamboo and whittled it to
a point with a pencil sharpener.
how to test it? Nothing easier. Her little sister, who idolized
her, was always willing to help with Nicola's mysterious and
interesting projects. "Stand there," Nicola said, "and hold
out your hand."
did, and Nicola shot the arrow spang through
Helena's left palm.
forward about twenty years. Nicola is at a science fiction
convention in England, where all of the Grand Old Men of (British)
sf are gathered for drink and discussion, with the emphasis
on drinks. Anyone who has seen the Brit table at an sf banquet
the time she attended this convention, Nicola was still a
fledgling sf writer, wet behind the wings, with one story
published. She waited in the audience of one of the day's
main events, a panel with several of the GOM's. There was
some unexplained delay, which seemed to be resolved when the
moderator announced that GOM "A" would not be participating
on the panel after all. Enter, precipitously, Mrs. "A", who
protested vocally that her husband had been ruinously maligned
and set upon. She was escorted from the hall. Nothing was
explained. The moderator said with some relief that now that
everything was settled, perhaps the panel could begin. Quite
right, quite right, mumbled the audience. Except for Nicola,
who stood in front of all those strangers, a Fledgling Writer
in the company of the big hawks, and said something to the
effect of Excuse me, but this disturbing thing did happen,
and I would like to know what it means.
are the things that people should know about Nicola Griffith:
wants to know how.
She wants to know why.
She wants to know what it means.
should also know that she has written and sold two novels:
Ammonite, and Slow River
(due out in August.) Ammonite won the Tiptree
Award in 1994, as well as the Lambda Literary Award; it was
nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award and qualified for
the Nebula Preliminary Ballot. It was the first sf paperback
original reviewed by the New York Times sf book reviewer.
There's a guy out in Hollywood who is hot as a peeled chili
for the book, and knows someone who knows someone whose cousin
just helped set up a Famous Actor's production company. There
are three people I know of who say that the book has changed
something about their lives.
is all pretty cool, but what does it mean?
is always a tricky issue. A writer's work means a zillion
different things to each reader, and ten times that to the
writer; Ammonite is no different. One of
the things the book means to Nicola is that a paperback original
with a crappy cover and no publicity can go out into the world
and find a home, with people who will watch it dance and feed
it chicken scraps and pat it on the head and send it off to
dance for other people, who will give it the Tiptree Award.
before there was the cover and reviews and the awards, there
was another context. This is the context in which Nicola visited
her first immigration lawyer, who said , "Are you famous?"
she said, "but I can write."
he said. "Go home. Don't waste your time. You will never be
able to stay in this country."
did not go home. She went to a second lawyer, who said, "Can
you get a book contract?"
I can," Nicola said. And so she did. She by god wrote Ammonite
and sold it to HarperCollins and Ballantine/Del Rey. She got
a visa to stay here for three years, in spite of having to
educate her lawyer about publishing from the ground up, and
having to constantly correct him from referring to her short
stories as "articles."
third lawyer (who is really a goddess in human form) said,
"Can you get famous with this book?"
I can," Nicola said, and so she did, at least a little. She
publicized and networked and did readings and sent out her
own press kits when Ballantine ignored her, and she went to
conventions and did her own reviews of other people's work,
and won grants. She got letters of support form the Governor
of Georgia and Allen Ginsberg and many many people in the
sf community. She did not know any of these people; she simply
made it happen. She made new case law in the US.
is about a woman who does what others say she cannot; show
fights and changes and survives, and is made richer.
some news: Slow River is about six times
better than Ammonite.
here are some other things you should know about Nicola Griffith:
does what she must.
can make six impossible things happen before breakfast, if
she decides that that's the right time for them to come into
being. If not, you'll just have to wait until lunch.
hope that you get to meet Nicola and spend time with her during
the convention. If you do, tell her about yourself. Tell her
your how; tell her your why, tell
her what it means. And tell her about the time
you didn't give up. And she'll tell you.