Writing space, September 2016

On Monday, Vulpes Libris republished a slightly edited piece about my writing space that I first published here five years ago. (One of their contributors Kate Macdonald wrote a splendid review of Hild. Kate also runs her own site, on writing, reading and publishing, and wrote a great academic paper arguing that “writing the past as an estranged history gives authority to the female experience in the historical novel,” referencing my work and that of Naomi Mitchison’s.) Anyway, the VL piece has prodded me to post this update. (ETA: But do go read that first post: there’s lots of info in it about the Armagnac box I’ve repurposed as a giant pencil box; why I have the OED on paper; where that shell comes from, etc.)

In the last five years my office has changed only slightly. It’s still painted butter yellow, still occupies the dark NW corner of our house, and still has two desks. Probably the biggest difference is that the larger of those desks has moved 90 degrees. It’s now under the window. This way I have a big space in the centre of my office for exercise  and to zip from one desk to the other in my not-quite-ergonomic-enough chair. (Any suggestions for a good chair?)

big-desk-sept2016

You can see that in this photo, taken last week, the tree is not in bloom. Soon, in fact, the leaves will be changing colour. They turn a beautiful sherbet pink and apricot which every year I try to capture on camera and every year fail. One day technology will improve enough to get it.

The hanging shell is still there, still set in stained blue glass to catch the light. By the desk you’ll see the same microphone stand but the microphone is modern; it does many nifty things. The phone, too, is new, as is the pencil sharpener. I got tired of the old one breaking so I splurged on one of those electrically-powered heavy-duty sharpeners that schools use. Last year we had a major clear-out of books, fiction and not. So you’ll see my office now only carries research non-fiction (lots of history, and nature, and a bunch of texts for the big project I’m not talking about yet). Add to that my favourite dictionary in 20 volumes (love that book!) and a few copies of my novels for giveaway purposes. Oh, there’s also a new desk lamp.

One big thing missing from last time: no humongous pile of typescript printed out for edits. I’m still writing Menewood. When it’s done it will be even bigger than the Hild print-out.

The small desk with screen and keyboard is still tucked in the corner to avoid distractions.

Nicola Griffith's writing keyboard and Mac.

The maps on the wall are still, on the left, the south sheet of the First Edition Ordnance Survey map of Britain in the Dark Ages, and on the right, the north sheet of the OS Ancient Britain. (I’m not sure what edition it is, but the visual style is pretty different). I refer to them fairly often, but what I use most these days is a map that’s too big to hang in my current space: the Second Edition Ordnance Survey map of Britain in Dark Ages. It’s pretty good but far from perfect. See those hand-made single-sheet maps on the file folders on the bar-trolley I use as mobile cabinet? Those are my own researched maps—different to OS stuff because they these take into account all the drainage changes from 11th century onwards, particularly Vermuyden’s massive scheme in the 17th. Also, there’s new information regarding Roman roads in the area. The map I’ve linked to above has names I don’t actually use in the book, because it was an early attempt to figure out what things might have been called in Old English. Further thought shows I got some of it pretty wrong—Æxigland, for example, might be better rendered as Haksigland. But I’ll probably use a mix of Brythonic and OE names anyway, as I’ve already done for some of the rivers and places, so many of the names will be quite different.

I have a new screensaver, Lu Jian Jun’s The Lady in the Forbidden City—a wonderful painting by the same artist who painted our Antique Dressing Table, that is, the painting we call Flossie. Here’s a blurred low-light version of Flossie courtesty of crapcam, or a slightly better version here, still taken with crapcam but with explanation.

The computer itself is a new Mac Mini, so small it’s hidden behind that pile of paper, but the screen is long past due for replacement. I want something with better resolution and a built-in webcam. (That’s an ancient Logitech that keeps failing.) Eh, I’d rather have a new desk, a nifty sit-stand thing. Meanwhile, as you can see, I’m still using the Klipsch speakers; I loathe and detest having things on or in my ears, so I use headphones as little as possible.

Also on the desk, silicon hand-squeezy things—vital for someone who spends so much time at the keyboard. On the trolley are three ancient Klutz juggling sacks. I learnt to juggle years ago, got pretty good at it, then because of progressive MS I could no longer catch and throw properly. However, in the three months, due to the wonders of a new drug (a potassium channel blocker), I have now recovered some function, so I’ve been slowly relearning. I’m not very good—the drug is good but it’s not a miracle—but at least I can now approximate juggling again. Soon I might venture back to the ukulele—which will thrill me but might lead to neighbourhood suffering (I have an amplifier…).

Not visible, but something that’s made a huge difference this year, the solar tube that renders the previously dark NW corner office brilliantly bright—so bright I keep trying to turn off light that’s not on when I leave the room…

Which I’m about to do, to eat breakfast. Enjoy poking around a big while I’m gone.

Some thoughts on Ableism & the Publishing Industry

Thanks to Alice Wong the Storify of the second #CripLit Twitter chat is up. It’s way too big to embed here (I haven’t counted but we trended on Twitter again).

#CripLit: Disabled Writers, Ableism & the Publishing Industry
On August 29, 2016, Nicola Griffith & Alice Wong co-hosted their second #CripLit chat this time with guest host Denarii Monroe on “Disabled Writers, Ableism & the Publishing Industry.” The response was immense–here is a sample of the conversation.

This time I was ready for the sucking-a-firehose pace of the chat, so I prepared answers to the questions we’d formulated ahead of time. I’ve re-posted those here as a personal archive I can point people to. In addition to these prepared answers I exchanged many tweets with other participants and a fair few private DMs. If you want to see the public tweets then go read the Storify.

The questions are in bold.

Q1 Please introduce yourself, describe your background in writing, and any links about you & your work #CripLit
A1 I’m Nicola Griffith, novelist w/MS, co-host of this chat. Most recent novel HILD. More info here: http://ht.ly/Xx2Y303CY2p 1/
A1 Some writing of #disability interest here http://ht.ly/vxNm303ETB8 and here http://ht.ly/2AA4303ETDZ

Q2 What made you want to become a writer? How did you start & what are some of the major issues you face now in your writing? #CripLit
A2 I started writing to answer some questions. Fiction gave me answers. I write to find out. 1/
A2 As my needs and abilities change so do the questions therefore so do the books.— 2/
A2 My issues now are about balancing the needs of a writing career w/ health needs. They don’t always coincide. 3

Q3 How is the publishing industry ableist/racist/sexist/cis-normative (among others)? Share your thoughts and experiences. #CripLit
A3 Books about women don’t win awards. See http://ht.ly/Ayuc303D0wv 1/
A3 Books about by and about women don’t get the same air space. See http://ht.ly/t3ja303ETMr and VIDA. 2/
A3 Books by/about writers of colour are WAY under-represented. See We Need Diverse Books http://ht.ly/6ZYm303D0re 3/
A3 The publishing industry is close to 100% cis-gendered. I don’t know trans or genderqueer editors, agents— 4/
A3 —PR people. I don’t know crips in those positions, either. Writers, yes. Those with the checkbooks? None. 5 *

Q4 What barriers (physical, cultural, emotional) do you face as a disabled writer? #CripLit
A4 Physical barriers: Temperature (heat makes me incapable). Steps (I can do 1 step w/ crutches, 0 with wheelchair.) 1/
A4 I need to sit. If I’m sitting I can’t use a podium; I can’t do cocktail meet and greets without getting a crick in my neck— 2/
A4 —looking up at people. I get tired easily. I can’t be on the go from 6 in the morning til midnight & I can’t do— 3/
A4 —early morning after a late night. Travel = wicked hard. If I fly across time zones I need time to recover. 4/
A4 Time for a publisher = money. So most (not all) are unhappy about my needs. Sigh. 5/
A4 Cultural barriers: People expect a certain level of productivity & responsiveness that’s not always possible. 6/
A4 Having MS means I can’t write a book a year. I can’t change plans suddenly. I can’t do a city-a-day book tour. 7/
A4 Emotional barriers: When I don’t produce in timely fashion I sometimes wonder if I’m being lazy… 8

Q5 Were you expecting the barriers you’ve encountered? What did you do? How did you feel? How did organisers respond? #CripLit
A5 Organisers are mostly well-meaning but clueless. Often problems not fixable. If there’s no bathroom on the ground floor— 1/
A5—of a bookstore; if there’s no ramp to the stage; if there’s no microphone, but my publicist was told “Oh, we’re—” 2/
A5″—totally accessible!” and if I show up & there’s an audience, what can I do? I end up struggling in public. 3/
A5 Organisers are embarrassed. No one wins. And it’s so easy to avoid! I’m learning to convey, and demand—4/
A5—clarity, specificity: no-step access, a microphone, a chair (specify what kind) and a ramp (specify) etc. 5/
A5 Communicating all that, being clear, checking: it’s a lot of extra work for me. A LOT. 6

Q6 If you are a freelancer or are published, what is your advice to disabled writers who want to get their work out? #CripLit
A6 Write what you want to read. Make it as good as you can. Join a writing group. 1/
A6 Make connections with like-minded writers and readers, in person or online. Find your people! 2/

Q7 In your interactions w/ the industry, how does ableism inform their ideas of what it takes to be a ‘professional’ writer? #CripLit
A7 I don’t know where to begin! Often being a novelist (esp. debut) is as much about how the writer looks as what we write. 1/
A7 The more a writers fits w/ a publicists’ notion of ‘attractive’ the more attention she’ll get. 2/
A7 Crips frighten non-crips; many just can’t deal. They’d rather believe we’re just like them. Difference is unsettling. 3/
A7 Professional to most = abled and (preferably) better than ‘normal’: fit, smart, witty, beautiful, young… 4

Q8 What’s your advice to other disabled writers on navigating and making connections w/ the publishing industry? #CripLit
A8 Play nicely with others: be generous to others & they’ll be generous to you. Assume good intent! Ask for help from everyone— 1/
A8—other writers, publishers, organisers, family, friends (I can’t wait til we don’t have to!) Self-advocate (ditto). 2/
A8 Offer help where and when you can. Always be clear—w/ yourself and others—about what you can and can’t do—3/
A8—what you do and don’t like, what you do and don’t want. If you don’t ask you don’t get. But play nicely. 4/
A8 Being a good writer is about writing well but being well published is about playing well with others. 5

Q9 In your opinion, how has ableism shaped the kinds of #CripLit published & authors that are promoted?
A9 The more good-looking (able, young, white etc) and ‘normal’ (but better) we are, the more they want to publish us. 1/
A9 If we look/act/sound attractive & easy to deal with we’re easy to promote. In publishing, promotion = money. 2/
A9 Writing might be about art but publishing is about money. Accessibility ≠ cheap. So most novels with crip—3
A9—characters are written by non-crips. And so most books about crips suck. 4

Q10 What messages do you want to send to those in the publishing industry (agents, book buyers, editors) about #CripLit & ableism?
A10 People are people. Crips write good books. Crips are hungry for good books: we want to see ourselves reflected. 1/
A10 There are many, many of us. Publish the books and articles we yearn for—written by us. 2/
A10 Crips are much more than our impairments. We have interesting things to say. Help us say them to the world. 3


* I’ve since learnt that one of the senior editors I know does, in fact, identify as genderqueer. Sorry.

Guidelines for non-disabled writers

Up at Literary Hub my guidelines for non-disabled writers.

Recently I have read several articles about disabled people by non-disabled writers. The authors have clearly projected their own fears and prejudices onto the subject of their piece, and spoken for them from that place. If I could say one thing to those authors it would be this: Do not assume that empathy equals experience. You might think you know what it’s like, but you don’t.

For example, if you think that using a wheelchair would make you feel trapped, isolated, broken, and shunned, you might assume a wheelchair user regards themselves as trapped, isolated, broken, and shunned. But they might not. For some of us, a wheelchair represents freedom, the ability to get out and about autonomously; it is a device that makes more possible a life full of friends and work and opportunity—on our own terms.

In other words, one’s empathy can be unreliable. I offer these guidelines to help you find your way beyond it. They are general guidelines for non-disabled writers who may have occasion to write about a disabled person or people. They are (mostly) formulated to apply to all genres and categories of writer, for example, journalists, novelists, bloggers, critics, poets, essayists, academics, and dramatists.

I had input from several people but all the mistakes are mine (sigh). Please make suggestions for improvement below. And consider dropping by for the second #CripLit Twitter chat on Monday, 29 August 7 pm Eastern.

Second #CripLit chat August 29: Ableism & Publishing

CripLit Aug 29
#CripLit Twitter Chat
Disabled Writers, Ableism & the Publishing Industry
Co-hosts: Nicola Griffith @nicolaz
& Alice Wong @DisVisibility
Guest host: Denarii Monroe @writersdelite

Monday, August 29, 2016
4 pm Pacific/ 7 pm Eableismastern

For our second chat, Alice Wong and I will be joined by guest host Denarii Monroefreelance writer, aspiring screenwriter, and activist.

All disabled writers are welcome to participate in the chat including reporters, essayists, poets, cartoonists, bloggers, freelancers, unpublished or published. We want to hear from all of you! Check the #CripLit hashtag on Twitter for announcements of future chats that will focus on different genres or topics.

How to Participate

Follow @nicolaz @DisVisibility @writersdelite on Twitter

Use the hashtag #CripLit when you tweet. If you only want to respond to the questions, check @DisVisibility’s timeline during the chat. The questions will be timed several minutes apart.

Check out this explanation of how to participate in a chat by Ruti Regan: https://storify.com/RutiRegan/examplechat

If you don’t use Twitter and want to follow along in real-time, check out the live-stream: http://twubs.com/CripLit

#CripLit Tweets for 8/29 chat

Welcome to our second #CripLit chat! Created by @nicolaz, this chat will discuss ableism & the publishing industry

When we mention the publishing industry we include agents, editors, booksellers, publishers, etc.

If you respond to a question such as Q1, your tweet should follow this format: “A1 [your message] #CripLit”

Q1 Please introduce yourself, describe your background in writing, and any links about you & your work #CripLit

Q2 What made you want to become a writer? How did you start & what are some of the major issues you face now in your writing? #CripLit

Q3 How is the publishing industry ableist/racist/sexist/cis-normative (among others)? Share your thoughts and experiences. #CripLit

Q4 What barriers (physical, cultural, emotional) do you face as a disabled writer? #CripLit

Q5 Were you expecting the barriers you’ve encountered? What did you do? How did you feel? How did organisers respond? #CripLit

Q6 If you are a freelancer or are published, what is your advice to disabled writers who want to get their work out? #CripLit

Q7 In your interactions w/ the industry, how does ableism inform their ideas of what it takes to be a ‘professional’ writer? #CripLit

Q8 What’s your advice to other disabled writers on navigating and making connections w/ the publishing industry? #CripLit

Q9 In your opinion, how has ableism shaped the kinds of #CripLit published & authors that are promoted?

Q10 What messages do you want to send to those in the publishing industry (agents, book buyers, editors) about #CripLit & ableism?

Be sure to tweet co-hosts @nicolaz @DisVisibility questions, comments, and ideas for the next #CripLit chat

Additional Links

Disability Art, Scholarship and Activism
Nicola Griffith (5/18/16)

Writing Culture Has An Ableism Problem
Denarii Monroe (6/14/16)

Dear Able Friends: I Am Not Your Inspiration Porn
Karrie Higgins (10/5/15)

4 Ways the Publishing Industry Promotes Ableism
Katherine Lampe (10/9/15)

Fat Writers: On Privilege, Ableism, and Humanity
Kristian Wilson (5/19/16)

Writing program association continues to debate access for members with disabilities
Josh Logue (3/28/16)

About

Denarii (rhymes with “canary”) is an aspiring screenwriter, freelance writer, and a weirdo born, raised, and based in New York. She’s a Rutgers University alum and a two-year Pace University dropout; she studied English and Adolescent Education, respectively. She’s written for BlogHer, Black Girl Dangerous, Everyday Feminism, Wear Your Voice Mag, Extra Crispy (a subsidiary of Time, Inc.), and is a regular contributor at Ravishly. You can follow her on Facebook and find her on Twitter and Instagram (@writersdelite). Selfies, pictures of her dog named Dog, the new addition to her family – a kitten named Cat, raving about Matthew Gray Gubler, and ranting (or retweeting) about the writing process and racist, ableist, classist, fat-antagonistic heteropatriachary. She loves Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as well as soul food, red wine, cooking and baking, and the blues. Hanson is her favorite band ever (yes, that Hanson).
Source: http://www.ravishly.com/contributors/9223

Nicola Griffith is a native of Yorkshire, England, where she earned her beer money teaching women’s self-defence, fronting a band, and arm-wrestling in bars, before discovering writing and moving to the US. Her immigration case was a fight and ended up making new law: the State Department declared it to be “in the National Interest” for her to live and work in this country. This didn’t thrill the more conservative power-brokers, and she ended up on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, where her case was used as an example of the country’s declining moral standards. In 1993 a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis slowed her down a bit, and she concentrated on writing. Her novels are Ammonite (1993), Slow River (1995), The Blue Place (1998), Stay (2002), Always (2007) and Hild (2013). She is the co-editor of the BENDING THE LANDSCAPE series of original short fiction. Her multi-media memoir, And Now We Are Going to Have a Party: Liner Notes to a Writer’s Early Life, is a limited collector’s edition. Her essays and short fiction have appeared in an assortment of academic texts and a variety of journals, including Nature, New Scientist, Los Angeles Review of Books and Out. Among the awards she’s won are the Washington State Book Award, the Tiptree, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards, the Premio Italia, and six Lambda Literary Awards. She is married to writer Kelley Eskridge and lives in Seattle.
Source: https://nicolagriffith.com/2014/02/24/about/

Alice Wong is a San Francisco-based disability advocate, freelance journalist, television watcher, cat lover, and coffee drinker. Alice is the Founder and Project Coordinator for the Disability Visibility Project (DVP), a community partnership with StoryCorps and an online community dedicated to recording, amplifying, and sharing disability stories and culture. Currently she is a co-partner with Andrew Pulrang and Gregg Beratan for #CripTheVote, a non-partisan online campaign encouraging the political participation of people with disabilities. She is also a Staff Research Associate at the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, UCSF.

Disabled Writers & Characters Storify

The inaugural #CripLit Twitter chat was a huge success. Much bigger and faster than I’d expected, actually—like sucking on a firehose. Many, many people with many thoughtful comments. We trended on Twitter (24, I think; I was too busy to look).

My co-host, Alice Wong (@SFDirewolf), has archived the “Disabled Writers & Characters” #CripLit Twitter chat on Storify . If you’re a writer who is contemplating including a character with any kind of disability, I recommend that you read it through a chunk at a time and learn. There are many pointers regarding the disability clichés and hurtful stereotypes to avoid.

The next #CripLit chat is scheduled for August 29 at 7 pm Eastern. The topic will be “Disabled Writers, Ableism, & the Publishing Industry.” Stay tuned for more on that.

#CripLit Twitter Chat: Sat 7/23 4 pm Pacific

CripLit Jul23

The first-ever #CripLit Twitter Chat, for and about writers with disabilities, is happening this Saturday: July 23, 4 pm Pacific/7 pm Eastern (midnight in the UK, 7 am Sunday in Perth and 9 am in Sydney—if you’re a night owl or early bird, do join us!).

This first chat will be about fiction: writing characters with disabilities. Future chats will focus on different genres.

Here are the ten questions that we (your co-hosts, me and Alice Wong) will be setting this time out:

Q1 Please introduce yourself, your areas of interest as a writer, and any links to your work #CripLit

Q2 Do you identify as a disabled writer (or writer w/ a disability)? If so, why? Or do you prefer to be thought of as a writer, period? #CripLit

Q3 Among writers, what groups/communities do you have an affinity towards? Who supports you & your work? #CripLit

Q4 Do you connect with other disabled writers? If yes, why is that important? #CripLit

Q5 Are there disabled writers you love & want to highlight? Please describe and share your faves #CripLit

Q6 Who are some of your favourite disabled characters? Why? #CripLit

Q7 What is your process in developing a character, a disabled one in particular? Describe some disabled characters you created #CripLit

Q8 What tropes and stereotypes are you careful to avoid when constructing disabled stories & characters? #CripLit

Q9 What’s your advice to disabled & non-disabled writers who want to write believable & compelling stories about disabled ppl? #CripLit

Q10 What do you want most in terms of support? Better representation at conferences? (If so, which ones?) Something else? #CripLit

Hopefully this will give you lots of time to think about your responses. If you’d rather just chat off the cuff (probably what I’ll end up doing because, well, life) just show up and let rip. There will no doubt be other questions and other avenues to explore in the moment.

Anyway, when you respond to a question such as Q1, your tweet should follow this format: “A1 [your message] #CripLit”. Check out this explanation of how to participate in a chat by Ruti Regan. You might want to use a Twitter chat app like TweetChat but it’s not necessary. If you don’t use Twitter and want to follow along in real-time, check out the #CripLit live-stream.

For a fuller explanation of who, what, why, when, and how, read my previous post, #CripLit Twitter Chat.

See you there!

Speak out: you might make a difference

I’m guessing you all know the story of the starfish:

A man walked along a beach where a storm had washed starfish up above the tideline. They were dying.

Up the beach, the man saw a little girl picking up the starfish one by one and throwing them back into the sea. She was slow, and she didn’t throw well, and there were thousands of starfish.

As she picked up another, the man said, You’re wasting your time. There are too many. Don’t try so hard. You’re not making any difference.

She threw the starfish and watched it sink into the water. Then she turned to him and said, I made a difference to that one.

[lifted whole from Kelley’s excellent blogETA The story is possibly adapted from Loren Eiseley]

It’s a story I’ve know for a long time, and, on good days, believed. But its truth was really brought home to me yesterday when I read the press release from the Half the World Global Literati Prize website, announcing the winner of their inaugural $50,000 prize. This part struck me particularly:

The Half the World Global Literati Award was set up in response to 2015 research from author Nicola Griffith, which identified that the majority of the significant literary prizes are awarded to works written from a male perspective. The award is set to return in spring 2017.

Statistics about the Half the World Global Literati Award 2016.
59 countries including Eritrea, Iran, Azerbaijan, Mexico, Trinidad & Tobago
• 45.5 percent submissions are novels, 36.5 percent short stories, 18 percent screenplays
• Drama the most popular genre, topping novels & screenplays and a close second for short stories. Literary Fiction was the second most popular with Romance in third. Erotica comprised of less than 5 percent of all entrants.
• Majority of the short list are female (82.5 percent) vs male (17.5 percent)

[Emphasis mine]

I did that. Me. A global $50,000 prize to support stories about women—by writers from nearly 60 countries—was created and funded because I wrote one blog post about something that’s bugged me for years: books about women don’t win awards. (Films about women don’t win awards either.) Yes, I’d done the work. Yes, I had data to back up my assertion. But the needle could not begin to move until I pointed out the injustice, until I spoke out.

So if you spot injustice, open your mouth (flex your fingers, whatever—the mode of communication doesn’t matter) and speak. What we do really does make a difference. So say something. Someone might be listening. You might change the world.