One-day workshop, Oct 8: What readers like—and why

I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about how readers respond to narrative, particularly fiction. Cognitive poetics, the neuroscience of narrative empathy, evolutionary and literary theory—it’s easy to get lost in the different but passionate arguments. So I try to answer simple questions: Why do readers respond more strongly to some fiction than to others? How does the writer immerse the reader in a story? What is it about this particular word, or sentence, or paragraph that persuades the reader to trust the writing?

I’ll be teaching What Readers Like—And Why, a one-day workshop for Clarion West, on Sunday, 8 October, 10am-4pm, in an accessible space on the University of Washington campus, Seattle. Space is limited to 14, and will cost $150 for six hours of face-to-face discussion, exercise, and workshop. My plan is to create a template that participants can use as a guide to analyse their own and each others’ work, to help them answer questions about how, as readers, they responded at various points in the text. My hope is that writers can then take that template home and use it to strengthen their own writing.

It will be the fourth time I’ve taught a one-day class for Clarion West. All the classes are different but they do tend to fill fairly quickly. I don’t know when exactly the class opens for enrollment but I wanted to give those who might be interested a heads-up. Registration is on a first-come, first-served basis, so I’ll do my best to post another reminder closer to the time.

Words to use carefully: a public service announcement

Bitch. Cripple. Dyke.* Only some people can get away with using these words—and only sometimes, and in certain circumstances.

The rules are simple: If you’ve had such a word hurled at you as a term of abuse, you may then reclaim the word and use it as a self-identifier, or—among other self-indentifiers—as a term of admiration.

Any other circumstances, any, make your use of the term an insult and a fighting word.

Clear? Good.

* There are, of course, many similar words that insult whole classes of people. But it’s not a good idea to speak on behalf of a group to which one doesn’t belong. You know the words I mean. Out in the real world, when you hear (or see) someone use one, call the user on it. You’ll be making the world a better place. And, yes, I’ve said all this before but it bears repeating.

Summer flowers

Every year we have to put new annuals in our deck pots. Last year it was nasturtiums, salvia (Flaming Lips; the hummingbirds love them), and carnations. I admit I killed off the nasturtiums and carnations (we have coir baskets; with the kind of summer we had last year I should have watered every single day because they’re super evaporators) and ended up replacing them with geraniums and some kind of weird weed-looking thing with purple tips. This year it’s marigolds, impatiens, petunias, fuschia and other things.


In the actual pots we still have the jasmine and ornamental oregano and those weird weedy-looking things. In one of the coir baskets many of the herbs survived (not the basil, though; it never does) and the lavender in the hanging basket also survived, so we added some annuals and now it’s the Basket of All Purple.


The Flaming Lips look as though they might be trying to come back, too, but they’re so small you can’t see them. We’ve already had a couple of hummingbirds coming by and being decidedly irritable that there’s nothing for them yet.

So here’s a wider shot of the deck. This is where I sit after lunch while I dwell in the still quiet place before writing. Summer is finally here.


World Premiere of OtherLife—a film based on Solitaire

On Friday 16 June, OtherLife, based on Kelley’s novel Solitaire, debuts at the Sydney Film Festival. I am so very pleased and proud, even though I had absolutely nothing to do with it except cheer Kelley on.

Kelley has written a blog post with all the details about the film. It’s based on her novel and screenplay (officially credited to Greg Widen, Ben Lucas, Kelley Eskridge). Turning a long, speculative “stylistic and psychological tour de force” (New York Times) novel into just over 90 minutes of sleek, luscious-looking sci-fi thriller, all on a low budget, has been a rollercoaster ride: sometimes wildly exciting, sometimes grindingly hard, but never, ever boring. But that’s Kelley’s story to tell and happily she’s done that in a fascinating series of journal entries about the 11-year journey from book to screen. So go read it.

Meanwhile, we’ll be here grinning and drinking beer and thinking being a writer is the best job in the whole fucking world.

I’m judging the Black Warrior Review fiction contest

This year I am judging the Fiction contest for the University of Alabama’s Black Warrior Review. The contest is also open to Poetry, judged by Rachel McKibbens, and Non-fiction, judged by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib. The prize in each category is $1000 and publication in BWR.

In an interview I talked about what I’m looking for:

Joy. Story. Voice. Beauty and brilliance and risk—a person, an image, an idea or a place that takes me somewhere new then returns me increased. Gorgeous sentences are all very well but if they serve a stale plot or clichéd character, the story is dead on arrival. My advice? Write what you’ve been avoiding. Go there and see what happens…

You can send up to 7,000 words. The deadline is September 1, 2017. Submit!

(After a recent #criplit chat I discovered that Submittable is not particularly accessible. If you have difficulties, please email Black Warrior Review directly. If you don’t get a satisfactory response please let me know here or via Twitter (@Nicolaz) and I’ll see what I can do.*)

* I apologise for the aspects of this site that are inaccessible. I plan to conduct an accessibility audit soon.

Special #CripLit: “Crips in Space” Thursday May 11

#CripLit Crips in Space

This is a special #CripLit chat to celebrate the Deaf Poets Society special issue,”Crips in Space,” a collection of speculative fiction by d/Deaf and disabled writers.

#CripLit Twitter Chat
Publishing Online: “Crips in Space” Special Issue
Thursday, May 11, 2017
4 pm Pacific/ 7 pm Eastern

You are invited to the eighth #CripLit chat co-hosted by novelist Nicola Griffith and Alice Wong of the Disability Visibility Project™. For this Twitter chat we are delighted to have Sam de Leve and The Deaf Poets Society as our guest hosts.

The Deaf Poets Society is an online literary journal that publishes poetry, prose, cross-genre work, reviews of Deaf or disability-focused books, interviews/miscellany, and art by D/deaf and/or disabled writers and artists. Founded in 2016, our mission is to provide a venue for D/deaf and disability literature and art, as well as to connect readers with established and emerging talent in the field.

This chat will focus on the process of creating a special issue by The Deaf Poets Society, “Crips in Space,” a collection of speculative fiction by d/Deaf and disabled writers. Last year Guest Editor Sam de Leve tweeted about disabled people in space with the hashtag #CripsInSpace and the idea took off online. Guest Editor Alice Wong shared the idea and suggested a collaboration with the The Deaf Poets Society focused on science fiction, fantasy, and crip futurism. Fast forward four months and here we are in May with this special issue.

Similar to #CripLit’s January 15 Editor Roundtable, the structure of this chat will have questions directed at the editors from The Deaf Poets Society about this special issue with time for questions by participants.

For the “Crips in Space” special issue by @TheDeafPoets published on May 4, 2017, you can find it here:

How to Participate

Follow @DisVisibility @nicolaz @TheDeafPoets @ChaiKovsky on Twitter for updates

When it’s time, search #CripLit on Twitter for the series of live tweets under the ‘Latest’ tab for the full conversation.

If you might be overwhelmed by the volume of tweets and only want to see the chat’s questions so you can respond to them, check @DisVisibility’s account. Each question will tweeted 6-8 minutes apart.

Check out this explanation of how to participate in a twitter chat by Ruti Regan:

Check out this captioned #ASL explanation of how to participate in a chat by @behearddc

Introductory Tweets and Questions for 5/11 Chat

Welcome to the #CripLit chat on the process of publishing a journal issue from A-Z. This chat is co-hosted by @nicolaz & @DisVisibility

We have guest hosts @TheDeafPoets & @ChaiKovsky joining us today. Please remember to use the #CripLit hashtag when you tweet.

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

** FYI on format for this #CripLit chat: Questions 2-6 are for the editors & after they respond you all can ask them follow-up Qs **

We want to give you all the chance to talk with editors directly with our questions as a way to start the convo #CripLit

Q1 Roll call! Please introduce yourself and share any links to your work or anything about yourself. #CripLit

Q2 What is the process like for @TheDeafPoets when planning upcoming issues/themes? Describe your timeline & the teamwork involved. #CripLit

Q3 Once a call for submissions comes out, what does @TheDeafPoets do to get the word out & reach diverse d/Deaf & disabled writers? #CripLit

Q4 What do @TheDeafPoets’ prose, poetry, art editors look for once they receive submissions for an issue? How does the team work? #CripLit

Q5 Can you describe the deliberation process on whether to accept/reject a submission by @TheDeafPoets? Guiding principles? #CripLit

Q6 How does @TheDeafPoets make publishing more accessible with your online journal & working with d/Deaf & disabled writers? #CripLit

If anyone wants to check out the “Crips in Space” issue from @TheDeafPoets, you can find it here:

Q7 What do you think of the “Crips in Space” issue? Any questions for @TheDeafPoets & guest editors @ChaiKovsky & @SFdirewolf? #CripLit

Thank you for joining our #CripLit chat. Please continue the conversation! Many thanks to guest hosts @TheDeafPoets @ChaiKovsky!!

A Storify will be up tomorrow. Check the #CripLit hashtag. Feel free to contact @DisVisibility @nicolaz with any ideas/feedback 😀


On Twitter and Facebook I am done with seeing versions of 24 million people are going to die! We are not going to just lie down and die. We are going to fight. And you’re going to fight with us. The House may have passed a bill making it possible for states to increase coverage for ‘pre-existing’ conditions ranging from pregnancy to rape, depression to multiple sclerosis, but we’re a long way from that bill being law. And then a long way from that law being enacted. And then a long way from the courts—via a multitude of plaintiffs ranging from states’ Attorneys General to corporations to the ACLU—permitting it to continue.

We can’t afford for those around us to give up, or use our bandwidth ranting about how terrible it all is. Yes, take some time to feel frightened, or sleep for 48 hours, or watch crap movies til your eyes bleed, whatever you need to do to get your head back in the game. And then be prepared to fight. Start next week. Phone your senators. Talk to your family and friends about phoning their senators. Fight one step at a time. Be prepared for the long haul.