Guest Post: “We Get By with a Little Help from Our…” by Vincent Scott

So, love’s great, right? All types. It’s a fascinating quirk of brain chemistry that leaves us caring about each other so much we’ll sacrifice resources and fight against oppression for someone else’s wellbeing. Spending time with people you love is, to my mind, what life is all about. I just want to preface this with that little disclaimer, so nobody feels like I’m attacking love or romance.

Let’s talk about how we often centralize romance in fiction, how friendships get short shrift, and how the romance that we get is usually pretty one dimensional. First, let me own a bias. I’m asexual and aromantic. If you’re not familiar, that means I don’t experience sexual or romantic attraction. Platonic love is my everything. So, romance and sex don’t usually top the list of priorities for me in any storytelling context. That said, from a distance, I’m all for it. Unfortunately, fiction has gotten into some bad habits when it comes to dealing with friendships and romantic relationships.

Friendships are rarely given the focus they deserve. They are one of the most common types of relationships people have in their lives, and yet rarely do they get any nuance. In most fiction, friends are just there. They’re taken for granted. A friend is a person you talk to about your dating angst. It’s not uncommon in a lot of fiction for the entirety of two people’s platonic relationship to consist of them talking about their paramours. I’m not saying friends don’t do that with each other, but is that everything you do with your friends? In reality, friendships have just as much drama and excitement as romantic relationships. There is a moment when two people become friends, and it’s an exciting and fraught moment filled with insecurity, hope, and intrigue. There are events that cause those relationships to deepen, and tragically sometimes friendships end, and those endings can be heartbreaking.

Meanwhile the general lack of focus on platonic connection undercuts romantic relationships. Healthy romantic relationships have a platonic component. The old cliché is two people don’t get along, but it secretly means they like each other. In every longstanding romantic relationship I’ve ever encountered, the people involved liked one another. They had common interests. Two people have to be something when they’re not in the throes of sexual ecstasy or performing grand romantic gestures. Most of us are going to spend the lion’s share of our time together in sweatpants farting into the couch cushions, a set of circumstances that is far from the pinnacle of grand romance.

Sometime when you’re reading a romance novel, a story with romantic subplot, or watching a movie or television show that falls into the trope “two good looking people alone in a room: they’ve got to get together,” ask yourself, “Do these two actually have anything in common?” To be clear, I’m not saying everything in common. Great friendships are often defined by the differences between people, but amidst the differences there have to be points of commonality.

Cover of THE HEREAFTER BYTES: A FUNNY SCI-FI NOVEL by Vincent ScottSo, why does this happen? The honest answer: it’s easy tension. Two good looking people, they don’t get along, but they’re so good looking. How could they not be interested in each other? It’s plausible they would date, then their totally incompatible personalities give writers a deep well of conflict and drama to draw from. And frankly, that’s okay. Who among us hasn’t leaned into a trope or two? Let those who have no ink on their fingers throw the first pen. However, it does become a problem when it’s done so ubiquitously that it starts to influence people’s conception of real-world relationships.

Here’s the thing: fiction matters. It has real-world implications. Fiction without diversity normalizes a segregated world. Fiction with diversity challenges the status quo. Fiction rife with fundamentally incompatible romantic relationships makes fraught, tense, and incompatible romantic relationships seem normal. Meanwhile, when we treat friendships like they’re set dressing, we end up with a society where nobody puts the time and effort into maintaining friendships that they deserve.

So, what’s to be done? Well, next time you’re writing a romantic relationship, ask yourself, “What do these two do when they’re just hanging out?” In the space between grand romantic gestures and passionate lovemaking, who are they to each other? Do they like the same movies? Maybe they both like to cook. Maybe they’re big board game nerds. That doesn’t mean you can’t have the grand romantic gestures and the passionate lovemaking; just add the platonic love as well.

Next time you’re writing a friendship, ask yourself, “What holds these two together as friends?” There must have been moments in the past when they could have drifted apart. Why didn’t they? What do they see in each other that the myriad other people they’ve met in their lives didn’t quite appreciate? Who is this friend to your protagonist besides a useful literary device to move the plot along or an excuse to explicitly state some romantic subtext?

I’m not trying to lay all the problems of the world at fiction’s feet. There are a lot of forces in our society that diminish the significance of friendship and promote the idea that every problem in life can be solved by getting a date. But all too often, fiction isn’t helping. It’s not that hard to add that extra bit of nuance to relationships. There are good stories to be told that center friendships, even if they include romance. Superficial romantic relationships, with drama built on cheap interpersonal tension, are lazy. Spend a few moments thinking about your best friend. Think about how they make you feel. I’ll bet it’s a love story for the ages.

Vincent Scott HeadshotBIO: Vincent Scott is a comedy science fiction writer and green tea… well, addict is a strong word, let’s say enthusiast. His new novel The Hereafter Bytes is being launched via Kickstarter to raise funds for a full release later in 2020. The campaign runs from March 11th to April 1st, 2020 and can be found here.

You can connect with Vincent at

If you’re an author or other fantasy and science fiction creative, and want to do a guest blog post, please check out the guest blog post guidelines. Or if you’re looking for community from other F&SF writers, sign up for the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers Critclub!

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On Critiquing Fiction

One thing I strongly urge my students to find is a good critique group, preferably one where the other writers work in the same or a related genre. A critique group can become an important part of a writer’s process, can kick you in the butt to be productive and solace you when you’re not. It gives you other people whose victories you can celebrate, and ones who will celebrate yours. It can challenge, inspire, and encourage — but it does need to be one where the members are supporting each other, and where they’re exchanging useful critiques.

Sometimes people confuse the words critique and critical, and yet they are very different creatures. A good critique, one that helps and inspires the writer, may have elements that are critical of specific things, but that’s by no means everything it holds.
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Call for Hopepunk Novels

If you have a small press or independently-published book that is hopepunk*, I’m putting together a StoryBundle that will come out in the latter half of 2020. This is the bundle I was discussing last year; my chaotic 2019 meant I stuck it aside but I just confirmed the schedule. I’m looking for titles for inclusion.

I have a strong preference for novels over anthologies and collections. I would not mind including a couple of games if they are good fits. I’m also trying to create a bundle that has a lot of different representation. Right now I have three slots filled, and nine still open. 

I need stuff in mobi form by the end of April at the latest, and getting things to me sooner rather than later helps your chances. If you sent me something before, please ping me and just give me enough info that I’ll be able to fish it out of the seething morass that is my set of inboxes. Please mail anything to catrambo AT and include Hopepunk Storybundle in the subject line.

If you know someone who might be interested, please feel free to pass this along.

*If you don’t know what hopepunk is, here’s info and a reading list.

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Newsletter for February, 2020

News and More Stuff from Chez Rambo

Hello folks!

Well, by now you know my big news, which is that my novelette Carpe Glitter is a Nebula Award nominee. I’m deeply honored to find myself in such fine company and absolutely twitter-pated to find out how many people have enjoyed it. The Nebulas are chosen by other writers who are SFWA members, and that makes this very meaningful to me. I will be at the conference that weekend.

If you’re not a SFWA member, but want some say in whether or not it appears on other ballots, it’s eligible for the Hugo Award and Locus Award in the novelette category and the World Fantasy Award in the novella category. You can see the cool banner that Meerkat Press did for me at the top of this newsletter.

If you’ve read the book and found it fun, please think about giving it a review or posting about it on social media!

Want to hear the first bit of it? Here’s a YouTube video.

In recent class news, I’m in the process of lining up classes for the April-June time frame, but will be taking most of April off due to travel and moving.

One new class I’d like to point you at is How Not to Feel Like a Failure in Your Writing Career with Jennifer Brozek, which talks about dealing with imposter syndrome, guilt, and other writerly frailties.

I’m excited to say Judith Tarr will be giving a workshop on how to write about horses on May 2, 9:30-11:30 AM Pacific time. I’ll post more details as soon as I have the full description but you can go ahead and reserve a slot if you know you’re going to want to attend.

Look for news of more upcoming classes soon – I’m hoping the list will include at least one with Seanan McGuire, plus I’ve got some other rad stuff in the works.

Here’s the complete list of live classes in March at the moment. Classes appearing for the first time are bolded.

Remember that if you can’t make the live classes, there’s plenty of on-demand ones!

Along with chat server access and class discounts, Patreon supporters this month got:
◦    2 installments of serial novella BABY DRIVER, the pulp-y adventures of Patricia Savage and her five associates in 1930s America.
◦    Weekly online co-writing sessions on Wednesday mornings. If you’d like to join the next one, the link will be posted on Patreon and Discord. I will schedule at least one weekend one in March.
◦    A chance to participate in weekly goal-setting and check-in.
◦    Snippets included bits from Flowergod (SF story), The Butterfly Court’s Bathroom (fantasy story), (2) Because It is Bitter (SF near future novella), writing exercises from Fran Wilde’s Fantastic Worldbuilding class.

Want to join us in the Chez Rambo community? Here’s how.

Cat or Rambo Academy Stuff to be Aware Of
Chez Rambo Community Links
Market News
For Writers and Readers

The January giveaway was for a signed copy of my new novelette, CARPE GLITTER and the winner was Gretchen (I’ve dropped you an email, Gretchen, let me know if you didn’t get it).

This month I have stickers that will be going out to Patreon supporters – if you’d like one, drop me an e-mail with the address to send it to you!

Happy writing!


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Guest Post: Debbie Lynn Smith Daughetee on Rediscovering the Voices of Woman Horror Writers

When I first started to take my writing seriously, I went to see Ray Bradbury at a UCLA event. I loved Bradbury’s work, my favorite short story being “The Veldt.” You can imagine my dismay when he stood on that stage and announced that women could NOT write horror fiction. I remember sitting there and asking myself, “Did he just say that?”

Later, when I became a television writer, I heard the same sentiment, only now it included science fiction and edgy drama. This is why I ended up writing for Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman; Touched by an Angel; and Murder, She Wrote (although I did get to write the vampire episode of the latter).

When I started my comic book company Kymera Press, I was told, “You can’t use all women artists. You have to have some men, or you’ll never sell your books.” That is why the company slogan is: We’re not asking for permission.

Preview of cover image for Kickstarter: comic art of woman reading to monster, with images of women floating above them.Kymera Press does use all women artists and writers, and we don’t have a problem selling our books. One of our titles, Ivory Ghosts, is in the Smithsonian National Natural History Museum’s gift shop in Washington DC.

I’ve been hearing women can’t for a long time. Though history has tried to hide it, women have been doing all kinds of things they’re not able to do. Hedy Lamarr, an actress during MGM’s golden age, co-invented a radio signaling device that changed radio frequencies to prevent the decoding of military messages. The system was a steppingstone to guaranteeing the security of communications and cellular phones.

You probably heard of Anne Easley, since the movie Hidden Figures was made about her and four other African American women who did significant work at NASA. Easley was considered a human computer in a time when there were no “machine” computers. When computers were born, she taught herself programming languages and worked as a programmer for NASA’s Centaur rocket project. This was the first technological stage for the space shuttle. Do you drive a hybrid car? Her work led the way to its development.

These are just two women who did what women supposedly couldn’t do. Women have been breaking barriers set for them for centuries. And this includes the field of writing.

Not convinced? When you think of Victorian writers, who comes to mind? Charles Dickens? Lewis Carroll? Bram Stoker? These men were famous in their time and ours. But what about Elizabeth Gaskell? Amelia Edwards? Margaret Strickland? These women were as renowned as the gentlemen above, but have you heard of them? An English major may answer yes, but the rest of us? Probably not.

Sneak preview of comic page from Kickstarter: Frankenstein's monster meeting Mary Shelley.Nancy Holder is a contemporary horror writer who has won 5 Bram Stoker Awards for her horror fiction. I am the owner of Kymera Press, a comic book publisher. The two of us teamed up to resurrect the stories of these amazing women by adapting them into a comic book series entitled Mary Shelley Presents. Mary Shelley and Frankenstein’s monster introduce the stories of Elizabeth Gaskell (“The Old Nurse’s Story”), Edith Nesbit (“Man-size in Marble”), Margaret Strickland (“The Case of Sir Alister Moeran”) and Amelia Edwards (“Monsieur Maurice”). Nancy writes the adaptations and artists Amelia Woo, Dearbhla Kelly, and Saida Temofonte bring the comic books to life. The text of each original story is printed after the conclusion of the adaptation.

Kymera Press, however, isn’t the only one resurrecting these women’s voices. Weird Women is an anthology that presents “Classic Supernatural Fiction by Groundbreaking Female Writers 1852-1923.” It was edited by Leslie S. Klinger and Lisa Morton. This anthology contains 21 short stories by women who wrote horror during the Victorian era. It includes “The Old Nurses’ Tale” by Elizabeth Gaskell and a different story by Edith Nesbit. It’s a fantastic anthology edited by two people who are well-known in both the academic and the horror fields.

You can help resurrect these women’s voices by buying a copy of Weird Women and supporting a Kickstarter for Kymera Press, launching on February 12, 2020. We want to collect the first four issues of Mary Shelley Presents into a trade paperback with an amazing stretch goal of a hardback.  Libraries and teachers prefer trade paperbacks, or even better, hardbacks, when stocking their shelves or using them in classrooms.

Perhaps, with the work being done to bring these women’s voices back to life, we won’t have to hear people who pass by the Kymera Press table say, “I didn’t know a woman wrote Frankenstein.” It’s time for people to know that yes, women can write horror. Women can do anything and everything. And we’re not asking for permission.

Comic-style headshot of the author from her website.BIO: Debbie Lynn Smith Daughetee has spent most of her career writing and producing such television shows as Murder, She WroteDr. Quinn, Medicine Woman; and Touched by an Angel. She has published short stories in magazines and anthologies, including the Bram Stoker award-winning Dark Delicacies. In addition, she has also written audio dramas set in the world of the 60’s classic television show, Dark Shadows, including her Scribe award nominated, The Lost Girl. Most recently, Debbie created Kymera Press, a comic book publishing company that supports women in comics. She writes the comic series Gates of Midnight which was winner of the 2019 Irwin Award. She travels the country with her husband Paul attending comic book conventions where they sell their titles. You can also buy Kymera Press Comics at

Probably the most interesting thing about Debbie is that she is a double lung transplant. Please become an organ donor. It saves lives. Like hers.

Twitter: @kymerapress

Instagram: Kymerapress

Facebook: Kymerapress, D. Lynn Smith

Kickstarter: Mary Shelly Presents

If you’re an author or other fantasy and science fiction creative, and want to do a guest blog post, please check out the guest blog post guidelines. Or if you’re looking for community from other F&SF writers, sign up for the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers Critclub!

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The New Rude Masters of Fantasy & Science Fiction – and Romance

We’re closing the doors on 2019 and with that, I’ve finally finished up this essay, which I’ve been working on for over a year and which keeps having to be updated as new scuffles arose. I have many thoughts on the modern publishing scene, many of them related to class/race/gender/disability issues, but I will focus on a particular question because right now we’re seeing a lot of this getting enacted yet again, this time in the form of the Romance Writers Association debacle, where author Courtney Milan was officially censured, suspended from membership for a year, and banned for life from RWA leadership after two other members complained that she had repeatedly/intentionally engaged in conduct injurious to the RWA through comments on social media.

As part of the resulting furor, which seems to me just a flaming trainwreck and shining example of how an organization shouldn’t handle something like this that has included moments like Chuck Tingle disavowing knowing RWA President Damon Suede, authors of color are yet again being called rude for speaking out. So with that, let’s begin to try to pick apart why this keeps happening, by looking at what happened with fantasy and science fiction.

How is Fantasy & Science Fiction Publishing Changing?

In this decade, writers have found themselves at an unsettling and unpredictable moment in publishing as well as history, one that marks major changes in the ways humans consume words. New forces have entered the scene. Among them are the rise of indie publishing, the ability of binge readers to download an entire series to their e-reader in an instant, the accessibility of free media through sites like Project Gutenberg, unforeseen copyright battles involving new technology and business models, and social media with its global reach, to mention only a few.

This moment is shaped by political shifts seeping through from the overall culture. One such shift is an attention to previously-marginalized voices. On the political left, there is a concerted effort to acknowledge that a system of privilege has muted and silenced some groups while privileging those in the mainstream. In recent years, conferences have begun with acknowledging first peoples and their land, cultural repositories are focusing their acquisitions to remedy gaps, and fan conventions are bringing in fans of color and include codes of conduct, to present a few examples of such initiatives.
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Guest Post: Jasmine Arch on A Safe, Inclusive Haven for Writers

I do my writing in between the cracks of a fulltime job, four dogs, two horses, and the renovation of our house, in which a lot of the work is done by my husband and myself. So yes, my writing time is precious. Very much so. However, most evenings, at least one hour of my time, and sometimes more, is not spent drafting, revising, or editing. Not exclusively. That time is spent in an online writing community, where I am one of the founding members.

Typewriter logo, with the letters for "Inkubator" in red in a single line of keys.

For some people who, like me, live in a part of the world where English is not a prevalent language, where cons are few and far between and writing groups even more of an oddity, these online groups are pretty much the only opportunity we have to interact with other writers on a regular basis.
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End of 2019 $5 Sale

Happy holidays, no matter what form you celebrate them in! Here at Chez Rambo, we mix a lot of traditions, all focused on friendship, food, and lots of lights, the last symbolizing our determination to keep shining brightly in 2020.

To celebrate, here’s the special end of the holidays sale, starting NOW and going through midnight of January 1, 2020. After that the coupon code will no longer be valid, alas. Stock up now!

Every on-demand class in the Rambo Academy is on sale for $5. Here’s the list of classes! The coupon code to use is HOLIDAYDAZE. If there’s any trouble, drop me an e-mail. That coupon is good on every on-demand class, so even if you stocked up on them last year, you’ll find some new to 2019.

Want to spend a little on yourself or still need a present for someone? The holiday bundles are good through the end of the sale.

Bonus offer for careful readers: Buy everything and get $20 off all live classes while registering between now and Jan 1. To redeem, mention this offer and the email that you used to sign up for the Academy. Offer can be used with the special Patreon/student rate. Here is the list of upcoming live classes.

If you’ve enjoyed the Rambo Academy’s offerings over the past decade, please share word of this sale with others who might be interested: your writers group, your own newsletter and fans, that friend you write with, or the students you want to encourage. And please let me know by dropping a comment or mailing me if there are classes or teachers you want to see, particularly for the live classes.

Thanks, everyone, for a stellar year for the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers, which is now a decade old. While this year has had its share of ups and downs, teaching and the connections I made through it have provided many of its joys. And I’m looking forward to some cool new upcoming classes as well.

Celebrate your holidays with sparkle and shine, but also with compassion for those who are scraping by this season. Give a stranger a smile, at the very least, or a sympathetic ear. Send out joy into the world and it will come back to you tenfold.

Here’s to 2020, with love,

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Guest Post: Deby Fredericks on What Are We Fighting For?

I joked recently that it seems like every story has to end with some gigantic battle. That’s how we know it’s the end, right?

Think about it. Which of the world’s great legends tell us that our problems should be addressed through something OTHER than violence?

Hercules, Beowulf and Gilgamesh all killed monsters. King Arthur’s knights in shining armor maintained the peace by fighting monsters. If no monster was about, they would fight each other to catch a lady’s eye. Lord of the Rings featured massive battles for the fate of the world. Military SF, of course, features more technologically advanced weaponry in exotic settings, but the role of the warriors remains the same. It seems the only way to “save” anything is through battle.

Then you get to other forms, like comic books. Superheroes level cities to bring in the bad guys. For this, we admire them. In gaming, the only way to get XP and level up is by killing things. Very few games award XP for clever solutions that avoid combat. Then there are movies, where we may move from combat to combat without time to think. The more explosions, the better!

It’s true that the world can be violent. Depicting violence in stories could be seen as mere honesty. Although, it’s hard to believe that most of us experience that much violence personally, in our daily lives. Not in proportion to the amount of violence we consume as entertainment.

Or perhaps the violence in storytelling is a form of wish fulfilment. As a teacher, I’m well aware of how much time we spend teaching kids NOT to solve their problems with their fists. Watching an animated fight could be viewed as a safe release for dark impulses.

Nevertheless, I was startled to realize how often I, myself, built in a gigantic battle to settle things at the ends of my stories. It wasn’t something I had really thought about. In the accepted frameworks, that’s the way it’s supposed to be done.

Still, it became my personal challenge to write stories where characters solve their problems in some other way than through battle.

For the past two years, I’ve been working on a novella series, Minstrels of Skaythe, where the protagonists try to live peacefully in a dark and dangerous world. In Skaythe, the evil mage Dar-Gothul is an absolute ruler who has twisted the world in his image. Mages are the ruling class, whose magical power gives them the right to do whatever they wish. Selfishness and betrayal are “good.” Showing concern for others is “bad.” My good mages quietly move through the land, disguised as minstrels. They share moments of peace and harmony through their arts. For this, they are branded as renegades.

In the first novella, The Tower in the Mist, one of the minstrels is arrested for the crime of singing a love song. Keilos doesn’t fight back, but instead reacts with basic courtesy. The hunter-guards, led by Sergeant Zathi, are genuinely freaked out by his strange behavior. Captors and captive have adventures that require them to work together, but not all of the hunter-guards can let go of their assumptions about what’s “good” and “bad.”

Cover of "Dancer in the Grove of Ghosts"

In the second novella, Dancer in the Grove of Ghosts, Tisha is a gifted healer. She’s decided to undo a curse cast by Dar-Gothull himself. On the way there, she encounters a gravely wounded guardsman. Common sense would say Cylass is her enemy. It’s sheer folly to help him, but Tisha follows her own moral code. Devoted to peace, she tries to show Cylass a different path — and risks betrayal by the one she saved.

While writing it, I played with the idea that comrades on a quest always have a strong bond of friendship and are working for a common goal. Setting them so much at odds brought a deeper tension to the tale.

Currently I’m in revisions of a third novella, The Ice Witch of Fang Marsh. Here I directly countered the idea that the tale has to end in a gigantic battle. I built the story toward that typical climax, but then the two antagonists talked, instead.

I have to say, the ending as written feels… weird. Like the conflict isn’t really over. My beta readers both said the same. Not that the ending was bad, or felt forced, just that they hadn’t seen that approach before.

Unsettled as it is, this outcome is what’s true to the characters. They had a previous relationship that allowed them to talk things out. Or maybe it’s that they were two women, with an instinct toward collaboration rather than combat.

Will this ending satisfy anyone besides me? Good question! I’m having a great time with Minstrels of Skaythe, exploring alternatives to the nagging prevalence of violence in storytelling. If you’re up for the challenge of a slightly strange outcome, I hope you’ll check out my novellas, The Tower in the Mist and Dancer in the Grove of Ghosts.

Headshot of Deby Fredericks. BIO: Deby Fredericks has been a writer all her life, but thought of it as just a fun hobby until the late 1990s. She made her first sale, a children’s poem, in 2000.

Fredericks has six fantasy novels out through two small presses. More recently, she self-publishes her fantasy novellas and novelettes, bringing her to 13 books in all. Her latest is The Tower in the Mist. Her short work has been published in Andromeda Spaceways and selected anthologies.

In addition, she writes for children as Lucy D. Ford. Her children’s stories and poems have appeared in magazines such as Boys’ Life, Babybug, Ladybug, and a few anthologies. In the past, she served as Regional Advisor for the Inland Northwest Region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, International (SCBWI).

You can find out more on her website or follow her on Twitter. Here’s a teaser for her novella Dancer in the Grove of Ghosts, available at Amazon and other retailers:

“He’s dead. He just doesn’t know it yet.”

Mortally wounded, Cylass is abandoned on the battlefield by comrades who would just as soon have him out of the way. But as he waits for death, a strange savior appears. The dancer, Tisha, heals him with her forbidden magic, but also draws the wrath of his cruel former lord.

Soon guardsman and renegade mage are on the run. Will Cylass help Tisha, as she helped him? Or will he do the smart thing, and turn her over to the vicious Count Ar-Dayne?

If you’re an author or other fantasy and science fiction creative, and want to do a guest blog post, please check out the guest blog post guidelines. Or if you’re looking for community from other F&SF writers, sign up for the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers Critclub!

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Guest Post: Kyle Winter on The Power of Passive Representation

Treading the waters of diversity is tricky because we never want to disrespect the struggles that women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, or others have had to endure. As writers, we often want to include people like this in our stories because their stories are powerful and can make a difference. This sometimes manifests itself as ‘the gay friend’ or ‘the black friend’ or if you’re really batting for a home run ‘the gay black friend’. This character is great for diversity. He shows that those people exist and that we shouldn’t be afraid of them. But over time, if we see the gay black friend over and over it creates a subliminal message that all gay black men behave a certain way, and that can damage the community. I think we should allow those characters to break the mold and keep it to themselves.

Gender identity, skin color, and sexual orientation don’t affect your ability to do things. Period. There’s no reason a gay man can’t be a hardened combat veteran and there’s no reason a straight man can’t enjoy ballet. The fact that we use these stereotypes reflects our perceptions of society. It acts as a shorthand for the reader / viewer to go “Oh, he’s the gay guy, I get it!” and we can immediately paint a picture of who that person is without digging any deeper. While it’s great to include someone like this in your story, you may actually do more harm than good by treating them this way. Why? Because you’re adding to society’s confirmation bias. If every time someone sees a gay man on TV or reads about them in a book and they behave like a giddy teenage girl, then we will continue to think that’s how all gay men behave. Not that there’s anything wrong with a flamboyant personality, but it can be an oversimplification of the gay community.

What if, instead, we put a gay man in a position of power? The NBC show Brooklyn 99 does this with the character Captain Raymond Holt. He’s a stoic, calculating man that comes off cold but everyone loves him anyway. Just because he lacks flamboyance doesn’t make him any less gay. He still has a pride flag on his desk and there are many episodes with his husband, but he’s not treated any different because of his sexual preference. Yes, there are some episodes about his struggles as a gay black man in the NYPD because that is a story worth telling, but his skin color and sexual orientation never interfere with his ability to perform his duties. That’s because they literally have no bearing on his performance, and his entire team treats him the same as they treat everyone else. Imagine the impact that has for people who have never met a gay man like him. For some people, it never occurs to them a gay man could behave that way. For some people, that character is eye-opening and possibly life-changing.

Wizards of the Coast, a gaming company that owns Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering (among others), often portrays people of color as their flagship heroes. They even have several prominent non-binary characters, which they’ve supported despite friction from some members of the community. Imagine the impact when someone who’s never played one of these games, in an industry that has traditionally been dominated by white dudes, thumbs through one of the rule books and sees a heroic character that looks like them. The imagination stirs as we consider the possibilities of being that character. It makes us feel like we could be part of that adventuring group, part of the epic story that will be written as a legend in years to come. All because of some simple artwork!

Placing these characters front and center, without necessarily making their differences the focus of the narrative, can have a profound effect on society. By having these characters represented in our stories we are saying, “This is how life is, these people exist and they don’t need to be treated any different than you or I.” This silent diversity becomes powerful representation for these communities. It reinforces the idea that we are all equal. If a child sees a hero that looks like them on the cover of a book, or on a movie poster, it tells them they could be that hero. It tells them there are other people with their unique traits in the world and that those people can accomplish great things. It tells them they aren’t alone.

Does this mean you can’t tell a story about a person of color’s struggles? Of course not. Am I suggesting that a woman’s climb to the top of her field isn’t worth hearing about? No. I’m saying that if we fast-forward through the struggles these people face every day and portray them as successful heroes then maybe society will treat them like heroes. In the end, we all want equality. We want a world where our gender identity, skin color, sexual preference or any other part of our being is accepted without a second thought.

Why not nudge society in that direction by telling stories where that is already true?

Headshot of Kyle WinterBIO: Kyle Winter is an author who is terrible at writing about himself, especially in the third person. He considers himself a genre-fluid author, dabbling in science-fiction, fantasy, pulp and others. He is an avid gamer, whether it be video games, tabletop RPGs, miniatures, board games or card games nothing is safe. For the past nine years he has routinely gotten beat up at his Brazilian jiu-jitsu classes and enjoys every second. You can visit his website or connect with him on Twitter @TheKyleWinter.

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