Discovering New Authors

On March 10, I’ll be moderating a panel at the Tucson Festival of Books called “Magical History.” The festival encourages moderators to be familiar with the works of the panelists and I think that’s an excellent idea, so I’ve been reading a selection of their books. As it turns out, I’m already a fan of Gail Carriger’s work, but this gave me a chance to read more of her books. I also am familiar with Beth Cato’s writing, because I published her poetry a number of times in Tales of the Talisman, however this gave me the long-overdue excuse to read one of her novels for the first time. Mindy Tarquini and Melodie Winawer are both new writers to me and it’s been a pleasure to see their take on the idea of “Magical History.”

Reading a book by an author you’ve never read before can be a daunting prospect. Will they satisfy your taste? Will their prose style transport you to a place you want to go? Will they move at a pace you’re comfortable with? Recommendations by friends who share your taste is a great option. In this case, moderating a panel with a topic that interests me and with a couple of authors I’m already acquainted with provided me with recommendations for a couple of additional new authors.

Another great way to discover new authors is by reading anthologies with themes you care about and that maybe include an author or two you already like. An anthology is a way for an editor to present several stories they like which address the theme. In a sense, the editor is recommending a bunch of authors to you. What’s more, you get a bunch of short stories so you may sample those stories without committing to a whole novel.

That said, I’ll bet if you look at reader reviews of almost any random anthology you will find at least one and perhaps several reviews that say, in essence: “There were some terrific stories and there were some terrible stories.” To be honest, I don’t find these very helpful reviews. Speaking as an anthologist, it’s my job to find a variety of stories that address the anthology’s theme. I like to find stories from a diverse group of writers with different backgrounds. It’s not always possible to know cultural background or even gender from a name on a submission, but a person’s background and experiences are often reflected in the stories they tell. I like to mix it up and give readers stories I think are a sure bet most readers will love and a few that I think challenge the reader. Because of that variety, I know there’s a risk not every reader will love every story. For that matter, I don’t love every story from most anthologies I read, but I often love some enough that I want to seek out more stories or even a novel by some of the authors.

There are lots of great anthologies out there to sink your teeth into. You can discover a lot of great ones just by looking at older posts here at the Web Journal (and if you keep reading, I’m sure I’ll be telling you about more in the future!) If you care to explore the anthologies I’ve had a hand in curating, visit: http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#anthologies

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Gender Identity

This week has marked the tenth anniversary of the publication of Vampires of the Scarlet Order. Vampires of the Scarlet Order I’m giving away up to five books. Be sure to visit the Scarlet Order Vampires Page for details about the Rafflecopter Giveaway. One of the things I love about the novel is that I tell the story in the voices of men and women from several different cultures. I love the interplay and diversity the novel represents.

Also, this past week, I had an interesting discussion with my college-age daughter. She pointed out that there’s a lot of peer pressure on her campus to settle on a gender and sexual identity. I’m not really surprised by this given how much these issues have been in the news lately. What I found interesting was how quantized her peers view gender and sexual identity. In short, I gather there’s a strong expectation that a person of a particular gender and sexual identity will follow a particular, strictly codified set of behaviors.

At some level, this makes perfect sense. We have certain social expectations for people based on how they identify themselves. On the other hand, it seems just a little disturbing. In my experience, there’s a complex mix of genetics, upbringing, and life experience that go into who each of us are. The result is that I have a difficult time seeing the sexual spectrum as a discrete set of identities. Rather, optical spectra blend from one color to another. I suspect there’s a similar blending and blurring between the lines in gender and sexual identification as well.

Stepping back a bit, a friend of mine raising a toddler has been dealing with the issues of boy toys and girl toys. The toy store is clearly delineated into these two sections forcing a whole lot of expectations on what makes a girl and what makes a boy. In some ways, this strict quantization of gender and sexual identity feels like a limited version of what I’m discussing. It’s just that instead of two, you now have several discrete choices. A gay male will follow one strict set of social guidelines, a heterosexual female will follow another strict set of guidelines, and so on.

Where this comes into play personally is when I hear some people talk about the expected gender roles for a heterosexual, cisgendered male. For example, I’ve read articles and heard stories that say boys like sports, rough and tumble play, and that they’re hard wired to compete and win. Thing is, I never really was into sports or rough and tumble play. I can be competitive, but it’s actually something I have to work at. I much preferred to read and make up stories as a kid. Despite all that, I think I would be dishonest if I described myself as anything but a heterosexual, cisgendered male.

Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek once said we’ll be ready to go to the stars when we move beyond merely tolerating people for their differences but actually celebrating people for what makes them unique and different. Next time you meet a stranger, try not to classify them. Try to get to know what makes them unique and interesting.