I've had a bunch of great folks guest on my main blog in the last few months and I'll be xposting those posts out here so more people get to read what they've got to say.
Lori Selke and Djibril al-Ayad on their anthology Outlaw Bodies.
The Future Fire is an online magazine of social-political speculative fiction, with a particular focus on feminist, queer, postcolonial and ecological matters, is publishing a themed issue and anthology titled Outlaw Bodies, guest co-edited by Lori Selke. This is a brief conversation in which Lori asked TFF editor Djibril a few questions about the anthology.
Lori Selke: What about the “Outlaw Bodies” proposal appealed to you enough to choose it for The Future Fire? How did you feel it meshed with your larger vision?
Djibril al-Ayad: We received several proposals for guest co-edited themed issues/anthologies when we put out the call last year, all of which were very good ideas and at least several of which were strong social-political speculative themes that were right up our street. When my co-editors and I read through them all, though, we all immediately came back with Outlaw Bodies—there was no hesitation in taking on this collaboration from any of us. It was so obviously close to our interest in feminist science fiction and the intersections with queer, trans, disability and race issues, the proposal combined these elements into a coherent science-fictional context, and it already came with a kick-ass title attached. I’m sure it didn’t hurt that we could straightaway see the cyberpunk potential of
the theme, as that’s still one of our little obsessions. And of course it was an honour to work with Lori Selke!
LS: You’ve said elsewhere that you learned a lot from the process of editing this anthology. Could you elaborate a little?
DA: I personally have learned from this process both technical things (the steps toward getting both a print and e-book up on Amazon; contractual and promotional needs; issues of timing, commissioning and design of cover art, etc.), which will be useful for planning future projects, but also and more interestingly the process of reading stories on a theme. This is the first time I’ve been involved in reading for an anthology rather than the open call for The Future Fire magazine, and surprisingly it was a rather different process; stories have to be judged not only on their quality (we like stories to be “both beautiful and useful”), but also on their fit for the theme, how well they sit alongside the other stories in the anthology, providing a coherent but varied whole, and appeal to the tastes and interests of both editors. Not to mention that you learn something every time you read a great story, and we had more than our fair share of wonderful stories in the slushpile for this anthology.
LS: What was the most surprising aspect of the editing process?
DA: I suppose that, apart from the lessons I just mentioned, one of the most surprising aspects was how smoothly the process of jointly editing an anthology with someone I didn’t previously know went. Actually every one of the stories we published in this anthology was a surprise in one sense; not one of the stories failed to astonish me, to open my mind somehow, to show me a hard truth or a beautiful hope—and showed me that there’s a lot more to outlaw bodies than cyberpunk!
LS: What was the hardest part of putting this together? What was the easiest?
DA: The part that took up the most of my time (I’m an small press—i.e. amateur—fiction editor with no secretarial staff or copy department) was the administrative and editorial work around producing a book of publishable quality. Copy-editing the fiction, formatting for the printer, lining up cover art, getting metadata into publishers’ databases, all that stuff. Don’t get me wrong, it was all worth it to end up with this wonderful anthology, but that’s the part of editing that isn’t the most fun.
The easiest part was reading all the stories, because that was an unadulterated pleasure. Having to turn down as many wonderful pieces as we published (not to mention many times more good pieces that weren’t quite what we were looking for) was sometimes sad, but it’s a good problem to have, as it were.
LS: Can you give people a peek into how co-editing an anthology works? How we handled disagreements (no tiebreaker vote!), how we split up the duties, etc.? A peek behind the scenes, as it were.
DA: I think there are many different approaches, but what we did with this project was that I read a dozen stories, Lori read a different dozen stories, and then we exchanged notes. The few stories in each batch that seemed promising the other person then read, and if we agreed they went into the shortlist. There were almost no disagreements at this stage, because it turned out our tastes are pretty similar. The shortlist contained far more stories than we could fit in the volume, so we then had a task of prioritizing and grouping the stories into a logical (and emotional) coherence. There were of course stories that I loved and Lori was just lukewarm about, and vice versa, but in the end there were enough stories that we both absolutely adored that we didn’t need a tiebreaker. (Although I did get my TFF co-editors to read a few pieces for a third opinion, and Regina de Búrca in particular gave very good feedback on a couple of the stories that ended up on the list.)
I imagine that with other co-edited anthologies of this kind there would be a lot more need for everyone to read most if not all submissions, and perhaps for horse-trading over disagreements, but this was a pretty smooth process, as I’ve said already.
LS: What else would you recommend to readers interested in the topic of outlaw bodies?
DA: That’s a huge question, so I’m just going to answer with the first handful of titles that come to mind. On sexualities and non-binary genders, Melissa Scott’s Shadow Man and Ursula K. Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness will ask a lot of questions (even if they don’t always give you the answers... that’s what your brain’s for!). Octavia Butler’s Fledgling is powerful on the intersection of race, sex, childhood and power; her Xenogenesis trilogy is a postcolonial study of bodily agency and manipulation; and the short story “Bloodchild” is a chilling science fiction piece about reproductive agency and objectification. Joanna Russ’s Female Man and Nicola Griffith’s modern classic Ammonite are very different takes on the war of the sexes and the world-without-men trope. And, because it’s on my mind, I’ve just read
Sabrina Vourvoulias’s Ink (published by Crossed Genres Publications this month), which is a heartbreaking, epic story about foreign bodies, prejudice and persecution of “illegals” in a near future, not-so-fictional USA.
And of course you should dig out the bibliographies of all the contributors to the anthology, where you will find many more wonderful speculative fiction stories on these and all sorts of other themes.
LS: What’s in store for The Future Fire after Outlaw Bodies?
DA: The very next thing up is another guest co-edited anthology, We See a Different Frontier, a collection of colonialism-themed stories co-edited by Fabio Fernandes (also a contributor to Outlaw Bodies, as chance would have it!). This anthology will highlight the experience of the colonized or those living under postcolonial conditions through science-fictional (and other speculative) stories—so no stories about brave Americans colonizing the galaxy and fighting aliens; no stories about the white man going to an alien culture and rescuing them from colonization; no stories about bug-like or vermin-like aliens standing in for people of colour under human colonization. (The call for submissions is still open until the end of October, so if you have a story that fits that description, why not send it in?)
Plus of course we’re still aiming to publish an unthemed issue of TFF every three months or so, featuring wonderful speculative stories of social-political content, with a particular focus on under-represented protagonists and authors, stories that are both useful and beautiful, and unflinching, scathing satire of the commoditized little world we live in. We haven’t decided yet whether to repeat the experience of publishing print anthologies as we did this year, but the magazine will continue to publish stories online either way.
Causes Catherine Lundoff Supports
The Women's Prison Book Project - provides books to incarcerated women Theater Unbound - promotes theater by women: playwrights, directors, performers...