An Interview With Setsu Uzme

cover of Happily Never AfterI’m so excited to have my evil twin Setsu Uzme as my guest today!  Setsu and I met briefly at Convolution 2013 and after about five minutes of conversation she had already become my little (but much taller, and in many ways more mature) sister.  A couple of conventions and lots of Facebook chats later, Setsu and I revel in being the odd couple in an on-going buddy movie featuring giant purple butterfly wings, glittery skulls, and lots and lots of weaponry.

Setsu agreed to be interviewed for Geek Girl in Love.  She talks about her current projects, how her martial arts practice influences her writing, and the problems with erasure of bisexuals in literature.

Congratulations on being published in Happily Never After!  What can you tell us about the anthology and about your story?

Thank you so much! These are odd, off-kilter, strange and spooky tales that riff on fairy story themes. My story, The Rumpled Man, takes place in a far-flung future where the last city rests under an electrified dome that keeps out everything from animals to contagions. When two street kids steal from a strange new vendor at the Armer’s Market, their friends start disappearing. It riffs very loosely on Rumpelstiltskin, and I wondered what fairies and goblins would get up to once humanity had destroyed the natural world. I also loved Christina Elaine Collins’ story “The Law of Mirrors.” It’s a really great collection.

Tell us a little bit about your background in martial arts.  How does that background affect your writing?

I’ve been in and out of dojos since I was itty-bitty, and spent some time studying at a Daoist monastery in central China. I have a lot of fun writing fights from formal encounters to down-and-dirty brawls. Training has affected my writing because I have to read body language all the time. I can tell when two combatants are dancing, and when they’re trying to kill each other. Both are valid scenes as long as they’re entertaining and move the story along; but they’re only a small portion of the toolbox. The realism of a fight doesn’t draw most people in. What does is the meaning behind the fight, its causes and results.

Those causes and results are tied to suffering. Martial arts is much more about how to cope with suffering than how to inflict it on others. All of the push-ups and injuries in the world mean nothing unless you understand what it means to hurt. Those responses, conscious or otherwise, dictate how we’ll behave when our bodies are pushed past their limit, or when we’ve exhausted our options and hit a wall, or what happens when you reject your orders. What bolsters one student might destroy another, and any teacher worth their salt knows this.

Self-development, the hero’s journey, story arcs — they all follow the same idea: suffering brings change. In some cases it’s beneficial, and the person becomes more confident and compassionate. In some cases it’s too much, and they either internalize and inflict, or shut down completely. Those tells are all over a person, from how they move to their sense of humor.

As a bisexual woman, are there any representations of bisexual people in literature or other media that you find exceptionally praiseworthy or objectionable?  Why?  What are the common misconceptions about bisexuality and what, if any, stories avoid those misconceptions?

I can’t point to any characters that self-identify as bisexual. Jack Harkness from the Doctor Who franchise might be an example, but I don’t think his bisexuality defines him so much as his easygoing and flirtatious nature, which isn’t something you can expect of all bisexuals.

Erasure is still a pretty big problem. Many characters who exhibit bisexual behavior are quick to be labeled as straight or gay… as though it’s important to assign them to a ‘team.’ We’re often fetishized by heterosexuals, and mistrusted by homosexuals because of the misconception that we’re non-monogamous, or worse, going through a phase. I’ve been more welcome in lesbian spaces if I identify as ‘queer’ rather than ‘bi,’ which says a lot about that perception. Everyone’s still finding their feet, and it’s an especially loaded topic when civil-rights legislation is still up for grabs because of rampant ignorance and hatred.

As a personal preference, and I want to be clear that I’m not representing anyone else’s experience but my own — I think sexuality is a facet of someone’s personality rather than a defining characteristic, and I’ll extend that to men and women of trans experience. I feel relieved when I meet others who may have shared my challenges, but ultimately what makes a person interesting and engaging is who they are. That goes both for fiction and real life.

What projects are you working on now?  I have inside intel (from you) that you are working on a novel.  SPILL EVERYTHING.

I have two novels in the works. The first is a fantasy series about a woman raised by humans, who must choose between the humans she loves and the feral race that abandoned her. It’s a lot like “Frozen” for adults. The first two books are done and I’m working on the third.

Since those books aren’t yet available, let me direct you to some pieces available in audio!

Sherri’s Playhouse is putting on a production of my play about an accountant with a demon in her head, who must choose between normalcy and taking on a quest to understand exactly what that demon is.

I’m almost done with my first airship novel, and my story, “Burying the Coin” is a prequel to that. I wanted to write a swashbuckling, womanizing captain who is also a woman — and Karelia popped into my head. I asked her why she’s so carefree, and she told me it’s because she never wants to feel too deeply again. You can find out what she means by that on Podcastle.


History’s Hidden Heroes: Sheik Umar Khan, Samuel Brisbane, Sam Mutooro Muhumuza

Dr. Sheik Umar Khan

Dr. Sheik Umar Khan

This month’s History’s Hidden Heroes is absolutely heartbreaking.  Dr. Sheik Umar Khan, a doctor from Sierra Leone who led the fight against the Ebola virus in that country, died on July 29, 2014, of the virus.  Dr. Samuel Brisbane, one of the top physicians in Liberia, died of the disease on July 26, and Dr. Samuel Mutooro Muhumuza, from Uganda, died on July 2.

We’ve all seen movies and TV shows in which there is a crisis in a foreign country, usually Africa, and white doctors from America and Europe rush in to save the day.  Health workers from all over the world have come to Africa to fight the Ebola virus, at enormous risk to their own lives.  As of this moment, American doctor Kent Brantly is in grave condition in Liberia.  The heroism of doctors, nurses, and aides who come from overseas to assist other countries in times of crisis absolutely cannot be overstated.

But I want to highlight the efforts of the West African doctors Dr. Sheik Umar Khan, Dr. Samuel Brisbane, and Dr. Samuel Mutooro Muhumuza, because I think that we like to tell ourselves a story about Africa.  It’s a story about a place with no resources of its own, no universities, no people with knowledge or competence.  It’s a colonial story, one in which “The White Man’s Burden”, as described by Rudyard Kipling, is to help the helpless and ignorant people of The Third World.  It’s a story about a helpless princess who needs a white knight.  The lives of these three doctors suggest that a more accurate story would be  about a knight who has incurred an injury (let’s face it – a really, really awful injury) in battle and who needs assistance from a comrade.

I hope that the visibility of doctors, nurses, and aides who are African residents and who are of African descent will challenge us to change our story.  Dr. Sheik Umar Khan, Dr. Samuel Brisbane, and Dr. Samuel Mutooro Muhumuza were not only competent – they were highly regarded experts in and out of their countries of origin.  They were leaders in their fields.  They weren’t ignorant or helpless.  West Africa needs our help.  But I want our future stories to reflect that regions like West Africa also have competent people who know stuff – who are experts.

The Hugo Awards Results Are In!

featured-hugo-awardsHere’s the winners of the 2014 Hugo Awards!

Best Novel:

“Ancillary Justice”, by Ann Leckie

Best Novella:

“Equoid” by Charles Stross

Best Novelette:

“The Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal

Best Short Story:

“The Water That Falls on You From Nowhere”, John Chu

Best Related Work:

“We Have Always Fought”, by Kameron Hurley

Best Graphic Story:

“Time”, Randall Munroe, XKCD

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form:

“Gravity”, written by Alfonso Cuaron and Jonas Curari

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form:

Game of Thrones, “The Rains of Castamere”

Best Editor, Short Form:

Ellen Datlow

Best Editor, Long Form:

Ginger Buchanan

Best Professional Artist:

Julie Dillon

Best Semiprozine:

Lightspeed Magazine

Best Fanzine:  

A Dribble of Ink

Best Fancast:

SF Signal Podcast

Best Fan Writer:  

Kameron Hurley

Best Fan Artist:

Sarah Webb

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer:

Sofia Samatar

Many thanks to those who live tweeted the ceremony, making this post possible!

When Magic and Myth Meet Main Street – Notes from San Diego Comic-Con

San Diego Comic Con logoOne of my favorite panels at San Diego Comic-Con this year was the panel, “When Myth and Magic Meet Main Street”.

This panel featured Jim Butcher (Dresden Files), Seanan McGuire (October Daye series, InCrytpid series), Richard Kadrey (Sandman Slim series), Amber Benson (Death’s Daughter series), Greg van Eekhout (California Bones) and Anton Strout (Incarnate).

I owe a lavish apology to Greg and Anton.  I was sitting so far in the back of the room that I couldn’t see their end of the table, so when they talked not only could I not hear very well but I also couldn’t see which one of them was talking.  Although I don’t quote them much here, please take it from me that they are intelligent, well-spoken people with thoughtful and funny things to say.  This year was quite the learning experience in terms of how to cover and event like San Diego Comic-Con and I hope to be better prepared next year.

Here’s some highlights:

  • Jim Butcher was asked why he sets his books in Chicago.  His answer:  “Because my writing teacher wouldn’t let me set them in Missouri”.
  • Seanan McGuire said this about her decision to write urban fantasy:  “Fairy Tales are the urban fantasy of their time.  I moved my fairy tales from dark forests to dark alleys”.
  • Seanan, who reports having put herself through college by writing Harlequin romances, said that she dislikes writing sex scenes.  Accordingly, one of her favorite scenes to write was the one in Discount Armegeddon in which Verity must get the mice who worship her to give her and her lover privacy by brining them with friend chicken.
  • Amber Benson, on the other hand, rather enjoys writing sex scenes.  She said that she only blushes because she likes to write in public (places like Starbucks).
  • Jim Butcher said, “Sometimes there are places in the world that need to be destroyed, and I might as well do it in as spectacular a fashion as possible.  I shall eviscerate them in fiction!”
  • Richard Kadrey’s advice to writers was “Write!  Carry a notebook, write stuff down, and finish what you start”.  I wrote those words immediately in the notebook I was carrying around and I still feel smug about it.
  • Seanan and Amber both cautioned against comparing you output to that of other authors.  Their advice was “Write, read, write, and don’t measure yourself against other people”.

This was the first panel that I covered (or attempted to cover and I learned a lot about writing and a lot about what to do and not to do in order to cover a panel!  The big thing I took away from this was the message to write and write and read and then write some more.  What a fun, inspiring group of people!

Updates on Romance in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Convolution

vampire heart on a black backgroundI have good news and bad news today.  Bad news first: many of you have asked what ever happened to Romance in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, my upcoming book?  It was posted for preorder and seemed to be a done deal.  Alas, the publishing world is an unstable place and my publisher ultimately decided not to publish the book – so it’s looking for a new home.  The good news is that they have returned the rights, so eventually Romance in Buffy will find a new home (probably with a new cover).  At this time, I don’t know whether it will be self-published or reside with a new publisher.  But I’ll let you all know what happens, and I thank all of you who pre-ordered for your support.

The good news is that I will be a featured guest at Convolution 2014!  This convention is taking place on September 26 – 28, at the Hyatt Regency SFO in Burlingame, CA.

I’m so excited about this convention.  It’s large enough that there’s a ton of great programming and gaming options and small enough that I can actually talk to people.  Check them out on Facebook or online!

A partial list of guests in no particular order:

Marie Brennan

Gail Carriger

Todd McCafferey

Tanya Huff

Tanya Guen

Kevin R. Grazier, PhD

Michael A. Stackpole

Jeff Sturgeon

I am so excited.  I’m looking forward to participating in a number of panels and events – stay tuned for a schooled, and please come visit!  I’d love to meet you!