Let the strangeness in.

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Photo: Images Copyright (C) 2007, Rudy Rucker.

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One of the coolest things about the past year has been making friends with other like-minded writers. I’ve gotten to interview two of them—Jeff VanderMeer on his Southern Reach trilogy for The Rumpusand Rudy Rucker on Transrealism, which Damien Walter at The Guardian called “the first major literary movement of the 21st century.” It’s such a singular pleasure to ask them exactly what I want—whether it be about flying dreams, mouse-washing, or their visions for the future. I feel like I’m wading into the stream of a larger tradition.

You might also notice that I asked both writers the same question: whether everything in the universe is ultimately knowable via the scientific method as we currently understand it. It’s an important question to me; science failed me so quickly as an epistemological tool, in my long-ago career. But there’s a parallel question that has to do with my current career—about literary realism, a genre that, also, fails so completely to describe my own experience of the world. In their writings—whether labeled “weird” or “transreal”—Jeff and Rudy come so much closer. We are, in the words of Ursula Le Guin, realists of a larger reality.

I hope our reality—literary and otherwise—only continues to grow in the 21st century. I’m doing my part.

(Also, here is a picture of Rudy as a senior at Swarthmore. I couldn’t resist.)

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Want a signed copy of The Girl in the Road for the holidays? Read on!

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Photo: this was my first reaction to seeing my work in gorgeous hardcover. It might be yours, too.

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I’ve teamed up with my two favorite indies in Durham, Letters Bookshop (919-973-2573) and The Regulator (919-286-2700) to sign copies of The Girl in the Road for the holidays! Whether you’re local or not, give them a call and order your own—they can ship anywhere in the States or Canada. And if you order yours by Sunday, I can personalize them upon request, too… :)

Muchas gracias. And thanks for shopping local. They thank you, too.

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Photo credit: Regulator and Letters.

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Fifty-fifty in 2015.

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Photo: a bookshelf in my study.

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Here’s how insidious unconscious gender bias is: I don’t realize that I do it, too.

I was texting with my friend Paul, who is a wonderful writer, about what books we were reading. I recommended a book by a man to him. He said he’d committed to gender parity, so he needed to read a book by a woman first. I was like, “Right on,” and then thought to myself, “I wonder what my numbers are. I’m such an überfeminist. I’m sure it’s at least 50/50.”

I keep track of all the books I read, and you know what? No bueno. It was 30/70 in the past year.

How did that happen? Not because I was intentionally sexist, but because the entire system is sexist, and disproportionately encourages and buys and publishes and markets and reviews and sells books by men, and it takes deliberate overcompensation to correct for that. For anyone. Including me. Including all the editors at literary magazines tracked by VIDA who still think they’re somehow not part of the problem. didn’t think I was part of the problem, but the numbers show that I am. I have to work to correct that.

So in 2015, I’m going for gender parity. First up: Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace, for a very important reason that I’ll chronicle at a later date. I’m excited.

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The Girl in the Road is eligible to be nominated for a Nebula Award.

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Photo: the hardcover and paperback covers of The Girl in the Roadpublished by Crown/Random House, May 2014. 

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I’ve had an ongoing conversation with a friend about self-promotion. His point to me—at least, in the beginning—was that artists whose works are good don’t need to self-promote, because the work speaks for itself. My point to him was, and remains, that sitting back and assuming good work will be recognized is actually a reflection of privilege. The VIDA Count gives plenty of data on that. In addition, lots of authors—regardless of their phenotype or standing—present their work to the voting public when awards season comes around.

That said, I’m here to tell you that my first novel The Girl in the Roadpublished by Penguin Random House and set in future India and Africa—is eligible to be nominated for a Nebula Award. The critical response has been overwhelmingly positive, including from The Wall Street Journal, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, PopMatters, Kirkus, Library Journal, NPR, LA Review of Books, The Rumpus, Dawn, and Strange Horizons

Voters must be members of SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America). The Girl in the Road has already been added to the Nebula reading list (thank you so much to those who suggested it). So, please upvote if you feel so inclined, so it gets on readers’ radar; and, of course, read it. Then nominate if you feel it deserving.

As for my own first year of voting as an SFWA member: I loved The Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeerLock In by John Scalzi, and “The Fisher Queen” by Alyssa Wong. Upcoming reads include Lagoon by Nnedi OkoraforMy Real Children by Jo Walton, and Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie—all also on the Nebula reading list—and I’m very excited for them. Do you have any recommendations of other things I should read published in the last year? Let me know.

And thank you for your consideration. Truly.

~

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Skin to skin.

1004552_10154896505790226_974633908455948801_n Photo: on the Aurora 2, looking ahead to Coron, Philippines. Photo credit: Vicki Pettifer.

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I wanted to lie down, belly to plank, chin on my folded hands, like they were; so I did. I knew it was not an uncomplicated gesture in the matrix of class and race and gender that we’re all in. I just wanted to look ahead with them, skin to skin, as if they were my brothers, or lovers, or closer. My fellow travelers regarded me with something like pity.

In Palawan, you can get massages on the beach. Each bed is curtained with lace and bright faux satin. I got one every night. I was never not amazed at how grateful I was for a woman’s hands. As soon as she put them on my body it felt like the universe was flooding with warm milk.

I have so many friends who have young children, and whose mothers are still alive, walking and talking. I try to understand what their lives are like. I wonder whether, my apparent happiness aside, they secretly pity me, anchorless in the past and future, hungry and thirsty, wandering the world and lying down with strange men on boats.

Sometimes I feel sorry for myself, that my mother is not alive.

And sometimes I feel sorry for people whose mothers are alive. Because they still think that their mother is just a person. And they may never learn otherwise.

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Island of the dog.

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Photo: Brother Island, the Philippines. Credit: Vicki Pettifer.

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We were still a half-mile away from the island when our expedition leader shouted, “There he is!”

We all strained to look where he was pointing. There was nothing but blue waves. But then I saw something bobbing in the water, and we all agreed it was a buoy, because what else could it be, this far out? But then we saw the buoy was bobbing toward us. And then it resolved into the head of a golden-haired dog.

Many years ago, an Austrian professor named Alfred Hofer bought an island in the Philippines and built a beautiful retreat there. Then he got in a motorcycle accident. He hasn’t been back since. Tao Philippines and its crews started taking care of the dog, making a point to stop by on its island-hopping tours to feed him. They’re the only ones keeping him alive now.

The dog paddled in circles around our catamaran until the crew had filled a basin with our leftovers from lunch, which, once onboard, he inhaled. Then he swam with us back to the island, and then romped onto the beach as if to show us around. The house was locked. Through the windows, I could see zoology textbooks gathering dust on the shelves. I flipped a light switch, and red ants poured out of the box.

We took a trail up the side of the island, past a white cross and altar, up to a small house built on a banyan tree. The doors were made of glass and faced in every direction. Past the verandah was a drop to boulders and crashing waves. I imagined it must have been the professor’s study, and that I could move in and write there, and my bed would be in one corner, and my coffeemaker here, and my desk there, and a bed for the dog right next to it.

He knew when we were leaving. I didn’t want to, but there was nothing we could do. His ears drooped and his shoulders caved in. I sat down on the sand with him to say goodbye and told him that if we ever crossed paths again, he would have to let me know.

But maybe we had said just the same thing in a previous life. And now, here we were.

~

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Are you a U.S. citizen? Want to travel to Iran? Here’s how.

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Photo: at the Gate of Nations at Persepolis, Iran. 

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I just published an op-ed on Lobelog, an Iranian-U.S. policy blog, about my travels in Iran. The bottom line is that our peoples have been estranged for long enough. While the nation states do their thing, let’s open the doors of peacemaking that are available to us, yes? One is mindful travel, and Iran is an absolutely extraordinary place to visit. (If you need evidence, start with an album of my trip.)

First, the “safety” issue. I was lucky to know Iranians who’d (graciously) corrected my worries that the country would not be safe for me as a U.S. citizen; when I was actually there, those fears seemed downright absurd. I never felt unsafe. Iranians themselves generally have very warm feelings toward the U.S.; they received me with nothing but kindness, grace, and curiosity throughout my travels.

So…is Iran safe to travel in? I can say that it definitely was for me. (I do need to say that I’m a white cis woman, and that’s probably significant to my positive experience, but being other than that should not be a deterrent. I saw tourists of all phenotypes in Iran.)

Now:

Step 1. Contact a travel agency within Iran, which will sponsor you for a visa and, in effect, be responsible for you while you’re in the country. I highly recommend Setareh Elahiyeh—translated “Goddess who Shines like a Star” (!)—run by Ms. Elnaz Aslanian. They work closely with the Boomgardi Institute for Sustainable Tourism, a network of gorgeous traditional houses across the country, several of which I stayed in. Elnaz is fluent in English and can be reached at aslanian.elnaz@gmail.com.

Step 2. On your behalf, Setareh Elahiyeh will apply to the Iranian government for a tourist visa authorization code. This is not the visa itself, only a code that says you have permission to get a visa. Setareh Elahiyeh will charge a fee to handle this paperwork for you—about $100 USD. It’s difficult to say how long it’ll take for the authorization code to come through, but plan for at least a month.

Step 3. Once the authorization code comes through, Setareh Elahiyeh will notify you. Fill out Form 101 from the Iranian Embassy web site  and send it with your passport to the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington D.C., which has a “Special Interests of Iran” department. (If you’re a woman, you’ll need to get a passport photo taken in a headscarf.) You can pay an extra fee to expedite processing—I did, about $60—and followed up daily by phone. I got my passport back in only a week.

Step 4. Once you have your visa, Setareh Elahiyeh will find a guide for you. Note that currently, U.S. citizens must be accompanied by a guide in Iran at all times, except in the hotel. There are only 130 guides in the country specifically licensed to accompany U.S. citizens. This sounds onerous—and inshallah, that rule will change someday soon—but I found it easy to negotiate the need for space with my guide. The trip is still so-damn-worth-it.

As for price, it’s pretty reasonable if you go with one or more people. (It was really expensive for me, but that’s because I hate traveling with a group.)

Step 5. Pack! You’re SO LUCKY you’re going to Iran! A good place to get oriented is Lonely Planet’s guide. (I don’t recommend the Bradt guide, which reads like a phone book.) It’s up to you exactly when to buy your plane tickets, but I bought mine well in advance of having the visa in hand—I had a layover in Istanbul, and told myself that if the visa fell through, I’d stay in Turkey instead.

And finally, instead of buying plane tickets yourself, I highly recommend emailing Susi at World Travellers’ Club. She’s consistently found prices for me that have made my jaw drop.

Questions? Email Elnaz at aslanian.elnaz@gmail.com. She’s great.

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