Adventures in Queer-Welcoming Editing

The recent brouhaha about an anthology (in which a number of authors withdrew their stories after one author was told to change her M/M to heterosexual) highlights for me how much power an editor has in establishing the tone of the anthology. This happens not only through the selection and editing of the stories, but on a much more fundamental level of concept and outreach. The editor’s vision for the book and the care and inclusiveness with which the authors are invited have a profound effect on what gets submitted and by whom.

In 2007, I was asked by Vera Nazarian of Norilana Books if I’d like to edit an anthology. This was something I’d thought about for a long time. I’d had both wonderful and awful experiences from the writerly standpoint, and I had formed opinions about how I wanted to treat my authors. I also thought it would be a great thing to work with my favorite writers and to meet new ones. After some discussion, we arrived at a topic: romantic, swashbuckling “sword & sorcery” fantasy with wit and intelligence. The title, Lace and Blade, was one Vera came up with to describe this particular flavor of fantasy.

Because we wanted to bring the first volume out the following Valentine’s Day and time was short, I decided to make the first volume by invitation. Tanith Lee had already agreed to send a story, and I contacted a number of authors that I knew either personally or professionally, authors I could count on to understand the concept and deliver fine stories. I specifically stated in the guidelines:

This is not “Romance” but “romance,” a play of sensibilities, a vision of something wondrous but not sentimentalized, from bittersweet to transcendent, stirring the heart, but not stereotyped “love stories.” I have no objection to happy endings (or heterosexuality, or monogamy), but I do not require them. … Alternate sexuality is welcome, although this is not specifically gay-themed — these are stories of the heart, not the plumbing.

In other words, I wanted to see stories of love and adventure for all of us, queer and straight. I believe that we all benefit by celebrating love (and courage and compassion) in its wondrous and diverse forms.

One of the authors I contacted was BVC’s Chaz Brenchley. I’d read a little of his work and loved it. He sent me “In the Night Street Baths,” which featured an intimate relationship between two eunuchs, complete with a steamy sex scene (steamy in more than one sense, since it takes place in the baths). I say intimate rather than romantic because of the subtlety and complexity with which Chaz portrayed an unusual relationship. One doesn’t typically think of eunuchs of having love lives, let alone sexuality, so the story is startling and disquieting as well as deeply moving.

Many of the other stories fell comfortably within the parameters of traditional heterosexual fiction, beautifully rendered but not likely to discomfit the conservative reader. (Or so I thought. It turns out that the only reader reviews on that objected to sexual content found it all to be distasteful.) I was pleased that my anthological “tent” was big enough to include them all. It offered “something for everyone,” and “something to enlarge most people’s reading experience.”

I’d worked with Marion Zimmer Bradley for long enough, as an author she edited as well as a personal friend, to know that the narrower the scope of an anthology and the more rigid the guidelines, the deeper into the slush pile you have to dig. The stories that can hit a tiny target and offer excellent quality are few and far between.

I wanted excellence and I also wanted stories that pushed me–and my readers–just a little over the edge, that made my world larger and richer and more filled with possibilities. Chaz and BVC members Sherwood Smith and Madeleine E. Robins, Tanith Lee, Mary Rosenblum, Robin Wayne Bailey, Diana L. Paxson, Dave Smeds and Catherine Asaro sent me stories that answered the spirit of the premise in rainbow profusion. Reader response suggested that although not every story was to every reader’s taste, every reader found something to love, and every story reached the hearts of some readers.

After the anthology came out, Steve Berman of Lethe Press contacted me to reprint Chaz’s story in Wilde Stories 2009: The Year’s Best Gay SF. Other stories in the first volume appeared on LOCUS Recommended Reading, and Mary Rosenblum’s “Night Wind” was a Nebula Finalist.

We’re all different in what delights and inspires us, not just queer/straight and male/female, but as individuals. I suspect that the differences between one person and another are far greater than between sexually/gender-identified groups. And I hope to play a small part in creating a world in which no one feels invisible or excluded.

Deborah J. Ross has been writing science fiction and fantasy since 1982. Her novels Jaydium and Northlight are available as multiformat ebooks here on Book View Cafe. Her most recent print publication is Hastur Lord, a Darkover novel with the late Marion Zimmer Bradley.



Adventures in Queer-Welcoming Editing — 5 Comments

  1. Writing the story for Lace and Blade was some of the best fun I had that year, and Deborah is an editor worth writing for. I still toy with the notion of returning to the world I created for the stories I did for both volumes.

    And yes: the tent was big and welcoming.

  2. I keep having to remind myself that not so very long ago, stories with the big tent couldn’t even find mainstream publication. I’m so glad that anthologies that depict love in all its forms in a positive light can find their way to readers.

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