Too “ethnic”? Not “ethnic” enough? Five SFF Authors dish the dirt.

Mexican SFF author Silvia Moreno-Garcia was feeling all somehow about the publishing industry (and who could blame her) so she put together a twitter poll asking if other POC SFF authors felt the same way. Some of us answered, and she asked us to elaborate.

So we did in this nifty guest blog roundtable: 50 Shades of POC.

Go check out what folks like Maurice Broaddus, Indrapramit Das, LeKesha Lewis, Valerie Valdes and, of course, myself, have to say about being “ethnic” and writing Science Fiction/Fantasy.


My 2016 Top 12 Fav (and Sometimes Important) Articles from Indian Country

On December 19, 2016, Huffpo published an article titled “26 Of The Most Important Articles By People Of Color In 2016”.  Unfortunately, in a year full of exciting events in Indian Country, including the historical #NoDAPL protest, the list failed to include a single Native American writer. [NOTE: The list has now been updated to “30 of the Most Important…” and now includes one Native writer.] I want to do my small part to remedy that oversight, so in light of Native voices being overlooked and continually erased in mainstream media, I present my own list of top 12 favorite (and sometimes important) articles by Native/First Nations/Indigenous Writers* in 2016. Enjoy!

In no particular order:

  1. On the Shameful and Skewed ‘Redskins’ Poll by Jacqueline Keeler
    Keeler deftly unpacks the troubling demographics, shoddy journalism, and real-world impact of the now infamous WaPo poll that suggested Natives are A-OK with the slur-tastic football team.
  2. “Magic in North America”: The Harry Potter franchise veers too close to home by Adrienne Keene
    Taking on the queen of children’s literature and her formidable online army of trolls, Keene questions the Native American representation in Rowling’s newest series.
  3. Indigenous languages recognize gender states not even named in English by Angela  Sterritt
    First Nations and Native American communities had a wider range of gender and sexuality before first contact with Europeans. Sterritt highlight how these modern-sounding but very traditional ways can move us forward today.
  4. Photos: Indigenous Comic Con 2016 Brings Indigenerds to Albuquerque by Jason Asenap
    Bring on the Indigenerds! Asenap snaps some great shots from the first ever Indigenous ComicCon, and a Navajo Rey from Star Wars steals my heart.
  5. Indians for Trump Speak in Termination Tongue by Alex Jacobs
    Jacobs holds nothing back as he takes at look at past Republican resource extraction policy and the “sellouts” and “fort Indians” Trump has gathered around him.
  6. Indigenous Biology by Ruth Hopkins
    On the relationship between Indigenous science, ceremony and spirituality.
  7. Moana and Resistence Spectating by Richard Wolfgramm
    A Tongan critic examines the pros and cons, the highs and lows, and the messy capitalism that happens when Disney takes on Polynesian culture.
  8. Journey to Starbucks: A White Way of Knowledge by Terese Marie Mailhot
    Using her sharp wit, Mailhot flips the tables on ethnology in a way that will have you looking at that flat white in a whole new light.
  9. At Standing Rock, No One Goes Hungry: The Kitchen That Serves Traditional Lakota Food and Values by Michael Running Wolf
    A peak into the amazing kitchen at Standing Rock that’s serving up traditional Lakota food and lifeways.
  10. AN OPEN LETTER TO THAT LADY WHO HAS ALL THE ANSWERS TO #NODAPL by Renee Nejo [This was the article later added to the HuffPo list, which definitely deserves mention.]
    So you know all those stereotypes about Natives that you’ve heard? That we don’t pay taxes or get to go to school for free. Let Nejo set you straight.
  11. No Peace for Our Time: Trump Is Coming For Indian Country’s Land and Resources by Gyasi Ross
    Ross raises the alarm. Much is at stake for Indian Country under a Trump administration, including our very sovereignty. If we don’t fight back, there may be nothing left to fight for.
  12. Apocalypse Logic by Elissa Washuta
    One woman’s lyrical and often moving meditation on the history of her family, her own trauma and what it is to be Native American today.

And a bonus 13, which includes me. So while it is true that it is one of my favorites, and arguably important, I think it might be cheating to include it in my top 12. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it.

13. “WATER IS LIFE”: A ROUNDTABLE ABOUT COASTS AND RIVERS AFFECTED BY CLIMATE CHANGE by Rebecca Roanhorse, Ishki Ricard and (non-Native contributors Kate Elliot and Joyce Chng).
Four speculative fiction writers talk about the role of climate change in their lives and in the art they make.

*There were also some great articles written by non-Natives on Native issues, like the very insightful Fake Cowboys and Real Indians by Timothy Egan, but I’m only focused on Native Writers in my list.

My novel is coming! TRAIL OF LIGHTNING

I am thrilled to share the news: my debut novel is coming from Saga Press (Simon & Schuster). Here’s the announcement with the A+ tagline from Publisher’s Weekly.

Roanhorse Strikes Lightning at Saga
Joe Monti at Simon & Schuster’s Saga Press took world rights to two books by debut author Rebecca Roanhorse, in a preempt, from agent Sara Megibow at KT Literary. The first book under contract, Trail of Lightning, is set on a Navajo reservation in the near future, after the collapse of society. It follows a young Navajo woman who, Megibow said, “hunts monsters with the help of an untested medicine man.” The book was pitched, she added, as “an indigenousMad Max: Fury Road.” Trail of Lightning is scheduled for publication in summer 2018.

Follow me here or on Twitter at @RoanhorseBex for updates.

It takes a village to land a literary agent

People like to tell you that writing is a solitary business. You, alone. Butt in chair. Hours spent with your imaginary friends (called characters) in your made-up world. And all that’s true. To a certain extent.

I did the butt in chair, I put in the hours (and hours and hours and hours). But I also had a hell of a lot of help.

Because, let’s face it, has any epic quest (and landing an agent can certainly feel like an epic quest) been accomplished alone? Doesn’t Frodo need the Fellowship? Don’t the Avengers “assemble”? Heck, isn’t the Suicide Squad, a “squad”?

So, to think that I, writer, got even this far without help would be silly. It took a whole freaking village of generous writers and agents to get me here. From my IRL writing group (shoutout to Write Club!) to my workshop cohorts (VONA for life!) to the writing community on Twitter, I had help all along the way. And all that help made the difference.

So how can you get this kind of help, you ask? Let me tell you the ways:

  1. Finish your manuscript, together. This sounds obvious and you’ve heard it a million times, but if you don’t finish it, it’s not a novel. So finish it. But don’t think you have to do it alone. Find a writing group, IRL or online, to motivate you when you’d rather binge-watch “Star vs. The Forces of Evil” (What?). A writing group can not only motivate you, but can be great to bounce ideas off of, commiserate with when things aren’t going well, and keep you focused on the prize: finishing the manuscript. Find one and hold them close, precious. They are invaluable.
  2. Find semi-professional workshops and beta readers, and then revise, revise, revise. My first draft was complete in April of 2015. I didn’t query my first agent until April of 2016. What was I doing for a year? Revising. I workshopped the first 20 pp at the incredible VONA/Voices summer workshop with some amazing up-and-coming writers of color and our fearless leader Marjorie Liu. I found wonderful generous beta readers to give me insight into what was working and what wasn’t and what had simply fallen off a cliff into a plothole so deep there was no saving it. It made the story ridiculously better.
  3. Ask for financial help. Remember that VONA/Voices workshop from Step 2? It wasn’t free. But generous friends and strangers donated to a Go Fund Me account for me to go. Setting up that account was acute torture. I am a very independent person. I do not ask for money. I’ve worked since I was 16, 3 jobs in college. But there was no way I was going to swing a week in Miami with airfare and tuition. So I swallowed my pride and asked for help. And people helped. Wonderful generous friends, complete strangers. It was amazing.
  4. Embrace social media because it’s made of people. I think Twitter is the best place for writers, not to build a platform or an audience, but to create community. Writer (and my personal hero) DJ Older has a great video on how to embrace social media as writer. TL;DR: Be a human being.
  5. Come up with a pitch.  Okay, coming up with a pitch may not take a village, but you need to do it anyway. For me, it was a Twitter pitch contest that forced me to do it, and, as you can imagine, summarizing my whole novel in 140 characters, less related hashtags, wasn’t easy. But there are resources for doing it and often there’s even a pre-contest “try-out” where other Twitter peeps can help you make it better. So, yeah, maybe it does take help. And even if you aren’t entering Twitter pitch contest, coming up with a pitch is a good idea. After all, how many times have people asked you what you novel is about and you mumble something about warring families and star-crossed lovers and magic? (I did this recently for another manuscript. Goes to show you I should always follow my own advice. If I’d said “It’s about an assassin who falls for her mark, an empath who can devour souls with his touch, and she is forced to chose between loyalty to her mafia-style magical family and sparing the man she not only loves, but she believes may save the world”, it would have gone much better. Instead I said, *mumble mumble magic*. Ah, well.)
  6. Enter Twitter contests. You probably won’t win, but that’s not the point. I entered Beth Phelan’s #DVPit, and while I got a lot of excitement from agents and friends over my pitch, ultimately the contest didn’t really pan out for me. But what it did get me was a free query + 10pp critique from two of Beth’s generous clients as a contest beenie. That was invaluable.  It led to a much better query and solved a longstanding problem with the first page that I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. So if someone is offering to critique your query, jump on it! I think it made the difference for me, and I can never thank the authors who volunteered enough. (This goes double for your synopsis, because sweet revising baby Jesus, your first draft  of a synopsis sucks. Trust me.)
  7. Pin it! for the world to find. Remember that nifty Twitter pitch I mentioned in Step 5? Pin it to your Twitter profile so people can find it. I had an agent find me through Twitter, read my pitch and email me to request a query. Said agent was awesome and eventually offered me representation. I ended up declining and going with Perfect Agent, but it never would have happened if I hadn’t 1) had a pitch and 2) pinned it to my profile.
  8. Query (many but not all) agents. I received 20+ query “requests” from DVPit, but the majority of those were not a good fit for me or my manuscript. How did I know? I read their agent profiles, looked at who they rep’d and in what genres, and knew that querying them would probably make neither of us happy. So, I only queried 7 of those 20. In total, I queried 9 agents (7 from the contest, 2 from other sources). I got 1 form rejection based on query alone. 3 rejections after requests for full (1 coming after I’d already withdrawn my submission because I’d signed with Perfect Agent, but whatever). The first 2 rejections were useful because the agents were nice enough to tell me when/why they stopped reading and, guess what, I made more revisions based on that. I ultimately ended up with 2.5 offers of representation. (I say .5 because I had already signed with Perfect Agent when .5 agent said she would have offered, but I was already committed to someone else.) So, even in rejection, people were helping me be better. Don’t overlook that. It’s important.
  9. Reach out to potential mentors. Publishing, especially for writers of color/indigenous writers, can seem like a massively intimidating place. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other writers for advice. I’m not saying pester Stephen King, but if you’ve been lucky enough to meet writers you admire (or, say, they rejected your short story once and you stayed friendly with them via email*) reach out and ask for their help. You might be surprised how kind and generous they are.   *This is also a lesson in how to behave when rejected. Don’t flounce, don’t get righteous. And don’t burn bridges over a difference of opinion. Build relationship instead.
  10. Trust your gut, and say, “Thank you”! First, don’t forget to thank all those people who helped you get to this awesome moment. But now, you’re in the one place only you can go. Your gut. Ok, that sounds weird, but you know what I mean. No one can make that final call for you and tell you if the offering agent is the Perfect Agent for you. That up to you. But hopefully, you’ve already had a whole lot of help building up good instincts. So thank the village that got you there, and go forth! I can’t wait to see where you end up.


Rebecca Roanhorse is rep’d by Perfect Agent Sara Megibow at KT Literary

Pottermore is just more disappointment

A few thoughts on the Pottermore  “Magic in North America” controversy. If you aren’t up on it, check out Native Appropriations thoughts on the matter. They are good background reading.

Now, I’m not one of those people who think non-Natives shouldn’t write about Native people or have Native characters. Believe it or not, Natives are not a monolith and we often have different opinions on these things. Native Appropriations’ opinion (linked above) as a cultural critic and professor, are more circumspect. Mine, especially as a writer of fantasy, are probably more liberal. I think it can be done, and done well. Yes, I prefer Native people write about ourselves and tell our own stories, but, hey, I like a good story no matter who writes it. And J.K. Rowling can write a great story.

So imagine how excited, yes EXCITED, I was to hear she was going to incorporate Native Americans into her new “Magic in North America” series. My mind ran fertile with images of the Iroquois Confederacy’s version of quidditch. Surely the inventors of lacrosse would blow other quidditch teams out of the sky. And I loved the idea of a powerful Ancestral Puebloan (aka Anasazi) wizarding school in Chaco Canyon or Mesa Verde. I swooned over the idea of rivalries between the Haida school and the Seminoles, just like the BeauxBatons and the Drumstrang. (Can you imagine how cool the Haida school crest would be? *chills*).

But we got none of that.

We got loincloths.

(I have a funny story about my BIL being an extra in a movie and having to wear a loincloth, but anyway…where was I?)

We got called “American” from the 14th to 17th century (which is just frankly wrong and anachronistic and lazy, if you ask me.)

We got glossed as a single people: “Native Americans”. And there went my dream of a Pueblo Wizarding school, because a continent of people were conflating to one loincloth-wearing group. I wept.

Look at this imagined map and tell me your little writer mind doesn’t just explode with possibility.


Now there are some other problematic things in the “Magic in North America” read, but other more competent people are addressing them. Twitter is aflutter with Native commentary, and blogs are fired up and rolling out textual critiques about the real harm done in perpetuating stereotypes and erasure. I’m just here to mourn the failure of imagination in a world so richly imagined in so many ways, I feel like Rowling just let us down.