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CoC & LGBTQ: lost months

Sep 27th, 2010 | By | Category: CG Blog

We’re approaching the end of September, and depending on how those last few days go we have a reasonable chance of receiving more submissions to our Characters of Color issue than we did last year, for our double-sized LGBTQ issue. Of course we’ve had an entire year more to build readership and be heard of in new places, but even so it’s nice to see. (We’ve received some great stories too!)

But those numbers have had me thinking about the nature of CG, themes for issues, and specifically underrepresented people in speculative fiction.

Crossed Genres receives, on average, less submissions than similar zines. It’s primarily due to the nature of our monthly themes; people have to write stories that specifically fit a theme, and it’s not always easy to do that, even with notice. Most other SFF zines have a more broad “anything speculative” policy, which means people can write what they want and send it, instead of writing to the theme. So just naturally we don’t see as many subs, and that’s fine. What we do get is usually tailored to us, and tends to be of a quality which impresses us.

We’ve always been open to the mixing of more than just the one theme. If our theme is Action/Adventure, and someone sends us an SFF A/A story that also has aspects of horror and is in a Western setting, we’ll happily consider it. This is pretty much universally true: so long as a submission has some aspect of SF and/or F, and represents the theme, anything else that’s added in is a welcome bonus.

So why is it that we receive almost no submissions with Characters of Color, or LGBTQ characters, until we specifically ask for them?

When we put out our call for LGBTQ submissions in September 2009, we received what at the time was by far the most submissions we’d ever seen (we later topped it). Admittedly, extra attention was drawn by some controversy, but we didn’t care – we were happy to have a nice pool of stories to choose from.

But in the months that followed, submissions with LGBTQ main characters dwindled again, even as our total number of submissions remained relatively stable; and now we receive maybe one or two a month. Something similar happened with our Eastern issue, and I can’t help but feel that it’s likely with the CoC issue as well.

Obviously these stories exist. At the least, people are willing to write them when they’re called for. But why don’t they come otherwise?

I know that this is partly because such stories have more difficulty finding homes in speculative fiction markets. This is a changing trend, especially in smaller zines, but it’s still a real problem. So there’s this idea that, when you write your story, make the main characters straight and Caucasian, unless specifically asked not to, or your story won’t get published.

Because of our monthly themes, Crossed Genres probably sees a higher percentage of submissions that were written specifically for us than most other markets. And yet, despite our open and repeated statements that we welcome LGBTQ characters and CoC, we see very few of them. Which means that the majority of people who are writing stories specifically for us are choosing to write straight Caucasian MC anyway.

Of course, some people write stories meant to appeal to more markets than just CG, even if those stories ultimately end up getting subbed to us. And that means writing what is more broadly accepted, which as I said above, usually means white and straight.

But it’s frustrating. What ends up happening is that we see very few of subs with CoC or LGBTQ characters, and as a result we don’t (can’t) publish many. This leads to the appearance that we’re not generally open to that type of sub – despite the special issues and our repeated statements that we are – and that leads to the continuation of low submissions.

Part of this is our own fault. It’s our responsibility as publishers to recognize these trends in our market and actively seek to correct them. Clearly we haven’t been doing enough of that, and that’s going to change. We can’t single-handedly alter the trend across the entire speculative fiction world, but we can damn well start with ourselves.

So here’s a challenge for all writers: if there’s one of our upcoming genres you’re thinking of writing a story specifically for, write it with a CoC protagonist, or a queer one. Or a Muslim, Jew, Buddhist or atheist. Set the story outside of the US. Even if the genre doesn’t call for it. It will be given the same fair and equal consideration as any other submission. Be inclusive in your writing, and we pledge that we will do the same on our end.

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  1. I don’t know that it’s deliberate tailoring (at least on my part) as much as reluctance to include an element when you don’t necessarily want the story to be “about” that, but feel like including it without some backstory might leave the reader wanting. Case in point – I just subbed a story for an anthology about pain/pleasure, and because I based one of the characters on somebody I know IRL who happens to be transgendered, I started out writing the character that way too. But the call was for only 5K words, and I still had to address the theme I was there to address…so the transgendered stuff fell by the wayside (as did pretty much all physical description of the characters). Because I just didn’t have time, in such a short piece, to address it. Even to weave it into backstory and make it a non-issue. In my mind, that character is still trans (and, as it happens, Hispanic). But it’s on the cutting room floor because I thought it would distract from what the story was actually about.

  2. DelDryden has a point. Only, I have to think, when writers write white male MC, they don’t address the issue. There’s no backstory about the MC being white and straight and European, I mean, that needs to be worked into the text or take up some of the word count. Yeah?

    So how about treating CoC/ LGBT characters that way? Not like something that needs to be explained, I mean. Not like something that’s marked? (Not trying to be snarky here, honest. Just speculating.) Take their status as given and go on?

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