TL;DR: Steampunk Universe, as it exists, has a few potential issues. I want to hear your thoughts about these issues along with possible solutions – or if we’re just imagining it. Enter your comments into the Google form (requires sign in) at https://goo.gl/forms/tS0MHsJXCPhRi87F2 or send an e-mail to email@example.com . We are on a bit of a time-schedule here; while I’m accepting comments through Friday, the earlier the better.
There’s been two big times I’ve talked about issues around Steampunk Universe already – first in February about the way we handled criticism of our second call for submissions, and then in May, when I talked about when a criticism was a bit less about validity than finding something to complain about. As Ze Frank says:
Let me remember that the impact of criticism is often not the intent of the critic,
but when the intent is evil, that’s what the block button’s for.
And when I eat my critique, let me be able to separate out the good advice from the bitter herbs.
And that advice is what brings me to you today.
Steampunk World addressed a very specific problem in a very specific subgenre that was still gaining in popularity. Likewise, there was a growing popular demand for representation of people of color in all types of fiction – and steampunk was as near-perfect an example as you could find where that needed to happen, and loudly.
Though Sarah and I recognized the need for Steampunk World, we were nervous. We’re both white, so we were concerned that others would misinterpret our efforts as exploitative. But we did not see anyone else doing a collection like we were doing, and saw how excited others were about the idea. So we did it, despite our fears.
And its success – not just for itself, but in the success of other anthologies, films, and more both featuring and edited and written by people of color – is exactly what we hoped for. Our goal was to kick down the door and change what steampunk meant for others.
So when we approached Steampunk Universe, we explicitly did not want to do the same thing. And that led us to focusing on disabled and aneurotypical people – another category of people who are rarely featured in fiction outside of the occasional use of stereotype, as Abed points out here:
Unlike Steampunk World, both Sarah and I have personal ties to either the disabled or aneurotypical community. And despite the terminology mistake we made with the second call for submissions, we really want to see full-fledged disabled characters represented in all kinds of fiction – and especially in the kinds of fiction we love and read ourselves. We don’t want to see “token” characters, and we definitely don’t want to see tropes and cliches; these are people like ourselves and our loved ones we’re talking about here. (For reference, TvTropes has collected a handy list at https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DisabilityTropes). We agree with Kayla Whaley’s essay ( https://www.cbcdiversity.com/post/68062820761/diversity-101-the-disabled-saint ), particularly her closing paragraph:
I’m honestly not sure where I stand on the “no representation is better than bad representation” debate. But I do know I want to see a) more representation of disabled characters, and b) better representations, including fewer “disabled saints” (read: no more ever). I encourage you to add disabled characters to your stories, but I also encourage you to question your preconceptions, to research, to talk with disabled people. Ultimately, it all comes down to being intentional and respectful.
And that’s where the problem arises.
After determining which stories were of high enough quality, we discovered that there we had several problems.
The tentative table of contents is considerably less diverse than what I normally publish. I’m committed to working hard to ensure that there’s diversity throughout the process while maintaining quality in the books I publish.
One author withdrew their story – and perhaps others didn’t submit – because they worried that since they were themselves not disabled, that writing a disabled character was ableist itself.
This also led to us being concerned, because while there are a number of disabled authors in the tentative table of contents, it is less than 50%
The tentative table of contents as it stands will be somewhere in the 60,000 word range. By comparison, Steampunk World was approximately 90,000 words.
Most importantly: unlike Steampunk World, at this point, we’re actually concerned that we won’t be advancing the dialogue in the way we intend. Perhaps it’s just because of the earlier mis-step, but since this is something we care deeply about, we don’t want to make things worse.
We’ve brainstormed a few possible things to add on to help further our goal of greater representation – including things like ensuring there’s visual representations of both disabled and PoC in both the book and as part of the publicity process and making a portion of the proceeds go to programs that work to develop and encourage writers from marginalized groups – but we again worry that these aren’t enough.
So I want your comments. This isn’t a simple popularity poll (not least because online polls are easily swayed). Enter your comments into the Google form (requires sign in) at https://goo.gl/forms/tS0MHsJXCPhRi87F2 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org . We are on a bit of a time-schedule here; while I’m accepting comments through Friday, the earlier the better.