For A Good Time On The Intertubes — Soon!

Hey all,

Just so you know:  I’ll be talking with some very interesting folks at 1 p.m. today on a Facebook Live panel as part of PBS’s Great Read series.

On the panel with me is the Boston Globe‘s Love Letters columnist Meredith Goldstein, novelist and essayist Kaitlyn Greenidge, and essayist and blogger on science and fiction Joelle Renstrom (who also teaches across the river from me at BU).  We’ll be talking about how science fiction, and more broadly, how the representation of science and scientists in fiction across genres affects (or doesn’t) how we grasp and value science in daily life.

I’m very much looking forward to the chance to talk such fun stuff with such fascinating conversants.

In the meantime, my prep for the discussion led me to this 2016 essay by Greenidge, “Who Gets To Write What.”  It bears on what we talk about I think, but even more it offers a rich inquiry into the duty of imagination — of doing the work of empathy and inquiry that goes into creating a fiction that cuts to the bone.  Which is to say, that says something about the world from which fictions derive, and to which their readers return.  Highly recommended.

Anyway, check it out the gabfest if you have a chance.

Image: Vincent van Gogh, The Novel Reader1988

43 replies
  1. 1
    kingweasil says:

    Frist on the intertubes!

  2. 2

    Speaking of shameless self-promotion,

  3. 3
    Mnemosyne says:

    I’ve been saying for a while that the final frontier in film, TV, and fiction is having marginalized people be creators of stories, not just actors in other people’s stories. It’s still a huge deal to have a screenwriter or movie director who’s not a white guy, and there are still very few TV show creators who are POC, Shonda Rimes notwithstanding.

    But, in the meantime, white people like me need to figure out how to write characters who are NOT like us in an effective and sympathetic way without expecting a cookie just for trying it. It’s a conundrum. 🤔

  4. 4
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @Major Major Major Major: Look at you, you get the keys and now you can actually embed Tweets, not like us proles.

  5. 5
    lollipopguild says:

    @Mnemosyne: If you can write effective characters who are not like you then you will get more than a cookie. You will get fame and fortune and all the cookies you want. Any writer no matter what their sex/color is usually going to struggle to write well, the best ones make it look easy.

  6. 6
    Mnemosyne says:

    Also, too, Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward’s Writing the Other is generally considered the classic craft book about how to write characters who are not like oneself, but it would be interesting to hear if there are others as well:

  7. 7
    Elizabelle says:

    @Major Major Major Major: Speculative fiction. Hmmmm.

    Congrats. Well done.

    @ Tom: good to hear re your writing and science panel. Will tune in. And I love today’s artwork.

  8. 8
    Mnemosyne says:


    I’m talking more about the people who don’t do it well but think they should get extra credit for making the attempt, and get pissy if you point out their shortcomings.

    This isn’t fifth grade, people. You don’t get extra credit for trying to do something and doing it badly.

  9. 9
    Mike J says:

    @Elizabelle: Isn’t all fiction speculative?

  10. 10
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Mike J:

    “Speculative fiction” is science fiction that the New York Times Review of Books is willing to cover. 😣

  11. 11

    @Mnemosyne: It’s meant to be a catch-all term for science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, weird, new weird, often gothic, etc. These days it means “everything other than romance or realism.”

    Edited because I got confused and started defining “literary fiction” at the end.

  12. 12
    Yarrow says:

    @Major Major Major Major: Congratulations! How exciting to see it for real.

  13. 13
    trollhattan says:

    Van Gogh seems to have lived rather longer than I recalled. ;-)

    –That guy

  14. 14
    catclub says:

    I am reading Metamagical Themas, which is Douglas Hofstadter’s articles in SciAm with expansion. It stands up VERY well for being 35 years old.
    Lots of things that are relevant today – like aspects of aritificial intelligence.

  15. 15
    Elizabelle says:

    @trollhattan: LOL. You have a proofreader’s eye.

  16. 16
    catclub says:

    @Mnemosyne: Now I want to write a book that is categorized as NON-speculative fiction.

  17. 17

    Speculative fiction is an umbrella genre encompassing narrative fiction with supernatural or futuristic elements.[1] This includes, but is not limited to, science fiction, fantasy, superhero fiction, science fantasy, horror, utopian and dystopian fiction, supernatural fiction as well as combinations thereof.[2]

  18. 18
    trollhattan says:

    Proudly pestering engineers for twenty years. The habit is surprisingly sticky.

  19. 19
    Yutsano says:

    @Mnemosyne: This makes me wish Dwayne Mcduffie was still alive. He was one of the main writers on Justice League and Justice League Unlimited for both show runs. And he was a MASTER at it. He was also doing this as an African American in the early 2000s. Fuck heart disease.

  20. 20
    Elizabelle says:

    Tom’s got a bit of Richard Gere mannerisms going on. Quite the appealing speaker.

  21. 21
    SiubhanDuinne says:


    Love his shirt!

  22. 22
    Tarragon says:

    @Mike J:
    Real Answer: I think of it like this:
    Sci-fi is the pulp version of science fiction and generally stereotyped as spectacle and techno-babble over story. Often focuses on technology to detriment of Character. A lot of professional writes try to make a point that they don’t write sci-fi. The Blob, David Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers.

    Science fiction is generally used to avoid negative stereo types associated with sci-fi. The best of it will discuss the technology but is more about what it enables and how it effects individuals or society. This can be real literature but gets ignored as real literature the same way that fantasy does. Verner Vinge’s Rainbow’s End

    Speculative fiction is larger than science fiction and can cover fantastic or horrific elements but generally isn’t used for soemthing that is pure fantasy or pure horror. This is more likely to be thought of as real literature by the New York Times Review of Books (great example @Mnemosyne). Harlan Ellison’s I Have No Mouth But I Must Scream

    The categories are fuzzy and in many cases can be used interchangeably.

    Alternative Answer: Speculative fiction is what Harlan Ellison writes[1] unless you want him to beat you up. Be careful where you use these interchangeably.

    [1] Wrote *sniff*

  23. 23
    opiejeanne says:

    Tom, thank you so much for that essay by Kaitlyn Greenidge. I like what she said she had to do in order to make the white racist northern woman believable: she had to love this hateful creature into existence.

    I worry about this issue quite a bit, whether I have the right to write a character who is a young slave girl. She’s not the main character, but very important to the story, almost a co-main character; she was a real person who did most of the things I’m ascribing to her but doing her viewpoint justice is terrifically hard, and I’m not sure I’ve done it evenly throughout her part of the story. Not yet, anyway.

    I don’t want Martha to just be a novelty, an attraction, I want her to live and breathe. I’ll be doing a rewrite in a couple of months (after I’ve finished), and I’ll see if I’ve done that with her and every other character.

  24. 24
    opiejeanne says:

    @Major Major Major Major: I’ve purchased it on Barnes and Noble as a Nook book, but it’s not downloading. Is it actually released yet? I may have to duke it out with them if it doesn’t show up pretty soon.

  25. 25
    opiejeanne says:

    @Mnemosyne: I imagine you’re like me, not wanting the damned cookie for trying but wanting to get it right, make a character who is real, whose motivation is in character, and who has a character. In other words, creating a living, breathing character.

  26. 26
    🌎 🇺🇸 Goku (aka Amerikan Baka) 🗳 🌷 says:

    I loved those shows when they were on. I liked the entire DCAU when it was thing.

  27. 27
    Yutsano says:

    @ Goku (aka Amerikan Baka) : Also: I forgot what role he played on JLU, but Joaquin Dos Santos has been around animation for years as well. He’s a director on Voltron currently.

  28. 28
    Elizabelle says:

    I am going to be making a reading list off of Tom’s podcast. I hope it’s available later (think it will be).

    Neuromancer, etc. Octavia Butler. Have heard of so many of these for years, but never settled in to read.

    I might have to start with YA sci fi stuff ….

  29. 29
    J R in WV says:


    My first job was summer replacement for the proofreaders at the family newspaper, evenings, two weeks for each proofreader. I was a terrible English student, nearly flunked reading class in jr hi because she used anagram mix ups for the spelling tests, and I can’t do that, Can’t do crosswords either.

    But I can tell when something looks wrong, because I read a whole lot, and remember how it’s supposed to look, words and grammar. And on big legal ads, we would read the copy to one another to make sure it was identical because legal ads. Even it it was wrong on the copy, the ad had to be the same exactly. I made $0.80 an hour, less taxes and Social deductions. The next year I got $0.90/hour.

    Still pretty good at it on other people’s copy. No one can proof their own copy, no one.

  30. 30
    Ben Cisco says:

    Missing it because work but congratulations!

  31. 31
    Mike J says:

    @Elizabelle: Neuromancer was great, but every series he writes is better than the one before it. If you’ve never read any of his, maybe start with the blue ant books.

  32. 32

    @opiejeanne: unfortunately I don’t know anything about the B&N process with them. The kindle edition preview works fine though.

  33. 33
    Mnemosyne says:


    Yep. 👍 And the cookie-wanters are annoying, because they muddy up future requests for actual help from beta and sensitivity readers by getting all huffy at criticism and making other writers gunshy about helping yet another well-meaning Nice White Lady Writer.

    There was a whole list of available sensitivity readers/editors, but it got taken down because so many NWLRs went ballistic at any criticism or pushback and started outing people.

  34. 34
  35. 35
    WereBear says:

    @Mnemosyne: Nice tip, thanks. Why I like science fiction :)

  36. 36
    Death Panel Truck says:


    You have a proofreader’s eye.

    Don’t need one if you’re an attentive reader. I spotted it immediately.

  37. 37
    Brachiator says:


    But, in the meantime, white people like me need to figure out how to write characters who are NOT like us in an effective and sympathetic way…

    Isn’t this what writers are supposed to do? Otherwise, fiction is little more than a diary, or disguised autobiography.

  38. 38
    Elizabelle says:

    @J R in WV: You’ve mentioned the family newspaper background before. So cool.

  39. 39
    Brachiator says:

    I’m very much looking forward to the chance to talk such fun stuff with such fascinating conversants.

    Sounds like fun! I don’t do Facebook. Will this be available elsewhere or in another format?

  40. 40
    karen marie says:

    I’d love to listen to this conversation, Major Major etc, but I’m not doing anything on Facebook anymore. It’s a garbage fire that should be avoided, in my opinion.

  41. 41
    Mnemosyne says:


    Sure, it’s what writers are supposed to do, but it ain’t as easy as people think, and it gets complicated by the fact that we’re all swimming in the swamp of a deeply racist society that encourages us to only take the most shallow look at people who aren’t like us.

    Add in the fact that a whole lot of fiction is wish-fulfillment or “what if” for someone very culturally similar to the author and you have a problem that needs to be examined very consciously, because a writer’s subconscious will let them down with an embarrassing thud.

  42. 42
    laura says:

    @Major Major Major Major: Congratulations! How satisfying to see your efforts aborn and out in the world. What haven’t you done or gone to visit this year? You’ve added consistent net positive to the discourse, pied those needing pieing or close to it and your cats damn handsome.

  43. 43
    No One You Know says:

    @Mnemosyne: I had an interesting experience as a critic in a reading group, explaining to a guy why his fantasy rape scene didn’t work. I was shocked to hear that he was a retired policeman who been trained that women can’t help but climax during sex. I ended the discussion the only way possible: “I didn’t climax. I nearly died of shock.”

    He told me at break that sexual crimes training taught that climax was not an indicator of consensual sex. For the 1970s, that was actually fairly advanced.

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