SF/F writer K. Tempest Bradford recently published an article challenging readers to go one year without reading straight white male authors. Here’s the article in question:


Everyone and their cousin seems to be talking about it this week. And since every noisy fray really needs yet one more voice, here’s my take on it. (Written mostly, I confess, because I’m stalling on attacking a mountain of 2014 bookkeeping and other unpleasant paperwork that currently covers my desk.)

I think a fair bit of this brouhaha is due to the nature of the sf/f genre and the social issues being debated (to put it mildly) in the sf/f community. After all, in the romance genre (which is where most of my writing friends work, and where I got my start as a novelist, lo, those many years ago), most of the writers and readers are women. So exhortations to read more women authors don’t arise in that community, since that’s what they’re already reading much/most of the time. (I’m not sure about other aspects of diversity in the romance genre, though.)

Anyhow, my reaction to being challenged to give up Straight White Male writers for a year goes like this.

I can’t think of any writers whose names indicate their sexual orientation. Can you? Is there any such thing as a gay/lesbian/transgender name? Or do authors routinely list their sexual orientation in their formal jacket bios? Such as:

“The author has published four previous novels, has won multiple awards, lives in a coastal village in Maine, and is gay.”

I can’t recall seeing that bio on a book jacket.

Nor does an author’s fiction give the reader a reliable indication of his or her sexual orientation. For example, the New York Times bestselling Lord John novels feature a gay protagonist; the author of his adventures is heterosexual (Diana Gabaldon). There are also gay authors who write straight protagonists. I can think of several current examples, but since I’m not sure how public they are about their sexual orientation, I’ll stick with naming the late E.M. Forster and the (very) late Oscar Wilde.

And even when an author’s photo clearly indicates their gender and racial/ethnic heritage, how often do photos reveal their sexual orientation? (Rarely, if ever, would be my guess.)

And what if there is no photo? (My last 8 books have all been published without an author photo.) Many (most?) writers also do not have names that reliably indicate their race or ethnicity. For example, among the names Sargeant, McLinn, Christopher, Delaney, Putney, Morrison, Day, Barnes, Gerristen, and Jenkins, which of those names “sound white” to you? Are some of those authors African-American? Or Asian or Hispanic, using married names, paternal-family names , or pseudonyms that don’t perfectly align with their ethnicity? (Hint: Most of those authors are not white.) Similarly, are you sure an author named Arroyo, Wu, or Offong is not white? Again, what if that’s a married name, paternal family name, adoptive family name, etc.?

And, again, a writer’s material doesn’t necessarily indicate their ethnicity, either. For example, the protagonist of the Kirinyaga stories is a Kikuyu mundumugu who holds fast to traditional tribal values and laws; the author of those award-winning stories is my dad, Mike Resnick, a white atheist from a Jewish background, who shares none of his African protagonist’s beliefs.

A percentage of writers also have names or pseudonyms that don’t reliably reveal their gender: N.K. Jemisin, Nevada Barr, J.K. Rowling, Paris Afton Bonds, C.L. Moore, P.D. James, Kim Stanley Robinson, Evelyn Waugh, E.M. Forster, Georges Sand, George Eliot, e.e. cummings, Kameron Hurley, J.D. Salinger, Harper Lee, and so on. Not to mention how many writers’ names originate in languages so unfamiliar to me (Thai, Turkish, Chinese, Arabic, Swahili, etc.) that I’ve no idea what gender the name signals, even if it’s self-evident to people who know that language or culture. And when she started writing as Robert Galbraith, J.K. Rowling took pains to conceal that the author was not male. Similarly, Jennifer Wilde was a popular romance writer in the 1970s whose true gender and sexual orientation were concealed for years (the late Tom Huff, a gay man).

So in order to ensure that I am not reading straight white male authors, I’d have to do far more googling and research on writers than I am willing to do, since my interest is in their fiction rather than in the authors or their personal details. And even if I wanted to go to such effort, some of that information isn’t available without a bizarre intrusion into their privacy, since some writers choose not to discuss various aspects of their lives in interviews and social media.

Additionally, apart from having no interest in trying to research writers’ personal information before deciding whether to read their fiction, my reaction to Bradford’s article is that I would have found her argument more effective if phrased in a positive and constructive way, rather than phrased in the negative, counter-productive way she chose—by advising on authors (straight white male) not to read. What if some of my favorite writers are straight white males, after all? I’m certainly not going to deprive myself of the pleasure of reading their fiction for a year—precisely because, first and foremost, reading fiction should be a pleasure, in my opinion; not a duty, a chore, a project, or a social obligation. (The latter is particular to me. I know so many authors personally, I had to make a conscious choice years ago that knowing someone—even being close to them—doesn’t oblige me to read their books. Otherwise, I’d spend so much time reading for social obligation, I wouldn’t have any time left to read what I really want to read.)

I agree completely that reading a wide variety of authors and themes is a wonderful idea, one to be embraced. This practice has always been encouraged in my family, and it’s practiced by many of my friends, too. I also agree that reading about women, other societies, and other sexual orientations from the perspective of authors who are women, or who are from other societies than our own, or who have other sexual orientations other than “straight” is a suggestion to be embraced. But I don’t agree that limiting my reading in any way is a good idea. Not even if it’s the group—straight white male writers—whose voices have been heard the longest, loudest, and most consistently in our society’s reading culture…. Though not in usually my own reading, as it happens.

Years ago, some stranger at a party asked me what I read, as people often do with writers. I named a bunch of books I’d read lately, and named a bunch of writers that were among my favorites, and when I was done… The person asked, “Don’t you ever read any male authors?” I had named only women, and I hadn’t even noticed! Not until this person remarked on it.

Although I still tend to read more women than men, ever since that conversation made me realize I’d been limiting my reading, I make more of an effort to read male novelists. Your mileage may vary, but eliminating straight white male authors from my reading would probably set me back, in terms of the variety I read, since male authors (of any ethnicity or sexual orientation) used to be noticeably absent from my fiction reading.



Hector in repose.



Not long after I adopted Hector last spring, he dismantled a screen on the second floor one night–and fell out, plummeting 20 feet.

I had been brushing my teeth in the bathroom, a few feet away from that window, and when I heard him climbing the screen, I thought, “That seems dangerous. I’ll go make him stop.” I went out into the hall to do so–and so I was within 2 feet of Hector when this happened and saw my new kitten clinging to the window screen as it buckled, peeled away from the window with a metallic moan, and fell. I live in a renovated old Victorian that dates back to (probably) the 1880s, and it’s a LONG way down to the ground from my second floor.

In my nightgown, my mouth foaming with toothpaste, I screamed, dropped my toothbrush on the carpet, and went flying down my steep, narrow steps to the first floor and out into the night, expecting to find feline pancake on the sidewalk outside the side door.

Instead, I found the wrecked screen (BIG, since my lovely windows are about 6 feet tall), but no Hector.

Had my eyes deceived me? Had he somehow saved himself from falling? Was he clinging to the window frame upstairs? Leaving the door wide open, I ran back upstairs and searched the area. No sign of Hector. I ran back downstairs and outside. Still no sign of Hector. I went inside and ran through the house, looking out the back and front door. In my panic, I left these open, too–so now all three doors to my house were standing wide open at 1:00 am. (I live on an urban street  with not-infrequent crime problems, and my house had been burgled only a few weeks earlier, so this wasn’t a harmless mistake.) I ran upstairs again, wondering again if I’d hallucinated seeing Hector fall to his death. I ran downstairs and outside again, still foaming toothpaste at the mouth, running around in my nighties. I finally heard him meow from the backyard, so I went back there to search for… a small black cat hiding in the dark. This took some time.

And this, it soon turned out, was to be typical of life with Hector, rather than a one-off incident. I swear that cat will give me a heart attack one of these days.

Hector 09-15-14

Hector plots his next cunningly evil plan.

(Oh, not to leave you in unkind suspense, I found him after a few minutes and brought him inside. Hector was scared by his fall but completely unharmed.  But now his brother, Achilles, was missing–and the house had been sitting with all three outside doors wide open while I ran around searching for Hector. So I had a few minutes of fearing that Achilles had run away. Fortunately, though, he was just unnerved by my suddenly running around screaming, so he was hiding under some furniture until things calmed down.)

In subsequent months, I would find Hector inside the washing machine–about 90 seconds after I started the wash cycle; sitting outside, waiting to come in (since I live in the city, my cats are not allowed out); in a tree (repeat: not allowed out); dangling by his head from a coat hanger in my closet; falling into a freshly-used toilet in the dark only a nanosecond after I had vacated the seat; tipping over large pieces of furniture on himself; attempting to escape via the duct system; stuck in an inaccessible crevice within the kitchen island; dismantling a screen on the ground floor and escaping outside yet again (not allowed out); and chewing through electrical wires while they were plugged in.

Needless to say, I now have the nearest 24-hour pet-ER clinic’s phone number, address, and driving directions pinned to my fridge; and Hector is required at all times to wear a collar with my phone number indelibly embroidered on it, since I can never be sure he hasn’t gotten out of the house yet again. (He’s microchipped, but I’d rather that someone can just easily phone me if they find him, since not many people will bother to take a stray cat for a scan.)


Hector 06-14-14

Evil can be exhausting.

Despite all that, I am very attached to Hector and will be grief-stricken if he drives himself into an early grave (as seems to be his intention). He’s extremely friendly, affectionate, social, bold, playful, and fun to have around (when not trying to give me a heart attack). His persistence can be annoying when he wants attention while I’m trying to work (or sleep, or eat, or take a bath), but he’s easy to care for on a day-to-day basis, since he has an excellent appetite, isn’t at all fussy, and can amuse himself for long stretches by playing with his toys.

He particularly likes toy mice stuffed with catnip, and he really likes to play fetch with them, like a dog. He and his brother, Achilles, survived for several months on their own before turning up at a rural kill shelter during the unusually harsh winter of 2013-2014, and it’s clear from the way he plays with his toys (and attacks insects that get into the house) that Hector was a good hunter–and could survive as a feral cat again, if he had to.

Hector 07-12-14 01

Hector is convinced that if he waits long enough, something interesting will happen in the 4-inch gap between the bookcase and the wall in my office.

I also think Hector probably fed Achilles (who isn’t as good a hunter) sometimes when they were living rough. Certainly the two of them are very attached to each other, and they share almost everything–though Hector is very bold and greedy about food and toys, and Achilles tends to let him have his way (as I do, too, when I’m tired enough–did I mention how persistent he can be?).

The upside of Hector’s too-rambunctious temperament is that almost nothing bothers him. He finds everything interesting, rather than scary or threatening. While this leads him into danger, it also means that he adjusts almost immediately when I bring home a foster puppy (as I did in August) or foster kittens (as I did in September) or another permanent cat to live with us (as I did also in August). Which means I know that any future animals I bring into the house will have at least one fast friend–the infamous Hector!

* * *

I adopted Hector, Achilles, and Poe from the Cat Adoption Team (C.A.T.), a local rescue group for which I have since started fostering and volunteering. They do great work, so if you live in the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana tristate area and are interested in adopting (or fostering or volunteering), please visit their website or Facebook page. If you live elsewhere, you can still help C.A.T. by donating or sponsoring; all gifts to them are tax deductible. See their website for details.

For the complete rundown of the animals who’ve lived here Nov 2013 through Feb 2015, see this post.

Snap at 6 months. Poe1-9-16-14 Riona 2 Photo Nov 04, 1 18 58 PM


Esther-DiamondThe next Esther Diamond novel–in which Esther, Max, & friends confront Evil in its natural habitat, Wall Street–finally has a title: Goldzilla.

Quick refresher, the previous series titles are, in order: Disappearing Nightly; Doppelgangster; Unsympathetic Magic; Vamparazzi; Polterheist; The Misfortune Cookie; and Abracadaver.

And frankly, coming up with a fantasy pun for every Esther Diamond title is a bitch. There are times I could hit myself with a brick for having started this pattern in the first place. But by the time I realized around book #4, Vamparazzi (and I am embarrassed to admit how long it took me to come up with that one), that this was going to be hard to sustain, it was too late. The pattern was already established, and my publisher-and-editor Elizabeth (Betsy) Wollheim of DAW Books was by then adamant and exacting about it.

I spent weeks (maybe months) flinging titles at Betsy for books #5 and #6, all of which she kept rejecting as not clever enough (and sometimes deplorably lacking in even the faintest glimmer of cleverness). At one point, frustrated by how long the work was getting stalled by this problem (because the ED plots arise from the premise implied in the titles), I blurted, “I can’t be clever all the time!” To which She Who Must Be Obeyed replied, “Yes, you can. We pay you to be clever all the time.”

(And, well, speaking from experience, that’s still easier than being paid to clean kennels, wait tables, clean houses, make cold calls, take orders from martinets, or deal with the public during the holidays.)

I finally thought up Polterheist and The Misfortune Cookie during the World Fantasy Convention one year, which Betsy and co-publisher Sheila Gilbert were also attending. So I hunted them down, said each of these titles, and got the right reaction–a quick laugh. (And, finally–thanks be to Fortune!–got title approval.)

That’s how I know an Esther title works, or at least has potential to pass muster with La Wollheim: When I say it to someone, they laugh. (The real challenge, then, is to make my editor laugh.) If I get a puzzled frown or a politely wan smile from my test case, then I know I have to keep searching for a title.

That’s also how I know if someone is a potential Esther Diamond reader: When they ask the title of something I’ve written recently and I tell them, they laugh. That’s someone who might go look for the books now.

In contrast, there are people–including a few dear friends of mine, so this doesn’t mean they’re “bad” people or dumb or anything like that–who look puzzled and say, “What?” And I say, “Doppelgangster” or “Vamparazzi,”  or whatever. And they again say, “It’s… what?” And I repeat the title, and they say, “It’s what?” And when I explain (ex. “it’s the word doppelgänger combined with ‘gangster,’ so the story is about mobsters who are dying mysteriously soon after seeing their own perfect doubles–which is what a doppelgänger is”)… they look at me with pity and doubt. Experience has taught me that that’s someone who’s not likely to become an Esther Diamond reader. (Humor is very individualistic, and the author’s own notion of what’s funny isn’t ever going to hit everyone’s sweet spot–not even the sweet spot of every person she counts as a true friend.)

Anyhow, Abracadaver proved to be an even steeper hill for me. I spent weeks sending titles to Betsy, who never cracked a smile (phosphorically speaking). And after a few weeks, I kept hearing this title in my head, but I didn’t know what it meant, and it had nothing at all to do with the plot I’d been working on, so I ignored it and ignored it and ignored it… Until eventually, in weary desperation, I sent it to her–and got a prompt response indicating, That’s it! That’s your title!!

Which was great, except that… I had no plot idea for the phrase “Abracadaver,” and I had a plot started that didn’t go with it. Arrrggghh!!

However… the exact same thing had happened with The Misfortune Cookie, and I actually wound up with a much better story, as well as a better title, by going along with Betsy’s exhausting standards. Which is why she’s the editor and I listen to her. Every time she has insisted a title wasn’t good enough, then after we finally settle on a title… I look back and see that, yep, she was right, my previous suggestions weren’t very good, and this is the right result. I also don’t even really remember the story ideas I was working on for Misfortune Cookie and Abracadaver before getting final titles, so probably those story ideas weren’t that good, either.

But when it came to Esther Diamond #8, I was really stuck. Even I hated all the titles I was coming up with, most of which I never even showed to Betsy. Finally, since I had to get a move on, I started sending her a few titles, none of which worked. Aware of my ill-concealed desperation, she asked me for details about the story, in which Esther and Max get involved in a Wall Street caper and encounter greed, riches beyond the dreams of avarice, greed, bankers and traders and brokers, greed, corruption, greed, gold and loot and money, greed…

And it was Betsy, praise be upon her name, who came up with Goldzilla, which perfectly fit the still-vague vision I had for this book which is pretty much about (in case you didn’t catch it) rapacious greed–and where it leads. So this, too, is an example of why it’s good to have an editor who really gets what you’re doing. (Compared to some publishing houses I’ve dealt with, where I worked with editors who didn’t even know who I was or why I was bothering them when I tried to discuss my contracted projects with them.)

So that’s where we are–we have a title! And I’m working on the book. I hope that the brilliant Dan Dos Santos will again do the cover (he’s done all but one of the previous Esther covers), but I don’t have information about that yet. I also don’t have a firm release date yet–will post it when I do.

Meanwhile, in related news, I’m very happy to say that Abracadaver made SciFiChick’s Best of 2014 list! Sci-Fi Chick is a reviewer who reads an extraordinary number of books each year, in addition to interviewing authors and maintaining a cool website.

The 7th book in the Esther Diamond series, Abracadaver was released in November. I’m grateful to DAW Books for acquiring the series from me after it was dumped by its previous publisher after one badly-published book (DAW subsequently reissued Disappearing Nightly, the first Esther novel), believing in this series, and doing such a great job with it. And I’m so happy that readers enjoy the books–which I love writing!

So, my thanks to everyone who has been enthusiastic about Esther Diamond!

My newest short story, “Dave the Mighty Steel-Thewed Avenger,” is currently available online for free, for a limited time, at Urban Fantasy Magazine!

Check out this month’s mag cover (based on the story).

UFMv1i4-smIn this story, a disenchanted law student leaves a bar late one night and realizes he may have had one too many drinks when he meets a talking opossum, a Valkslayer, and the Dread Grzilbeast!

You can also order this edition (epub or Mobi) for $2.99 or subscribe to the mag for a year.

I’ve got a short story in the February edition of Urban Fantasy Magazine. I love the mag cover, which is based on my story.



In “Dave the Mighty Steel-Thewed Avenger,” a disenchanted law student leaves a bar late one night and realizes he may have had one too many drinks when he meets a talking opossum, a Valkslayer, and the Dread Grzilbeast!

You can order this edition (epub or Mobi) for $2.99 to read the story now (or subscribe to the mag, if you like), or/and you can wait for them to post it in the online edition.