Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The beginning of a #Diversityinsff Empire-A sit down with Inscription Magazine Founder, Rachel Halpern

We discovered this Fantasy/Science Fiction lover/entrepreneur while scrolling through our facebook updates. An author we're fans posted details about an Indiegogo campaign she had started. Her mission? To allow free access to stories that featured diverse characters in her upcoming online site, Inscription Magazine. When we heard her pitch, we were floored! She seemed to care a great deal fro representation in books, particularly our favorite genres, Science Fiction and Fantasy. Let's spend the next few moments getting to know this amazing individual, Rachel Halpern.

1. Glad to have found out about your amazing project, Inscription Magazine! Why don't you spend some time telling us a little about yourself, your project and what inspired you to bring forth this fantastic idea?

Thanks! Starting Inscription Magazine has been a dream of mine for a while, and I’m so excited that now that I’m raising money to make it a reality. 

On the road to starting my own magazine, I’d helped run my college’s book publishing group, and I’d interned at various publishers, as well as having a couple of stories of my own published. I really wanted to do my own magazine, though, one that would give teen sci-fi and fantasy readers the kind of diverse, free short stories I thought they could most use.

Right now I’m doing an MFA in creative writing, and so with the encouragement of my mentors there, I’m finally making Inscription Magazine a reality, providing free diverse sci-fi and fantasy stories for young adults online.

2.What are you trying to accomplish with your online work in progress, Inscription Magazine?

The goal of Inscription Magazine is to put diverse sci-fi and fantasy on the internet, for free, to make it really accessible to young adult readers everywhere. 
I also want Inscription to end up being a community for young readers. We’re going to have forums where teens can discuss the stories, but those will also be places for young adults to meet other readers like them, to talk about the other books they’re reading and the other issues they’re having.
Ultimately, I want Inscription to be a safe haven for people who might not have the support they need in other places and other media. I want it to be a place where teens can come and see people like themselves as the heroes of the story, and learn more about people they’ve never met. 

3. Is there a story behind the name?

Really Inscription just resonated with me as a writer and a reader. Since it’s an online magazine, it can seem ephemeral, only published digitally, and I liked the solid contrast of a title that meant words carved into stone. Inscription Magazine carries some sense of the magical permanence of stories, even when the stories themselves are just words on a screen.

4. Give us a glimpse of your favorite authors and books growing up that featured diverse characters or were from diverse authors?

Probably my favorite childhood author with diverse characters was Tamora Pierce, who wrote fantasy novels, and who was one of my heroes when I was young. Her fantasy novels consistently featured strong female characters, and she includes characters from a variety of races and ethnicities, as well as an increasing number of lgbt characters. Her books are funny and smart and full of magical adventures, and I learned a lot from them.

In sci-fi, probably the Animorphs books were my favorite science fiction series. They were a bunch of fast-paced novels about a diverse group of teenagers fighting parasitic alien slugs. They were fun, smart, brutally intense books with themes of acceptance, defiance, morality, and the horrors of war, and they were a really powerful staple of my childhood.

I still read young adult novels, also, and some of my recent young adult favorites include Alaya Dawn Johnson’s The Summer Prince, which is a terrific and thought-provoking sci-fi novel set in a dystopian future Brazil; Guardian of the Dead, by Karen Healey, which was the first book with an asexual character I’d ever read, as well as being a diverse and exciting story of magic and mythology; and Nnedi Okorafor’s The Shadow Speaker, which is a semi-dystopian sci-fi novel with a terrific protagonist whose approach is bold but non-violent.

5.Were there any characters that really spoke to you, looking back to your favorite books that made you want to jumpstart this project?

Oh, wow, all of them. Especially the characters who were desperately honorable and committed to change. I like rogues and rebels as much as anyone, but it was the characters who fought to make the world a better place who really inspired me. One of my early inspirations that way was Keladry of Mindelan, from Tamora Pierce’s books, who is in many ways a normal, stubborn girl who happens to be intensely determined and honorable.

[Note: feel free to cut the  following section, as it’s long and about TV characters rather than book characters, but I thought I’d include it in case there’s space.]
It’s possible, though, that the characters who most made me want to jumpstart this project were the ones who epitomized all the thoughtless privilege I was hoping to fight. These are TV characters, not book characters, but the contrast between the shows Sherlock and Elementary on television was a big factor. Both shows are about Sherlock Holmes, both smart and funny shows with strong core friendships, but Sherlock’s characters are so fiercely unaware of their privilege as straight white men with money, and the show so often slides into racist stereotypes or fails to include female characters. 

By contrast, Elementary has a woman of color as one of the two main characters, and the show consistently shows the real diversity of the world we live in, and forces its white male lead to improve himself and do right by the people around him. Lucy Liu, who plays Joan Watson in Elementary, and who has spoken out about the lack of Asian American representation in the media, is a real person, but she’s definitely one of the inspirations for this magazine.

6.Why is diversity in Science Fiction and Fantasy so Important to you?

Oh, wow, so many reasons – I’m actually writing a whole paper on this for my MFA program and barely scraping the surface. The easy, simplistic answer is just reality. The world is populated by an incredibly diverse array of people, people of all races, genders, ethnicities, sizes, abilities, and orientations. Any story from any genre that fails to take that into account is fundamentally misrepresenting the world. 

The hard, complicated answer is that we live in a world, and I at least live in a country, where centuries of historical oppression, silencing, and erasure mean that our books are consistently, disproportionately, populated with straight white (cisgendered, able-bodied) men. And everyone who doesn’t fit this imaginary, privileged default is told that they’re not good enough, is left out of the stories, looks in vain for heroes who remind them of themselves. And that takes its toll.

I wanted teens of color to find heroes who looked like them, and LGBTQ teens to find heroes who weren’t straight and cis, and teens with disabilities to see heroes who accomplish great things along with (not in spite of) being disabled, and girls to realize they could be strong heroes too no matter what they looked like. And for every intersection of those identities to find a place as well.
And in the process, like I said, I think we’ll be creating better and truer stories.

7.But why Science Fiction and Fantasy?

There are a lot of reasons why I wanted to do science fiction and fantasy, starting with the fact that they’re my favorite genres and there’s been a long and embarrassing history of erasure – just look at Malinda Lo’s numbers on lgbt representation in YA. And then there’s the whole point of sci-fi fantasy.

Science fiction and fantasy are about imagining worlds more glorious and exciting than ours, idealistic futures and dystopian futures and alternate versions of the past. If anywhere should be teeming with diverse teenagers getting to be heroes, this should be it! But these stories are still heavily white, still heavily straight, and that tells young readers that they can get erased from even the most ideal worlds. 
I want teens to know that they have an important role to play in amazing technological futures; that they are capable of saving the day; that they really are that special; and that there really is a magical world hiding in their wardrobe, waiting for them to find it.

8.Examining the issue as a whole, what do you believe needs to happen for diversity in Science Fiction and Fantasy to become a regular thing instead of some minority driven agenda?

Oh, gosh, this is a complicated question, and one I think we’re all still struggling with. 
I think there needs to be effort from all sides – authors, publishers, reviewers, and readers. Readers need to make a push to read diverse content, and authors need to keep writing it, and publishers need to take a chance on diverse books and market them to everyone, and reviewers need to start doing a more balanced job of reviewing and publicizing the books they read. That’s why I wanted to work on the problem from the publishing side as well as the writing side – there are so many powerful voices out there, and I wanted to give them a space to be heard.

And I do think blogs like the one you’re running are a big part of it as well! I know that in my young and appallingly-unaware-of-my-white-privilege days it was Tumblr, along with my liberal arts college, that straightened me out and taught me to be a better ally. I know the same thing is true for some of my male friends, and some of my straight friends. Online activism really is making a difference.

9.What can we look forward from you in the future and how can we keep updated with you?

Inscription Magazine is my big thing right now, but I also write fiction – I’m in an MFA program now called Stonecoast, and I’ve published some stories you can read at Daily Science Fiction. So you can keep an eye out for that! I also help out with a teen writer’s workshop called Alpha, for young adults who write sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, so if that sounds like something you’d be interested in, you should definitely check them out.
And if you want to keep track of me and what I’m up to, I’m @rachelbhalpern on Twitter and rachelbhalpern on Tumblr, so feel free to look me up! 

10. Lastly, what can we do to help and where can we find out more information about Inscription Magazine?

Inscription Magazine is currently centered at the Indiegogo campaign page where we’re raising money to get the magazine started. That’s here!

We’ve gotten to our base goal, so it will definitely happen, but more money means more stories, and more diverse content. We’ve also got other stretch goals, like an actual print anthology, more illustrations, more stability for the magazine, and so on.

You can check us out at the campaign page to learn more, donate, or spread the word!
We’re also on some social media sites – check out @InscriptionMag on Twitter and inscriptionmagazine on Tumblr to keep up with developments with the magazine. You can also like us on Facebook at Inscription Magazine!

Please consider checking out her campaign!Even if you only have 5 dollars to give, your donation means that the first launch of her campaign can run a lot longer!!! We both think it's an excellent idea and even though she's already reached her first goal, with more money she, along with her staff can make a lot more happen with a bigger budget! We for one can't wait for Inscription Magazine!


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