Science fiction author Charlie Jane Anders (Victories greater than death) brought abundant charisma to the stage for his Ci10 keynote. Her hot pink bucket hat, matching Doc Martens, and black neon polka dot dress boosted her energy. She delivered her speech, “Magic portals are real, and I can prove it!”, in a conversational and confident tone, to booksellers who know and recommend her LGBTQ+ fiction.
Alluding to Frank Herbert Dunes saying that “the universe is full of doors”, Anders said that we encounter portals in our lives. “I skipped universes three or four times,” she said, acknowledging how she came to recognize her author personality and trans identity. “It’s definitely not the universe I was born into.”
“Most of us did,” she added. “A hole opens in the fabric of reality and you just walk through it.” Metaphorically speaking, bookstores are “collections of portals to other realms,” and Anders provides those entries, with a focus on nurturing queer readers and content.
Recipient of a Lambda Literary Award (choir boys), a Hugo (Six months, three days), and a nebula (All the birds in the sky), Anders is also known for her viral TED Talk from March 2020, “Go ahead, dream of the future.” She came to Ci10 touting her upcoming YA novel Dreams bigger than sorrow (Tor Teen), volume 2 of the Unstoppable trilogy. During the keynote, she made another announcement: The 2022 edition of Marvel’s Pride, out June 22, debuts its trans superhero, a trickster named Escapade who can inhabit other people’s identities. She created Escapade because “marginalized people need our own heroes right now, we need to be able to see ourselves overcome obstacles.” (A bookseller attending the keynote contacted his store and learned that the comic had already sold out.)
Anders opened up about her childhood and early days as an author, recalling, “I was a visibly queer kid with a learning disability, … and the happiest thing that happened to me was is that I have been identified as a student with special needs.” Lynn Pennington, an elementary school teacher, with whom she remains in contact, “saw that I was a dreamer and decided to use it to help me learn. She met me where I was and made me a writer for life. Young Anders was also comforted by something she heard from her father, which was that “people don’t really grow up, they just get better at pretending. It was super freeing and positive when I heard it as a kid. So: magic portals exist, and adults are not real.
Anders grew up to join San Francisco’s queer performance scene, writing scenes and improvising at events like the hugely messy and unique “Ballerina Pie Fight”: “Having a weird party can be another way to open a door,” she said. . Through it all, she’s remained a dreamer and still abhors the daily word count, even though other writers swear by numbers for productivity. “Everything good in my life came from daydreaming,” she said. “When I escape, I can start to make connections, because my best scriptures come out of my subconscious as well as my conscious mind.” For her, “daydreaming is the opposite of doom-scrolling. I think fear drives us to close off possibilities.
That’s not to say Anders is whimsical. “I went from writing random wacky stories to creating characters that change and go on an emotional journey,” she said. “And I discovered that I could use playfulness and a sense of absurdity to deal with heartbreaking and upsetting things.” His collection of stories, Even more mistakes, includes a “straightforward horror story” confronting her fears for the safety of trans people in the United States. She showed the story ‘Don’t Press Charges and I Won’t Sue’ to trans friends before sending it to her editor, Junot Díaz: “My friends said, ‘I had to lie down after having read it.’ But it’s still one of the funniest stories I’ve ever written, and with wit and imagination it grapples with palpable and serious threats.
Anders touched on this topic in the Q&A, answering how a writer can put up with having terrible things happen to the characters they love. “If nothing happens, it’s not really a story,” she mused. She allows herself, in the first drafts, to “go very far in one direction or another: either nothing bad happens, or at the other extreme, everyone gets their heads cut off, and they there’s a chainsaw elf, and everyone is absurdly mean. In revisions, I calculate the balance. While she believes fiction should show “people going through terrible things and surviving,” she also thinks strategically of horrors: “We have a responsibility when we inflict trauma in a story.”
Along with sharing anecdotes and writing tips, Anders has boosted other SFF writers. She directed attendees to her Goodreads site and recommended Maggie Tokuda-Hall (The mermaid, the witch and the sea), Naseem Jamnia (The bruises of Qilwa), Neil Cochrane (The story of the hundred promises), and Megan Giddings (women could fly). His sincere and generous speech received a standing ovation from the audience.