The Filipino writer shares her view on diversity and inclusivity in the fantasy and sci-fi literature industry
Sci-fi and fantasy reads are all about the “what if’s.” That’s where the magic begins, when people get curious about new worlds, strange characters, and plots that boggle the mind to doubt if the story is indeed fiction or some snippet of reality. But one of the best parts about this kind of literature are its underlying themes that are often veiled under spectacular concepts, whether set in a mythical land, some post-apocalyptic era, or somewhere far away in the galaxy. Messages and lessons are artfully depicted chapter by chapter, ultimately bringing to the table a different kind of reading experience.
Taking the sense of mission beyond the pages is important for Filipino writer Vida Cruz. She envisions a literary industry that is inclusive not just to a type of fiction stories but also the people that pen the tale. With the help of her teammates—L.D. Lewis, Brent Lambert, and Iori Kusano—Vida was able to establish FiyahCon, an event hosted by Fiyah Literary Magazine that honors Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) writers in the said genre. Now, the convention is nominated for Best Related Work category in this year’s Hugo Awards, an annual ceremony honoring sci-fi and fantasy best works and achievement happening on Aug. 28, 2021.
“It’s important to me because I’ve been kind of working in obscurity for the last seven years,” Vida says about the nomination. “It’s been hard for me as a writer to break in and to have my name on the ballots is like a validation. It opens a lot of career opportunities for me.”
Inaugurated virtually in October 2020, FiyahCon doesn’t just recognize BIPOC writers, it also helps these authors broaden their knowledge and skills through a series of panel discussions, workshops, games, and more. Happening from Sept. 16 to 19, 2021, this year’s digital conference will also give an avenue for racially and ethnically marginalized writers to share their works.
“We’ll also have some panel on career questions like ‘10 things I wish someone told me before submitting my work,’ sensitivity reading, and more,” she says. “We plan on inviting Palestinian writers… we’d like to give them the option to read their works.”
Throughout her writing career, Vida has written short stories published on “Strange Horizons,” “PodCastle,” and “Expanded Horizons.” In 2019, she published her first fantasy short story collection titled “Beyond the Line of Trees.” She also got recognition for her work, which led her to be recommended not only for the Hugo Awards, but also for the British Science Fiction Award and the James Tiptree Jr. Award. But with those in her bag, Vida admits that penetrating the industry comes with more sets of challenges especially for a woman of color.
“For the US publishing industry, the bigger issue is race. Right now, it is a very white-dominated industry,” she tells Manila Bulletin Lifestyle. “People who are not American or not white write in a different way compared to white Americans. It is harder for us to break into the industry because we don’t necessarily follow what is considered marketable by publishers.”
“White Americans follow the ‘hero’s journey’—the concept that a protagonist must affect their plot, the protagonist must do something,” she continues. “But what I’m beginning to see is a mentality that it’s afforded to people who have more mobility socially, financially, economically. That’s where this mindset comes from. It’s rooted in American values of rugged individualism and manifest destiny, and like pulling yourself up by the bootstraps… The difference is in how we writers view the world and how we react to influence the world around us. It shows in the way we write our characters. That is what editors and agents who are white and American tell you to change if you end up trying to submit to the US market. They need your protagonists to do something. They need your protagonists to be the chosen ones. They need to affect the world around them in a great way. But I don’t think that’s how we live. It is not necessary for us as writers to follow that kind of template.”
Vida is the fifth Filipino to be nominated for the prestigious award. But what makes her nomination special is that, unlike the past Filipino nominees, she is the first to be based in the Philippines. According to her, this proves that even Filipinos working in the local scene can still make it internationally.
“Representation matters because it would boost morale locally,” Vida says. “Whenever we see one of us in the international media—whether in pageants, sports, and others—it makes us feel super proud because we feel invisible on the world stage. Another reason why it matters is because of negative stereotypes. I think if there were more of us portrayed in a way that we prefer on our own terms, that would do a lot to completely eliminate those stereotypes.”
Get to know more about FiyahCon here.