Revisiting RESIST FASCISM (2018)

Crossed Genres has just announced that they will shutter their doors this year. This unfortunately includes the cancellation of RECOGNIZE FASCISM, the anthology we’ve been working hard on for months.Words can’t express how sad and disappointed I am over this news, as a co-editor of the anthology. I put … a lot of my time and my heart into this anthology.

While gearing up for RECOGNIZE FASCISM this year, I revisited my work on last year’s RESIST FASCISM, and I thought it might still be useful to look at my efforts toward that book. I’m proud of my work as an editor on RESIST FASCISM, and the work I did toward RECOGNIZE FASCISM. I’m fairly new to editing SFF (Science Fiction and Fantasy) as a professional, having only started in 2016. Most of my editing work before last year was on SFF in translation, at that. Editing translation of a published work, it turns out, is very different from editing a first-time publication. So, in the hopes that I find a new editorial home in the future, I think it’s worth blogging a bit about what working with me is like.

Toward those goals, I did a text-based interview with Izzy Wasserstein, author of “Pelecanimimus and the Battle of Mosquito Ridge,” whose story I edited for RESIST. This isn’t a dissertation on my editing methods, but it was a fun interview, either way, at least for me. (A small note: This interview was edited for clarity.)

First off, let’s talk about your story in RESIST FASCISM, “Pelecanimimus and the Battle for Mosquito Ridge!” What drew you to the topic of your story, Izzy?

I’ve long been fascinated by the way the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and other anti-fascists rallied to fight against fascists in the Spanish Civil War, how they were defeated by the fascists (who were being supported by Italy and Germany), and how when the American survivors returned home, they were seen as “premature anti-fascists” and therefore under suspicion by a country that would soon be in the grip of anti-communist panic. I’d been trying to figure out how to honor these brave people for years.

What was your favorite part of writing this story?

The dinosaurs! Hunting down dinos of just the right size and attributes, working through what their behavior might be like, and making sure they had feathers. Because they definitely had feathers, and we need to get over that.

Okay, let’s talk about the editing process we underwent together. When you started the editing process with me, Izzy, what were your hopes and fears, going in?

This was one of my first experiences working with an editor on a fiction sale. I really didn’t know what to expect, at all! My previous sales had been to places that asked for minimal edits, but I knew that wasn’t always the case, so I was eager and a bit nervous to see what the process would be like. 

Hopefully, as someone who works on addressing impostor syndrome professionally, I was reasonably easy to work with despite the nervousness! Let’s talk about you as the author of this story, given the historical context of the main character and the difference between your identity and the MC.

It was a challenge! Early on, I considered writing the MC as a queer woman to more closely match my identity, but the role of women in the Spanish Civil War was limited, and I needed my protagonist to be on the front lines, so I settled on a character who was, like me, queer and Jewish, but who was a gay man.

Then I spent a lot of time thinking through who he was and how to sensitively portray him. I made use of sensitivity readers, and hope I captured him well.

This probably says something about me as an editor: I read approximately a billion wikipedia pages to try to get a sense of what was going on historically, in this story. I literally think my high school skipped over the Spanish Civil War, so this was my first real exposure to it. Once I had some historical ground to tread upon, I felt more confident grappling with the similarities between myself (queer, Jewish) and how your main character is different from me (gender, politics, military history). I was so impressed with you for writing this story, Izzy. I don’t feel qualified to say whether some details are historically accurate (even after my wikipedia scholarship, lol), but the story feels like truth to me, and I feel like we honed that truth quite well.

Frankly, some details probably AREN’T historically accurate. If nothing else, I had to fudge some of the terrain description because none of my resources were granular enough to really give me the level of detail I needed. So if someone actually went to Mosquito Ridge they’d no doubt find inaccuracies. Hopefully those don’t detract from the story.

Ha, I look forward to hearing from the readers who venture forth to Mosquito Ridge and report back! Anyway, continuing on … What techniques did you employ to balance the authenticity of the scene/moment/characters in terms of available historical information, and the demands of modern readers and the current discussions within the field about #ownvoices, racism, homophobia, etc.?

This was the biggest challenge of the story for me. Historical considerations were real and I had to take them seriously if the story was going to work, but I also didn’t want to do harm to marginalized people by repeating the mistakes of the past.

A big problem, for example, was how Mordechai, who is white, would address Oliver Law, his African American commander. From my historical research, I knew that white Americans in the Spanish Civil War would have used “Negro” as a term of respect, but obviously that’s not a term that conveys respect today. How to balance those competing needs was a struggle for me. 

The method I used to try to handle this issue was to be honest about the limitations of the culture Mordechai finds himself in by both signaling matters like the homophobia of many of his fellow soldiers and still giving hints that in this history the world is actively changing for the better as our heroes fight back against the fascists. 

Yeah, I remember a bit of a quandary about how to refer to Commander Oliver Law, a historical figure in the story who may have been the first Black American commander of white troops. It was important to me that we not punch Black readers in the gut when writing about this hero, even if it meant being historically inaccurate. I was really relieved that you were up for this conversation, Izzy, particularly as we’d never even met before working on this story together.
I hope we did well by the historical figures and the characters in this story. We aspire to do well by them. Maybe it says something about the historical moment we are currently in that I hope we didn’t perpetuate racist issues rampant in society, but I recognize that we often don’t get feedback about it when we do reinforce the structural oppressions of marginalized folks.
So, Izzy, more generally, why did you steer the story in the direction it went?

For me, one of the themes of the story is the contingent nature of history. Things didn’t have to be the way they were–they could have been different. This story is about characters who don’t know that they are fated to fail, and so they struggle. And succeed. That was an important element for me. I think the key to unlocking the story may have come in the revision process, when I realized that a key moment in the story is Mordechai finding that he can’t help but do the kind thing and help the dinosaurs. Even in the midst of a war, he’s not lost that, and it ends up playing a big role. 

What work did you do while writing the story in order to authentically present Mordechai’s viewpoint?

In addition to having wonderful sensitivity readers, I did a significant amount of research, including reading letters from actual members of the Brigade, to get a sense of both how they wrote and what they valued. I have done some reading in radical literatures, so I was able to call on that as well. 

I felt closely connected to Mordechai, though I’m not a gay man, and I’ve never fought in a war, because his outlook on life, both in his kindness and his willingness to sacrifice for what he believes, are things I admire and strive to adhere to. 

What didn’t make the cut into this story? What did you have to choose to leave out, and why?

There are some sections of the letters that got cut because I needed to keep the pace and urgency of the story, and to meet my goal word count. There are lots of details on which you suggested wonderful improvements. One particular change that stands out to me was that the original draft included a reference to “men and women” though I hate the nonbinary erasure of that phrase, because I felt it was historically accurate. As we worked through the story, we agreed that a change to make this alternate history more inclusive was worthwhile. 

I was thinking about our process, working on this story, and how impressed I am with us. I looked back at the history of the doc, and we worked on this story for a good FIVE WEEKS last year, with a lot of back and forth. Despite never having met in person, we had a thrilling (and sometimes very frank and personal) conversation in the comments, in the margins of this story, while editing it. I, too, remember talking about the difference between referencing “men and women” versus using the gender-inclusive (but potentially inclusion-eliding) term “soldiers.” As someone who’s nonbinary, reading the binary gendered terms was something I wanted to move away from, but I also appreciated that you had included women in the war in your original draft. I know that many people don’t consider the women who fought in military action, particularly wars that long ago.
What fiddly little details did you love that weren’t needed or used in the story? (Do you have your own director’s cut version of the story?)

There’s one in particular that I miss: when we brought the fictional citations at the start of the story into compliance with MLA style, we lost the detail that the World Dinosaur Symposium takes place in Berlin during the period that would have been WWII. That a Jewish person was the keynote speaker at the conference was meant to signal that, in the world of the story, the Nazis are defeated before the war begins. 

I’m glad we paid attention to the details of proper citation (I’m an English professor, so I’m practically required to care about such things), but if I ever release a “director’s cut” version of the story, I’m putting that detail back in, proper format be damned. 🙂 

Ha, okay, fair!
What do you wish people would ask you about this story or about the larger project of Resist Fascism? What do you want to burble at us about? 🙂 

I’d love to talk to anyone, anywhere, about the volunteers who risked everything to try to stop fascism before it could come to power, and how much better the world would have been if their governments had supported them. It’s a lesson we need reminding of right now.

What’s your latest project, Izzy?

I’m currently in the early stages of drafting something (a novella, I suspect) set in the world of “The Crafter at the Web’s Heart.”

So, there you have it, my interview of Izzy Wasserstein, author of “The Battle of Mosquito Ridge.” Izzy can be found on Twitter or via her website. She’s also been published in several quality places, including RESIST FASCISM!

I was originally hoping that talking about RESIST here on my blog would encourage folks to support the fundraiser for RECOGNIZE. Obviously, that fundraiser has now been cancelled, too, though.

I do hope folks purchase copies of RESIST FASCISM and continue supporting Kay and Bart during this difficult time.

I still have lots of other projects to focus on right now, but Recognize Fascism had a special spot on my list. I have some small hope of resurrecting it, but … can’t promise anything at this time.

Pelecanimimus, according to Dinopedia Fandom!
Pelecanimimus, according to Dinopedia Fandom!

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