Obsidian: A Journal of the Speculative and the Fantastic (Obsidian Journal for short) exists to publish those works that fall outside the cultural, racial, sexual, gender, or economic norms of traditional science fiction and fantasy. As such, we are not looking for stories which merely upend traditional power structures (there is an entire subreddit dedicated to these kinds of writing prompts), but for stories in which the power structures fall outside the typical dichotomy. We do not seek to rewrite the traditional narrative; rather, we are seeking entirely different narratives.
We seek to free the writer of color, the writer whom society views as “other”, from the burden of double consciousness. Our goal is not to place the writer of color on a pedestal to be admired as some exotic trinket from a far-away land, as a dancing dog or a woman preacher. Rather, our goal is to center the story readers are unlikely to have encountered before.
We seek to un-center the tradtionally centered and to center the traditionally marginalized, the ignored, the excluded, the misunderstood. Often, but not always, this sort of writing comes form someone who writes from the margins of a cishet, Anglo-centered, capitalist-oriented society, and while we welcome submissions from all writers, such a point of view will naturally center writers who come from outside the traditional mainstream of science fiction and fantasy.
Some people have described such writing as “writing from the margins”. Indeed it is, but that is not a label we aspire to. We do not want to have a hand in continuing to marginalize those who are already marginalized. Our goal is to invert the traditional order, to center the marginalied, to un-other the other.
Science fiction and fantasy has a problem, and it's the same problem that so much of the rest of the publishing industry faces: diversity is trending. Publishers are actively looking for stories with diverse characters. (This is especialy true in children's and young adult fiction.) Eveybody wants stories with diverse characters.
Diverse authors, however? Not so much.
In an age when an author like J.K. Rowling can take a Native tradition and make it her own, completely rewriting a vibrant, living culture in the process, and thereby shutting out authentic Native voices, representation and #ownvoices become more important than ever.
It's one thing to tell your own people's stories. It's quite another to tell the story of someone else's people. We don't question Rowling's right to tell the story she feels she needs to tell. But we regret the fact that when an author with her status appropriates a culture that is not her own, it shuts down the voices of writers from within that culture. Unknowing readers will feel that they understand that culture because they've read her book. Her books and her name carry weight. And that weight is an albatross around the neck of writers from within that culture who are trying to tell creative but authentic stories from within that culture. Their words, their voices, won't carry the weight of a writer like Rowling.
Publishers have one thing right: diversity sells. But they would still rather go with a white author writing about "diverse" characters than they would a writer of color writing authentically about diverse characters. They may be willing to risk a brown face on the cover; a brown face on the author's flap, not so much.
For the reader of this kind of science fiction and fantasy, it means several things:
This also means several things to the writer of this kind of science fiction and fantasy:
Because our purpose is to promote writers and writing that normally don’t get a lot of exposure, we insist on paying our authors. This is why we sell subscriptions, sell classified ads, sell books through Amazon, and do the odd fundraiser.
Some argue that the best way to promote our writers is to give them as much exposure as possible, and that by charging for subscriptions, we are limiting the amount of exposure they get. Follow this argument to its logical end, and it means that we should give away their work, pay for our hosting costs through Google ads, and congratulate ourselves on the amount of exposure we are giving them.
This is a specious argument. If all that these authors really needed or wanted was mere exposure, they could have self-published for free on the web. This is the age of social media—exposure is there if you have the time and energy to work it on a regular basis.
What authors need is not exposure, but recognition. Winning a contest is one form of recognition, getting published is another form of recognition, and getting paid is yet another.
We refuse to give away the work of people whose labor has traditionally been undervalued. Many of these writers are members of groups who were traditionally taken advantage of for their physical labor; we refuse to continue that dishonorable tradition by taking advantage of their intellectual labor.
The principle is simple: if you create, you deserve to be paid. Anyone who publishes your work, and who profits from it, but doesn’t pay you, is guilty of theft.