When I was a child, my first real memories of Thanksgiving — memories that stood out from the annual family dinners that looked the same every year — was learning about the history of the holiday. In first grade, to be exact: back in my day, we learned that after some amount of conflict when the Pilgrims arrived, a peace was reached and the Pilgrims and Indians came together to celebrate this newfound peace and a bountiful harvest. To this first-grader, Thanksgiving represented a time when conflict was set aside and people came together to celebrate the good in their lives, and each other.
I know that’s a simplistic view of this particularly American holiday that partially ignores what came before the first Thanksgiving, and most certainly ignores all the strife and conflict that came after.
And yet, I have yet to meet an American who absolutely hates the holiday (I’m sure they exist, don’t get me wrong). I’ve met some who are indifferent, but it’s the one holiday where your religion doesn’t matter: it’s about gathering with family and friends and being thankful.
Being thankful is an easy thing to forget about in this day and age. We’re surrounded by negativity, and for many people, it’s hard to be thankful about the little things when the future is so frightening and uncertain. The jokes about drunk relatives with whom you argue politics over the Thanksgiving table aren’t so funny anymore, and it can feel like the one day a year when we’re supposed to really think about what we should be grateful for gets overshadowed by the stress of traveling, of cooking, of Christmas decorations going up and Christmas shopping nipping at the heals of dinner, promising better deals that even Black Friday won’t touch.
But everyone has their traditions, and I won’t begrudge them that. So while Speculative Chic is a blog made of up contributors across the world, I’ve invited everyone to join in my favorite Thanksgiving tradition and asked them the following question:
What SF/F/H thing are you most thankful for? What inspired you? What changed you? What saved you or gave you a new outlook on life?
The answers surprised me. They shouldn’t have. Each answer so wonderfully represents a facet of each contributor’s personality, and some answers are more personal than others. Read on, and learn more about the people who make this blog tick, and discover what they’re thankful for and why!
Sharon: Warning: there might be a birth year cut-off date for fully appreciating what I’m about to express. Born after 1996? This won’t make sense. Born before that? You will feel me, my reading brothers and sisters.
I’m talking about books. About how we get them, and more importantly, how we read them. Things have changed, and I’m profoundly thankful for it.
I’ll spare you my actual birthday, but suffice it to say that I was born into the era of the county library. If you wanted to read something, that’s where you went. If they didn’t have it, you waited. And waited, for that evil person who checked out your book four months ago to finally get off their asses and return it. Bad system.
And then came the age of the mega bookstore, brick-and-mortar palaces of reading. Yes, books you wanted when you wanted them (and coffee drinks!), but with exorbitant prices that busted my tiny budget.
And then, magically, e-readers. Clunky things that didn’t look like books and hurt the eyes but now I could DOWNLOAD anything I wanted. Well, not anything. Too many things weren’t downloadable, but slowly that changed. The readers got better. The titles got better. Publishers realized that if they dropped the prices, we’d buy more.
But you had to drag the clunky e-reader around. You had to remember to bring it. And more importantly, you had to remember not to lose it. (I’ve lost two. Hope you’re enjoying my taste in books, Krakow Hotel cleaning lady.)
And now we come to 2016. I finally bought a larger cell phone this year, and now I am complete. I can download anything I want the moment I hear about it, pay for it without having to pull out a credit card, and comfortably read it on something I always have safely tucked in my pocket. There’s nothing between me and a story but about 16 inches of air.
It may not be everyone’s idea of a bright and shining future, but it’s here and it’s mine, and I’m deeply thankful for it. Happy Thanksgiving!
Nancy: This year, I am thankful for the popularity of superheroes in visual media. Which is a fancy way of saying, thanks for all the capes and cowls in movies and television! It’s not like superheroes are particularly new to this medium. I have strong memories of watching repeats of Wonder Woman on the Sci-Fi (now SyFy) channel when I was a kid, as well as seeing the first X-men movie in theaters as a teenager. But this recent boom of superhero properties means a lot of things. First off, there’s a lot more content to watch, and tons of it is really freaking good. Second, more content means that the creators need to diversify in order to stand out from the crowd. We’ve moved past the time of endless origin stories to films that build and grow into something more, blending in elements of political thrillers, comedy heists, and space westerns. Television shows run the gambit to the extremely bright and kid-friendly Supergirl to the not kid-friendly crime dramas of Marvel’s Netflix shows.
Another positive thing related to diversity is it looks like the movie and television industry is finally opening up the superheroic playing field to people who aren’t white, male, straight, and named Chris. The Marvel show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been putting their female talent (including two women of color) front and center for years, and Supergirl has joined the fray by focusing on the lives and experiences of women. The Marvel Netflix series have done a great job with both Jessica Jones and Luke Cage (can Misty Knight be next, please?), and the DC CW television shows have started to bring GLBT characters into the fray with Mr. Terrific, White Canary, and now Alex Danvers from Supergirl. The future should take things to the next level with films like Wonder Women, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and Ant Man & the Wasp. The white-washing in Doctor Strange proves that the fight for representation still goes on, but the more we push forward, the more amazing things we see. And seeing a more inclusive world represented in the superhero media I consume fills me with hope that we will one day see this acceptance reflected in the real world around us. Superheroes may be a source of entertainment of us, but their strength, intelligence and bravery can also represent an ideal that we normal folks can hope to achieve as well.
While critics have been predicting superhero ennui for years, the fact that five of the top ten grossing movies of 2016 were superhero movies proves otherwise, as does the plethora of DC and Marvel TV shows hitting our small screens every year. I hope that this ongoing popularity of superheroic content will continue to push studios to diversify and tell a wider range of stories about a larger swath of the population, and that this message of inclusivity inspires people to be more accepting in their own lives as well.
That, and I really need to see Squirrel Girl on screen. Any screen, really. Movie. Television. Netflix. Really, Marvel what’s your excuse?
Carey: I’m thankful for a game I played with a bunch of high school friends. It was live-action role play (LARP) before we knew that was a thing. The six of us were not “A” students; we didn’t join any clubs; we weren’t really expected to go to college. We met in English and discovered we had a history of devouring all things King Arthur. We started getting together every chance we could to talk over Arthurian legends. We read Tennyson and Coleridge and acted them out (I did say I was a geek, right?). We planned trips to England, wrote our papers on proof for King Arthur, and talked about joining the SCA. . . but we couldn’t afford the joining fees and we were all underage.
So, further influenced by a book of Edmund Blair-Leighton’s art we found in the library, and Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s The Egypt Game, about a group of kids who reimagine the ancient kingdom of Egypt for themselves in a low-income area in California, we started our own reimagining of King Arthur.
Basically this means we found this little clear area off someone’s back field and started staging tourneys.
We had enough sense to make armor first. We scrounged for old blankets to wrap around our arms, legs and chests and then for cardboard to tie over the blankets. We researched coats of arms and painted plywood shields. I don’t remember where we got wooden swords, but we had them. We picked out names: Arthur, Guinevere, Galahad, Gawaine; we girls sometimes made up our own characters.
Sometimes we fought “for the love of Guinevere,” sometimes we fought because our character had been slighted, sometimes we played Capture the Flag, sometimes we just had a free-for-all, girls, guys, all of us. Equal opportunity smashing. Anything covered in cardboard was fair game; heads and tender parts were always off limits (we failed to perfect cardboard helmets). We ended up with so many bruises (cardboard and blankets only do so much). But it was so much fun! We were in our own world out there.
We never had a name for the game, or for us. Small town or not, none of us really knew each other before that class, and we’ve all gone our separate ways since. For me, it was the first time I felt like I belonged somewhere. No one ridiculed me for being a geek girl. People just accepted me. My interests were considered a contribution, not a detriment.
It’s a lesson I remember well and try to pass on.
Sherry: I am most thankful for the Odyssey Writing Workshop. I’ve always considered myself a writer. In school, my friends and I wrote a version of fan fiction, but writing the real thing, creating worlds and stories of my own, was what I really wanted to do. For many years I wrote but didn’t tell anyone. When I started writing fantasy, I kept that secret too. I loved the genre — always had — but I was also ashamed. That shame was a lingering effect of my school days where I was bullied. I had it much easier than the kid who was a Trekker. He was downright tortured, and I carried an air of superiority that at least I hadn’t suffered the same fate as he had, and I wouldn’t, even as an adult, as long as I didn’t admit to liking Science Fiction and Fantasy like he had. But I became frustrated with my writing and discovered the Odyssey Writing Workshop. I had a lot of trepidation going in. I was taking a very public step I hadn’t been willing to take up to that point. I learned a lot about the writing process, techniques, and how to improve. Much more than that, I found myself among like-minded people who accepted me for who I was, and encouraged me to do the same. They supported my pursuit of publication, and taught me that it is more than OK to be a fan of Science Fiction and Fantasy. The six weeks I spent at Odyssey were probably the first six weeks of my life where I’d ever truly been myself.
Nu: I’m thankful for Stephen King’s On Writing. I first read the book when I was a college freshmen, back before I understood what the word genre meant. I grew up reading horror and reading King, so I was excited to get inside his mind (and boy, did I). On Writing is a mixture of his life lessons and writing anecdotes. He talks about his early writing days as he struggled with drug addiction and alcoholism. It was during this time he wrote classics like The Shining, Misery, and Cujo. It made me think that as he was writing them, it was a way to unleash his personal demons. Years later, many of his earlier books are regarded as some his best work.
King also spends time letting us into his writer’s toolbox. He shared that his routine is 10 pages a day and 2,000 words. That’s 180,000 words in three months. When I first read that, I thought that was an impossible task. A year later, I wrote my first novel. It was more than 70,000 words and I did that in about three months as well. It was just the start of my novel-writing experience. Knowing King’s routine now made me realize it was possible if I was dedicated and passionate enough.
In addition, Stephen King talks about the accident that nearly ended his life when he was struck by a van while on a walk. “Writing is not life, but I think that sometimes it can be a way of life,” he wrote. Writing is an escape for many writers, and after reading about King’s early struggles, as well as being a victim of a hit-and-run that nearly ended his life, he found a way to recover and kept writing. It makes me not take this job for granted.
Kelly: I’m thankful to Anne Rice for getting me through middle school. Even as a child, I was a shy person who found more friends in books than in real life. I hit an awkward phase in my reading life when I started to get too old for the books about animals that I had loved in elementary school. If there were good young adult writers in the early nineties, I never stumbled onto them. I actually read more young adult books now that I am thirty-something than I did as an actual young adult. Most of the books for teenagers at that time were cheesy or after-school special preachy. I went from reading books about horses to reading Stephen King, gruesome true crime, and my favorite, Anne Rice’s vampire novels. Before the Internet, it was hard for a weird, socially awkward kid to find role models. Anne Rice’s books opened up a new, sophisticated world for me, a world far beyond the self-consciousness of growing up and the cruelty of preteens. I remember being twelve years old and reading these books after the neighbor kids I babysat went to bed. I loved Louis, the world-weary, most human of vampires, and Claudia, the immoral child vampire who loved killing, in Interview with the Vampire. I adored the audacious, wicked Lestat, who turns his loved ones into vampires in The Vampire Lestat and passes himself off as a human rock star in Queen of the Damned. I still want to visit New Orleans and the catacombs of Paris because of these books. Twelve-year-old me is incredibly disappointed that I don’t live in one of the grand New Orleans mansions that Rice so lovingly describes. When I learned that Rice wrote Interview with the Vampire while mourning the death of her five-year-old daughter from leukemia, I learned a profound truth. No matter how difficult reality gets, the world of fantasy will always be there to comfort and teach you, to give you as many new lives as you can imagine. Books are sacred to me. Reading has made me a better person — more open-minded, more empathetic, and more courageous. I’m also thankful to my parents for never restricting my reading material, partially because I read too much for them to keep track.
J.L. Gribble: Once upon a time, there was a kid in eighth grade who had just transferred schools (again) and was faced with the prospect of making all new friends (again). Her school was in a different district than where she lived, so she got to school an hour before classes started and often passed her time by reading in the cafeteria. These were often science-fiction novels, and she was a pretty nerdy, uncool kid to begin with, so this did not help with the making friends issue. Until one day, a student in the grade above sat down with her and struck up a conversation that led to the recommendation of Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar series.
These books are no longer my favorite fantasy series, but 20 years later, I still buy and read every new addition. I gained a friend through these books, but I also gained so much more.
I learned that it was okay for a woman to be the hero of her own destiny and save herself in the Heralds of Valdemar trilogy (Talia’s stories). I learned about the horrors of war and that differences should be celebrated in the Mage Wars trilogy (gryphon books). I learned about homosexuality and acceptance in the Last Herald-Mage trilogy, and those particular books’ approach to life and love got me through a lot of hard times in the years to come. And finally, I learned that I adore intricate character connections and epic, world-altering drama in the Mage Winds and Mage Storms trilogies, which has inspired my writing to this very day.
Reading each new installment into the world of Valdemar is like coming home. As a writer, I can be fairly critical of the latest books, and I worry that Ms. Lackey is only still writing them because they are essentially a guaranteed paycheck. But as a fan, I still look forward to every new story that transports me to a world where magic exists and the heroes always win. As I’ve grown older, I’ve resigned myself to never being Chosen by a Companion to be a Herald — but at times, I might fancy that my Siamese are Sun Cats.
I’m thankful that a world like Valdemar exists and that it has inspired me so much as both a writer and a human being.
Shara: I had to think long and hard about the answer to this question. Cause and effect are meaningful patterns to me, so when I’d land upon an answer, I’d ask myself: but how did I get there? Which lead me to a different answer, which I would examine, and then I’d land on a different answer.
The answer that I settled on surprised me, because the thing I’m most thankful for, the thing that most inspired me as a fan of SF/F/H and as a writer of the same, is a film: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
Please understand: I didn’t grow up reading the books. In fact, prior to seeing Fellowship of the Ring, the only thing that I’d read that could be classified as SF/F was the Star Wars Expanded Universe novels. So when the movies were announced, my reaction was a whole lot of indifference. But the trailers were pretty, so I didn’t grumble when my then-boyfriend/now-husband dragged me to the theater to watch.
But I didn’t like it.
We were stuck in seats that weren’t in the very front, but so close you’d give yourself a tension migraine while looking up to see the screen. And unbeknownst to me at the time, I was sick, which meant some of the camerawork (especially at Sauron’s tower) had me reeling with dizziness. So I didn’t enjoy myself.
But when I returned to campus for our January Term, my friends (including fellow contributor Whitney Richter) really wanted to see the movie again, and I figured I should give it another go.
So I did. And I absolutely, positively fell in love.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is still, in my mind, a near-perfect movie, and that’s high praise, because I don’t watch the theatrical cuts anymore: I’m an Extended Edition girl through-and-through. But as a first installment, the film was lush with sweeping cinematography and music I simply wanted to sink into. The developing friendship and brotherhood of the fellowship moved me. And yes, I fell in love with a certain blond-haired, blue-eyed Elf.
I saw that movie five times in theaters. I’ve listened to the score so many times, it’s a wonder my CD isn’t warped. And it inspired me to write again.
Me, a girl who’d previously been tinkering with suspense/thriller novels but hadn’t written seriously for a year, wanted to write again. What’s more, I wanted to write fantasy. In college. During an advanced creative writing workshop with the most notoriously difficult writing professor on campus.
Peter Jackson’s adaptation opened a whole new world for me: I delved into creating my own worlds while (slowly at first) devouring the genre fiction I’d missed reading as a kid. And that passion led to another contributor, Keyes, telling me about the Odyssey Writing Workshop, where I met Sherry Peters (and yes, I’m in the above photo!). The Odyssey Writing Workshop led me to my graduate studies in the Writing Popular Fiction program at Seton Hill, where I met so many other people (and yes, many of the contributors here). Of course, SHU led to my book blog, Calico Reaction, which, after many years, eventually paved the way to the here and now. To Speculative Chic.
Each and every single woman here is a result of the chain reaction that started with my falling in love with a single film (and yes, an elf), which lead me to ladies who shared that same passion with me. The film cemented friendships with people I consider my very best friends to this day. And while the ladies I met through Odyssey and Seton Hill didn’t necessarily fangirl over The Lord of the Rings with me, we all shared the same excitement for speculative fiction as a whole: both the reading and the writing of it, and I wouldn’t have been a part of those communities — I wouldn’t have even known they existed, if not for falling in love with The Fellowship of the Ring.
To think that such a journey started with a single step. In The Fellowship of the Ring, Galadriel tells Frodo: “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” And in this case, a single film changed the course of mine.
Whether you live in the United States and are prepping for a big meal or perhaps already recovering from a food coma, or if you’re reading these posts from around the world, at Speculative Chic we want to say THANK YOU for spending your time with us, both today and every day, and we’d like to invite you to answer the same question our contributors did:
What SF/F/H thing are you most thankful for? What inspired you? What changed you? What saved you or gave you a new outlook on life?
Please join us in the comments!