Tomorrow, on International Women’s Day, a new short story anthology named Mosaics will release. It will be the first of at least two, but possibly more volumes. I’ve been keeping an eye on the project since it was first announced. I wasn’t sure what it would shape up to be. I read an ARC copy, and the stories were better than I’d hoped they’d be. I tend to stick to my science fiction and fantasy, but there wasn’t a single story I didn’t like.
Since the title is Mosaics, I wanted to talk to the people involved with the book and talk to them about their individual pieces of the aggregate.
First, I started with Kim Wells, who, along with Pavarti K. Tyler, has helmed this enterprise.
Zen: Tell us what the Mosaics series concept is all about.
Kim: I saw a lot of great anthologies being published, but I thought “you know what would be cool? One about feminist issues, with only women. And not only feminist, but intersectional feminism.” So I created the call and put it out in the open. A lot of the times anthologies are curated from a specific group, often of similar friends/writers. But I wanted this to go everywhere. We did okay with that. If we do more, we’re going to hunt down MFA programs and listservs with a broader audience because I feel like we could reach even more people.
In Volume 1 alone, we have incredible diversity. We’re also very international—people from Germany to Australia to Hawaii and the UK and regions all over the US.
And the stories themselves do the same thing—there’s everything from pregnancy to death and beyond. So that was the initial concept, and when we realized how amazing it was going, we decided to do Volume 2, which has the same diversity, plus a lot more new voices who are being published here either for the very first time or really close.
Zen: Nobody wants to be pummeled in the face with someone else’s cause. How will this stand as simply a work of fiction? Or do you see it as more literary?
Kim: It’s both literary and a cause, I think. The stories themselves tell perspectives on fairy tale, horror, love, myth, comic books, gaming—all from a woman’s point of view. That’s phase one. Then there are the other points of intersection, and those either inform a story or actually are a huge part of it. But really? If you just take out all politics (as if that’s possible) they’re just cool stories! Except for mine—mine as a satire of Gamergate and Internet Trolls is pretty impossible to separate from politics. But I did that on purpose.
Zen: What do you want people to take away from Mosaics?
Kim: A really good, entertaining story. Stories that inspire you, stories that make you mad, stories that make you cry a little. My editor would tell me “Oh that story last night made me go hug my kids.” And that’s what any good story wants you to do: be touched. Think of something you hadn’t thought of. Laugh. Weep.
Zen: A lot of people think feminism means exclusionism or elitism. What about male characters? And what about male readers who aren’t sure they’d want to read this series?
Kim: Well, even though these stories center women mostly, I think the males in most of them are pretty cool. They aren’t stock characters, they’re real people. Even when they’re bad people (in Volume 2 there are a couple) they’re complex. And this isn’t male bashing. It doesn’t go in and say “All Men” anywhere. It just tries to explore subjects that people might not have seen before. And if you’re a male reader, you might learn something new about 50% of the population. We also want to, if the first two books succeed, do an allies volume—men and gender fluid people. See what they’re thinking about gender and intersections.
Zen: To follow up on the previous question, let’s talk about volumes two and three. Two will be another volume full of female writers but three would be all male and gender fluid writers. Why?
Kim: First, because men are feminists too!
But even more so, oh do I have a story for you. Once I was at a feminist academic conference and we were doing a panel where one of the papers was about menarche (a girl’s first period.) And the paper writer went around the room and asked us to talk about our first period. There were maybe three guys in the room—my husband, who was my tech support, and two guys who were there to hear the papers. When the leader got to the men, she just skipped them. As if men might not have a story at all to tell about what is a woman’s experience. But of course they do! Men could talk about the first time they realized women have periods! The first time they bought tampons for their wives, or something similar! Men have had experiences that can and do inform even innately female moments. And we can craft a much better equality by telling those stories that don’t get told, too.
We also want to include people who don’t particularly identify as male or female, non binary or gender fluid folks. Now, if we get enough of that community to justify yet another volume, maybe we’ll try that, too. It’s all about the projects at least breaking even. If they do that, cover the costs of production and paying the writers, I’ll keep doing this forever.
Zen: All of the revenue of Mosaics, after paying the costs of production, will go to the Pixel Project. Why that group, and what are they about?
Kim: The Pixel Project is a charitable group that wants to build a real viral conversation about violence against women in the world. They’re an international, and pretty amazing all volunteer group. And I have followed them since way back—I almost did some tech support volunteering back years ago. So when I was thinking about the project and donating the money to a woman’s charity, I was on Facebook and a post from them popped up in my feed. I realized I had my answer. They do a lot with writers, too—some pretty famous ones even. Male & female both. So it just seemed a perfect fit.
So that’s the reasoning behind the book itself, but what about the individual authors and stories? I wanted to hear from them, too.
Zen: What does it mean to you to take part in Mosaics?
Ari Harradine: When I first read the content call for Mosaics, it inspired me to write The Girl Made of Glass, so I was so excited when it was accepted. Being a part of such an inclusive anthology, with such brilliant writers, has been a great experience. And of course it’s for a great cause, and one that is personal to me, because it has affected some of the women in my life.
Chelo Diaz-Ludden: A chance to be part of a group of women writers who write deeply about what women face and what it means to be a woman in various times and cultures. I’m also discovering new writers and books and loving it.
Deborah Walker: I’m always thrilled to discover new (to me) writers. I’m in volume one with some old writing friends (pun intended) and I’m looking forward to making some new table of content buddies.
Elizabeth S. Wolf: Learning lots about publishing and marketing from savvy (and sassy) mentors.
Julie Rea: This is the first time I’ve received money for my writing. That’s just, deeply weird for me. More significantly, I’m beyond excited to be included with such accomplished other writers.
Keira Michelle Telford: I’m just thrilled to be invited out to play 🙂 I feel quite isolated most of the time. I’m not sure why. I suppose it’s because I’m not that good at making friends. I spend most of my time alone, so it’s nice to be invited to participate in such an awesome project.
Kelsey Maki: When I saw that this project was being used to raise awareness about important social issues, I very much wanted to be involved. The fact that my story is included in this anthology is a great honor.
L.S. Johnson: I am honored to be a part of an anthology that has taken intersectional feminism as its theme. I came of age in the late 80s/early 90s, and I’ve watched feminism stultify many times since then. It’s a wonderful feeling to be part of something that might open up the conversation and move us forward.
Naomi Elster: It’s hugely exciting to be part of this anthology, and it’s such an honour to be published alongside so many experienced authors. Hopefully Mosaics will put to bed the idea that feminism is academic and unentertaining, and the horror genre, which I like to write in, seriously needs a bit of a kick in the ass as far as sexism is concerned! Although I have been published before, and I’m proud of my publications, Mosaics is a big step up for me. I’ve never gone to creative writing classes or studied English, and I’m learning a lot from my fellow Volume 1 writers and editors, and especially from Kim and Pavarti. It means a lot to me that my story contributes to a project which aims to support an anti-domestic violence project.
Zen: What is/was your “other” career, besides writing?
Ari Harradine: I currently work in the real estate industry, which I promise is not as soul sucking as it sounds. I also have a degree in Law, which is an area I’d like to return to one day.
Chelo Diaz-Ludden: I raised two daughters, and yes, it is a career. I also taught English as a Foreign language and Composition.
Deborah Walker: I started off as a research scientist studying biochemistry. I retrained first as a librarian, then as a museum curator. My last job was as the museum curator for The Royal Veterinary College.
Elizabeth S. Wolf: Technical Metadata Librarian. I do some tech writing, some requirements writing, and attend a lot of meetings.
Julie Rea: I teach community college.
Keira Michelle Telford: I used to be a pet nutritionist. I helped people who had pets (mostly dogs and cats) with food allergies or other health issues to find the perfect food. I still know way too much about dog and cat food. And I still grimace when I see the words “corn gluten meal” on an ingredient panel.
Kelsey Maki: I teach full-time at Brookdale Community College in NJ. Right now, in addition to teaching face-to-face and online composition courses, I am also the faculty liaison for our International Education Center and the chair of our college’s Global Citizenship Project.
L.S. Johnson: I work part time in a church office, producing newsletters and service bulletins, and I’m a freelance book indexer. I worked in publishing for about 11 years before burning out. Never imagined I would end up where I am, but it’s given me back some control over my writing time which has done wonders for my sanity.
Naomi Elster: Cancer research
Zen: What would people be surprised to know about you?
Chelo Diaz-Ludden: I’m such a chicken, walking down a new street will get my heart racing, but I do it anyway because I’ve learned it’s the only way I have a chance of getting where I want to be.
Deborah Walker: I’ve performed Shakespeare on a West End stage. Sure, I was pulled out of the audience by the Reduced Shakespeare Company. But it still counts. And I had a speaking part. Well, a screaming part. Boy, is it hot up on the boards.
Elizabeth S. Wolf: Always a voracious reader, I was afraid to take English or literary classes. I thought I didn’t “get it” and would give a wrong answer.
Julie Rea: I think probably that I was a shy kid who grew up in Oregon. I’ve lived on the East Coast too long; I’m no longer as polite as Oregonians and I speak too quickly. Also, I will say anything without shame now, so that’s a change from being shy.
Keira Michelle Telford: I have Asperger’s (a milder form of autism). Generally speaking, this means I’m socially awkward (I don’t function well in large groups of people), I have a slight OCD problem, I don’t particularly like talking on the phone, and … well, the list could go on. But I wouldn’t change my brain for a new one. I like my brain. I’m not weird, I’m neuroatypical 🙂
Kelsey Maki: People who don’t know me very well think that I am laid back. This is definitely not the case!
L.S. Johnson: That by day I’m a mild-mannered suburban spouse and office worker, while by night I write about sadness and desperation and brutal, bare-knuckled murder—wait, no, that’s not very surprising. What can I say? I’m pretty predictable when you get down to it.
Naomi Elster: Depends who you ask…
Zen: Growing up, were you ever told that you couldn’t do something because you were a girl?
Ari Harradine: Definitely not. My mother would never have stood for it. She also did a lot of great leading by example. I mostly found that it the expectation was the opposite; I should have been able to do everything my brothers could do, but I also should have been able to do more because I was the eldest girl in the family, and therefore by default the responsible one.
Chelo Diaz-Ludden: Yes. I didn’t play with dolls because I thought they were boring. Instead, I played war with the boys. (I’m not so hawkish now). In 4th grade, they ‘discovered’ I was a girl and wanted me to be the nurse instead of the spy. I refused and went over to the girls’ side, setting for hopscotch, etc. But then I read a biography of Emilia Earhart which opened up a world of books and showed me that I didn’t have to settle for traditional ‘girl’ roles.
Deborah Walker: Yes. Amazing, really. At my school girls weren’t allowed to study Woodwork and Metalwork, and boys weren’t allowed to study Cookery and Sewing.
Elizabeth S. Wolf: As a youngster, I was told girls can’t do anything worth paying them for. When I went back to college in 1977 my advisor told me he recommended women in the department get out of the department (Veterinary & Animal Sciences). I went to the department office to report my advisor and learned he was head of the department. (Yes I earned a B.S. in Animal Science.)
Julie Rea: No, but my two brothers were raised differently. They got Star Wars actions figures for Christmas and I didn’t. Which may have been typical for the ‘80s, but I resented it. Also, my parents didn’t like my being on the debate team because it made me contrary.
Keira Michelle Telford: I don’t remember being told I couldn’t do something, but I was repeatedly told there were certain clothes I couldn’t wear. Jeans, for example. Jeans were “boy clothes” and I wasn’t allowed to have any. I was only allowed to wear dresses and skirts, with pretty white nylons or white frilly socks. I didn’t get my first pair of jeans until I was almost 11, and that was only begrudgingly, and only because I scraped my knees so often and wrecked too many skirts and dresses while climbing up trees. And even then, I was only allowed to wear the jeans at home, while playing in the back yard. I wasn’t allowed to leave the house wearing jeans, because I was a girl and therefore ought to “look like a girl” at all times.
Kelsey Maki: As a kid, I was often called a “tomboy,” and I wasn’t offended until I realized that this term was not meant as a compliment. In the 1980s it was decidedly uncool to be a girl who was into sports. I think that this has changed, to some extent, but there are many other (more serious!) arenas where the abilities of women are constantly in question. A female in a corporate leadership role is still the exception, and most women are never celebrated for the work that they do inside the home.
L.S. Johnson: Not when I was growing up—if anything, my parents could have erred a little on the side of caution, such as financing your dreams with credit cards might not be the best start in life. 😉 But when I was completing my master’s degree I was told that I shouldn’t go on to a PhD because it was only for soccer moms—for women with the economic privilege to treat it like a hobby. The professor then went on to regale me with a long, winding metaphor about how grad students were like airplanes, but I would never reach altitude, I would crash and burn in the first year because I didn’t have the right combination of intellect and economic privilege.
I wish I could say that I went on and had a brilliant career in academia, but the truth is the whole discussion rattled me—I was already nervous about how much the master’s was costing, and I had seen the job lines at MLA conventions. I never did go on to become Dr. Johnson. Someday?
Naomi Elster: Not directly, but the attitude was there, especially because in Ireland there was no alternative to a religious education, and the Catholic church doesn’t have a great track record for gender equality. As an adult sometimes I feel under pressure to downplay my ambition or be apologetic about my successes so far, and I see that in other women far more than in men. We get taken less seriously sometimes, and that’s not on. And it gets on my nerves sometimes that when people find out I work in a hospital they always assume I’m a nurse. Why not a scientist, a doctor, or any of the other professions you find in a hospital? Do girls have to be nurses?
Zen: What’s the toughest thing you’ve had to overcome in your life?
Ari Harradine: I really think I’ve had it easy. There have been long periods where I’ve been ill, and have had to push through, but in comparison to others, I’ve lived a privileged life.
Chelo Diaz-Ludden: Myself. The little fiend that stomps around inside my head chanting no, you can’t; no, you aren’t; no, it isn’t; no, no, no.. I think that’s true for most of us.
Elizabeth S. Wolf: I grew up in the 60’s & 70’s. My birth family fractured and I spent time in foster care, shelters, and working for room & board before I was old enough to vote. It took a lot of time and effort to make my place in the world and find peace.
Julie Rea: I think overcoming frustration, generally, whether it be with other people or my messed-up body or with drivers who almost hit my wheelchair in the crosswalk. I think that I’ve achieved serenity and then it’s gone and I have to find it again.
Keira Michelle Telford: I’ve been pretty fortunate in a lot of ways, I know that, but there was a period in my teens years when money was so scarce that I struggled to buy food, became drastically underweight, and didn’t menstruate for four months because my body was shutting down. I wouldn’t like to revisit that time.
Kelsey Maki: Watching people who are close to me suffer from depression is exceedingly hard. We use the term “depressed” loosely, but it is a serious mental condition, not a mood or a feeling. I have dealt with dysthymia and social anxiety for most of my life and I believe that our culture has a lot of work to do when it comes to accepting and treating mental illness. We are largely intolerant of “neurodiversity.”
L.S. Johnson: I don’t think I’ve had much to overcome, to be honest. I’ve met too many other women who have far more difficult circumstances. I’ve had grief and debt and all the usual ups and downs, but nothing remarkable. The question, as I get older, is what can I do with my privilege to make the world a little better for everyone.
Naomi Elster: Serious illness, grief.
Zen: What was your inspiration for your contribution to Mosaics?
Ari Harradine: My story deals with chronic illness, and it’s inspired by my own experiences, though I’m happy to say I’ve never been as ill as my protagonist. It’s also dedicated to all the women out there who sought help from their doctors, only to be ignored. I’ve heard so many stories of women who’ve had their health put at risk by doctors who dismiss their symptoms as “just stress”, or “just overreacting”, and it’s unfortunately an experience I share.
Chelo Diaz-Ludden: It’s a compilation of short excerpts from my novel The Second Crack. The portion that deals with South Africa was inspired by Mandela. I was exploring his effect on the daily lives of South Africans. But in my research I also discovered the hardships these women face and how they rise to the occasion.
Deborah Walker: My story was inspired by a real life person, the 18th century French anatomist Marie Marguerite Bihéron who was renowned for her medical wax figures and illustrations.
Elizabeth S. Wolf: In 2014 I had an interlude between jobs and found a local writing group that met weekly. The support and structure and deadline to have something to read rebooted my writing.
Julie Rea: I receive Social Security Disability and one can receive benefits and work a bit, as I do. But if you go one dollar over the allowable income limit, your benefits get cut. I also have chronic pain. So, I identify with the protagonist on those two points.
One day some neighborhood kids started screaming at me about stuff I had supposedly yelled at them the day before. I had not yelled at the children, but I stick out in the neighborhood, and I wondered how they could have confused me with somebody else. I always wondered about that experience, and that might have been the germ of the story.
Keira Michelle Telford: Never Come to Rest, the last book I published, is an Edwardian lesbian romance set against the backdrop of the women’s suffrage movement in London, England. I learned a lot I didn’t know about the suffragists and the suffragettes while writing that book, and wasn’t ready to let go yet. I wanted to write more! So I selected a couple of real historical events that I hadn’t had the opportunity to cover in that book — acts of extreme militancy committed by the Women’s Social and Political Union during their relentless crusade for voting equality — and wove them into a realistic reimagining of the Cinderella fairytale. A reimagining that doesn’t involve dear Cinders being rescued from her life of servitude by the love of a man. Oh, no. Her Prince Charming isn’t a prince at all. She’s a suffragette 🙂
Kelsey Maki: This story has no connection to anyone in my life, but I have always been interested in the inherent conflict in some of our cultural aphorisms. As parents, most of us want our children to “follow their bliss,” to find success doing something that they love. I was really interested in what would happen if that advice were to backfire, and what effects it would have on the parent. In our culture, we love telling stories about rebels and outsiders who buck the system—the people who drop out of school, bet everything on their big idea, and pursue their passion to end—but we only tell those stories when people are successful, and unfortunately such successes are rare. I wanted to tell a story in which the heroine was a quiet follower of the rules and the “brave individualist” was something of a villain (this is not the whole story, of course). I think there is a certain uncelebrated strength and dignity to people who lead ostensibly unremarkable lives.
L.S. Johnson: When I was in high school, I walked home every day through our apartment complex, which had a lot of curving roads to walk around. There was a gang of slightly older boys who would be hanging out, and they would harass me—whistling, catcalling, sometimes getting close enough to just lightly touch me. After a while the leader was arrested for some kind of misdemeanor, and the others vanished, but for many weeks it was like running a gauntlet each day.
I think about that a lot, about walking around the curve in the road and seeing them waiting (or, occasionally, the blessedly empty road home), and how that felt. I think about that, and I think about what women everywhere have to negotiate just to get through the goddamn day.
Naomi Elster: I came across a writing prompt for a monologue in the voice of a zombie, and it got me thinking. I’ve always found zombie movies really boring, but what if a zombie could think? I have a degree in pharmacology so approached the whole zombie myth in terms of how the nervous system works and what drugs can do.
Zen: What are you working on now (in terms of writing, art, etc)?
Ari Harradine: I’m working on a few different things. I’m writing an urban fantasy, murder mystery novel. I’m also just finishing up some shorter fantasy adventure stories featuring young women winning one over on the bad guys.
Chelo Diaz-Ludden: I’m finishing a novel tentatively called Close to the Wind, about a songwriter who inherits a decrepit marina. It has a strong environmental marine theme. I’m passionate about the ocean and the environment.
Deborah Walker: I am working on a new novella: an urban science fiction story. Let’s call it doctors and aliens. My main character Dr Rose Bain is struggling to control an epidemic of infective paralysis attacking London’s alien population. Is this disease natural, or has it come from the wider galaxy?
Elizabeth S. Wolf: Keeping up that productivity, despite my 3D writing group having disbanded. I’m working on a chapbook of recent and revised poems as well as new poetry and short fiction.
Julie Rea: I’m working on a novel, a eulogy for a cat, and trying to find homes for other short stuff.
Keira Michelle Telford: Another Edwardian lesbian romance! This one doesn’t have any suffragettes in it, but it’s still a tale of two women struggling for autonomy in a time when women had few rights and little hope of eking out an existence without the support of a man. It’s titled A Portrait of Bliss, and it’s due out later this spring.
Kelsey Maki: Right now, I’m working on a short story connected to the one I wrote for Mosaics. This story is told from the perspective of daughter, who was the supposed “villain” in my last story. My goal in pairing these two stories together (and offering dramatically different vantage points) is to complicate the judgments that we make about other people. Our brains are programmed to judge, to be reductive and sloppy; this is the reality of our evolutionary history, yet we must never think the conclusion that we’ve come to is final. There is always more to everyone’s story . . .
L.S. Johnson: For years I’ve been working on a paranormal trilogy set in the 18th century, which is probably suffering from too much packed into it, but I’m finally getting book 1 done. I’ve started releasing my short fiction in collections—the first one, Vacui Magia, comes out on March 6th. And I’ve got a few new short stories in the works. Folks can stay tuned by checking my website, traversingz.com, and signing up for my mailing list.
Naomi Elster: I’m redrafting my first novel, and working on a few short stories, including my first attempt at a story for children, and have a TV series and play work in progress to pick up when I find the time.
So there you have it. The individual pieces of tesserae that formed this particular mosaic. If you’re up for something different, something thought-provoking, or something that can help make a difference, then check this one out.