I’ll be at WisCon again this year! My work schedule is hectic, but I am making time for a panel.
We’ve even got a hashtag so you can Tweet about it: #BabyWriters
|The Baby Writer Panel|
I’ll be at WisCon again this year! My work schedule is hectic, but I am making time for a panel.
We’ve even got a hashtag so you can Tweet about it: #BabyWriters
|The Baby Writer Panel|
Because I’ve signed up for Mikki Kendall‘s Comics Writing Workshop at Wiscon (moment for squee-fest and happy-dance!! I believe this is the first year something like this has been offered) I came across this article, Writer Mikki Kendall Talks Dynamite’s Swords of Sorrow, which led me to Race and Romance in Daredevil Season 2 at Women Write about Comics. It got me to thinking about my own criticisms and disappointments with the show and in pop culture media in general.
While I have criticisms (both cultural and writing centered) of the story, I have enjoyed the Daredevil TV show: well produced, good styling, set and wardrobe; interesting cinematography; complex and intriguing story line. But the writing in the 2nd season felt more scattered (possibly because it was–we did follow three major characters: Daredevil/Murdoch, Elektra, and the Punisher). More noticeable this season, too, was Matt’s disregard for other people–he forces others to clean-up his messes despite their clear discomfort regarding his requests, thus placing those people in harmful and dangerous situations. I don’t know if this is intentional on the writers’ behalf, but Matt came off as a spoiled child thinking he’s acting like an adult. (The character that felt most like a hero was Foggy.) Matt’s callous disregard for the consequences of his own actions and for other’s feelings and needs is a point CLARA MAE makes about Murdoch’s treatment of two of his romantic interests, the two WoC–Claire and Elektra. Ignoring another person’s discomfort and safety is abusive behavior. This paragraph really hit home:
Karen is taken on dates and is formally courted by Matt. Claire and Elektra are the women he’s with only under the cover of darkness, where he’s rougher, less considerate, and embodies more masculine aggression. I can’t emphasize enough what kind of message this sends about what the writers and Matt think of women of color, and how harmful it is for WoC to see themselves as the girls who a white man will come to at night, but never take out during the light of day. We know that stories have a marked effect on self esteem, and the less a WoC sees herself portrayed positively in media, the less likely she is to feel like the society she’s in values her as a human being.
What we see around us, we absorb into our psyche. We internalize everything. It’s how we learn and function as a species. So the stories we consume as well as the stories we tell ourselves shape our beliefs and what we feel is right and what we feel is possible. If I remember correctly, at a Wiscon panel, Daniel José Older said that happy endings are subversive. And in this excellent interview with Tor.com, Race, Publishing, and H.P. Lovecraft: A Conversation With Daniel José Older and Victor LaValle, I can actually quote him: “I believe in the revolutionary power of happy endings. Especially when you’re dealing with marginalized people… we need to see that there’s hope.”
Apparently even active female characters must be made more… appealing(?, because why else are the writers undermining her active role) by diminishing her agency and being her own competent character. Karen is filmed/styled as the damsel in distress. I’d like to know why her actions need to be glossed up/over with daintiness and a helpless sheen when she’s the one who killed ruthless Wesley, forged forward in her investigations despite real threats (that killed Ben Ulrich), and in general is not cowering or distressed, but active and getting things done. All this while still doing “feminine” things like taking care of the boys and not getting as beat up as the other romantic interests (who are WoC (who are either under-sexualized or over-sexualized…and how sexuality is related to femininity!)), or killed like Ben. As Clara Mae puts it so well, “I’m not at all arguing that violence should befall Karen, but the treatment of Karen stands in stark contrast with the treatment of Elektra and Claire. If Karen is the princess, protected from the brunt of Hell’s Kitchen by the men around her, then Elektra and Claire are the warriors on the front line.” The history of cultural depictions of women of color as not needing/worthy of protection is long. Related is the sexualization of women–either hyper or under sexualized depending on ethnicity, age (lets not forget age!), and whatever it is men were wanting to justify or fantasize about.
I’d like to see all the female characters given as much rounding and complexity, as much humanity and personality, as Karen is given–attractive (well, this is a difficult “idea” isn’t it? Attractive to whom and why? Usually to the male gaze) and worthy as well as active, inquisitive, resilient, and fallible and human, too. There’s some excellent articles out there on why the strong, black woman stereotype is damaging and not the positive praise it might at first glance seem to be (similarly, the “angry, black woman” and other such stereotypes: article by Sofia Samatar on the hyper visibility & invisibility of academics of color, this article by Stacey Patton at Dame Magazine, and “Amandla Stenberg And The Sad Reality Of The ‘Angry Black Girl’ Stereotype” at the Huffington Post).
“But in a society that finds little to praise in black women, other groups’ appreciation for perceived black female strength can feel like a reductive appreciation.”
In Tamara Winfrey Harris’s article linked to above, educator and social-justice advocate Deborah Latham-White is quoted: “I am unwilling to be the mule for the nation.” I cannot put it more eloquently or more succinctly than that.
To those who point out that the comic is different than the TV show–adaptations are their own entity and it is this entity/medium/iteration that is being critiqued. TV has a history and tropes and stereotypes all its own (related to the comics, of course, because it’s created by people in the same broader cultural context). Many consumers of the Daredevil TV show are unfamiliar with the comics, thus the story they are getting is the TV version, so if something different happened in the comic, that’s in the comic, not in the show.
(Clearly this is not meant to be an exhaustive post, nor is it a definitive post. These are discussions that have been on-going and better written than I’ve come up with. But it’s a discussion that is important and vital. Nothing new here, but hopefully a good reminder and stepping stone along the way.)
So, yeah, I’m very much looking forward to Mikki Kendall’s workshop and dipping my writing toes into the world of comics. I’ve got some ideas bouncing about my head I’d like to see out and about in our world. Here’s hoping they make their way to you all one way or another.
In other news, I received edits for “Backlash of the Rapunzel Incident” from Mad Scientist Review. Things are looking good, people! Very excited about this piece finding a good home.
my Wiscon schedule,
maybe some photos of Spring!
Check this out:
“Women may hold up more than half the sky on earth, but it has been different in heaven: science fiction still is very much a preserve of male protagonists, mostly performing by-the-numbers quests. In The Other Half of the Sky, editor Athena Andreadis offers readers heroes who happen to be women, doing whatever they would do in universes where they’re fully human.
Melissa Scott, Alex Jablokov, Nisi Shawl, Sue Lange, Vandana Singh, Joan Slonczewski, Terry Boren, Aliette de Bodard, Ken Liu, Alex Dally MacFarlane, Martha Wells, Kelly Jennings, C. W. Johnson, Cat Rambo, Christine Lucas, Jack McDevitt”
Wiscon connections: Joan Slonczewski is one of this year’s Guests of Honor; Nisi Shawl was the Guest of Honor in 2011; and Alex Dally MacFarlane will be at the Open Secrets Reading on Saturday May 25th, 2:30–3:45 pm.
Read teasers from the anthology here!
Wiscon – the world’s leading feminist Science Fiction Convention – is just around the corner! Held here in Madison, Wisconsin from May 24th – 27th.
Thanks to LaShawn for being organized and posting her schedule, thus reminding me to do the same (I know what I’ll be doing Friday night – I’ll be going to the Oxford Comma Bonfire Reading).
This year I will be participating as a panelist in two discussions and reading from my poetry with a wonderful and talented group. My schedule in short (with descriptions and a list of panelists and poets below):
Sat, 1:00–2:15 pm; When Bodies and Jobs Are the Same; Caucus
Sat, 2:30–3:45 pm; Open Secrets: A Speculative Poetry Reading; Senate B
Mon, 10:00–11:15 am; Passing: Self-Care and Embracing Who You Are; Caucus
|Passing: Self-Care and Embracing Who You Are|
|Open Secrets: a Speculative Poetry Reading|
|When Bodies and Jobs Are the Same|
I am actually sitting outside right now and not freezing my arse off or risking electrocution. It’s been coooold and wet – wet I can understand, it is spring after all and rain is what spring is all about. But it doesn’t need to be so cold, and I do mean cold as it’s been ten to twenty degrees below normal temperatures and it’s still freezing at night.
But today blue sky is peeking out between the gauzy layer of cloud. Grackles, cardinals, robins, finches, and other birds are chirping wildly in their cacophonous glory. I think the Osterglocken (literally “Easter bells”, or, you know, daffodils) in our front yard will bloom soon! I had no idea we had daffodils. And there’s a few other things I don’t know what they are yet – maybe hyacinth! Mmm, those smell delicious.
Why am I telling you this? Because it’s glorious. Truly. I’m so excited by Spring’s return. As many other animals clearly are as well. Some much more vocal about it that I am.And I’m telling you this because there is nothing to mention on the writing front. I’ve been unable to write well for a couple weeks now. It sounds a bit like I’m telling my doctor about a health problem I’ve been suffering. And in many ways it feels like it, actually. I get so grumpy when I don’t write… when I don’t write well that is, which is to say with a purpose whose fulfillment I’m actively and markedly working on.
I’m not making any progress!!! Waahhhh. Though I think the catnip seeds I’ve sowed have germinated… which is so cool. But it’s not me or my doing. I’m not germinating, damn it! Fallow. I’m lying fallow and Spring and renewal are flourishing all about. Maybe I should stop whining and enjoy the bounty 🙂 Refill thine vessel.
But I’ve this deadline of this evening for submitting a short story to Wiscon‘s writing workshop, which is a wonderful opportunity to have three or four other speculative writers and a well-published pro critique my work – feedback is huge, people! It is one of the most helpful things. Practice (writewritewrite), of course, readreadread, and get feedback that’s not from your own little head. It’s energizing to get well thought out feedback and criticism. And I’m going to miss getting it (well, this year anyway) on one or two stories I’m working on that could really use the eyes of some intelligent, culturally and socially aware and literate individuals. Especially since there are characters who are PoC and I’ve only purposefully written characters who identify as PoC a handful of times, and none in stories that actually developed into something publishable.
I’ll complain briefly here: my drafts take too damned long to get through, not to mention the rewriting and editing (that’s an eternity within an eternity… okay little strong on the hyperbole); I don’t outline and I don’t feel I can outline without writing the stories to find out where they’re going because in order to think and explore I write and talk, not the other way around….. and I soooooo need to get over myself and this phony-writer syndrome. Because there’s nothing more annoying than listening to someone complain about how they suck and all when a handful of respected individuals who have nothing to gain by complimenting the writer compliment the writer and you know, actually read her work, enjoy it, and publish her. Yeah, I’m that writer right now. Humility is rarely in short supply, if you ask me, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the self-effacing, keeping-myself-down attitude of self-doubt.
I’m going to transplant some violas and get my hands dirty. Have another cup of coffee, and realize that things are as they are right now, and I’ll figure out later this writing thing and this outlining and writing more effectively or efficiently thing… because right now, life is blooming all around me. Right now the sun is shining and the world is alive!
I attended Wiscon over the Memorial Day weekend. It was wonderful! I listened to and participated in discussions on many topics, including “The Arab/Muslim ‘East’ in Science Fiction,” “Anarchism in SF” to “Untangling Class,” “Dogmatic Rationalism,” as well as an excellent panel discussion “Multiraciality in SF/F,” and many others.
I’d like to write about some of what was discussed in the Multiraciality panel. It is often over-looked or at least it is not often mentioned in discussions of race and ethnicity. Sofia Samatar moderated the panel, and was joined by Claire Light (who proposed the panel, I believe), Alaya Dawn Johnson, Victor Raymond, and Daniel Jose Older (I think – his name is not listed in the panel description in the program book).
The description as written in the program booklet: “How are mixed race characters used in SF/F? Are they symbols of racial detente in the future, wish fulfillment, tool for getting magical powers into a character–or something else entirely? It seems to be a relatively safe subject in YA–is that because a multiracial future is pleasant to contemplate? Are there mixed race characters in adult sf/f who are more than symbols? What about authenticity?”
Someone on the Multiraciality and SF/F panel said, “What is Science Fiction but an opportunity to imagine futures for all of us.” (Oh, the discussion was so good, I did not write down the speaker’s name – just jotted down the great things I heard so I could listen better. Sorry I can not attribute this quote.) So when a novel, or a tv series or movie, has a multiracial character (and it is often just one, isn’t it? there’s rarely more than one character that is not completely of the dominant culture/ ethnicity), or a character of a race other than the dominant culture’s for that matter, and writes that character with a “cultural gloss” the author has lost the opportunity to represent a meaningful character with a meaningful multiracial identity. That creates, in effect, an erasure. And erasing differences, cultures, actual realities people live every day is a dangerous practice. “You don’t exist,” is what multiracial readers can understand from this. “You and your reality are not valid. No one wants to hear about it. And it’s not interesting or worth mentioning if it does exist.” And this message, this sweeping under the rug is what all readers (regardless of race, ethnicity, culture, gender, class) and the culture as a whole hears, as well.
Even women of the dominant culture/ racial background have felt this erasure as well, not to mention the double erasure women of color have to contend with. After years of white men adventuring through the universe while women were relegated to passive, dumb support staff roles, we are finally seeing more women and girls as main characters. We’re reading about women in active roles, reading about girls out seeking their own adventures, out chasing dragons and making contact with aliens. Female characters are actually doing things in more of today’s stories – they’re out problem-solving, saving the world and the universe, creating and innovating, thinking and being, you know, human. For all of Tolkien’s excellent writing and story-telling, one would think the world was populated by men, one would think that adventures and the safety of the world rested on the shoulders of men, and that women were a barely existent species, an all but unheard of creature, rarely glimpsed, and when seen she is standing by her man or swooning after him.
Too often when a female character of a non-white race/ culture is described her racial and cultural identity is used for exoticism: it makes her hot and desirable to the white male reader. This is clearly problematic. It tells the reader that women are defined by and their usefulness is gauged by their attractiveness to men. The more exotic the better, up to a point. Too otherly cultural is not attractive.
Perhaps that’s why mixed race characters are often, to almost exclusively, one part “other” and one part white. As if no other combination existed. As if there wasn’t an extensive history of American Indian and African American marriages and unions in the history of the U.S. for example. This is often seen in Star Trek – there are (only?) half-alien and half-human characters of mixed species, and no (that I can think of) characters that are a mix of two or more “other” species. It’s as if characters are half-white so that they are understandable (understandable to whom, one might ask – why the dominant culture, of course) and not too “other.” This also makes it easier for the author to assimilate the multiracial character into the culturally dominant white paradigm, and not really touch on the character’s other culture except maybe to mention the smells of curry wafting from the kitchen, or borrowing mother’s sari/saree to wear as a costume to a high school dance (these were the only two non-dominant cultural references in a YA book whose female character was written as a mixed-race character).
One common counter-argument is that maybe these characters have a mixed race background but they identify with the dominant culture. But that’s not realistic and it is not factual as not everyone of mixed- or non-white culture wants to be or identifies with the dominant culture. And many people do not treat one another the same regardless of how that person may identify. So, to use the Harry Potter reference of Sofia’s previously mentioned “Race and Fandom” post, even if “Cho and the Patils were just English children of different ethnic backgrounds” who identify themselves by their citizenship and nothing else, every person they interacted with would not treat them as such. And in a population as large as Hogwarts, to continue with the Harry Potter example, not all children of non-white (here British) middle-class and mixed ethnic backgrounds would identify with the dominant culture. And magic certainly wouldn’t be based on and exist in this one culture. That would be like saying Nature is grounded in and responds to white American middle-class values. That would be absurd.
There are many cultures, many world-views, many belief structures that people identify with, live, believe, and embody. Mixed cultural identities and/or a mixed racial identities complicate and blur these boundaries and structures, and the discussion of race and culture becomes more difficult than it already was. But it is an important discussion. Please understand that this is an on-going discussion, that I have only touched on some major themes. Also, I am in no way an expert nor have I done extensive research. What I am is a person of a bi-cultural up-bringing, and though the cultures involved are both based on Western Christian belief structures (specifically German and American) it has been difficult for me to navigate. I don’t have any outward cultural markers that distinguish me visually as coming from another culture, so strangers probably assume I’m from the dominant American culture, though I’m not. I use this small less-obvious less-problematic mixed cultural up-bringing to inform my understanding of the need for fully realized multiracial characters in popular culture, including in my favorite genre of SF/F.
I do not want to read about “white-washed” worlds and futures. They aren’t and they won’t be. I read to expand my understanding of the human condition, to broaden my understanding of what people live and feel and experience. I read to experience or at least glimpse world-views and belief structures that I did not grow-up with and thus did not incorporate into the construct that is me. I want to transcend the limits of space and time and body, not narrow and limit myself. That’s the amazing expansive and enlightening power of literature.
Novels mentioned that “do mixed race well”: Samuel R. Delany’s Nova, Maureen F. McHugh’s China Mountain Zhang, Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred, Geoff Ryman’s Air, and the non-SF/F novel Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson.
Oh, sigh. No Clarion West for me this year, either. So it is. I’ll work more on my Odyssey application. I’ll just keep working in general.
I have many stories in progress and very few I’d consider finished. And even these finished ones, well… fiction is definitely the newer form for me. But there are days when I look at my poetry and think, who am I kidding? I need to do better. I can do better, I think, but how?
Learning and developing a craft on my own feels almost Sisyphean. Because if I knew, I’d be a better writer than I am, but I’m not, so I don’t know, so learning from myself is quite the task. That’s why there are so many unfinished stories on my computer and in my notebooks: I don’t know what to do with them. I write and revise them, but they aren’t quite right. They sit there half-naked, lame, and mute. I think they are beautiful, I hope they can sing. At least some days I think so. Others, they look like a crowd of limping, dirty, ragged embarrasments that I’ve put some lipstick on and wrapped a few sequined shawls around. But enough hyperbole, err, self-pitying…
…because, thank goodness, I have a wonderful writing partner! I know my stories wouldn’t look as good as they do if she were not in my life. Meeting every week with her is a goal I can write towards. So I write and hand over my work and am honored that she gives me her work to critique, too. It’s an exchange of precious gifts.
And there are places like Wiscon that have writing workshops. And one can learn quite a bit in the few hours of a workshop, thanks to the busy wonderful writers that lead them, and the busy wonderful writers that attend.
Community can really save an artist. I am so very thankful for my patient, creative, supportive community of friends. Thank you.