storycraft

Not For Me

I'm going to voice an unholy, unpopular opinion...

I didn't like the Joss Whedon "Much Ado About Nothing". 

There. I said it.

Look, I love Joss Whedon's other works. I find his writing to be impeccable, sharp and entertaining. His direction and filmmaking abilities are some of the best in the current crop of Hollywood. In short, I dig Joss Whedon. However, I cannot say that I enjoyed his take on this particular Shakespeare play. I much prefer the Catherine Tate/David Tennant stage production directed by Josie Rourke. I could write an entire blog post about my issues with the Whedon version, but, in the end it comes down to four words: It's not for me.

Along those same lines, I don't like lima beans, country music, reality television or skinny jeans. I'm not into Clown Dominant BDSM porn. These things and the people who dig them are not inherently bad (though I ask for a slight dram of understanding when I look at you funny for the clown thing). They are, however, not for me.

In general I am a "live and let live" person. If you eat lima beans while listening to your Keith Urban, I'm not going to rage at you or call you names. I'll be over here with my chai, watching the Tate/Tennant version of "Much Ado" for the tenth time in as many days.

But I realized recently that there is one avenue where I have an extreme prejudice. And that arena is BOOKS. I posted on Twitter quite happily that if your book is poorly written (ie riddled with spelling and grammar errors, rife with poor characterization and otherwise chock full of suck) I will rip it apart. I can, when it comes to the written word, be a judgmental bitch.

Now, my personal Facebook account is set to "friends only" for various reasons, the most pressing of which is that I like to have some semblance of space that is for myself, friends, family and close colleagues. Otherwise, I've got a fan page or my Twitter feed or this blog or conventions et al for everyone else. Anyway, I used my personal Facebook account to ridicule a self-published novella for its horrible cover and the atrocious writing quality. I started off being vague about it, not naming names or using the copy/paste function. After a while, however, I posted a link to the book on Amazon to share with others so they would see, "This is why I'm gagging here!"

I have amazing friends. Not only will they laugh with me, they will take me aside and say, "This time, I think you need to check yourself." One such friend sent me a private message offering a different point of view that I had, admittedly, been ignorant of. He suggested that this book was written that way specifically because it was aimed at a particular audience. The book used a cultural language and plays to the values of a specific kind of person.

In short, this book was not for me.

It wasn't written for me. It was written for another woman with a different life experience.

I think what we've seen recently in the news with Ferguson and the like has highlighted that while many of us are trying to live colorblind, we are instead blinded to other experiences. It's not out of anger, hatred or racism, but it is a flaw. In trying to see only people and treat everyone equally, we forget that everyone lives different experiences. Women walk to their cars holding their keys like a weapon. Black men are stopped for carrying a can of tea and Skittles. These are details of every day life for some people that the rest of us do not necessarily understand. A man doesn't know what it is to grow up in rape culture from a woman's perspective any more than I--a middle-class, cis white woman--can truly understand what it must be like to live the life of a black teen in middle America. Or a Latina immigrant. Or a transgender male. I can--and do--have sympathy. I can imagine or put myself in his/her shoes. But I can never truly know what that person's life is with cultural heritage and social conditioning.

That being the case, this particular book was not for me.

And I know that some of you are sitting there shaking your heads wondering how this can possibly be an epiphany for me. Well, I know that there are divisions. I know there are sects, schisms and denominations in the world. I know well that there are cultural/racial divides. But the one place I forget these things exist is in a library. It may be my naivete showing, but I think of libraries as huge, open areas where anyone can peruse any section at length and read any volume they choose. There isn't a room set aside for this class or this color or this creed. Books are accessible to all, in my mind, and I try to make my own writing equally open.

But, yeah... guess what, Jamie. This book isn't for you.

Coming to this conclusion throws the issue of diversity-in-fiction into even sharper relief, and adds new questions to the mix:

When writing The Other (be it People of Color, other genders or sexual preferences etc), where is the line between writing people--fully-generated characters--and ignoring their differences? For example, we don't want our strong female characters to be "men with tits" any more than we want to whitewash PoC. I think we can agree that white-cis-heteronormative male is not the default human setting (regardless of what popular media would show). However, we don't want to have token black characters or Sassy Gay Friends just for the sake of them being there, either. Personally, I write people. Some of my characters are black, some are white. Some are satyrs and gods. Some are bi, some are cis, some are Pan. To me, though, these are things that inform who they are without defining who they are. My characters have fears and desires that resonate on a human level.

However, is this also a problem? Does being colorblind turn into erasure? I'm thinking here of a discussion way back in high school about how shows like Cosby and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air didn't depict "blackness" but black people in white roles. The idea of "the Carlton" being the equivalent of a house slave. (Not my personal feeling or argument, but one I've heard often and take into consideration when developing characters.) That argument stuck with me, though, and it does play in the back of my head sometimes when I'm working on character development. Am I writing a fleshed out character who is black, or am I writing a Carlton?

Where is the line between writing a dialect and poor writing? It's been pointed out to me that African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is considered to have its own rules. If that's the case, and we say that AAVE has its own set of standards, where is the line between "poor writing" and "following a different set of rules"? And along this same line, by deciding that AAVE is acceptable, are we allowing writers to "write down" to people? And to that point, is that good for anyone? It almost sounds like--in some cases--we would lower standards and turn out poorer product for certain audiences. I find that as insulting to both creator and audience as I do seeing men portrayed as having dull minds and uncontrollable libidos, or women used as plot devices.

Now, in my own writing, I look at dialect as something that individual characters have. If writing in first person, I will allow slang and dialect to a point, but not over do. In third person, the prose I keep in standard American English with all the grammatical trappings and spellings of MLA and Chicago Style manuals. If a character is Cajun, or African American, or has a thick Geordie accent, I let that come through in dialogue. Spellings and grammar be damned, if it's what that character would say, so be it. However, I don't let it leak into the prose. (I will admit that my lead character speaks in Internet English sometimes in her prose, but that's who she is.) So don't misunderstand; something like the works of Twain written in Southern American English is not going to be held to the same yardstick as Shakespeare.

Furthermore, if we posit that there are not only books that are "not for everyone" but entire genres written with one subset of humanity in mind, is this in some way segregating? Is it just as limiting as omission? We have black publishers, women's publishers, LGBTQ publishers...groups set aside to make sure all voices are heard. But at what point does that swing the pendulum to separate but equal?

These are more philosophical points, perhaps, and I know that they only scratch the surface of issues. These questions are not going to be answered in a day or Twitter post. But I'm keen to open a dialogue with you about them. I don't pretend to have The Answers to this. I have ideas, but I also will admit that in some matters I'm ignorant.

 

Your thoughts?

PS: And no, "Much Ado" is not up for debate. Tate/Tennat FOREVAH!!!

LepreCon Panel Info

Hey, gang. This weekend I will be at LepreCon in Mesa, AZ. You can even stalk me  come see me at panels. Here's where I'll be and what I'll be rambling about.

Friday:

  • Story vs Setting (3pm) Speculative fiction has a burden few other genres carry: creating a unique world (or universe even) and all the exposition that goes with that. How do you get through that kind of info-dump without reading like your story is interspersed among encyclopedia entries?  Our veterans share their secrets. Includes Marcy Rockwell, Roby Ward, T.L.Smith, and moderator JoAnna Senger.
  • Different Sorts of Magic (5pm) Magic works differently, depending on the universe. Comparing and contrasting the different magics to determine what makes them compelling, and why. With Sharon Skinner, Marsheila Rockwell, Rick Cook, and Jason Anthony Cazares.

Saturday:

  • Strange Love - Romance Across Genres (11am) How do strange adventures across time and space change the course of True Love? How do they not change anything at all? With Deena Remiel and Jacinda Buchman. ***This panel has been rescheduled to 7pm.***
  • Alternative Mythologies (2pm) Our panel explores troves of legends and lore that did NOT come from Europe or the Mediterranean. With Michelle M. Welch, Marcy Rockwell and T.L. Smith. (Apparently I'm the "designated adult" for this panel, so gods only know what will happen.)
  • Creating Strong Female Characters (5pm) Half of humanity is female - so how hard could this possibly be? Well, judging by the body of extant speculative fiction - really hard. It’s not really that difficult - is it? It’s gotta be something else, right? What? Panelists include T.L. Smith, Marcy Rockwell, Roby Ward and moderator PJ Hulstrand.

Sunday: 

  • Stump the Editor (10am) Bring your most stubborn literary conundrum to our panel of editors, and they will give you an answer - or a prize. Other panelists include Michelle M. Welch, Ethan Moe and Ann N. Videan
  • Sexy Monsters vs Scary Monsters (11am) Which do you prefer: vampires wearing glitter to impress their teenage girlfriends or vampires covered in the splattered blood of slaughtered villagers? Can a monster be both? Why? With Sharon Skinner, Emily Davenport and JoAnna Senger.
  • Alternate Histories (12pm) How would our world be different if Rome never fell, or the South negotiated a draw, or if they built a full sized replica of the USS Enterprise in Las Vegas instead of the Fremont Street Experience?  Can you change one small detail and change the world? Or are the currents of history so deep as to be ultimately inevitable? With Rick Cook and Vinny Alascia.

Some of these panels are moderated, some aren't, so who knows what will happen. That's the fun. Let's have a conversation!

If you can't make it to LepreCon, I will also be at Phoenix ComicCon (next month, bitches! woot!) and CONvergence in July.

Hurry up and Wait

willwork4chai_lg Yes, I know, I've been horrible about keeping up with this blog. Real life has been awesome and frustrating and crazy and beautiful and and and.

Kiddo is home on summer vacation for another few weeks and both of us are getting a little stir crazy.

Also, one of my bestest had a baby last month. That baby came to the world 6 weeks sooner than anticipated. (And thus, she and I form a club. We're a group. A partnership of Early-But-Awesome.) Well, Baby LemmyB finally got to go home a little more than a week ago. So, I spent some of last week helping her and her mom adjust to this new version of life. Albeit, most of that was spent snuggling a very tiny bebe, but dude. Baby snuggles. I'll be doing that once or twice a week for the next 6 weeks or so. Have laptop, will travel. And that's a good thing becaaaaaause....

I got my long awaited edits on TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES and my proofs for WHEN THE HERO COMES HOME 2 (the anthology I'm a part of coming soon from Dragon Moon Press).  AND, I'm preparing for Copper Con next month.

Did I mention that? I don't know. I'm going to be a guest at Copper Con in Mesa, AZ running August 8-11. I'll be giving panels discussing Mythology and Urban Fantasy, Author Resources in the Digital Age, and Writers and Social Media.

So yeah, it's been pretty busy around these parts. I'm going into my writing/editing cave of solitude...well, it's more of a desk really. And there's not exactly solitude. There are headphones. And glares if I'm disturbed.

Things aren't going to slow down any for a while, either. I'm going to be working pretty hard for the next month on these edits for Entangled. It's odd. I wrote the book 2 years ago (next month) and while its seen it's fair share of edits, it's hard to think of it as something malleable. That and I haven't really touched it for...wow. A while. I've been working on the other books in the series. Book 3 (most recent work in that universe) takes place nearly 2 years after the events in TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES, so it's also odd doing a time warp... and if I change things here, it might change things there and AHHHH! *brain asplodes!*

So yeah. Forgive me if the blog gets neglected for a bit. I'm working on making this book specfuckinggoddamntacular for you.

Until next time, have a Hiddloki picture:

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Dissecting Star Wars

So, yesterday Lou Anders posted a link on his Facebook page to an article by Tor.com contributor Ryan Britt. The article posits that in George Lucas's beloved Star Wars universe, the citizens are illiterate. In the comments of Lou's post, a discussion began about why this might have happened and the various ways other sci-fi/fantasy franchises have included reading, art and culture.

What results from this discussion? My brain will not shut off on this and now, I feel the need to inflict it upon you. So, join me after the jump for some dissection of one of film's greatest fantasy franchises...

*Note: Everything I posit hereafter will be using the six canon Star Wars films. I will not be including the Clone Wars, video games, novels or Christmas Special in my considerations. 

Britt's article is concerned that because we don't see the citizens of the Empire using the written word, they clearly don't know how to use it. Let's think about why the written word is used at all in our culture. You've got 3 main reasons:

-Art/entertainment (books, plays, poetry) -Communication (small scale - letters, emails, texts, social networking) -Information (large scale - newspapers, magazines, encyclopedia, record keeping)

All of these serve as a collective memory. Now, as we've seen in our own history, knowledge is power and those with power use the written word. Teaching a person to read has always been touted as the greatest form of empowerment. However, it has become so much more than that. Look at our text-based culture. Email, texts, Tweets... this blog. It's part of every day life. Our key forms of entertainment start at their roots with words. We rely on and revere the written word so much that we cannot imagine a humanoid culture living without it.

While I see where Britt is coming from, I think there are a few aspects of Lucas's worldbuilding that need to be taken into account. And not all of them are pretty. Believe me, I'd rather walk on my own lips than say anything negative about the original trilogy, but the more I think about this the more holes I see. My inner three year old is screaming as I write this, but in terms of storytelling... Star Wars is terribly flawed.

Iconclast

As we see in D&D and other such fantasy settings, there are multiple cultures that make up the Republic/Empire, but they all speak a common tongue. It cannot be easy to get Tridarians and Wookies to talk with one another. Hutts probably don't mix well with Gungans. Something about the inability to gargle, one presumes. Anyway, if you look at the senate scenes in the prequel films you see that the Republic is made of tons of races. We don't know who made first contact or how these many planets and civilizations came to form their Republic, but we do know that at some point they had to start talking.

Now, in his article Britt laments that most of the communication done in the Star Wars 'verse is video (holograms) or radio. "No one texts!" Britt says. When trying to wrangle a bajillion races--each with its own language, culture, nuances, etc--this actually makes sense. Have you tried texting with a Hutt? He fat-fingers everything and even auto-correct can't help you translate. Fuck that. Seriously, though, I suggest that this lack of written communication might be a necessary tool in Lucas's galaxy. When trying to govern and integrate so many different peoples, it might be easier to adopt an iconographic language that everyone can understand.

While it's necessary, it also robs ALL of those delegations of any semblance of culture. In shows like Star Trek and Babylon 5 you get a definite idea that each world has its own culture, its own literature and music and tradition. In fact, on these two shows, preserving that cultural identity is always key. I know that Narn opera is probably the worst thing you could do to your ears and that even Klingons dig the Bard of Avon.

However, in Star Wars we don't see any such reverence of art or culture. That massive library that the Jedi have compiled seems to house history and science. Did it have digital copies of Jabba's self-published romance novel? Or the scrolls of the Wookies' creation myth? The only hints we get of individual culture come in Episode 1 (the celebration parade between the Nubians and the Gungans, and Amidala's costumes), Episode 3 (the bubble opera thing, the myth of Darth Plagus), and Episode 6 with the Ewoks' reverence of a golden idol. But the Ewoks are treated as primitive teddy bears, so how important can their hokey little religion be? In fact the only religion we see is the Jedi faith and it seems that they are tolerated because they also bring peace. After the fall of the Republic, though, the whole system appears atheistic.

An atheistic society in and of itself isn't a bad thing. The problem is that Lucas erased all of these individual cultures--and the richness therein--more swiftly than the Emperor could have with the Death Star. George Lucas just removed any need for the written word for artistic purposes.

All Alone in the Dark Something else Britt brings up is the lack of news broadcasts. Even in the days before the Empire when Naboo is in a snit with the Trade Federation, you don't see evidence that this is being broadcast to the star system. It almost seems that each planet runs on its own. Each settlement keeps to itself. While this does keep with the Prime Directive that Star Trek made famous, it bodes ill for the Republic/Empire as a whole. Naboo can't get word out about the Trade Federation on any sort of grand scale. There isn't a system-wide outrage over what is happening, so Amidala has fewer avenues to seek help.

This punches a hole into the Emperor's grand plan, however. When Grand Moff Tarkin informs the big wigs on the Death Star that the Senate has been dissolved, he says that fear will keep the systems in line. "Fear of this battle station." Here's the thing... if no one but the Empire's lackeys and a prisoner sentenced to death witnessed the destruction of Alderaan, how are the regional governors supposed to use it as an example? Sure, you can say, "Hey, I haven't heard from Bill on Alderaan in a few days. My spice shipment is late," but that then takes manpower (time, money, fuel etc) to investigate. This plan isn't all that great for the Empire.

If Amidala had access to a large news outlet, could she have staved off the dire situation in the Senate that allowed Palpatine to grab power? Could the Rebellion have swelled at the outrage over Alderaan? Possibly, but would the written word have been the best vehicle for it? Doubtful.

It's one thing for someone to write about the tragedies going on every day in the Middle East, but it's more visceral when you see insurgents attacking with bombs and civilians bleeding from their heads. Telling you about 9/11 would not have the same kind of impact as showing you the destruction of the towers. (And part of that tragedy was based in cultural memory.) So, there's that aspect.

There are other benefits to using video/holographic media over the written word when trying to inform the masses. For one, you try an interplanetary paper route. For another, when able to see a person speaking, you get body language, inflection...things that just don't come across as well with words. I wonder, though, if video communication isn't as prevalent as it is in sci-fi because of 1960's earth life. With television becoming a powerful tool THEN, the writers of our beloved franchises are influenced by the visual and see the gains there. That's where the future is, right? Maybe that's the simple answer.

Star Wars, Star Trek, Babylon 5 and Firefly... all of them use video messaging. The Star Wars 'verse is the only one that lacks a widely broadcast news organization. Everything in Star Wars is word of mouth.

So we've eliminated art/culture and informative communication as reasons for the written word...but we've also established video communication and an icon-based system for the Galactic Republic/Empire. So, this negates the need for text-based personal communications. Thus, the need for the written word has been eradicated in Star Wars.

This Bothers Me And no, it's not because I'm a writer and love words. It's because I'm a Humanities geek. I love looking through the arts and mythologies of other cultures. I need to see that preserved as part of human history and hate the idea of homogenization. I don't like the idea that after a millenia of starfaring we lose our roots.

You see culture maintained and revered in Star Trek, Babylon 5 and even Firefly. Characters read (actual books!) in all of these television series. The crew of the Enterprise D enjoys watching plays that are--by their own calendars--800 years old! There are celebrations on Babylon 5 to honor the religions of each critter on that station. On Firefly you see not just high art but folk art and dance traditions throughout the smaller planets on the Rim.

Perhaps the difference is that these three franchises are Earth-based. They are projections of our culture, possible futures. Star Wars tells us immediately that this happened somewhere far far away from us. I've never gotten the idea that Tattooine was settled by some guy from Iowa, but I believe that same cornhusker is the Captain of the Federation's flagship. Firefly is able to establish that common culture immediately with the Sino-American influence and the mentions of Earth That Was.

One of the comments on Lou's feed suggested that Star Wars didn't have as much time for worldbuilding and establishing a culture since it is a film series rather than a television series. I think this is, honestly, a weak argument. It's a poor excuse for sub-par storytelling.

Let's do some math. Over the course of six films, Star Wars had 789 minutes with its audience. Star Trek had 3950 minutes with the original series and 9790 with The Next Generation. Babylon 5's five year arc had 4730 minutes. The numbers should say it all, right? Add a common heritage and of course Star Trek and B5 are richer worlds...they had the time.

But let's look at Firefly.

Firefly had 588 minutes with its audience (not including the film Serenity). That world is fertile. Like the Star Trek 'verse and Babylon 5, you can walk around in that setting and play, get your hands dirty and create. You can LIVE there. I'd say you can do the same thing with Star Wars. It's a world that you can describe and feel on a tactile level. Firefly, however, did more with its time than Star Wars in terms of worldbuilding.

And that's what it comes down to.

Time.

You have a limited time with your audience (be it film, television, radio or the written word). You have a finite resource and you must use it wisely and to the best effect. This is where Star Wars fails. For what it is, Star Wars is good. It is a staple of pop culture and one of my favorite geekdoms. It, like anything else, has its flaws. Limitations due to technology, money etc can account for some, but at the end of the day Star Wars is a story. It's a decent story that resonates with us because we can see ourselves in it, we see the familiar.

But... (and I hate that but)... it wasted many opportunities. And thus it falls short of the bar set by other franchises. That's not a bad thing. Just a sad thing.