Reading Links

It’s crazy times at work, so I haven’t had much energy to write or blog, but here’s a roundup of the many things I’ve read in the last two weeks or so:

The Yes Gay YA discussion still raging across the internet:
The original post: Say Yes To Gay YA
The baffling response: On Being Used, the Lack of LGBTQ Characters in YA, and Why It’s Important to Work Together
The roundup: What’s going on with #yesGayYA
Some responses worth reading:
Marie Brennan: Swan Tower – Followup on “Say Yes to Gay YA”
Steve Dos Santos: Ixnay on the Gay: The Gay YA Controversy: A View from the Trenches!
Scott Tracey: YesGayYA
Malinda Lo: I have numbers! Stats on LGBT Young Adult Books Published in the U.S.

In the movies and TV:
‘Thelma & Louise’: The Last Great Film About Women on The Atlantic. It’s true. There’s lots to choose from for male buddy movies, but movies that look at women’s friendships? Not so much.

John Scalzi explains why Ellen Ripley Is Clearly the Best Female Character in Scifi Film, and That’s a Problem on Film Critic

How To Discover Classic Doctor Who In 3 Easy Steps on io9 (The real doctor is always the one you watched first)

Race:

Most of you have no idea what Martin Luther King actually did by Hamden Rice on Daily Kos. I’ve mentioned a lot of links in this post, but if you read just one, read this one. Mind rattling if you’re from a privileged group in any way… He makes the connection between racism and living in a terrorist State.

Writing:

Writing Muscles by Shannon Donnelly on BVC blog. Exercises to train yourself to write more. I particularly like the directive Plan Your Training. This is something I don’t do. This is something I should do.

Malinda Lo on Authenticity. What does “authentic” mean, anyway?

Kate Elliott continues the discussion with her post Authenticity and Authority

She also tackles beginnings: Empty Space: Some thoughts on openings in novels

New York Times The Children’s Authors Who Broke the Rules

YALSA 2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults Nominations

I haven’t had a chance to watch this video yet, Comforting Words on the Creative Process from Ira Glass

Science:

The Dark Side of the Placebo Effect: When Intense Belief Kills

Pictures of dinosaur feathers!

My new favorite blog TalkToYoUniverse by Juliette Wade (Where I talk to you about linguistics and anthropology, science fiction and fantasy, point of view, grammar geekiness, and all of the fascinating permutations thereof…) prompted by this post Why Nouns Matter, part 1: Proper Names

And here’s the comment I couldn’t get to post

Yes! And it’s so fun to break down character names within a story to subtly show cultural, ethical, religious, racial differences by using different “families” of names. A not subtle example is George Chester Wallace III and Agamemnon – already you’re clued in to two wildly divergent histories. When you’re writing speculative fiction you can make up the names whole cloth to get a similar effect.

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One Idea Is Not Enough

I had the pleasure of seeing Gabrielle Zevin, author of All These Things I’ve Done, and her editor do a reading and Q&A session at WORD last night. (WORD is a very cool indie bookstore in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The shelves are like a who’s who of what New Yorkers are reading — or a what’s what, or something.)

At one point her editor asked, “How did you come up with a future New York where chocolate and caffeine are illegal and a teenage girl who is kind of a mob boss?” Gabrielle had a long and funny answer involving migraines and dark chocolate and organized crime movies, but at the end she added: “One idea is not enough.”

I also just finished reading Inheritance by Megan Lindholm/Robin Hobb. Each story has an introduction explaining its origins. (These are hard-hitting stories, the kind that stick with you and make you think. Or maybe just give you an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of your stomach, mostly in a good way. A masochistic, that was good writing, kind of way.) As I’m at the beginning stages of trying to figure out what my next writing project is going to be, the explanations were fascinating and made me think about where my own stories started.

The first book started from a dream I had. The dream was a pretty complete narrative. In the end some parts of the book strayed far from that original dream, but others remain pretty faithful.

The second book was what Sherwood Smith recently called “white fire” in a post on Book View Cafe Blog Writers on Writing: The White Fire. The story poured through me in a rapid torrent from somewhere else. Never have I written so easily, so fast, so confidently in the story. Not to say there weren’t parts I labored over with blood coming out of my pen instead of ink, but for the most part the story came to me, like a package in the mail. Kind of. Sometimes I feel desolate, wondering if I will ever have that experience again. It also came from what I call postcards from the imagination. In my mind, I saw the main character grinning at me and I saw the setting.

The third book came out of the second, plus the rage that I was experiencing at that time in my life. No one has read that one yet, and I wonder how much of that rage is still there. This book was an act of pure will. I almost lost the thread — of the story, of my determination — many times, and I wrenched it back on path. Maybe back on path, as it technically isn’t finished. When the rage passed I don’t know if I lost a lot of the propelling energy behind it. That might be why it was so hard to find the ending to the story. But again it started with a character and this time a question left unanswered.

But now I’m starting from scratch: no dreams, no white fire, no postcards from my imagination. And slowly I am building up an idea of something I want to write. A vague idea about what kind of main character I want to spend so much time with. A bit of a setting. Something stolen — an unusual physical trait that I admired in a well-known book that I wondered, “how can I steal that and make it mine?” Which l did, in quite an inspired way, I think, and in a way that makes it indisputably mine. Two names for secondary characters. A dose of what-if. And yet, it’s still not enough to start writing. Because one idea, even several ideas, is not enough.

So how much is enough?

Random Reads

Malinda Lo on avoiding the exotic in her book Huntress, while basing the culture firmly outside the too-often-default medieval Europe. Great food for thought for writers who are attempting this. Made me think about the exotic-ization I’ve read in some books recently, as well as those that have managed to avoid it. Plus I missed about half of the cultural references myself while reading Huntress, so it was fun to see what was in there.

KT Literary translates her responses to authors when she declines their partials. Really nice insight for anyone who has scratched their head on a rejection and thought, “But what exactly does that mean?” and “What is she saying I should fix?”

The best explanation of the difference between mileposts and goals for writers that I’ve seen, plus a splash of humor about not letting the whole thing drive you crazy, by Tobias Buckell: Writers and Pellets. I hadn’t heard of or read his blog before, but I’ll be checking it out.

Agent Mary Kole looks at first lines. I’m posting this here because I’ve been thinking about this comment since I read it at the end of August: “Some of my favorite first lines are the ones that plant the kernel of a question in a reader’s head.” It inspired me to fool around writing first lines and looking at ones I’ve written in the past to see which ones have a question in them.

Definitions

I finally figured out what I want to say in response to Zoe Marriott’s post Wake Up and Smell the Real World #2 in response to me, in response to her… you get the picture.

I’m glad to see that Zoe’s post didn’t result in a slew of defensive comments by white people claiming they’ve never done anything racist in their lives so can’t be called racist, as often happens when someone points out a need to be actively anti-racist in our everyday lives. The corollary, in my mind, is that if you are not actively anti-racist, that means you are probably passively racist, at least.

As quoted in The Stranger (out of Seattle, I think):

“Racist is the new n— [redacted by me(1)],” says Riz Rollins, the writer, DJ, and KEXP personality. “For white people, the only word that begins to approximate the emotional violence a person of color experiences being called a n— [redacted] from a white person is ‘racist.’ It’s a trigger for white people that immediately conjures pain, anger, defensiveness—even for white people who are clearly racist….”

The article is Deeply Embarrassed White People Talk Awkwardly About Race and is definitely worth a read, as are the comments. Some are supportive, some are trolls protected by internet anonymity and many have the knee jerk defensive reaction mentioned above.

Or as Zoe said:

They know they’re a good person, not a hateful, chuckling Neo-Nazi. Therefore they cannot be a racist/sexist/ableist/homophobic.

I think, besides the pain inherent in white people admitting that their lack of action maintains the status quo of a racialicized and racist society, it’s also a question of definitions. Specifically, how we define racism and what we mean when we talk about it.

For most people who haven’t thought critically about racism and how it affects all of us racism means the KKK burning crosses in yards sometime in the distant past. Most people don’t do that today on a daily basis.

Many activists use the definitions Racism= prejudice+ power (meaning only the people with power can be racist. For example, in the US, that’s white people). Or they use Racism: a system of institutional policies and cultural messages that is advantageous to white people and disadvantageous to people of color. Or they use some variation on the two. The key ingredient is power/structural in both of these definitions.

But breaking it down further, you can split it into Active Racism and Passive Racism.

Active Racism: Actions which have as their stated or explicit goal the maintenance of the system of racism and the oppression of those in the targeted racial groups. People who participate in active racism advocate the continued subjugation of members of the targeted groups and protection of “the rights” of members of an agent group. These goals are often supported by a belief in the inferiority of People of Color and the superiority of white people, culture, and values. (Definition lifted from University of Colorado). So that’s cross-burning and lynching, hate crimes, etc.

Passive racism: Beliefs, attitudes, and actions that contribute to the maintenance of racism, without openly advocating violence or oppression. The conscious and unconscious maintenance of attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that supports the system of racism, racial prejudice, and racial dominance.

And now we get to scenarios that most of us know quite well. This is the kind of racism I–and most of us–are involved in a daily basis. Passive racism or benefiting from the privilege of being white is what is going on when my neighbor makes a comment about the dirty ___s that are taking over our building and I don’t say anything because I am trying to get her to stop complaining about us the management company. I am benefiting from being white. I am maintaining a system of racism by not protesting her racism, allowing myself to be complicit in the racism, because I haven’t spoken up.

Passive racism is also living in a neighborhood that used to be primarily Latino and South Asian. Now it’s not, because the people who used to live there can’t afford to anymore. I didn’t set it up like that, but I’m still benefiting from it. When you act in an anti-racist way, you may still benefit from it, but you’re exposing it, and by exposing it, making it possible to combat it.

I’ve gone far afield from the original topics of writing diverse characters (and the mistakes we will inevitably make) but until we agree on what we are talking about we can’t even have that conversation. We also started out talking about diversity in its multiple forms: race, age, class, ability, sexual orientation, and while I focuses on racism, the arguments are applicable to other areas where we discriminate.

And until we have this conversation, with others, with ourselves, then the diverse characters we write will just be white people in blackface or straight people with a rainbow over their heads, or women who are really men, without the cultural, societal, experiential luggage that comes with their identity.

So, that’s what I wanted to say. Plus, I agree with what Zoe said.

(1) It’s my blog so I get to redact any words I want.