Friday, November 28, 2014

More thoughts on the privilege and responsibility of being a writer

Because even in 1966, we knew representation was important. (Art by Makintosh, used with attribution )

I participate in blogging for a writer's collective called The Scriptors, and my most recent blogpost there was on the writer's privilege and responsibility to reflect the diversity of the world around them. Here is the beginning of the post and I invite you to read its entirety on The Scriptors site.

I was planning on writing an amusing post about the subjectivity of reviews and why you don’t ever want to be *that* writer. And then the Ferguson Grand Jury decision came out. My husband and I watched the live feed of the official statement, and then of the protests, the police response, and the violent aftermath.

I am heartsick.

We have so far to go to achieve a fair and just society and I am just one small voice; a writer with little platform and less power. What can I do to change what is so broken in our world?

I am under no illusion that I have the ability to persuade those who believe differently than I do. I vote in every election, but the reality is, our choices are often between less bad and more bad. If I gave away every dollar I had to fund social justice causes, I would be destitute and nothing would change.

And yet. . . and yet I cannot do nothing.

I know there is a lot of discussion and controversy around issues of diversity, especially with white writers writing about characters of color. Daniel Jose Older wrote a cogent piece on "12 Fundamentals of Writing the Other" that is a great starting point for all writers trying to get it right. I urge you to read it.

Another excellent resource is this blogpost by Jim C. Hines, complete with a list of links for further examination. In the post, this line jumped out at me"

"It’s the difference between “I want to include you in my stories” and “I want to tell your stories.”"
He's speaking about the distinction between diversity and appropriation, issues that writers with societal privilege and power need to grapple with in writing characters that reflect the cultural composition of the wider world we all inhabit.

I strongly believe in the philosophy behind the "We Need Diverse Books" campaign: that representation is important. It is crucial. We learn about the world through the characters we inhabit in our reading and viewing, especially when we are young. I remember wondering why none of the heroes in the SF books I devoured as a kid were girls. I wonder what other messages I absorbed while I was reading that I'm not so acutely aware of.

And as important is seeing oneself in fiction is for people in the minority, it is also important for people in the majority to see the 'other'. We know that reading enhances empathy. What messages get transmitted when either we see only one kind of person in our fiction, or see the 'other' as token, or stereotype, or fetish? I believe that these implicit messages are very powerful and shape our society in ways we haven't yet fully appreciated.

Look at the impact of the original Star Trek series. Nichelle Nichols, the actress who played Uhura, talks about how she had been planning on leaving the show after the first season, until she met Martin Luther King, Jr, who told her how vital her role was in inspiring a generation. She recounts that he told her: "I [couldn't] leave the show. We talked a long time about what it all meant and what images on television tell us about ourselves."

Whoopie Goldberg also credits Nichols' Uhura with inspiring her to believe she could be anything she wanted to be. And astronaut Mae Jemison, the first African American astronaut to go into space credits seeing Nichols as Uhura as her inspiration. (Cool trivia: Jemison also appeared in Star Trek: The Next Generation.)

And this was due to a supporting role on a show that only saw three seasons on TV, yet went on to have an enormous cultural impact.

I am conscious, every time I sit at the computer to write, that what I write carries a message. Even if I set out to simply write entertaining stories about fantasy worlds or the future, everything has a message. If I people my universes only with reflections of myself and my life experiences, then I send a message that anything else is trivial.

That cannot be further from the truth.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

I've been thinking about weebles. . .

1970's commercial for Weebles

I didn't actually play with these as a kid. I was already a bit older than their target market when they came out, but I do remember the commercials and I did plenty of baby sitting in those years, so I know I must have had weebles in my life.

Honestly, I haven't thought about these toys in many decades, but this morning in speaking with my therapist, I had this image of myself as one of the egg shaped people. It didn't come entirely out of left field; just yesterday, I told someone that life balance was like physical balance--it's not an end point, but a process. That balance is really all about being in a state of controlled falling. That we move in and out of balance all the time, every day. That in struggling to cling to balance, we are more likely to fall. (Yes, this comes from my several decades long career as a physical therapist and it is physiologically accurate.)

So as my therapist and I explored this concept, the most absurd image came to mind. I was hovering over the main terminal in Grand Central Station, and all the people below me were weebles. Weebles in suits with briefcases. Weebles wearing skinny jeans, carrying backpacks, Weebles pushing strollers with little weebles inside. And they were all wobbling. Every single one of them.

And what I realized was that from my perspective, above them all, I could see that they weren't going to fall. They would sway, approach the ground, then come back upright again, over and over.

Then I saw myself as a weeble, in the midst of the station. And as I wobbled, I could see the ground getting closer and closer. It felt so much like I was falling. Like I was going to smash so hard into the floor that I'd never get up again.

But in this scenario, I'm a weeble. And as fast as I approach the ground, it's just a wobble, and eventually, I'll be back upright again.

Weebles wobble but they don't fall down.

Weebles wobble, but they don't fall down.

Weebles wobble, but they don't fall down. 

They.  Don't.  Fall.  Down.

So my message for today is: Embrace your inner weeble.

And does anyone know someone who can draw my 'weebles take Manhattan' scene for me??

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Valley of Short Fiction

Please help me give a warm Once in a Blue Muse welcome to my friend, critique partner, and uber-talented writer, KJ Kabza.

I was fortunate enough to be a fellow student with KJ in a local SF&F writing workshop a bunch of years ago. He and I have read one another's work, and I find his voice to be striking, singular, and compelling. Since he is loathe to sing his own praises, I'll tell you his short fiction has appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, Every Day Fiction, Daily Science Fiction, and Spek Lit, among others. 

His work has garnered praise from Locus, Tangent, and SF Revu, and has been reprinted in several "Best of" annual anthologies.

I am an unabashed fan of his writing and am proud to be his friend.

Welcome KJ!
KJ's second short story collection. Go read it. Seriously. Why are you still here?

The Valley of Short Fiction

Guest Post by KJ Kabza

I once asked a friend whether or not I should out myself to the larger writing community. "Will people be weird about it?"

His answer was immediate. "No. People won't care what you do." He drummed his fingers on the table. "They probably won't even notice. You're mostly a short fiction writer, right?"

I nodded.

"Short fiction is the Valley of Nobody Gives A Shit."


Perhaps the idea of nobody giving a shit is disheartening to you, but to me, it's kind of freeing. If nobody gives a shit, you've got enormous artistic freedom to try anything you like and work to please no one but yourself.

This freedom, coupled with a lot of current discourse in fandom about the need for more diversity in stories, has emboldened me to try writing from many points of view. I'm a middle class, pudgy, gay American white guy, but I've had the great pleasure of writing, and selling, stories that have main characters who are:

--Icelandic farmers ("In the Shadow of Dyrhólaey")
--orphans with cerebral palsy ("The Idiot")
--billionaires ("The Ramshead Algorithm")
--Jewish ("The Game Room")
--alcoholic ("Surface Tension")
--Chinese-American ("Nathan and the Amazing TechnoPocket NerdCoat")
--children ("The Soul in the Bell Jar")

In October 2014 I attended the Viable Paradise workshop, where Steve Gould, who had read a few samples of my work, said to me, "Well... you certainly have no trouble following your weird."


Steve's face tried to say something different from his mouth. "I mean... originality counts for a lot. People will always prefer reading a story that tries something new, even if it has noticeable flaws."

Funny. That's the kind of story I prefer writing.

After Viable Paradise, I launched an ebook entitled UNDER STARS, a self-published collection that reprints the stories I listed above (and more). To continue with the theme of me trying new things, I also put in 5 original pieces, which feature:

--poor, mixed-race kids ("...In the Machine")
--a widower ("The Land of Stone and Stars")
--a mixed-race couple ("Copyright 2013")
--working-class black kids ("Like Old People Do")
--and a vampire... in SPACE. (Because you just need to write a dumb vampire story sometimes.)

UNDER STARS is, I feel, a nicely eclectic collection. I'm pleased with the variation in there, and I'm grateful for the opportunity every story has given me: a chance to grow, a chance to learn something, and a chance to become more human. (In a good way, I mean.)


If you want to start exploring the Valley of Short Fiction yourself, I'd recommend Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Daily Science Fiction, and AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review. I've appeared in all of them, and there's some fine stuff there. Riskier and more beautiful than novels.

Or submit a story to them, if you like, and see what variety of your own you can add. Experimentation enriches us all.

And hey--maybe the Valley of Nobody Gives a Shit will someday become the next hipster hot spot.

Thank you for hanging out on my blog today, KJ! 

And for all my readers who have not yet discovered KJ's work, (seriously - what are you waiting for???) you are in for a treat. You can purchase UNDER STARS at all the usual venues: AmazonB&NSmashwords, iBooks, and Kobo.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Our own personal car talk

I promise; this photo will be relevant to the post.

In the past week or so, several of my G+ and FB friends posted a link to research that discusses what makes a solid long term relationship. Having been married to my spouse for 26 years, I was interested in what the article had to say and wondered how relevant it would be to our lives together.

It is a fascinating disucssion, a long article, but one well worth the read. One of the first things the researchers did was measure the autonomic responses of both partners during a conversation in the lab. They discovered some folks were 'masters' - with calm autonomic nervous systems, and some were 'disasters' - with highly labile autonomic nervous systems.

"The problem was that the disasters showed all the signs of arousal—of being in fight-or-flight mode—in their relationships. Having a conversation sitting next to their spouse was, to their bodies, like facing off with a saber-toothed tiger. Even when they were talking about pleasant or mundane facets of their relationships, they were prepared to attack and be attacked. This sent their heart rates soaring and made them more aggressive toward each other."

That, alone was really fascinating, but could be explained by pre-existing biological wiring, and not the relationship per-se. The researchers went on to discover that in their day to day communications, partners make 'bids for attention' in talking about something that interests them, hoping to connect with one another. 

"By observing these types of interactions, Gottman can predict with up to 94 percent certainty whether couples—straight or gay, rich or poor, childless or not—will be broken up, together and unhappy, or together and happy several years later. Much of it comes down to the spirit couples bring to the relationship. Do they bring kindness and generosity; or contempt, criticism, and hostility?"

Kindness and generosity are things that can be practiced, things that can be changed. 

My husband is a car guy. He loves the aesthetics of cars. He loves the mechanics of cars. He loves to drive. When he's not working as a physician, he's a high performance driving instructor for the BMW Club of America, so he loves to take his (fully safety-modded) BMW M3 on the track and drive. Fast. Very fast.

I don't care much about cars.

My definition of cars: A construction with four wheels and an engine that gets me from point A to point B.

His truck was in the shop last week, and we needed to pick it up today, so I kept him company while he drove his rental up to the shop/dealership, lured by the promise of brunch.

Below the regular showroom, the dealership had this collection of classic American cars, in pristine condition. I could tell my husband was nearly salivating to spend some time looking at them, so I said I'd be happy to.

I call this one "we were promised jet packs"
It was clear as he went around from car to car, that he was in a sacred space. And while I am so not a car person, I enjoyed looking at the cars through his vision and his love. Alone, I might have glanced through the window and noticed all the old cars, but I certainly wouldn't have taken the time to enjoy them.

I think that is the indication of true love: when you are willing and able to enjoy what your partner enjoys, without resentment, without irony. 

But I still don't want to hang out on the track with him. :)