May 9, 2013 Uncategorized
Toby Buckell linked to this post on Strange Horizons about the act of “writing the other” in SF. Or, I guess, just writing the other in general, really. It’s an interesting post. I suggest you read it, especially if you are wanting to write from the perspectives of people (or other creatures) who are not of your culture.
I’m really torn on this subject.
You might be able to tell from my photos that I am a white male, and you might be able to tell from my bios that I am from the great mid-west of the United States. I am also of an age somewhere between hippy-dom and disco. This makes me of the exact mold (dare I say stereotype?) of the kind of person/writer this article is gently pointed toward. I admit that I get conflicted by these kinds of discussions, but (being a Caucasian male of a particular age and region) I think about them a lot.
You see, I write stories from female perspectives, and I write them from male perspectives. I write them from the perspective of white characters and black characters and characters of mixed ethnic backgrounds. I write from the perspective of single characters and married characters, I write from the perspective of straight characters and gay characters. I write from the perspective of robots and from non-human characters. I once wrote from the perspective of a leopard.
I can tell you that it’s really daunting to write from all these perspectives. It’s really hard. It’s important to me that I respect all these characters, and that I capture who they are properly. I work at it. I pay attention to things as best I can. I like the elements of the article in question that suggest that merely including “the other” in a serious fashion is a good thing, because that’s true, and I like the general suggestion that attempting to get something right about a culture is the most important thing–and that in the end it’s “okay” (if I can be so bold) to get something wrong (though you should basically just fess up if called on it and agree you’ll try to do better next time).
Because, you know, it’s always wrong. I can’t possibly get every detail of a different culture right.
Of course, the truth is that I can’t even get every detail of MY culture right (assuming by “culture” you mean race or nationality as the article in question is discussing it).
I mean, holy smokes, one of my best buddies growing up was a white male of my age group and from my city. We went to the same schools, liked the same bands, and breathed the same air … but he was, and still is, a University of Kentucky fan! I can’t freaking believe it. Now, before you go off on this, before you make light of this simple example, I want you to realize that there are deep, deep blood differences between a Louisville fan (like me) and a UK fan (like him). The differences are strongly tied to race, actually. And they are just as deeply tied to city/rural perspectives. This is not just a fanciful example that I’m pulling up to make light of a very serious question. This difference separates us. In all seriousness, if I were to write a story from the perspective of a white, male UK fan of my age, I would need to work very, very hard to treat that character properly. And I might well get it “wrong” in some important ways that would off-put some UK fans.
The article would suggest that a (the) way to resolve this would be for me to find UK fans and have them read it. I suppose that’s not a terrible idea. But it won’t help. It won’t help because one UK fan’s experience is not all UK fans’ experience. No matter if I run this hypothetical story through a thousand UK fans, there will be a UK fan that I err with.
My point here is that writing characters is serious work. All of it. And I don’t think you can really “get it right” merely by having someone of a culture read the work. Sure, that’s a fine thing to do. And it’s not a bad idea because it’s always good to learn from someone with real experience. Just don’t expect that to fix your problem, because merely sending the story to someone else is not sufficient to resolve problems of a lack of respect.
And my other point in this whole “you can never get it right” conversation is that I can say this because the world is huge, and because once a story is published the audience will read what they want to read into things no matter what you do. An example: I recently had a short story titled “The Collector” published in Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters anthology. It is set in the early 1900s and told from the perspective of a black man. I worked hard on this character and the setting. As hard as I could. And I told a story that I thought was true to the time, and important to the character (as well as relevant to today, too, really).
Here are two comments it drew from readers on Goodreads. I submit them without any complaint or whatever. I’m using them only to show how a story can be perceived by two different people.
The story “The Collector” by Ron Collins, was the best re interpretation of what a person would really do with magic. Full of hatred at the injustice against freed slaves that still fills the US into the late 1890s, and crippled from fighting in San Juan, Gamba is raging inside against everything. When trapped by an evil magician Gamba is faced with a choice, use his magic for good or seek vengeance. He never goes down the path to evil, but he is still consumed by a motivation for change. Because of this he uses his magic in an evil way for what he believes will be a good end, and that is the interesting part. Will you sympathize with him or vilify him?
And then there’s “The Collector”, in which the only African-American mage in the entire volume is also the only main character to choose Dark magic, which really makes it stand out… and not in a good way.
I have no idea what cultures these two readers come from. All I will say regarding these comments is that I was a good enough writer to bring one of these readers to the point I wanted, and not a good enough writer to take the other one there. I guess this is where (according to the Strange Horizons article) I say to the second reader “my fault, I’ll try better next time.”
But, you see, I won’t try better.
I’ll try just as hard. And I’ll succeed just as well.
I say that because to be a writer is to understand that we are only half the equation. The reader is the other half. And the truth is that I cannot expect to satisfy every reader, perhaps especially those who come from a culture that is not mine (or a perspective that is not mine … is there a difference?) and who is looking for me to fail. Luckily, though, all I need to do is to tell stories to the best of my ability. And to do that all I need to do is to respect the characters I’m writing. I need to treat them as the creatures they are. I need to get inside their heads, and know them as well as I can. I need to treat them with respect (the example in the Strange Horizon’s article of writers wanting to use a culture’s belief because they are so “cute” and “funny” is merely a case of writers not respecting a culture…and honestly, I have never heard such a phrasing before, but maybe it’s just because I’m a white, mid-western male who is immune to such commentary).
I don’t begrudge the reader I quoted above his or her comment about my free negro character (there were no African-Americans in the 1900′s, after all, that’s a tag that came into existence considerably later…okay, I admit that might be a little catty…sorry). All readers are free to make their assessment of my writing. It’s fine. And, perhaps technically both readers would say I succeeded in “writing from the other” as far as the character on the page, but one would suggest I disrespected a culture by making the story choice I did. I can parse that a couple ways.
In the end, though, I think that “writing the other” well is about respecting your characters, and that respecting your characters is about living inside them to the best level you are capable of. It’s not about asking “what would I feel like if I were in their shoes?” It’s about asking yourself “How does that person actually feel.”
And no matter what culture you’re writing from, that’s damned hard–because the truth is that in the end, every person is their own culture.
Apr 19, 2013 Uncategorized
It’s getting ready to be a little busy on the publishing front in the near future, so I thought I would take a moment to point a few things out, just in case anyone might want to get ready to chase them down. In roughly chronological order:
- “Operation Hercules” is expected to appear sometime in late April (I think) in OnSpec, a Canadian magazine. I’ll be the featured author, and the volume will have a nice little interview. The story is an alternate WWII thing, with dinosaurs! Much fun.
- “After” will appear in “16 One Sentence Stories” in the very near future. I’ve received the initial cut on it, and it’s pretty danged cool.
- John Bodin and I are working to release a mini-collection of our two previously published Indy 500 stories, and a third original work (a short story currently titled “Race Through Time”) sometime in early May. More to come on that in the next week or two, of course.
- “The Legend of Parker Clark and Lois Jane” will appear in the Fiction River anthology “How to Save the World” in June. More on that as we get closer.
- I’m thinking “Teammates” will appear in the July issue of “Galaxy’s Edge.“
- And per the galley proofs I just returned, it looks like my novelette “Following Jules” will be in the October issue of Analog, which means it will probably hit the stands in August or so.
So, yeah, it’s going to be a fun summer.
Mar 30, 2013 Uncategorized
I followed a link on Tobias Buckell’s site, and it led me to a wonderful time sink in the form of this library of letters. I literally spent three or four hours tooling around and reading interesting bit after interesting bit. Completely fascinating. If you go there, I suggest scanning the archive to discover those things that would be most interesting to you. I’m sure you’ll find something.
Here are a few of my faves:
Bob Dylan – Let Me Begin by Not Beginnin: I absolutely loved this letter both for its timing–Dylan was just growing into the fame he was to wear for the rest of his life, and for the lyrical elegance of his language–the fact that he writes his own frame of mind in his own dialect.
Bob Dylan – I do not apologize for myself nor my fears: Dylan’s commentary on Lee Harvey Oswald is a piece of history that I was either unaware of or hadn’t tucked away in memory deep enough. To hear this man in his early twenties discuss the fallout of his freeform, conversational speech that included such a hot topic is extremely interesting…and again, his use of language is beautiful.
Jourdon Anderson – To My Old Master (Written August 1865): An emancipated negro responds to a letter from the man who once “owned” him.
Jarm Logue – Wretched woman! (written 1860): This is the post Toby originally linked to. Another letter from a slave who had found his freedom, and was later contacted by a previous “owner,” this time a wife of the master, asking (incredibly) for money.
John Cleese – John Cleese vs. the Sun: Cleese is, of course, wicked funny. Can’t think of anything he’s done that doesn’t have some kind of an edge to it–this included, of course.
Go read more.
Dec 30, 2012 Uncategorized
So, you ask, just which of my golden-tongued posts this past year have drawn the most attention? I took a spin through the logs last night, and gathered the answer.
#1 – People Are Strange: A fun little discussion about the way people’s actions don’t match their words, and visa versa. It touches on wine and health care, so how much better can it get? None better! I guess that’s why it’s #1, and #1 by a very wide margin.
#2 – Eat Like a Gold Medal Winner: Nutrition, exercise, overeating, and balance. I suggest that your approach to food should not demonize anything outside of your context.
#3 – My Next Big Thing: A discussion of Paul Hoffman’s work, my own NaNoWriMo effort, and links to two of my fave writers.
#4 – Higgs, Good Luck Charm, 100 Riffs: Discovery of the Higgs, a tweet from God, and a guy who plays the hell out of a history of great guitar riffs.
#5 – Beasts of the Southern Wild: My review of what I think was an outstanding movie.
#6 – You’ve Got a Lot of Books, or Welcome to Our Version of Bookshelf Porn: A picture of our bookshelves, a discussion about physical and e-books, and a link to the Blogess’s much more interesting site.
#7 – Target Probably Knows More About Me than I Do: Wherein a discussion about Lisa and my process of making fitness a habit bumps into the Target marketing machine.
#8 – Tobias Buckell, the Role Model: Tobias becomes my hero, yet I am so unworthy.
#9 – Monkey’s, The Next New Market: A pair of talks that lead us throug the way a society seems to naturally fall into the use of a system of currency and barter, with some unexpected … uh … results. All in all, a pretty fun little post, if I say so myself.
#10 – Money, Meet Mouth: Wherein I back Vera Nazarian’s Kickstarter project. This makes me happy. I hope I helped.
And, since Lisa’s favorite number is 11, here’s a bonus entry:
#11 – Peer Pressure and Role Modeling: A discussion centered on how to best get a society of people to do the right things.
So, there we have it. It’s interesting to note the things that draw the most traffic–pure content, things that are, well, interesting. Interesting: Good, Personal Blather and Bluster: Not-So-Good (or at least not so click-worthy). Makes sense, eh?
I’m not sure I’ll do anything particularly different because of this little study, but it was fun, and if nothing else I’ve learned a little bit of something. Always good, right?
Oct 15, 2011 Uncategorized
Here’s a fun listen if you’re into podcasts and mad scientists. It’s a story titled “Playing Doctor” by Robert T. Jeschonek. You can read it on the Escape Pod site, but this is one that actually translates really well to the audio format. Perhaps it just caught me at the right moment.
Only you can say for sure.
Jun 15, 2011 Uncategorized
So, yeah, it’s been awhile. What can I say?
I won’t even begin to attempt to catch up on a month and a half of life. Instead, I’ll just say that time flies and leave it at that. On the other hand, during that time I’ve been to Chicago to send my daughter to Japan, and I’ve been to Lafayette to leave a car off, and I’ve been to Australia for a over a week on a business trip.
There’s always something to do, eh?
In the meantime, I’ve gotten a little writing done, and I get to report that On Spec has now expressed interest in publishing my short story “Operation Hercules.” Still working on the arrangements, so nothing’s final, I suppose. But I’m very excited about that one. It’s a favorite story of mine, and I’m very happy to see it find such a fine home.
While I’ve been a bit silent around here, you can get a more routine dose of Collins activity by following Brigid’s adventures in Japan. She’s been far better about keeping, you know, up to date. [grin]
Feb 20, 2011 Uncategorized
Here’s a story to make you think.
Lisa joined a health challenge at work, and had a 4:00 meeting at the health club. This meant that I went with her and did a second workout. I’m … ah … feeling it. In a good way. Yeah. Right. A good way. Uh-huh.
I’m sure it will feel better tomorrow.
Oct 18, 2010 Uncategorized
Craig Reade at cxPulp gives Deca-Dad three and a half stars, and rates it one of the better stories in the December Analog. I’ll take it.
While you’re just kinda sitting there vegging, you might find it fun to check out these two great pieces of animation at TOR.com. They are like watching a fish tank full of Escher.
Apr 27, 2010 Uncategorized
I pulled all the threads of my “pilot story” together to look at them as a stand-alone short story. Strangely, they came up to–you got it–right at 9,500 words. I seriously wonder if I’m ever again going to write a story that doesn’t weigh in at something other than 9-12K.
This was an interesting process, though. It’s helped me see the ebbs and flows of it, and see even more places I need to file away a few rough edges. I’m going to work on this for a day or two, and I expect then that I may be able to move on.
Apr 7, 2010 Uncategorized
Once again, I spent much of this morning thinking about the high-level plot of this latest story. It’s coming together, and I like it quite a bit. I admit I’m a bit worried about length, though. It looks to me like a 30-40,000 word piece, which is not particularly marketable. And the fundamental idea strikes the SFnal part of my brain only a glancing blow.
I live such a tough life.
When I say I’m “thinking” about the plot, I don’t mean I’m sitting down in my basement twirling around in my swivel chair and staring at the ceiling. That would just leave me dizzy. When I say I’m thinking about the plot I mean I’m fleshing out much of it in little pieces of pseudo-code as I go. I’ve got snippets of character dialog plastered in among journalistic and narrative bits. In a sense, I’m using a free-form version of the snowflake method of plotting.
So, anyway. I’m still not sure what the future holds for this piece, but I’ve vowed to keep thinking about it.
Apr 6, 2010 Uncategorized
Great basketball game last night. Butler’s last shot really, really, really needed to go in.
Technically, I completed no words this morning. I did, however, spend more than an hour thinking about the project and jotting down a bunch of notes that increased the size of the file by about four pages. So I guess I did about a thousand words of thinking.
Unfortunately, I’m still not completely certain what to make of this one. Perhaps it’s a failed thread? Dunno, yet. I figure I’ll give it another couple days and if it doesn’t catch me by then I’ll let it be for a while and see what happens. Sometimes things blossom while composting–other times I guess it just turns into more compost.
I’m now far enough along that I feel comfortable enough to “reveal” (as if anyone cares much, eh?) I’ve embarked on a process to get my second novel ready for market. Probably a couple more weeks before it can leave my desk.
Time to hit the road.
The day job awaits me there.
Think again at lunch.
Sep 14, 2009 Uncategorized
I’ve been going back and forth about how I should get back to managing my “web presence.” At one point I think I should can the WordPress thing and go back to the old stuff that I loved so much. Then I think that would be silly–the arrow of time points only one direction. At present, the modernist side is winning–hence the new look.
But I admit fully that this bothers me.
I like knowing how everything fits together. I liked coding the old site by hand. It felt like it was mine that way. I kinda miss the old days when many sites were a source of pure art. But such is life, as they say. I’ll tinker with this for a little while. But the keener-eyed of you might notice that I haven’t given up the ship totally…I decided I would leave a little link on the side-panel, that will always let me go back in time whenever the urge hits.
On the writing front, progress is moving on two fronts–one short story, one novel.
Onward and upward. One day at a time. Cherrio. Tally-ho, and all that.
Aug 10, 2006 Uncategorized
It’s always something.
As a result of some of that something, I’m out of time this morning. I’ll see if I can detail a bit more of all this something come this afternoon at lunchtime. So if you see this in the morning, you might return sometime and see if I’ve put something up.
See you sometime.
Have a great someday.