The Need for Writer Diversity

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A lot of the time, I think white writers pay a simplistic lip service to the idea of diversity in literature. It doesn’t matter what genre, but as a fantasy writer, that’s the milieu I know best, and believe me, the problem is rampant.

Because an awful lot of us (myself included) act as if all this means is white writers parachute in characters and settings that reflect more than northern European archetypes.

 

And I’m not saying this is not a good thing: more stories that let more people identify with characters is wonderful, and long overdue.

 

We also are becoming aware of the need to tackle some of the problems that PoC and non-binary/neuro-atypical  people face, and this too is mainly a good thing.

Mainly. But…

SFF has always been a place to challenge socio-political situations, to sound the warning bells about where we might be headed. But I have to say that what was written in 1955, while still somewhat valid and interesting, seems heavy-handed and unsubtle – and maybe that’s why most of it lies by the wayside now.

 

And this is one of the reasons I champion the need for white writers to make space for new voices.

 

When we tell stories of fascism and oppression, we are not nuanced. We paint these in broad strokes, in splashy colours. The allegorical and metaphorical devices we use are crude and obvious. We see these things in – pardon this expression – black and white. We do not see the middle ground.

“Oh!” I hear you cry. “But I can imagine it! That’s why I’m a writer! And my life hasn’t been a bed of roses, and I have no privilege, and all my Asian friends tell me I am not at all racist and…”

Stop.

Please.

Your friends aren’t going to go out of their way to upset you by telling you something they know you don’t want to hear; “privilege” isn’t  saying your life hasn’t been difficult, but that the difficulties are NOT because of your skin colour (or whatever); intersectionality is a thing; and imagination can only take you so far.

Sure: you can imagine what it would be like – but there’s a good chance you’d still focus only on those big, obvious issues, and never even notice the myriad micro-aggressions that those we have labeled “Other” face all day, every day, in every situation they encounter.

We haven’t lived these stories. We haven’t spent every day battling these things – so much so that they hardly register as anything but “life as usual”.

We have merely observed the surface results.

Those who deal daily in the coin of prejudice and systemic bias can show us the rest of the reality, if we make room for it, and all of us, as writers and readers, will grow.

 

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Flash Fiction Friday!

I’m staring at the photo but drawing a blank.

I feel I should know who the person in this picture is – everyone around me seems to think I do, in fact, know them, but nothing in my brain responds. I might as well be looking at a generic magazine ad.

I look up. I try to manufacture some kind of expression – a smile, a wistfulness, something appropriate – to fake recognition, but I can’t even tell what emotion they all expect me to feel.

But when I see their faces, I realize something else.

I don’t know who any of these people are, either.

 

 

*Have at it in the comments, people! Let’s see your quickies.

Yes, it’s “hard”…

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Lately, there have been a lot of posts on my writer groups about how hard writing is. I mean, *really* a lot: pleas for sympathy, for writing prompts, for solutions for writer’s block, for support and reassurance and commiseration.

It’s also nearly the end point of NaNoWriMo, and maybe those two things are connected – I don’t know.

But this sits oddly with me, because 95% of those writers, if asked (or sometimes they just volunteer this), say that they have always known they wanted to be writers, that writing is as breathing to them – they simply could not exist without writing. They will tell you that writing is pure joy: a sacred act – their nirvana, in actual fact.

I don’t want to be the wet blanket here but…

The fact that it seems hard to those same people suggests a dichotomy that they need to resolve.

Because no one is forced to write.

There is not a single person on the planet holding a gun to your head and saying that if you fail to finish your magnum opus, you are going to forfeit anything of value in your life.

OK: possibly, if you are a bestselling author with an ironclad contract for that final volume of your trilogy, failing to write *might* come with a financial penalty.

But for the rest of us?

I bet there’s not a single soul who will notice if you just quietly fade away and just start knitting scarves for the homeless, or redesigning your garden instead. Even your mom isn’t as invested in your literary output as you might think.

And actually, writing isn’t hard. Anyone with a grade five education, a notebook from the Dollar Store, and a purloined pencil-stub can do it

Writing well? That IS hard.

And that should be why you do it.

Flash Fiction Friday!

(Every week, I try and pick something from my morning’s writing exercise to post here. For those of you who are also writers, I’m inviting you to join in and post your snippets in the comments…because why should you have all the fun?)

 

Huna is an old city, made up of twisted, narrow streets, crowded with the ghosts of long-dead rogues and heroes. At every corner, there are the shivering memories of past sins and forgotten glories. You don’t visit Huna, it visits you, like the demon that sits on the footboard of your bed and tells you how worthless you are.

Quibbling about Scribbling

Right now, even as we speak, writers in on line writers’ groups are arguing over tiny bits of grammar and spelling.

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Somewhere, someone is trying to tell someone else that “wove” is not the past tense of the verb “weave”. (It sure as hell is, says this textiles specialist.)

Somewhere else, someone is arguing that “assuage” is a synonym for soothe (and it is, sort of, but – as I have mentioned elsewhere – not all synonyms are created equal).

And not five minutes ago, someone told me, in the very face of examples from Meriam-Webster, that “leapt” was only a British thing, not to be used by Americans.
I personally believe that if one is a writer, one should have so thoroughly immersed one’s self in one’s written language that one would know by sheer internal instincts, what word goes where. You should have an innate feel for the sound of language, and your very bones should know, without reflection, what is “right” and what is wrong.

This comes, of course, from reading, widely and well.

It comes from listening to the shape of language.

It takes time and experience, but most importantly, it takes caring about words.

And it never fails to amaze me that the proscribers and grammar Nazis are not only so often unbelievably wrong in their pronouncements, but frequently don’t know the difference (judging by their internet posts) between “then” and “than”.

As always: YMMV.

Flash Fiction Friday!

Charley was a witch.

I don’t mean that in any pejorative sense. She really was a witch.

If she lit a green candle, she found a crumpled twenty in her winter coat pocket the next morning, when she was leaving for work.

If she said “Bless you” after someone sneezed, invariably, some small thing that had been troubling them resolved itself happily, minutes or hours later.

If she stirred a pot of tinned soup while muttering some seemingly nonsensical words, it tasted better than any mass-produced, no-name brand had any business to.

And if she was annoyed with someone or something, things frequently went awry for them in ways that could never be explained by rational means.

It paid to stay on Charley’s good side.

No Instant Experts

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Most of the people who barely scraped by in STEM subjects in high school are usually pretty honest about their shortfall in those fields. They are relaxed and comfortable in admitting they don’t “get the picture” when it comes to grasping even the basics about astrophysics or brain surgery.

They will, when in a discussion about such thing, at least try to listen to those who do those things for a living, and maybe ask for answers in “layman’s terms”.

They take their dogs to actual, trained veterinarians.

They want the people who test the drugs they need to have degrees in chemistry and an in-depth understanding of what’s involved in keeping them healthy.

They assume trained engineers designed the bridges they drive on, and have confidence in that assumption.

They trust their bodies, and their children’s bodies, to licensed doctors.

Not a single astronaut would climb into a space shuttle built by “Bob who got a C in math in grade 12”.

For the most part, we agree that to be competent in these and similar fields, people do have to spend a decent number of years in institutions of higher learning, and to have read widely in their profession’s academic literature, to understand these subjects.

For some reason, though, everybody and their aunt’s second-cousin-by-marriage never bring that sense that there’s a body of knowledge that underpins expertise in something to the arts and humanities.

People think that because their fifth grade teacher taught them how to structure simple declarative sentences, that they are experts on “writing”, and can do it as competently as any Nobel Literature Prize winner.

They feel utterly comfortable announcing, with complete confidence, that poetry that doesn’t rhyme is “gibberish”.

They firmly believe that owning two eyes means they can pontificate knowledgeably about art.

Every time I see a meme or FB post decrying some art piece, I am reminded of the four long years I spent studying art and art history.

The realization that this education gave me, that art is nuanced and complex, and responds to a huge number of social and political factors that need to be understood, is one that I bring to bear on a lot of other subjects.

The arts do not happen in a vacuum. Their trajectories and modes depend on thousands of years of experimentation and reflection. Every artist (visual or otherwise) builds their work on a scaffold erected by every other artist before them.

You can’t have a Shakespeare without a Chaucer.

You can’t have a Claude Monet without a vast and varied tradition of Japanese woodcut artists.

The next time you decide to publicly announce your disdain for Mark Rothko, or open your mouth to mock James Joyce, stop and ask yourself if you’ve really done more than scratch the surface of the subject, and maybe shut up.

People are experts because they’ve put in the time and effort.

People are good at what they do because they’ve put in the work and the energy, and made these things their life’s study. Because they care about these things.

Your five minutes of untutored reflection about what you like, married to what you consider “common sense”, does not even come close to trumping that.