The Reason Y (A)

I had a tiny epiphany the other day (while walking down the canned foods aisle at Co-op, don’t ask me why).

It’s been a bit of a mystery to me why so many older fantasy readers, and especially older women who read fantasy, gravitate towards YA/New Adult fantasy.

And suddenly, there between the beets and the creamed corn, I got it.

First off, and possibly most important: those are the stories that are mainly written by women, about what it’s like growing up female.

But then there’s this: those are the stories that are written the way fantasy stories were written when those women were just getting into the genre.

Newer fantasy aimed at adults is, well, adult. There’s a lot of cynicism and there’s a lot of rather ugly, unromantic sex in modern fantasy, and the big names are all essentially middle-aged white men who valorize and centralize teen age boys as saviors of the world.

But the worlds presented in YA are ones where girls can make a real mark – Harry Potter might be in the title of every book, but Rowling managed to put Hermione in at least as high a position as Ron, if not higher (she was certainly more competent than either of the boys were, to be honest.)

Even Twilight. Love it or hate it, it prioritizes what the girl wants. You might not like what she wants, or approve of it, but at least it’s about her, and not about the boy – not really. Edward is *her* fantasy ideal.

YA recognizes the reason that Mercedes Lackey and Anne McCaffery became such big names in the fantasy of our youth, by acknowledging that a large part of their readership was and always will be female.

YA writes in a way that allows women some space.

But more than that, and why male fantasy readers also gravitate towards YA, is that these books don’t valorize villains. They don’t agonize over possible shades of grey. Their morality is clear – while the characters may worry about what the right course of action is, the underlying ethos stays true to core values that many adult readers find missing in modern fantasy aimed at their age group.

No matter how hard a writer tries, making the villain out to be just “misunderstood” or – even more preposterously – justified, is a fool’s gambit.

Because evil isn’t justifiable, and villains are understood perfectly: we know them when we see them.

And we want our fantasy to reflect that. We are already well-aware that in real life, cheaters often do prosper, and that evil can triumph. In daily life, we are constantly confronted by those evils, big and small, flooding over all we hold dear.

Sometimes it must seem like a pointless battle.

We need to remember that there are good reasons to stand against that rising tide, and that we can, sometimes, win out against it.

YA fantasy agrees.

About that trash…

A while ago, there was a news story about how a group went out to a beach somewhere and gathered up a literal tonne of plastic and garbage from the shores.

It was the quintessential climate-emergency “feel-good” story.

“Look what we can do if we only try!”

But I had some questions.

Mainly, I wanted to know what precise good this was going to do, overall, because the garbage still *existed*. Picking up didn’t make the garbage go away – it didn’t magically disappear. It still exists, as garbage, and, I suppose, would go on to a landfill, still polluting the earth, but just not where anyone could see it.

A lot of people complained that it was still a Good Thing to have done, because at least it wasn’t polluting the ocean, and I guess that’s true enough.

But today I had an idea about where people could put that garbage, and all the other garbage they collect in this effort to clean up (finally!) after ourselves.

We could arrange to dump it at the appropriate governmental offices.

Here in Alberta, we could dump it on the lawn of the Alberta Legislature buildings.

In Ottawa, it would go best on the green expanse in front of Parliament.

US people could maybe look at 101 Independence Avenue SE, in D.C.

All around the world, we could deliver that tonnage, so lovingly collected, in a place where those who are blithely ignoring the problem can see it, and maybe we could leave a note, advising them that it is their problem, for real now, and we are eager to see what they do about it.

Because playing three-card Monty with our rubbish isn’t working that well so far.

Readers: beware!

Most writers are better on paper than in person.

It’s no big surprise.

We have a lot practice and we have more time. Anxiety doesn’t freeze our fingers, and we can proofread it all before we release the words. A writer’s internal editor can’t keep up with their mouth, but when it’s typed, we get a backspace key and a “cut” button.

The writer can sit back and see the shape of the words, adjust the rhythm, hone those similes and metaphors till they gleam with wit and wisdom.

No one can see our ratty bathrobe or our uncombed hair.

In person, we have to wear pants.

It’s not a stretch to say that writers live on paper (or computer screens) and are smaller, less impressive, and altogether less real in the flesh.

The Secrets Couples Share

There are things that happen when you live in close proximity to someone, day in, day out, that only the two of you “get”.

Some of it can evolve to be almost a secret language, so that some other person will say or do something, and the two of you don’t even have to exchange a single word – your eyes meet, and suddenly the pair of you are convulsively laughing, and you cannot explain it, because the words or actions have become so invested with layer upon layer of shared moments that the original trigger just sounds idiotic or daft or distinctly unamusing to anyone outside of that shared experience.

One night, my husband phoned while I was getting dinner together and trying to shove a load of laundry through, while simultaneously attempting to clear off the coffee table, plus a couple of other minor things that needed my attention.. He asked what I was doing and I said “Cooking dinner” because that was simpler than trying to explain the hierarchy of tasks that I was sorting through.

“What are we having?” he asked.

What I said was “Chilli and focaccia bread.”

What he heard was “Chilean Fuck You Bread.”

Well, you cannot let that one go, can you?

For the next twenty years, we referred to focaccia bread as “Fuck You bread.”

If someone said “focaccia bread”, we’d share that tiny, secret, just-us grin.

People in the bakery aisle in Co-op used to try correcting us, which was even funnier.

And to this day, I don’t think of it as anything else.

Crooked Crowns

Monarchists are daft. They really are.

It always cracks me up when I listen to modern people living in democracies arguing about “rightful heirs” to some throne or other.

https://newsfeed.time.com/2012/07/06/rightful-heir-to-british-throne-dies/

https://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/286277/The-rightful-heir-to-the-Scottish-throne

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_usurpers

https://www.wearethemighty.com/history/royals-claim-throne-united-states

I mean, seriously?

Look, these things are all bogus, and they always have been.

Every single king or kinglet, from Brunei to Britain, is nothing more than a scam.

It’s a scam that has worked for several millennia, but they are scams, nonetheless.

I don’t care who was born five minutes before whom, or who their parents were and whether or not those parents were legitimately “married in the eyes of X”.

They all got there on two things: religion, and the might-makes-right system.

God-kings, priest-kings, or “divine right” – that’s all just the purest of crap fed to frightened, lazy people longing for someone to take the power of decision off their hands, and dux bellorum et al is nothing more than a prettified version of the mafia.

Why, having fought long and hard for something more, something that included us and our needs, we still romanticize and idolize the idea that someone with the money to hire a lot of dim-witted soldier boys to keep us underfed and docile is beyond me.

Who in their right mind cares whether or not Henry Tudor was entitled to be king?

Apparently, quite a number of you.

http://www.richardiii.net/

I find myself feeling rather ashamed to belong to a species this stupid.

Fast Fashion

I made a vow a little while ago, and you should, too.

I’ve been doing some downsizing (aka Swedish death-cleaning) and I realized, not for the first time, how much completely useless clothing I own.

I had three tops I called my “rock and roll tops” – glittery, slinky black tops decorated with things like beads and sequins, meant for concerts and parties, and I hadn’t worn any of them in over two years, so I ditched two of them.

I had four party dresses (for non-rock and roll parties) and most I hadn’t worn in three years, so now I’m down to one.

I had four pairs of jeans, but I hated two of them  and only wore them when I was desperate, so they, too, are out the door.

I’ve got things I only wear for work, and since I’m probably retiring this year, all of that stuff will be gone after Christmas.

Ditto, most of my shoes, because I really only wear my runners, my sandals, or my boots. I am keeping two other pairs of “nice shoes”, just in case.

The thing is, almost none of what is sitting in our closets is even marginally necessary, and most of it we don’t even like (or does not fit), so why do we do it? Why do we keep buying this crap?

Because it is crap, and the planet is drowning in it: cheap, glitzy rubbish we wear once and then hang on to for no reason.

We all need to stop.

https://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-sept-16-2020-1.5725952/the-pandemic-has-made-it-clear-just-how-broken-the-fashion-industry-is-says-expert-1.5725987

If the pandemic has taught us westerners anything, it might be this: most of what we unthinkingly buy has no impact on our well-being and happiness, and serves only to keep us in a state of wishfulness and mindless consumption, while exploiting other countries’ poverty.

It’s no way to live.

My vow is now that any “new” clothing I acquire will be either second-hand  from thrift stores/charity shops, or directly from a maker.

I will not support a greedy, rapacious fashion industry any more, and I will only buy what brings me joy, what I will actually use, and what will not harm others on this planet.

It’s a small thing, individually, but worldwide, it could have an enormous impact.

The Irony of Twitter

No, this isn’t what you think.

I’m not going into the political realm here, or even about the way some people feel the need to document how perfect and fulfilled they are by tweeting pictures of their oh-so-elegant version of twice-baked stuffed potatoes with extra sour cream, followed by posts about their struggle with weight loss.

I’m talking about how while every day I see people positively begging for more followers (“I’m 100 followers short of 10K, please help me reach this goal by midnght!”), I also see people (often those selfsame people) complaining that they aren’t getting any engagement on their tweets.

Okay, let’s break this down a bit.

Why an enormous number of followers is desirable is a bit of a mystery to me.

I mean, if it’s for selling stuff, well, I do sort of get it, but unless what you are selling is so universally desirable that every single person on earth needs/wants this, the number itself isn’t important.

It’s whether you are reaching the right audience that matters – frankly, I suspect I am not, since most of my followers are other writers, and while they tend to read a lot themselves, they really aren’t the people I wish I could reach, which is that section of the population that just loves to read.

So the number of your followers isn’t really important, and (to also be frank here) unless you are already famous, you really shouldn’t expect to have hundreds of thousands of people following you and hanging breathless on your every Tweet.

If you are @thedavidcrosby , most emphatically YES – and it’s a good idea to follow him, because he’s funny and nice, and will frequently respond to followers’ tweets.

If you’re @morganauthor1 , well – not so much.

But the engagement thing: that’s a more sensitive problem, and one that will perhaps drop my follower count into the negative numbers.

First off, if no one is responding to your tweets, you should look at what you are tweeting.

If you are asking silly questions that got old a decade ago, you should not expect to get much response. “Name your favourite DC hero” has not only been done to death, it’s not terribly interesting. Or revealing.

Anyone who has been here for a year or more has answered this 27 times already. They aren’t really that excited to share it yet again.

But the bigger problem is that the numbers game itself defeats engagement.

If you have more than a couple of hundred followers, that’s potentially 300-500 tweets to go through every day.

Do you have time even to just read all of them? Do you have time to respond to each and every one of those?

Think about how it is for someone with a follower count of 10K.

Do you really think that they spend their entire waking life scrolling through and responding personally and with wit and clarity to every single tweet they receive?

Believe me, they do not. I don’t, even when I do, theoretically, have that kind of time.

Even if Twitter was my full-time job, the platform often cuts me off at a certain point, which means that many tweets don’t even show up for me – I simply cannot see them.

On top of all this, I don’t know most of my followers beyond the tweets. Posting stuff that, owing to the built-in brevity of the medium, come across as whiny/needy, doesn’t really make me want to respond, and I suspect that this actually will reduce the amount of engagement the tweeter is likely to get.

So. Two rules for a happy life on Twitter.

  1. Don’t angst over the numbers. If you post interesting stuff, that number will grow on its own.
  2. If you want engagement, post interesting things. If you want people to be interested in you, be an interesting person.

And remember: Twitter doesn’t owe you squat.

Mango Salad

mangoes

Problem: Grocery store mangoes are usually less than perfectly ripe. But the point between buying an under-ripe mango and remembering to eat it before it is over-ripe is so fine as to be non-existent for many of us.

Solution?

Mango Salad. It’s a recipe that works better when the mangoes are very firm, and almost never works with ripe ones. Also, after the slicing is done, so, pretty much, is the actual work involved.

Dressing:
2 tablespoons lime juice

2 tablespoons fish sauce

1 tablespoon brown sugar

Salad:

2 firm mangoes, julienned into long thin strips (“matchsticks”, but longer)

1/4 red onion, sliced very thinly and separated

1/2 red pepper, julienned

1/4 cup (or a little more) chopped cashews or peanuts (optional but recommended)

Whisk the dressing ingredients together till the sugar is dissolved. Pour over the sliced ingredients and the nuts, toss together really well.

This is perfect with rice and satay chicken, although It also is great dumped on top of lettuce, or just on its own.

 

 

Authorial Intent isn’t always Conscious

…but that doesn’t let you off the hook.

jrr-tolkien-9508428-1-402

“I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. … I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.”
– Tolkien

 

I hate to be the one to break it to you, but Tolkien was wrong.

Well, perhaps not “wrong”, but certainly less insightful that one might have hoped.

Authors, artists, songwriters, creators of all stripes: they bring their entire selves to their work.

It’s inescapable. You have your biases, whether you are aware of them or not, and ditto your beliefs, your values, your stances and your opinions, on everything from the taste of avocados to who you want as leader of your tribe.

And when you create – when you get that first flash of an idea, be it for a novel or a painting or a new recipe for what to do with left-over fried chicken – a whole ton of these things will come into play, with or without your awareness or knowledge.

It’s a kind of truism, for example, that every portrait a painter paints is, in fact, a self-portrait – that they paint themselves reflected onto the person they are painting.

And it’s always been quite fashionable to rag on English lit profs for “reading into” someone’s writing things that to readers often feel like pedantic, nitpicky weirdness.

“The colour of the curtains doesn’t have to mean anything!” is the kind of stuff you hear from frustrated undergrads, who just grew up liking to read books and from that decided that a BA in English would be fun.

But it does mean something. All of it means something, and sometimes it can mean something quite important.

When a writer sees in their mind’s eye the vision of a room and then describes it, it’s not merely a random collection of details. The colours often/almost always *do* have significance, and even if the writer isn’t aware of why they chose to see the curtains as green instead of yellow, outside perspectives can throw a lot of light onto what those choices could signify.

Tolkien may not have consciously intended to reflect the English view of World Wars One and Two, and their importance, and might not have been able to see the ways in which he translated that set of experiences into his work, and may have denied to himself the symbolism of the One Ring in terms of the vast changes to warfare that began in 1914 and culminated in 1945, but that doesn’t mean that his own unconscious mind didn’t have a very clear intention of writing a saga that made some kind of sense out of the technologies and events and world changes for him.

Every story has, in the end, two creators. The writer puts the words together.

The reader completes the process by understanding those words.

It’s a conversation, not a monologue.

Which is why authors do, in fact, need to be aware of not only their own internal codes, prejudices, and mental structures, but of the time and general milieu they live in. They need to bring very critical eyes to their own work, and have a clear grasp on what it is they might be unconsciously saying in their work.

Deciding that this isn’t important, that it’s “just a story”, and then being angry or upset when the reader points out problematic or disquieting things that the writing might be saying about the writer, is an abdication of responsibility, but – even worse – it indicates a lack of belief in the importance of the craft the writer has chosen as his own.