Filed under Books

What Cannot Be Unseen: Fail in Writing, and How Writers Can Fix It

So, there’s an arrow in the FedEx logo.

FedEx Arrow

Take your time.

For many people who don’t see negative space well, the arrow may not have ever been apparent. However, some people spot the arrow, and some people will forever see the arrow. They cannot un-see the presence of the arrow.

How does this apply to storytelling? LiveJournal user innerbrat writes:

That’s the gist of the discussion about FedEx arrows so far, and it’s a little divisive; here are the people who see and talk about arrows, and here are the people wrapped up in their arrowless privilege who don’t want to talk about it, thank you. It’s an easy division to make; one group is self-important pompous complain-fetishists, the other ignorant bigots. Nice story, really. It plays to our tendencies to divide the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’ and means we don’t have to reach out to people and actually have a conversation. A pity the world doesn’t really work like that.

The post goes on to discuss the ways one should deal with a situation in which one person observes a bit of fail in a story, and another does not, and how to reconcile the opposing viewpoints. It tackles this both as a reader, and as a writer. Worth a read, I think.

The Agony of the Male Novelist


You can read the original article, or you can read Scalzi’s takedown which is frankly more entertaining and better-researched. The tl;dr of the whole thing is that mens has it super-hard in the writing world because womens be making the monies and has all the powers.

Milton Davis and the State of Black Science Fiction

At his blog, Milton Davis writes:

For the next month I’m participating in a discussion with my fellow writers on the state of black speculative fiction. It’s a subject near and dear to my heart since I’m such a writer. At the end of my blog will be a list of participating writers. Be sure you click on the links to view their opinions as well. There will be giveaways at the end of the discussion. My contribution with be a signed copy of each of my books. I hope you follow this interesting and possibly enlightening discussion.

So what is the state of black science fiction? In my humble opinion it’s encouraging.

The Rumpus and Lev Grossman’s “Resolution”

So Lev Grossman made a list of books he’s looking forward to that are due out in 2012. And at the end of the list, he realized, oops, it’s all white dudes:

This completes our survey of 2012 books written by white men. I don’t know what happened to the diversity there. Sorry. I have my New Year’s resolution now.

So I totally would have missed this if not for this link from The Rumpus fluttering my way. Roxanne Gay points out Grossman’s pointing-out of a lack of diversity, and then rightly points out that pointing-out as stupid and dumb. She goes on to say:

To tell you the truth, I am bored with this conversation. Are you bored? You must be. The conversation doesn’t change because the status quo doesn’t change and clearly, pointing out that these problems exist doesn’t change the status quo. We know what the problem is. Talking about this cultural myopia in publishing (and elsewhere, for that matter) is spitting in the wind. The people who really need to hear the message, they don’t care and they don’t need to care because there’s no (financial) imperative for them to do so.

I want to find a more productive way of approaching these issues. I want to start thinking about how underrepresented writers can better infiltrate the great white, masculine wall of publishing and publicity. I don’t know how to make this happen but I do know it is going to take far more than pointing at the hulking elephant.

I don’t want to be silent about issues that concern me because all too often, silence implies consent, but I also want to feel like we’re moving forward and making some kind of difference. Perhaps I want too much but that’s nothing new. I’m going to spend 2012 trying to figure out a better way to talk about these issues.

Now, honestly, I think talking about these things is important, because there are people who haven’t heard these things, and won’t hear these things unless we talk about them. However, I do agree with the underlying point: talk is insufficient. Forward motion is needed. How exactly to go about moving forward and really fixing this shit? Well, I don’t really know. I hope someone can figure that out.

Being Conscious about Gender in Writing

In a recent post, author Mette Ivie Harrison states “All gender, in my view, is in the end, a masquerade.” You should go read the whole thing here.

Kate Elliott, author of many titles such as the recent Spiritwalker Trilogy, responds to this post with a discussion of her own struggle with writing gender — especially the female gender — in her own work:

I try very hard to write stories in which there are as many female characters as male characters, with as much agency and importance in the plot. Yet I often have consciously to go back through later drafts to make sure that my female leads aren’t being more passive than I actually want them to be, aren’t letting others make decisions for them or devise all the cunning plans (unless there is a specific reason because of experience, competencies, or social roles), are showing leadership, and are present as confident individuals with a strong sense of themselves (as long as that is within character).

Malinda Lo, author of Ash and Huntress which are described as “lesbian retelling of Cinderella,” discusses gender in her writing as well:

In my first two fantasy novels, Ash and Huntress, I don’t think I encountered the passivity problem. But with my next novel, I found myself falling straight into the passive feminine character trap — even when I truly, in my gut, did not believe that character was a passive individual. It was a little startling to me to see it on the page, and I do hope that in revision her character has become the individual I imagined her to be.

Death of the Female Movie Star?

Joel Shepherd is the author of a series featuring a female action hero named Cassandra Kresnov, and he details a recent attempt to shop the book as a film in Hollywood. A producer is having a difficult time placing the script, and eventually he just gave up. Why?

The problem with Cassandra Kresnov? She’s female, of course. ‘They’re just not interested,’ [the producer] said. ‘I mention she’s female and that’s the end of the conversation.’

Shepherd has written previously on the subject of female action heroes, and has written well on the subject, I think.

If Hollywood make a movie about a ‘male hero’, they will focus upon the word ‘hero’. Hollywood tells hero stories extremely well — the great powers, the great responsibilities, the tortured origin story, the moral and existential conflict. It’s all there, and Hollywood can tell these stories as easily as LeBron James can make a layup, and for similar financial reward.

But if Hollywood makes a movie about a ‘female hero’, they’ll focus upon the word ‘female’. They’ll lose emphasis upon the hero story, and focus on sex and gender instead. Our female hero will be dressed in ridiculous outfits, and will have action scenes dedicated less to showing how kick ass she is, than to how many teenage boys she can give erections while kicking ass.

So, yeah. Props.

Roundtable on Intersectionality at Locus Online

First off, some of you might be wondering what “intersectionality” means. From Wikipedia: “The theory suggests — and seeks to examine how — various biological, social and cultural categories such as gender, race, class, ability, and other axes of identity interact on multiple and often simultaneous levels, contributing to systematic social inequality.” And that’s a solid enough definition for me.

Locus Online currently has a roundtable on intersectionality, on how it affects what we read and write, featuring authors and editors such as N K Jemisin, Theodora Goss, Ellen Datlow, and Terry Bisson, as well as many others. Pretty nice discussion of the topic, I think.

Strike a Pose (Women and Fantasy Covers)

Have I recently mentioned my braincrush on Jim Hines? Sorry for getting repetitive here. He does a takedown of women on fantasy book covers and the silly poses they strike. A mild example:

Magic to the Bone, modelled by Jim Hines

Yep, that one’s mild. Click here to see more.

My sense is that most of these covers are supposed to convey strong, sexy heroines, but these are not poses that suggest strength. You can’t fight from these stances. I could barely even walk.

Stacy Whitman on Writing Cross-Culturally

Writing Cross-Culturally

Over at Omnivoracious, editorial director Stacy Whitman writes about how a writer can go about writing a culture other than their own with honesty and respect.

I like this article because it takes time to explain why writing cultures outside of the typical WASP-American perspective is a good thing, and then how to go about doing that and doing it authentically. She links several other articles I really like, like Nisi Shawl’s Transracial Writing for the Sincere and , as well as a TED talk I’m a huge fan of, Chimamanda Adichie’s The Dangers of a Single Story (seriously, go watch it).

I also liked this part:

I’d also like to note, as a result of conversations in last night’s #yalitchat on Twitter (the transcript of which should be available soon on the Lee & Low Blog), we often talk about writing cross-culturally in terms of white writers writing about people of color, but there are also many writers of color who feel pigeonholed to write only about their own culture. One writer said that she, having grown up in New York City, was comfortable with many different cultures but was unsure about writing a white woman from the Midwest. The same principles apply no matter where you’re coming from–research is key.

So You’ve Decided to Add a Rape Scene to Your Story

I’ve mentioned my basket full of squee for Jim Hines before, but Imma go ahead and tell you all again: so much ♥.

Apex Magazine has recently published an essay by Hines, titled Writing about Rape. For those unaware, Hines is a rape counselor, and is really awesome, and Totally Gets It, as he shows in this essay, with his five easy steps to writing a shitty rape narrative.

By following these instructions, you – like so many writers before you – can create offensive, shallow, uninformed, and flat-out bad stories, too. You can collect rejection letters from editors who will cringe in anticipation the next time they see your name on a submission.

But then, you might ask, how does someone write a story which includes rape and not do a disservice to this horrible crime and its impact on people’s lives? I appreciate that Hines explains there is no Right Way to write about this subject, but instead talks about things a writer can do to treat this subject with respect (which would be quite refreshing).

Seriously go give it a read. Link it widely. Jim Hines is awesome.