anghara: (Default)
It's been floating around in my f-list for days now and one of the best summaries of it is right here.

I looked at it, and decided that those on my list who know me already know all the answers to those questions that they're interested in - and someone who doesn't know me personally - well, I find it hard to believe that this person would be interested in whether or not I had a phone in my bedroom (but if you really really are, no, I didn't - and that brings me to another thing.

It's AMERICAN privilege.

All of the stuff in there screams the good old US of A and its lifestyle. Granted, the list might have been put together by American authors who were using their own yardstick because they had no other. But people, let's put this in perspective here. There's a world out there. Privilege is so damned relative.

No, I didn't have a phone in my room - where I come from lots of families lived in tiny apartments, if a kid had his or her own room that was already a step up on the ladder, and the phone was three steps away in any direction anyway if the call was for you. (Privacy? Huh? We're talking about mothers who already knew all about every one of your friends - and probably supervised your courting.) Yes, I had lots of books in my house. Yes, I travelled a lot when I was young. Yes, the family took vacations when I was a littl'un, but that was what people DID where we came from, everyone went for a "summer holiday" at the seaside. I might have been a princess but I was not a moneyed princess, I was loved and cherished and educated and read to and nourished and encouraged and given lessons to and taken globetrotting but that was just the way things were. It wasn't particular privilege that put me on my first airplane at age 10, it was Dad getting a job on a different continent. No I didn't have a trust - but my parents footed the bill for my education - that's what parents did where I'm from. Yes, we had art in the house. At some point some of it was even original - but none of it was Van Gogh or Monet or Picasso, if it was original it was done by some obscure local artist and we hung it because we liked it not because it showed visitors just how much spare cash we had to fling around.

I was raised in a cradle of culture and, yes, call it that for a moment, privilege - I grew up listening to classical music, reading Pearl Buck and poetry, knowing what the Louvre was and what it housed. But for my generation, born in the place I was born and in the relative social stratum that I was born into, all this was unremarkable, not a sign of "privilege". It was normal. I'm sure that peasant families living out in the villages and off their land had less refined homes than we did - but in the city, where I did my growing up, people lived in neat apartments and had neat homes and had lace doilies on every table and had geraniums in window boxes and went for summer holidays by the sea. We lived the same life that everyone else did - and my grand-parental generation was hardly rich as Croesus, my mother's family survived lived on a teacher's salary and a bit of land to poke things into and watch them grow.

Yes, I was more privileged than one of a member of a thirteen-sibling Bangladeshi clan living on scraps and offal on top of an open sewer in a slum, or a pot-bellied child of famine somewhere in Africa. But we worked hard and we were responsible for our own lives and destinies. I was not a child of trust funds and Ivy League and yachts and designer jeans and second homes. I was privileged to be loved and believed in; that sort of privilege is not confined to the "upper classes". And someone who hasn't had piano lessons at a baby grand by the age of twelve is not unprivilieged if they can crawl into loving arms when they need to have a cry about some petty life megrim that had derailed them.

There's all this talk of classless societies - but we ourselves are dividing ourselves into classes here in this very forum - into people with families where college educations were a given for three generations, into people who have credit cards by age 18 or phones or TVs in their rooms, into people who have "original art" on their walls... and people who do not. It creates a sense of superiority that is measured by these things. In a nutshell, I was always sheltered, I was fed, I was warm, I was loved, I was encouraged to dream big and reach for those dreams. THAT, folks, is privilege, and if that's what it is then I have it, in spades.

Phones and cars and TVs and credit cards are trappings. AMERICAN trappings, at that. A European kid who did not have a credit card would hardly whine about loss of privilege.

If you're truly privileged, you know it. Proving it to the outside world by gilding your life with "look at me" stuff... is arbitrary.

So. That's as far as I'm going with the meme. I'll leave it there.
anghara: (Default)
...I got blindsided by a movie I knew absolutely nothing about, this one, "Girl in a cafe". Our TiVo had taped it for us, as a TiVo suggestion - sometimes it thinks we would like the weirdest things, and often we merely glance at the stuff and delete it but this one caught our eye sufficiently to kind of get kept in the quueue against a night when it might seem appropriate.

As I said, I knew nothing about it. I only knew the male lead,Bill Nighy, because of the role he had in one of my favourite movies, "Love Actually", and there he was one of a cast featuring a veritable who's who of British cinema. Other than him, I don't think I recognised a single other name or face in "Girl in a Cafe". And perhaps that was part of the charm - because it didn't feel like a movie, it felt like a peek through a window left ajar, into lives, not into movie script. The storyline is borderline preposterous - a pathologically shy civil servant type (Nighy) whose life is his work and who doesn't appear to be capable of normal human interaction is forced by circumstances in a crowded cafe to share a table with a young woman. They get talking. There's just something... there. So they set up lunch. And then dinner. And there's a strange, shy, fey, awkward, endearing, weird, bizarre and yet utterly warm and tender and witty and believable connection between the two of them. And then he is due to go off to a bigwig G8 conference in Reykyavik, and he invites this girl, this stranger, along.

And there, in a nest of political vipers whose only thought is really to look out for themselves, she shames the world which had made promises to end poverty and disease and human suffering, the Millenium Promises into actually ACTING on those promises and not selfishly feathering their own nests on the transparent comforting pablum that "making our own economies stronger will help the world in the long run" - i.e. we'll get ours first, Jack.

And at a formal dinner our stranger at the feast, the young woman brought in from nowhere, snaps her fingers - snap -that's another child dead - snap - and another - snap - are you going to be the generation that does something about this, the great generation, or are you going to be the one that is looked back by the generation that does step forward to take care of the wold and be asked, "what were you thinking?"

There's no happy ending, of course. There can't be, not quite. But there is an ending that's bittersweet, and full of hope and fragile promise. The movie made me smile, sometimes laugh out loud, and then weep for the pity of it. And it ends, as the end-credits roll by, with a piece of music which then fades into a silence... or no, not quite silence. It fades into silence...SNAP...silence...SNAP...silence...SNAP.

And a question. What have YOU done for your fellow man today?

Yes, I am a cynic. I am fully capable of believing, in my darkest moments, that our world is afflicted with a malignant virus for which there is no cure, and that the virus is us, humanity. I am fully aware that there are people who cannot be helped, and people who WILL not be helped, and that we are slowly annihilating this beautiful world by overrunning it by our sheer numbers, our demands, our sense of entitlement that the savannah that was once the home of wild horses and buffalo and the great African plains where the elephants once roamed in great numbers and the jungles of the Amazon with their ancient trees and colourful birds and prowling panthers are only there so that they can be made use of by man. There are times I read the things that human beings are capable of doing unto other human beings, or to helpless animals, and I weep for the fury and the pity of it.

And then I see a movie like this.

And some flicker of hope is still alight in me, somewhere in the deepest darkest corner. That perhaps some day we will all wake up and realise that none of us can go it alone.


Oh, I don't know. I just thought it needed to be said, that's all.
anghara: (Default)
Back on my home newsgroup, rasfc, there's another discussion sparked by a fly-by "editor" offering to make us immortal by virtue of mere "exposure" in her journal. A follow-up message from a fellow who was apparently published by this outfit berated us all in terse if misspelled prose for being such boors as to complain about the fact that no pay would be forthcoming for our contributions to the original journal, whereupon one of our semi-regular folks came back with a comment that he kind of half-agreed with the second poster, in that...

>Writing *should* come from the joy of it, and not be focused on dollar signs.


Whereupon I responded with this:

Oy. Let me throw a monkey wrench into that spinning wheel, for just a
moment.

*Of course* writing should be done for the joy of it. Good God, who
would do it otherwise? Why put up with the frustrations and the blood
and sweat and tears of this game unless you really seriously honestly
love what you do? Before I ever got to smelling distance of being
published, I wrote - I wrote, because that is what I loved to do, I
loved the scent of fresh words in the morning and the nightingale song
of sleepy words at night. Words were better friends to me in some of
my more socially awkward phases of life than people could ever have
been - they were ever patiend, kind, understanding, and always there
when I needed them.

I love writing. I love the fear and the fury of it, the drama and the
laughter, the ring of swords and the crackle of winter fires within
stories and poems and myths and legends and tales. I love creating a
world, I love opening the doors of this newly minted world to
characters who come creeping or leaping or striding or dancing in to
explore it and have adventures in it and live their lives in it and
sing about it and cry about it and cling to it and to one another when
the storms come. I love it. I *LOVE* it. I cannot imagine myself not
doing it, not ever.

HOWEVER - having said that - this love is a bonus for me, right now,
because those words are working for me, they pay my bills, they light
my house and feed my cats and allow me to sit here writing this note
on the Internet. I love what I do, but the only reason I am able to
continue doing it at the level that I am is because someone,
somewhere, was willing to pay me for it.

I am not focused on dollar signs (although I DO wish my Amazon sales
ranks were higher. Sigh. But then that's an occupational hazard) but
the dollars play an important part. Whenever I bank a check from my
agent, I am putting income from my writing into my account, and that
money supports me, and my family, and my pets. The fact that I love
what I do merely means that I enjoy doing the work - but it's the
doing of the work that's the important thing here, because it's the
work that I love that enables me to stay alive and functioning in this
world. I could love writing just as well if I were homeless and living
in the streets - but how would I function in such a position, and who
other than me would be in a position to know that I loved writing, or
care? It isn't being "focused on dollar signs" to look at one's next
project and wonder if it will bring in enough to keep one's head above
water for the next month or three. I'm sure J K ROwlings no longer
needs to think such thoughts - but how many of her are there in the
industry...? The rest of us live from check to check, don't have a
nice monthly income like "normal" people do, can't afford health
insurance, occasionally gaze fondly at some thing that we would very
very very much like and sigh and admit that we can't afford to have
it, and yes, glory in the company of words all the way. We write
because we love it; we survive in the writing arena because we are
paid for doing the work that we love.

That's all I wanted to say. Back to your usually scheduled
entertainments.


There.

Now back to my chapter. Need to fix up chapter-the-previous before I can allow myself to go on with chapter-the-next.

Back to your, er, regularly scheduled entertainments...
anghara: (were)
Back when I was nineteen years old and steeped up to my innocent ingenue ears in the Matter of Britain, I dreamed up a story - technically a novel, I guess, seeing as it was over 40 000 words, but not much over. It was a solid chunk of writing, though, pretty much written over a year or so when I was about 18, and it told the story of Queen Guenevere.

In first person. From her own point of view.

It has since been done, and published, by several other writers. But at the time I was writing this, it had not been - and I struggled with it mightily, seeing as the Queen was not present at so much of what was key in the storyline as the legend knew it. So I twisted things a little, made her a little more... active and independent... holy cow, I only just realised I was writing feminist fantasy when I was a teenager... whatever, the story was done and completed when I was about 19, and it wasn't my first novel at that point but I guess it was really the first one that got looked at by Publishing Professionals. It got handed to an editor of a local publishing house - we were in South Africa at the time - and he handed it to an outside reader for an evaluation.

The reader was Andre P Brink. He was less well known outside South Africa, I guess, and it may be that nobody who reads this has ever heard of him - but he was a Big Deal in SOuth Africa at this time, a real novelist with awards hanging from his belt like scalps, but quite possibly the last person in the Universe to be handed an Arthurian fantasy by a teenager and expected to get anything at all out of it. I hadn't even known that it had been him that had been tapped to evaluate it, not until the editor who had taken the book to look at came back with a regretful rejection - and, breaking protocol somewhat, gave me a copy of the reader's report to have a look at.

Andre Brink, South Africa's pre-eminent novelist, started his report thusly:

"This is an impressive piece of writing, especially if it is taken into account that it was written by a 19-year-old. I have no doubt that this young woman will be a major writer one day."

But.

You heard the but coming, didn't you?...

But, he went on to say, the story was too tame, especially given the subject matter of lust and adultery and multi-layered betrayals. There was plenty of drama, he said, but there was none of... oh, let me quote him again... "...it lacks what Kazantzakis calls 'madness'."

TOday, I know of this madness. I understand it from within. I take no issue with his comments, not from this side of the bridge of time, because he was probably right - my story was one of innocence rather than guilt and machinations, my Queen was a child caught up in an adult world, much as I was at the time. But when he wrote this report, I had yet to read Kazantzakis. I had heard of Zorba the Greek, but I had not read the book, nor seen the movie at that time.

I have done both, since. In fact, I watched the movie on TiVo tonight, just an hour or so ago. I was astonished at how much of it I remembered, verbatim, and how much of the BOOK came flooding back as I saw certain scenes unfold in the film. It is a searing work that celebrates life and presents death in a form as raw and matter-of-fact as I have ever seen it. It is here that the "madness" comes from, Zorba flings it at his staid and strait-laced Englishman, "You have to have some madness in you or you will never be able to cut the strings."

This "madness". At its worst, it's something that can only be learned by living a life - sometimes only when you are ready to leave it. It is a place where there is nothing but choices, and sometimes they all seem equally bad - and picking one means "cutting the strings". flying solo, doing the high trapeze act without a net, laughing in the face of destiny and thumbing your nose at God. At its best it's the fire that tempers the iron in us, the one choice that HAS to be made no matter what, the need to learn to live with consequences.

Some day, ah, some day... I might return to the Guenevere story. I know I held her in my hand once, and it was good, good enough for a real publisher to take an interest even though nothing ever came of it, good enough for my boyfriend at the time to identify me with Camelot's queen so strongly that he called me Guenevere ever after, even years after, remembering the name and whence it came a quarter of a century after we two were an item in my first year of University.

I've grown up. I've lived. Out there in the world it lives too, the "madness", like a virus - you might lift your face into a gentle rain and a single raindrop will have a potent dose of it, and will come into your eye and burn like acid, and you will cry without having the faintest idea why - and then you might go out and do something you've never done before, like write a sonnet, or ride a horse bareback, or fall in love.

I had an enchanted, sheltered, protected childhood, and I was shielded from all this when I was young. But it's in my blood now, inevitably, as it comes to everyone in their time. I would love to know whether Andre Brink remembers me, and if he would be able to sense the "madness" in what I am writing today. It is by no means certain - I doubt he has changed, and he has become even more academic than he had been at the time he wrote the original report, and it isn't too outrageous to wonder whether his own dose of "madness" is still living within him or if it has been quelled by the years that have flowed under the bridge since our initial encounter. He would probably still hate the kind of stuff I write, just as I find his style a little too dry, too "advanced", too pure and distilled and literary, for my own taste. But still... I wonder. SOmetimes I am taken back to being that innocent teenager who sloughed off the rejection and saw only that glowing first sentence, and found in it enough fire to keep a dream alive.
anghara: (Default)
Or perhaps that should be, "wither, reading?" - there is a disquieting trend that is becoming obvious out there.

A little while ago, in February, I stumbled on this particular report:


The Associated Press is ending the book review package provided to
newspapers, Editor and Publisher reports.

A spokesperson says the "AP is revamping its Lifestyles coverage to
focus more resources on topics like food and parenting, and as a
result we are discontinuing the book-review package that had moved
through that department."

She adds that book coverage will continue through the Arts and
Entertainment Department, though the emphasis appears to be on news
and features.


Chop, chop, chop. Who needs books when you can have scintillating recipes or other more "lifestyley" features such as how to arrange cushions on your sofa or which plasma TV to choose? Oh, hey, I know, people have to eat - and watching the latest game on the best possible hardward has to count for something. Like, who needs books anyway...?

Perhaps you think I'm over-reacting. Perhaps I am. But both as a reader AND as a writer things like this sting - people like me seem to be increasingly dismissed as harmless kooks who can go away and indulge their shameful little reading habit in private, thank you very much. Perhaps some day reading in public will come to be regarded as just as "dangerous" to public morals as breastfeeding a child is today - who knows, someone's passions might get so inflamed at the sight of a book in another person's hand that they'll race off to the nearest bookstore and buy several, and get so engrossed in them that they'll miss the game on the new plasma TV, and whither our society then...?

Granted, I'm exaggerating, and it's a symptom rather than the disease - but then, on the heels of the AP decision, comes something like this:


Trying to Save Books at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Zachary Steele, owner of Wordsmiths Books, is one of the leaders of
an effort to make the Atlanta Journal-Constitution rescind its
decision to fire book editor Teresa Weaver and cut back book coverage.

In addition, Shannon Byrne, a publicity manager of Little, Brown, is circulating a petition that
says among other things that the paper's book section is one of the
best-edited literary pages in the country.

"It provides Atlanta, which ranks #15 on the University of
Wisconsin's list of most literate cities in the U.S., with a powerful
and necessary cultural dialogue. Under the astute guidance of the
section's editor Teresa Weaver, the books page has demonstrated an
admirable commitment to both literature and nonfiction works which
have grappled with some of America's most complicated issues and themes."

In a Shelf Awareness ezine blog entry, bookstore owner Zachary Steele wrote, among other things, that
"an absence of a literary presence in the primary source of news in Atlanta robs not only you and I, but it deprives future generations the exposure to what is and always will be the most vital aspect of their maturation. A book--literacy in its global form--is a necessary
component to intellectual growth. Reading is on the rise amongst our youth (check out the great success of Decatur's Little Shop of Stories if you doubt me) and now is not the time to reduce or eliminate the one place they can go to read further."


Check out your local paper. Does it have a book page? Does it have a book page that provides more than just a stump of a review one paragraph long which pretty much encapsulates the plot of the book under discussion and no more?

I cannot imagine a world without books, without reading. But much more of this, and an entire generation will find it hard to imagine a world WITH them.

If nothing else helps, try this - why can't newspapers consider books and reading as a "Gardening" feature? The word is a tender plant, and its care should be of interest to those who wish to cultivate a flourishing garden. And there is no sweeter fruit, when it is ripe and ready, than Story.

Of legacies

Apr. 2nd, 2007 05:26 pm
anghara: (Default)
[livejournal.com profile] scalzi (on his OTHER blog) and then [livejournal.com profile] jaylake recently weighed in on the question of legacies - or, more specifically, on the reasons why they write and what they expect (or hope) for posterity to have to say about their work, and their lives.

Perhaps I'm a little bit more aware of mortality right now, what with first someone I'd been on a panel with on a con not a month past suddenly and dramatically being whisked from this life by a massive heart attack, and then a long-time Internet friend, married to another long-time Internet friend, dying yesteday after a lingering battle with liver cancer.

It comes to everybody, in the end.

What of me? What am I hoping for? Why do I write?

John Scalzi says that his work is meant to be read now, and not a hundred years' hence - who remembers the bestsellers of a century ago? He even quotes a couple of titles, none of which I'd heard of, which seems to prove his point handily - but also, I think, misses it, in my own case.

His premise might hold true of a mega seller like ROwlings - but I don't write the bestsellers. What I would hope for, as far as my own legacy is concerned, is a rather different dream. Let me give you an example - I have in my possession, on my bookshelf, an old-fashioned hardcover book in reasonably good whack. I bought this book second hand; in it, there is an inscription: To Deda, Xmas 1905".

The book is "Mill on the Floss". How much of a "bestseller" that was in its day, I'mn ot certain - but it had to have had some status, seeing as it has survived as a "classic". But what I would hope for of my own books is that someone, somewhere, many years after I am dead, finds a copy of my book in a second hand bookstore somewhere, inscribed by a loving hand to some other now long-gone person. Extending my hand to that first reader who extends theirs to the person to whom they gave my book who in turn, across the years, extends theirs to some other reader, many years down the line.

I don't aspire to bestsellerdom. But the idea of still being read and remembered a hundred years from now - that, now, that is something. I don't write for posterity, that's for certain - and I would very much like for a sufficiency of readers in the here and now to give me a decent chance of living out my life as a writer in the days allotted to me on this earth. But I'd like it very much if my books outlived me, if my dreams were to be continue to be dreamed by a new generation of readers. If that should happen, my spirit will look down from the heavens and smile.

Both [livejournal.com profile] scalzi and [livejournal.com profile] jaylake have families, kids, and perhaps that colours their own ideas about posterity and inheritance - but I don't. My children are my cats - and I'll certainly outlive them, and possibly another generation of them, too, given the disparity of cat and human lifetimes - and my books, and those books are the only thing that I will leave behind me when I go.

That, and a memory - in those who knew me, and who might continue in this life after I leave it - of being a certain kind of person, someone who believed strongly in certain things and acted on those beliefs, someone who chose to live a life of passion rather than a life of practicality and ease, to follow a dream rather than the road to 2.5 children and a white picket fence and suburbia. Someone who could follow a recipe, but did not care to cook; who laughed with delight when she saw a butterfly and wept when she saw a redwood tree; someone who listened to birdsong, who paused to smell the lilacs, who liked to bury her fingers in soft cat fur, who liked the taste of chocolate, who heard the songs in the wind and the slow dreams of stones. My body will not be remembered, because I did not reproduce it - my genes will wither, and any traditions which I continue today I will take with me when I go without children to carry them on. I hope that my mind and my spirit - my words, for that is in which those two things are cocooned - will remain as a memory of me in this world.

I don't know what my legacy will be. I only know what I *hope* it will be. For those of you who have read my books and enjoyed them - give one as a gift to someone you love, with an inscription inside, and a date. Who knows who might find these things in the fullness of time, and wonder about both you and me, and think that they must have found a treasure.
anghara: (Default)
[livejournal.com profile] hawkwing_lb reviews (by proxy, as it were) "Eragon"

Point of order: I haven't myself, read the book. But if half of what's described on these pages is remotely correct... well... shall we say I've put bigger bestsellers down in despair. On the strength of what I've heard about the movie (although, granted, it's a GIVEN that movies-made-from-books tend to suck in sometimes quite unimaginable ways, so we'll cut that a little slack, right there) and from any reader who happens to be above the age that the author of the original book was when he wrote it (i.e. mid-teens), I don't think that "Eragon" and I, despite my admitted love affair with the fantasy genre, would be a good fit.

Which leads me to cogitate on the Matter of Fantasy.

I've just done an interview for a German fantasy magazine, and hey, there it was again. The Question.

Fantasy is overrun with the tropes - with its elves (sorry, Elves, can't not capitalise that), Dwarves, orcs (oh dear GOD, Tolkien, what have you started with THOSE?..), unicorns, dragons, evil kings, long-lost and unwitting pawns of prophecies which had been (often thankfully) forgotten by the time the scion who's supposed to fulfill them comes ambling along whistling something vaguely resembling the cheerful theme tune from the Andy Griffith Show.

The classic, in other words, EFP, or Extruded Fantasy Product as it has been dubbed in rasfc, my home newsgroup, which really has some amazingly clever people in it when it comes to term coinage.

Let's talk about something else just for a moment. Let's talk about chocolate. When I was young and innocent and naive and lacking either experience or the proper taste buds, I loved MILK chocolate. You know, the really really SWEET stuff. The stuff that cloys and sickens, if taken in large quantities. And still I loved it, the sweetness of it, the giddy taste of it, and I could have more more more MORE. As I grew older - and more discerning - I began to leave the sugar-added candy to the next generation of kids, and gravitated more and more to the stuff that was as unadulterated as I could find. The rich dark chocolates. The more EXPENSIVE chocolate. The stuff that had a memorable taste, a hint of bitterness, something that left the mouth feeling satisfied and not sick and sated.

I was the same way with fantasy. Okay, we all start with the milk chocolate. The classic stuff. We ALL love our dragons. But Eragon's dragons are apparently vintage sweet milk chocolate EFP with flavour added. It takes someone like Naomi Novik and her dragon-enhanced Napoleonic wars to make dragons start to taste like 70%-cocoa bitter dark chocolate again, and even she is constrained by the milkchocolateness of the trope to a point where she sometimes slides back into that (although she fights free of it, when she does).

What I said in my German interview is that fantasy tropes are Legos, and it's what you BUILD with them that matters in the end, not what they are. A badly written EFP - even a decently written EFP with absolutely no leavening of trying to do something *else*, something *different* with those tropes - and it all comes back, the memory of the milk chocolate cloying sweetness. And the effect is instant, both on the experienced readers in the genre and in the newly-arrived ones - on the former, the reminder is too much, and a book turns into "yet another generic"; for the latter, if they have any kind of ear at all, they will "hear" the main notes of that particular song, and if only because in today's over-subscirbed information age, will recognise them even if they haven't been exposed to much of the same before. And there'll be a recoil, a feeling of ennui and annoyance, even though they won't even know why, not really.

Fantasy is a vibrant, vivid, tremblingly alive genre. Done well, there is nothing to touch it. The Guy Gavriel Kays of this world, the Ursula Le Guins, yes, even the JK Rowlings-wannabes who realise that whatever else she has done she has single-handedly revitalised the genre by the simple dint of using the old Legos in a way that makes the material she is writing about at least SEEM fresh and new. There is nothing like fantasy to put forward a bitter truth with its own aftertaste - the 70%-proof bitter chocolate - and make your tastebuds, your reading self, sit up, and notice, and learn, and gasp, and laugh, and cry, and feel all the passion and the power of worlds that never were, that could never be.

But it takes some effort.

There are readers out there, of course, who read things like fantasy for the fluff factor. They exist in sufficient quantity, and their dollar is sufficiently powerful, for truckloads of EFP to be published every year, and take up valuable shelf space in bookstores. The presence of such unadulterated and unleavened EFP, if it is picked up as an introduction to fantasy by unwitting newbies, is a real danger - because it is quite capable of turning potential readers of the GOOD stuff off the genre in droves before they've even had a chance to FIND the good stuff.

And my definition of fantasy is broad, here. It includes things like the so-called New Weird (e.g. China Mieville, who uses language like a scalpel), the urban fantasy (which is a very broad category - from old hands like Charles de Lint to up-and-comers like Kat Richardson), the indefinable writers like Neil Gaiman who are a genre unto themselves.

The message is... if you start with something along the lines of what "Eragon" (apparently) is, at least according to this one reader, and you think that no fantasy writer has ever written a word that's powerful or original - don't stop there. Seek out the Good Stuff. If you have no clue where to look, there are lots of lists out there which will go something along the lines of, if you like X then you will like Y. Ask your more experienced friends. Ask employees in independent bookstores (not so much the Barnes and Nobles of this world, their book choices are made at the Head Office and you're extraordinarily lucky if you find someone on the ground in your local branch of the store who is really savvy in the SF/Fantasy genre.

Bad fantasy is often simply appalling.

Good fantasy, GREAT fantasy, is addictive, heady, powerful stuff. Hold out for the good stuff. You may have to eat a certain amount of milk chocolate before you get to the real thing - but honing your palate is something you may have to do before you can truly appreciate the tingle of the good stuff. Persevere. No genre rewards a reader like this one can... if you take the time to find the right road into its magic.
anghara: (Default)
There are stages in this game.

First you scribble aimlessly, because you love it.

Then you start attaching the fact that you love reading books to the fact that you love writing stories - all the books you are reading started out as stories someone ELSE wrote - hey, people *publish* their stories.

Then you start reading with a slightly more critical eye, and you start having the reaction which can be summed up as, "Hey, I can do better than this! I *have* done better than this! If this dude can get published... *so can I*!!!" (You'd be surprised at how many authors started with that sentence.)(Well, actually, you probably would not be....)

But so far, so good - you've been coasting, writing because you're writing, for little reason over and above that.

NOW, the hard work starts. You're writing with one eye towards seeing YOUR name on a book spine, on bookstore shelves, alongside the names of the writers you have known and loved.

The pitfalls and sinkholes and thorny hedges along the way are many and various and have been elucidated in a lot of different places - how-to writing books, authors' blogs, interviews - they're everywhere you care to look. For the purposes of this particular post, we'll take a detour around them all, and assume that you've successfully navigated the mine field and arrived safely at the far shore, and the ink on your publishing contract is just starting to dry.

And this is where it begins. The Thirst.

You send in the contract, and you wait. In due course (anything from a month to eight months) your on-signing check arrives, and then you wait. The publisher whisks away your MS, and you wait, and then it comes back edited and you do that work and you wait. The book is published, and you get a shiny copy to hold in your hand, complete with your name on the spine... and you wait. You wait for everything. For the contracts. For the money. For the reviews and the reactions. For information of any and all description - for instance, how many copies in the print run? Was there more than one print run? What the heck do all those weird things in your royalty statement actually mean? When are you going to GET your royalty statement (they are traditionally wrapped up by the publishers in June and in December, but authors quickly learn to expect the June edition in September and the December edition in March...)?

The Thirst for NEWS.

Things kind of float by, and you might trip over a review that you didn't know was there - especially in the cyber-age when you can trawl for them on the Net if you're so inclined. But it's like waiting by the phone for that boy who said "I'll call you", and you don't want to move from the phone's side in case he DOES call, and you can't do anything else because your attention is on the silent phone, and when and if he does call it's usually not what you expect anyway. The information that you crave is painfully slow in coming. WHEN is that book whose contract you signed going to come out...? In hardcover...? In paperback?... In Dutch...? How is it selling? Is it selling? What do people think about it?... Reviewers?... Readers...? What's happening with the proposal you sent in for the next book you want to write? What precisely does the editorial "I'll be in touch soon" really mean, in terms of cold hard hours, days, weeks or months? You start to get to know other people who are also writing books, and when YOUR new one comes out and so does someone else's it's almost inevitable that you are going to start seeing, almost exclusively, every blog and every comment and every review on the Planet Earth referring to THEIR book and not YOURS - and it's almost a given that THEY will be watching the same phenomenon from THEIR end and wondering why on earth everyone is talking about YOUR book and not THEIRS. And you wait. And you wait wait wait wait wait.

Oh, sure, in the interim period, if you're any kind of writer, you are writing something else, another book, another step forward on the path, closer to more waiting to come. But just in case you thought that becoming a published author makes one a King or a Queen... well... maybe. Eventually. VERY eventually. In the meantime, folks, each and every one of us out there is a Lady- (or a Gentleman-) in-Waiting.
anghara: (Default)
[livejournal.com profile] ozarque recommends a link to something called "Social Publishing," by Paul B. Hartzog, here. The quote that caught her eye was, "An SF writer’s biggest problem is obscurity, not piracy."

Ouch.

Care to weigh in on this, anyone...?
anghara: (book and glasses)
Over at what is known as the Purple Zone by the regulars, the discussion has taken a turn on the value of uniqueness of story. You may notice my contribution to the discussion somewhere in the toils of the commentary, but I figured I might as well contribute something lengthier and more meaningful.

In order to save various friends' lists, here it all is under a cut... )
anghara: (book and glasses)
"There is writing which resembles the mosaics of glass you see in stained-glass windows. Such windows are beautiful in themselves and let in the light in coloured fragments, but you can't expect to see though them. Int he same way, there is poetic writing that is beautiful in itself and can easily affect the emotions, but such writing can be dense and can make for hard reading if you are trying to figure out what's happening.

"Plate galss, on the other hand, has no beauty of its own. Ideally, you ought not to be able to see it ata all, but though it you can see all that is happening outside. That is the equivalent of writing that is plain and unadorned. Ideally, in reading such writing, you are not even aware that you are reading. Ideas and events seems merely to flow from the mind of the writing into that of the reader without any barrier between."


From Isaac Asimov's autobiography.


Okay, I really WILL be good today and go and do hopefully a LOT of work on the New Novel. In the meantime, feel free to discuss the above amongst yourselves if you feel so inclined.
anghara: (Default)
...at least when it comes to book buying.

First there was an essay by [livejournal.com profile] mistborn on the subject of the hardcover vs. paperback book buying decision. Then this guy weighed in, and then [livejournal.com profile] mistborn came back with THIS post (linking back to this...

Clear on all that? Oh, good...

Anyhow, here's me sitting here watching this with both an author and a reader hat on, and yes, there's the "on one hand" attitude and the "on the other hand" attitude, and then the "on the gripping hand" attitude. I freely admit that my hardcover book buying is... limited by budgetary concerns. My hardcovers tend, by and large, to be by (a) authors I already read, love, and trust to provide me with a good reading experience; (b) books I want to read RIGHT NOW and don't want to wait for the paperback edition of which may be a year away; or (c) books by people I know personally, friends and fellow writers and colleagues, whose books I might buy as a collectible item knowing I have a good chance of getting them signed and stuff, and perhaps talk about them with their authors when time allows and we cross paths at a convention or something. Buying a new hardcover by a writer I have never heard of - well - I WILL hesitate. It's quite an investment, after all. Guilty, guilty, guilty. But I utterly understand, stand behind, and support [livejournal.com profile] mistborn's points at the same time, by way of paradox.

Let's put this under the microscope one more time... )
anghara: (book and glasses)
"The novel is a realm where moral judgment is suspended...from the viewpoint of the novel's wisdom, tha tfervid readiness to judge is the most detestable stupidity, the most pernicious evil. Not that the novelist utterly denies that moral judgment is legitimate, but that he refuses it a place in the novel. If you like, you can accuse Panurge of cowardice - accuse Emma Bovary, accuse Rastignac - tha's your business; the novelist has nothing to do with it." Thus Milan Kundera, in the essay collection "Testaments Betrayed".

This quote sprang to mind particularly, a few months ago, I think I even blogged about it, when I read a comment on some anonymous blog waxing indingnant that the writer of said blog "could not tell what the writer [of "Embers of Heaven"] actually thinks about communism". I am not sure how knowing this would have helped the reading experience - the writer is, or should be, effaced from the writing at this point, the reader is supposed to be reading a novel, a work of fiction, and not a pamphlet on ideology or a manifesto of any sorts. Like I said back then, my job as a writer is hopefully to get the reader thinking, not to tell that reader what or how to think. My own role in events portrayed within a novel is limited to being a recorder and a teller of the story - I, as a writer, sit outside of time and space, above the little world I have created, merely describing it. If passions are glimpsed in the actions of my characters, they may or may not be MY passions - they are what was triggered in THOSE particular characters by the particular circumstances that they were placed in. Would I, personally, have reacted the same in the similar circumstances? That's a moot questions, because more often than not I have never been in similar circumstances and you cannot know what you will do if you are walloped by a particular combination of events and emotions until and unless you are so wallopped. Would YOU, the reader, react the same way? I doubt it, simply because you are yourself, unique, as all of us are. And the book you are reading is not meant to be an instruction manual of what you are supposed to to if you should find yourself in the midst of a war, if you have just been mugged, if you have just discovered that your significant other has been carrying a long-term affair with someone else for long enough for their love child to have started high school. You may have skated close to similar circumstances yourself, and there are aspects of my characters' reactions to those things that you might find painflly familiar or else you might reject utterly - but that is baggage that YOU, as the reader, bring to the book. It is not my job, as a writer, to provide it.

That's the writer-reader covenant - there's the story, friend. I wrote it, you're reading it, but the things that I put in it may not be the things that you take from it. And that's fine, so long as you take what you see as being valuable. My story does not NEED your eyes to make it whole, to make it real, to make it exist - it already IS - but what it is not is quite alive, not until a reader kisses it and makes its sleepy eyelids flutter, and then makes it sit up and take stock of the world. And every kiss is different, and eveyr world to which it wakes is different. There's the magic of writing, right there. The words are the same - sitting there, on the page. But wrap the words around story and give them as a gift to another mind and heart, and the thing changes even as you look at it. It's alchemy. It's the Philosopher's Stone. Every story might be potentially gold - but it is lead until a reader's eyes transmute it.

We owe each other, readers and writers. We owe each other.

But these worlds we create, the writers amongst us, what of them? What is a writer, really? What does a writer DO? What makes a writer a writer?...


Orhan Pamuk, he of the Nobel Prize fame, says this: "A writer is someone who spends years patiently trying to discover the second being inside him, and the world that makes him who he is. When I speak of writing, the image that comes first to my mind is not a novel, a poem, or a literary tradition; it is the person who shuts himself up in a room, sits down at a table, and, alone, turns inward. Amid his shadows, he builds a new world with words. This man - or this woman - may use a typewriter, or profit from the ease of a computer, or write with a pen on paper, as I do. As he writes, he may drink tea or coffee, or smoke cigarettes. From time to time, he may rise from his table to look out the window at the children playing in the street, or, if he is lucky, at trees and a view, or even at a blank wall. he may write poems, or plays, or novels, as I do. But all these differences arise only after the crucial task is complete - after he has sat down at the table and patiently turned inward. To write is to transform that inward gaze into words, to study the worlds into which we pass when we retire into ourselves, and to do so with patience, obstinacy, and joy." (read the full article, "My Father's Suitcase", in the 25 Dec 2006 edition of New Yorker Magazine)

That's a familiar picture. Sit down, stare at screen, open the door to the back store rooms of my mind and their jumbled contents which I swore I'd tidy up as a New Year's Resolution ten years ago and which I will never tidy up because without this wonderful clutter I would never find anything I wanted ever again. Pick up an idea. Marry it with a completely unrelated thing. See what comes up. The What If game, familiar to so many of us.

What do I owe myself? I owe myself the freedom to rootle around in that magic store room and come up for air with magical dreams. If I choose to use one of those ideas in a story I put down in a solid form, the debt begins to pass - and I owe it to the story to make it whole, and real, and able to survive on its own once the reader's kiss has woken it to life. Not only do I owe a reader a story, *I owe the story something*. I owe the story my attention, my insight, my passion, what craft I can bring to whittling it into shape, and finally my blessing when I release it into the world, still dreaming, still asleep, until it wakes in someone else's hands and mind. I owe the dream. I owe the words. I owe the reader.

And what they in turn owe to me - the words owe me nothing, other than the satisfaction of being the right words, well chosen. The dream owes me a waking, if anyone AT ALL other than me ever reads it. The reader owes me nothing at all, unless they choose to pick up the story - but that is a free choice made anew with every story, every day, and it is a debt thinly spread over so many of us - and once that choice has been made that reader still owes me no more than a bit of his or her time - and anything else is a bonus.

Because, you see, I have fulfilled my own primary debt - and that is to tell the story which wanted to be told, told it to the best of my ability, and to my own satisfaction. I write the stories which own me - and to them, I owe my identity. I am Writer. And in the end that's the only debt there is.
anghara: (Default)
...this novel_in_ninety community (sorry, can't figure out how to do it in this nice pretty way that makes it a linky thingy) that [livejournal.com profile] matociquala has started up - and, as at least two or three other people have said already on LJ somewhere, "all the cool kids are doing it".

I think it's a neat idea, especially for the folks who haven't yet learned to recognise the familiar sound of deadlines whooshing past and the necessity to knuckle under and produce something of a given size and shape and *quality* within a given interval of time. I think it's a massively better idea than NaNoWriMo, which is a licence to sack your inner editor completely and write what might be absolute junk for a period of one month, at the end of which, if you've given yourself a bleeding ulcer and can show that you have put 50 000 words of ANY description on screen/paper, you get to prove... I don't know... that you can write 50 000 words of (probably) crapalicious prose in the space of 30 days.

Hey, whatever works. Some people might NEED that kick in the pants (and take the ulcer as collateral damage). But personally, I prefer to spend the time that the story needs for it to be told, and produce something GOOD at the end of a SANE deadline. I don't think that a piece of literature has ever been defined by the time it took to create it; it's like that famous recipe for rabbit stew which begins with, "First, catch your rabbit..." It's the same with the story, I think. First, you have to have the story. And if you have the story, then it will be told somwehow. They have their own gestation periods, stories do, and they are born when they are born, and if they are born prematurely they often suffer many of the same problems that premie babies are prone to. They cannot breathe on their own. Their organs are too tiny and not developed enough to perform their functions adequately. They wind up on life support - and only if they are very lucky and their doctors are VERY good do they survive to tell themselves properly.

I might LOVE to have the next novel done by April - but if it happens that way it will be serendipity. I have the story, I have my rabbit, and my stew pot is already on my stove - but I already have a deadline, September, and if I preempt it MASSIVELY that will be pretty cool but if I don't that's okay too - I'll have it by September. And it'll be good and ready.

A J Liebling once said, "I can write better than anyone who can write faster, and I can write faster than anyone who can write better." It's a pretty saying, but there's a germ of truth in it somewhere - quantity and quality are not equal and equivalent things. So, while I wish the novel-in-ninety folks all the best in their endeavour and I even feel certain, given the caliber of some of the names I see on the community list, that there will be quantity AND quality achieved... I think I'll sit this dance out. I am not going to keep adding outside deadlines to the internal ones which the story already has. Perhaps I'll never write fast enough to produce two or three novels a year - but so long as I keep writing steadily, the river of words will keep flowing, perhaps without the rush of the rapids and the adrenaline of white water but hey, I'm the still waters that run deep, and I'm not discontented to be that kind of river.

I've kind of started Book 3 of Worldweavers, by writing a fragment of story which doesn't actually happen until well into the tale - but that's the scene which I needed to get down RIGHT NOW. It might not be as linear a book as some of my recent ones have been, and that's fine too - every book is different. But I can feel it taking shape inside my mind, one or two characters stepping up and settling in, occasional spotlights bright on this or that aspect of an idea which connects with something else out there in the dark in a way that I'm not yet certain of. But I will be. I will be.

I'll be posting wordcount updates here occasionally, as I did with #2 - but when I get into my stride the aim from MY side of the screen would be closer to 2000 - 3000 thousand words a day, on average, rather than 750.

Good luck, folks - I'll be rooting for you. But while you're all saddling your hares, I'll be over here with my tortoise, plodding away at my own pace...

What we owe

Jan. 2nd, 2007 02:03 pm
anghara: (book and glasses)
Inspired by several recent conversations, most recently of all by [livejournal.com profile] james_nicoll's post here.

So - what does a writer owe a reader?

Let's look at first what the writer has little or no control over, first, when it comes to the publication process, working backwards.

- Publicity is a tough one to tackle. It's something that the author both has to bank on doing, and cannot do too much of personally because too much of a good thing CAN backfire and the author, once labelled pushy and self-centered and egotistical and unable to talk about anything but themselves or their work, will find it hard to shake that label. Personally speaking, I will embrace opportunities that come floating my way and I will even seek out a few - if I have contacts in the media I will let them know a new book is coming out, I'll find out if I can let certain people have review copies which might gather a bit of mention somewhere, I'll do readings or signings even though they are often very lonely occasions, I'll go to conventions and conferences and mingle and chat about all kinds of things AS WELL AS a new and forthcoming books in the hope that being perceived as a halfway interesting person might induce someone who does not otherwise know me to pick up a book in the hope that a book written by such a halfway interesting person might wind up being halfway interesting. But even all this is a relatively recent phenomenon - I mean, the author doing this off their own bat. Publicity - at least in traditionally published books by reputable publishers - has always been the purview of the publisher. Advertising, review copies, possible media events, stuff like that. The author is increasingly expected to take a bigger and greater part in the publicity events - but the book has already BEEN WRITTEN. The best publicity in the world won't change what's in it. The author doesn't owe empty hype.

- Packaging. Stuff like cover art, for instance. SOme writers get wonderful and appropriate artwork, others get things which makes them clutch their heads and wonder if anyone, anywhere during the process, had actually read the book at all. Cover art makes a reader reach for a book, or recoil from a book. But most people who are even remotely plugged into the publishing culture will know that the author is extremely lucky is he or she even SEES a cover sketch before being presented with a cover mock-up and being told, "here's your cover, we hope you like it". Personally speaking, I have a cover Fairy Godmother and most of my covers so far have been pretty damned good ones, and some of them have been great (US hardcover "Jin Shei", anyone?" But even though we all know, of course, that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, people DO. It's just impossible not to. It's also damned hard to remember sometimes that what's inside the book may or may not bear a resemblance to what the cover leads you to expect to be there - and that you shouldn't be angry at the WRITER for a failure of that expectstion. While on packaging, we should also tackle the question of typos, badly bound books, stuff of that ilk. Most writers turn in relatively clean MSS these days (we all have spellchecker, after all). Copy edits and line editing catch (theorretically) what's left - and yet it's one of the inalienable truths of this field of endeavour that books that have been through six layers of editing will STILL have typos in the finished product, quite often typos that had not been there in the original MS, and the only entities you can blame for THAT are the typo piskies. Most writers are perfectly at ease with spelling and grammar, and you'd better believe that those who aren't have been helped along just a little on the way. LIttle mistakes are piskie stuff. Hopefully more egregious errors of fact, for instance, would have been caught by someone along the way and fixed too - but if it's a whopper of a mistake and it still slipped through I guess you can hold the author responsible for THAT. In other words, save your fire for THAT firing squad. SLoppy writing is just sloppy writing. But we'll get back to that...

- ...right about now.

Writing. That's what it's all about. Story. THAT's what the author owes the reader - a good story, with some emotional truth to it, and a story scaffolding which doesn't have to be eternal, it is perfectly okay if it collapses as soon as you leave the book, but it has to be solid enough to support a willing suspension of disbelief while you're inside the story itself. Characters who ring true, who don't all sound alike or think alike, who have real problems and who solve those problems themselves. Situations with real drama (and not idiot plots which would not exist if only any two of the blundering idiots within the storyline would only TALK to one another for FIVE-FREAKING-MINUTES and clear the air.

What the writer owes the reader is story.

And THIS story. The one you're holding in your hand. A series, or a trilogy, is a covenant of sorts - and it's just not sporting when (to take two extremes known to me) an author whose first and very promising book was billed as the first of a trilogy simply loses interest or gets "overwhelmed by life" or whatever and never writes another word leaving his initial readers dangling, or an author who *cannot stop* and whose bloated books in which nothing of particular note seems to happen just keep coming. But the point is, those are failures of expectation, not of story. The authors have broken a covenant. The real failure is a failure of story itself, rather than of how many books it is supposed to be contained in.

That's the bargain. The writer writes, the reader reads, adn teh story binds them together. That's all that is owed. The writer might owe rent to his or her landlord, self-esteem to him or herself, a career to his or her publishers or agents - but to the reader, that writer owes simply and solely... the story. That's all.
anghara: (book and glasses)
There's been a bunch of writing-related stuff wandering past the Internets over the last fewdays/weeks/months. I got too busy, or too sidetracked, or too incoherent (on occasion) when a topic got too much under my skin and I wound up explaining things to myself rather than to anyone else in material not fit for public consumption. But it's the end of the year, and I'll take a bit of time and opine on a variety of subjects in the writing sphere.


Writing The Other and Cultural (Mis)Appropriation

I am a member of the human race. If I can track it down and understand it, it belongs to me just as much as it belongs to anyone else. If I can take something with gentle hands, with respect, without bigotry or ignorance, and try and give it life - even while acknowledging that the butterfly I am hatching is not coming out of its original chrysalis - I believe a writer has a right to do this. By all means be senseitive, and be thorough, and have the requisite amount of respect - but we simply cannot be confined to writing only and absolutely what we have ourselves experienced or most of the writers writing today might as well hang up the "closed" sign right now. And besides, let's put it this way - if it's okay to write about a world not yet born, a world wholly and completely invented, why is it not okay to write about the world that exists? And if a native practitioner of something you're writing about is moved by reading your work (whether positively or negatively!) to sit up and produce a better, truer, more authentic version of that thing - then the balance only swings to the positive, doesn't it?

Let me put it this way. I have written about a secret language of women, which existed once in long-ago China. I have wriiten a novel based on a historical period in CHina which was full of turmoil and drama. I was not there in medieval China to learn about the women's language first-hand; I did not experience the cruelties of the Cultural Revolution on my own skin - but the power of this world we are all living in today is that it is possible to find out about these things from people who DID experience them themselves. And "write about what you know" becomes "write about you can know".

Again, one word, and it's an important word: RESPECT. Do not deal with anyone's dreams with deliberate ignorance or malice aforethought. Beyond that, we are all human. It all belongs to all of us.

It IS possible to understand something you have no real experience of. It is, I know it is, for I have proved it. I submitted a story for a competition once - it had to be in the first person, and it had to be about blindness. I had a story about a blind guy, written in third person, with a main protagonist who was sighted - but I tweaked it, retold it from the point of view of the blind guy, and sent it in. ANd it got placed second. ANd I got an email which I still treasure: "Would you please settle an argument between my friend and me? We would like to know if you are in fact, or have ever been, blind."

To me, that meant I had nailed that character, the sense of being sightless. And all without spending one day in the true dark. *It is possible*. We, as writers, put on characters as masks - we may not think or react the same way as any one given character that we have written, but that doesn't mean that those characters are bad or wrong - I've known true-blue hetero writers write about gay relationships with a breathtaking sensitivity without EVER having an ounce of attraction for the same sex themselves. *It is possible*.

You may not, however, wish to share your attempts at "writing the other" with the reading public until you yourself are certain that you have done the best you can with it. And if you don't feel you can do something justice, then perhaps not ever. But *it is possible*.


Genre As Shield And All That Jazz

I tend to come down on the side of [livejournal.com profile] matociquala on this one - she said, somewhere, that she didn't think a story was worth writing unless it had that edge to it, the edge that opens minds and gives hearts a squeeze and wakes up sleeping souls. Somewhere in every single one of my stories there is an awakening of sorts. There is a central pain, because without that pain the characters are living happily ever after and "happily ever after" isn't a story, it's the ending of a story.

The book I always bring up as the ultimate diamond inthis kind of discussion is Guy Gavriel Kay's "Tigana". I still cannot get over how sharp that pain is, every time I read that book; how unerring the aim of his story dagger, which lodges straight in the tender core of me and hurts, hurts *HURTS*, drops of bright heart's blood coming from where it stabbed. And this, from a man who cannot possibly understand what it feels like to lose a country. But he understands pain, and he can convey it, and make his reader feel it and share it - and that story is luminous with it, transfigured with it.

I think we all have our own pain. I think that a story which seems innocuous to some may be a dagger of the soul to others. I firmly believe that it is our job, as writers, to try and understand where that pain comes from. If we get through to that ONE reader, the reader who understands with an instinct, with tears, with a response to some naked emotional truth - that will be a story well written.

True pain is tough. Writing about it is tougher still. But if you can lift up a hand and show a scar, and make your reader feel the heat of the fire that burned you, you've done a great and wonderful thing.


Rejection

How not to deal with them. Vintage stuff. I can't put it better than this

I have this story. It's a good story. It's one of the few short stories that I've ever, kind of, you know, DONE - I don't generally write short, mainly because I run away with myself a lot and wind up with 180 000 word doorstops - even the second YA book, with me holding on to the reins every step of the way, eventually weighed in at a first-draft length of 108 000 - which, although not as and of itself LONG, *is* long in YA land. (We won't talk about HP here - and even Rowlings didn't dare put out real doorstops until book 4 or 5 in the series. You have to earn the right.) But back to that short story - look, I write in the genre. I READ in the genre. It's a good story.

Can I find a home for it? Not so far, honey. Not for lack of trying. So far I have uniformly got back responses of the "beautifully written BUT" variety. One of the "buts" was that it was not "upbeat enough" for that particular magazine's audience - well, hello, I am not the world's most optimistic spreader of sunshine, and yes, the story was a tad dark... but are they telling me we're into a publishing era where only a happy ending will do? (If so, I'm dead in the water...) In other words, I may disagree with the rejection - but spewing vitriol at the rejecter makes absolutely certain that I cannot look at that market again (because they will DAMN WELL REMEMBER ME!) and the market is shrinking fast enough without my adding to the problem. So, then. How to deal with rejection? Pack it up again. Send it somewhere different. Rinse and repeat, for as many options as you got. And when you run out of options, start something new.


Reviews

It's good if you got 'em.

Even the bad ones.

That's all I'll say on that.


When The Novel Starts Talking Back

Kate Elliot writes over at the Deepgenre blog about this particular phenomenon - about a fellow who asked her what to do when his novel suddenly started growing and changing and generally misbehaving on him as he started to find out more and more about it, its world, its characters. And she said "This Is A Great And Wonderful Thing", and I second that, in spades. Because, as I keep on telling people, my name is Alma and I hear voices. ALl the time.

Good books, good stories, are like children - they are born out of our minds and our spirits, our thoughts and feelings and experiences, and in the beginning they are us and only us - how can they be anything other? They have never touched the world until they are released through the words a writer pours out onto a blank page. But liek most children good stories learn from their experiences. Their characters, given a bit of time to flex their muscles (as it were) learn things about themselves that even their creators never knew. ANd such stuff can change a story from the fundament.

It is a great and wondrous thing to experience this for the first time, let me tell you. "Number Five is Alive!" - and yes, it's off and running, and sometimes it NEEDS to be off and running. If you're only just starting out and you have a very strict idea about what your story is supposed to be about, it can be a scary thing to watch it careen out of control, as it were, and wander off at various tangents into parts of your mental map marked "Here Be Dragons". But follow the story, and meet the dragons, and have a bit of fire breathed on the tale, and you've got... something new. SOmething different. SOmething that isn't what you meant it to be, perhaps, but maybe something BETTER. And you can probably measure your own development as a writer from the day you first become aware that you have done this, let the story take its course, and not been paralysed by the prospect of where it might be going.


If you are a writer of any description, a New Year's Resolution which covers a lot of ground is simply this: Commit Words. Write.

Get on the road... and then go where it takes you.
anghara: (snowy trees)
I've loved snow. For as long as I can remember.

When I was very little we used to go to Slovenia every winter, a place with mountains and lakes and firs bowing under the weight of the white stuff - the place where I learned to ski, and where snow drifts were sometimes higher than my seven-year-old self. I fell in love then, with a sweet and intense purity of childhood devotion, and I've never grown out of it. NEVER. Perhaps it was this snow-love that drove me to Banff in teh Canadian Rockies, ostensibly for skiing although my days on skis at that time could be counted on the fingers of two hands - but there were mountains, and there were firs, and there was snow. I wandered the empty streets of Banff in near whiteout conditions when a blizzard hit, and cried for joy as the big white flakes fell in silent beauty around me.

I'm a snow junkie.

Last night was one of the most magical things that mankind has ever been privileged to see - moonlight on snow, and the veils between worlds were suddenly thin and transparent and I could clearly see that magical other side where unicorns live in the woods. Everything glittered and glowed with that bone-white light on the frosty snow. It was breathtakingly beautiful. And before that, the day before that, when the temperatures barely made 20F - I went out in that icy wonderland and started drinking it all in.

I promised you pictures )

I walked the icy roads of my neighbourhood, the deserted icy roads of my neighbourhood, and I've seldom felt as vividly alive as when I was wandering down snowy roads under brittle winter sunlight with the frigid air nipping at my cheeks and my feet getting cold in bootees which were perhaps thinner than they ought to have been at that kind of sub-freezing temperatures. But I am a woman in love, and I lifted my eyes to the blue sky and the white branches etched against it, and I laughed for the joy of it.

Yes, I know it can be deadly - everything beautiful is. I know that I personally worry about frozen pipes, about driving in that icy mess, about the potential for broken saplings or rhododendrons under the weight of snow in my garden, about the possibility of power cuts in a house that's exclusively electrically heated and which could become a meat locker if the heaters were to lose the juice. But DAMMIT, it is beautiful. And it has my heart in its cold hand, like a trembling bird, and there is nothing I can do about that.

It is beautiful.

I know it's still a month until Christmas and that it is unlikely that we will have a repeat of this weather at that time, but I will leave you with one of the most potent blessings that popular music lyrics have ever uttered.

"I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I wrte
May your days be merry and bright...
And may all your Christmasses be white."
anghara: (Default)
As a certain [livejournal.com profile] coppervale said while commenting on another writerly thread:


The most effective and concise statement I know about doing this kind of work came from a mentor of mine in comics:

"If you really want to do this for a living, no one can stop you. But if you don't really want to do this for a living, no one can help you."


That's hitting the nail on the head, that is. Word.

There's something about ALL the "glam" professions that attracts the glib and the unwary and the innocent who have yet to learn better - because that, at first, is all you see - the bright light and the glitter, and the front of the stage while you're taking your bows while the audience is giving you a standing ovation, and the spotlights on the paintings in the museums (usually by Grand Masters long dead and largely unappreciated during their lifetime - what do you think Van GOgh could have done with thirty million dollars, and that was for ONE painting...? And would he have ever done another...?)

And the perceived magnificence of the Writerly Existence, you know,the stereotype reinforced by a handful of superstars - sure, if Neil Gaiman or J K ROwlings come out to play they're recognised and mobbed and there are lines around the block twice and into the next street, and their shelves are full of their own books rendered in strange foreign tongues or shiny awards and they have long since ceased to keep a scrapbook of their reviews because there's just too many of them to clip and they're uniformly glowing anyway. The kind of writer who owns a mansion in the country, fully paid for, with waterfront views or facing some magnificent mountain over acres of estate, and within it a wood-panelled study with a fireplace which always has a fire lit and never needs cleaning out.

Let me tell you a fairy tale.

Once upon a time there was a child who had a dream - and it was a dream of words which spilled out from the child's mouth, and her hands, and onto a page, and the child looked at bookshelves full of neatly stacked volumes and read the names on the spines and thought those names must be Gods.

She grew, and the dream remained.

She gleaned a few hints about the world behind the dream, but the dream remained.

And then a fairy godperson turned up and waved a wand, and lo, the dream was a reality at last.

The child who was now grown woke up one morning, and there were a dozen book contracts in her filing cabinet, and she found she was running out of shelf room for the editions in strange foreign tongues (and some of them were REALLY strange...)

An overnight success, you might say? But let's look at how long the night was.

She wrote her first (probably too awful to contemplate) novel-length story when she was about 11 or 12. She wrote the first GOOD novel-length manuscript when she was 15. She published a few short stories here and there, and a bunch of poetry (but not in highbrow lit magazines), she began writing book reviews for free for a local paper because it gave her a byline and a scrapbook and a jumping-off point. She did travel writing, journalism, hackwork-for-hire and advertorials and even (this is a confession, folks) ads for people like real estate companies. Some of it paid bills. SOme of it served as more material for the scrapbook.

She wrote a novel she felt good about, but she wrote it in the lab while she was pursuing a "real" career - science. And the novel languished for a decade. She published more stories, this time in anthologies; she won a few competitions. She even got an agent, briefly, and that early agent sold her first book - a trio of short fables, sold to a tiered education publishing scheme, aimed at readers of 14+ - and she got her first advance, in the hundreds and not thousands of dollars. (That little book, by the way, is STILL bringing in royalties every so often - it's in its ninth printing, and it was published way back in 1995.) She then got a tiny local publisher to bring out her autobiographical volume, which was printed in 1500 copies and when it went out of print it was, you know, GONE. In the same year she did that, she co-wrote an email epistolary novel with a man who lived across half the world from her, whom she eventually married - but the book they co-authored, although it went from concept to bookstore in less than six months and earned out its advance AND brought in some royalties in the first year, is now also out of print. She then persuaded the local branch of a big international publishing house to take a look at the novel she wrote in the lab so many years ago - and they published THAT. The story was split into two books, but even combined the advance for both books barely made it into four figures. The books got good reviews,were nominated for a couple of awards, but then that edition, too, went out of print.

Cut to America, and the advent of the 21st century. The child with the dream is writing another book - and this one, this one takes off.

Or does it?

Translated into ten foreign languages from the original English, and doing pretty well in most of them by all accounts (including a second printing of the Spanish edition less than three months after first release) - but it limps a little in the States, where a generous advance had been given. The follow up to that book is picked up by at least five of its foreign publishers - but we're still working on the States.

In the meantime, there's more books - a trilogy, this time, aimed at the YA market. Another advance that might be considered really good - but ladies and gentlemen, if you thought this was money that was handed to you on a silver platter, think again. You write the first draft of the book, you probably tweak it into a second draft before you consider it good enough to send out. You then depend on an agent (if you have one, which is by no means a given) to get a publisher interested in that story (and that is not a given either). Once you get that publisher, you are given back your MS by your editor, and it has comments and questions and suggestions and some non-negotiable suggestions which need to be addressed before you return the MS to the editorial offices. You were paid a fraction of your advance when you signed your contract; the rest, if you're lucky and the contract was well negotiated, follows upon your submission of what the contract calls "an acceptable manuscript", which means one that your editor approves - and often there's QUITE a bit of work to do before you get to that stage; and if you have the other kind of contract, another fraction of your advance is paid when you do this, and the rest when the book is actually published - and all this is very tentative. I've had an "on-signing" payment come in a year after signing, and the "on publication" payment is often only DUE at least a year after the original contract was signed, and then you have to wait another six months on top of that...

That child, the child in the fairy story.

She still gets starry eyed when she looks at her contracts drawer or "her" bookshelf. SOmetimes it doesn't feel real. But by this stage she knows that she has to roll up her sleeves and get messy. This is one of the most subjective careers there is, and EVERYTHING depends on impressing other people at the right time, and if you're to do that you have to work for it, sometimes work hard for it, sometimes work harder than you believed it is possible to work. An office job can be left behind at quitting time; you might get tired and cranky but you don't bring a retail job home at night; you work as hard as a waitress, making sure the service is prompt and what is delivered is what was asked for, and you can't depend on the tips.

Writing STAYS WITH YOU. You wake to it, you work with it, you leave the computer but the story's still in your head, you walk the dog or clean the cat litterbox and you're hashing out a plot point in your mind, you forget to do laundry or put the rubbish out on collection day because you're too tied up in what you're doing, you miss appointments because your week isn't a 9-5 work week and days don't mean what they mean to weekday-working folk who think that Saturdays are for rest and relaxation - but it's just another writing day, for the writer. It's not a colleague, this career, it's a lover, and it's something that follows you around and shapes you and changes you and makes you accomodate its whims and its passions and makes those whims and passions your own. It's like drinking a cup of starlight, and you find that you're filled with it, to overflowing, to the extent that people who meet you might sense it seeping out of you through your pores - and at the same time the beauty of it is burning you up on the inside, with an insistence that it be told, be shared, be allowed to burst out, you are the core of a small sun waiting to burst into flame.

And most overnight successes have had to live with that starfire for years, if not decades, before their sun became bright enough to be noticed in the firmament. And for some unlucky enough to carry that fire, the sun NEVER gets a chance to shine. It's like that original person I quoted above, said, if you really want to do this for a living, no one can stop you. But if you don't really want to do this for a living, no one can help you.

Another quote comes to mind, from Richard Bach's "Illusions" : "You are never given a dream without being given the power to make it come true. You may have to work for it, however."

You want to write? Have my blessing, and have at it. Just remember there is no "secret", no magic handshake, no password, and you are entitled to nothing. You may be given *everything*, however.

There is no shortcut, no formula. There is only you and the words. There is only you.
anghara: (Default)
Years ago, I was dragged if not exactly kicking and screaming then certainly grumbling darkly something along the lines of "But WHY would I want to go and see a sports movie?" to see "Chariots of Fire" when it first opened in the cinemas. I remember, this was back in Cape Town. I was, what, first or second year of University; the cinema was reached from our hall of residence by catching a suburban light rail to a commercial and entertainment main hub a couple of stops down the line. I seem to recall that we had to run to catch the train, a fact that, in the light of the movie we were going to see, took on a greater than expected significance in the aftermath.

I remember grumbling all the way in.

I also remember being obvlivious to the world on our way back to our residence. The movie might have been a "sports" movie, but it was also a transcendent look at the human spirit, and it had caught and conquered me from the first moment of that incredible opening shot of the young men running on the beach, with that surging and never-to-be-forgotten music beating like a heart in the background. I suppose over and above the visceral reaction of having the movie make me fall in love with it on the purely emotional level, there was, even then, the writer in me who was looking at the few minutes of that opening shot of running on the shore and marvelling at how well the main characters were established with just a few lingering moments - the sheer joy of Eric Liddell, the fierce concentration of Harold Abrahams, the slightly bewildered Aubrey Montague, the easy aristocratic sense of entitlement of Andrew Lindsey. It was masterful.

I remember the movie very well, just from that first viewing alone, and I have seen it quite a few times since. I probably know most of the dialogue by heart by now. There are certain scenes that stay with me. Like, in response to Harold Abrahams' first sight of Sybil Gordon on stage, "Harold is smitten!" And Lord Lindsey's response, "Smitten?! He's decapitated!"

And another. In the locker room, straight after Abrahams won his Olympic medal. He's alone in his corner, meticulously packing his bag, and Aubrey Montague, exuberant, excited, full of a champagne mood, making a motion to go to him.

And Andrew Lindsey putting out a restraining hand and urging Aubrey to leave Harold alone.

"But he *won*!" Aubrey says, his face full of mystified incomrehension.

"Yes," Anderew Lindsey replies seriously, "he won. One of these days, Aubrey, you're going to win too. And it's damned hard to take."

In some ways that's the relationship I have with the joy of my life, my writing.

There's the glory. The way a story unfolds in front of me, the way that the characters take over and live their own lives with confidence and passion, the way I understand my worlds, the way I can hold my entire story in my head and turn it this way and that and watch the gold flakes fall where they may, as though in a sumptuous snowglobe.

And then there's the fear - it goes out, and the first level of fear is the reactions of the people who hold its fate in their hands, the editors. They return the annotated manuscript with comments and suggestions scribbled all over it; they will write you letters about it, incredible letters which often make you slap your hand against your forehead and go, "Why on Earth didn't I SEE this idiocy before I sent the thing in? How could I have missed this?". Letters which also have the advantage of being a vision of your work through an independent pair of eyes, and which brim with insights which make you, the writer, preen in the knowledge that someone "got" your work or else cringe because obviously you had utterly failed to get your point across at all. And these are things that need to be looked at, addressed, the book tweaked and fixed and rearranged to fit, and to suit. (There's another level of fear, one a way down the line, when the book is actually Out There and you wonder if anyone has ever seen it, is at all interested, or if it's only the people who hate it who have ever read it... but that's a whole another can of worms, perhaps for another post).

The editing and the subequent rewrites, though.

There are always things I find myself agreeing with in these editorial letters. There are also things I don't necessarily fully agree with, but don't, in the end, mind doing their way. There are also things which I know I cannot do, not without ripping up the roots of the story and changing it into a whole another animal. An example of this last was when one of the early editors of "Jin shei" wanted me to pare down the unwieldy number of protagonists and suggested I simply subsume one of the characters into another... whom I saw as the other side of a coin, the two characters might have been alike on the surface but they were utterly different beneath and it would have been completely impossible to "merge" them in any meaningful way. So to this, I said no. I did pretty near everything else they asked - to date, in various novels, I've rearranged entire sections on editorial request, pulled endings and written entirely new ones, changed any number of smaller things - but there ARE points on which I'll stand firm because changing THAT would wreck the shape of the story in my head.

I've done all this. I don't necessarily like doing it or enjoy doing it, but I've been blessed with good editors and I know my work isn't holy writ, and I am happy to implement suggested improvements. I'lll work with an editor in whatever way I can, in order to give my "baby" the best possible shot out there.

And it doesn't matter whether it was the first time or the ninth time, I universally react the same way at the beginning of the process, just before I roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty. It's fear. Possibly even terror. A complete loss of confidence. "This whole thing is AWFUL, and there is too much to do, and there is no way I can do this and still have a story left at the end of it!"

But I gird my loins, in the midst of whimpering and whining, and I'll knuckle under. I've been told by a number of editors that I am very good to work with, and I rather treasure that reputation - I am very happy to treat editors as valuable allies in a joint assault on the fortress of Making It Better; if there are certain walls of that fortress which I firmly believe should stay standing, I"ll fight for that, too, even holding off the allies in the process - because, after all, I was the one who build the fortress and I am the only one who can know where the load-bearing walls are and which butreesses cannot be taken out without a complete collapse. But for the rest of it - I'm all too happy to have friends in the makeover business.

However, right now, I'm at that terror stage, and I'm still staring at my MS and groaning that I can't do this.

I will, of course. And quickly, and efficiently.

Once I get started.

Once I get over the fear. Once I set my confidence in my work back on its foundations.

But just for the record - man, I love writing. I hate rewrites. It's like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle, but all the pieces which you believed without question belonged in a certain place have suddenly been decreed to be the wrong colour and the wrong shape, and it's that moment of floundering while I try to fit them in to their new place that I don't like at all. I'm always happy with the outcome, in the end - or else I would never let it go forward. But the road to glory is the road of fear, and I"ll never stop being afraid. It simply... means too much to me not to be afraid. What I am aiming for, quite simply, is the mastery of that "Chariots of FIre" opening shot. And the road from here to there is a thorny one.

There are a lot of people out there who write, and many many many aspire to be published. But few realise just what that means - things don't end when you sign your publishing contract. That is not, as Churchill once said, the beginning of the end - it is, rather, the end of the beginning. Are you warrior enough to buckle on your armour and go forth into the good fight...?

Some day, like Lord LIndsey said, you too will win. And you will find that it IS damned hard to take sometimes.

Back to the fear.
anghara: (Default)
In the discussion concerned with the feminist cabal presently in control of the publishing industry, referred to earlier in this blog, [livejournal.com profile] green_knight wonders why THAT blog and not THIS one was the lightning rod that dres so much blogosphere commentary.

And it's a good question.

One of the reasons, I suspect, is that the Feminism Cabal Conspiracy is so palpably ludicrous that it absolutely begged to be shredded, and was - by a bunch of people, both by professionals in the publishing industry (who know the truth of the matter) and by other aspiring writers (who are astute enough to suspect that truth). The other - well, it's less easy to point a water pistol at and laugh while it stands dripping.

The truth is, publishing is a helluva fragmented place, and it is like that because no two readers will EVER read quite the same book. Genres are probably a marketing tool that a desperate industry evolved to deal with at least a modicum of pigeonholing, allowing them to market fiction at target audiences marginally smaller than "everybody" - and as far as that goes, they can be useful indeed. But like any tool, classification can be a good servant and a bad master, and in the case of the second blog it's very much being the latter, assuming that books by black writers are only of interest to black readers. Please note that there is no underlying assumption that books by white writers - whatever their subject - would be of interest to a "white" readership, because there is no such thing as a "white" readership. They're treated as that fractured demographic that rules the publishing world, and the "White" readership contains men reading Louis L'Amour or Tom Clancy, women reading Danielle Steel or Margaret Atwood, and the Enlightened Ones who read Ursula Le Guin, China Mieville, and the like (okay, I had to get my OWN prejudices in here, just a little, didn't I? *grin*). And thank GOd for that, because if white writers are only to write white vanilla fiction, "The Secrets of Jin Shei" would never have been allowed to exist at all, would it? But the problem is when such genres start to consist of Literary, Western, Mystery, Science Fiction... and Black.

There are people out there who are utterly content to read books about Martians or about aliens from planet Tau Centauri X993d9S, aliens who have pink tentacles and parrot beaks and communicate in a language which only a Namibian Bushman might understand. These readers will happily read about such aliens, and part of the reason, I suspect, is that they are so utterly "not-us" that it is easy to completely distance oneself from them and if they do something we consider "nice" we are proud that we can "understand" them and if they do not we are able to shrug our shoulders and simply say, "oh well, they're alien, what do you expect?" The real problem lies when we are expected to read about - and empathise with, and understand - books about characters who are only marginally "not-us" - characters who have the same number of legs and lungs and eyes and fingers, but who speak a language we don't understand, who wear clothes we disapprove of, who worship Gods we don't believe in and who grew up in circumstances so radically different from our own that it might as well have BEEN that Tau planet place. What have I got in common with a ghetto kid from the Bronx or that sad half-orphaned Malawian baby who was completely invisible in his poverty and his poverty-stricken orphanage until Madonna sprinkled fairy dust on him and made him a superstar? What have I got in common with Madonna, for that matter? What have I got in common with some toothless pilgrim in Tibet, or a soldier on any front on any war ever fought? What have I got in common with people who are humann-like-me but who have known real hunger (which I never have) or real despair (which I've never had cause for) or real loss? What do I have in common with anyone at all who doesn't live in a house with indoor plubming and flushing toilets and clean water at the turn of a spigot?

And yet there are novels written about many such people, and they are novels that I would read - novels which, if they are written competently and well, I would love. I do not assume or insist that the author of a novel about a missionary family in the COngo has experienced living in a hut in the jungle, or that the author of a novel about World War Three has actually lived it, or that the author of a novel about a ghost is dead. WHy then would I expect or assume or insist that an author of a novel about black people must of necessity be black? WHy would anyone assume that?

I don't have the answer - or at least not an easy one. I know that there are other people like me, people who will read a piece of writing and judge it on the writing and not on the identity of the writer who produced it. And it smarts, as a writer, to think that my peers out there are denied an audience because they happen to have hair that curls tighter than mine does or because their skin produces more melanin. I would not expect to find a bookstore "ghetto" devoted only to Asian writers - and yet there IS a shelf in my local big chain bookstore which is devoted to African American literature. Sure, I'd read that stuff if it was well written and interesting - but it's sequsetered, way out there, and not even I - who reads voraciously and widely - can run around an ENTIRE bookstore that covers a whole city block and cherry pick titles which catch my eye. And because they are so sequestered, I would assume that there are titles which will NEVER catch my eye. I don't have an answer, other than to say, I WILL cat my net wider in bookstores in the future - but I am one person, and this is not enough, not enough by a long shot.

I speak from some experience, genre-wise, having produced a book that has been described as "mainstream fantasy" by at least one reviewer and which rather defeats - or, as my lovely agent once put it, "transcends" - genre. This means that shelving in bookstores tends to be in the "literature" section of the shop rather than in the "fantasy" section, which meant that the fantasy fans who heard about it by word of mouth had to go hunt the thing rather than wander into their local book emporium and readily find it to hand. But in one sense that worked FOR me because the book was perforce cast into a wider pool - there's a readership valve in a given bookstore which seems to function in a one-way direction - fantasy readers WILL cross from the fantasy section and look for other reading material in the mainstream shelves whereas very few, if any, readers will do the reverse. In my case, it was a question of "which part of the store will this fit best?" This does mean that one of the cavils of the second blog - that books are shelved cheek-by-jowl without regard for teh KIND of book that they are simply because of the identity of the author - can actually be beneficial in one sense, because potential readers DO have that wider selection available - I mean, I am constantly shelved next to Isabel ALlende, Sherman Alexie and Louisa May Alcott, none of whom (well, maybe Allende in some guises) are THAT similar to my own work and whose closeness to me on the shelf helps no reader unfamiliar with any of these writers' work or my own to make an informed decision.

Perhaps Amazon has it right after all. Just go in and plug in what you're interested in, and it spreads what it has before you in a glittering array. No confusing shelves to go messing through to find what you're looking for.

I don't know the answer. I haven't seen the future. I know that it is one thing to be proud of who and what you are, and quite another to find that pride turned inside out and trotted out as some form of prejudice or another which means that you can only assert that pride in a given set of constricted circumstances or a pre-chosen audience. But speaking for myself - I'm proud of being a WRITER, not a white writer or a writer of a particular genre, or anything else that defines me too closely. I write, that's what I do, and I'm proud of that, as an accomplishment, as a gift, as a way of life. I hope that it is THAT, and that alone, that defines who I am in the eyes of my readers - and that those people who have said that they have enjoyed my work might have said the same thing if I were sitting here typing this blog entry with pink tentacles oozing ichor.

The writing's the thing. Identity matters, of course - but let it not be the means by which writers are classified, enjoyed or read. The writing is the thing.

May 2009

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