This week, the SFF Seven contemplate the SFF genre and where it’s headed.
Coincidentally enough, I just returned from San Diego Comic Con. Come on over to see what I discovered.
A blustery, blizzardy day here in Santa Fe! My iron fairy sculpture has wind-blown rain and snow frozen to it. Springtime in the Rockies!
We had a lovely time in Tucson over the weekend, though they weren’t a whole lot farther along springwise than we are. A cold winter, with lots of precipitation. We’re hoping that bodes well for a lush and lavish summer.
I know, I know. I am an idealist at heart.
Last week I had a conversation that really stuck with me. Well, to be honest, I was hurt, which wasn’t at all the intention of the person speaking. See, what happened is, I was talking with an aspiring author of science fiction. She’d been struggling with some structural issues and genre expectations, and she mentioned she’d re-read one of my books to study how I’d done certain things. Which is lovely and flattering! I then offered to read her book for her and see if I had any suggestions to offer. She asked if I was sure and I said, yes, I wouldn’t offer if I didn’t want to. And she said, oh, well, a mutual acquaintance of ours had warned her that I was territorial about science fiction and fantasy so not to expect help from me there.
I was frankly stunned.
You know that feeling, like you’ve been punched? That.
And my friend felt terrible. She even tried to convince me that being territorial about a genre isn’t a bad thing, that lots of people feel that way. I suppose that’s true, that territoriality and jealousy are part and parcel of our profession. But to me those are terribly negative emotions and go against everything I believe in and work toward.
I don’t hold her to blame for telling me, but I am unhappy with the person who said this thing about me. No, I don’t know who it is. My friend wouldn’t say. It maybe doesn’t matter, except that it reflects on the mindset of that person. I don’t know where they got this idea about me, and since they haven’t said it to my face, I’ll have to speak up for myself here.
I have to tell you all, I immediately went to Grace Draven and she said “Whaaa?” and then “Who said that and why would they say it? You’re one of the most generous people out there with your help and experience. It’s unfair, unjust, and just totally out in left field.”
Which made me feel much better. Maybe I should just hold Grace’s purse while she beats them up for me. She’s a good friend. She’d probably help me dispose of the body, too.
As satisfying as that would be, I’d rather set the record straight. No, I’m not territorial about SFF. I’m not sure someone CAN be territorial about an entire genre. Even if I wanted to somehow keep all the SFF-writing to myself, I don’t know how I’d go about it. Decline to read and critique other’s work? Refuse to blurb books written by debut authors? Talk smack about my fellow authors in the genre instead of cheering their releases and sharing good news about them? Walk away from collaborative projects? Go all ninja on their asses and slip poison into their morning coffee?
Demonstrably, I don’t do any of those things. (Except maybe the ninja poison thing, in which case no one will ever know I was there BWA-HA-HA-HA-HA!)
I devote a lot of time to supporting my fellow authors and their books, at all levels of the game. In fact, people close to me gently suggest I spend LESS time on stuff that isn’t my own work. I am a Director at Large on the Board of Directors for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) because I want to support the genre and profession. People close to me gently suggest I spend less time on volunteering too. I ignore those gentle suggestions because I believe in giving generously of myself. That’s important to me. Probably one of my most closely held values.
So, you can see why it bothered me that someone out there talked smack about me this way. You could accuse me of many flaws. I’d most likely agree with chagrin on what they are and renew my intentions to do better. But this is not one of them. I am not a person who worries about there being only so much pie to go around. Pies are easy to make. I’m totally in favor of more pie.
I’m really enjoying my friend’s book, too. When she gets it published, I’ll be the first to cheer about it.
I’m just back from #WorldCon76, which was a whirlwind of great stuff. I caught a moment of downtime at the lovely Fairmont pool, including a much-needed nap.
This week at the SFF Seven, we’re asking “What are you most proud about with regards to your writing?” Come on over to read about mine.
Today is the release day of THE DEVIL’S DOORBELL! Very cool to see the excitement out there about it. Also, working with this group of amazing, high-caliber and professional authors has been one of the highlights of my career so far. You ladies rock!
So, I’ve been stewing on this post since I saw Star Wars: the Force Awakens. OBVIOUSLY this post will contain spoilers. You all have had six months to see the movie, so I figure any spoilerage is on you at this point *and* you’ve been warned. It does affect your experience of the movie. After all, my own mother spoiled it for me as I talked to her on the drive down to Albuquerque to see the movie with a friend – after I’d avoided spoilers for WEEKS!
(Also, I seem to have gotten quite worked up writing this post, so the F-bombs are flying. Be warned.)
Anyway, The Force Awakens (TFA) opens many years after The Return of the Jedi finishes. Luke has disappeared to parts unknown, Han and Leia consummated their love affair long enough to birth and raise (for an unspecified period of time) their son, Kylo Ren. He’s an emo dude who ran off at some point to take up Darth Vader’s megalomaniacal legacy. Because of some vague disagreement over their bad boy son, Han and Leia broke up and have lived apart for *years*. She’s been key in the ongoing rebellion leadership (which is super-cool; more of this, please; yes yes yes) and Han went off to … I dunno. Scavenge around the galaxy with Chewie? That part wasn’t terribly clear to me.)
I should caveat here that I am decidedly NOT a follower of the Star Wars overall canon. I’ve never read any of the books written around the franchise, or anything else. I’ve seen all the movies, but that’s it. I’m aware that people write about and discuss all kinds of story threads not in the movies, but I don’t know anything about them.
ANYWAY… this seriously stuck in my craw. Yes, it’s a great moment when the movie’s central heroine and hero run into Han and Chewie, and it’s a lovely moment of reunion when Han and Leia see each other again, but is it worth this backstory of their long separation?
No no no.
And you know why this annoys me so greatly?
Two reasons: because it’s facile storytelling and because it transmits SFF’s contempt for romance.
Allow me to unpack a little.
Why have Han and Leia be long-separated at the beginning of the movie? To add conflict. I can’t think of another reason. (Enlighten me if you have one.) To me this reads as screenwriting shorthand: separate the lovers so that you can have the tension of their old differences and the simmer of sexual tension renewed. Because Hollywood thinks you can’t have an established love affair AND sexual tension.
Also I think Hollywood believes that long-term relationships can’t last happily, which is part of their contempt for romance. In most movies with romance, the focus is entirely on the establishment of the early relationship – as with Han and Leia in Episodes IV-VI – and rarely on a long-term relationship. When a movie IS about later in the relationship, it’s nearly always about trouble. Conflict, doncha know.
So, I suspect the screenwriters didn’t give much thought to the possibility of having Han and Leia having been together all those intervening years. They just tossed out that, oh no! They separated acrimoniously because their son was a shit head. Because this does in so many marriages, right?
That annoyed me, too. Han and Leia are both strong-minded people who’ve endured great losses in their lives and emerged scarred but victorious. And we’re to believe they could not preserve their great passion for each other, that their love and loyalty that survived the worst pressures simply crumbled because they couldn’t agree on their grown son doing stupid, disappointing things?
Talk about undercutting two truly great characters. Which brings me around to the contempt for romance.
I could be wrong, but I doubt it occurred to anyone working on the movie how this change in trajectory affects our long-held feelings for Han and Leia. All these many years since Return of the Jedi, I’ve had them in my heart living Happily Ever After. Sure, fighting the Empire and various scourges of civilization, but TOGETHER. Side by side. Heroic partners in life. Enjoying at least that much joy, which is the WHOLE FUCKING POINT OF TRIUMPHING OVER AN EVIL EMPIRE IN THE FIRST PLACE.
Did I mention this annoyed me?
Basically this movie told us that there is no happiness. Even Han and Leia don’t get to have it.
Worst of all, Han dies, so they’ll never be together again. Even though they reconcile (and it IS a lovely scene), there’s not even a kiss. He dies. Leia soldiers bravely on, alone. (She’s an older woman now, so she wouldn’t be interested in having sex again anyway.)
Don’t get me wrong – I’m thrilled to pieces that it looks like Carrie Fisher will be back to play Leia in perhaps an even greater role as a general in the rebellion in the next movies. (Which I wonder if the movie folks had planned on before they saw the *overwhelming* “Fuck-Yeah, General Leia” response.) However, I Am Not Pleased that she seems to be relegated to crone status.
But, hey, it’s SFF action/adventure and who cares about mushy stuff beyond the occasional dirty-hands, smexy kiss?
Oh yeah. We do.
And you know what? We can have both. Let’s get out there and write those damn stories.
Having a bit of a rant about fantasy tropes and boy books over at Word Whores today. It’s maybe a little much…Don’t feel like you have to read it!
Yesterday, I ran across some promo for the Clarion program, which teaches Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing. I read through the requirements, the FAQs. And I seriously considered doing it for a few minutes.
An intensive course in SFF writing that has turned out people like Octavia Butler, Marjorie Liu and Vonda McIntyre? Oh yes, yes, yes. I started contemplating how I could take six weeks of leave from my job – and, not incidentally, my salary – and from the man and fur family. After all, the blog I read talking about how fab the program is, said it required sacrifices. Uh yeah – that pricey tuition and the non-refundable $50 application fee.
Then it hit me – what the hell was I thinking?
It reminds me of when I was a brand-new grad student. I’d graduated from college in May and showed up at my new school in August, to start my PhD in physiology. With great excitement, I’d pored over the course offerings and had picked out (way too many) classes I figured I should start with. I met with the department head, to discuss this class schedule, my research plan and my Teaching Assistant assignment. He told me, that, given my excellent background, they wanted to put me in charge of the entire physiology lab program. Stunned, I looked at my list of proposed courses and told him I’d been planning to take the physiology course and lab. He laughed at me and said I was way past that.
And they put me in charge.
Now, I won’t say that I didn’t learn a lot as I went along. The old saying about the teacher being one step ahead of the student is not far off the truth. Still, it turned out that I knew more than I thought I did.
The rest I learned by doing.
It’s tempting to think that the fab writing workshop will hand us the keys and open the doors. I’m an absolute believer in ongoing education, too. The workshops also have a vested interest in convincing you that you need them if you want to succeed. Still, there comes a time when you have to simply plunge in and learn by doing.
Accept no substitute.
I’ve been reading a lot of Neil Gaiman lately. I finished American Gods and now I’m reading his short story collection, Fragile Things. I confess I’d only ever read Good Omens before. The truth is, I’ve gotten away from reading many male authors. I know that’s likely an unforgivable bias. (I almost said reverse-bias, then I wondered why is it reverse – just because it’s more usual for guys not to want to read female authors?) It wasn’t really a deliberate choice, though I found I tired of the “boyness” in many of the stories, particularly in science fiction and fantasy (SFF). The incidental female characters who have no discernible personalities, the gallivanting from one fight to the next. The reflexive sexism. I know that not all male writers do this and I think Ender’s Game is a brilliant novel. But I stopped reading Orson Scott Card because I couldn’t stomach his male-dominated society ideals any longer.
Neil does not do these things.
He writes stories that arise from myth and fairy tale. They include sex, sometimes between partners of the same gender. His female characters are interesting people, even the sexy ones. And it occurred to me that I write a lot of the same kind of thing.
I hope that doesn’t sound vain or arrogant, comparing my work to his. It felt like a bit of a homecoming for me, because so much of what I write seems to fall outside of the usual arenas. So, it’s comforting to find someone else writing in a similar vein. Also, one of the neat things that he does in both of my editions (Kindle, natch) is provide notes. Sometimes he talks about his process or the inspiration for a story, or editing. For some reason, an aside remark I read yesterday hit me, where he mentioned that he knew very early on that he wanted to write SFF.
It’s often the case that one person’s eye-opening moment is another person’s blank stare, but I had a bit of an epiphany (the sun broke through the clouds, gleamed on the puffy cottony flowered bush, angels hummed – it was just a baby epiphany). I realized that, though I have lots of sex and romance in my stories, that I really want to be a SFF writer.
(Yes, Mom – I’ll keep writing nonfiction, too.)
I think I fell into the idea that the sex and romance outweighed the rest and pushed me into romance. But now I’m all about, hey, if Neil can do it, I can do it. (Obviously the erotica is a whole different kettle of fish and I’m okay with that.)
So, this is likely a ho-hum revelation to you all. Feel free to stare blankly and then go about your business.
But I can still hear those angels humming.