Your infrequent inspiration update 

It’s November and the holidays are rolling down the chute, coming whether we like it or not. I haven’t planned my entire Thanksgiving dinner yet but you’ll probably hear all about it after the fact. For now, I wanted to bring you up to speed on some of the fun things I’ve read  and watched recently.

First off, Luke Cage. Holy mess Luke Cage. There were so many things done right with this show. The research and care that went into this production blew me away. The attention to detail in the selection of the soundtrack was especially phenomenal. At first, I was a little skeptical that Luke’s vendetta with Cottonmouth was feeding into the narrative of black on black crime, but the treatment of both characters as well as the role of Misty and Scarfe and the exploration of their motivations and identities quickly quelled that fear. All of the characters in Luke Cage are wonderfully complex and well-crafted. I definitely recommend it.  I could write a book about this show, but I’ll let you watch it and see for yourself.


As for other things  I’ve been into, there have been a lot of short stories I’ve really enjoyed recently. “Fiber,” a comedy with reborn zombies and cheerleaders by Seanan McGuire, was particularly amusing. You can find that over at Tor.com. On the eery, cerebral side of the spectrum there was “What Becomes of the Third Hearted,” published by Shimmer Magazine. That one was like a punch to the gut, in a good way. I’ve also been enjoying being a Patron of Fireside Fiction and Martha Wells. Martha Wells in particular gives me a bunch of fun Raksura tidbits to chew on, which I love. I’m very excited for Harbors of the Sun to hit shelves next summer.

Speaking of novels and novellas, some recent reads have included Vermilion, which I have been wanting to read forever, and Silver on the Road. I guess I’ve been on a Western kick. Vermilion is set in San Francisco and other areas on the far west coast, during the 1800s unless I miss my guess. It is a steampunk adventure which skillfully tackles issues of Chinese immigration and labor in the rail industry, as well as gender fluidity and diverse sexualities. Silver on the Road is also an alternate West story, but set in the area between the Spanish territories and the Mississippi River following the successful bid by the American colonies for independence. The main character is a Latina woman who works for the devil, who runs a saloon in the town of Flood.

In addition to these I’ve been reading Letters from Burma as a bit of a nonfiction break and also for research purposes. It’s a very easy read, and really fascinating. I also finished Obelisk Gate on Audible, which was a wonderful performance by Robin Miles, as always. I have mixed feelings about the second book in this series, mostly because I loved the first book so much. It honestly almost stood alone for me. But it was a great story and, once I reached the end, I was definitely back on board with wherever Jemisin wants to take me. I’m currently looking for my next audiobook, so let me know if you have any recommendations!

Whew. What a list. Anyway, chime in and let me know what you have been reading below. ‘Til next time.

Writing as activism: The Ballad of Black Tom

I thought long and hard before writing this post.

This is for a couple of reasons, the principal of these being that I am white. Because of this, I want to take a moment to acknowledge that my reflections on the novella The Ballad of Black Tom are my own, and come from my whiteness, at least in part. We cannot extricate the parts of our identities, after all. That said, I am also a writer and a writer keenly interested in diverse representation and stories which get to the heart of oppression. The Ballad of Black Tom did both of these things baldly and without pulling any punches. I want to unpack that. And I want to lend my platform to this book, because it is a valuable read, perhaps most especially for white people.

black-tom

All of that said, there will be spoilers. Stop here if you don’t want those, and scroll to the end for further reading recommendations if you must. You are warned.

If you want to read this book first and come back, I encourage it. It’s a novella, so it took me about three or four hours to chomp through at most. I read fast, but it’s not a terribly serious time commitment if you want to bookmark this page for later.

No, the time commitment is in how much you’ll find yourself thinking about it afterwards.

With no further ado… Continue reading “Writing as activism: The Ballad of Black Tom”

Likability in ASOIF

I’ve spent a lot of time this week reminding myself that I don’t have to be likable. In a way, writing Liana in The Creation Saga has been an exercise in writing an unlikable female character for me. That isn’t to say that I don’t want humans to commiserate with her, or understand her. The opposite, really. I want them to understand all of it and feel that same sort of dysphoria that she feels. I should be able to do betterI must be able to live up to their expectations.

There’s a point, when you are obsessed with likability, where you can slide into this kind of thinking. And it is easy to be obsessed with being likable as a woman. It offers you a sense of protection, however inaccurate that sense is. Likability is a kind of social capital. Politicians rule by it, at least in part. Celebrities live by it. It is a kind of power.

It is, however, fickle as powers go. A person must build their worth on other stuff. Cersei shows us this in A Song of Ice and Fire, as does Arya. Neither of them are cuddly sorts. We might admire Cersei’s competence at times, or her pure madness, but we certainly don’t like her. And while we pity Arya, hope that we would be as strong as her in the same situation, admire her skills and her bloodthirsty nature, most of us would not be able to hold a conversation with her. We’d be appalled when she slit a man’s throat without explanation. She is stunning and devious, not likable, despite the fact that we, as readers, like her.

The most likable character, in fact, is Sansa. In terms of being someone who could have a conversation with you, entertain you, someone who is generally beautiful and, if not kind, at least not cruel, your best bet is Sansa. Despite this, Sansa is usually the least liked character in the books, at least by readers. This is because Sansa has no power.

I may seem to have contradicted myself there, so let me unpack that.

A person’s worth doesn’t come from the likability, much as we are taught otherwise as women. Sansa swallows the princess narrative hook, line, and sinker. She thinks that if she can just be pretty and witty, she will be safe and cared for. She thinks that beautiful people on the outside must also be beautiful on the inside. We hate her for this, because we recognize very early on that the good do not win in the world of A Song of Ice and Fire. That good people have already spent the one quality which might help them to survive, which is ruthlessness. But if we met Sansa on the street, we would probably consider her an upstanding girl, a cute little thing. She would be the kind of person we would hope to invite over for tea. We would talk about stories of knights in shining armor and fair queens.

sansa
For the record, I don’t watch the show. That said, here’s Sansa in Game of Thrones looking innocent.
We dislike Sansa not because she is unlikable, but because she has no power to affect her world. She has traded that power for the very likability that we teach little girls like her to strive for every day, with promises that it will protect them.

In some ways, I think Sansa’s character and her development is the most transgressive element of George R.R. Martin’s work.

In my own life, I spend a lot of time trying to cultivate other kinds of power. Not necessarily power over others, but power over myself. I try to be fearless in situations where fear does not help me. I try to be rational in making choices that are best for myself even when those choices may inconvenience others. And, most importantly, I try to quell the need for likability that sometimes comes clamoring out of my gut. When I make decisions to accomplish given outcomes, I recognize that I might be navigating my boat unevenly, listing towards positive reinforcement, begging for someone to recognize my sacrifices. This wastes valuable energy, but it is a human thing, too. We all have inconsistencies, foibles, weirdnesses that make us what we are.

It’s not bad to be kind, to be charismatic. But when it takes you into dangerous waters, you turn that boat around. When your self-worth becomes tied up in how people receive you, you will lose it. Remembering that, as a woman, is hard. Remembering that brief social buoyancy will not protect you from your status as feminine in a society driven by masculine values can be soul-crushing.

After all, it is so easy to want people to like you. But the most interesting people are often the least likable ones.

The Geek Feminist Revolution – a love letter

An early post this week, as tomorrow is my author signing at the Tanglewood Barnes and Noble. I’ll be there and setting up by 6pm so if you have a book to bring for signing or are looking to buy a paper copy, please stop by!

Now, on to the subject at hand. I’ve been reading The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley and I have to say that this book has literally rocked my socks.

You may have picked up by now that I am a self-proclaimed feminist. This is not always considered a good descriptor of a human being, but I find that people who don’t want to be your friend if you call yourself a feminist are not usually nice people. I say this because of personal experience. As a writer, I primarily try to tell balanced stories with varied female (and male) characters. I don’t always succeed. I grow a lot from project to project. I’m still learning, and that’s okay.

I have the honor of being a relatively privileged woman. I am white, able-bodied, thin, and adjectives most commonly used to describe me are “smart” and “pretty”. This is not ego talking, or not ego for the sake of hearing itself. I find all sorts of people beautiful and admirable who do not, classically, fit these descriptors. This is an observation of social norms. I have privilege. It doesn’t mean that I don’t feel like screaming every time I turn on the news and read about the most recent rape acquittal or talk to a friend who has just experienced some terrible abuse from a partner or get cat-called by some strange man and am reminded that I am, in fact, still a second-class citizen in many ways. That at the first blush, I am a woman.

Hurley said something that crushed me pretty early on in this book, so I’m going to quote it here.

[Joanna] Russ expressed the white-hot rage I felt at realizing the game was rigged against me from the start, and that no matter how equal I believed I was, the world was going to treat me like a woman, whether I liked it or not. Her book The Female Man is so ragingly, teeth-gnashingly nuts that I couldn’t get through it the first couple of times I tried. the title also gave voice to something I felt all the time – that I was a human, a man – not in the sense that I felt disassociated from my female body, but in the sense that I, too, had bought that women were somehow “other” and I wasn’t “other” so I must be a man, a real human too, right?

I had to put the book down when I read that, because I was that girl and it hurt to see someone else put those words on paper. I had thought that I was an anomaly. When my father read me the Lord of the Rings I was Frodo. Frodo, after all, was the hero. I was the hero. The biology didn’t factor in. I only really became aware of the way that my gender and sex had shaped my life once I became an adult and had names for some of the things that had happened to me as an adolescent – and continue to happen, because unfortunately adulthood doesn’t give you a free pass from sexual harassment.

Grappling with that sense of betrayal, with that sudden awareness, is a lot of what prompted the major plot points of Mother of Creation. Coming into adulthood and feeling purely betrayed by the promises of my youth, by the idea that I could be anything I wanted to be, was a harrowing experience. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I was insulated from that experience, relative to others. I am, as I mentioned, relatively privileged. My privilege includes a family that loves me and supports me in all sorts of craziness – including haring off to Japan and leaving a perfectly good, if dull and terrible, job to be a homeless traveler for a month. I always knew, if things got too bad, that I could go home. A lot of people don’t have that. Liana, the princess of the Creation Saga, does not have that. She has no home to go back to, and must face whatever the road throws at her.

But she, too, is fighting to be seen as a real human, despite the barriers of her sex and the situation of her birth. So many of us are.

Reading The Geek Feminist Revolution was like reading a love letter to all of us geek girls who wanted, so badly, to feel like we were human. It’s an at times violent and troubling love letter, but that violence is never turned towards us. Its turned against all of those who would suppress our stories, our muchness. Hurley’s keen analytical mind dissects our stories, the ones we have consumed and the ones that have consumed us. She lays our souls bare. The goal of every writer is to accomplish as much.