Writing Ethnic Characters

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Okay, right off the bat, we have a problem.  Actually, I suppose it’s a problem with how we’re approaching the problem.  Read the title of this entry again: “Writing Ethnic Characters.”  It’s making the assumption that most readers (or listeners) for this entry will be white writers trying to figure out how to create and describe characters who are not white without relying on stereotypes, over-used cliches, or offensive terms.  It also could be said that it makes the implicit assumption that white is the “default” while everything else is “other” or “ethnic.”

Unfortunately, I’m not sure how else to segue into a discussion of this challenge that white writers face. While writing All’s Fair, I found that I had to research how to describe certain characteristics of people who are not white since I have had very little contact with people of color in real life.  (A slightly embarrassing example is my search to find out what black people look like when they blush.  They might feel their cheeks heat or burn, but what does that look like to someone who is watching them?)

This is something I’ve started to struggle with now that I’m aware of how lacking in diversity many of my stories have been.  I don’t want to have token non-white characters, but I also want to take advantage of how many variations there are in the colors, sizes, shapes, and looks of humans.  It’s easy to describe non-human characters; usually your protagonist will be a human and if they are encountering elves, orcs, or dragons for the first time, they are going to notice how they look.  But how do you work in descriptions for characters without waving your arms and shouting, “Hey!  Look!  Here’s a black person, and Asian person, and a Hispanic person!  Hooray for diversity!”
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Autumn Updates

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It seems like when I left for my much-needed ocean-side vacation, it was the height of summer with all of the lovely heat and much-despised humidity that entails, but when I returned, fall had arrived.  The cooler temperatures make my morning walk far more pleasant and I love the leaf-smell of the season. (Hopefully this nice weather will last longer than a week.)  So, with the Autumnal Equinox just behind us, I want to take this opportunity to make a few announcements:
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1) All’s Fair is currently finishing up its second round of beta reading and will soon enter the third round of editing.  Thank you so much to my beta readers for taking on this challenge; I really appreciate it!  I’m hopeful that this time it will not require quite as much revamping as the previous drafts. (Just as long as I don’t have to rip the entire thing apart and reassemble it again…)

2) I’ve simultaneously started to research agents and book publishers who may be a good fit for All’s Fair and projects in the future. The Writer’s Market 2015 is the tool I’m using to start with and I’ll narrow down the field from there. So far I’ve got a decent but not-overwhelming list of prospects, as I’m focusing on those who handle science fiction and fantasy with a special place for those who do so exclusively.  (For All’s Fair, I’ll need to look at those who also handle romance novels, so that’s an additional factor in my deliberations.)

3) National Novel Writing Month is just around the corner and I LOVE their space theme this year! In keeping with said theme, my chosen project will be a story that my dad and I want to collaborate on: Astra’s Revenge. Dad already wrote a short story/novelette version of it and asked me a long time ago to adapt it into a full-length novel. So that will be an interesting challenge.  As a back-up, I’ll probably also work sporadically on my juvenile fantasy novel DragonFriend and my still-unnamed urban fantasy starring my hard-nosed “detective” Karen Mohssey. (I’m calling her a “detective” for now, even though the story isn’t fleshed out enough for me to know exactly what she does yet!)

4) I’m trying to keep up with the Audio Editions and get more of the #ThrowbackThursdays up and running. Unfortunately, due to the time involved, it doesn’t happen with the regularity I’d like to achieve. (It takes about two hours to record and edit an episode with a run time of ten minutes or less.) Also, you may notice that the sound quality of the Audio Editions has changed.  I purchased a new pair of headphones with a mic, so things might sound a bit different, hopefully in a good way. There’s still a lot I don’t know about Audacity, the program I use to record the Audio Editions, so I hope to continue improving!

5) In conjunction with the Audio Editions, I’ve been listening to some podcasts or a (more or less) regular basis.  My current favorites are Let’s Know Things by Colin Wright and The Baltimore Barristers hosted by Alexander Bush and Stephen Caramenico.  Let’s Know Things covers all kinds of topics ranging from perception and bias to cyberspace and suburbia, and the show notes are exceptionally extensive. Plus, Colin does a great job of covering controversial topics with an even hand that explores the positive and negative effects of both sides, which is really refreshing to hear.  The Baltimore Barristers focus on politics, often locally, but many stories have the potential to reverberate nationally.  In addition, they have some absolutely amazing interviews, including Scott Adams (writer of the Dilbert comic strip), Mike Rowe from the TV show Dirty Jobs, and Jack Hunter, editor of Rare Politics.  Both are great podcasts that cover a wide variety of topics in a thorough, engaging fashion; I highly recommend them.

And now, without further adieu, back to the writing.
And editing.
And researching.
And– oh, look, TV!

 

Inspiration vs. Appropriation: Where is the Line?

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There’s a term that’s been popping up a lot lately in regards to story-telling which has caused a great deal of friction online: “cultural appropriation.”  The strict dictionary definition states that: “cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of elements from one culture by members of another culture.”  When you put it like that, it doesn’t sound so bad.  I mean, cultures all over the world have adopted from one another via trade or conquest since the dawn of human history.

But now this term is being seen and used in a completely negative fashion.  Worse, it seems to have no limits or boundaries.  It seems that one can come under fire for celebrating Cinco de Mayo if you’re not Hispanic, wearing Native American costumes (especially the admittedly tasteless and stereotypical Halloween versions) if you are not a Native American, or for wearing cornrows if you are not of African descent.

Those are fairly benign modern examples, although there are more disturbing ones.  Like the wearing of blackface, which was used to reinforce negative stereotypes about blacks to maintain segregation in post-Emancipation America, or Hollywood continuing to cast Caucasians into roles that really should be given to someone else.  (See the controversies over having Matt Damon save the Great Wall of China or casting Scarlett Johansson as the Japanese cyborg Motoko Kusanagi in the upcoming live-action version of Ghost in the Shell.)  So, obviously there is negative cultural appropriation that has happened in the past and continues to happen now.  But where do you draw the line between legitimate concerns and people making a mountain out of a mole hill?
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Reading is a Need

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I need to read.

I know that sounds like some kind of exaggeration, like, “I need to buy that set of geeky solar system glasses” or “I need that pint of ice cream” or “I need to see that movie in theaters.”  We might joke around, using the word “need” to refer to things we merely “want,” but sometimes I seriously wonder if reading should be filed under the list of requirements for mental health.

Recently, I wasn’t able to read for about two weeks.  Okay, that’s not entirely true.  I had been reading piecemeal from various nonfiction books for some time, namely The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman, Royal Romances: Titillating Tales of Passion and Power in the Palaces of Europe, and now I’m working on Using Medicine in Science Fiction: the SF Writer’s Guide to Human Biology.  That technically counts as reading.  But I hadn’t immersed myself in a fictional world for some time, and it was starting to wear on me.  I felt tired, unfocused, lethargic, irritable.

Then the weekend arrived.  I looked at the pile of dirty dishes and unwashed laundry, glanced around the empty house, said “Screw it,” plucked one of my library books off the shelf, and flopped down on my window seat to read Arabella of Mars by David D. Levine.

I spent almost four glorious hours suspended on an airship between Earth and Mars and loved every second of it.  Afterwards, I felt awake and aware in a way that I hadn’t been for days.  Rejuvenated.  Renewed.  Resurrected.  The list of synonyms goes on.

Point is, we need to read.  Not just nonfiction for research or personal edification, but also poetry, short stories, essays, and, most especially, fiction.  And as writers, we REALLY need to read.  For inspiration.  For relief.  For sanity.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to pick another book from my shelf.

Rejuvenating “Freedom”

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Freedom is a word that has been bandied about to a point where it’s become almost meaningless.  It’s used in political rhetoric, as a banner to shield bigotry, and, ironically, as justification to take freedom away.  Using a word too often, too freely, too ambiguously, drains it of significance.  The concept of “freedom” is already so vast and amorphous that it’s difficult to define, even at the best of times.  Words like “love” and “change” and terror” are tossed around like common ingredients in a salad rather than as carefully chosen seasoning.  Some definitions restrict “freedom” to a carefully regulated nanny state while on the opposite side it becomes a free-for-all of Darwinian anarchy.

Freedom is both very broad and highly personal, so I’m not going to attempt to define it when far wiser and more experienced minds have written whole volumes discussing its nature.  But I think we need to keep that in mind and be very specific when we talk about freedom because it means so many things to myriad people in disparate circumstances.  I do think that the majority of people agree than an important component of freedom is the ability to strive and improve one’s lot or one’s self uninhibited by artificial societal or cultural constructs.  That doesn’t mean it will be easy or that one will succeed, but we should all at least get the chance to try.  We should each be able to establish our own independence.  So as this Fourth of July comes to a close, I recommend going to YouTube and watching the TEDxConejo talk with Erin Gruwell, founder of the Freedom Writers Foundation.  The best place to start planting freedom’s seeds is within the garden of one’s mind.

Happy Independence Day.

“Bright Sunshiny Day!”

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I can see clearly now, the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Here is that rainbow I’ve been praying for
It’s gonna be a bright (bright) bright (bright) sunshiny day
It’s gonna be a bright (bright) bright (bright) sunshiny day


— Jimmy Cliff, “I Can See Clearly Now”

And so it is!  Actually, these last two weekends have been ridiculously productive, mostly because I’ve been able to sit out on the front porch (like I am now) for hours at a time.  (I just LOVE my Chromebook!)  It’s astonishing how much something as simple as the weather can have such a massive effect on one’s psyche.  While I don’t really consider myself and outdoorsy person (since I like, never go camping or hiking or boating or anything like that), I do gain great satisfaction and pleasure from being outside.  And even if I have to hide indoors during the summer because it is too hot or humid out, I am still more productive, simply because there is sunshine.  I think I may be part lizard and part sunflower.

At any rate, I am very pleased with my progress on All’s Fair.  My characters are talking to me again, I’m filling in plot holes, uncovering motivations… it’s all coming together and that’s a good feeling.  Granted, since I had to rip out or severely alter over two-thirds of the book, I now have no idea how to end the darn thing.  I suspect something will occur to me after my subconscious has a chance to mull over it for a while.  I plan on participating in Camp NaNoWriMo in July, since they have come up with a system to represent editing and not just vomit-typing.  For Camp NaNo, an hour of editing equals 1,000 words, so I’m setting a goal of editing for at least an hour each day, which would be 31,000 words.  I don’t think I’ll do LeNoWriCha this time since I’m not really generating new content.  My ultimate goal this year is to have All’s Fair ready for the submission process by October.

Speaking of time… did you know that The Cat’s Cradle is now five years old?  Yep, I started this blog back in June 2011.  At the time I was just shouting into the ether from Blogspot without a clue of where I was going.  Now I’m here on WordPress with a far more streamlined and professional webpage design.  I update more or less every other week, I’m on Twitter, I offer editing services, and I’ve added the Audio Editions for people to listen to and download.  I try not to look at stats because that way madness lies, but I’m ecstatic that, as of today, 138 people follow The Cat’s Cradle.  Whether anyone reads it or not is another story, but I’m very grateful to everyone who has chosen to read, like, share, comment, or listen to these entries.  I’ve learned a lot over the last five years, and I hope to continue improving so these entries remain informative, interesting, or at least entertaining for you.

ThankYouBlogReaders

The Good (Short Fiction), the Bad (YouTube), and the Ugly (Editing Process)

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As you probably guessed from the title, this entry is a mixed bag of news.

(CAUTION:  This entry also contains strong language!)
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THE GOOD:

I’ve been derping around with the Submission Grinder, a wonderful tool created by Diabolical Plots to help writers weed through the mountain of online magazines without having to check every single one on the net personally.  Just fill in some parameters for the story you are trying to sell and BOOM!  There’s a good chance something will come up that will be useful to you.  I’m still playing round robin with my pair of short stories, and while I know I should be writing more, nothing has really come to mind.  However, I stumbled across a book called The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction.  I’d seen the term pop up before, but hadn’t really looked into it.  (It’s possible that “flash fiction” sounded too much like “slash fic” for me.)  Apparently, flash fiction is a term for “short short stories.”  Although the lengths vary from publication to publication, flash fiction is usually less than 2,000 words.  So, I decided to try my hand at it, since there is apparently a huge market for it.  It’ll be an interesting challenge, but I actually already wrote down a rough draft for an idea and will work on refining it.  Wish me luck!
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Reflections of Contentment

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Lately, I’ve done a lot of complaining about not having enough time, or feeling like my time is not my own.  That I am subsumed by other responsibilities and then do not utilize what free time I do have to its fullest capacity.  It’s an old song, one that I think every writer or artist sings throughout their lives.  It is rare to find an artist who is happy with the amount of time they spend on their art.  It always seems to be too much, which leads to burnout, or too little, which leads to intense frustration and despair.

But I’m not going to talk about that today.  You already know about that particular current, so let’s appreciate the scenery for a while.  Let’s look up and see where the river is flowing.  Because despite all of the moaning and groaning about set-backs, I’m surprised to find that, right now, I’m actually pretty happy with myself.

There’s a text I got from my onii-san after I told him that I hadn’t won the Dark Crystal Author Quest contest back in 2013.  I hadn’t honestly expected to win, but I didn’t even make it into the top five.  It was discouraging to receive no tangible reward after putting in so much intense work for so long.  But David reminded me of something important:
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Draft Completed!

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Oh my gosh, I am so excited that I don’t know where to begin.  I guess the title of this entry says it all: I’ve actually completed a draft of a novel!  Yep, All’s Fair (AFiLaW) is the first one.  While I’ve spent a lot of time working on Ravens and Roses and have called each stage its own “Draft,” that story is still missing pieces of it and therefore should probably not be titled as such.  But that’s just splitting semantic hairs, so moving on!

I hammered out the plot and characters for All’s Fair in October 2015 and started writing on November 1, 2015.  As of January 31, 2016, I have a complete story ready for beta reading.  Wow.  That’s 170 pages written in 92 days.  There aren’t any gaping holes that need to be filled in or scenes that haven’t been written.  Obviously things may be adjusted, dropped, or added during the editing process, but you can actually read it from beginning to end.  I’m still a little stunned at this; the only other complete novel-length stories that I have finished are fan fiction.  (Yes, I know, I need to get back to “Nakishojo.”)  And those took me years to complete!  The fastest I’ve ever written was for the Dark Crystal Author Quest back in 2013, which took three months, but was still not really complete.  Not like All’s Fair.

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Donating to the Arts

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Greetings everyone!  How are those New Year’s resolutions or goals coming along?  Yeah, it’s been hit-or-miss with me too.  Feels like I am sleeping way too much, which kind of wreaks my morning schedule.

Still, I did manage to finish the first original short story I’ve written in a while: “Handsome and the Hag,” a gender-swapped retelling of Beauty and the Beast.  Eventually, I hope to rewrite it and expand into a more detailed short story, but I wanted to have a more traditional fairy-tale feel for the version posted on The Fellowship of the King.  Also, I’m almost, almost done the initial draft of All’s Fair; my goal is to have it ready for beta readers by the end of January.  Hooray!  Aside from that, none of my other writing goals have really gotten underway, especially with the Audio Editions.  Gods, I am so behind…

But there is something I wanted to bring up.  It’s been kicking around in the back of my mind for a while, so I wanted to share my thoughts on it:
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