Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Meta slaveficcery meta

Things that shouldn't need saying... )
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Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

The challenge and the craft

In response to On the responsibilities of writers:

To write using offensive language/stereotypes is just easy. It's what we're all taught. But figuring out how to avoid them while at the same time being true to the story, that's a "party programme".

The hell.

If you aren't capable of learning how to write without using offensive language or racist, sexist, homophobic or any other stereotypes, you are an inferior writer. The challenge for any writer who aspires to full command of her craft and art is to write the story that clamours to be written, to be true to the story and its characters, and to avoid letting yourself fall into the lazy traps of casual prejudice. And writers who defend their fall into those lazy traps with Newspeak arguments that trying to avoid them is a "party programme" are not merely lazy, inferior writers who can't be bothered to learn: they're dishonest writers.

There's no recourse for the writer who is dishonest about their craft. You never quit learning how to write better. You never lie to yourself as an excuse for why you're not going to bother learning more about how to write.
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Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

On writing PoC (when I am not one)

When I got my 2005 Yuletide assignment, it made me very happy: it was to write a Fletcher/Jeremy story following Finity's End. (Rise and Go, here.) I had an instant idea for how it would start, and wrote that down: I re-read the book, and wrote the rest of the story, remarkably painlessly for Yuletide.

There is a point in the story where Jeremy, who has finally got what he wants, is lying back in bed and looking at Fletcher and thinking about how good-looking he is: and there I paused, to re-check the book and see if Cherryh had provided any other details about Fletcher other than "good-looking", which we do get. She didn't, much. So I was free to make up those few telling details - I wasn't about to do an inch-by-inch description, but I wanted to describe what Jeremy might see - and compare to himself - when for the first time since he's met Fletcher, he's free just to stare.

I began by writing:
He'd seen Fletcher naked, they shared a cabin, but this wasn't Fletcher like he was when they were stumbling in or out of the shower, past each other, when you had to be polite and not look (and not comment on the smell, because just past Jump a body smelt like old laundry).
(I was pleased by the "a body smelled like old laundry" touch: it's a classic Cherryh phrase, and I was trying to mimic her style). But I really had to think of something to say about Fletcher's body.
Fletcher had dark body hair -- on his chest, down to his belly, around his groin.
While in calendar years Jeremy and Fletcher are almost the same age, in chronological time lapsed, Fletcher is older. (It did unnerve me a bit, but I decided just not to think about exactly how old Jeremy is. It's a consensual relationship, people, acceptable in their own culture's terms. And Fletcher isn't that much older than him - a few years at most.) But, old enough for Fletcher to have significant amounts of body hair, and Jeremy not.
It was as black as the hair on his head, and looked good
And I swear, it was right then that the thought came into my head
against the clear brown of his skin and the blue of his eyes.
I went back and looked up passages in Finity's End where Fletcher and Jeremy are physically described, and, yeah: at no point does Cherryh mention definitely the colour of their skin. I could assume what I liked, and I liked this. Suddenly I could picture both of them, and having got it definitely into my head what they did look like (and in my head, Fletcher is stunning) I mined a name from the pack of adolescents who harass Fletcher when he first comes aboard, which gave me another touch of Cherryhism.
He looked a bit like Jeremy, as Family goes: they both had black hair, and Jeremy's skin was a shade darker, and Jeremy's eyes were brown instead of blue, but they had the same eyebrows -- Sue, of all people, had pointed that out once -- they looked more alike than Jeremy and Vince, and Linda didn't look like any of them. But Fletcher was just good to look at, Jeremy thought, and it felt good to be able to lie back and stare without any worries about being impolite.
I wondered, when I posted it, if anyone would notice (or, if anyone noticed, anyone would care - it's only a few words of description).

Thinking back, the only other fandom I've ever written in where there was a regular character who was a PoC, was Blake's 7: Dayna Mellanby is a very young and very slightly psychotic weapons expert who likes blowing things up and plotting murder. I wrote Cruelty Has A Human Heart, a Dayna/Soolin saffic, back in the early 1990s, and of course she appears in This Neurotic Little Worry, an ensemble story about the third-season crew. Mostly I wanted to write Avon/Vila, and I did: just as when I wrote Star Trek, though of course Uhura shows up, she's mostly background; she appears as one of the senior officers, but nothing gets in the way between Spock and McCoy.

I write mostly in M*A*S*H these days, and there are only three or four regular characters in the series who aren't white, and only one is part of the main ensemble: Max Klinger. Nurse Kellye is named and has characterisation, but she's tertiary ensemble rather than secondary, as is Ginger Bayliss, who is the only black officer who stays: and famously, Spearchucker Jones was disappeared in the first few weeks of the show when he was discovered to be an anachronism. I have written drabbles about all of them for the Mash 100th community (see First Impressions and Superheroes for examples), but my long stories are about Hawkeye and Mulcahy, mostly. In a way writing about people of colour in the 1950s is easier than writing about people of colour today, because there is so much research material available (and a lot fewer fans who were around then and who can point out gleefully you got it wrong): in fact, M*A*S*H itself, for a TV show, confronts racism in the military in various interesting ways - though less interesting than it might be since none of the major characters are allowed to be racist, not even in the casual unthinking way I'd think would be fairly likely. (Aside from Winchester, but to be fair, Winchester is deeply prejudiced against any American significantly poorer than him or whose family has been in the US for the wrong length of time. Colour isn't the issue so much as wealth or "breeding".)

Writing about people who have experiences I haven't had is always difficult, always enriching. And always risky when you know that people are going to be reading the stories who have had those experiences. And sometimes I get it wrong. But there seems to be, in some people's minds, a barrier that says "I can't write about that because I'm not the right colour to do it" - and really; kick that crap out. It's Radio KFCKD, if it's not white privilege masquerading as humility.
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