Because we just don’t come with owner’s manuals. Recently, over livejournal way, an sci-fi/fantasy author posted an article on her blog about “writing the Other”, that is, writing characters of different races or genders than yourself. Now, it seems funny for the science fiction or fantasy crowds to worry over this, but we’re not talking about bug eyed aliens, or orcs and goblins. We’re talking normal, every day people not unlike ourselves…except for that one important difference that makes their life completely unlike anything we’ve experienced.
Let’s face it. When you’re writing about elves, you’re usually not expecting them to actually READ your books.
So, this author took a stab at trying to encourage other authors not to shy away from such characters (as often we do, for fear of looking foolish), and even offered some tips to keep foot from mouth. Much discussion ensued, particularly from the sort of people that fit into the “Other” category in relation to the author. It began well enough, with constructive criticism that explored the topic more deeply. Then it began to segue into comparisons to the author’s own works, including one book which began with kind of a classic example of “How Not To Do It” (on purpose, being something of a theme in that book). Which is where, from what I can tell, things began to get out of hand.
Some folks who hadn’t read the books being discussed all the way through had ill-informed opinions, some friends of the author began to intervene on her behalf, and conversation became even more heated. You might be tempted to say, “well, that’s how this sort of thing goes.” However, looking from the outside, I think the biggest derailment was caused more by preexisting personality conflicts – that is, friction between some people in the overall discussion that exisited well before this drama erupted. Be aware, that’s my opinion and may or may not reflect reality. I found the whole thing disappointing, and stayed far out of it. If you truly wish to try and sort out the real story for yourself, there’s a chronicle of links here, or a more concise summary here.
The overall drama has been dubbed Race Fail ’09. Don’t let the name fool you, as acutally more useful conversation about race and understanding was had than not. The “fail” part, as I said, seemed more about personality conflicts and errors in communication that led to battle lines being drawn, livejournals being deleted, and people being hurt. The thing to remember, is there really aren’t any battle lines; there’s no “sides” in this. There’s people. People trying to understand one another.
So, I recommend to you the following discussions. They’re closed now, but they happened over on John Scalzi’s blog: Whatever. Scalzi had remained out of the drama until it was unceremoniously dumped on his porch step. His initial reaction was to fire the shotgun in the air, and demand everyone off his lawn. He was harshly criticised for this, for being dismissive of the overall topic. After some time to calm down, and some thoughtful voices reaching out to him, Scalzi apologized and reopened discussion on his own site by inviting a few guest speakers over.
I learned a lot from these threads, and it’s given me much to think about. I hope it will do the same for you. I don’t ask anyone to go in there thinking, “this is the correct and only way to think about this.” I do want you to realize this is some very well reasoned, thoughtful insights on a topic area that, frankly, I’ve never had to think about before. But some people have….some people have no choice. So listen to their words, their thoughts. And consider yourself, and where you’re at in your life.
Mary Anne Mohanraj Gets You Up to Speed, Part I
Mary Anne Mohanraj Gets You Up to Speed, Part II
Taking One for the Team: K. Tempest Bradford