Tuesday, March 12, 2013

New House, Feminism & World Building

Hello, writing world! How are you? I've been away for so long! It's been almost two months since I blogged, and even longer since I've worked on my manuscript. But I have got THE BEST excuse, which you already know if you read my last post: My husband Derek and I bought a house. We've been here for three weeks now. I can't decide if that's a long or short time. It's a long time to not be writing, but it seems short given how much work we've done to this place. Derek and I have been  working our butts off. I cleaned the garage, which took a full day, given that the previous owners left us all sort of "goodies". Derek installed two toilets! He's like Mario, but much taller and with red hair and without the creepy mustache. (I guess he's not much like Mario.) We've hung artwork, painted a dozen walls, got laundry machines (my first!) and cleaned and cleaned.

Changing gears, I've been happy to see lately how much the news has been focused on feminism. Actually, this is a bittersweet sort of thing. I've been talking about women's issues since I was a teenager. I've always been the most convicted feminist I know - although my sister is a wonder to behold - and the only one of my friends to identify as such. Having feminism be suddenly in the news is sweet because finally people are addressing serious problems of women being harassed, under-represented, and flat-out oppressed. But it's also bitter because in my opinion, it's long overdue, and it brings to the surface painful thoughts that are usually brewing down by my sub-conscious. Now that I'm reading about women's issues every day on Twitter and the like, I've become more sensitive.

Here's an example:

Anita Sarkeesian recently started publishing videos about female characters in video games (see her first video below). She used Kickstarter to fund the production of these videos. If you didn't hear about the unfathomable harassment she faced for her Kickstarter campaign, read about it on Wikipedia. I can't handle summarizing it. Luckily, her first video seems to have been generally well received. I've read a lot of tweets by men quoting the line, "In the game of patriarchy, women are not the opposing team. They're the ball." It's wonderful to hear men embracing these ideas, especially smart men who will set the trend for others.

Now let's move on to something happier. After I went to Big Sur in December, upon the suggestion of another writer I met there, I joined SCBWI (the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators). I'm so glad I did because I got invited to a workshop that took place four miles from my new house. I attended said workshop on Sunday. The track in which I took part was led by author Malinda Lo, who I was thrilled to meet. The topic was diversity in world-building, something in which I am profoundly interested because in my writing, I try to build the kind of gender-equitable world in which I wish I lived. The workshop was full of other friendly writers and it was so much fun to be surrounded by people who shared my passion for writing and science fiction.

Malinda Lo started by dismantling a lot of the assumptions that people make when they're building a world, like the idea that the only normal/acceptable sexual orientation is straight (heteronormativity) and that female characters can't be their own agents. She brought up The Lord of the Rings, and while I agreed that Tolkien was, to a degree, a misogynist, I disagree with the claim that orcs are an attempt to villify dark-skinned people. I don't recall if Tolkien described orcs as being dark-skinned in the books. I've seen lots of visual representations of orcs, and they're not at all consistently dark-skinned. Lots of them are green! There are certainly tons of pale-skinned orcs in the LOTR movies and in the online game. The author who originally made this claim said something about orcs being created so that people could gleefully slaughter them. Slaughter them? Yes. But gleefully? Well, sometimes. But that's what's great about fantasy. Until the real world, in a fantasy world, the line between good and evil is much clearer. So yes, the orcs were created to be slaughtered because they're evil incarnate. They're like demons or zombies - unnatural, unkind, having none of the emotional complexity of humans. I'm not completely rejecting the idea that orcs are a manifestation of racism, but I'm struggling to see clarity in the argument.

The biggest thing I learned from the workshop was that I already know a lot about world-building just from my own experience. More than that, I already did everything Malinda Lo suggested when I wrote the first half of my current manuscript. This fact didn't make the workshop feel like a waste of time or money. It was good for me to go and socialize with other writers, and it was a good confidence boost. I felt like an intermediate aspiring author instead of a beginner.

I'll leave you with some fun pictures. Last Friday we had a bunch of friends over for a housewarming party. We needed art for a big empty wall in our dining room, so we decided to do DIY Jackson Pollocks. I bought and base-painted some canvasses and picked up a dozen 8-oz. paint samples from Home Depot. Using popsicle sticks and painter's suits (to protect our clothes) we had our friends throw paint at the canvasses. It was SO much fun and although we plan to do another round of painting to round out the colors, etc., the canvasses turned out far better than I expected.

Clockwise from top left: pic from our moving announcements, ice cream cone cupcakes, me painting, party favors, finished paintings, party decorations