Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Formalism, Diversity, and Lion Pride

I have a confession to make.

I never intentionally sought out diversity in my publishing house. Not in the authors, anyway. I certainly looked for diverse stories, for unique characters and different spins on old ideas. But as far as the faces behind the stories go, I didn’t go to any great lengths to ensure that our publishing house represented various races, cultures, religions, or sexual orientations. I never once put out a call for stories from or for a specific group of people. I have never signed, or rejected, an author based on the color of their skin or what they believe. It wasn’t that diversity wasn’t, or isn’t, important to me, because it is. Understanding, respecting, and allowing yourself to be influenced by those whose experience is not the same as yours is necessary,  not only to be a viable part of an industry known for pushing boundaries and challenging conventional thought, but even more importantly, to be a compassionate, intelligent, and all around decent human being. However, I believed, perhaps idealistically, that if I were open to whatever may lie out there, conducted my business in a forward-thinking and honest manner, and accepted the good stories that came my way, diversity would happen on its own. I’m not saying that this happens in every situation. I am ecstatic that, in this case, that is exactly what happened.

We now represent authors from six different countries. Six! Our authors are African-American, Asian-American, Caucasian, Indian, Italian, and Hungarian, among others. We work with authors who are Wiccan, Christian, Atheistic, Hindu, Agnostic, and Muslim. This, to me, is incredible on so many levels. We are a small press. We don’t represent a gigantic number of authors, so while I understand that we still have a long way to go, I am proud of what we have done. While I struggle with technology, and mourn the fact that so many people use the instant, worldwide access that we have to bully and harangue others, I have to admit that living in a time in which I can communicate in real time with authors halfway around the world, who I would have never had a chance to meet otherwise, is amazing. More than that, so much more, is the fact that we are able to not only reach out to a larger number of people, but to show them the world in a way that they may not have seen before. Because we meet everyone, often quite literally, where they stand, we are able to give people the chance to achieve their dreams, who may not have had such. I am so proud that this is what we Lions stand for.

But, this saddens me as well. This saddens me because this dynamic seems fairly rare in the world as a whole. The recent #oscarssowhite controversy, as well as all of the rhetoric and platforms being spewed by various parties in this election cycle shows me that we have so, so much farther to go as a people. I was curious, and decided to do some research to figure out what the variable was in this situation.

My first thought was that perhaps it was the genres we favor. While we are purveyors of outsider fiction, fiction that doesn’t fit nicely into any one genre, we tend towards speculative fiction. I know firsthand that, infighting and squabbling aside, geeks do tend to be a rather inclusive group. So, I thought perhaps that was how we’d encountered this phenomenon. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case. In a blog post written in 2014, Jason T Low reviewed the top 100 grossing science fiction movies to discover ridiculous amounts of underrepresentation regarding gender, sexual orientation, race, and physical differences. Layne Haymont of FantasyBook Review discussed a similar trend in Fantasy books. So, it appeared that my first hypothesis was incorrect.

My second thought was that it is possible that the world, suffering as we do from “Not in My Backyard” Syndrome, allows for minorities to have voices, but perhaps not faces. In other words, perhaps the masses are more comfortable in those not in the majority are heard but not seen. Understand, please, that I am condemning, not condoning this mindset, I have known the race, culture, and religion of most authors before I signed them and was encouraged and excited to add new voices to the group, but I understand that, as incredulous as I am at this concept, this is not an approach universally held. However, a brief look at The Hollywood Writers Report and The HollywoodDiversity Report show that while small gains in both pay and representation have been made in some areas, ground has been lost in others. So, it appears that wasn’t the case, either.

I finally gained a little bit of insight in this article originally published in “The Guardian.’ In it the author, Kavita Das, speaks of “formalism.” Formalism is the process in which authors, particularly minority authors, are expected to follow a particular formula in their writing, and to avoid themes or styles that are specific to their identity, experience, or situation. This can be problematic, as many publishers will either not be able to understand or identify with the story being told, or will feel that the work will not appeal to a large enough audience.

And that’s damned shame. It was one of the most poignant examples of majority privilege that I’ve seen. I’m not sure how people can accept worlds of elves and orcs and robots but not black elves and orcs and robots. And while Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, and most recently the screen adaptation of the Gunslinger have gone a ways to introduce characters of various races and sexual orientations , even then the authors were Caucasian and so the story has the majority perspective built in. What is literature for if not to expose us to ideas and situations that we have never experienced?

I understand that we have a long way to go. Not just we as a house, but we as a society. In this moment, though, I’m  proud to be a Lion.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Thanks for Being my "We"

I realized last night that I've done a disservice to the people who care about me. I'm a little whiny, lately. And grieving. And adjusting to something that I never thought would happen. I'm adjusting to the loss of one person, and all of the fallout that comes with it. But, let me assure you, I am not alone.  I haven't been alone since the moment that I swallowed my pride enough to let people know I was hurting, and I'm so grateful.

I have lots and lots of very good people who have stood steadfastly and gone above and beyond in every step of this process. From going out of their way to give me company and safe places to escape, to opening their homes, to giving me a financial boost so that I could get on my feet, people have been there. Praying for me, sending me messages every day, building me up, mediating the custody discussions, people have been there. I may be lonely at times. I may miss that one person dreadfully, but I am absolutely not alone. And guys, I'm so, so, thankful and humbled and in a way this feels incredible because for a long time, I was alone. I was isolated. I felt like my value to others came from my then-husband and my kids. I'd pulled away spiritually, because I felt unworthy. But not anymore. I'm, in many ways, feeling more loved and more whole than I've felt in a very long time.

I could give a story for each person, and perhaps I should. Today, though, I want to just focus on one. This happened this week, and it woke  me up in about one hundred different ways. My oldest son is on the autism spectrum and he is struggling. He is regressing quite a lot in the face of all of this change; I am seeing behaviors that I haven't seen in years. In the past, when he got lost inside his own head, I could always go in after him. That's how I viewed it. I would walk into the woods where he'd gotten lost, and would find him, and together we would find our way out.  Sometimes it took longer than others, but I could always find him and, hand in hand, we could always navigate to a path. Usually our own path, because that's just us, but a path nonetheless. This time, it can't be me. He's mad at me. He understands, on some level that I couldn't stop this, but he's still so very angry. So, it's me that a part of him is fleeing and while I am working to change that, actively pursuing him could just push him farther into the dark.

I explained this to one of my friends the other day, and he said five words. Five words that rocked me to my core. Five words that left me gaping like some strange, fuzzy-haired fish and later would leave my crying in gratitude.

"So, what do we do?"


What do WE do.

Do you see it? This didn't have to be his problem. Just like my firefighter training didn't have to be a group effort, or getting my house in shape didn't have to be a multi-person undertaking. My custody woes or financial concerns didn't have to affect anyone else. But people are reaching out and willingly taking some of my load. My load is lighter than it has been in years. Scary, and terrifying, but lighter because people are standing next to me and caring. And carrying.

Autism at it's best is overwhelming and exhausting. Even with the good things because moderation isn't really my 'lil dude's strong point. Autism at it's worst is frustrating and heartbreaking and scary. There is no reason this man should dive into the middle of it, and part of me wants to shield him from it. But he did it. He dove. He chose to go where I can't right now.

We. It's a pretty wonderful thing, y'all. Thanks for being my "we."

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Green Zone of Write-ability

I've never been one to believe in the need for inspiration in regards to the ability to create art. Perhaps it comes from my somewhat tempestous relationship with my muse, aptly named Cecelia. Perhaps it comes from my father, fiercely and proudly and wonderfully blue-collar, who taught me that you work whether or not you feel like it, and whether or not you enjoy it. Perhaps it is the fact writing, for me, is neither a hobby nor a part-time gig, but one of the very real ways that I feed my children. Or perhaps it is some combination of the three.

So, I write. I write whether or not I feel inspired, and whether or not I still like the story. I write what I will enjoy and what I think will sell. I write when the seed has just sprung and all is shiny and new and I write when the bloom is well off of the rose and it feels less like art and more like work.
Except. .. lately I can't. It's not for lack of trying. It's not for a lack of stories in my queue waiting to be told. It isn't even, really for lack of time. I just sit with my notebook or my Alphasmart or my computer and I say I'm going to write and I get my hands in the right position and nothing happens. Nothing. At. All. Ernest Hemingway said once that writing wasn't hard, you just sat at your typewriter and bled. Maybe that's the problem. Maybe I've been bleeding out in too many other places. But the nothing has gotten frustrating in the extreme. In examining it, and talking to others, I've come to believe in the "green zone of write-ability."

In my mind, it's like an gauge on a control panel. To one side, in the red zone, is not enough stimulation. Not enough "anguish," let's say. "Oh piffle," you respond, "that trope about poets needing pain has been done to death." Maybe it has, but the very real link between artists and slightly less-than optimal mental health has been shown again and again. To read more, look here and here. Also, and if any of the people I'm lucky enough to work with read this, please hear what I mean and not what I say, I've known enough artists and authors to say that, empirically, I've found this to be true. Creativity, artistry, requires a bit of instability to create a fertile field in which it can grow. It feeds us, somehow, allows us to see more and feel more and then use our talent to show it all to the world. Like Aladdin's carpet, if carpet occasionally crashed and burned leaving Aladdin and his lady-love all broken and burned on the ground.

On the other side of the green zone is "too much anguish." When our demons become external instead of internal, we go into full survival mode. Real-world problems rarely make good stories, not as raw and simultaneously mundane as they are. I've been pondering the thought that real-world romance doesn't either, but that's a post for another day. I can talk about how, when Charlotte's brain was glitching, she shoved Aidian away and the pain they both felt. That's big enough. Epic enough. It doesn't make a good story to talk about how my ex-husband is everywhere. His belongings mixed in with mine, his phrases coming out of my mouth, memories of him in nearly every city, his facial expressions on my son's face. He is everywhere and while sometimes I'm pragmatic enough and able to compartmentalize enough to take the good and leave the bad, other times I think I'm going to go insane. I don't know how to live in a world that he isn't in, when he is literally everywhere. That doesn't make a good story or, if it does, I'm not detached enough right now to figure out how. Maybe someday. The fact that I'm afraid that my income won't match my needs and that any job I can get (because I forgo continuing education and an out-of-the-home job because that was our agreement and I didn't ever expect to find myself here and. .. and. . but I digress) would barely cover childcare doesn't make a good story. But these are the things taking over my mind right now.

I'm hoping that soon I make my way back into the green zone. Because I need to write. For practical reasons, and because, as a writer, it's more than what I do. It's part of who I am.

*Photo credits to Disney and Gary Larsen

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Just Five Minutes

I'm writing you this from the spare room, where I am hiding. You know the spare room? The one filled with all of my convention stuff and not a few boxes that I have yet to unpack? That one. I'm hiding here, because they won't think to look for me in here of all places. I am typing amid the corsets and the PVC pipe and the books and who knows what is in that bag and why I felt I had to keep it, because of them.

I hesitate to write about them. As soon as I even begin to think what I'm about to write, let alone say or type it, the guilt starts. "Didn't you WANT primary custody?" "Aren't you GRATEFUL to have this time with them?" Yes. I did. I do. I am. So grateful. These kids are my absolute heart. I love hanging out with them. But sometimes, you just need five  minutes.

"Are you saying you don't enjoy your children?"

Let me tell you about my day. It began with a trip to the Harry Potty. You know, the toilet under the stairs. I would like to point out that my children were all asleep when I got up to go there. And yet, somehow, the sound of me settling onto the seat of the Sorcerer's Throne was enough to roust them to wakefulness. And immediate need. They came in turn, opening the door and wanting something that I could literally do nothing about at that moment, being indisposed as I was. I pointed this out to them and they responded with the idea that they'd each only bothered me once. Which is true, but one times four subtracted from the time of one urination and, well, you do the math.

Mistress must not go to Harry Potty.

Then, the day really got going. You see, my oldest son wanted me to draw Yokai characters for him, and I was so happy to do so. He decided to keep me company in my task by singing the theme song for every Yokai for me while I did so. Every. Freaking. One.

Then there's my darling six year old. He knows I like "weird" drinks. And I do. Orange Dr. Pepper? One of my favorites. Chocolate milk and root beer? Hey, don't knock it until you've tried it. Apple and orange juice mixed? I'll take two. So, he lovingly mixed me up a weird drink. He brought it to me, beaming with pride. It looked. .. chunky. You see, he'd seen on a cooking show that we'd watched together that people like savory and sweet together, so he'd enhanced a glass of Kool-Aid. .. with parmesan. Then he sat there watching while I drank. Every. Drop.

Going down the line, there's my four year old. Darling little Fabio. Fabio did not want macaroni and cheese for lunch. He wanted cereal. Not just any cereal. A very specific kind. With a very specific milk level. After nagging me for a solid 20 minutes, he was staving, didn't I know, I poured him his cereal. An hour later, I found this.

He'd eaten three bites. Max. 

We cannot forget the girl child in all of this. While generally the best-behaved out of the bunch, it was she that ultimately led me into hiding. You see, she doesn't believe that she is a child. When I send the other children out of the room for grown up talk, she will help me usher them out and then stay. Hovering. Then pouts when I send her out, too. When I say that something is for grown ups, she will nod sagely, then expect to participate. So, it only makes sense that when I call all of the kids together and tell them that I intend to go an entire day without a child nagging me about tech, and that I needed just a couple minutes without a child asking me for something, she hugged me, patted my shoulder, then proceeded to pepper me with requests every 30 seconds for a solid ten  minutes. Because, don't I know, she's not a kid. 

"Those pesky kids, always nagging you about tech."

I love them. I love my time with them. I understand they are feeling a little anxious about life right now, and I want to be the one to assuage their fears. When the time comes to begin sharing, it will be a dagger to my heart, but sometimes, you just need to hide for a couple of  minutes. For sanity's sake. Would anyone be willing to smuggle me some chocolate?