Friday, November 15, 2013

Disney's Beauty and the Beast

After an excruciating two weeks when Willie went to live with my parents on vet orders of hoping to break her of thinking of me as a mate, she is home, and growing feathers. She is dealing better with the no petting than I had hoped, but she likes the tricks she makes up the best. I have been watching Disney's Beauty and the Beast several times a day as it is currently Willie's favorite, so of course it's ingeniousness and genre benders have been on my mind.

So first off: Am I obsessed with the story of "Beauty and the Beast"? Once more, a resounding yes. The story turns on love and understanding. But best of all, it turns on the decision of the girl. The Beast may ask her to marry him, or act his best, but in the end it is Beauty who is the active agent in this story.

In fact, I have my own novelization of "Beauty and the Beast" waiting in the wings. Ah--you see in my bio that I said I had five fantasy books written, and I now have five fantasy books published. So am I twiddling my thumbs? No. I have the next two books in the Weaver Series written and passed through on editing a few times. All right, that's in part because I am new to writing series and originally thought Will-o-the-Wisps Warp and Wooden Weft were the same book. I still have two more books to go (I tell you, I am already beginning to feel these character's are trapped in No Exit in my skull. I also have another "Tam Lin" adaptation and an urban "Red Riding Hood"

Back to Beauty and the Beast. Where to start? The Little Mermaid marked the return to Disney's traditional animation beauty after going cheap for a while in the sixties and seventies. Lush overlaid cels created a three D universe while the use of many small movement drawings create lush life. Who do I even begin to credit? Directors, animators, those who worked on the story? I'm going with Howard Ashman, executive producer and song writer along with Alan Menken on the lyrics and music.

This was Howard Ashman's child. The movie is dedicated to him having created the character's souls. It is dedicated to him because he died of AIDS before the film was finished.

For now, I will leave that and talk about what made this an exceptional adaptation. The characters, of course.

Belle--Beauty--(, voice)is a Disney character like no other. She comes across as older than most, perhaps twenty. Instead of being a well loved princess she is considered artistic and odd in her provincial town. Reading and helping out her father on his inventions, she doesn't feel as if she fits in, and she wants more out of life. Her expressions are wry. She has the Disney aberration of a main female character in that she is sarcastic. Rather than innocent, she comes across as driven by her own decisions. She makes the decision to trade her father being a prisoner of the Beast for herself. Her father and the Beast do not ask it of her.

She has to be the single interpretation of "Beauty and the Beast" I have seen (and as we have discussed I have seen and read a lot) where Beauty runs away. Faced with a frightening and monstrous Beast, she attempts to run away home, screwing her promise. When she is caught in the woods by wolves, she whacks one upside the head with a branch before becoming overwhelmed. As she makes the decision to run, she also makes the decision to go back to take care of the torn up Beast who saved her. She and the Beast begin to come to terms with each other when she stands up to him.

The Beast (Robby Benson, voice)takes on his own character arc rather than a passive figure that Beauty must come to terms with. He may be handsome for a beast--but that is what he is, not a monster. Through the beginning of the movie, he is often seen as walking on all fours. What makes the Beast ugly is his personality, not face. Having despaired of ever being anything but a monster, he has fallen deep into depression that manifests as sudden lashes of anger and misplaced pride. When Beauty stands up to him, yet is kind and funny with him despite his appearance that he can't get over, he learns to be a good person. That is what changes him from being a Beast.

As much as any character in this film, Ashman brings life to Gaston (Richard White)as much as anything else in this film. At the beginning of the movie, Gaston is almost a figure of fun. He is a handsome but boorish, vain, strutting idiot who only highlights what Belle does not want of life. As the movie progresses, however, Gaston becomes a more and more nefarious character in his attempts to control Belle. He is mirrored against the Beast as the Beast becomes more and more human and Gaston becomes a beast.

In the culmination of the movie, Gaston finds out about the Beast, and is jealous of Belle's attachment to him. Gaston creates a scare in the village, convincing them the Beast is dangerous and must be killed. He whips up a fury of mob fear and violence that has nothing to do with the Beast or even Gaston's true ideas about the Beast.

Aptly called "The Mob Song", (Howard Ashman, Alan Menken) one cannot help but feel Ashman knew something about blind persecution as a gay man living with AIDS in 1991 when he created a song far beyond the scope of a children's movie:

"Praise the Lord and here we go!
We don't like
What we don't understand
In fact it scares us
And this monster is mysterious at least
Bring your guns!
Bring your knives!
Save your children and your wives
We'll save our village and our lives
We'll kill the Beast!"

The lesson is that we want to destroy what we do not understand, and that is wrong. The fact that Ashman and Menken have the mob invoke God, misguidedly believing that He is on their side, provides an eerie echo of many real life occurrences. In this movie the Beast may be a big, furry monster, but the lesson this song teaches us isn't just for children, and yet so many of us never learn it. The strident mob mentality lyrics strip bare fear that turns to hate, and the beliefs that we can justify protecting our own when they were never in danger in the first place. The song fits seamlessly into the the character arcs and overall theme of the movie, and instead of standing out as soap boxing, Gaston's mob stands out as perhaps the most frightening villain Disney has ever created.

Like the song, the movie, like all good children's art, is meant for adults as much as children. When Disney set out to make Snow White, the first feature length animated movie, it was not touted as a children's movie, but a work of art. In Beauty and the Beast Disney rises again to this true glory.

The only things that I find annoying in this twice Oscar winning movie are meant for kids, and kids probably like them. Jerry Orbach and Angela Lansbury are among the celebrity voices that round out the supporting cast without intrusively pushing to center stage. From the beautifully handled reprises to the send up to classic Hollywood musicals in "Be Our Guest", the movie shines.

As much as Beauty and the Beast brings us one of the most complex, well animated films Disney has ever made, it also marks a death knell. Beauty and the Beast is the first Disney feature that resorted to computer animation in the title song when Beauty and the Beast dance in an elaborate ballroom.

At the time it was hailed as a great success, and a sequence Disney never could have performed without computer animation. In stark contrast to Belle and Beast's fluid dance, the overly shiny and stiff ballroom offers soaring views of the event, but not much else. Maybe they couldn't have gotten the angles they did with normal animation, but then again, maybe they shouldn't have.

To me, the computer animation is clunky and out of place compared to the grace of drawn animation. Here, it is only a mar in what should be a beautiful and tender sequence. By Aladdin, computer animation was relied on for all the major, epic moments that would have been more amazing and not dysjunct against the characters if they had been done by hand.

I know I said I wouldn't pick, but this isn't a pick. This is a punch to the heart for me. What can I say? I am old school. Computer animation has yet to beat out drawn or claymation for me.

This one jarring moment cannot beat out what is a tenderly rendered movie, and one that I am glad is Willie's favorite.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Incarnate is out! A study in anthropology

Incarnate is out! Incarnate is out!

Okay, first. I know it Monday was three days ago after a week of absence, but the build up of thunderstorms and major stress over having to change my cuddly relationship with Willie due to her new parrot maturity created a bitch of a neck ache. Willie has decided instead of her mommy I am now her mate. She is feather plucking in preparation for her nest. She's yanked a few feathers that still had blood in them and had it fountain down her chest. She got a bird birth control shot but in addition the vet tells me I have to stop petting her. Every time I see her I want to pick her up and comfort her. Instead I have to stimulate her intellectually through stupid pet tricks. I hate stupid pet tricks. I get pets to pet and let flower to their own individuality. But this kills me.

My latest novel, Incarnate, is out. Note at the side you may buy it in kindle or trade paperback. So here's to the anthropologists! I've dedicated the book to all the ones I know and love. They study human culture. We make human culture up. My friends helped me study my created culture in this book.

Incarnate began as a dream, wildly different than it ended up. After development that got it farther and farther from the original dream, I came up with essentially the plot and many of the characters I am using today. I was a sophomore in college. A third of the way through the book, I put it it away. I had at least enough maturity to realize I was in no way mature enough to write this book.

Okay. So let's look at the notable details. It isn't urban. I have to call it fusion rather than high. Nobody is noble in this. In fact, once I am past slavery, my urban back tang sneaks in. The world is serious, yes. But that doesn't stop the characters from being funny, sarcastic, and at times petty. It is a more traditional fantasy novel in that an organized attempt to fight back occurs. My friend and old writing partner RoseAnna describes at least three of my novels under the plot of, "Run away!" Eventually, things usually become more complicated for the characters, but, hell. That's what I'd do.

I have fifty pages of dropping Meryt--my main character--into the vile, violent slavery that pervades the island but that she has largely been spared before. I pull from horror with slavery based on the earlier Carribean, which I actually softened for the book. At the same time my memoir taught me that what doesn't let a reader slid over your reading is an attention to the small details--incongruous, they are the ones that will haunt you.

Rape is a method of emotionally and physically denying men and women humanity. An account of slavery without it flinches. I was thirteen the first time a friend told me about getting raped. Do men have to go through this rites of passage conversation that echoes again and again as you get older? The guys who told me had only told me. Then my info turned first hand. In the book, I let Meryt listen to her friend in that conversation. So, yeah. I used memoir.

Having had fits about Willie and dissected the fusion, I'll get to the main point. Believe it or not this is my third or fourth try writing this blog when I realized how easy it was to sum up my experience here: Anthropology.

So in this book everyone struggles towards or against deities walking the earth again. Already, a small rebel village deep in the jungle brings back the old ways of the native peoples of the enslaved island. I wanted this culture to be believable, but only it's own. No matter what I studied in preparation, I wanted something original.

In a situation like this one, when the creation of this village, this surge of freedom and life and spirituality sparked by snake bit journeys with a god, when the people hold their breath on the eve of their goddess's return, it is way too easy to cop out. What is a cardinal rule of fantasy? Whatever the fantastic in the book is, it can be anything as long as it maintains internal logic. As long as you don't break your own rules, you are cool.

Okay, so, what if the magic is a religion that's real? I could create mangled chaos and I wouldn't break a rule as long as I kept saying, "Well, She said so."

That sucks. I always put world building second to character, and if I take it all the way back to the dream, I maintained the essence of the character while building an entirely different context. I didn't want my world building to eat my characters, but I wanted a real and quite foreign world for them. Since their main deity is a Goddess I wanted to make the culture matriarchal, and do some fun things with gender.

Fantasy readers put up with a lot of bullshit as long as the magic system used is internally logically and consistent. But we will turn on an author in a second if they break their own rules.

I believe that as much as the magic system, and albeit in some fantasy novels they are pretty much the same, that the culture rules should be internally consistent and viable. A culture should be able to exist and function within the author's world, and that culture should not be broken due to convenience for the writer. In other words, authors and readers are in some ways amateur anthropologists.

When creating a culture, anthropology is my best friend. Anthropology is the study of human culture. Yeah. The umbrella is wide as hell. But when psychology and sociology racked up more and more statistics to hide behind this concept of objectivity, anthropology said, bullshit! Objectivity is bullshit! There is absolutely no way that you can take your own world experiences out of a study. So anthropologists ran around the world, joining various cultures and chilling inside them and making their experiences part of the study.

This makes anthropologists kick ass. What it has to do with fantasy is that we are all amateur anthropologists. Every time we build a world, we essentially find an in to a foreign culture and make it make sense to people outside those experiences. In doing so, the author as well as their characters start becoming part of the world. I always find it an embarrassing author moment when I try to play a scrabble word that I made up for a book.

In the end, an anthropologist takes a culture apart, and an author puts one together. What anthropologists look at as the study of culture, we look at as world building And, hey, I'm mainly an urban girl, so I could use a little help from my friends.

I came to Incarnate by way of using a lot of awesome anthropologists. I took an Intro to Anthro class way back at University of Michigan, which is when I was writing the first draft, and it served.

What served more, however, was sucking in info from my big bro, ">Steve, as he got his anthro degree.
(Steve with Evette Rios, his wife) He was all anthro and creative writing. I was about the psych and creative writing. Studies that serve creative writing well when you want to get into someone's head. Steve made me fall in love with mythology, more correctly called tales in anthropology, since mythology contains the concept that what you are talking about as false, and anthropologists do not like to write as one culture's conceptions of the world as more true than others.

Steve got me into the old school myths that hadn't been made English digestible by their original transcribers. In this sense, they were written as they had been created, with an oral story telling basis. He also taught me how to see that as wild as it seems, each set of tales that a culture created their world by was internally consistent. I tried to create an oral story telling sound for some of Incarnate

My endlessly mentioned friend RoseAnna bulldozes her way through a doctoral dissertation in applied anthropology as we speak, and so I've had her to lean on since we started college together.
(RoseAnna on a writing retreat in the Porcupine Mountains) She uses her own world and character building skills in a current trickle of her free time in the Society for Creative Anachronisms (SCA) She was in on the ground floor of coming up with the basics of my new world and telling me whether or not I was working on something that could be. Of course, many things changed along the way from the point I set the book down and picked it back up again.

As I toiled away in Oakland, CA, years later, I refined and changed many aspects of the culture and I bugged my friend Lauren, who was in Pittsburgh.
(Lauren and children in Mexico while she is working her site) Hey, I was talking to her every night anyway. She's in the archeology. To get it right, archeology is part of anthropology. So archeology has to be anthropology but anthropology doesn't have to be archeology. Archeology, to be correct, is the study of a culture through their stuff. So while Lauren is writing her dissertation about the common ancient Mayan people in Palanque--not the ones who got to hang in all step pyramids and temples we see pictures of, she could be writing a dissertation about the contents of a Walmart or of your bathroom and it would still be archeology. Dinosaurs are all about paleontology, which is not related to archeology. Common mistake. And if I didn't get all of that right, Lauren is so going to kick my ass.

She gave me a thumbs up on having created a final project that could have evolved and functioned the way I wanted it to. Few times in my life have I felt that cool.

When I say I dedicate the book to the anthropologists in my life, these are the solid crew I am talking about, though of course growing up in my parents' relativistic view of the world played a part in where both my brother and I went.

Having done a hurrah for anthropology's part in fantasy, and for my friends, I'll let you be on your way if you wish, but below is a more intellectual discussion on how to view a book as an anthropologist through how I created Incarnate.

For the first twenty years of her life, my main gal Meryt took care of her first owner, an elderly, infirm, and increasingly out of it an old woman. This gave her a relatively benign experience of slavery with a love/hate relationship to her owner. That way I would have fresh eyes for the big, ugly slavery. I needed my intense fifty pages of the book, as little time as it takes up, to fuel, Meryt's arc for the rest of the book
While I obviously have to deal with all of my subjects with my due dillegenc3 of seriousness, I manage to make my characters realistically involved, but not drown or broken. I've spoken before about the fact that I like to use the really awful things in life sparingly, but realistically.

While fighting runs throughout the book, I distilled the slavery into the first fifty pages. I also use what I learned in memoir: There is beauty, humor, and redemption in moments of the every day.

What I wanted to concentrate on, however, was Meryt's introduction to the village in the jungle--where the classic culture of the mer has been attempted to be recovered. My research I did created a society that was not derivitive of real life or a frankenstein. For this, I leaned heavily on my resources in anthropology.

The ailif world is fairly vague and generically European conquerors. I know more about them, but they aren't the point. They never conquered the interior of the island. There, a group of escaped slaves forged a village, based on visions of the real mer world--before conquering--by their leader. This is where K'tral is kept in the Temple created during the golden age of the mer, now reborn. The village, the culture, the features--I wanted to create the mer as a people derrivitive of no one, not a Frankenstein, but a culture that could work, evolve and at least at one point have existed in reality. That the tales functioned to reinforce and be born of the culture. I didn't want to use the fact that in a slip of reality more than mortal, how the world came to be, who the Goddess and Her Children are, and how They are, did create the mer.

The culture is governed by religion. In theory, the incarnate Meren, Goddess over all with the help of Cer, Her Child, Innocent, Consort, Death-Bringer, Hunter, Champion, and Man'e--a form of entertainer in the culture. Meren has many more names than that but let's just say whem She wants, She can pretty much do it all.

When the book begins, there has not been an incarnate of Meren since a long time before the ailifs came. For the first time in centuries, Cer has incarnate in the human body of K'tral. The culture is ruled by a priestess whose visions given by Cer have made this village possible. However, the message was filtered by her human experience, and colored by it. In short, I did not want a perfect culture designed by a perfect God hoping His perfect Goddess will come back.

The priestesses, and all priestess and a smaller number of priests after are chosen by the bite of the holy koro snake, whose venom sends them on a dream journey from which they awake a priestess in training. That's magic.

What isn't so much is that the church holds power and prestige over the village. The council sets, interprets, and carries out law. They have some holy powers, but the villagers must cough up a tribute of a size depending on the magnitude of the ritual, the power of the person performing the ceremony, the ceremony in question, and the resources of the citizen. The order also collects a tithe of all crops and needed crafts.

Priestesses have duites in the Temple as well (there are no servants) but have meals, sleeping and common quarters, the luxuries provided by the revived Temple of the mer classic period, including hot running water, and credit--the only form of money in the village--to be used as they see fit. They have a lot of freedom. This is typic of a religious ruling class throughout time.

The villagers are not hurting, but live in mud, clay and tree frond compounds in the valley below. They use a barter system except for the credit the order give them, which is later redeemable for services from the church.

Now here's the rub. With Meren as the Creator and Goddess over All, I wanted a matriarchal culture. There either have or have not been true matriarchal societies throughout known history. Classically, it has been said no. The ruling class was defined by who held the governmental positions. Who ran domestic affairs, had their own councils defining their spheres of life, the ones with the right to divorce, matrilineal and matrifocal societies were not taken into account. Now some scholars waver on whether or not their measures hold, but for some strange reason the view that the world has always been patriarchal everywhere holds.

Shining in Darkness also featured a religion run world. It's hard to avoid when your Goddesses and Gods are a certainty that interfere in your world. However, the culture was, compared to the new mer society, advanced and egalitarian.

But I didn't want a matriarchal society just because MEREN SAID SO. I wanted a working model of a society that would be matriarchal because it made sense.

So. Women farm in plots outside the village. The villagers live on what is farmed and gathered from the jungle. Meat is hunted, not domesticated, and while a prestigious home has it, it is not necessary. Men, especially young men, hunt and raid. A raider helps slaves to escape the palace, the only remotely nearby ailif civilization. They also fight the ailif soldiers who enter the forest, ostensibly searching for witches, but in fact trying to kill off the free mer and find the village. Both are dangerous jobs. The priestesses can do much in the way of healing, but a kill shot is a kill shot.

Women outnumber men, especially since as culture perpetuates itself, the more "valuable" slave women are usually those targeted for escapes. The women are also dependably in the village to manage the households and the affairs of the village that do not warrant priestess intervention. Even if the head priestess dreams, and her own hatred of the extremely male oriented society she was a slave of, had not decreed it, it makes sense for women to wield the clout.

Not because I love talking about it, but because many anthropologists and other members of the social sciences and historians love talking about it, we turn to sex, or rather the control of it. A prominent theory for the place of men and women in the world has to do with who fathered what. Some authorities posit that there might have been matriarchal societies way back before men caught on that sex meant children--their children. The system being inheritance and often reverence of ancestors, men wanted to make sure the boy they had was in fact their child.

To this day, cultures around the world are obsessed with controlling female sexuality in order to assure paternity. A woman must be a virgin at marriage, must be kept close to home so that other men don't get a chance at them, sometimes must live and die either in their childhood home or their husband's home and that is it all because of this sex thing. Eventually women become revered as delicate and above the soil of every day life. How little your wife does becomes a mark of your success.

Madonna and whore complexes appear when women and men are raised that women are above enjoying the act of sex, or knowing about it before it is necessary, since if they aren't getting anything out of it but the eventual joy of a child, they have less chance to stray.

In some cultures, to enforce this physically, young girls have their clit and everything else hanging out removed, often in as subpar health conditions as an old woman scraping it all out with a sharp stick or piece of glass and then sewing the vagina together except for a small hole, which scars into place. This hole functions for peeing, periods, and sex, making all of them painful. It also becomes neccessary to cut the woman open for child birth and sew her up afterwards. A good, respectable woman goes through all this. To have an uncut, unsewed vagina is to be a dirty slut who is unsuitable for marriage since she will stray. Note that an old woman that performs this. Despite the fact little girls die having female genital mutilation performed, it is often the mothers who are the most insistent it be done. Women persecute women as they are desperate have their little girl become a woman worth a good marriage, genital mutilation ensuring a good life.

Huh. And I had to reverse all that.

If you are wondering, my mother minored in women studies for her MFA in the eighties. I learned gender studies young.

More to the point, I wanted to reverse all that. I didn't want to create the perfect, nonviolent society because everyone really knows if women ruled the earth it would be perfect. I wanted to highlight sexism in our world by reversing it in the mer society.

So I have been accused this is my cause book. I feel justified in it, however, because it isn't me on the soap box. I wanted my main crew of characters to aspire to a changing, improved world other than by violence. My heroine ends up at the top of the power structure. I wanted her to use her place to help people because she respects their humanity and hates all kinds of persecution--even that which gives her more privilege. Okay--so that may be soap boxing too. But I couldn't love a sexist heroine any more than I could love a sexist hero.

Plus, I am not sure why THIS is my cause book. My view as a writer, as would an anthropologist, colors everything I write. My characters, what they believe in, and what they face, almost never lines up with mass culture enough so that someone couldn't point at me for having a cause somewhere. Just the fact positive sex, feminism, and positive and negative images of homosexuality, highlighting our culture's current struggle with the concept of a positive image of same sex relationships--I have causes. Ergo, my characters and my books do.

Back to the mer. I settled the economic and political issues. How the hell do I fight my way through the ugly side of sex? First of all, a woman's baby had to be a woman's baby. If a child is counted as a legitimate member of the woman's family whether she sleeps exclusively with the husband or with the whole town, we don't have to worry about sequestering her.

In this society, men are still allowed out to hunt and raid, to go to festivals and market, but how can I create the Cult of Manhood? Limit their semen. A boy is seen to be born with too much soul--represented by white and associated with many concepts. Because he has "too much soul" he is frivolous, and has no head for the brass tacks. When he has sex, he loses part of this "soul" each time. A boy who wastes his "soul" eventually becomes useless to create well balanced children. He doesn't hunt, raid, or keep house and take care of children as well. He is a shame on his family.

Extended families of a woman and her daughters must guard their young men from randy young women. If they want him to go to a good household of wives (a woman and her daughters), and get a good husband price for him, they must be able to hold up their heads when they guarantee him ready to father many children.

At this rate, I hope you can feel the gist of the different ways anthropology functions in world building and whether or not a reader believes the world building to have been successful. I could go on and on, but I think both of us would have a lot more fun reading the book.

Once again, love to my anthropologists.

Monday, September 30, 2013

A Child's Eyes

First thing I would like to say is that I am back and rolling. The neck problems continue to plague me, however I am making you a mitigated promise that a new blog should show up every week.

So what do I mean by a child's eyes? I have friends and relatives who are not fantasy readers, but love me and read my books anyway. At first when this started happening I was floored and discouraged to see that some of them had absolutely no idea what was happening in the book or what it was about. They drowned.

So I thought, maybe it is me. Am I really that unclear? Have my writing workshop buddies and other people I know been lying to me over whether or not I am coherent? So I continued conversations with the confused and discovered two things. The first, and I believe I've mentioned it before, is the importance of personae and glossaries, especially for those out of their element.

I take it for granted there are certain conventions we all know and love to create a world, and that if people find themselves lost in it, I have done something wrong. In fact, they are a handy guide for the fantasy literate, who either put down and pick up the book sporadically, or those who just love to have all the facts of the matter.

For those who don't read fantasy that much, it gives them a stable ground to walk on as they wade and then swim into unconventional waters. More importantly, however, is this: speculative readers still have a child's eyes.

My epiphany occurred over the course of hanging out with my friend Marci
and her extremely bright and creative kids. They were at my house, and despite the fact I do not have a video game to my name, having fun due to the fact I still play with toys and therefore have a collection in the house. Nothing high tech. Plastic figurines, plush animals, a mad collection of My Little Ponies (and I know you know why) and lots of grown up toys such as crystal balls I inherited from my great grandmother and Native American carvings, which I also let them play with.

Now of course one of the reasons for the visit is that Marci just moved closer to me, and we had a lot of catching up to do, and where she went, so went the kids. But I love kids. I find them fascinating, if at times vicious, creatures. In this case I watched them echo the kind of pretend games I played with my brother as a kid. The dragon kept all the My Little Ponies captive. And the children were separated and taught things like reading was bad so they wouldn't learn and rebel. Could they use the crystal ball that the ponies were hiding because the dragon would become that much more powerful if he ever found the crystal ball? I never did figure out how the plastic and furry insect puppet fit in, other than it was evil too.

Not only did these kids turn a mismatched collection of toys into something that sounded like a fantasy plot in the making, but they did it together. Of course the oldest had ultimate power, but they accepted everything the others said. If Milo grabbed the big insect and inserted it into the game, the girls altered their universe to make that insect
not only at home, but without question.

It reminded me of a developmental psychologyuiop study I read as an undergrad. Children were watched as they worked almost as if one unit. They made up words. Not only did the other children not object to or question these words, they appeared to automatically have a working knowledge of the meaning. The example was "stocks" A child in knee highs referred to her knee highs as "stocks".

If you asked, you learned that they were stocks because they were half way between socks and stockings. The adults had to ask. The children already knew and soon all used the word stocks when referring to knee highs. At some developmental marker, psychologists claimed that our brains became more left brain wired, and we lost this brain plasticity. But here's the thing. Speculative fiction readers and writers don't.

Sure, we get really pissed if someone breaks the rules they have set up for their world, but as long as they feed us information we need when we need it, not all at once and not obtrusively, we go with the flow. Unicorns have all but herded into the sea by a gigantic red bull. Okay, break it down, we've heard of unicorns before. But Peter S. Beagle makes up his own set of rules for how a unicorn acts, thinks, feels, and looks--very different from the hundreds of other fantasy novel's unicorns, and we roll with it. So there is this gigantic red bull. That's fine. We may expect some kind of explanation of the bull eventually, but right now this one unicorn is going to find other unicorns who have been chased down by a red bull. That's what we know and we're going with it. It is the "stocks" of the adult world.

People who don't, as a rule, read speculative fiction, get tripped up (okay, maybe not in my example. Everyone loves that book so much they steal it and put it in "literary fiction". Bastard thieves.) immediately. They flip back and forth looking for the explanations they don't have yet or may never know. What the hell is this red bull doing in here? Is it a mythological concept they missed while reading Joseph Campbell? They don't get why it is chasing unicorns. Did they miss that paragraph? Why didn't the unicorn know and why didn't the red bull get her too? Everything you set in front of them, they immediately question.

They need answers. They need a flow chart. They need a scholarly article about unicorns and all the implications of them in this book before they can start reading. But like I said, some fantasy books transcend and the grown ups are willing to play. Look at Harry Potter.

However, speculative fiction readers are always willing to play. We trust. We take what is given us, and we may question, but we know to read more and the author will spin us a new born world. A world where dragons guard My Little Ponies ans crystals can mean the power of life or death. If someone says the equivalent of "stocks", rather than questioning them, looking it up in the dictionary, or challenging the word's existence, speculative fiction readers simply incorporate "stocks" into their worlds. We know. We don't need proof.

Cars possessed by a dead girlfriend? Okay. After the atomic bombs go off the healers wander around with three snakes to heal people, but everyone must steer clear of the contaminated areas. Okay. Angels were constructs of people who wanted to hide that a space ship controlled their new technologically backwards world. Sure, and kudos for crossing spec. fiction lines. The farther an author can get away from the well established concepts, the more excited we get. Our brains still stretch like silly putty. In the words of Alice Walker, we "always try to keep faith with the child [we] have been."

Sunday, January 27, 2013

gender in fantasy

The next question. Why does fantasy and it's speculative cousin horror allow for nearly as much in the way of gender bending as the "gay lit" section, which it just annoys me that we still have to have separated? I've covered some of this before, but this time I'm asking the question, not giving the answer. I will give you slight answers. I'll give you my reason. Why the hell wouldn't I have gay people in my books? I haven't gone for transgender yet, because it hasn't come up in a character, but I grew up in a world of just about every sexual orientation and gender assignation. So not putting them in my books would be weird. But that's just me. I'm more curious about why Mercedes Lackey has made a career off messing with her characters sexual orientations? Why does Tanya Huff do it as habit? Horror I'm less familiar with, but has unapologetic gay relationships? These days it is easier for a writer to write about a gay relationship and have it be filed as lit. instead of gay lit., but fantasy has been doing it for years. Sheri S. Tepper is a famous founding mother of so much fantasy and so unapologetic about who her characters loved. Is it all right for us because we aren't real? Did we get to say it way back in the sixties and seventies because we said it was in a galaxy far far away? Part of the reason I ask, is that it gave us great power in earlier years. We tread where the treading was tough in most genres. We still do it without getting stuck in gay lit. If we have the power to be here, queer, and proud of it now, what other ways could we use our power of not being real?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Sex and Violence

So this time rather than having a stunning insight for you, I have a question. I covered this a bit with my bias early on in the blog, but the basic issue is, what's with sex versus violence in writing? We can show incredible acts of violence and torture, but people get up and arms about an honest sex scene. My philosophical quandary: Why can I show someone's head being blown up when I can't show someone giving head?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


So I realize as usual I've been off line for a while. My surgery has been delayed three weeks by a cold. If you have kept up with my face book page ("Bets Davies") you will note my current obsession with genres. Now I created fusion fantasy because I can't stay in one damn genre at a time. Larger publishing houses tended to send me back the info that they liked it, but they had no idea what it was, and would I please pick a sub genre of fantasy and stick to the rules. That's right. We don't just have genres. We have sub genres. Am I urban fantasy? Intrusion fantasy? Am I epic or high? Then please read the directions and follow the steps. I understand from my romance writing friends that everything is even more strictured. You have to hit certain points by certain chapters or word counts. If I sound a bit snarky, of course I am, being one of sour grapes who had trouble coloring inside of the lines her whole life (Yes. I knew trees were green and brown. The question was WHY couldn't color them blue and orange and stick a purple horse on top of the whole mess?) But I'm not here to bash genres for once. I'm here to question. Why do we have them? Since the greeks and probably earlier we've been separating things. Comedy. Tragedy. Shakespeare: Comedy, tragedy, history. Even then--we knew it was a comedy if everyone ended up married in the end. And they HAD to get married in the end. We knew it was a tragedy if everyone ended up dead in the end. And they had BETTER be dead. So what is it about the human psyche that we insist on doing it? It is easy to blame publishers from now until antiquity that you didn't get seen unless you played by the rule book and that was that. That's the easy answer. The thing is, you have to ask the next question: Why do publishers do it? What do they get out of it? They wouldn't do it if it didn't help sell books. So it isn't all the publisher. It is us. The reader. Maybe it is just that important to us to go into a genre novel knowing what we are going to get. I once compared the romantic vampire fantasy sub genre to a sonnet in poetry. Truth be told, I got that idea from the poet and professor Diane Wakoski. For all she is a supposed originality Nazi in her workshops, she was an obsessive reader of mystery novels. She explained them as if to a sonnet. We all know the rules. What makes them worthy--what rises them above the rest are the ever so slight ways they deviate from the norm. In Shakespeare's sonnet 130, rather than the norm of the day to compare the author's love interest to the most beautiful, lofty things, he begins his sonnet by announcing, "My mistress's eyes are nothing like the sun". Is he then, downing his girlfriend? No, he's simply rationally explaining she is a human, who he loves as that. This is a departure. This is why we all keep reading that sonnet. So is that why we make the rules? So that we watch for the small moments of clever breaking of the rules? Or is it because someone who likes reading epic fantasy likes reading epic fantasy, epic fantasy, and epic fantasy, and when they walk into a bookstore or peruse their kindle that all they need is to look for the word "epic"? Are we really such creatures of habit that a cozy mystery novel reader wants to make sure she is reading a cozy and not a procedural from the outset? True, these are flung so far and wide within the genre that a quick page flip or "Look Inside" should tell us all we need to know. Yet the divisions exist. I think we are that much creatures of habit. I stray out of reading my little niches occasionally, but a friend had better give me damn high praise or I'd better be reading for review before I look at something that smells of epic. I'm just not that epic. I like character's whose flawed, petty, humorous lives are celebrated. So while snarking about the petty nature of genres and sub genres out there, I actually sometimes make use of them. The tricky part is, alright, all of us tend to gravitate towards what we like because that's what we like. Fair. A little boring, but fair. But the publishers have kept track of these trends. They look at what sells. They find patterns. They KNOW the cozy market is glutted and they aren't buying anymore. The feel SURE of what makes an urban fantasy. By now they have all their little check points. So they don't want an urban fantasy that doesn't hit the points from A to Z. Writers aren't stupid. Sometimes we find the rules by doing a lot of reading. Sometimes we go to conventions. Sometimes we read a book an agent or a publisher wrote. By now we know that if we want to get pulished, especially that first book, we tow the line. Sure, once you are Stephen King you can write anything you damn well please and you will be published. But most authors aren't Stephen King or J.K. Rowlings. Most of us write and publish if we are lucky, and keep writing no matter what because we are addicts of our own stories. We don't read the story. We create it. But now's the problem. The publishers turn down people who don't play by the rules. This is in spite of the fact that the books that become run away successes and classics are the ones who break some rules. We--the reader, the writer, the publisher--we all made up the genre. Not inherently evil. Just remember. A lot of guys in the sixteen hundreds compared their ladies to a summer's day. We have no idea who they are. Shakespeare's the one who said his ladies' eyes were "nothing like the sun".