manifesta: (Dangerous)
manifesta ([personal profile] manifesta) wrote2009-10-27 03:51 pm

assortment of links

Nathan Bransford recently revisited one of his older posts on themes in queries.
"So you know how you spent four or more years in college learning about what books mean and how to analyze novels for hidden meaning, and where you learned that the best books are the ones with subtext upon which you can write a twenty page paper on the use of metaphor as an elucidation of the philosophical constructs of the protagonist's society?

Yeah. Forget all that."
I kept telling my English teachers in high school that Elie Wiesel's Night doesn't have as much symbology as they thought it did, but they never believed me. Here's my favorite part:
" don't tell me what your novel is about. Tell me what happens. And hopefully you've written a novel in which things actually do happen. Because I like novels where things happen. Happening is good."
In the past I have had pseudo-writer friends who think themselves quite literary and want to write stories about the struggles of humankind. And when I ask them about what happens in their book, they talk about the pain the MC endures, the major themes, and describes the plot in very, very vague terms. Which means they don't really describe the plot at all.

Not that themes are inherently bad. However, if the theme of the story isforbidden love, then the reader will pick up on itif you describe the story as "two star-crossed lovers fight to be together." This is a straight-forward explaination of what actually happens.

Over at Dear Author, today there's a special guest post on cultural appropriation. It's a really wonderful discussion on the intersection of culture, white privilege, and romance novels. I highly recommend reading the entire thing.
"Romance suffers from the same problem SF/F does. It’s very, very white. It would also seem that readers are far more okay with reading about vampires and werewolves and demons and angels than characters of colour. That is not okay. Think about what this means for a second. And imagine, if you will, being erased in stories or always in the background, a victim, evil, maybe the best friend or sidekick. . .but never the hero of your own story. This is what appropriation does to people of colour."
Unfortunately, I knew before clicking the link that there would be a ridiculous amount of racefail going down in the comments. I responded to a few in the thread, but here are some extra special gems:
Lisa: "What an annoying post. The only point of it that I can see is to try to make me feel guilty because I like to to read about white people in love. I’m sorry but I don’t have the energy to read with all my great sense of “white guilt” for the racial sins of the past, present and future."
You don't have the energy to read about your white privilege? If only nonwhites didn't have to live with your racism!
Amber: "And as a “white” person living in rural America, most of them DON’T apply to me."

Caligi: "My point is that these “white” romances don’t even represent white culture all that well either. I don’t totally accept the term “white privilege.” You think white people are really that different? White people are as diverse a group as Asians and black Americans. Some of us play the game and succeed in politics or business, and the rest of us are shut out."
The majority of the comments were insightful. However, there was at least one occasion when a person of color made a statement about racism and white privilege and was informed that they were off-topic.

There are days like today where I just want to walk away from other people's ignorance. Unfortunately, there are people who don't have the option to simply walk away.

[identity profile] 2009-10-28 11:31 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh God. This is so spot on it's terrifying.

I'll be bluntly honest myself: as I've mostly read fantasy the majority of my reading life, most of the protagonists I think of are white. The major characters are white. Really, a large portion of the cast in general is white.

And I've always thought that that's likely influenced my writing.

For example: I am a black Haitian. My protagonist is a white Italian. From the onset, this made me feel rather uncomfortable, and so as I wrote the novel characters of color began to take on more prominent roles. Pierre, the so-titled "King" of the vampires, was not originally black; but as I developed him, he became black, and that opened the doorway to allow him--and me--to discuss the uncivilized nature he was treated with during his time as a slave.

Nevermind that the book is set during the 19th century. I've purposefully attacked the social structure of the time (with explanations where they are due, of course); there are interracial couples, for example. And by having the vampire kingdom extend to encompass the entire globe, I made it possible to include characters of various cultures--and also for the main cast to traverse to those other countries.

But that doesn't change the fact that my protagonist is white.

For some reason (and I had this same thought during the LIAR cover controversy), people seem to think color does not sell. And the idea has even become ingrained, I suppose, in myself, after so many years of reading of white characters. Which is frightening and disturbing.

I think it's a matter of identity, really. I've often been told that I "write like I'm white," and it's led me to wonder whether I've somehow assimilated into some white state of mind (a little silly, I know, but true). For this reason, I was ecstatic when I envisioned the female lead for ANASTASIA, as she wasn't white; not black, but not white. She was Native-American. Given, the story is set in an alternate world, but I've found a way around that little problem to still use the term in a manner that ties into the world's mythology.

So. Yes. People write of white characters because they either do not know how or do not feel comfortable with writing characters of color.

Have you ever heard of Derek Walcott's poem "Midsummer"? It speaks of these very things.

(Also, on a less serious note, I totally agree with you on the symbolism thing. I can write pages and pages on novel analyses, but half the time I wonder if the authors were even cognizant themselves of some of the themes present in their works. :p)

[identity profile] 2009-10-30 10:51 pm (UTC)(link)
No prob. :)

The YA fantasy genre in particular, I think, isn't all too diverse itself. The 2009Debuts, the Tenners, the Elevensies (so far)...they're all predominantly white. Maybe if more authors of diverse background were to achieve the same amount of recognition...

Well, it's happening. Just slowly.

(Which is totally why Cindy Pon's SILVER PHOENIX is on my TBR pile. And I heard it's good. :D)

And, alas, no, I have not had any progress with ANASTASIA. Ideas have been swirling around in my head, and a few have been jotted down, but for the most part I'm just focusing on TSD.

...Y'know, this post totally just reminded me of an idea I had for a fantasy novel last night about a knife-wielding protagonist named Bobby Boi who wears a spiffy suit of grey and a cricket cap with a red necktie. And he's black.

*goes off to scribble down notes*