Running with Goats: Marly Youmans on Writing the Other

Marly Youmans has a way of opening up worlds for the reader, of throwing back the curtains and letting the sun shine into once private rooms.  Her novels and poems often feel like invitations to join her on a journey or sit by her side and listen.

Below, Youmans addresses a question posed by Nisi Shawl, author of Writing the Other and Filter House.  Shawl asked Youmans and a handful of other authors to talk about their experiences writing characters of a different race, sexual orientation, age, ability, religion, or sex than their own.  Take special note of the second paragraph, in which Youmans talks about writing a book for her son.



Marly Youmans: As a woman, I am in some danger when writing about a man who could be described as sensitive or reflective. I was raised in an era that tried to declare that men and women were the same, but it’s not at all so, “equal” being so very different from “same.” I’ve had to tweak several male characters in revision to make sure they weren’t women in disguise, and that happened even when the character in question was waging war or exerting himself in feats of redwood-climbing.

I’d say that the clearest I’ve ever been on writing about the opposite sex was in the book I’m polishing now. I’ve written a fantasy for each of my children, and the current one was for made for a sports-mad boy of 12 who came late to liking books and school (still hates homework) and who is extremely social. He is blessedly normal in all his boy-ways, and all I had to do was meditate on his likes and dislikes to have an imaginary boy rise up around me along with a pack of young associates who didn’t always want to follow his lead, a fair degree of silliness and nonsense, twists and puzzles, feelings conveyed through action and reaction, a bit of revelatory violence, a fairly quick pace, and a general male refusal on the part of the primary character to ponder about anything except what must be done next, now.  And football. We had to have football.  If I could have worked in track and wrestling, I would have done so.

I have long advocated tossing little boys out the door to run with goats and goatherds until they are ten or eleven years old–until they are ready to sit still in a classroom and crack open a book–although nobody ever pays attention to this modest proposal of mine. So what I have aimed to write for my son and any other young readers is a book that might serve as one of the first adventures a boy hears after coming in from the fields and joining what is called civilization–a story full of juice and sun and life. And a dash of football.



Jeremy L. C. Jones is a freelance writer, editor, and part-time professor.  Jones is a frequent contributor to Clarkesworld Magainze.  He is also the director of Shared Worlds, a creative writing and world-building camp that he and Jeff VanderMeer designed in 2006.