Writing the Other–Continuing This Week

Later this week, Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward return with more guest blogging, in part based on their book Writing the Other.

In the meantime, check out this essay by Shawl on “Appropriate Cultural Appropriation.

For some of us, the attractions of another’s culture can hardly be overrated. Within the context of speculative fiction’s reputation as “escapist” literature, getting away from one’s own traditions and background may seem like a good idea. Surely to find that much-prized “sensawunda” sought by genre afficionados, we must leave behind what British fantasist Lord Dunsany called “the fields we know?”

But what if the realms beyond these fields are populated? One person’s terra incognita is another’s home. What are we to make of the denizens of these exotic lands? And what will they make of us, tramping through their yam patches in search of the ineffable, and frightening their flocks with our exclamations over their chimeric beauty?

To collapse the metaphor, readers looking for something “different” in fantastic fiction, and authors who attempt to supply them with it, often turn to mythologies, religions, and philosophies outside the dominant Western paradigm. Then, not too surprisingly, people who practice these religions or espouse these philosophies or descend from those who constructed these mythologies object. Their culture, they complain, is being misrepresented, defaced, devalued, messed with. Stolen. Often, said culture is the only resource remaining after colonialization has removed all precious metals from the ground, or the ground from under its former inhabitants feet, or, as in the case of the African slave trade, when it has assumed ownership of those feet themselves.

Cynthia Ward on “Up in the Air” and Diversity

Cynthia Ward and Nisi Shawl are guestblogging on Booklifenow this week. Here’s Cynthia’s first solo post.

[SPOILER WARNING: If you haven’t seen the movie Up in the Air, you may want to skip this post.]

I don’t own a television and rarely get to the movies, so I tend to mentally drift into a happy fantasy world, one in which I imagine Hollywood has finally started to reflect the everyday human diversity you find merely by driving off a movie lot onto the L.A. streets.

My fantasy world is not, however, one in which all Hollywood releases have become great works of art. So I’m always pleasantly surprised to encounter an exceptional movie like Up in the Air. You get strong writing, sharp dialogue, superior acting, and even the occasional unpredictable plot twist. You also get timeliness, since its topic is corporate downsizing.

What you don’t get so much is diversity.

I should probably provide some context, because, after all, if the movie were set in Maine, and featured a man driving all over Bangor firing people, no one remotely familiar with the state would be surprised if the guy’s boss and coworkers were all white.

However, given that protagonist Ryan Bingham lives in the Midwest and jets all over the United States firing people, this is a remarkably white movie. His coworkers, his boss, his lover, his siblings, and their friends and families—white. Racial diversity is pretty much confined to the characters being fired, which gives the unfortunate message—oubtless unintentional, but still present—that minorities exist to be fired.

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Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward on ROAARS and The Unmarked State

Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward are guestblogging here on Booklifenow all this week. Their book Writing the Other is a remarkable exploration of character, situation, and perception. It’s a recommended text in Booklife – JeffV

Cynthia and I want to begin our joint stint as guest bloggers here by sharing an excerpt from Writing the Other: A Practical Approach, the book we wrote together based on the workshop we co-teach. The excerpt will help you get into the spirit of our upcoming posts, which are going to riff on related topics

First, we’ll define a couple of the terms we use:

The unmarked state—Possessing demographic characteristics considered “unremarkable” by the dominant culture.

ROAARS—This is an acronym we created to talk about a group of differences from the unmarked state that are, in this culture, considered to be deeply significant differences. These differences are: Race, (sexual) Orientation, Age, Ability, Religion, Sex.

Keep those concepts in mind as you read the book excerpt below. – Nisi Shawl

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Everything I’ve learned about writing this year I’ve relearned by watching the Olympics [Part III]

Today is my last visit to BookLife and I want to thank Jeff Vandermeer again for asking me to contribute this week. It’s been fun parsing thoughts about the Olympics through the lens of the writing life and I appreciate all the support and comments I’ve received. Remember, I can be found at Writer’s Rainbow at any given moment; this weekend I’ll be adding the March monthly dispatch, an introductory discussion into the three basic building blocks of a writing platform, so drop by sometime, check it out, and leave a comment! I wish all of BookLife’s readers a solid 2010 filled with inspiration and prosperity. 

Back to our regularly scheduled programming… I left my favorite observations for last. I live in the Puget Sound area, so the fact that I’m a huge fan of Apolo Ohno should come as no surprise. I do appreciate a golden child whenever he or she does come along (complete with awesome attitude), so I must also confess a fondness for snowboarder Shawn White. How can we not live in awe of these two Olympians? Here is what I took away from each of them over the last couple of weeks. Continue reading