Review: The Animators

The Animators
The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a book I picked up on a whim off the “new releases” shelf at my library, and wound up being the book that, thus far this year, has resonated the most deeply with me. This book is about my contemporaries, women my age with similar fears regarding their own originality and creative worth (I’m so much more Sharon than Mel). It has a refreshing take on female friendship, and (as kind of a side note) while I’m not an animator, Mel and Sharon’s pop culture upbringing brought back a massive wave of nostalgia – Cowboy Bebop, Tank Girl, Bakshi films, The Maxx, Ren and Stimpy, Liquid Television – I was the kid staying up late right along side them, entranced by these weird, slightly seedy/sinister shows. Maybe its vecause of this that the sheer aesthetic of this book was so relentlessly captivating. Honestly, I would jump at a hypothetical opportunity to watch Sharon and Mel’s films.

If the novel suffers at all, is from being too ambitious. There are multiple game changer moments, several of which feel climactic, but there’s always more to come. Out didn’t bother me, especially, thoughI can see it as a valid criticism of the book.

I was astounded that this was Whitaker’s first novel, and cannot wait for the next.

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Writing Without Being a Writer

I sometimes feel like an outsider.

Scratch that; most of the time I feel like an outsider, but in this particular instance, I feel like an outsider even within the community I am ostensibly a part of.

I’m a writer.  But I don’t want to be a writer.  As in, I don’t want to write as a career, or rely on writing for my primary source of income.  I don’t want to quit my day job and devote my time to novels and stories and poetry.

I  like being a hobbyist.  Weird, right?

I used to think I wanted to write full time.  I used to think that was what I wanted to do with my life, before The Thing Inside of Me reared it’s head, but even discounting the Thing, forgetting about the struggles I have with writing now, I just… really love what I do for a living.

How blessed is that?  How incredibly lucky am I?  I stumbled into this job a year after college, and it has become an almost decade-and-a-half long career that I not only enjoy, but in which I am shown respect and given value, and at which am good — I mean, genuinely good.  So many people long for what I have, why would I give it up?

Especially when my work is not at odds with my writing.  I can write on my downtime at work, I can write when I come home (I’m out of work at 2:30), I can write on the weekends.  And I can write for myself, for pleasure, for the joy of writing, because I have no pressure to make a sale, or meet a deadline, or please anyone else, really.

And that’s not to say that I can’t write with purpose.  I can write a targeted article for a publication or a poem for a ‘zine.  I can shop pieces around.  I will never make a living at it or be “big,” but that’s not an aspiration I have any longer.  Open mics and local events are good enough for me.  Small blog zines and pamphlets passed around at cons are fine.  I respect people who make the dedicated push to be a writer as a full-time occupation – it’s demanding, and difficult, and requires a huge amount of devotion, patience, and courage – but I don’t share that ambition.

But that also doesn’t mean I’m not a “real” writer.  I’m not a “professional” writer, sure; that accolade is reserved for people who have made that commitment.  But I’m still a writer, so long as I write.  My work is capable of having just as much merit as anyone else’s.  My work – the actual writing produced – is not necessarily lesser just because it is not borne of a full-time writing career.

I’m young.  I’m also the primary breadwinner in my family at the moment, with a mortgage, a young child, and a job that I love.  Maybe, someday in the future, when those situations shift and change, my attitude towards pursuing writing as a career will likewise change, and I will take the leap.

But that does not mean what I produce before then is worthless.  It doesn’t mean I am lesser.  And it shouldn’t mean that I don’t belong in the community.*

*To be clear, no one in the blogosphere has ever said to me, “you don’t belong.”  This is entirely an internalized sense of misplacement based on the fact that almost everyone I run into online has aspiration to be a professional writer, and I don’t.

Review: Miranda and Caliban

Miranda and Caliban
Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve put off reviewing this book because I’m not entirely sure what to say, and I feel like my reaction to it is somewhat unfairly tied to my expectations for it.

I was obsessed with The Tempest as a child; I saw the play when I was 12, and proceeded to read it and re-read it, read literary and theatrical commentary on it, read about various productions and the liberties taken with it.  It was my gateway to Shakespeare, and I remain able to recite chunks of it, though with time plot details and context have faded.  That obsession was at it’s height 23 years ago.

Because of The Tempest’s special place in my heart, I was excited to read this.  My ultimate reaction is somewhat… underwhelmed, though again, this may be because of unfair expectations.  The writing in places is lovely, and it serves as an interesting character study – I was especially excited and pleased at the development afforded Caliban, who was always the character who interested me the most.  To see him get some characterization was, I don’t know, almost vindicating?  

But while I had been expecting more of a reimagining of the story – perhaps with an alternate ending – this is instead just a perspective shift.  To be fair, there was nothing about this book that suggested it was anything but the story told from a different perspective, which is why I have to concede my expectations are not necessarily a valid point from which to judge the book, but still can’t be extricated from my own experience of the book.

Functioning as a prequel to the play, we do get to see more of their lives on their desolate island, and the characters do get fleshed out extensively (you’re mileage may vary as to whether they are likeable or not; while I feel like Miranda was in a bit of an impossible spot, some of her actions grated; I felt much more sympathy towards Caliban). Prospero, I feel, became a considerably less sympathetic character, though this may be because we are only seeing him through the eyes of Miranda and Caliban, and he is not a POV character, so we get none of his inner monologue.

The writing was enough to keep me interested, but the book is fairly thin on plot (plot is generally secondary to me, but I know not everyone feels that way). Even so, I felt the resolution was rushed, for the length of the build-up.

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A Lonely Camper

So we are officially halfway through June, and people – myself included, though with reservations – are gearing up for the July run of Camp NaNoWriMo.

I’ve written before about my personal issues with the Camp components of NaNoWriMo, which have nothing to do with the events themselves (God bless the people who organize them and the writers who find real success in them!), but more to do with my personal inclinations and proclivities.  I tend to need more external motivation and more stringent rules, which Camp NaNo, in it’s admirable effort to be flexible (which I respect) lacks.

But something else that makes Camp a little more difficult for me is something I noticed especially starkly last year, when I put myself up for cabin assignment in April and got assigned to a random cabin where every other person, beside me, was writing sci-fi/fantasy.

Literally.  In a cabin of fifteen randomly assigned people, I was the only one not writing something on the sf/f spectrum.

I’d noticed before, on the forums, that NaNo seemed to skew especially heavily towards sf/f, or at least appeared to; there were always a proliferation of posts about elves and dwarves, or dystopian aliens worlds, and very little reality-based, real-world fiction.

And that’s not a bad thing – writers are free to write what they want to, and I’m glad so many writers have found a place where they are thriving and finding success and camaraderie.  And it’s not that I dislike sf/f, either; my husband reads it almost exclusively, and I dip my toes in and out of it’s waters, as well.

But I don’t write it.  And when I’m trying to find a writing community during NaNoWriMo, the genre that I tend to write in – literary fic (more character-centric than plot-centric) – may technically have a presence (i.e., there’s a forum devoted to it), but is functionally absent from the site.  Which, again, is not something I can place any blame for – the opportunity is there, and either no one is writing it, or they are writing and not socializing.  Either way, it’s no one’s fault, it just… is.

There are a lot of great tips to be learned about the writing business and industry from genre writers, and a lot of general writing advice that can be useful across genres, and there is a lot of good sf/f writing being produced, including, I’m sure, during NaNoWriMo.

But as someone who doesn’t write it, I do feel a little out of place.  I don’t worldbuild in the same way they do.  I don’t do the same kinds of research, or have the same plot structure.  I don’t scaffold with the idea that what I’m writing will become a series.  I respect the crazy amount of prep work and research that goes into writing a good sci-fi story, but I don’t find the same sense of unity or camaraderie I think I would feel were I also a genre writer.

Where are the lit fic writers during NaNo?  Where are the people writing purely in a non-genre genre?  I’d love to know.

Good luck to everyone participating in Camp this July, regardless of what you write.  I appreciate that all genres have value, whether it’s one I write/read or not.

Queer Creators and Creative Decisions

This is a mostly personal blog; I write about my life, my opinions, my experiences.  I sometimes use sweeping, expansive language – “you” and “we” – but in the end, I really only speak for myself.

I’m not the sole representative of my identities.  I can’t speak for.  

But I can speak as.

So I say this as a queer creator: stop calling queer creators “homophobic” for not creating or canonizing a queer relationship.

A lot of this comes down to nuance: I fully believe that media is something to be critiqued and analyzed.  And if a queer creator puts forth a particularly unflattering depiction of an LGBT character, then that is perfectly acceptable fodder for discussion and critique (is he well-rounded but unlikable?  Is he a villian whose “depravity” is accentuated by a “deviant” sexuality?  Is he a generally likable but “camp” and stereotypical gay character? How do such portrayals affect mainstream perception of queer lifestyles?  Can an unlikable but realistic queer character be a humanizing and positive thing?  All things worthy of analysis and criticism).

Also, if a queer creator has NEVER had a queer character or relationship represented in their work, that is also worthy of discussion – why might that be?  Internalized homophobia is a real thing, and heteronormativity is pervasive in our culture, which does impact and influence what even queer creators put forth.  Those influences and circumstances are likewise worth talking about, analyzing, and critiquing.

But here, I’m speaking of critiques of social trends, individual decisions, particular portrayals.  To lay a blanket statement over a person, and to affix them a label as hefty as “homophobe” – especially a queer person – based on a creative decision is invalidating an disrespectful to them, both as a queer person and as a creator.

I write a lot of queer characters.  Like, a lot of queer characters.  My first stories written with any dedication were transformative fiction based on the musical/book Les Miserables, and they played with the idea of Grantaire and Enjolras as gay characters.  Since then, most of my poetry is written in a queer voice, and about half of my prose fiction (more in the most recent years) have protagonists who are queer or trans.

But that does not mean I owe my readers solely queer characters into perpetuity.  That does not mean if a character comes to me, as they sometimes do, more or less fully concieved, that I am going to shoehorn in an LGBTQ identity solely in the name of representation.  Sometimes I will write a story, and the main character will be a cishet woman who falls in love with a cishet man.  This does not diminish my identity as a bisexual genderqueer person.  This does not devalue my previous contribution to queer literature (…in so much as any of my doggrel can be construed as “literature”).

Be critical of creative choices, that’s fine.  Be analytical regarding media portrayals of your identities, of how heteronormative culture affects the media we consume (and how the media we then consume feeds back into heteronormative culture).  Question why creators make the choices they make.  Even call the choices offensive, if they strike you that way.

But the choice of an LGBT author to not to include an LGBT character or relationship in a particular work is not by itself an act of homophobia, it is a creative choice.  We are entitled to those.  And you are entitled to be critical of them, of course.

But be careful when leveling accusations of homophobia at other queer creators.  That is not a critique of our work, that is a accusation leveled against our ethos and our identity, and that’s not a weight we carry lightly.

NB:  A queer person can certainly portray a queer identity poorly, especially one they do not share.  I have heard some nasty things from gay men abput lesbians, about bi folk from monosexual queer folk, about trans people from cis queer people, etc.  It’s not that queer folks can’t make choices that are, in some way, divisive or anti-queer.  Just that  the act of writing about not queer people isn’t itself “anti-queer.”