30 May 2008 | 7 Comments
Last night, Nicola won the Lambda Literary Foundation Award for women’s memoir. It was a lovely event at the Silver Screen Theatre in the Pacific Design Center in LA, attended by many of the best queer writers in the world.
Nicola was awesome. She gave a heartfelt, moving speech that clearly touched the audience. And it was absolutely terrific to see so many people approach her with such genuine admiration and good wishes. A grand evening.
Or, as I love to say, my sweetie rocks!
Congratulations to all the winners and nominees. Thank you to the organizers who worked so hard to put the event together. And thanks especially to all the people with whom we had great conversations and from whom we felt such goodwill.
29 May 2008 | Comments Off
So here we are in LA. Today (apart from a screenplay notes phone call) has felt closer to a vacation than anything I’ve done in years. Not just because of the vacation-like activities (breakfast in the room in a corner between two windows open to an absolutely gorgeous day, shaded by flowering trees, followed by lunch by the pool and a very satisfying hour in the shade of an umbrella reading The Lost Colony and thank you again Scalzi for a really excellent trilogy, I have enjoyed an SF series this much in dogs’ years) — but also because I feel, I dunno… I feel good. That’s not unusual, but it doesn’t always happen when I am away. There are times when the stress of managing the new can overwhelm the benefits of being away from the old. This, so far, is not one of those times.
You can tell I’m really relaxing because I’m not even going to fix that enormous run-on sentence up there. It can just putter on to itself.
We’ve already been made to feel wonderfully welcome by Jennifer (who left us a perfect welcoming gift of fruit, chocolate, water and armagnac) and Lisa (who just published her first book so go check it out, and gave us a lovely dinner and conversation last night, just the sort of thing I enjoy).
In a couple of hours we are off to the the Lambda Literary Awards. Win or lose, it’ll be a massive party of the queer nation, and I’m looking forward to it.
But really I hope she wins!
26 May 2008 | Comments Off
A new interview on AfterEllen.com with Lillian Faderman, Nancy Garden, Sarah Waters, Sammin Sarif, Val McDermid, Charlotte Mendelson, Ariel Shrag, Amy Bloom, Joan Larkin, Rebecca Walker, Karin Kallmaker, and me.
I love this format — a roundup of writers answering similar questions in so many different ways — and I’m honored to be in the company of all these writers. Sarah Waters is brilliant, Val McDermid is a funny, gracious woman in whose company I’ve spent some really good time, Nancy Garden is one of my YA writing heroes, and so on… It’s very cool to read the thoughts of so many smart, intense women who are so diverse as writers.
26 May 2008 | 5 Comments
Earlier this month, the California Supreme Court ruled that the “fundamental right to marry” extends to same-sex couples.
Nicola and I would marry in a hot second if it were a federally-recognized legal relationship, and this ruling in California is an important step towards that higher goal.
The Office of the Governor of California has set up a hotline for a public opinion vote on this decision. Please call in and support the ruling.
ANYONE can vote in the poll. You don’t have to live in California. You don’t have to speak to a human being — it’s a fully automated system. All you have to do is:
1. call 916-445-2841
2. press options 1 (english); 5 (to vote on a hot topic); 1 (LGBT issue); 1 (vote yes).
If you are lesbian or gay or bisexual; if you have family or friends who are; if you want to be an ally; if you think that we all have the right to marry the person of our choice — then please call in with your vote.
Thank you very much for any support you choose to give. I appreciate it.
24 May 2008 | Comments Off
Just a reminder that Nicola and I will read at A Different Light bookstore in West Hollywood on Friday, May 30 at 7:30 pm.
If you’re in LA, please join us — and feel free to bring a dozen or so friends. Here’s a nifty flyer (thanks so much, Nancy and Jennifer!) to forward to anyone in the world you think might be interested.
Come hear some stories. Have some conversation. Find out if Nicola won the Lammy. We’ll have fun.
20 May 2008 | Comments Off
Congratulations to Dave Williams on the publication of his first novel, The Mirrored Heavens.
I had the pleasure of working with Dave at Clarion West last year. All the writers who attended Clarion are special to me — they were intense, interesting, passionate and committed — and I can’t wait to see what they all do next. But today is Dave’s day. Dave, I’m thrilled for you: publication days are special, and one’s first novel even more special still.
The Mirrored Heavens is already getting great buzz — and you can find out more yourself in this way-cool book trailer (and I think these trailers are a big part of the future of book publishing, highly viral and highly effective. Visuals work…).
Dave, I can’t wait to read it! Congratulations!
19 May 2008 | Comments Off
Dance till the stars come down from the rafters
Dance, Dance, Dance till you drop. – W.H. Auden
Come dance with me this Saturday. I’m up from 6:30 – 7:00pm, and then again from 7:30 – 8:00 pm.
15 May 2008 | 4 Comments
A friend recently discovered an author she likes (J.M. Coetzee, for inquiring minds) and immediately embarked on the adventure of reading everything she can find by him. I envied her. My life of late has been all screenplay, all the time, and that has had some unexpected consequences, not the least of which is that I read much less new-to-me fiction than I did. That’s partly because all the learning about screenwriting is enough “new” for me right now; and because I spend more of my leisure time (hah, such as it is) watching films (more with the learning); and because most of my new-reading bandwidth is taken up with YA as I continue to make notes and build the framework for the YA novel that’s coming up on my project list.
And because I’m so damned tired a lot of the time that all I want is serious comfort. Comfort food (my mom’s tuna casserole, Nicola’s Portuguese soup, the kick-ass marrow-bone vegetable beef soup that I make that we call shtoup because it’s thick like stew but it’s not stew, no matter what Nicola says). And comfort reading. I’ve been revisiting a lot of old favorites lately — Travis McGee, Bone Dance, and I’ve got my eye on a bunch of Stephen King novellas.
But I’ve been reluctant to engage with writers whose work I don’t already know. And then along came Old Man’s War by John Scalzi. I’ve been reading Scalzi’s blog for a while, but not his fiction. And I really enjoyed this book.
I loved Heinlein from the first book of his I read (Time Enough For Love, if I recall correctly), and I love that Scalzi has captured the best spirit of RAH without rehashing him — this isn’t Heinlein-lite, it’s post-Heinlein, with a good story, interesting characters, cool ideas and accessible science. And as much to say about war — what it is, what it isn’t, how it changes those who wage it — as The Forever War or Ender’s Game. I love the voices, the relationships, the details of moving from one life into another… all the stuff I like, wrapped up in a story that has particular resonance for me right now.
And so now I too have found a new writer to read. Very exciting. Thanks, John, I liked your book.
And I would love to hear what new-to-you writers others have found — there’s nothing like sharing the wealth!
12 May 2008 | Comments Off
9 May 2008 | 17 Comments
For a variety of reasons, I’m thinking a lot lately about oppression, privilege, conscious and unconscious bias.
I’m a white bisexual hearing currently-mostly-physically-able woman. I am in a relationship of nearly 20 years with another woman. I am a class-jumper, currently living well above the economic level I was born into. I am over-educated for my birth class. I am under-educated for the class in which I currently live. I am an artist, and I have also been a corporate executive. I have what most folks consider “professional” artistic accomplishments, but in some parts of the writing community I lack professional credibility because I don’t publish “enough.”
That’s just a list off the top of my head, and I offer it because although there are many ways to discriminate against me, and many ways in which I experience bias or oppression, I know that being white, well-educated and hearing are the things that will always save my ass. They are my mobility. They are my access to opportunity, to choice, and to the culture itself.
It helps that I’m smart, but it’s the education that showed me that there were other layers of the world beyond the ones I knew, and gave me the tools to get there. I absolutely got the first part of that education because my parents and I are white — my mom took a job as librarian at a private grammar school and stuck it out for 12 years so I could get an education we couldn’t otherwise have afforded. I am certain she would not have been given that job if she were black. I got the second part of that education — on scholarship at an exclusive prep school — as a direct result of the first.
And none of us who are hearing should underestimate the power of that: there are still way too many deaf kids in America who are denied access to native language as babies, who don’t get the same chance I did to pattern and process language in infancy. Language is the door to participation in our culture — not having the brain’s language system fully primed in infancy makes English harder to learn and is a huge obstacle to participating in the culture.
I’ve been the different one. I’ve been one of only two white kids in a black church. I’ve been the kid who would have killed for a pair of LL Bean boots like the ones the kids in my prep school wore in the snow, when I was wearing plastic shoes because I was too ashamed to tell anyone that I couldn’t afford anything better. I’ve been the only hearing person in a room of Deaf people. But I didn’t have to have those experiences — even the class experience at prep school — unless I chose to, and I don’t have to have them every day. That’s privilege, baby.
I learned the concept of being an ally pretty young, because my parents were allies to black activists in the 60’s. I didn’t always understand why people were angry about a particular experience, but it was pretty clear they were angry — and my most valuable lesson from that was being told that assuming that other people’s experiences were true for them was almost always a pretty good starting point if I actually wanted to have a conversation.
The lesson was hugely reinforced for me when I studied American Sign Language and Deaf culture, and my Deaf and hearing teachers made it very clear to me the myriad ways in which I benefit from being a hearing person in a hearing culture. Because I could “experience” that for myself if I wished. If I went out for lunch with a Deaf friend, I could allow the hearing server to believe I was deaf too simply by refusing to use spoken English with him. And I had to be slapped around the first time I did it without permission from my Deaf friend: she had to point out to me that “playing deaf” was a privilege that she didn’t really appreciate my exercising in her company, any more than she appreciated my using voice without including her by also signing what I was saying.
Okay, so where am I going with all this? To writing.
Because this week I read this story, and the firestorm of conversation (132 comments as of this writing) it sparked. Go read it, see what you think.
Are you back? (I’ll bet it took a while…)
Same old thing, no? People refusing to believe that other people’s experiences are true for them. People (on all sides of the issues) stating opinions as if they were universal facts, and presenting experiences as if being true for one person means they must be true for everyone. People trying to listen. People not listening at all. People getting defensive. People speaking their own truth as best they can.
These conversations are hard for me because there is no way to be seamlessly rational and perfectly non-racist. I’m used to thinking of “being right” as something I can achieve if I work hard enough (that’s another privilege). But there is no way I can be “right” in these conversations — because if I start from the place that people’s experience is true for them, then, well, it’s true for them. It’s hard not to get defensive. To just listen. But what am I going to do, argue with someone about her own experience? After all the things I’ve seen for myself about denial of experience?
Denial of experience is one of the most effective techniques humans use against one another. Oh, they didn’t really mean that (and so it didn’t really happen and aren’t you a jerk for making them feel so guilty!). Oh, you’re overreacting (and so it didn’t really happen and aren’t you just being a big baby and making your feelings so important!). Oh, you probably heard / saw / took it wrong (and so it didn’t really happen and aren’t you stupid for making such a fuss?) And so on.
And there are other ways to fuck up these conversations. Here is a very good list that I learned a lot from.
Because the thing about personal truth is that it’s not all equal. Of course your experience is as real as mine, of course it’s as “valid” in the fuzzy way we so often use that term. But some truths are bigger than personal. Racism is real in the world. It’s a systemic abuse that happens to entire groups of human beings (as do other kinds of oppression). It’s not just “your perspective” versus mine. It’s not strictly a matter of opinion. Racism, sexism, heterosexism and the thousand other ways we have of “othering” people reduce us all to walking cliches, and that’s how we end up treating each other, and that just makes the conversation harder.
How does this fit into writing? Well, as a white writer, I have the privilege of writing about characters of my race without having to explain how their experience of race affects them. I can describe a character strictly by hair and eye color if she’s white — everyone will “get it.” If she’s not white, then I can find a lovely food- or nature-based metaphor (coffee, candy and trees are favorite choices) to describe her skin color, which I must do immediately upon introducing her so that everyone knows she is not white…
Okay, so here is my sole piece of advice to white writers. Do not ever ever ever accept a “human” cliche in your own work (you shouldn’t accept cliche of any kind, but you’ll have to figure out the non-harmful applications of this principle for yourself). Unexamined cliches about any “kind of people” are the worst kind of bad writing. They hurt people directly (it can feel like a slap in the face to read it), and indirectly (you have just reinforced the stereotype, and contributed your drop of thoughtlessness to the ocean that other people have to swim in).
If you are going to write about characters who are not white, then please make these characters as particular, as emotionally complex, and as real as your white characters. Please do not make them white people in non-white skin. Please use your relationship skills to seek out people of color and listen to their experiences. This will help you in your work (and I’m not trying to suggest you should be treating people as if they were simply research projects… but if you ask people respectfully for their help, many times you will get it). Please use your reading skills to read stories by people of color about people of color. This will help you in your work. Please use your imagination to apply your experiences of being stereotyped or mistreated because of class or sexual orientation or just because some other white person was being an asshole. These experiences will help you in your work.
Does this mean you can never write about a black inner city drug-dealing kid? Well, no. You can write whatever you want. You just have to be prepared for people to respond to what you write — not to your intentions or your personal history of working for social reform. You have to accept that you may never “get it right.” But honestly, there are lots of other things about being human that you probably aren’t going to get right either, in your fiction or in your life. If that stops any of us from trying, then we are all the poorer for it.
A lot of white writers throw up their hands at some point and decide to just write about white people all the time, because it’s not such a minefield. And that’s true. And that’s your privilege.
But if you choose to, you can be an ally to writers of color and readers of color by being the best writer you can. By making the black inner-city drug-dealing kid so real, so true, that she becomes a living, breathing human on the page. Make her human, and make sure that her humanity reflects to the best of your ability her experience of being a black inner-city drug-dealing kid in a white world. Don’t apologize for her. Don’t condescend. Get inside her as much as you can and show us who she is. You can do this, if you choose, with any character who isn’t part of the dominant culture.
It’s harder when characters aren’t like you. You’re a lot more likely to get it wrong. The internet will sometimes fall on you (as I expect it will fall on me if I have screwed up in my part of this ongoing conversation). Dust yourself off and keep going.
Here’s a story that I tell in an essay that Nicola and I wrote together, forthcoming in Queer Universes. It’s about one of the most important writing lessons I ever learned, at the Clarion Writer’s Workshop.
Samuel R. Delany was one of our teachers. He was fairly impatient with us — a bunch of wide-eyed, white, mostly middle-class not-exactly-kids, many of whom who saw writing as the necessary process to the goal of getting published. One day he went off on us for having worldviews the size of grapes, for imagining everyone in our futures as white, middle-class and polite (except for the dangerous characters, who were allowed to be gay or black as long as they died or were otherwise redeemed). Seriously, this is what many of us were writing. I remember one student in the workshop who wrote a lesbian character that looked and talked exactly like Nicola, because she was the only out lesbian he had ever met. And he didn’t understand why she might be offended. But Delany did, and he challenged us to do better. To take (although he did not put it this way) some fucking risks.
Red flag to a bull. I offered one of my stories up for dissection. Tell me what assumptions I’m making, I said, and he gave me an impassive look and answered, Are you sure you want me to do that?
An hour later I was in tears, mortified by my assumptions and even more so by my utter lack of awareness of them. Here I was, with all my liberal childhood credentials, my race and class consciousness, my experiences of poverty and powerlessness, my carefully-forged autonomous identity, my hip new still-emerging bisexuality, revealed as fatuous — I may have been some of those things as a person, but as a writer I was straight, white, resolutely privileged, protective of the cultural status quo, and embarrassingly safe.
It’s one of the most miserable experiences I’ve had as a writer, and I’ll always be grateful for it. I have no idea if Chip would approve of my work now, but he would certainly find it different.
– from “War Machine, Time Machine” by Nicola Griffith and Kelley Eskridge
Do I think that writers have a responsibility to write about race or queerness or disability? Nope. To me, writing “about issues” is the kiss of death to most fiction — as opposed to writing about human beings and what happens to them, how they live and love and hope and fear and die. To me, a writer’s responsibility is to create those human beings as truly as possible. To avoid the lazy and sometimes harmful choices of cliche.
Because it’s never “just fiction,” you know? If we have any skill at all as writers, then our words get into other people’s minds and hearts. We touch each other with our words. We create, even if only for a second, a real experience for other people (and here we go back to mirror neurons). And that matters to them, and I think it’s better for everyone if it matters to the writers too.
And if you’re interested in more about this, here are some conversations with readers of Solitaire about race (resurrected from Virtual Pint):
(in chronological order):
Stereotyping and writing questions — Don’t exoticize characters.
Not just a white world — Don’t hang “race tags” on characters.
Multicultural writing — Why I don’t get a cookie.