robertsloan2: Ari sweet (Default)
It's been a while since I wrote about Talent.

I still believe in my Talent Rant. There is no such thing as Talent. It comes with being human, fluency in my birth language, wanting to write at all. It's motivation.

I have many personal reasons why it was worth all the trouble of learning how to write well enough to finish and sell fiction. They're personal, some are probably common and others aren't. It matters to me. It's become part of my self-identity to think of myself as a Science Fiction Writer. Every now and then I step on a rake of self-recognition and understand something that went into that motivation.

Out of all the macho boy-things and man-things that I could settle on for my future, Science Fiction Writer did not take being able to run, throw or catch a ball, have quick reflexes or even be able to stay on my feet a long time in front of an easel. Being an artist was what other people wanted me to do. Painting is satisfying and I love doing it. I don't produce enough of it to live on and it didn't work as a day job for a writer.

They're similar in some ways, it almost worked to support my writing on my art. Would have worked at the time if I'd had the medication and mobility aids I do now, except that the city it worked in got devastated by Hurricane Katrina and the market changed and it is no longer a cheap place to live. It was never optimal because of climate and social issues. I didn't belong in New Orleans the way I do in San Francisco.

SFWA has recently blown up again in another sexism-racism scandal. This was with John Scalzi as President, someone whose blog I read and perspective I trust. If Scalzi couldn't shut down that level of racism-sexism-bigotry in the industry publication, why would I ever join SFWA? I wanted it, the SFWA card was one of my personal success milestones.

But when I was litle, I wanted to be a Boy Scout. They got to do the cool stuff, camping and canoeing and leather working instead of baking and stupid girly stuff. Girl Scouting was not fun and I didn't stick with it long. I also got in trouble all the time just for being myself because as a transboy, I reacted to everything like a boy. Turned out that Boy Scouts were the creepy right-wing religious and social indoctrinators while Girl Scouts admitted a little girl like me. Points to the Girl Scouts. I think they even do the camping and fun stuff now, that a lot of real girls and women objected to their limits and busted them.

The scandal did two things. One, I read N. K. Jemisin's speech, the one that two old white conservative columnists freaked out over, loved it. On the basis of her speech on racism, I ran over to Amazon and bought two of her books. Much to my delight, she wasn't just a good read. N. K. Jemisin's novels slammed up out of the 'good books' category up into "Irresistible Rereads, Favorite Authors To Read For Style" category along with Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, J. K. Rowling, Stephen King. Baum and a few others. She's gone past Stephen King, because there are King books I didn't like. Well done ones, I just didn't like their themes or characters. So far Jemisin's got me hooked on all levels.

I don't often find new authors I love that much, so that's a treasured experience.

The other is letting go of the SFWA milestone. I don't care. I thought that I was going to go indie with my novels but write and sell enough pro short stories to get my SFWA card. Other writers' associations do accept independent authors as pro, usually on a level of financial success comparable to a new-author pro contract. That's what makes sense to me. It's not which market you take your books to, it's whether once you do it gets successful enough to call it pro. If financial success is going to be a criterion at all, it should be measured by looking at the money earned, not whether you went through X traditional distributors or struck out on your own. Pro publishing has been losing its appeal for me for several years.

I write social SF. My fantasy novels are social SF. I use magic instead of space ships but the tropes of both genres come into it and I'm really looking at the cultures involved. Raven Dance and its universe are pure SF but have some fantasy creatures in it, urban fantasy ones. My vampires and werewolves washed up there, probably because in storyland they belong in cities. Occasionally I dip into horror tropes and turn those into SF by looking at them sideways, taking them as themselves and looking at them in a different context.

Most of my novels talk about monsters that aren't. That's what I was as a little kid - a little boy a lot like other little boys of the bookish, brainy sort. H. P. Lovecraft was a sickly child. Kids that stay in a lot because they're too sick to go out have the time and motivation to lose themselves in books and want to write them.

Before I got out into SF Fandom, I thought it would be an accepting, supportive group. Friendly to future wniters - someone joked that half of fandom wanted to publish a novel. Friendly to who I am and what I read and what I wanted in life. I didn't meet gender expectations and aside from a very small group of personal friends, got frozen out and shunned. I wasn't even capable of meeting gender expectations. I didn't understand them or credit them with any validity.

Now that I'm turning 59 in December, living in San Francisco, living on the edge of deep poverty even in the best place in the country for me to survive, things are different. SF is not a social haven or a supportive community. It's more in need of an overhaul. Yet when I was here before, the political GBLT community had no interest in SFF and looked down on me for being into it. Everything had to be now and topical-realism. Except that's not me either. I'm still that dreamer. I can't just protest. I tell stories.

I look for community and my communities are fragmented. I don't even get out much now. Today, for the first time, I'm going to a free seniors-and-disabled luncheon at the GBLT center. I have a housing clinic to attend this afternoon, it'll cost me $2 to go and $2 to return by Paratransit so I might as well go early and catch the free lunch. Meet people around my age, much closer to it than any other group, find out what they're like and see if I fit in.

Scared to death of this lunch.

I've been burned so many times in so many ways. If it's not one thing, it's another. Poverty and disability issues were a barrier in the pagan community even when they were accepting of my gender. Poverty and disability issues were a barrier in a lot of different situations. Not likely to apply in this one - that's something I'll have in common with others at this lunch along with age.

I'm not just a square peg in a round hole, I'm this weird shaped asymmetrical unique-shape that there isn't a hole anywhere that remotely fits. It always takes knocking out and shutting down some big part of who I am to fit in smoothly. I get a lot of emotional support about my art because I enjoy painting beauty and encourage other artists. If I don't mention politics, I'm reasonably safe in art groups online. Offline there may be problems.

Offline there are often logistic difficulties I can't surmount. Most of all, that's not Who I Am the way being a Science Fiction Writer is. Painting and drawing are things I do for myself because I enjoy them. They're one of my best ways to recuperate from stress and to get a lot of social support with very little time and effort. It doesn't take a lot to go through a bunch of pictures I like and type a few thoughtful targeted compliments. I critique by positive comments on what I do like about someone else's work. It's easier than picking on beginner errors or trying to look for what could be improved, especially in finished works.

They know what's wrong with it by and large, what they need is support that the cool stuff is happening. Sometimes just describing it accurately in neutral and pleasant terms is enough to give both accurate feedback and lift the creator's spirits. There's my personal small protest against the culture of bullying, the culture of vicious personal criticism that's endemic to this country. I don't know what it'd be like to live in a more cohesive, supportive country.

I do the same thing in writers' groups. Some people prefer harsh critique. I can't set myself on a pedestal to know what's wrong with someone else's writing, especially when I can't tell if something is experimental. Did they break a rule on purpose to get an effect? Or did they do that out of ignorance of the rule? I write intuitively by feel and don't even have the 'rules' memorized. But I know how rare support is and it doesn't hurt to give it.

I turn the criticism thing inside out because I got too many people who attacked me on every nit picking topic they could think of. If they took me up head-on about my identity, I'd stand them down. So instead they'd turn it into a thousand small attacks, often about things I couldn't control anyway. My posture or my body odor or my cussing when pushed to the wall or being cussed at, double standards always apply in that sort of bullying.

I also figured it out decades ago why I got discouraged so much from writing and encouraged in art. My pictures could be interpreted without any political or social content. If I draw a leaf, it's still just a leaf. If I write a story, it has a slant. I was incarcerated in a Catholic school while I disagreed with every point of dogma. All the English teachers picked on theme and slant and graded for it at the same time they picked on grammar and spelling. I couldn't tell the difference and the criticism sometimes got witty and vicious.

I was writing the wrong genre and the wrong type of story with the wrong moral. I wasn't writing for the market and nothing would have convinced me to write to that market. Just as today nothing would convince me to write to the market of people who disagree violently with everything I believe is right and true. It's at best deceptive and self destructive, at worst it encourages my enemies and strengthens their grip on society. No reason for me to do that. Least of all money, there are cleaner ways to earn a dollar.

SFWA doesn't mean what it used to for me. I'm still a Science Fiction Writer though. That's part of who I am. SFWA just got dethroned as an authority defining what that is. I wrote a science fiction novel - Raven Dance is one. It's in print, my name's on it. Whether I'm a good Science Fiction Writer or not, I definitely am one and intend to go on doing that. When I get to where I earn a living on it, that's a big real milestone. One that may mean more economic security than I've ever had in my life.

If my books stay in print and keep earning when I'm too sick to do more, then I've got something that keeps going when I can't. Any one of them is a ticket in the Literary Lottery. My chance that a book might break out to turn into a big success improves the better I write and the more books are out there for readers to discover. It wasn't my first one, big deal. Lotteries don't pay off that often - but I can play again and again. Also some past winners get found years after they first went into print, so I can't count anything that isn't a breakout as a failure.

What I need to do is just keep going, edit the novels I have finished and make them available. That's the path. If the only job I ever wanted is the only one I'm capable of doing, so be it. That's better than just giving up. Just giving up means dying, there's nothing better I can do with my life. At any point I considered giving up on my writing, I was also feeling suicidal.

So I'll keep doing it and the heck with authorities of any kind. My readers like it and that's enough for me.

And the good news is that I discovered N. K. Jemisin, whose novels are wonderful. Her style is inspiring too, reading her books gets my writing itch going. I have to do things like that. She's got an original perspective and she's carried the entire genre farther in my direction than I've ever seen. So I've got a new imaginary friend to help coach me on writing. If I ever meet her in person I'll be awed until I get to know her and find out if we like each other. Right now I don't want to, because imaginary friends are important to keeping sane.
robertsloan2: Ari sweet (Default)
Last night I sketched the first of three cats I'm painting this month, trying for a March 13th deadline. This is ludicrous speed compared to previous cat commissions but that's also a matter of budgeting time. I felt confident enough to start it and seriously hope to finish all three by the March 13th Reveal Date. Not have them shipped yet, but posted so the recipient gets to see them and anticipate their happy arrival.

They're beautiful cats and I'm inspired again after some time off painting waterfalls. Also if I keep that schedule, I'll have my commissions done before the Rocks course starts and be able to devote my Saturdays to painting rocks. Which is always fun too. Rocks are easy but I may learn some fine points about them. So it's likely to help improve my art in general.

Beyond art, there's writing. My good writing buddy Nonny, who has been my muse and writing buddy before, during and after our brief relationship, is back to late night chats that stimulate both of us to work on our fiction. She's got a fantastic novel in progress that I enjoyed in its first iteration, the changes she's made since then are spectacular.

Tonight she was unusually quiet about her work and kept drawing me out about mine. She's providing a level of support that's priceless - letting me open up about my backstory and plot and plans, the details of the yet-to-be-written Garden of Earthly Delights and the future history that connects with it.

I wound up ruminating on the ways all of my backstories connect between novels - the Crosstime novels and their species and worlds connect through various races that discovered parallel worlds. Nomad universe never discovered that but they got faster than light travel. They colonized in a way that avoided contacting any aliens because worlds couldn't be terraformed if there was so much as a microbe on them.

Eventually they'll connect but I'm not ready for that book for a long time. Other than Nomads having some urban legends about lost ships and mystery sightings (many of which were just hallucinations or urban legends.)

Tonight I discovered the little short brilliant Hindu doctor is a widow and last time I talked to Nonny before this, I discovered she invented the rejuvenation process the Nomads have. That erased the last barrier between humans and vampires - they're different and equal if you don't need to have a liquid diet and different instincts in order to live for centuries. That affected society too - older people living longer would slow the rate of cultural change.

Demeter's got the hyper-complex ecology to keep on making medical and scientific advances and the brain power for it. Demeter's a very influential planet in the Nomad history. They were a breadbasket too for a long time before the Nomads really got a handle on that closed fishbowl sustainable lifestyle and they always provided more variety in food and plenty of arts too.

What I realized tonight is tremendous. I know why I lost the first version. It wasn't an accident. It was my unconscious telling me I was not ready to write this book. I didn't have the experience. I was living in New Orleans and until I got sick with a prescription side effect and went wandering stoned through the city, getting tireder and sicker and needing help, I didn't connect with black people the way I did afterward.

Almost everyone that helped me during that walkabout was black. I was welcomed and taken care of and treated well in poor black neighborhoods by kind people everywhere I went. I started smiling and feeling more trusting whenever I saw a black face. One old white hippie helped me out and some paramedics checked on me when I was trying to sleep in a park and asked if I wanted to go to the hospital, but I didn't. I'd just come from there and did not want to go back.

Eventually I got arrested and spent 21 days time served for the misdemeanor of trying to sleep on a streetcar without paying the fare. By then I was giggling drunk on sleep deprivation and Prednisone, hallucinating so tangibly I could only distinguish it from reality by logic - I did not turn into a white whale beached and unable to breathe, I just had an asthma attack and was too weak to stand up. Stephen King was not my cell mate, but the long conversation I had with him was a good representation of his views on writing as expressed in many of his novels and interviews. He didn't need to be there to be there in spirit. The jail was real. The shackles were real. Getting thrown down by guards because I threw a tantrum like a three year old about getting in the shower was real, that was why I got the shackles and wound up laying naked in my own excrement in a cell in the psych ward end of the jail.

When I asked for a shower coherently and agreed not to make a fuss about it they unlocked the shackles and let me shower, hosed the cell clean, gave me clean clothes. Stephen King told me to remember every bit of it because I'd probably never be in a jail again and it would be worth describing from life. He was right. He was my conscience telling me to take it like a writer, accept the adventure, hallucinations and all, as an experience that would enrich my writing.

I made a number of black friends in that jail. We got along well. Not everyone, some people didn't like me, but I pretty much stuck with those who did and some of them were among the guards. None of the guards really picked on me - or the others. It was the city jail, not the state prison or federal prison. Just the city lockup with a lot of misdemeanors and a significant number of innocents, many of them black.

That's where I met the fiftyish mother of a cocaine addict who was up on felony charges of possession with intent to sell cocaine because her son who was living with her and supposedly in rehab, slipped and was dealing dope out of her house behind her back. Caught between a rock and a hard place, she didn't have the kind of names and contacts to get off by turning over drug dealers. She was pretty sure she'd be convicted and she explained to me why she was up on those charges even though she'd never used drugs and she didn't tolerate it in her son and he'd successfully hidden it from her. She couldn't resist taking her son back when he showed up sober and in rehab and wanted help staying sober. She got lied to. She was more grieved that her son had backslid than about what happened to her.

I heard stories that broke my heart in that jail.

I let go of that novel after the three day walkabout. I gave it to a young black woman who'd helped me carry it home when I wasn't strong enough to carry the bag. I'd promised her money and I didn't realize I didn't have it till I got in the door and couldn't breathe, had an asthma attack, knew I had nothing to give her for all her trouble. So I gave her the laptop instead. I let go of it and the backup was in the pocket of the case.

I look back at the original and it was racist. Not totally, but I learned so much just in the three sick days of stumbling around on Prednisone side effects that I'd completely blown my previous characterizations. Everyone in the rough draft was white and Euro-pagan except the Hindu doctor - that may be why she and the painter are the only characters that survived the changes.

Maybe I could not do justice to this book until I came home to San Francisco and live in a building where nobody's the same, where the people across the hall are an interracial marriage and there's Filipino and Hispanic and gay and straight and black and Samoan and Asian - where the diversity is world diversity. Where my being me is one thin stripe in a very big rich rainbow instead of that rainbow-tints rough draft where I found the general story.

The events, the main plot of the book is sound. The big problem was the characters and the minor conflicts told from too narrow a perspective. The book was racist by what I've learned today - liberal, but not really progressive. It had serious flaws and now I know I can do better. In all ways, I can do better with the cast. It's no longer color blind casting of essentially white characters, like an opera cast for the Ring cycle with a black Brunnhilde - who in character is still a Norse Valkyrie even if her face is dark and the actress-singer is black. Now the characters will be truer to who they are and the book richer for it.
robertsloan2: Ari sweet (Default)
Way back in 1995, I had a novel in progress titled "Garden of Earthly Delights." I was in love with it. I wrote the opener in a passionate frenzy describing the launch of a colony ship full of religious colonists. Pagan religious colonists, progressive people with plenty of diversity. I had a grand idea that burned bright and fierce.

I loved Edgar Rice Burroughs. I enjoyed Pellucidar and The Land That Time Forgot and every Dinosaur Novel that I came across. Except that when I was a little kid, I hadn't noticed the stories were extremely sexist, racist and right-wing capitalist. It was a shock when I got hold of them again as an adult and realized that I stood against so many childhood heroes.

So I set out to write my own Dinosaur Planet with all the grand wildlife and glorious adventure of the old pulps - and a modern progressive viewpoint. Boys' adventure for boys with two mommies. Or for adults who used to be those boys, girls who wished they could have adventures instead of just being rescued, people who weren't straight or white, well, you know! Everybody Else! If you add up all the minorities, we're the majority, the number of right wing straight white evangelical Christian males is not that high.

Not to mention that in the decades since ERB did the first round of grand Prehistoric Places where everything survives and extinctions get rolled back, new discoveries in paleontology have made all the ancient critters even more exciting. Dinosaurs are fast-moving warm-blooded ground-running eagles with teeth. Sauropods got bigger and better. Smaller theropods got feathers. Ceratopsians lived in herds, so they could stampede!

The story possibilities are endless.

There is a big fat novel in that premise. Unfortunately in 1995 when the first iteration was half finished along with the funniest chapter I ever wrote, I lost the laptop I was writing it on. Worse, the backup disks were in the laptop case. I lost the novel.

Recently, I remembered something about Raven Dance. I remembered how many versions of it I abandoned or threw out because I thought the idea was stupid and then started over from memory. I missed my greatest Lost Novel periodically, like thinking of a beloved cat that died. Then it finally hit me.

I wouldn't miss it if it was dead.

There's a better version of Garden of Earthly Delights that has been banging on my head several times a year since 1995. It's screaming for attention. It's got a big diverse cast that I haven't met yet and the characters I remember are strong enough to keep their parts. It doesn't matter if they change their names because I forgot their original names. One of the clearest is the middle aged Indian woman who's the doctor in the group. An empty-nest high achiever with long black hair to the back of her knees, barely five feet tall and a genius. Stunningly beautiful if you like middle aged women with gray streaks in miraculously long black hair. I'll have to rename her, but I can hear her voice as if I worked on it last week.

So I'll start over from premise. It's set in the same universe as Raven Dance, so the stuff about the colony ships is already worked out. The backstory of the planet is solid. I had that worked out so well because I told the story a few thousand times at parties bragging on the book in progress.

So every now and then I'll blog my progress on Garden of Earthly Delights.

I'm not going to wait till November. I'll start hitting keys and go back there, because I miss that planet and I miss those people and the critters are even cooler in 2012 than they were in 1995. They can even tell what color Confuciusornis was and some of the smaller feathered theropods - I didn't have feathered theropods in the previous version.

Hee hee! Nope, that is Not A Prairie Chicken! Watch out! It bites! With Teeth!

This is going to be fun.

Additional tidbit. I decided to keep the Nature Painter character from the old version. Nonny and I discussed the cast and she noticed a gap - no disabled character - so now instead of being a wish fulfillment that I had perfect physical health and could hike around Dinosaur Planet having adventures, the Nature Painter character just got my skeletal deformities and mobility limits. He also gets power mobility, a sort of spider-legged robot walker rather than anything urban with wheels - and that of course will give him plenty of heroic opportunities when the power runs down while everyone's running away from Big Beasties.

He'll have to be tough. But I get sick of the wheelchair guy always dying in those movies. He makes a great rolling mini-tank carrying all the extra firepower till one of the critters bites him off the Big Strong Black Guy's back. One or two monsters later the Brother Gets It and the white guy and the pretty white girl are the only survivors.

I have been working on characters today and that ain't how it works on my Dinosaur Planet. I had the Nature Painter as one of the narrators and he lived through to the end of the book. I also didn't have a cat in the first version, so I'm giving him a faithful Siamese companion who sneaks out of the compound when they go romping off on their expedition.

Nothing like having a sympathetic cat running for its life dodging giant dinosaurs. Besides, it can face off against those smaller theropods pound for pound, it's a cat. It can make all kinds of discoveries in the wild and almost get itself killed, then wind up shoving a cold nose into Nature Painter's armpit to shiver and meow right in the middle of scenes that need breaking up with a moment of humor.

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