Monthly Archives: August 2014

If you’re a straight cisgender woman writing m/m romance, sorry, you are not striking a blow for equality

Stahp

[Dear people reading this in the Year of Our Lord 2017: I don’t know where you’re all coming from, or why you’re coming here now, but I wrote this literally years ago and don’t give a shit anymore, so please be aware that when you feel the need to register your disagreement with me, all you’re doing is clogging up my inbox with opinions I don’t care about regarding a thing I don’t care about. Which annoys me. Given that, I’m locking the comments. Thanks and enjoy your stay.]

Just to get my argument clear in the headline.

A lot of things have prompted this, and nothing in particular has. The truth is that this is something I’ve been feeling for a while. It’s something I’ve wrestled with a bit, given that two of the novels and two of the novellas I’ve sold have been marketed as m/m romance, though I’m not cisgender, nor am I straight. It’s something I’ve gotten shades of since I started really being aware of m/m romance as a genre, and since I started understanding the uglier side of it, it’s something I’ve come to understand features heavily in a lot of parts of the slashy areas of fandom. In fact, if something in particular prompted this little tantrum – aside from some very self-congratulatory stuff I’ve seen recently about standard m/m romance doing exactly what I said it isn’t doing up there in the headline –  it’s a good recent piece by Jim Hines about the times when something just isn’t your thing to make a story out of.

So when a reader says they don’t want white people writing about their culture, and that they don’t want me specifically to do so, I find myself struggling. And I think it’s good for me to struggle with it. I refuse to write books where I pretend other cultures don’t exist. But I also recognize that there are stories I’m simply not qualified to write well, that no matter how respectful I might try to be, my story wouldn’t be true. (An odd thing to say about fiction, but I hope you understand what I mean.) And I know that sometimes I’m going to screw up.

Here’s something you have to do if you’re in a position of privilege and you’re writing about people who aren’t: ask yourself if it’s your story to tell. Ask yourself every single time. You may not arrive at an easy answer. You may not arrive at an answer at all. But storytelling is very fucking political, and you owe it to you, your story, your characters, and everyone who might ever read it to ask the question.

You may want to tell the story. No one can stop you from telling the story. But at least be honest with yourself about what you’re doing and why. And I cannot escape the feeling – not least while so many publishers of “LGBT” romance almost entirely ignore the L, the T, and frequently shove the B into the whole “menage” category – that the reasons why a lot of m/m romance exists are not tasteful.  To borrow from Hannibal/Thomas Harris, they are not tasty.

Then I found this.

Amy began by saying that “love is redemptive” and if any group needs the redemptive qualities of love, it’s gay men.

are you seriously

Writing about two men falling in love is completely different than the traditional romance. For one thing, both characters are equals, each with his own power.

are you seriously

“In fact, in many ways, I feel like a man,” Josephine stated in her British accent. This realization makes it easier for her to bypass all the traditional tropes found in mainstream romances.

“I’m tired of women’s nasty, mean games, and don’t want to write about them,” Amy added. Backbiting and undermining of friends’ goals and aspirations aren’t often found in gay romance since men are more direct in their interactions.

oh my god

Mary echoed this thought by saying, “I don’t want to write about bitchy women.”

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I should be clear that I don’t know what the sexual orientations or gender identities of these people are. But just. Meoskop at Love in the Margins has a way more coherent takedown of this abomination and I recommend you read it. Regardless, I’ve seen this before, I see it a lot, and it’s this attitude that actually keeps me away from most m/m romance. I write it sometimes, sure. But for the most part I don’t wanna read it.

Look, I know about all the arguments that transformative works – out of which a lot of this springs – allow for queer readings/reimaginings of existing canon and that’s great. I buy that argument, because what I’m buying into is the possibility of it. But in practice, no, and that extends to m/m romance in general. In practice what we have is a tremendous amount of stroke material featuring white cisgender traditionally attractive mostly able-bodied gay men, written by and for the consumption of straight cisgender women. And you can’t claim to me that this is all striking a blow for queer equality and have me take you seriously.

“Redeeming” gay romantic relationships is patronizing. Focusing on cisgender male erotic relationships to the exclusion of other queer identities because you find that stuff hot is erasure. Reducing the significance of characters to gender and sexuality – especially in the interest of depicting erotic sexual activity – is fetishizing. I’m not the first person to say this, but now I’m gonna be another one. And sure, you can do the whole #NOTALLGAYROMANCE thing and you’d be technically correct, but when one of the largest m/m romance review sites clutches their collective pearls over any depiction of sexual activity that isn’t entirely cisgender male dudes with other cisgender male dudes, that’s at once gross and majorly indicative of some deep problems that have direct connections to not only ugly misogyny but to some very toxic homophobia:

The reduction of complex human identities to sex acts is essentializing. It’s dehumanizing. I’m guessing that most of us have heard someone at some point say something like “I have nothing against those gays. I just don’t want them flaunting it or anything.” Which really means I want them invisible. I don’t want to have to confront the fact that they exist because they threaten me.

I get that a lot of us like some porn, and I get that sometimes we just want our porn and we want to not have to perform sociocultural analysis of it before we make use of it. But that’s why I said what I said above. Write what you want. Read what you want. Just please, please be honest with yourself about what you’re doing.

And don’t you dare claim that you’re doing something progressive on behalf of populations to which you don’t belong. Because you aren’t. It’s not your progress to make. And I’m getting really tired of seeing straight cisgender women congratulate themselves for it.

[ETA] Read Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward. I mean, pretty much every writer should.

RAVENFALL giveaway: Day 1!

RavenfallCover

Today (really technically yesterday at this point) marks the first day of the Great Ravenfall giveaway, wherein I’ll be giving away four sets of Crowflight and Ravenfall – the first two books in the Casting the Bones trilogy – as well as four separate thematic bracelets.

This round’s bracelet is “Blood and Moonlight”, made laboriously by hand by me:

"Blood and Moonlight" - August 10

“Blood and Moonlight” – August 10

AND THIS ROUND’S WINNER IS: Brad! Yaaaaaaaaaay Brad

If you didn’t win this time around, you’ll get three more chances before the final drawing on the 16th. And if you haven’t entered yet, you certainly still can right here (scroll to the bottom for the entry form).

Finding the door

image by Rob Wanenchak

image by Rob Wanenchak

If thou followeth a wall far enough, there must be a door in it. – Marguerite de Angeli, The Door in the Wall

One of the first books that I remember being specifically formative for me in terms of actual writing is Stephen King’s Misery.

Like a lot of people, I went through a period of being obsessed with King’s books, beginning with a series of summer nights down at my family’s lake property in Texas wherein I stayed up until the small hours reading The Shining. One could – and many have – levy a number of very legitimate criticisms at King and his writing, and as I’ve learned more about the craft it’s become clearer to me that a lot of his books frankly aren’t all that great. But I retain the opinion than a lot of his stuff really is pretty fantastic, if often flawed – The Stand, the Dark Tower series (mostly the first three books but yes, I love the whole ridiculous thing) Duma Key, It, Desperation, Dolores Claiborne, The Green Mile, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (a massively under-appreciated gem)… I could go on.

A lot of what I learned about writing, I learned from Stephen King, and not just from his slim, lean, wonderful On Writing. I could name a number of writers who first sowed in me the seeds of Wanting to Write, but when I determined that I might actually attempt the business, it was from King that I started to grasp the inner structure and workings of how to put a story together, how to make all the pieces fit and set the thing running. More, from him I gleaned an idea of creation that was at once cautiously mystical and flatly practical, devoid of both the gauzy, fluffy nonsense and the pompous inflexibility which stand as unfortunate features of a number of books about writing. I got useful images from him that made a lot of what I intuited easier to grasp: toolboxes and tools, people digging away in mines. I gained an understanding of the business of writing as far more practical craft and hard work than the base-level possession of talent, or of sitting around waiting for inspiration.

But sometimes you do wait. Sometimes you shove whatever your current project is into the back of your mind and go on about your life. Sometimes you get an idea but you know it isn’t ready yet, or you suspect it may not be. Then you let it be. I’ve found it useful to conceive – heh – of this as a kind of pregnancy; I can feel that something is growing, but it’ll grow at its own pace. I’ll know when it’s ready to emerge, and to try to force it out before its time could kill it before it has a chance to get going.

But sometimes it doesn’t simply emerge in its natural time, and then you have to hunt for it. You have to chase.

In Misery, King describes my understanding of this process as regarding a blank page, waiting to fall into it. That image has stayed with me, because it feels so right; what you need is a way through and into, and you won’t find it by avoiding it. And it’s not fun. It’s painful.  It’s lonely and frightening, and I think that loneliness and fear is what keeps a lot of would-be writers dependent on inspiration, the lack of which provides an excellent excuse to quit for the day and do something that isn’t writing.

And then there’s what I tend to experience more than anything else when trying to start a project – and sometimes when stuck in the middle of one – which is a combination of the two.

I’m not waiting to fall through a page – or a screen – and I’m not waiting for something to birth itself. It’s like I’m in the dark, feeling my way along a wall. There’s nothing in the dark with me but that wall – except for the wall, I’m in a void. What I’m looking for is a crack, a hole, a window, maybe even a door. I have no clear idea what’s behind the wall. Maybe I can hear things through it, very faint – voices, music. Maybe I’ve heard rumors about what’s over there, unreliable third-and-fourth-hand reports. The fact is that I don’t know. All I know is that I can’t stay in the dark.

And if I keep feeling along the wall, sooner or later I’m going to find my way through.

That moment, when I find the way through, is difficult to describe, but I think King would recognize it instantly. I think most writers would. It’s a moment of quiet elation and revelation both – not an understanding of the whole story or of the totality or the plot but more that you now see the path by which you might get to the end. You have a way in. The country beyond is still undiscovered, but now you can begin – or continue – the journey. And now the journey doesn’t seem nearly so impossible, nearly so overwhelming.

That moment is one of the moments I’ve come to live for. I had one of them last night. I’m not quite ready to start that particular journey, but I can see the road through the door, and I’m looking forward to it with great anticipation.

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to. – JRR Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

My Baltimore Book Festival schedule

I’ll be taking part in SFWA programming at the Baltimore Book Festival this year, which is really very awesome. First year doing that. Here are the panels/events in which I’ll be participating: main_logo

  • September 26 – Friday 2:00-3:00 | Writing about social justice in science fiction and fantasy. Join our panel to talk about science fiction that revolves around issues of social justice here on Earth–and elsewhere. From Ursula Le Guin’s tour de force novel The Dispossessed to the works of MacArthur Fellow Octavia Butler through a plethora of other writers, science fiction and fantasy authors have never shied away from stories that tackled issues of social justice. Talk with our panelists about their favorite examples and yours.

    Panelists: Anne K. Gray, Alma Katsu, Sunny Moraine, Alex Shvartsman, Fran Wilde

  • September 26 Friday 6:00-7:00 | Writing dark fantasy. So you’d like to write dark fantasy, horror fiction, or paranormals, or demons, angels, post-apocalyptic, and genre-bending fiction that puts you on the edge of your seat. Meet with writers of these genres to talk about what’s trending, what publishers are doing, and what tips our panel of authors has to offer.

    Panelists: Jill Archer, Em Garner, John Maclay, Sunny Moraine

  • September 27 Saturday 5:30-7:00 | Reception and Meet & Greet with authors, music, and food.  Join the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America at our reception, autographing session, and Meet and Greet with our program participants at the Baltimore Book Festival.

    Participants: Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Jeanne Adams, Jill Archer, Catherine Asaro, Jack Clemons, Brenda Clough, Scott Edelman, Charles Gannon, Ronald Garner, Em Garner, Herb Gilliland, Anne K Gray, Elektra Hammond, Justina Ireland, Jim Johnson, Alma Katsu, Cheryl Klam, L. Jagi Lamplighter, John Maclay, Marrisa Meyer, Sunny Moraine, Christine Norris, Ellen Oh, Sarah Pinsker, Caroline Richmond, Don Sakers, Karen Sandler, Peggy Rae Sapienza, Rori Shay, Alex Shvartsman, Dawnyell Snyder, Bud Sparhawk, John Tilden, Mike Underwood, Jean Marie Ward, Fran Wilde, Ilene Wong, Karlo Yeager

Looks like it’ll be a fantastic time. If you’re in the neighborhood, come check it out and say hey.

As promised, my top ten favorite bits of game soundtracks

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So my afternoon got completely derailed.

I was sitting down to write a thing and I put on the music from Metal Gear Solid 4 as background, but it reminded me how great it is. Which I started talking about, which led to me thinking about all these other great pieces of musical scores from games, so what the hell, here’s a list of my favorites.

I should note that this is not comprehensive. This is not a list of the best, this is just a list of the ones I often come back to or that were formative in some way. Most of these games are also very recent. Some of that is that I’m a relative newcomer to gaming – as a kid I missed out on a lot of the stuff my friends were playing on account of having no TV and little in the way of actual friends who would let me come over to see their game systems. I didn’t touch a console until I was in college. I’m a newbie.

The other part of it is that I tend to forget stuff I played a while ago unless it was really important for some reason, so this is also a snapshot of what’s at the forefront of my mind.

That said, these are in a sort of order. Here we go.

10. Myst III: Exile – Theme from Edanna | Jack Wall

There’s actually not much that’s remarkable about this track in and of itself – it’s sort of your standard new-agey deal. But I remember when I got to the age of Edanna – a lush, beautiful jungle world, by far my favorite age in the game – and this track started playing. There was something so perfect about the timing of it, and it pulled me into the environment with a frankly weird level of intensity. I’ve never stopped associating it with that feeling of goofy, childlike wonder as I wandered around swinging on vines and looking at glowing butterflies.

9. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – The Streets of Whiterun | Jeremy and Julian Soule

It actually took me hearing this piece in isolation from the game to appreciate it. There is, again, nothing stand-out amazing about it, but there’s just such a sense of place, and what I think is a real affection for the world of the game itself. Skyrim presents an gorgeously lush world in which to play, even if the game’s story elements are incredibly derivative and silly, and this perfectly captures the gentle way in which the game pulled me in and folded itself around me when I first played it.

8. Dear Esther – Always (Hebridean Mix) | Jessica Curry

Dear Esther stunned me from the moment I started playing it. This track, which begins when you find yourself in the caves beneath the surface of the island, almost made me cry it’s so perfect for the atmosphere of that section of the game. It’s quiet, meditative, and mournful – like the game itself. But it swells in intensity at several points, again like the game. It basically gave me lots of feelings about a game I was having lots of feelings about anyway.

7. Myst – Finale | Robyn Miller

Myst is probably the first game that blew the top of my head off – for a variety of reasons – and its music was a huge part of that. It doesn’t sound like much today, but in terms of capturing and augmenting the atmosphere of a game’s world, it showed me what might be possible. The music that played during the credits of the “best” ending especially grabbed me. It holds a very special place in my heart to this day.

6. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the PatriotsOld Snake | Harry Gregson-Williams

This was probably the first piece of a game’s score that blew me away in the way that Myst did. Again, I probably came late to this, but while I’ve always been a soundtrack buff, I was used to hearing this kind of quality in film scores. Not games. So here was a piece of music I’d be impressed hearing in a film, and it was playing over a game’s cutscene. It remains one of my favorites, as well as yet another thing that showed me what might be possible for the truly ambitious.

(Okay, we’re now into the territory where things are just barely edging each other out.)

5. L.A. Noire – Main Theme | Andrew Hale

I’ll admit to having a soft spot for more recent film noire on the order of Chinatown and L.A. Confidential, and of course L.A. Noire was basically all those tropes in a blender. For that reason alone, I loved it, but this theme hit me right in the brain the first time I heard it, and was a giant indicator that I was in good hands, that these people knew their tropes well and they knew what to do with them. Which turned out to be exactly correct. It’s a fabulous theme.

4. Portal – Still Alive | Jonathan Coulton

I’ve been confining myself to instrumental scores, but come on. I can’t not include this one.

3. The Last of Us – Main Theme | Gustavo Santaolalla

This is what happens when you get an Academy Award-winning composer to do the score for your game: It’s fucking amazing. Another one that gets tears out of me.

And these next two were almost impossible to choose between. They’re basically ties. Almost ties.

2. Uncharted (trilogy) – Nate’s Theme | Greg Edmonson

This is already one of the most recognizable game themes of all time. I came very late to the Uncharted franchise, but when I fell I fell hard, and this theme now slams me in the gut with so many emotions. Also it’s just incredible. Just fucking listen to it. Listen to it and try to resist the urge to go have adventures. Bet you can’t. I’m actually typing this from the summit of K2.

AND

1. Half Life – Hazardous Environments | Kelly Bailey

Gets the #1 slot not because it’s the best piece of music here but because I have a literally Pavlovian reaction to that opening bass. Like. Oh my GOD here comes something fantastic. Of all of these it probably gets me the most immediately psyched.

(WHERE THE HELL IS HALF LIFE 3)

So that’s it. That’s my list, as of now. Back to all the stuff I should have been doing in the last hour.

RAVENFALL is out!

RavenfallCover

I’ve been yelling about this in various places already, but here’s the official author-blog announcement: Ravenfall, the second novel in the Casting the Bones trilogy, is now available to purchase here.

While I of course hugely appreciate it whenever anyone spends their hard-earned cash on my stuff, you can also win copies of both it and Crowflight (book 1) over here. I’ll be giving out four rounds of copies in total, so your chances are pretty damn good.

YAY BOOK

RAVENFALL: win free books and handmade jewelry by me

Ravenfall comes out this week on the 6th, so I want to celebrate by giving things away, because it pleases me to do so. Starting on the 10th and running through the 16th, I’ll be drawing a name every other day; that person will win free copies of Crowflight and Ravenfall in your choice of ebook formats, and the bracelet (made by me) marked below.

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all together now!

“Blood and Moonlight” – August 10

“The Lady’s Silver” – August 12

“Wing and Bone” – August 14

“Flight to the Stars” – August 16

Enter below! Promise I will not use your contact info for any sinister demon-summoning rituals.