Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Apply Constant Pressure

A month or so ago, I got into a discussion with some folks about stress dreams. Well, less of a discussion and more of a sharing of anecdotes about stress dreams. Which ones folks had most frequently, how they changed over time, ways in which we dealt with them (and the stress that triggered them).

I mentioned that although I had the very common "get to school and discover there is a class I didn't know about and today is the final test" dream when I was younger, it wasn't until I reached college and was actually in a school environment that I began to find it actually a stressful dream. (Thank you twelve years of being schooled at home for making that dream funny the first few times I had it.)

Then I mentioned that more recently my stress dreams usually resolve with me pounding on whatever (or whoever) is causing the stress in the dream until it yields and is no longer stressful.

One of the other folks said they couldn't imagine being violent enough to hit something or someone else. Even in a dream.

That made me chuckle a little. Not that someone else would respond differently than myself - that is rarely a surprise.

I chuckled, because the propensity to beat my annoyances in the dream world into submission says a lot about my personality. I do not easily yield. (And yes, this is both a strength and a flaw.)

Writing is frequently a very solitary pursuit. It requires time and thought and research and a certain amount of opening veins (figuratively) and bleeding (figuratively) on the page. Having friends and family that encourage and support you in this seemingly simple endeavor is crucial, but at the end of the day no one can write your book except for you.

And that is daunting. Because the only real and solid credential for a writer is that they have written something.

A short story.
A poem.
An article.
A novel.

Words on the page, beginning to end. A writer is someone who writes. And that is a thing that sounds easy, but for most of us never is.

There's always another hurdle.
The thing that we wrote? Not really meaningful until it's published. (Because we tell ourselves publication is validation.)
The thing that was published? Not really successful until we're paid for it. (Because we tell ourselves compensation is validation.)
That thing we were paid for? Not really anything more than a hobby until we can quit the day job and live off our creative work. (Because we tell ourselves that recognition is validation.)

There's always another hurdle, another step, another goal, another writer who has done more or better than you have.

Writing is the stress dream to beat all stress dreams. But it's not a thing you wake up from. This is the real life version with film at eleven and a viral media tail that leaves folks saying "I couldn't make this shit up."

I have found success in some measure by using both fists (figuratively) to beat the shit (figuratively) out of the obstacles in my path.

Chris Pratt went viral with an Instagram post a few months back in which he talked about doing the things he loved and pursuing his dreams. He concludes with "Apply constant pressure for as long as it takes. It will break before you do. Go get it."

It's easy to only see the obstacles and think "I'm not strong enough or bold enough or aggressive enough to break those down."

I used to wake up in a panic after dreaming I was back at work with the asshole boss from hell. Until one night I realized I had nothing to lose by trying to beat them into submission because it was all in my head. And sure enough, when faced with the constant pressure of my (dreamworld) fists, they yielded. Sometimes they come back. My fists are still here; they still yield.

You have nothing to lose by pursuing your desire to write. If you want publication, pursue it. If you want recognition, pursue it. But don't let the things you want (publication, validation, recognition, and sweet, sweet cash) keep you from the thing that you need (to open those veins and bleed on the page).

Apply constant pressure. The obstacles are all in your head.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Writing Minorities from a Position of Privilege

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending LibertyCon in Chattanooga, TN. It was the third year I'd been a guest at this particular convention and it never fails to be interesting (if sometimes challenging).

In particular this year, a question from an audience member during the Weird Wild West panel prompted me to think more specifically about the challenges of writing perspectives outside our own - specifically those of minorities being written by folks with greater degrees of privilege. It's not the first time I've thought about the issue, nor the first time I've talked with other authors about it or written about it. But it has been a year and a half since I last put any sort of formal shape to my thoughts and I was surprised to discover that, while my general thoughts have not changed, the specifics are different now.

The question started with a reference to an essay in which the author had argued that authors who are not part of minority groups would be better off letting those groups write for themselves rather than tackling perspectives they are not familiar with. (I.e. White folks shouldn't write from the PoV of Latinx or African-American characters because they won't really know or understand the culture, and in providing a majority voice they will inadvertently silence more authentic voices.) The audience member then pointed out that although she was a WoC, she would struggle to write from the perspective of a lesbian because she's straight. She then asked what the panelist thought - did we agree that folks who were not a part of a minority should avoid writing characters from minority perspectives?

There's a thing that tends to happen when you ask white authors this question or mention that it's been asked. Invariably they say "I write characters all the time that aren't me. Murderers and thieves. Writing a character who is a person-of-color or a member of the LGBTQAI community is no different." And then they usually stress that doing research into cultures and communities we aren't a part of is important for authenticity.

This opinion is similar to the position I took a year and a half ago ("Fixing" Diversity in Science Fiction and Fantasy), but further consideration has led me to believe that it is not enough.

First of all, let me point out that having diversity in ones story world is still a must. (Barring some unnatural and plot specific reason that everyone looks one way or another. I.e. A virus that killed off nintey-nine out of every hundred women leaving a planet or country with a massive male population and only a handful of women.) But having a diverse story-world is not the same thing as writing from a minority perspective - writing from the POV of a person-of-color or LGBTQAI or differently abled, etc.

The former means recognizing and incorporating a variety of folks into the fabric of your world so that it feels real. The latter means seeing that world through the experience of someone who is from a particular culture/subculture. The latter means not just understanding general experiences - being an outsider in a group or having a lover leave you - but specific experiences - having store employees follow you around because of the color of your skin or being suspected of being a criminal based on the way you wear your hair or being told that you sound like a certain ethnicity because you laugh too loud.

The latter means not merely drawing on the experiences that all humans have in common, but understanding that as a white/cis/het/abled/neuro-typical person there are experiences you will likely never encounter, but are common for members of other cultures.

And that doesn't even touch on differences in family life and structure, economic challenges, religion, music, dress, education, etc.

"So," you say. "You do think only minorities should write minority characters."

The short answer is no. And my next answer is "If you are not part of a particular group - minority or otherwise - understand that you are not an expert on that group."

All things being equal in terms of writing craft, a person-of-color will always write a POV character from their cultural group with greater authenticity than someone outside that group. Folks who have lived in poverty will portray the complexities of being poor more clearly than someone who has always lived comfortably. A lived experience will always be more authentic than a researched experience. Always.

Secondly, saying "I am not a murderer, but I write about them because that's what authors do," is not a valid equivalent to "I am not an African-American, but I write about them because that's what authors do."

It's true that a large part of writing fiction requires putting oneself in the head and skin of folks that are very different from our real-life self. But murder is a thing that transcends culture - it is a human experience that almost anyone can imagine because it is not culture or religion or gender specific.

Imagine you write a book from the POV of a serial killer. Imagine, even, that you get a part of it wrong. Something in your portrayal doesn't represent the actual experience of real serial killers. Imagine that something in your representation of a serial killer has a negative influence on the way everyone else views serial killers. Now imagine that everyone in the world reads your book. How many folks will be able to say "This is wrong. I am a serial killer and I know,"? How many folks will find they are subject to additional prejudice because you have added to the negative of opinion of serial killers?

Now imagine you write a book from the POV of a minority that you are not a member of. Imagine you get a part of it wrong. Imagine that your representation has a negative influence on the way everyone else now views that minority group. Now imagine everyone in the world reads your book. How many folks will be able to say "This is wrong. I am a member of this group and I know,"? How many folks will find they are subject to additional prejudice because you have added to the negative opinion of that minority group?

[Let me clarify that I am not saying that if a group is sufficiently small you shouldn't worry about "getting it right". Rather comparing the creative ability to write about thieves to the creative ability to write about people-of-color borders on ignorance - well-intentioned or not.]

"So," you say. "You do think only minorities should write minority characters."

The short answer is no. And my next answer is "If you intend to write about an experience that is not a human experience (love, grief, anger, hate, hope, etc) and is based outside your own cultural background, then you had better do your fucking research."

This means talking to people within that group. It means reading books and articles by members of that group. (Not just books and articles about that group.) It means writing the thing you intend to write and then showing it to those people you talked to before and asking "What have I gotten wrong?" (It also means understanding that these folks don't have an obligation to explain these things to you. Look for help, but don't demand it.)

It means recognizing that the things you think you know about being African-American or Latinx or LBTQAI or neuro-atypical may be flat out wrong. The things you've seen in movies or read in books may be wrong. It means recognizing that your ability to imagine yourself as a member of x-group may be flawed. It means being humble and being willing to learn. It means not being defensive when someone tells you "You will have trouble understanding this because you haven't lived it." It means being able to to take criticism from folks outside your immediate friends and family without saying "Well, my roommate in college was Asian and he thought this was okay."

It means recognizing that while some experiences can give you a good emotional foundation for writing about prejudice or discrimination, being ostracized by the mean girls in high school is not the same as living with systematic racism against your ethnic group. It means recognizing that being misunderstood because you were a tomboy in college is not the same as having your family kick you out for being gay.

So, all of this to say, if you feel you must write from a perspective outside your own lived experience, do so carefully. Do your research and stay humble.

If, like me, you are still a little uncomfortable with trying to write from a different point of view, you can still write fiction that presents diverse worlds. Either by making sure your supporting characters and "bit parts" reflect a diverse reality or by writing in worlds that are not our own. (I.e. The main POV characters in the Epic Not Fantasy novel are not "white", but their culture is not ours to begin with. The character whose skin is dark will not have the experience or culture of a man from Africa or the Caribbean or the United States because none of those places exist. But he does still provide a character who is smart and capable and central to the protagonist's success who "looks" like someone of African descent.) The latter is not a perfect solution, but I am committed to not excluding groups just because it's easier and safer for me to write about straight white cis-het folks.

And use your voice to support and recommend the work of those who are minorities. Not because they need your approval. But because, like it or not, authors in a position of privilege will continue to be asked their thoughts on diversity. And, if you support diversity, you will not just give your own opinions on it, but highlight those who are writing from a diverse perspective.

Because imagining what it's like to be African-American or Asian or Latinx or neuro-atypical or LGBTQAI is not the same as living it.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Legacy of Truth: Guest Blog by Christy Nicholas

Today we have an excerpt from Christy Nicholas book, Legacy of Truth, coming July 6, 2016 from Tirgearr Publishing.


Ardara, County Donegal, Ireland

March, 1787

Éamonn Doherty eased onto the old rocking chair beside the crackling fire. As soon
as he settled, he was bombarded with children, clamoring eagerly for a story from Grandfa.

Well, it was his fault. Whenever he returned from his wanderings around the
country, he would give them a story, a tale of Ireland’s past or his own.

The bairns settled onto the ground at his feet. There were Esme and Eithne, the
twins, looking stark and thin with shocks of wild red hair and too many freckles to count.

“That's my spot! I always sit there, Eithne, and you know it!”

Eithne looked at her sister and sniffed, saying nothing. She turned to Éamonn and
blinked as if innocent.

Esme pushed at her sister, but Eithne was braced for it. She resisted the shove and
looked back over her shoulder with disdain.

Fuming, Esme crossed her arms.

In the far corner, with her arms wrapped firmly around her knees, sat the youngest
sister, wee Brighid. Everyone called her Bridey. Her solemn green eyes peered at him,
owl-like. She must be about ten years old by now. And little Níaṁ wasn’t a sister, but a
cousin, her parents having died of a fever. A brown wren, she was plump and sweet,
still a toddler.

Éamonn would have preferred some grandsons to pass his stories to, but his son
and daughter-in- law, Brian and Shona, had given him only granddaughters thus far.

Still, he loved them dearly. His two other children were both dedicated to the church, so
Brian was his last hope for grandsons. Éamonn looked at the girls and decided perhaps
a story of a manly hero might do them for the night.

He fixed his eyes on wee Níaṁ until she giggled nervously. He tousled up his thick
white hair until it looked like a lion and she laughed. Smiling, he began.

“Tonight our tale will begin with a hero of great fame, for who has never heard of
Fionn Mac Cumhaill, leader of the Fianna, Warriors of Ireland?”

Timidly, Bridey raised her hand.

Interrupted, Éamonn cocked his head. “Yes, child? What is it, my dear?”

“I haven’t heard of him, Grandfa.”

Éamonn closed his eyes, reaching for patience. The children weren’t to know what
a rhetorical question was.

“That’s all right, mo chuisle. I will be telling you now, so?”

The girl nodded and wrapped her hands more tightly around her knees until she
was just a pair of feet, arms and a curly mass of red hair sparkling in the firelight. For a
moment, Éamonn went back in time, to the memory of his dear, long-dead wife, Katie.

She had hair such as that, wild and bright. The windows rattled as the wind outside
picked up. The children all shifted uncomfortably.

“The Fianna were a band of warriors, pledged to protect the shores of Ireland from
foreigners. Fionn’s father was the leader of the Fianna, so he had his son raised by a
warrior woman. Have you ever seen a warrior woman, Eithne?”

“I have!” The girl was the boldest of the lot. “There is a woman who hunts up in
Bunbeg. I heard Alan say she came into his dad’s bakery one day!”

“I heard that first! He told me first.” Esme said.

“Girls, that’s enough. Would you like to know about this warrior woman?”

It did the trick. All four children looked up at him, expectant.

He grinned and got back into the rhythm of his tale.

“This great woman was called Liath Luachra, and she was tall, with long muscles
and longer hair. Her brown hair she kept in thin braids, which went all the way down to
her knees. She was a fierce warrior, always clad in skins and furs, and she taught Fionn
all her arts. When he had learned all he could from her, he left to join the Fianna.

“But the Fianna knew him for his father’s son and worried for his youth and safety.
They told him he must leave, and they could not protect him from harm. This angered
Fionn, so he left in a temper. After his temper had cooled, he sought out a Druid to learn
wisdom. The Druid he found was named Finnegas. Finnegas spent seven years trying
to catch the Salmon of Knowledge, and he had just caught the fish before Fionn found
him. It roasted on the fire, and Finnegas told Fionn to watch it while he got more

“Fionn watched the fish, watched it bubble and pop, sizzle and squeak.”

Níaṁ let out a squeak of her own to help with the sound effects.

“He saw a great blister form on the skin of the salmon, growing larger and larger,
about to pop. He pressed his thumb to it to push it back down so the skin wouldn’t be
blemished. As he did so, his skin burned, so he stuck his thumb in his mouth.” Éamonn
demonstrated with his finger and looked around until each child did the same.

“But he had done a terrible thing, now.”

“What was so horrible, Grandfa?” Bridey asked with wide eyes. “All he did was
touch the fish!” She replaced the thumb in her mouth absent-mindedly.

“Ah, that is true. But, you see, Fionn was the first to taste of the flesh of the Salmon
of Knowledge, and it meant he now had all the Salmon’s great wisdom. Finnegas was
furious and chased him out with a club, but Fionn now had the knowledge and wisdom
he needed to lead the Fianna fairly.”

All the girls watched him for the end of the tale.

“In the end, he controlled his own fate, and therefore could make himself happy.
That's all that any one of us can do, aye?”

When Níaṁ realized the tale was over, she belatedly removed her thumbs from her
mouth. As she did, he picked her up into his lap and rocked in front of the fire with her.

She was a solid, warm little child. Brian might not be able to make his farm work well,
but he at least kept his children fed.

He sang a sad, low song of lost love and broken promises until each child fell asleep on the soft, white wings of fantasy.


If you pre-order a copy before the release you'll receive a special sale price of $0.99.

Legacy of Truth: Tirgearr Publishing

In a small town in northwest Ireland around 1800, Esme must grow up quickly. Her parents are leaving for America, abandoning her and her groom-to-be, Seán, to fend for their own. As she struggles to find her place among strangers in a new, isolated town, she finds it difficult to keep hold of what is precious to her.

Her one friend, Aisling, helps her through depression and illness as Seán stays away longer and longer on trading missions. Her sister tries to steal a mystical brooch from her, a brooch with which her grandfather entrusted her, to use for her own selfish ends.

While she has some comfort in her small family, she must discover comfort in her own company to hold back the growing despair and battle against her sister's treachery.


Christy Nicholas, also known as Green Dragon, has her hands in many crafts, including writing, digital art, beaded jewelry, writing, and photography. In real life, she;s a CPA, but having grown up with art all around her (her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother are/were all artists), it sort of infected her, as it were. She loves to draw and to create things. She says it's more of an obsession than a hobby. She likes looking up into the sky and seeing a beautiful sunset, or seeing a fragrant blossom or a dramatic seaside. She takes a picture or creates a piece of jewelry as her way of sharing this  serenity, this joy, this beauty with others. Sometimes this sharing requires explanation - and thus she writes. Combine this love of beauty with a bit of financial sense and you get an art business. She does local art and craft shows, as well as sending her art to various science fiction conventions throughout the country and abroad.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/greendragonauthor
Homepage: www.greendragonartist.com
Blog: www.greendragonartist.net