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I have word that the Truth & Dare anthology is out early in the US, so I wished to alert y'all to it! I have a story in it, and so do many other awesome and excellent people, to wit: Jennifer Finney Boylan, Sarah Rees Brennan, Cecil Castellucci, Emma Donoghue, Courtney Gillette, A. M. Homes, Heidi R. Kling, Jennifer Knight, Michael Lowenthal, Liz Miles (who also edited the collection), Saundra Mitchell, Luisa Plaja, Matthue Roth, Sherry Shahan, Gary Soto, Shelley Stoehr, Sara Wilkinson, Ellen Wittlinger, and Jill Wolfson.





The lovely Kirkus review: "Truth-telling can be dangerous, as anyone knows who's traveled the angst-filled terrain of adolescence. With remarkably few exceptions, the short stories in this collection exemplify the best of the form, drawing readers immediately into the lives of characters who confront the hard truths of alienation, love, trauma and sex. Some are humorous, like Sarah Rees Brennan's "The Young Stalker's Handbook," about two girls' comical encounter with a good-looking boy in a fast-food restaurant, and the editor's own contribution, "Scrambled Eggs," told entirely in Tweets. Others are unsettling, like Sherry Shahan's "Iris and Jim," a vividly weird story of love between two anorexics, or Matthue Roth's lush and startling "Girl Jesus on the Inbound Subway," about a Russian-American boy in Philadelphia who follows a girl from the train. Saundra Mitchell's "The Last Will and Testament of Evan Todd" is the powerful story of a boy reclaiming his life after an icy drowning. A girl auditioning for school play [sic] finds success where she least expects it in Heidi R. Kling's "Headgear Girl," while Emma Donoghue's "Team Men" gives the Biblical story of David and Jonathan a modern twist as two soccer players explore their homosexuality. Fans of Ellen Wittlinger and Gary Soto will be pleased to find them included in this edgy anthology for teens who dare to face the sometimes-ugly truths of life."

I know you guys enjoy playing 'compare and contrast different covers' (or is that just me...) so here are two more for you: The UK cover of Truth & Dare, out in a month, the one they almost had... and the real one.





The UK cover that got changed to...





Real UK cover.

Three pretty different looks, don't you think? (Note: I had no say in any of the covers - you don't with anthologies especially, because then a dozen writer types would have a say, but I like 'em.)

Writing this story was dear-God-difficult, I will add. It took me a month to first-draft, and I generally write much faster than that. 'How does anyone cope writing without magic?' I wondered, and my story is actually highly autobiographical (Yes, it all mostly really happened, yes, I am an idiot), and I think more like this blog than anything anyone's seen before...

I was especially excited to be in an anthology with Emma Donoghue, because, well, wow. She wrote Room, which is a very fancily awarded adult literary novel, and one my book club did a few months ago. (Yes, I totally told the book club I was in an anthology with her.) But one of the main reasons for my excitement was well, you see in the Kirkus review what her story's about. Saundra Mitchell's protagonist is gay, too, and all-in-all I was just happy when I heard about the contents, and not just because the writers were good.

There's been a lot of talk recently about what is and isn't allowed in young adult, and I kept hearing things like 'Well, but it's easy to be inclusive in YA, anyone who isn't is terrible' - and I wanted to say, well, it's not easy. You do take a hit for it. But it is always, personally, wonderful for me when people do write outside the world where it's the same old thing.

So I wrote a post, All Those Who Default From the Default Will Be Punished (But I Personally Think They Will Be Awesome) which you can find here at Gay YA or cross-posted below, in case anyone wants to talk to me here/yell at me here for getting something wrong, which I often do!

So, let us discuss the most common fake fictional world of all. It doesn’t involve vampires or werewolves. It involves – well, rent a majority of mainstream movies and you can see it. It’s a world where everyone is a certain way – white, straight, able-bodied – and the really important stories are always a guy’s.

There mayyy be people who aren’t white, straight and able-bodied around in this world. I believe they live on the Isles of Issuelandia, and they are very seldom allowed onto the mainland where the adventures are at.

This is a fantasy world we’ve all been shown a million times over in our lives, so many times it’s had an effect on all of us, whether we know it or not. But most of us, if we stop and think about it, can put our experience of the real world up against the fake default-this-way world we get shown, and say ‘Whoa, these pictures are kind of different!’

So on one level this is a crafting issue. The fake default world is a more boring one, offering creators less chance to be exciting and interesting. Loads of people like a romance with conflict, or confusion: in Perry Moore’s Hero, the hero has a crush on a mysterious masked man, and the fact he’s gay and doesn’t know how to tell his macho superhero father is another layer of trouble for him and his already-troublous romance. Loads of books are about identity: in Holly Black’s White Cat and Red Glove, Cassel Sharpe doesn’t know if he’s a good guy or a bad guy (he’s inclined to think bad), he doesn’t know what his real surname is because his whole family are lying alias-using magical conmen. And he looks like a PoC: people speak to him in different languages, confidently, on the street. But he’ll never know about that, either: another layer for his fruitless noir-y search for identity.

On another level it’s a moral issue. It’s not just that it’s more interesting: it’s important not to exclude people, it’s important to represent everyone. As a nerdy book-loving (though not quiet… nobody will ever tell you I’m quiet) girl, I was able to see people like me in books, even if there was nobody quite as nerdy and book-loving in my real life. (For all the nerdy book-loving girls out there: Diana Wynne Jones’s House of Many Ways really rang my recognition bell. You’re welcome.) That was good for me, in a way I didn’t even recognise until years later. I don’t think any writer wants a reader to read their book, and think: ‘Well, I’m not there. Guess I’m on the Isle of Issuelandia. Oh man, not again. Kind of like always going to the Isle of Wight for your holidays. We never get to go out clubbing in Spain.’ It is wrong to banish people from the mainland!

It’s amazing to see people responding to the break with the default world. I remember having a room full of people tell me that Mercedes Lackey’s Vanyel trilogy changed their lives. I’ve read people saying Holly Black’s Tithe or Francesca Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat changed the way they read, or wrote, or saw the world. I’ve had gay guys and girls at signings telling me, hey, awesomely done, you made us happy. (One gay couple who yelled out ‘Go Team JAMIE!’ during a discussion of teams, always makes me smile to remember.) My favourite fanletter, in all the world, was about me saying no to magically curing my disabled character Alan. And once off the Issuelandia Isles, readers who do conform to the default will see that characters who don’t can be fun and lovable, and will love them and want to see more of them.

So, the books are better and readers will love them! Why not do it? you may cry. Well, the second bit is debatable: in fact you will get much more harshly critiqued for reasons I will discuss anon, and moreover: because you will pay for it.

Some libraries won’t carry you. Some bookshops won’t, either. You might get banned. None of this might happen, but parents might whisk the book out of teens’ hands. I’ve had people tell me they wanted to buy my book, or order it at the library, and they couldn’t because of their parents. Saddest for the teens who can’t get to the books they want to read. But sad also for the writers whose sales, and thus whose chance to write the next book, suffers too. (That said. I loathe book piracy. I find it gross that people think it’s okay to for them to benefit from someone else’s work, who feel that person shouldn’t benefit from their own work, as if it isn’t work or isn’t important. But if there is a teen who wants to read mine, and who can’t get them because of their parents by any other means… Go ahead. Don’t feel bad. Your need is greater than mine, and you have my blessing, and all my good wishes for the future.)

Recently there’s been a big hue-and-cry over a YA anthology called the Wicked Pretty Things anthology, in which author Jessica Verday was asked to change her gay love story to a straight one. She said no, retracted the story, and said why on her blog. Many other authors took back their stories in protest, which made me very proud of my genre, and the anthology has been cancelled.

I will say this: the editor of the now-defunct Wicked Pretty Things anthology I know a little, and she’s always been lovely to me. She edited a story I had with an intersex character in it, and let me keep hir. She also obviously in this case defaulted to the fake-default-world, and we’ll never know why: maybe on her own, but very possibly because someone hinted to her, or flat-out told her, that she had to.

Which doesn’t make the whole publishing house bad, either. (Gosh no. The same publishing house is coming out with an anthology called Truth & Dare, which I am in – but more importantly, which Saundra Mitchell’s in with a gay main character, and Emma Donoghue with a gay romance.) It’s just that publishing isn’t a monolith. There are always going to be people who support breaking away from the default, and always going to be people who are against it, and you’re always going to have to deal with the mix. Unfortunately, it does just take one person to create a problem you have to deal with. Jessica Verday had to take her fight out in public, in the same way Justine Larbalestier had to when the girl on the cover of her book was a different race to the heroine inside, but let me assure you: everyone who ever breaks away from the fake default world has had private fights.

Said little fight I had – I will note, not with my editor for the Demon’s Lexicon books, who has always been solidly supportive. Another author, who wrote one gay romance which went fine, and sold well. And then in her sequel she had a steamier gay romance, and despite her awesome sales, the publisher flatly refused to publish it. The story ends well. She got another publisher. But it is not a pleasant thing to have happen to you! Another writer, who had her gay characters deleted from her screenplay. These problems always, always happen, at some point. It is exhausting to deal with them, and fight against the fake default.

I have one friend (and I swear, these are all authors I know, and true stories, and not secretly me – I’ll tell you when it’s me) who had gay characters in her book. Editor took them out. She put them back in. Editor took them out and took issue with her for her naughty ways. She swallowed hard, and put them back in. The book went out with them in.

Almost the first review we saw of the book online said ‘Huh, not enough gay, what gay there was, was problematic…’ And of course, that’s what the person thought, so they were right to say it! But holy Methuselah on a bicycle, after all the author had been through to get it out there, it was hard to read.

Another author I know was slammed for showing a girl feeling shame after an assault. And of course, no girl has a reason to feel that – but some girls do, and they deserve books to say you do feel it, and yet you have nothing to be ashamed of. And yet, the critic has a perfect right to say she felt uncomfortable with it, too. I’ve been dinged (see, told you I’d tell you when it was me…) for having a gay character be too stereotypical because he once wears a purple ‘LOCK UP YOUR SONS’ t-shirt his sister gave him to annoy a homophobe. Made me sad, especially considering the fact I had a little fight on my hands getting to keep my gay kiss in the same book. But people have to be free to call out stereotypes as and when they see them!

People are always going to criticise stuff. People are critical beings! I myself constantly criticise books, movies, and the existence of bananas on this earth. And people notice books that stray from the fake default world more, and are more critical of them, because we are all so accustomed to the default that stuff that’s not-default is very noticeable. Besides which, nothing should be exempt from criticism, and it is important to call out offensive things in fiction.

So this will always happen, until the world changes. If you write anything that’s not the default, you will pay for it, because of publishers or readers or both.

I’ve seen the white-straight-able-bodied attitude be criticised, but I haven’t seen specific books be criticised as examples of that attitude, for the simple reason it’s much easier to criticise something that’s present than to criticise the absence of something (since no book can contain everything). It’s easier to be invisible to the audience – to go the white, straight, able-bodied route, with the focus on dudes and their dudely charms.

And some of those books are great. And I am a big fan of dudely charms, in general! But it has got to a stage where I will read a book that is otherwise good, and note it has the fake default, and I’ll feel a lingering sense of disappointment. I’ll never know if it was a consciously or unconsciously made safe choice – or just how the book turned out – or anything, really. No reader can know what the writer was thinking. All they have is the book, and their own conclusions.

Which is why I’ll add that I don’t like hearing ‘oh, some of my characters are gay, but I just didn’t mention it, it’s not germane to the plot.’ It’s disingenuous to pretend that the fake default world doesn’t exist, and that people won’t assume. It’s disingenuous to say it, if there are a bunch of heterosexual characters whose straightness was germane to the plot! I believe that it’s said in all good faith, and of course it’s nicer to hear than ‘Gay people in MY world, certainly not’ but hearing it (and I have heard it, oh gosh, at least twenty times from different writers) always saddens me. Put it in the book. All most readers will ever have is the book. The book is the important thing: the book could change a life, if you do it right.

And if you don’t believe that, why be a writer at all?

I always think of something I heard Karen Healey (Guardian of the Dead, heroine’s best friend is asexual) say at a panel once, talking about doing something that she knew would limit her audience and thus cost her money/potential future deals: ‘But then I thought, well, the cost of that is a lot less than the cost of thinking less of myself as a human being!’ (This is a paraphrase. Karen Healey probably said it a lot better!)

You will get pushback. And you won’t get praised. But it’s worth doing because it’s worth being a better human being, and a better writer

And maybe, the world will change, and it won’t be as hard for you, and–even better–it won’t be as hard for other people. Maybe, just a little, you’ll have helped.

Take a tiny hammer to the fake default world, and take the consequences of doing so. It’s not easy, but it is worth it. For more on authors interested in doing so: www.diversityinya.com

Comments

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emmacmf
Apr. 20th, 2011 08:58 pm (UTC)
Something else to add to my book buying list!

The girl on the front of the US cover for the anthology looks like Drusilla from Buffy.

YA books should be encouraged to show the range and diversity of the people of this world; during a time when young people are questioning themselves and their own moral standpoints, it's important that they are exposed to scenarios outside of their own social and cultural influences so they aren't forced to think within an extremely narrow and limited viewpoint. It is entirely possible for a book to be life-changing.

Anyway, you put it so much better than I ever could.
sarahtales
Apr. 20th, 2011 09:02 pm (UTC)
Doesn't she, though? I've always thought that. I love Buffy, mind you, so it's all good.

I know some books were life-changers for me, so I think you put it excellently well.
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raggedyanndy
Apr. 20th, 2011 09:03 pm (UTC)
That is an excellent essay and you should feel good for writing it.
thegreatmissjj
Apr. 20th, 2011 09:05 pm (UTC)
It’s just that publishing isn’t a monolith. There are always going to be people who support breaking away from the default, and always going to be people who are against it, and you’re always going to have to deal with the mix.

It's hard to remember that publishing isn't a monolith, although I would also say it's hard to remember the same of the reader, from this side of the desk anyway. As someone who works on the editorial side, it can be awfully depressing to hear how much the "bottom line" matters when acquiring a book. It's so easy to generalize a readership, a reading public, to publish or acquire books that cater to the fake-default world because it appears that's all the public wants to buy. When you look at "the bottom line", it appears all readers want are books about white, straight, cisgendered, able-bodied protagonists.

Of course, my thinking is that it's mostly because books that reflect the not-default are not readily available to a reading public who WOULD buy it. But perhaps I'm more optimistic than most.

It's sad because so many of us in publishing would be found on the Isles of Issuelandia. So many of us are queer, and a growing number of us are not white. Would we like to see ourselves reflected in the books we publish? Of course. But you know what's really sad? When you publish a lovely little gay romance next to paranormal fantasy series with white, straight, cisgendered, and ablebodied protagonists and see the fake-default outsell the other by a HUGE, seemingly insurmountable margin. I find it interesting and/or depressing that queer writers like Sarah Waters and Emma Donoghue reach more mainstream acclaim when they write non-queer books (THE LITTLE STRANGER and ROOM, respectively). Why?

I try to fight my little fights too. But it would be so much easier if we felt our efforts were rewarded in some small, quantifiable measure.
sarahtales
Apr. 20th, 2011 09:26 pm (UTC)
Oh boy, yes as regards readers. I keep recalling the furore over Cindy Pon's changed covers, and yet I haven't seen a ton of the readers who said how much they wanted to support Cindy Pon... well, coming out and actually doing so.

What I wrote for publishing applies to writers and readers too, and of course we overlap all over, some of us in all three directions. There are writers who write the default world, and seeing them succeed wildly and thinking 'I wish they'd write something non-default' or 'gee, I'd like me a tiny piece of that'? Both those thoughts are sad thoughts!

I know there are tons of people in publishing who support the breaking away, as I said, but I do remember being both astonished and really happy when publishers responded well to my latest, and seemed pleased by the two things I'd been gloomily convinced would be dealbreakers. I do think, or at least I hope, that on all three sides, publishers, readers and writers, the people who support the break away from the fake default will continue to grow.

That is depressing about Sarah Waters. I didn't know The Little Stranger had done that much better. Given my great love for Fingersmith, I am at one with woe.

It would be easier, and it's frustrating that it's not.
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imagined_away
Apr. 20th, 2011 09:15 pm (UTC)
I'm so excited for this anthology. I'll have to look for it the next time I go to the library!

I also love the rest of this post. Books should reflect the worlds they take place in. I love seeing gay/lesbian/the ever elusive bisexual characters in books!
I love it even more when it's not a big deal that they're gay like with Jamie.

I hesitate to say this because I understand completely why you didn't heal Alan's leg, but I admit part of me would have liked to see him healed. Not because I think there's anything wrong with him but because it would make his life a little easier and I'd like for the characters I like to have easier lives.
That said I totally understand, and agree, with why you didn't let him stay healed. I guess it's a lot like Barbara Gordon? I'd love for her to not be paralyzed, but she's done so much more as Oracle than she ever did as Batgirl. And she's a icon for a lot of people with disabilities as someone they can relate to. Hell. I only have mental illnesses and she's still someone I look up to. So as a fan I wish she wans't but, but looking at her character I'm glad they kept her paralyzed?
I really hope that makes sense and doesn't make me sound like a terrible person. I swear I'm not trying to be a terrible person x.x
sarahtales
Apr. 20th, 2011 09:42 pm (UTC)
Basically the problem is this: nothing exists in a vacuum.

Like, maaaany fans of Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments think that Adam Lambert should play her character Magnus Bane in a movie version of her book, since he's gay and Magnus is bisexual, and he has a look that sounds similar to the character's. People have gone so far as to say they won't see the movie unless AL plays Magnus, and suggested she was racist for saying she didn't want an actor based on his race. (Magnus is Asian, Adam Lambert is white.)

And in an ideal world, well, maybe it'd be less important. (Though I still think it'd be pretty important, given that a character's heritage and identity is a huge part of that character--way more than, say, their height.) But in this world, where white actors get the vast majority of parts and white actors are cast so, so often in the place of people of colour (The Last Airbender movie, and now Akira, to name very modern examples), depriving actors who aren't white of roles (because it almost never works the other way around) and presenting a false view of the world, casting a white guy in the role of an Asian guy is hugely problematic.

Not that being a person of colour is the same as being disabled, and neither is the same as being gay, except in the way that the world does keep informing people that being any of those things is inherently not okay.

In the same way, there are quite a few stories about disabled characters who do get magically healed, and that sends out a message that being disabled isn't okay, or means you're disqualified to be a main character. And it leaves you with a character who's part of the default world problem. (Like, it would make Jamie's life easier in some ways if he was magically made straight - he wouldn't get hassled as much in school, he'd have a better relationship with his father. But it would be a mistake to do it, just the same.) Alan's brother wants to make his life easier in the same way you do, so I understand!

So - no you're not terrible, and I like the Barbara Gordon example. I'm not a comics fan, so I didn't know. ;) And yet I read a book last year (very recent) with magical healing, and it made me disappointed, the same way the default books do.
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patu_paiarehe
Apr. 20th, 2011 09:33 pm (UTC)
Great post, really gave me something to think about. And on a side-note, yay Karen Healey! She's from my hometown!
radioactivepiss
Apr. 20th, 2011 09:42 pm (UTC)
It's people like the ones detailed here, like you, who say no, possible sales aren't worth giving up something that is important on moral grounds, that make me not just give up on consuming media altogether. It's really, really nice to have had an article like this to read. Thank you!

And thank you, too, for being reasonable on the criticism thing. Too many authors- usually straight, cis, white, etc.- act as though they have Done Their Bit and any criticism is 'mean'; that we as queer people or whoever should be so grateful they have deigned to give us the bare minimum they are above any criticism ever. But you know, readers aren't psychic and sometimes they will pick up different subtext than intended and I always hate when creators tell me I am horrible for pointing out that yes, I picked up some dodgy subtext! So kudos. Many, maaaany writers should learn from you on that front. Keep being fabulous, please ♥

Edited at 2011-04-20 09:43 pm (UTC)
sarahtales
Apr. 20th, 2011 09:50 pm (UTC)
Oh boy, I wish I was able to be as reasonable as I should be on the criticism front! I spend days running around my house in rages yelling to my friends about criticism, and some of this post is about why certain kinds of criticism is so hard to deal with. (But not as hard as seeing representations of something about yourself that hurt you for the millionth time, of course.)

Some criticism is brilliant and wholly justified. Some criticism is dumb. Some criticism makes several great points and misunderstands something completely. And some criticism is based on weird spite, or unconscious misogyny/racism/what have you. But I can't be objective about my book: I can't tell which is which, or a mix of any.

So: keep yelling privately at my friends, try not to be an ass in public, when I am an ass in public, be overwhelmed with shame later and try better next time. I pretty much do what most people do, but thank you for the kind words, and I'm glad you liked the article!
rockinlibrarian
Apr. 20th, 2011 10:06 pm (UTC)
Oh wow, you wrote a humorous story about stalking in a fast-food restaurant. My best friend wrote a humorous story about stalking in a fast-food restaurant in high school which was The Greatest Thing Any Of Us Had Ever Written. Just the IDEA of it has made me happy today, and I look forward to your take on the subject (which is, in all likelihood, not anything remotely like my friend's story, but it's just the PRINCIPLE of the thing....)

I am always worried, as a writer, about breaking out of the Default Fantasyland, not because I'm afraid it won't be accepted as much as because I pretty much DID grow up in that Default Fantasyland-- or at least it feels like I did, when I read about all the things I Ought to be including. I feel like I'd immediately be called out for Not Writing What I Know, because, well, I DON'T know. This is not exactly true, I suppose-- there are many smaller cultures you don't see so much that I could write about, descendants of eastern european immigrant coal miners and Sunday Catholics and ...well, nerds and Aspies get written about, but it's certainly not mainstream to be so. And my aforementioned best friend went through a lot of hell in high school for being gay-- even though she wasn't out to anyone, even herself, at the time. I figure of all the Need-to-See-More-Ofs I've got the most "right" to write about gay teens, but I don't like writing about romance as it IS, so the topic might never come up (I AM one of those people you mentioned-- I DO have a WIP with a character I personally, secretly, happen to know is bisexual-- she's based on my best friend actually-- but I don't know how the point ever WOULD come out in the course of the story, and it would feel faked and forced if it DID). Another of my characters, a boy, I realized possibly has a crush on another boy character, except the object of said crush is absolutely true-love-paired with another-- a girl-- already, and I almost feel like being outright about the first character's crush would make people madder that I DON'T let him end up with the object of his crush. I don't know. It's just one of those things that I feel like a total failure about, that maybe I shouldn't be a writer because all I know is the stuff that's already been written, that MY voice is UNNECESSARY. I want to see those varied voices out there-- as a librarian, I want to get those voices in the hands of kids. But as a writer, I just feel like I'm NOT that voice, and I wonder what I'm doing even trying.
dharma_slut
Apr. 21st, 2011 10:04 pm (UTC)
If I can interject-- what I see here is that you might be requiring one character carry the entire gay burden per story. And if they hide their identity so be it-- but surely there are other characters in the story? perhaps one or three of them can show a hint of not-heteronormativity and lighten your solo character's load a little? It can be as simple as having someone notice that two young women are holding hands as they walk out of the QuickMart, and it makes your character smile that they seem so happy. We are so starved for non default!
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tuppenneyrice
Apr. 20th, 2011 11:23 pm (UTC)
The Fake Default really saddens me because, as you said, so often it's invisible. I'm straight, white, cis-gendered and middle-class, so there are plenty of people like me in stories and films. But when I was younger I too was a super-geek and I felt massively out of place, and reading books like Harry Potter (where Hermione is loved by her friends partly BECAUSE she's a swot) made me feel that bit better about who I was. I think it is so important to get more kids feeling good about who they are, and books play such a big role!

On the other hand, I don't know that people who go to that Fake Default are necessarily Bad People (or even Bad Writers). I think when that's all you ever see it can be easy to unconciously write in the Fake Default because that's all you've really seen. Now, I'm not saying more effort shouldn't be made to put in characters who differ from the 'norm' - it should - but I suppose this is perhaps one of the reasons why this happens.

Also, can I say how happy it made me to see you comment on the Jess Verday Thing - that was completely outrageous and I'm very proud to be one of your fans when you stand up for her like this!
sarahtales
Apr. 20th, 2011 11:33 pm (UTC)
Yes, I agree that it's easy to write unconsciously in the fake default, and I think loads and loads of people, including myself, lapse even when we are aware of it. So, we keep talking. ;)
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kuroihime
Apr. 20th, 2011 11:57 pm (UTC)
what short story did you write that has an intersex person in it? my boyfriend?partner?person?fiance! is intersex and I would love to read it.
sarahtales
Apr. 21st, 2011 12:03 am (UTC)
The Spy Who Never Grew Up. It's in the Kiss Me Deadly anthology and was reprinted in the Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, Volume Five.
bookblather
Apr. 21st, 2011 12:26 am (UTC)
Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.

There is an asexual character in a book? Like, actually, honestly, straight out, in-text asexual?

Holy shit, I'm on the mainland.

(which is to say, yes, you will get punished, but someone somewhere will read your book and go "holy shit, I'm on the mainland." And that feeling is incredible.)
sarahtales
Apr. 21st, 2011 12:28 am (UTC)
Guardian of the Dead's Kevin. Comes out as asexual, in the text.

I'm glad you're on the mainland. :)
tumbling0after
Apr. 21st, 2011 12:56 am (UTC)
Thank you, as always, for a beautiful, poignantly written article and post!

I've always thought, reading works set entirely within that fake-default world, that someday, this is going to come back and bite everyone in the ass. From what I've seen, (maybe only wishfully) the fake-default world is more and more obviously not correct; it remains a "majority rules" sort of setting, even though it's losing the majority.

I remember once, as a younger person than I am now, I wrote a story about an awesome heroine who overcame all sorts of family issues and ended up being a total bad-ass villain-hunter. I showed the story to my mom, and after she read it, she smiled and said "It's good, sweetie, but why is she white?"

I didn't really know what to say. My first thoughts were that it just seemed natural. I mean, no one wanted to read about a mixed chick like me. And when I thought about that a little more, it really bummed me out.

It's so easy to jump into that default when you can't see the world for what it really is on account of the pervasiveness of the default attitude. I read hardly any books growing up about interracial families (except the marvelous poem/book "Black is brown is tan" by Arnold Adoff), so it was hard to imagine that they were out there, let alone that people would want to read them as much as I would.

But, as you say, BRILLIANTLY, we just need to keep talking about it and eventually, small steps at a time, things will change. And my amazing mixed heroine will come out and kick ass just as much as anyone from the default-world. We all hail from Issuelandia - we just need more voices to tell us that!
dharma_slut
Apr. 21st, 2011 10:08 pm (UTC)
I didn't really know what to say. My first thoughts were that it just seemed natural. I mean, no one wanted to read about a mixed chick like me. And when I thought about that a little more, it really bummed me out.

You've moved me to tears. And I would love to read that story as you might write it now.
(no subject) - sarahtales - Apr. 21st, 2011 10:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
twig_tea
Apr. 21st, 2011 03:39 am (UTC)
Very nicely put! I know what you mean about the criticism, and the lack of support, around pieces that authors sometimes have to fight tooth and nail to keep in their books in the first place, and how brutal it can seem. I think sometimes it's hard not to get excited. When a group is represented in a text that normally does not get representation, it's hard not to respond with a laundry list of things I do/don't want to see related to that group. And it's pretty unfair to put all of them on an author, but the problem is that there are so few representations, it always feels like this is the one chance to get it right! If(/when?) representation becomes more...representative, there will be less pressure on every single instance of representation to get it entirely right. Or at least that's my theory.
imagines
Apr. 21st, 2011 03:49 am (UTC)
oh, some of my characters are gay, but I just didn’t mention it, it’s not germane to the plot

helloooooo J. K. Rowling, is that you? :|

sigh. sigh. This is something I struggle with as a writer and a queer person and a girl. I finally realized not long ago that I have been so inundated with that default you're talking about that I hardly know how to write girl characters, let alone queer characters, let alone queer girl characters. And this is painful to realize, because I AM a queer female, and if anyone is going to have anything to say, wouldn't it be me?

But I feel like I have nothing to say. Like there is nothing to say. And I know this isn't true! I know stories about queer girls are important--but I don't know how to make them. I know how to write a lot about straight boys and a lot about gay boys, and while I desperately love the boys, I also love the girls. And it hurts to feel like I as a human being am not mainstream enough. My sex, my gender, my orientation, none of this shows up much, and rarely in combination.

I used to think I was taking enough of a hammer to the default if I just wrote about gay boys, but... god damn... what about the girls?

I am so tired of feeling like girl-stories matter less, because that makes me feel like my story matters less, which is wrong. I think maybe I can attack this by reading more. I can tell boy-stories because I read boy-stories. It follows that I could get the hang of telling girl-stories by reading girl-stories, right?

I really want to tell girl-stories, and queer-stories, and trans*-stories, and anything-not-the-default stories. I want to write the stories that I long to read but which don't exist. I really, really want to do this, more than anything, and I just have to figure out how. Maybe it shouldn't be that difficult, but it sure feels like it is. :(
sarahtales
Apr. 21st, 2011 02:35 pm (UTC)
J. K. Rowling, is that you? :|

Not specifically her, any more than any other author who's said that. The last author I heard say it was last week, sadly!

I am not quite sure how to advise you, as at this point seeing girls put down everywhere as less worthy helps me write them, because I find white-hot rage inspirational. ;) But at the bottom of this post is Diana Wynne Jones's essay about learning to and being inspired to write heroines: http://twosidestonowhere.blogspot.com/2007/11/introducing-two-sides-bookblogs-1-fire.html

I remember the chill feeling of horror I was enveloped in when I realised that while writing gay guys is progressive in one way, it's retrogressive in another way, because it sometimes means excising the women completely, even from their tired role as The Love Interest, and that's seen as preferable. Made me super uncomfy about many stories, including my own.

So I think it's important: thus yes, keep reading and thinking about girls, and I'm sure the words will come, and so will the desperate love for the girls. Maybe more desperate, because the girls need love more.
(no subject) - dharma_slut - Apr. 21st, 2011 10:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sarahtales - Apr. 21st, 2011 10:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dharma_slut - Apr. 21st, 2011 11:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
rai_ryu
Apr. 21st, 2011 04:36 am (UTC)
A story with an intersex character? Is this story of yours out in any anthology? I'd love to read it.

It never even occurred to me that this was still a problem in the publishing world. Maybe I have too much of an idealistic mindset, but I thought people were past this whole thing. But then, I am always confronted with examples that prove me wrong.

I need to go out and read Guardian of the Dead, because I don't think I've ever read a book with a character who is stated to be asexual (in the aseuxal community, it is mostly just a whole bunch of speculation). I am going to write a story with an asexual character, but I was contemplating if I should have him state it outright. I thought it might not be "pertinent to the story". But you're right - every time that I have come across a statement like that, it has made me feel at home, and accepted by the author. I shouldn't be worrying about the people who may be bothered by it, but by the people that it could help.

It's also a big thing for me to see people like me in books because...well, when I get the chance to meet an author who I really respect, I always worry that they won't like me just because of what I am. It relieves me when I see positive portrayals in literature.

I'm also gonna have to check out this anthology :)
sarahtales
Apr. 21st, 2011 01:48 pm (UTC)
Two anthologies: Kiss Me Deadly and The Year's Best Fantasy & Science Fiction, Volume Five.

It never even occurred to me that this was still a problem in the publishing world. Maybe I have too much of an idealistic mindset, but I thought people were past this whole thing.

Alas, no. A book set in the default world is less likely to be challenged and more likely to be popular - see the comment left here by thegreatmissjj who is an editor and on the front lines.

I think that given the default world, it is always, always best to state it outright - otherwise nobody will ever know. I recommend Guardian of the Dead, obviously. ;)
charlie_ego
Apr. 21st, 2011 05:13 am (UTC)
Thank you for this post. This is really wonderful.

I remember distinctly that Mercedes Lackey and Orson Scott Card (I know, weird, right? But true) were my introduction to the whole concept of gay people, sympathetic gay people. And, in Lackey's case, gay characters where being gay was not a big deal (in the Arrows books). Though I'm married to a guy, it's not a stretch to say that these books fundamentally shaped my worldview (especially since I otherwise grew up in a culture and family that weren't, let's say, the most tolerant of alternative lifestyles).

(And am excited for the anthology, and super cubed excited for Demon's Surrender!)
sharaith
Apr. 22nd, 2011 06:52 pm (UTC)
You too? I read Orson Scott Card's Songmaster at a young age, and it was the first time I saw bi/homosexuality portrayed in fiction as normal. That book had a huge effect on me (though I haven't read it in years - no idea how it would hold up to a reread now).

The irony of this hit me a few years later...
(no subject) - charlie_ego - Apr. 23rd, 2011 03:32 am (UTC) - Expand
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