Kicking the Hornet’s Nest and Standing Up for Myself: PC and Worthwhile Stories

[This post has been saved for a while. For a “rainy day,” you might say. I didn’t exactly expect this topic to come back around again. I would rather keep my head down. I don’t want to pick a fight. But after Damien Walter falsely accused me of some vile things at the end of this talk on Twitter, it’s time to finally stand up for myself. I have taken a fair amount of hurtful and false accusation from unscrupulous people in the last few years, and it’s about time I start holding them accountable. I will only be a doormat for so long.]

If the thing I’m aiming to one day accomplish and make a living with — telling worthwhile stories — is threatened, then I will speak up. And when someone misconstrues my stance, then receive comments like, “Well, I won’t read that guy’s fiction, that’s for sure,” I consider that a threat to my future living.

I took a “creative” writing course at UCCS in 2008 (I put quotes around creative because the teacher stated that she wanted us to write literary fiction, as opposed to “low,” “crass” genre fiction; that’s another rant, though). One of the stories I wrote for that course got a compliment from a classmate which was roughly as follows: “I really appreciate [character’s name] being a strong female, and not a helpless milkmaid needing to be rescued by the hero. Us feminists really need characters like that.”

I appreciated the compliment, but my inner reaction to the last sentence would best be described as Uh, sure. I guess that’s all right. It was nice to hear, but I just wanted the character to be well-rounded and able to take care of herself.

I do love strong female characters…indeed, strong characters of either sex are good to have. They’re vital to a worthwhile story. I just wasn’t trying to serve The Cause, as it were. Just telling a story.

How does it help diversity if we demand that certain types of characters and themes must occupy your story? Telling worthwhile stories gets unnecessarily harder when the definition of “worthwhile” is changed to placate the ranks of the perpetually offended. If a sci-fi or fantasy book doesn’t have a perfect balance between male and female characters and all skin colors (except for white people; they’re “annoying,” “generic,” and more or less dispensable), the story is no longer considered “worthy” of time, honor, celebration, or being taken seriously.

I don’t think that stories are terrible if their characters are more diverse. Far from it. I’m just saying diversity is not the point. An important phrase to keep in mind for what makes a worthwhile story: Quality before message.

The perpetually offended and propagandists seem to be the only people on this Earth who value fiction for its message above everything else, and shame anyone who doesn’t look at stories from their viewpoint. They lack the versatility or the maturity to put aside a cherished cause; even when “escaping” into fiction that takes place in another world, their heart is still firmly planted in whatever they’ve decided is a Big Deal in our world.

They’re choosing to not escape. Fiction is treated like an essay or editorial or biography, which are entirely about the world we live in and primarily relate to issues we can face now.

Fiction by nature is supposed to be about going somewhere else. “Escaping,” if you like. Even if/when it can be used to deal with real-life issues, that’s not the point of writing a fictional story.

Last time I kicked this nest of fire ants, I got a comment whose author unintentionally illustrated my point:

No really. I used to say the same thing. “Who cares what color/gender if the story is good?”

Look, the reason people call it out, make noise about it, and generally say “hey, this isn’t ok.” is because the story should be good regardless of skin color. That the story is good should be a GIVEN. If the story isn’t good, you shouldn’t be writing it (exception:beginning writers). Period.

The rest of the comment is a rant on how the option of learning about other cultures/peoples is now suddenly an obligation for writers, because apparently a human being cannot connect to a character unless they share skin color, cultural background, sexual orientation, etc.

Did you notice that the quality of the story was a “given”? As if a story being “good” is akin to a gear in a pocket watch, a step to the really important work: spreading the Message. That’s the problem I have with modern Political Correctness tracts disguised as “fiction.” The quality of the storytelling is taken for granted. It’s treated like a support for the really important thing: the all-important Message.

As a lover of great stories, I’m calling this out for the destructive foolishness that it is. When the book becomes all about the issues going on in our society right now, what’s the point of writing science fiction or fantasy?

I’d like to keep my head down. I’d like to be popular, approved of, and respected. But if being those things means I have to soapbox about the social justice cause of the week, I’ll break apart the soapbox and use it as firewood, that I may comfortably write and read good books by the hearth.

And I’m not apologizing for it.

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More Art, Plans for the Blog, Cameroon Voyage

I’ve been painting a good deal more than I have been writing, to my regret. But the writing is coming back to me, thanks to some writers groups I have been a part of or leading for years.

At least I'm enjoying the artistic results.

At least I’m enjoying the results of painting.

The blog is going to have more musings, sharings, rants, and oddjob add-ons in general. A little bit of everything. Which might sound eccentric, but I’m a painter now and like Bob Ross said, “Us painters are supposed to be a little weird.”

That goes for writers, too. Oh, terrific. Now I’m doubly crazy.

Crazy like a Triceratops. Who writes.

Crazy like a Triceratops. Who writes.

Additionally, I have set a goal to voyage to Cameroon sometime in the near future. Ideally, I will be ready to travel within one year. It would be partially for researching a novel, partially for exploration, and partially for missionary/material aid efforts. Not looking forward to the humidity and heat of Central Africa, but there’s a lot that’s drawing me to that country in particular. I’ll comment more on that in a future post.

A Plea for Reason in Sci-Fi/Fantasy “Discrimination”

Edit: November 2, 2013: Don’t like what’s said on this post? Fine by me. But if you choose to mistake maturity for being “oblivious,” then there’s not much I can do to help you. I could go off on another rant, but I’ll defer to Brad Stine on this one.

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Lately I’ve been seeing quite a few accusations of discrimination being flung around the sci-fi/fantasy community. Mainly, it focuses on the fact that many of the writers are white males portraying white male protagonists.

Sorry, what? I must have forgotten to change my race and/or gender before I embarked on writing sci-fi and fantasy. My bad.

Forget about telling me that my “white privilege” is showing or I’m “mansplaining” things to you. I’m addressing you all as human beings, created as equals in the image of God — no more and no less. Look, can everyone quit the mud-slinging for five minutes and just admit this for what it is? If sci-fi and fantasy have somehow been overwhelmed by white, male protagonists/authors (and to a certain extent, that is true), that doesn’t mean it’s racist or sexist. It’s just boring. Well, it’s boring if skin color and gender of the protagonist(s) are a huge deal and determine the quality of a story.

I’m not arguing to keep things the way they are. By all means, let’s start increasing the variety of characters. But it’s nowhere near as important as crafting a good story and fascinating characters to drive it. Aren’t those the basics?

Honestly, I don’t care what the author or character’s race or sex is. I just want the story and the people it’s about to be interesting. In my experience, the only people who have cared a great deal about things the author and character cannot help, like their melanin content or chromosomes, belong to one of two types:

  • Those not-too-common actual racists or sexists — immature people who try to ruin others’ experience with science fiction and fantasy by belittling their race or gender (though I have hardly met any of them)
  • Equally immature people with notes from their classes in race studies or gender studies constantly on the brain, worrying about different types of humans and whether they are “represented” equally among authors or characters, and who think an under-representation of any group is a miscarriage of justice that MUST be addressed (I have met plenty of these, and would rather hope to not run into them again)

Last time I checked, writing classes and books didn’t have much to say on the subject of race or even gender, though that could easily change in the Age of Political Correctness. I don’t care one bit that Avatar: The Last Airbender or The Legend of Korra hardly have any “white” characters. I don’t care that Korra is a girl. I love both series, because the characters are well-developed, and the stories are amazing. And the fight scenes are mind-bogglingly awesome. That too.

But I also don’t care that many of the other stories I love, from Star Wars to Lord of the Rings to Jurassic Park, happen to have a lot of white, male characters driving the story. Because those are exactly the traits of human beings no one should be making a big deal about. What was that Martin Luther King, Jr. said, about people being judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin (or the arrangement of their chromosomes, for that matter)?

Female protagonists are supposed to have strength of one kind or another and be proactive, not because they’re female, but because they’re the protagonists. That’s why. There’s nothing in the chief character’s sex that robs him/her of the need to be decisive and proactive. No one except for the aforementioned groups is going to care how light or dark an author’s or character’s skin is. Most of us just want a great story, featuring interesting people and created by someone who knows what they’re doing.

Now can we please get back to having fun, writing the best fiction we can and sharing it with the world? Thanks for your time.

Playing to Your Strengths: On Bigotry and Storytelling

A lot of authors have been taking a stance against bigotry among authors, especially against misogyny. Chuck Wendig is the only one I can think of right now, but I’m sure there are others. More power to them! And yet, I have to wonder, out of honest curiosity (here I’m responding to item 19 in Wendig’s article): When it comes to diversifying in our writing, are we going to let writers play to their strengths, or insist that they have to crawl up and join the cool kids at the cutting edge of “social progress” (which is of course infallible and never overdoes anything)? If they stay where they are, does that afford us the right to kick sand in their faces?

Here’s one example. I love it when books and stories have strong female protagonists. In fact, that’s one reason I have no objections to Tauriel, the new female Elf character who’s going to be in the next Hobbit movie. And why the heck should I object? Strong female characters are awesome. It’s true, men get the spotlight too often. Women ought to make more decisions as characters, be more fleshed-out like the human beings (or elves/fairies/aliens…you get the idea) they are, fight in more battles, and affect the plot more than just being a prize for a man to win. When a book includes a female character who is, you know, a person, I celebrate. Break out the Guinness and firecrackers!

However, that doesn’t mean I’m only going to read stories with strong women, nor does it mean I “have to” only encourage authors who include them. An author may indeed be the “god” controlling everything on the page. And sometimes a god should be allowed to focus on male characters, not only female ones. You won’t get me to throw out my copy of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World because only men get to climb the prehistoric plateau and shoot at Pterodactyls, while the women are manipulative, liable to scream, barely figure into the story, and stay in England.

Wendig and others seem to regard authors as the deities who control pages, yet these are strange deities if they must keep up with what bloggers insist they must do. What if the author (male or female) doesn’t write a strong female protagonist into their work because they feel utterly unqualified to develop that sort of character? Does that make them misogynist, or behind the times? Does their inability to develop a take-charge female character indicate a weakness in their writing? If it is indeed a problem, do they have to fix it right freaking now, lest they be branded a bigot?

Does it make someone a homophobe if they don’t/won’t write about gay characters? Is an author racist if all of their protagonists are white? Do they hate Irishmen if there’s nary a brogue to flavor the dialogue?

The answer that should be obvious is “not necessarily.” The decisions a writer makes rarely — if ever — betray a person’s opinion. (And deconstructionism should be locked deep in the ice of Hell’s ninth circle for saying otherwise) Even when they do state their personal opinions, readers keep using said opinions to write them off. I’ve seen people declare with straight faces that they will not read any of Orson Scott Card’s fiction because they hate his stance on gay marriage.

Really? You’re choosing to care that deeply about what one writer thinks? Whatever. I’m still going to read his books, and love them.

Aren’t you supposed to let yourself get sucked into the story? Suspend your disbelief, and as long as the author has done a good job, the story should be all that matters to you. If you’re mainly worried that the author’s not checking off little boxes for what “must” be in today’s fiction, or you disregard their work because of differing personal opinions, you’ve already failed as a reader.

I’d rather someone roll up their sleeves and tell a great story, regardless of their stance on the controversial subject du jour, and regardless of the genders/races/creeds of their characters. Even when the bigotry is real and overt (e.g. the racism in H.P. Lovecraft’s tales), there is still potential for great fiction. I consider it a deep injustice whenever a good storyteller is vilified because their opinions aren’t PC enough for the popular crowd.

I Have Another Story Out!

“Refugee,” the sequel to my sci-fi story “Escaping,” is officially out! 🙂 Hope you enjoy it! It’s 99 cents now, and much longer than the first entry. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00D49LERC

Tobias Carter and Reverend Rousseau find a woman stealing medical supplies from their doomed warship. Should they trust her claim that she’s trying to help them, or is she part of a larger threat to them and the rest of the crew?

“Escaping” is still free through Saturday, so I’ll post the link here as well: http://www.amazon.com/Escaping-A-Short-Story-ebook/dp/B00BRRUWMG

I think these tales are swiftly growing into a serialized adventure. With luck I can start offering more tales like this.

Thanks for your time, everyone!

My First Kindle Story!

Well, it’s finally happened. I got a short story published on Kindle! Boo-yah!

“Escaping” — Science Fiction

Fleeing invasion on a damaged warship, a soldier and a reverend face the question of whether someone is watching out for them.

For a measly $0.99, it can be yours! Click the picture to take a look. (And if you read it, feel free to post a review!)

This cover art is temporary. I'll find something better from a willing artist and post it as soon as possible.

This cover art is temporary. I’ll find something better from a willing artist and post it as soon as possible.

It’s a science fiction tale I’ve had in the archives for a while, and decided to finish it and put it out there for the world to see. It’s only about 2,000 words long, but I will add other stories to my Kindle library in short order. In the meantime, I hope you’ll enjoy this first entry.

Thanks for your time!

Vipers in the Frost (fiction)

Another quick bit of fiction. I do hope you like it! Now I have to finally go back to polishing the novel. Catch you later!

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With a quaking hand he held out the flintlock, knowing it was his one chance for revenge.

Bellem’s boots crunched snow as he stepped inside the abandoned estate, each footfall announcing his presence. Sunlight shot through broken windows on the rotunda’s other side, threading the chamber’s air and catching stray flakes like airborne diamonds.

The witch had to be here somewhere, but where were her footprints?

Icicles hung by the hundreds from the metal fountain in the room’s center, from railings and staircases. Bellem tiptoed around a flow of ice spilling out under another broken window like a giant white tongue.

He tried to not think about Danlec’s corpse outside. The old elf had died shuddering in his pale skin, the snow drinking blood as if to absorb his life and color.

Turning his anger toward steadying his grip on the gun, he knew she was probably watching him now. She must have used a spell to hide her tracks, concealing herself like the coward she was.

“Dryandra! Come on out, Dryandra!” The ruined mansion echoed his demand back to him. She couldn’t be gone. The witch had disappeared into the mansion only a few minutes before.

Icicles started to drip, each new jewel of liquid water boring a tunnel into the shadowed gray snow. But he was still chattering and frozen to his marrow, his breath sending ghosts into the frigid air. The stalactites each seemed to have an off-white core. Something more than ice was hanging from the fountain and rails.

A new chill sank into Bellem’s backbone, deeper and more painful than anything winter in this godsforsaken country had inflicted on him and Danlec. He knew what Dryandra was doing.

Thin, white-scaled bodies unlatched their jaws and dropped into the slush beneath. Snakes. Hundreds and hundreds of serpents glided over the fountain’s frozen-over basin and trickled down staircases, contorting like sidewinders when lifting their bodies off the desert sands.

Stenyran vipers. Uniquely suited to the cold, they’d hibernate while hiding from predators by hanging off of tree branches and letting ice form over their scales. Something in their blood kept them from freezing solid as they were sealed off from the world.

Bellem had stumbled right into a den of creatures whose venom could kill five grown men with every bite. Dryandra must have cast a heating spell on their icy cocoons and woken them up early.

The snakes all closed in on Bellem, a writhing living barrier between him and the doorway outside. He was trapped inside the mansion, and in order to fully wake up every one of the reptiles needed a heat source. Like him. They glared at him with yellow eyes like sparks in the reflected sun, throwing their black forked tongues at him.

All he had was the flintlock’s solitary shot, meant for the witch who killed his best friend.