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Winner & Saber-Tooth

I’m in the final stretch of the Secret Novel Project. I finished the editorial revisions last night, and just need to do one more run through the manuscript to fill in the final potholes. About 94% of my brain is currently obsessed with finishing this book, which means no big blog post for today.

Although I did make this…

Also, thanks to everyone who entered the giveaway for Codex Born [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy]. Congrats to dionysus1999, who will be getting an autographed book for submitting the following blurb:

“More fun than a body in the wood chipper, eh.”
-Marge Gunderson, Police Chief, on Codex Born

Writer’s Ink: Merrie Haskell

WI-HaskellMerrie Haskell won the Detcon1 award for middle grade literature last month for her book Handbook for Dragon Slayers [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy]. That book also earned her the Schneider Family Book Award for Middle Grades (for “artistic portrayal of the disability experience”).

Her tattoo celebrates her first published book, The Princess Curse [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy]. (I’ve enjoyed and reviewed both this one and Handbook for Dragon Slayers, if you’re curious.) Her newest title is The Castle Behind Thorns [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], which I’m told was never intended to be a Sleeping Beauty retelling, but it happened anyway.

I asked Mer to tell us a bit more about her tattoo.

It’s is the Library of Congress call number for my first book, The Princess Curse. We laid it out like it was an old label on a well-used library book by tattooing in the border on the stencil.  I dithered for months on whether to lay it out like a spine label or just a string of text, and I chose that over authentic labeling for…  aesthetics? Personal aesthetics entirely. The font is called Old Typewriter. I had always told myself I’d have to want something for longer than a year to get a tattoo of it; after a year of thinking about this, I realized: My first book will never NOT be meaningful to me, and after working in a library for 20 years and counting, call numbers will also always be meaningful to me.

And here’s a close-up:

WI-Haskell2

Using Asian Cultures as Props

I came across a short post earlier this week that said white authors needed to stop using Asian cultures as props for their stories. I was one of several authors called out by name. Though the individual didn’t specify, I’m assuming I was included because of Codex Born, which includes a group called the Students of Bi Sheng, a kind of Chinese parallel to Gutenberg and the Porters.

I’m choosing not to link to the post, for several reasons. First of all, while my name was mentioned, I wasn’t tagged or linked … which to me says this person wasn’t posting to get my attention or invite a response. Linking to them would potentially force a dialogue/conversation they didn’t ask for. Basically, it would feel rude. And second, while I think 99% of my commenters and readers are awesome, wonderful people, it only takes a few to create a “Release the hounds” moment, if you know what I mean.

I haven’t been shy about my belief that stories should reflect the diversity of the world. One of the arguments I’ve seen, generally from white, male authors, is that they avoid writing about “the other” because they’re “not allowed” to write those characters. It’s an argument I have very little respect for, because almost nobody is saying you’re not allowed to write about certain characters … but people will certainly criticize you if you do it badly.

I’ve been criticized for how I’ve written certain characters. I suspect every published author has. But this post was the first time I’d seen someone telling me flat-out to keep my ass away from their culture.

I should point out that this still isn’t the same as telling me I’m not allowed to write about Chinese characters. “I don’t want you do to this thing” =/= “You aren’t allowed to do the thing.” But it’s something I’m trying to understand.

I’m reminded of something Ambelin Kwaymullina said at Continuum. After her GoH speech, someone asked her whether she thought non-indigenous authors should write about indigenous characters. Ambelin made an interesting distinction. I don’t remember the exact wording, and I apologize in advance if I lose nuance with my paraphrase, but I believe she said she thought it would be okay to do so when writing in the third person, but she was uncomfortable with the idea of a non-indigenous author trying to do so in first-person.

I thought about that a lot. On the one hand, I want to write stories that are honest about our world, stories that aren’t stuck in an illogically narrow and exclusive universe. And I want to do so as respectfully and accurately as I can. It’s one thing for me to describe the diversity of the world; but no matter how much reading and listening and research I do, would I ever be able to write from the perspective of an indigenous person, and do so truthfully? Probably not.

It’s a complicated question. Obviously, we use first person for more than just autobiographical work. All authors write about characters who aren’t themselves. I’ve written about goblins and fairy tale princesses and magic librarians and autistic teenagers and handicapped cowboys and more. Why shouldn’t I write about Chinese book-magic, or do a story from a first-person indigenous perspective?

Some of the problem, I believe, is about power and representation. What does it mean if we have white authors successfully writing and publishing and selling books about Chinese characters, but work by Chinese authors is ignored or shoved aside? What happens when we’re only reading about other cultures through the blinders and assumptions of our own?

We end up with an incomplete, distorted, often damaging understanding. There’s an element of colonialism — we’re not interested in truly reading about other cultures; we’re just playing tourist from the safety of our own cultural framework. That’s a problem

As I tried to write the history of my character Bi Wei, describing snippets of her life from 500 years ago, it’s very possible that I messed up. I thought I had done adequate research and written respectfully, but maybe I was wrong. And of course, it’s not a simple yes/no. People disagree on what’s appropriate and respectful and so on. And no matter how well I wrote, I still wrote the book from my own cultural perspective. I’m not capable of doing otherwise.

Legally, all of this is pretty much a null issue. I have the legal right to write about whatever characters and cultures I choose. But I believe a writer has the responsibility to write respectfully, truthfully, and well.

I read a book a while back where the only Japanese character was also a ninja, and I cringed. The book was well-written in many ways, but that part felt neither respectful nor true. The character wasn’t Japanese so much as they were the prepackaged caricature we in the U.S. have seen so many times before. Have I fallen into that same trap? I try not to, but I look back at some of my early stories and see similar mistakes. Maybe in ten years, I’ll look back at what I’m writing now and have a similar reaction.

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.

I don’t have an easy answer. I do know it’s something for me to be aware of as I’m writing, and it’s something I hope people will continue to challenge me on when they feel I’ve botched it. I also know we need to do a better job of reading and publishing and promoting work from outside of our own narrow cultural lens.

I would be very interested in hearing other people’s thoughts on this.

Codex Born Release Day! (And Giveaway!)

Codex BornToday is the official release date for the U.S. mass market paperback of Codex Born, book two in the Magic ex Libris series. Which is a bit strange to me. The third book is done and turned in, and I’m finishing up another (unrelated) book, so it’s weird thinking of Codex as the “new” book.

But new it is, and as such, I MUST BLOG ABOUT IT AND ADD LOTS OF LINKS AND SUBTLY (AND NOT-SO-SUBTLY) ENCOURAGE PEOPLE TO RUN OUT AND BUY ALL THE BOOKS!

Libriomancer

Codex Born

What can I say. After nine books, I’m taking the direct route. Here, have a guilt tripping kitten!

Guilt Kitten

THIS KITTEN IS SAD BECAUSE YOU HAVEN’T BOUGHT THE BOOK YET! Either that, or it’s thinking about that one scene from Guardians of the Galaxy.

Okay, seriously, it’s new book day, so if you haven’t guessed, I’m doing the traditional author freak-out. I’m excited to see this one out in paperback, both because I like my books being available in the cheaper mass market format, and because this means the ebook price is dropping as well.

Thanks for putting up with me through another release day. Now let’s give away a book! To enter, just leave a comment with a made-up book blurb by a fictional character. For example:

“I find your lack of Goblin Quest disturbing.”
-Darth Vader

“I am Groot.”
-Groot

I’ll send an autographed copy of one of my mass-market titles (your choice) to a random winner. There are no regional restrictions on who can enter, but only one entry per person, please.

Have fun, and in all seriousness, thank you so much for all of your support and encouragement over the years.

Newsletter, Issue #1

The first Updates from the Goblin Lair newsletter went out this morning. I didn’t have time to get things ready, so I asked one of the goblins to write it for me. I trust Klud did a good job with it, though. Hopefully there weren’t too many death threats or complaints about how I won’t let him eat the neighbor’s dog.

If you’re not subscribed, you should be able to check it out here.

The next one will probably go out around the end of the year. Feedback and suggestions are welcome.

Writer’s Ink: Tobias Buckell

Hurricane Fever - CoverTobias Buckell is the New York Times bestselling author of such books as Crystal Rain, Halo: The Cole Protocol, and most recently, Hurricane Fever [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], a techno-thriller about heavy weather and Caribbean spies. Toby and I have pretty much come up together as writers, and it’s been great to see his success over the years. He also has a pretty badass writing tattoo, which he talks about below. (Click the picture for a close-up.)

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WI-BuckellI’d been planning to get my tattoo to celebrate my fifth year of being a full time freelancer, but couldn’t set aside the money for it until my sixth year celebration.

It’s a memento mori of a skull and crossbones, a call out to my growing up on ships in the Caribbean. And then underneath, instead of crossbones, I have a pen and a pencil. And then in bastardized Latin I have the phrase “CREO AUT MORI.” Rough translation: “Create or Die.” I got it to remind myself to keep creating.

Latin purists will ding me for the translation, as AUT MORI is infinitive, meaning it very technically translates as “I create or to die” but AUT MORI was often shorthanded on coats of arms as “OR DIE” so I used it. I like the 4 letter word 3 letter word 4 letter word symmetry when doing the visual design.

I got it while on a writing retreat in North Carolina. It took about three and a half hours, which is wild as I used to be absolutely terrified of needles.

Codex Born Paperback, and Link Roundup

My theme for 2014 seems to be a year-long scramble to keep up on everything. As evidenced by the fact that I HAVE A BOOK COMING OUT IN SIX DAYS!

Codex Born CoverOkay, it’s not a brand new book, but it is the mass market release of Codex Born, coming on August 5. And with that release, the ebook price should also be dropping very soon.

If you’ve been waiting for this, here’s a convenient set of links:

Amazon | B&N | BAMM | Mysterious Galaxy | Schuler Books | Indiebound

The paperback also includes the first few pages of Unbound, which comes out in January of next year.

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Other stuff I’ve been meaning to talk about, or at least link to:

Writer’s Ink: Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor - TattooWhile I was at Detcon1, I noticed how many of my writing buddies had tattoos, and an idea was born…

Introducing Writer’s Ink, a feature I’ll be running more or less weekly for a while, until such time as I stop doing it. (How’s that for specific?)

I’m going to start with Nnedi Okorafor, who was the YA Guest of Honor at Detcon1. Her novels include Who Fears Death (winner of the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel), Akata Witch (an Amazon.com Best Book of the Year), Zahrah the Windseeker (winner of the Wole Soyinka Prize for African Literature), and The Shadow Speaker (winner of the CBS Parallax Award). Her short story collection Kabu Kabu was released in October, and her science fiction novel Lagoon was released in April, 2014. Her young adult novel Akata Witch 2: Breaking Kola is scheduled for release in 2015. She has a daughter named Anyaugo and is an associate professor at the University at Buffalo, New York.

I asked Nnedi to tell us a little about her tattoo:

It’s an illustration from my first novel Zahrah the Windseeker [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] (found on page 63 of the paperback). My character Nsibidi was a windseeker (a person who can fly) who worked with fortune-telling baboons. She had this drawing tattooed on her chest; it means “storyteller.” The drawing combines the Nigerian writing script called nsibidi and the creative ideas that I gave the book’s spot artist. My tattoo artist was Chicago-based artist Ryan Henry. I learned about him in a documentary about Black tattoo artists called Color Outside the Lines. It was screened at a conference to which I was also and invited guest. I love how everything is connected.

Thank you, Nnedi, for letting me show off your art! Click the photo to embiggen and get a better look at the tattoo. I also snapped a pic of page 63 for comparison, since I just happened to have the book sitting on my shelf…

Zahrah the Windseeker, Page 63

The only danger I see with this series is that by the time I’m done, I may need to get a tattoo of my own. Because there are some writers out there with seriously cool ink.