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17 posts from May 2006

May 31, 2006

WisCon/Trip WrapUp

...

**QUAIL**

...

um ...

*wince*

maybe tomorrow ...

May 27, 2006

Wiscon Update

I am about to take a little nap, rather than watch Ursula Le Guin read. *Gasp* I'm choosing a nap over Ursula? A few years ago I would not have believed it of myself. That's the problem with an embarrassment of riches. It's embarrassing.

Being a (small) part of the science fiction/fantasy world has really changed my view of how things work. At the "Mr. Hyphen" contest last week, the contestants were asked which three people, living or dead, would they most like to have dinner with? This question now puzzles me. Through Clarion West and Wiscon (and my work with KSW) my list of people I'd like to have dinner with has been drastically reduced; I've had dinner with most of them. ... or maybe not dinner, but a drink, or lunch, or taken a workshop from them, or, in the case of my pinnacle heroine, driven them home. The world of SF/F is really that small. In fact, the world of writers is really that small. Maybe the world is just that small.

Anyhoo, I saw Nalo Hopkinson and Samuel R. Delany read this morning. Wonderful (and that's pretty much all I have to say about it; good readers are all the same, it's the bad readers that are bad in different ways.) (Of course, I don't really believe that, I believe just the opposite, but whatever.)

Then I went to the "Judging the Carl Brandon Awards" panel, which I had to leave halfway through because it was so damned cold in the room. Fun to listen to juries talk about their process, but not something I can really write interestingly about.

Had lunch with Lauren , Charlie , Liz, and three new people (new to me), one of them very small with rogue hair. Talked with Liz briefly about the plan for world domination through literary translation, which shall be revealed here later (much, much later.)

Caught the last half of the "Myth of Class Mobility" panel, in which everyone was so relieved that we were finally talking about the subject that they just pretty much ignored what the others were saying and came out with their own personal take on the subject. Coulda used some pulling together.

Then I went to the "Scarabs and Sandstorms" reading of fiction of, from and about Africa and the Middle East. V. good. I stayed through four of the five readers but then had to go because I was falling asleep.

Now I am taking a nap, because I have done my dooty and I want to be fresh for dinner and partying later. Yes.

May 25, 2006

I'm at ...

... wheeeeeeeeeezzzz con!

Just arrived, through a hail of asshole drivers on the 90. Was already snubbed in the parking lot. Even geeks stratify. More later.

May 23, 2006

Still in L.A.

Still in L.A. ... again. Had my first bout of "exhaustion", which I always thought was a euphemism for "did too many drugs" (especially in this town.)

But no, people can actually run themselves ragged. In my case it wasn't touring for six months straight with my band, or filming six movies in a row and then leaving my aging and chicken-stringy, big-jawed wife for an infamously sexual, full-lipped star with a penchant for adopting colored children, but rather talking for ten days straight with people I hadn't seen in anywhere from a month to six months. You wouldn't think that talking would exhaust me so much, given how much training I get, but it turns out I'm a sprinter. Marathon talking does me in. I had to take to my bed for a day and just sleep.

I'm still a bit on the low side. Went to Beverly Hills today and looked at some stars' homes (will blog about this soon in atlas(t).) Ate Ethiopian food, which, it turns out, also includes deep fried, my deep friend. Tomorrow is uncertain, although I think it includes a trip to the beach and a massage. Life is hard.

Will be in Madison for Wiscon by Thursday evening. Anyone going to Wiscon wanna go see X-men 3 with me on Friday or Saturday?

Will return to regularly scheduled blogging when I darn well feel like it (like, next week?)

May 21, 2006

Wiscon Schedule

Oh yes indeed it's fun time!

I'm agoin' to Wiscon, and this time, I'm participating a leetle more directly. I signed up for two panels and got made moderator (don't know how that happened.) But one is about women writing (or rather, not writing enough) Mars novels (hello! I'm writing one!) and the other is about people of color writing science fiction (herrrooooo!) so I'm pretty happy to be there. The Mars panel is Sunday night and the POC writing SF one is Monday first thing in the afternoon.

Also, I'll be doing a fiction reading with three much better writers: Karen Meisner, Lauren McLaughlin and Gwenda Bond. So maybe I'll acquire some reflected glory. This will be Monday morning. All these morning things!

Here's the sched:

PANELS

Mars Needs Women (Feminism, Sex, and Gender)
Sunday, 10:00-11:15 p.m. in Conference Room 5

While 40+ SF novels have been published since 1990 concerning journeys to, exploration of, settlement, colonization, social reorganization and/or revolution on Mars, only two have been written by women: Red Genesis (1991) by Sondra Sykes, and Red Planet Run (1995) by Dana Stabenow. Clearly the situation is dire, as this combined output by women has been matched in number by William Shatner alone! Why the imbalance here? What is the potential social cost of not participating in Mars-specific society-building narratives?
Mark William Tiedemann, M: Claire Light, Charlie Anders

Tearing Down the Walls and Windows (Reading SF&F)
Monday, 1:00-2:15 p.m. Monday, 1:00-2:15 p.m. in Assembly

People sometimes ask "Why don't people of color write speculative fiction?" "We do," says Nalo Hopkinson, "but it's unlikely that you'll find it on the SF shelves in your bookstores." Why don't genre readers recognize novels such as Gloria Naylor's Mama Day or Devorah Major's An Open Weave as belonging to our own? Why does even a writer as solidly genre-identified as Octavia Butler find most of her fans from elsewhere?
Sheree Renée Thomas, Diantha Day Sprouse, M: Claire Light, Ian K. Hagemann, Candra K. Gill


READING

Four Seductions (Reading Group) (Readings)
Monday, 10:00-11:15 a.m. Monday, 10:00-11:15 a.m. in Conference Room 2

Karen Meisner, Lauren McLaughlin, Gwenda Bond, and Claire Light read from their work.

May 19, 2006

More on Map of Spec Fic

Okay, before I get into this, can I just complain for a sentence or two? Can't you all use trackbacks or comments? I mean, I have to go to my stat counter and troll through the "came from" urls to find out y'all are talking about my genre diagram behind my blogack? Geez.

Okay, that and itchy ears out of the way, you guys are great. You'd be the perfect students for my spec fic class if you didn't already know more about spec fic than I do. I love that there's a leetle discussion on this, and agree with most of the criticisms of the diagram. I did realize, however, that I didn't make my explanation perfectly clear, so I wanted to clarify (claireify):

1. Lemme just reiterate that this diagram was created for a specific pedagogical purpose. That purpose was to introduce people who were largely ignorant of speculative genres to the general thinking about them. This was both from an insider and from an outsider perspective. The insider perspective, which took for granted that spec genres are valuable and interesting, was simplified by the outsider perspective (which tends to categorize oversimply) so as not to overwhelm newbies with the endless details of the insider arguments about the fluid borders of genre.

The choice of basing my definition of speculative vs. mimetic (itself an oversimplification) on the (oversimplified) notion of the novum came from the fact that the novum offers an easy (and I would argue, extremely useful) way to understand the generic differences without offering judgement on the quality of writing in each genre. Saying that only one element (albeit a very important one) seperates the two areas of fiction levels the playing field between them -- and renders either both, or neither, genre. Also, using the novum, rather than laying out traditional genre tropes, as a definition is an easy way of including spec fic that deliberately subverts or ignores genre tropes.

That having been said, any categorization begins to break down the moment you understand it. As fluid a thing as literature can't be contained, even for a second, within a diagram. The purpose of this map was to create, quickly, a common understanding of the general areas of spec fic, so that everyone in the class could immediately begin arguing about them. It's no surprise that people who have a much more sophisticated understanding of the field than I do would have a lot of just criticisms about this map.

2. Nick Mamatas sez:

Two things immediately jump out at me. Metafiction is ridiculously placed — there should be a little gray dot within every other circle, at the very least. And horror should be much larger, indeed finally bleeding off the page. It's a tonal genre and thus need not be fantastic or have any particular setting or even particular content, as was proven in practice by David Searcy's Ordinary Horror. There's plenty of horrific SF, horrific realist fiction, and horrific non-fiction (e.g., the narrative journalism in "true crime" books that ape the form and content of the horror novel).

Nick's right, I do have to rethink metafiction for this diagram. I disagree that it should be a dot in each circle, though, since the purpose of the diagram is to break down received notions of genre divisions and reorganize them according to a different principle. So, to feed the idea that all genres can be aligned or not according to a few simple principles, I'd reform the diagram so that all the small circles line up on one side of the larger circle. Then I'd make the "metafiction" gray not a circle but a rod that starts outside the fiction circle and penetrates each genre in turn, all the way to the center.

Regarding horror, this is horror fiction not horror in general, just as all the other genres are fiction, not nonfiction, which is why nonfiction finds itself nowhere on the diagram. So to talk about nonfiction whose intent is to horrify doesn't have a direct place in the discussion of this diagram. I agree that horror overlaps all the genres, though, since it is less about novum or no-novum than it is about the effect on the reader that it's going for. Again, if I realigned all the genre circles on one side, then I could have lozenge-shaped horror thing that intersected all of them but did not breach the skin of fiction.

3. Nick Mamatas also sez:

Implicit in the chart is a literary version of the "blood quantum" racial theories so beloved by Americans. If you write plausible SF, including even the possibility of a ghost or some sort of cosmic awe and dread at infinity in your little book, puts you into the fantasy camp.

First of all, the tack Nick takes, that of the outraged person of color smacking down an ignorant racist with fancy racial theory is what in a race discussion would be called "playing the race card". This is something I've, in fact, done in the past, often with justice, and just as often not. (It's something I'm going to do in the next paragraphs, albeit somewhat subtly.) Nick is playing the genre card. The problem with playing the race card on a person of color is that they can play it right back. Same problem with playing the genre card on another (albeit less experienced and knowledgeable) genre writer. I've created this diagram artificially seperating out the various genres to make the field more clear to people almost entirely ignorant of it. I've done so knowing that this diagram makes no place whatsoever for my science fiction/fantasy/alternate history/"literary"/ethnic novel. And I don't care.

Likewise, I have very often artificially categorized the racial landscape of America, and the ethnic landscape of Asian America in particular, to an unacceptable degree, for the purpose of making the outlines of those landscapes perceptible to people almost entirely ignorant of them. And I have done so knowing that I myself do not fit into the verbal diagram I'm creating. Doesn't matter. What matters is that people start to understand. I leave the sophisticated discussions to my colleagues over at Hyphen magazine, who know what goes on already.

Secondly (and I can't believe that I have to say this, but here we are), comparing genre to race is both obvious and offensive. Comparing blood quantum to a diagram on genre that speculativizes any writing with a teeny bit of novum is specious. Blood quantum is problematic because the consequences of a person being aligned with a racial group which they share only biological heritage with (i.e. not culture or community) are dire -- dire economically, politically, socially, psychologically, professionally, sexually, and personally. Aligning a mostly mimetic fiction with speculation because it might have a ghost or something might stigmatize it in some readers' minds. In an extreme case, it might affect sales if someone takes the recategorization too seriously and mis-shelves it in the bookstore. But mostly, all it does is cause some hot arguments on the blogosphere. It just doesn't matter that much. It's just words on paper, and how we shape them in our minds. It's not about projecting our faulty abstract ideas onto people's bodies and lives.

4. And:

The chart, and Light acknowledges this, also "set[s] up an artificial distinction that grouped the 'realism' of literary fiction with the exaggerated, but nevertheless 'realistic' (because they do not deal with nova) genre tropes of romance, mystery, thriller, western, etc. This in itself is pretty cool, because it forces literary fiction into bed with dirty genre (as if all characters thinking and speaking in poetic, revelatory, Joycean diction were 'realistic' rather than generic.)"

Yes, it may be cool (I don't really think so), but what's clever and what's true are two different things. It may also be cool to set up a disctinction that groups fictions into those stories that contain characters being swallowed and potentially consumed (because we find such a thing sexually exciting) and those that don't, but we end up with The Bible and Anaconda-Davida in one group and The Recognitions, The Naked Sword, and Kiss My Fist! in the other. We don't learn anything, except that some people jerk off to the thought of being swallowed.

I won't argue the coolness factor because that's entirely subjective, but I would refer Nick back to my pedagogic purpose above (which I admit was not fully explained in the original post.) What I find cool is that the novum definition very neatly, and I think plausibly, aligns what my students would seperate out as "literary fiction" (and consider "high art") with a number of genres they openly denigrate, even in the context of my class. This is not something that happens just in my class. It happens pretty much all the time in mainstream literature discussions that occur when the literary "establishment" is forced to pay attention to genre for a second. Like Malcolm Gladwell's dismissal of the Kaavya Viswanathan scandal on the basis that Opal Mehta is genre and all genre is more or less plagiarized.

I can't repeat enough that "literary fiction" is itself a genre and needs to be treated as such if fiction and literature in general are not to remain in the stagnant pond they've been algaeing since Eggers first published and people started lining up to write like him. Novum/no-novum places Opal Mehta in the same generic camp with Updike and Cheever, as well as the somewhat more intuitive Jane Austen and Edith Wharton, as well as the obvious Jennifer Wiener and Kim Wong Keltner. And it does so, in my opinion, with plausibility. I think that's cool and worth discussion. I also think it's a much larger and more important distinction than fiction depicting people being swallowed. It was a funny comparison, but not a just or illuminating one.

(Nick's slicing of ever finer bits of "novum", however, is smart and funny and definitely worth a read. And go through the comments to his post, too.)

4. Andrew Wheeler sez:

I do think any flat map will somewhat misinterpret the territory, and I have some mild complaints about this one. Putting Spec Fic in the middle is a nice trick for pedagogical purposes, but I don't think a bull's-eye is the right shape to begin with. (On a more minor point, I'll add that Alternate History can be Fantasy as easily as it can be SF -- and, as practiced under the name "counterfactual" by historians, can also be even more like non-fiction.)

I generally prefer to pull out two or three axes (not binary choices, but continua along which a work can fall) at a time -- there are probably at least a dozen that could interestingly sub-divide the world of literature -- and use those to present any particular case, while being clear that any such interpretation is a very simplified view.

He goes on to list a few of the axes he would use. I have very little to say about this because, frankly, I agree with pretty much everything Andrew says. (And no, it's not a coincidence that his post is mostly complimentary to me :) ) I find the idea of a 3-D map of genres thrilling and hope that someone more savvy with the 3-D image-generating stuff will undertake this, just to keep us arguing.

In fact, I seem to remember Scott McCloud creating a (2-D) diagram with more than one axis to address abstraction and realism in comics. Lemme see ... here it is. I think I oughter blog about this over at atlas(t). I'll cross-post if I do.
Okay, that was long, let the counter arguments begin!

May 15, 2006

Mr. Asian America

Beauty pageants have a long history of contention, but what about non-beauty pageants? Is it possible to have a "person pageant", modeled on the beauty pageant format, in which people are judged for their commitment, or their effectiveness, or even their overall community cool? Or will such an attempt inevitably devolve into an ogle-fest?

Next weekend, all folks in the Yay Area will have a chance to find out (and -- let's be frank -- ogle, if that's your preference.) This Friday the 19th, Hyphen magazine (disclosure: I'm an advisory board member) will be holding its first ever Mr. Hyphen Contest, celebrating the style, talent, and most of all, community commitment of Asian American men.

It's both a strange and a perfect choice for Hyphen, a Gen X founded, and now partly "Gen Y" run news and culture magazine focusing on Americans of Asian heritage. Hyphen, organized as a collective by a predominantly female staff and concerned with offering a "stealth progressive" viewpoint (progressive politics sugared with pop culture and snarkiness), would and does have a lot of sharp things to say about classic beauty pageants, especially those involving women, ballgowns, and the word "Miss". On the other hand, subverting questionable cultural outgrowths is Hyphen's bread and butter.

Add to this the continuing discussion in Asian American about the feminization of Asian masculinity in the West -- the silencing of the Asian American male -- and you end up with a potentially progressive pageant of pride. (Yes, I had to go for the alliteration.) On the other hand, it could just be a bunch of Asian American women (and men), giggling and whistling.

Whatever the case may be, Hyphen magazine itself, as an independent non-profit print mag, is worth your support -- as are the men, who are competing for a $500 donation to the nonprofit they work with. And the event will be fun. So please turn out and support this Friday. Hyphen's text and info below!

Note: If you prepay online you save $5!

You've heard of Miss Chinatown, but have you heard of Mr. Hyphen? That's right. Hyphen, the Asian American magazine dubbed "the oracle of Asian American culture" by the San Francisco Chronicle, thinks Asian American men should be celebrated as much as Asian American women. To that end, the magazine will present the inaugural Mr. Hyphen contest honoring the men of the Asian American community. In partnership with the Oakland Asian Cultural Center

On May 19, activists, organizers and leaders of various Asian American nonprofit organizations will compete to earn the crown of the first-ever Mr. Hyphen. The event, held at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center, will feature participants competing in several rounds including talent, fashion and Q&A. Contestants will be judged on style, attitude, talent and dedication to the Asian American community. The winner will take home a cash donation of $500 from Hyphen for the nonprofit he represents.

EVENT: Mr. Hyphen
WHEN: Friday, May 19, 7:00-10 pm
WHERE: Oakland Asian Cultural Center, 510.637.0455, 388 9th Street, Suite 290, Oakland, CA 94607 (Pacific Renaissance Plaza, second floor) COST: $15 presale, $20 at the door, all ages welcome. 21+ for alcohol.

Pre-pay $15 (Please make sure you bring your id during the event)

May 14, 2006

Map of Speculative Fiction

Specgenredefsimage

Michael Chabon sez:

Maybe, as I suggested above, the most useful way to think of the various literary genres is not as linked but discrete rooms in a house or red-lined sections in a bookstore, but as regions on a map, the map of fiction. I would put the country of romance at the center of this map, but as with all maps there is no real center, only a set of conventions. And as with the regions on a map, on the map of fiction there is overlap: sometimes it can be hard to say where science fiction shades unambiguously into fantasy, or horror into gothic romance, or mainstream, literary fiction, into any of its neighboring genres.
(thanks to Marrije for directing me here.)

A couple years ago I taught a couple of speculative fiction writing classes: one to adults and one to high-schoolers. My definition of "speculative fiction" (which broadly includes science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, and supernatural horror) depended upon Darko Suvin's: that speculative fiction contains a "novum". Suvin's "novum" refers to the "new" element, the element of the world or the narrative that does not exist in consensus reality, or in the "realistic" world mimicked in "literary fiction", which I took to calling "mimetic fiction".

The novum can be something simple and singular, like the possibility of a ghost in Henry James' The Turn of the Screw. Or it can be complex and infuse the world, like the entirety of Tolkiens' Lord of the Rings, from the species of the protagonists to texture and objects and landscapes and languages of the world they live in.

To make this concept more clear, I created a diagram, which you see above. Please note that I created this merely to explain how the various speculative genres were (broadly) defined, not to recast the literary world with spec fic as its ruling perspective.

But the result, I think, is interesting. In dividing "speculative" from "mimetic" fiction, the one with a novum, the other without, I set up an artificial distinction that grouped the "realism" of literary fiction with the exaggerated, but nevertheless "realistic" (because they do not deal with nova) genre tropes of romance, mystery, thriller, western, etc. This in itself is pretty cool, because it forces literary fiction into bed with dirty genre (as if all characters thinking and speaking in poetic, revelatory, Joycean diction were "realistic" rather than generic.)

But more than this incidence of strange bedfellows, the diagram seperates fiction entirely according to type of content. If it deals with objects not of this world, on this map it is centered. If it deals with things herein findable, it is marginalized. "Meta" fiction, that which acknowledges a reality external to the fiction, is thrust entirely out of the diagram altogether.

It's a strange view, not the view of literature that a science fiction fan has. It's a very peculiarly biased academic view, created for a specific pedagogic purpose, and offering a terribly distorted vision of literature.

But then why "terribly" distorted? Why, in fiction, have we decided to privilege mimesis (such as it is) rather than untrammeled fantasy? Why in fiction, where virtue lies in untruth, or maybe unfact? Why isn't the diagram above true to our predominant literary view?

(cross-posted at atlas(t).)

May 12, 2006

In L.A.

Hey ever'body! I'm in L.A.! Yay!

I'm here for a meeting and a writers event (meeting is today, event is tomorrow) centered around starting an annual Asian Pacific American book festival. I've been asked to be on the advisory committee, which should be fun, advising. Much more fun than doing actual work.

The writers event is called the Asian American Writers Congress (first ever!), however I attended a writers congress here in L.A. at UCLA in 2000. So there. Anyway, I've pasted the press release below, so if you're in the area tomorrow, come check it out! It's FREE!

PRESS RELEASE April 26, 2006

Contact: Audrey Lee-Sung Asian Pacific American Legal Center (213) 977-7500 ext. 229

Asian American Writers Congress to Set Groundwork for the 2007 Asian Pacific American Book Festival

Writers and Emerging Writers Are Encouraged to Attend Free Event at UCLA on May 13, 2006

Los Angeles - Noted Asian and Pacific American (APA) authors, publishers and community leaders will gather to commence the first ever Asian American Writers Congress. The purpose of the Congress is to promote networks among APA writers, both emerging and published, and to set the groundwork for the 2007 Asian Pacific American Book Festival in Los Angeles. The dialogue is open to the public and will take place at UCLA’s James West Alumni Center on Saturday, May 13, 2006 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and is a project of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC) and is co-sponsored by UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center.

The Asian American Writers Congress will serve to gather these creative artists and also emerging writers who may not know how to effectively reach their readers. This free event will include speakers, a publishing panel, and a discussion with all attendees about their writing journeys. Input will also be solicited on how the 2007 festival can best promote literature either written by or about Asian Pacific Americans. Door prizes include books produced by the festival’s advisory council members. Various writing organizations, publishers, and booksellers will have resource materials on display.

“APALC is committed to help Asian Pacific Americans participate in the democratic process, and that often begins with literacy,” said Stewart Kwoh, president and executive director, Asian Pacific American Legal Center. “Writers chronicle our experiences. We must encourage the telling of our stories–and that may take the form of memoir, poetry, literary fiction, genres like mystery and science fiction, and even cookbooks. APALC is excited to partner with the creative artists in our communities to reach our audience in new and fresh ways.”

The schedule is as follows: 9:30 a.m. Registration 10 a.m. Welcome and introduction 10:30 a.m. Keynote Speaker Shawn Wong, professor, University of Washington professor and author of American Knees 11 a.m. Gate Keepers: Publishers, Editors, and Agents Tell You How to Get Inside the Door

May 11, 2006

Hybridity V

"Obediently, she went to it, stood close to it so that the tips of what looked like moss-covered outer twigs and branches touched her bare skin. She wore only shorts and a halter top. The Communities would have preferred her to be naked, and for the long years of her captivity, she had had no choice. She had been naked. Now she was no longer a captive, and she insisted on wearing at least the basics. Her employer had come to accept this and now refused to lend her to subcontractors who would refuse her the right to wear clothing.

This subcontractor enfolded her immediately, drawing her upward and in among its many selves, first hauling her up with its various organisms of manipulation, then grasping her securely with what appeared to be moss. The Communities were not plants, but it was easiest to think of them in those terms since most of the time, most of them looked so plantlike.

Enfolded within the Community, she couldn't see at all. She closed her eyes to avoid the distraction of trying to see or imagining that she saw. She felt herself surrounded by what felt like long, dry fibers, fronds, rounded fruits of various sizes, and other things that produced less identifiable sensations. She was at once touched, stroked, messaged, compressed in the strangely comfortable, peaceful way that she had come to look forward to whenever she was employed. She was turned and handled as though she weighed nothing. In fact, after a few moments, she felt weightless. She had lost all sense of direction, yet she felt totally secure, clasped by entities that had nothing resembling human limbs. Why this was pleasurable, she never understood, but for twelve years of captivity, it had been her only dependable comfort. It had happened often enough to enable her to endure everything else that was done to her.

Fortunately, the Communities also found it comforting—even more than she did."

-- Octavia Butler "Amnesty"

May 10, 2006

So Depressed

I just got an email from my friend Patty. She let me know two pieces of news:

1. Cody's books is closing

2. A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books is closing

Cody's is not a spot on my personal map. Being in Berkeley, a place too psychologically far away from San Francisco for me to visit it more often than three or four times a year, Cody's has never been a staple of my arts-and-letters-tending life. However, every time there's a cool reading that I hear about in the yay area that I wish I could attend, but can't, it's always at Cody's. Cody's is one of those places that needs to be there so that you can be frustrated about not going to it.

A Clean Well-Lighted is a different story. I worked there half time from 1999 to 2000, helping to organize and publicize, and then hosting, their almost nightly reading events. From 2000 - 2002 I worked very very part time hosting events. All in all, I probably hosted about 150 events there, give or take. It was a fun place to work; the staff was all smart and educated and literary, we got our hands dirty touching books all day long. Plus, I got to meet and hang out with real publishing writers two or three nights a week.

ACWLP had not only in-house and out-of-store reading events, they also had writing classes with local authors, writers lunches where people could go out to a schmancy meal with visiting authors, and book clubs that met in the store on weekends. Plus, real shelf-talkers written by staff and several staff picks tables and shelves. Plus, you could just throw a title, or name, or plotline at a staff member and -- most likely -- they'd know what book you were talking about. You know, an independent book store. The real thing.

Everyone has their own personal bookstore where they go when they want to browse or when they're hoping that they can find a book right now and not have to wait for amazon to deliver. ACWLP was my personal bookstore. I'm now regretting every book I ever bought from Amazon. Why didn't I order it through ACWLP?

I feel like someone has just told me that an old friend is dying of cancer.

Hybridity IV

'Heterosis is increased strength of different characteristics in hybrids; the possibility to obtain a "better" individual by combining the virtues of its parents. This is commonly known as hybrid vigor or outbreeding enhancement. It is often the opposite process of inbreeding depression, which increases homozygosity. Heterosis is an example of heterozygous advantage. The term often causes controversy, particularly in terms of domestic animals, because it is sometimes believed that all crossbred plants or animals are better than their parents; this is untrue. Rather, when a hybrid is seen to be superior to its parents, this is known as hybrid vigor. It may also happen that a hybrid inherits such different traits from their parents that make them unfit for survival. This is known as outbreeding depression, typical examples of which are crosses between wild and hatchery fish that have incompatible adaptations.'

-- Wikipedia, entry on "Heterosis".

May 09, 2006

Hybridity III

"Political correctness" seems to be a too serious and fascist, demagogic way of saying "civil language". Of course, when civility is not our purpose, there are other languages and vocabularies available to us. With the need for a language of civility and doing business with strangers without betraying our secrets or slashing our wrists or starting a war in mind, I suggest PC stand for "pidgin contest".

Civil language and tolerant behavior can't be imposed from the top without exercising heavy police-state censorship and driving everyone with a discouraging word underground. But in the bustling, competitive, passionate marketplace atmosphere of a port city or corner store, civil language and tolerant behavior are invented, or you go broke, brah."

-- Frank Chin, "Pidgin Contest Along I-5".

May 08, 2006

Hybridity II

'The idea of nation is often based on naturalised myths of racial or cultural origin. Asserting such myths was a very important part of the imperial process and therefore an important feature of much imperial writing and indeed postcolonial writing. The need for commonality of thought to encourage resistance became a feature of many of the first postcolonial novels.

... More recently we have become aware of how problematic such accounts are. The simple binaries that made up imperial and postcolonial studies have in some way become redundant with regard to later literature. As Mudrooroo has said of the Aborigines , they were a tribe like any other, susceptible to change and influence from outside forces. He says; “the Aboriginal writer is a Janus-type figure with a face turned to the past and the other to the future while existing in a postmodern, multi cultural Australia in which he or she must fight for cultural space”. ...

One of the most disputed terms in postcolonial studies, ‘hybridity' commonly refers to “the creation of new transcultural forms within the contact zone produced by colonisation.” Hybridisation takes many forms including cultural, political and linguistic. ...

Robert Young a widely written commentator on imperialism and postcolonialism, has remarked on the negativity sometimes associated with the term hybridity. He notes how it was influential in imperial and colonial discourse in giving damaging reports on the union of different races. ...

However, the crossover inherent in the imperial experience is essentially a two-way process. According to Ashcroft most postcolonial writing has focused on the hybridised nature of postcolonial culture as a strength rather than a weakness. It is not a case of the oppressor obliterating the oppressed or the coloniser silencing the colonised. In practice it stresses the mutuality of the process. The clash of cultures can impact as much upon the coloniser as the colonised. ... Ashcroft says how “hybridity and the power it releases may well be seen as the characteristic feature and contribution of the post-colonial, allowing a means of evading the replication of the binary categories of the past and developing new anti-monolithic models of cultural exchange and growth”.'

-- The Imperial Archive: Key Concepts in Postcolonial Studies, entry on "Hybridity".

May 05, 2006

Hybridity I

"... the trickster of mythology—Hermes among the Greeks, the Northmen’s Loki, the Native Americans Coyote and Raven and Rabbit, the Africans Eshu and Legba and Anansi (who reappear in our own folklore in slave stories of High John de Conquer and Aunt Nancy), Krishna, the peach stealing Monkey of the Chinese, and our own friend Satan, shouting out who killed the Kennedys, when after all it was you and me. Trickster is the stealer of fire, the maker of mischief, teller of lies, bringer of trouble and upset and, above all, random change. And all around the world—think of Robert Johnson selling his soul—Trickster is always associated with borders, no man’s lands, with crossroads and intersections. Trickster is the conveyer of souls across ultimate boundaries, the transgressor of heaven, the reconciler of opposites. He operates through inversion of laws and regulations, presiding over carnivals and feasts of fools. He is hermaphrodite; he is at once hero and villain, scourges and benefactors. “He is the spirit of the doorway leading out,” as Hyde writes, “and of the crossroad at the edge of town (the one where a little market springs up).” For Trickster is also the god of the marketplace, of the city as intersection of converging roads and destinies, as transfer point, and perhaps that is why cities, Indianapolis excepted, have always been built at the places where incommensurates meet—sea and land, mountain and plain, coast and desert. Trickster goes where the action is, and the action is in the borders between things."

-- Michael Chabon "Introduction to McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories", (courtesy of Marrije.)

May 04, 2006

Butt. In. Chair.

ehn ...

must ... work ... on ... novel ...

must ...

May 02, 2006

Plagiarism

Okay, I know I promised hybridity and have not yet delivered, but the Malcolm Gladwell tiff nested inside the Viswanathan scandal is causing chapping on the portion of my hide that actually thinks about things. (yes, I know, faulty metaphor thingy, but at least it's not plagiarized.)

Gladwell has taken a lot of (well deserved) flak for dismissing Viswanathan's plagiarism of many, many passages from another, similar YA novel because he denigrates YA as a "genre" (YA is a category, not a genre.) Gladwell seems to think that the multiple reflections of tropes within genres excuses stealing passages whole. I don't think I need to get into why this is wrong. All the commenters on his post did a more than sufficient job of telling him where to shove his snobbery.

But I don't think that anyone has yet adequately dealt with this problematic Gladwellism, although a lot of people are angry about it:

But once we have conceded that in genre fiction its okay to borrow themes, why do we get so upset when genre novelists borrow something a good deal less substantial—namely phrases and sentences? Surely an idea is more consequential than a sentence.

This gets right to the heart of what plagiarism is. Gwenda Bond says it's problematic:

Because phrases and sentences are execution. Even in the lowly genres. (That is sarcasm, folks; that's what really galls me about this -- the base assumption that genre novelists are something else, something lesser.) They are what the blood and sweat goes into; they belong to the writer who generates them. Execution is everything in storyland. In writingland.

And I agree with her, but I don't think that quite breaks it down enough. Why is execution of an idea more important than the idea itself? This goes back to grade school and junior high, and even high school, when, on tests, we were given a passage to read and then asked to explain what the author of the passage meant in our own words. No one back then (or now) asked "What's the point?" I mean, the author's passage is right there on the page. Why does it need to be reiterated in different words?

Because in school, we are supposed to be doing two things: 1) learning ideas and facts -- knowledge -- that have gone before us and 2) learning how to learn, i.e. how to read texts, ingest ideas, and process them in such a way that they become understandable to us. Repeating an idea or a thought process in our own words simultaneously: 1) enables us to take that idea or thought process in and understand it and 2) demonstrates to others that we have learned and understood the idea or thought process.

Simply copying the text over, word for word, or copying the text with a few word or phrase changes, does the exact opposite of the above. The act of copying is very different from the act of writing, As we all know from having had to copy things during typing lessons, copying dulls the mind, shuts it out from engaging with the text intellectually. It disables the mind and prevents it from taking in the content of the text. It also demonstrates the exact opposite of rewriting something in your own words: namely, that you have not learned or understood the idea or thought process.

Why do we learn a base of knowledge that has gone before and also learn a process of understanding ideas? Because that is the basis for creating new knowledge, creating new ideas, or processing old ideas in a new way. This is the job of the writer: to create a new addition to our treasury of texts/knowledge by creating a new way of processing ideas, or by presenting new ideas (which is often the same thing.) And when I say "creating a new way of processing ideas", the "new" can be as slight as a mildly different way of telling the same old story.

The wording, the flow of language, the originality of the writing, is important to us culturally not because each writer is blessed with an utterly distinctive voice, or with an idiosyncratic way of looking at the world. Unfortunately, most published writers aren't all that distinctive, and their ideas are mundane and derivative. Most writers reinvent wheels endlessly. In fact, most writers don't even do that. Most writers take existing wheels, reverse engineer them, and come up with ... wheels.

The value in our culture of the individual effort to put things in your own words is exactly the same as it was in school when you had to put something into your own words, or when you were given half a page on a math test to show how you arrived at an answer you guessed in your head: show your work.

Writers do the work of thinking things through for us. Then they show us how the work is done. When they're good, when their thinking is good, then they lead us through their thought processes and expand our minds, our ways of thinking. When they're not so good, but good enough to be published, they do us the favor of allowing us a moment's respite from the processes of our own minds. They entertain, they permit escape, they give us rest; they carry the weight of thinking for us for the duration of the time we spend in their text. They do the work. They do the work.

So when someone plagiarizes, they are refusing the work, they are refusing to think, they are refusing to write. Because writing is not scratching or typing words; writing is not merely assembling words, sentences and paragraphs into a recognizable form. Writing, all writing, is a tense conjunction of thinking, imagining, and composing (or phrasing) language anew. The language composition aspect of writing (just like the bodywork aspect of dancing, or the brushstrokes aspect of painting, or the fingers on keys of playing piano) is what shapes the way the thinking and imagining happen. In fact, the language composition aspect is what causes the thinking and imagining to happen. And the thinking and imagining fill the composition with meaning, shape, flavor. It's a mixture like a cake, not a salad: remove one of the ingredients and it won't be a cake.

So whether you're writing a trashy sex-and-shopping YA consumable, or whether you're writing War and Peace, the independence of your process of language composition is essential to your work. If you did not compose the language, then it is not your work -- you stole it. You stole a piece of someone else's mind.

And no, Mr. Gladwell, it's not a lesser crime simply because it's a lesser work, or a smaller mind ... just as the enormity of a murder doesn't depend upon the virtue of the victim.

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