Recognizing Racism

Photo by George Pimentel – Image courtesy gettyimages.com

I wrote last week about writing an ensemble cast in a SciFi setting. It’s going well so far. I have eight major characters (it’s arranged-marriage-polyamory) and I began by letting half of them have a POV. I eventually let each of the others have a POV chapter, and there is one who is very deliberate remaining somewhat mysterious who does not yet have a POV.

In October I selected images of actors to use as character inspiration. I began with Matthew Lewis, best known for playing Neville Longbottom in the Harry Potter Movies. At age twenty-eight he has transitioned from the quiet nerdy adolescent character to playing gritter roles such as Sgt. Drum Drummond on Ripper Street.

And he’s absolutely gorgeous. (Check out this article in the Huffington Post.)

When I chose the eight actors, I made an effort to have a racially-diverse cast. Priyanka Chopra. Jordan Fisher. Kate Micucci. Grant O’Rourke. Zendaya. Godfrey Gao. Emilia Clarke. Ideally, for a human-colonized planet a couple thousand years in the future, every single one of the images should be of someone whose ethnicity is so mixed that one could not look at them and slap a label of “Asian” or “Hispanic” or such on any of them. If I’d worked a little harder at my selection, I could have found eight actors with bi- (or tri or quad or beyond) -racial characteristics, but the eight I used each have something I liked. I also didn’t want to put too much time into the project. I might fantasize about selling the film rights to my story someday, but if that ever happened it is highly unlikely that any of my original choices would be able to play the part for which their image was inspiration.

I’d love to get Matthew Lewis, though…

After I’d selected the eight, I was somewhat disgusted with myself. It felt like I had the token Asian, the token Hispanic, and one guy who could pass as black or biracial and I didn’t want to think too hard about it because that pondering in itself felt racist. But having the “token” ethnicities was better than whitewashing the whole thing.

Godfrey Gao for Harper’s Bazaar Men Thailand

Some characters were clearer in my mind than others. As I began to write, some of them began to speak to me, developing into fully fledged participants in the plot. The one character I mentioned who was still somewhat mysterious happened to be Godfrey Gao, AKA the token Asian.

This story is set on a future world. There is nothing that a twenty-first-century reader would notice about the character as being inherently Asian. Yet, as my brain started to explore what kind of guy this character was, I found myself coming up with racially stereotypical characteristics such as being a martial arts master or secret ninja.

Actually… I’ve already established that Zendaya’s character thinks of herself as ninja-like, but she’s not that good at it. (It’s okay. It’s not an important job skill.)

These thoughts bounced around in my head a while before I suddenly realized “Hey! That’s racist.” It’s not necessarily a negative stereotype to make the Asian guy a martial artist, but it is still racist.

The outstanding characteristics of Godfrey Gao’s character in my NaNoWriMo story are that he writes about law, and he is hard to get to know. He is the kind of person who will talk to anyone in a friendly manner, coming across as open and considerate, but after the conversation closes you realize he revealed absolutely nothing about himself while learning a great deal about you.

I’m seventeen thousand words in (behind, but not hopeless) and the other seven characters are well aware he exists, and that they will soon be married to him, but no one has as yet met him. Grant’s and Kate’s characters passed him in a hallway of the duchy offices, but didn’t realize who he was until he’d walked right past them. I’m setting up his introduction to be guarded and private. He will eventually get a POV, and I’m hoping when that happens the reader will have an “aha” moment.

I’m not going to worry too much about these images for now. I am generally sparse with regards to describing my characters’ physical characteristics anyway. That might not be a bad thing. I’ll keep the pictures in front of me, but the characters will show up in the story as a fully-fleshed people whose personalities and quirks have nothing to do with their far-away Earth ethnicity.

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The Prima Donna in Me

I logged in to the public library’s computer today to get some words in. I’ve never tried that before… I’ve brought my laptop with me, or written by hand, but never used their computer. For the most part, it went smoothly.

Just not ideal.

Colorado Springs has a wonderful library system. I can check out a book from any branch, and return it to any branch. This is particularly useful because our favorite Library, 21C, is on the other side of town, but it’s often easier to drop off books at Ruth Holley, which is in the same mall as the laundromat I like. 21C also has a variety of work spaces for the community, from cubicles with tables or desks to computer labs to cubicles with individual computers (those are most in demand.)

Today Bunny had a two-hour delay, and I decided to stay up north and run a few errands then go to the library to work before picking her up, instead of making the drive north twice.

Instead of 21C, I went to the small library closest to Bunny’s school. Instead of work spaces or a lab, they had one row of computers off in a corner for the teenagers, and another row smack in the middle of the main traffic area for everyone else.

I take Thufir Hawat’s advice to heart. I do not like to work with my back to a door or other open area. At 21C I like the cubicles with little tables because I can put the back of my chair against the cubicle wall and face out of the cubicle. I was disappointed when they installed desks against the walls of some cubicles… I had to leave my back exposed.

Today, work had to be done. I pushed aside my discomfort and logged in, even though there were people walking behind me and anyone could easily see everything I was working on. It wasn’t NSFW (although there will eventually be a few sex scenes) but that’s not the point. It was mine. It wasn’t there for public consumption.

I survived writing for about an hour and a half and at least a thousand words added to my NaNoNovel before I had to go pick up Bunny. I survived the woman diagonal from me rummaging through the pencil jar between us, and the elderly gentlemen who loudly teased her about “Playing with them computers” while I worked.

I understand that a writer should be able to work through all kinds of distractions and under all kinds of imperfect conditions. But yes… there is a prima donna in me who wants the perfect set-up to write. When we were living in my parents’ old house back in Vermont (the exile years) I had a pretty nice place. We used the master bedroom as a workroom, with laundry-sorting, sewing, spare bunks for the girls, and my writing desk. I had a nook with my back to the wall, facing the television. I had a tall shelf to my right and a smaller shelf behind me to my left, with plenty of room for tsotchkes and other odd bits. I had printouts and a tall wall poster with the chronology of Kingdom Come. It wasn’t perfect, but it was comfortable and I was very productive there.

When we moved into this tiny apartment I put my writing desk near the entrance to the kitchen. That worked for almost a year before I gave up on it, and resigned myself to keeping my laptop on a shelf next to the couch (it’s actually love seat…it only fits two people) where I had less room but I was more comfortable.

There really is a correlation between productivity and having a workspace conducive to the task at hand. Yes, I’d love to have the perfect office someday…actually, a selection of spaces within my home where I can log on and work on my WIP depending on my needs and those of my family. Maybe I want to work in my formal office, away from all distractions. Maybe I need to use an alcove off the family room where I can be close to the kids, laundry, and the kitchen while I carve out some writing time.

That would be perfect. And maybe a treehouse or she-shed for when I feel extra creative…

Not yet. I can’t be a prima donna right now. We don’t have the resources. But I will still write, even if I only get a few hundred words in each hour-sprint instead of my usual of over a thousand.

My ROW80 goals this round are simply to win NaNoWriMo. I’m behind in my word count, but I’m okay.

And a question to my fellow ROWers and other visitors…

Have you ever used your Dropbox from a public computer, like one at the library? I thought there was a way to simply log in, work, save to the Dropbox as usual then go on with life, being able to continue working later from my home computer. I have found that I can use a tablet (awkward) or even my phone (almost impossible, but it technically works) to access my Dropbox files, and I can move between those and my laptop as needed. But I almost always use my laptop.

I was able to log in to my Dropbox at the library, and retrieve my WIP. But I couldn’t save my work, which fortunately I found out the first time I tried to save, after just a few hundred words. In the end, I had to save a copy to the desktop then email that file to myself. The computer automatically deleted the desktop file when I logged off, which is fine.

It would have been easier to have my WIP on a thumbdrive. But what’s the purpose of having my Dropbox then? Yeah, I like the cloud storage…especially when I need to change laptops at a less-than-ideal time. But it should be simpler…or maybe I’m doing something wrong. I’d like to hear from other users!

 

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An Ensemble Cast

Mock-up cover for NaNoWriMo

Some of favorite movies focus not on a single hero, but an ensemble of characters whose lives and stories intertwine. It’s usually easy to follow as the camera moves from one person to another and we get to see which characters are related to each other.

In a literary work, it’s harder to do this successfully. With too many POV characters, readers can get confused or bored. Too many named characters are frustrating to keep track of.

When I first started writing the polyamorous romance stories on Kingdom Come, it was soon clear that trying to give all eight(ish) characters equal time in the story was just overwhelming. For later stories, I focused on just a few characters and either wrote separate stories for the others, or I delegated them to being secondary characters.

It worked.

But I’d really love to tell these stories as a true ensemble. I’m just not sure I could do it justice. This year for NaNoWriMo I’m returning to Kingdom Come with Coward of the County. Yes, I love the song by Kenny Rogers, but this story bears little resemblance to the ballad of Tommy and Becky.

I’m about 2k in now, and I think I’ve settled on four POV characters. The arranged marriage is eight, and I’m hoping that it comes across that all of them are important even though I focus more on just a few.

I found a great image for the novel on Canva.com. It evokes the loneliness my MC feels, and definitely resembles the scenery in the story. What it doesn’t show, though, are the other seven entangled in the romance.

I’m not worried about the cover. It’s just a mock-up. I am worried about how to make this story flow with a true ensemble cast, instead of feeling like just one man with a set of throwaway background characters.

Wish me luck.

 

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Deserving

Most important things.

My WIP is a worthy story deserving of love, honor, and the work of editing, revising and possibly rewriting that will make it great.

It’s also nowhere near done.

I started writing Twenty-first Century Airship Princess back in December. The goal was to enter it in the Zebulon (local PPW annual contest) as a story that is marketable with an appeal to a wide body of readers, as opposed to many of my other stories that are very niche-market oriented. I had eleven months to write, beta-test, revise, and compose a query letter for it.

It’s not going to happen in time for the November 1 deadline.

I’m not going into the reasons or making excuses. The realities of daily life often make demands that keep us away from the plans we make.

It is a relief, admitting that this is not the right time for the story. Yet I am horribly aware that stories (and other projects) often lie unfinished indefinitely. I have a genetic disposition (let’s just pretend that’s a thing) towards abandoning projects without finishing them. I’ve fought against it most of my life, and I have numerous accomplishments to prove that I can finish something.

I can also identify with all the Mensa-qualifying folks who have crappy, low-paying jobs.

In November, I will be switching my writing-energy to NaNoWriMo. I’m returning to my Kingdom Come SciFi-Rom world because I’ve written several novels in that universe and the stories come easily to me. But they’re quirky and very niche, so not as marketable. I’m doing this to keep my brain in writing-mode while also letting it rest from the more difficult projects. I want to FINISH something and Coward of the County is a story I can finish. It’s also part of The Fall of the Adelaide Faire, which is my hubby’s favorite part of the Kingdom Come stories. Maybe…just maybe… I can rewrite The Scar and finish the other stories in the set and eventually query them…

Finishing stuff is a goal and a struggle. There are so many reasons for putting a story on the shelf. Sometimes it belongs there. Sometimes it deserves to be reworked and refinished. Sometimes it needs to be cannibalized into another story.

The idea is to finish something.

The ultimate goal is to not only finish, but publish and sell enough to make it worth writing the next one.

 

 

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Without Control

Hemi and I, wistfully gazing off into the distance.

Among other issues with this tiny apartment we have no control over the heat. We have an air conditioner in the living room (which doesn’t help the bedrooms) whose thermostat works just fine. We have a normal radiator in the right places in each room, attached to a modern, working thermostat.

The problem is, in the winter, our apartment is consistently much, much warmer than we set the thermostat. There are neighbors on either side and above, and we have a utility crawl space beneath us. Without the windows open, the apartment is often in the 80’s.

I have trouble sleeping if the room is too hot. Fortunately, a fan in the window is usually all I need. However in the winter this is unpredictable. It’s not attached to a thermostat that turns it off and on. At bedtime we need to guess just how cold it might get. We might leave the fan on, or take it out of the window and just leave it open a crack. It’s not a great system. We often wake up in the middle of the night, freezing under our blankets. I usually poke my hubby and make him get up and close the window. He’s much more tolerant of the cold than I am.

Did I mention that our electric blanket broke this week?

Feeling out of control is frustrating. It hurts. It affects us in deeper ways, like interrupting our sleep and leaving us worried about our pets overheating if we have to be away from home for more than a few hours. We have to include weird little accommodations in our daily plans, when we should be able to simply set things up in an appropriate way and expect them to work.

So this is a goal. To have more control. Not to be a freak…I’ve been there and done that and I try to be very reasonable in what I expect to control…but to be a happy, productive human being, a happy, productive writer who feels safe in her environment.

I’m not quite there yet.

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Volunteer Work

With M.B. Partlow and Linda Tshappat at a PPW event

I’m applying to the local fabric store as seasonal help to get us through the next few months and, hopefully, to have some money for Christmas. Even with hubby’s new job, money is very tight. I looked for proofreading or editing work, but the only jobs in that category were full time positions that included a lot of other duties as well.

Meanwhile, I have a plethora of volunteer opportunities in front of me. There are things I’d love to do not only because they give back to the community, but because they interest me and help further my career goals.

I can easily give my time away. Hardly anyone wants to pay me for it.

I’m trying to finish transcribing Twenty-first Century Airship Princess and get it into shape before the contest deadline of November first. I have some notes for NaNoWriMo prepared, and I’ve picked out a few actors to use as character inspiration. I’m using my Kingdom Come universe because it’s already established and I don’t have to worldbuild, I just have to figure out how this story (Coward of the County) fits with the previous story (The Scar) and the other stories that will be in the set I call The Fall of the Adelaide Faire.

It’s frustrating that I have a hard time juggling the family’s needs while getting enough writing and transcribing done. It’s more frustrating knowing that I need to add part time work that is completely unrelated to any career goal. At least it’s something I do enjoy, and I can get a lot of Christmas shopping done on my employee discount. It is also seasonal, giving me an easy out before the spring semester starts and I go back to school.

Very few writers make even a reasonable part-time salary at the craft. Only a very few are able to make it a financially viable full time job. Still, that is the goal, for me anyway. Even if I never have a best-seller or wide recognition, I’d like to at least make enough money for it to be worth my time.

Not an expensive hobby.

Not a volunteer position.

I want a career.

 

 

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A Thousand Small Comforts

Bedside LabeledAs I write this, I am ensconced on the ugly couch, my feet on a footstool so that there is room for my laptop to sit comfortably. It’s not easy to get in and out of this spot, so I made sure I had water, my phone, snacks, and everything else I might need for a long session of work. It is even more difficult to get up when the dog is occupying the other half of the ugly couch.

This is not my ideal spot. It is, however, the best I can do in my tiny apartment. I do have a desk…it sits at the entrance to the kitchen. If I’m sitting there, family have to squeeze past me to get to the fridge. The desk is currently covered with junk, a side effect of living in such cramped quarters. I might try to clear it off before NaNoWriMo.

There are many small comforts I’ve carved out of this temporary home, but there are hundreds of discomforts that range from mildly irritating to hugely infuriating. Hubby usually sets his clothes out in the living room each night so he won’t wake me up when he gets dressed in the morning. If two people occupy the kitchen, they will be touching each other unless they do a very carefully coordinated dance. There is only one bathroom for our family of four.

I am haunted by tips in women’s magazines and online that talk about little ways to do self-care. Getting enough sleep. Having things organized so they work smoothly for my needs. A little pampering here and there.

One woman’s self-care is another woman’s extravagance.

I do carve out time for sleep because I know that, without it, my health and the overall well-being of my entire family will quickly go to hell in a handbasket. When I take a bunch of clothes to the laundromat, it’s self-care that has me bopping next door to Subway for an inexpensive and reasonably healthy, tasty lunch. Yet, when money is tight, that’s an extravagance, not a thrifty solution to lunch on a busy day.

I asked on facebook today what my friends’ ideal bedroom set-up would be, particularly whether they’d prefer magazine-photo beauty or utilitarian practicality. My current bedside setup is pictured above. Someday, the heel-cream and orange-ginger lotion will be bits of self-care I apply liberally. For now, they are indulgences I ration carefully. I need to keep things like my water bottle and alarm clock right by my bed, so it will never be perfectly magazine-quality beautiful. Several years ago I spent sixty dollars on a nice bedspread, which was both an indulgence and an investment. It is still in very good condition and is usually the only bedding we need besides the sheets.

There are small indulgences I make for my writing habits as well. For stories that I hand-write, I get cute fabric to cover the notebook and make it so it can fold over the edge and keep it closed. Some of my favorite places to write are restaurants or coffee shops with a quiet corner and power outlet. Of course, I can’t do that unless I spend at least a little money for food or drink. I don’t do that very often.

Side note… when JK Rowling needed to finish the Harry Potter series, the first books had already made her wealthy. She realized that she could throw money at the problem, and she checked into the Balmoral hotel in Edinburgh to complete the final novel.

I’d love to have room service and privacy while I write!

I currently have a long list of things I need and want to accomplish, and a less-than adequate space to do it in. Yet I persevere. I persist. And I don’t get everything done, but somehow manage to forgive myself.

It’s a little indulgence.

 

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Trying Something New

I’m trying something new, and it seems to be working!

With my OCD, I usually prefer to concentrate on one thing for an extended period of time. I need to finish one WIP before I begin another. This is part of why I love NaNoWriMo so much; getting an entire novel out in just one month!

However, when I stalled on 21st Century Airship Princess and put it on the shelf, I moved on to not just one, but two new stories. They use the same setting and theme as 21CAP, so I’m not switching genre or tone. One story will probably be novella length, and I’m typing it into the computer (as is the norm for most authors, myself included.) The other, which will probably be full novel-length, I’m writing into notebooks like I did with 21CAP.

Surprisingly, it seems to be working! Typing on the computer is fast, and I instantly know my wordcount, but I need to be home on my laptop (which is large and not easy to take places) in order to work on it. Handwriting is slower, but has the advantage that I only need my notebook and a pen. I can write sitting in the school parking lot waiting for my daughter to come out. It gets problematic when I forget how long ago some event in backstory happened or what name I gave a restaurant, but it lets me put long rambling notes to myself next to the text.

There are two deadlines coming up. Noon on November 1st is the deadline to enter the Zebulon, a local writing contest that mimics the process of querying an agent. November 2st is also the beginning of NaNoWriMo. That gives me about five weeks to finish up what I’m working on and prep for the new story.

Realistically, finishing a novel and a novella in five weeks is highly unlikely. I’m not sure whether I’ll just set them aside for November, or whether I’ll come up with some intriguing solution.

And who knows? I may surprise myself.

 

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Floodgates

The family at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, my happy place.

I just figured out that we have eight days left in this Round of Words in 80 Days.

I’m okay with that. I didn’t do so well this round, and unfortunately that’s been my refrain for over a year now. Yes… “real life” does get in the way and our family faced some hefty challenges since the move in early 2016. But hubby has been in a new, much better job for a month now, Bunny finally got into the GREAT charter school she’d been on the waiting list for, and Tallchild is doing her Senior year of high school. There is still more transition to go… we hope to move out of this tiny apartment in a few months, but we won’t be able to buy yet so it will probably still be a temporary rental. Tallchild will move on to a transitional program for young adults with special needs after graduation.

With all three of my immediate family ensconced in safe, nurturing places all day, I’ve finally been able to get the writing time I need. It’s been a little like floodgates opening, with the number of words that came rushing out over a few days! I came to a revelation regarding Twenty-First Century Airship Princess that I can’t resolve the conflict without a Deus ex Machina, and I desperately do not want to do that. Also, the pacing is off and I switched from single POV to dual about 10k in. It is temporarily on the shelf, but I plan to rewrite it after it steeps a while.

I have two new WIPs in the same vein as 21CAP. One will probably be a novella, and the other is a novel. Hopefully, since the two stories are in the same universe and time as 21CAP, they won’t compete against each other in my head and writing simultaneously will work. The novella is being typed into the computer, as is “normal” these days. That means I have to be home near my laptop (Yeah, I can move it or access the story online through Dropbox, but…) to work on that one. The novel is being handwritten, as was 21CAP. I want and need to get both stories out of me as quickly as possible. That is one thing I have learned about myself as an author; if I don’t get the story out in a reasonably short time, it crashes and burns and sometimes isn’t worth cleaning up.

21CAP is worth cleaning up. And there is a deadline, if I want to enter it in a certain contest this fall.

So…who’s got deadlines?

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I Swear I Had it All Together at One Point

Hemi and I on Pikes Peak this Labor Day. The family made it to the top this time!

The best laid plans sometimes go to hell in a handbasket for good reasons.

Someday I will look back at 2016-2019 as “the transition years” but at the moment it’s just damned inconvenient. But it’s all for good reason, and we will emerge stronger.

Bunny spent three days of Fourth Grade in online school, as planned. Then we got the call that there was an opening at the school of fabulousness for which she had been on the waiting list for three years! After doing all the prep to get her started with online school, we scrambled to get all the different things we needed for the new school. It’s a good change… a FANTASTIC change but it took some chaotic creativity to make it work.

Next year Tallchild will transition from being a high-schooler with special needs to an adult with special needs. More scrambling. More unknown. All with the bonus of teenage hormones.

Writing has too often taken a back seat, and probably will for just a little while longer. I want to finish Twenty-first Century Airship Princess but I haven’t added words in a few weeks. I still intend to enter it in the Zebulon this year, though, so I will be working on it and getting the rough draft and revision one done by…. OMG I’m running out of time!

Meanwhile I connected with a couple of local real-life writer-friends who were looking for some short-shorts to add into their anthology. They liked what I gave them, so…yeah! More details later when things are more official. I still need a few more Cthulhu limericks…

For my ROW80 update I have no idea where we are in the round. Still struggling to carve the time I need for writing and writing-related stuff.

T’aint easy.

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