Stuffed head, phlegmy,…

Stuffed head, phlegmy, coughing all night. Ick.

But aside from that, having a great time. The Mura workshop was interesting, hanging out with writers at a coffeeshop after was fun (and there's some talk of us starting up a monthly workshop here, which would be great), and in the evening, I got to have dinner with Jeremy Smith (who was briefly in town) and talk over the SLF, which ended up making me feel much better about where the foundation is right now, and our fund-raising prospects for the future. So that's all good. And more social stuff today -- I get to have lunch with a fan (one of my readers from the old days who now teaches at UIC, on the other side of campus from Kevin), so that'll be interesting, and this evening, there's a SAPAC (South Asian Progressive Action Coalition) meeting. I'm hoping I don't start feeling sicker; right now, I feel a little yucky, but still able to go out and about. I'd hate to miss tonight's meeting; I really like these people, and I'm interested in learning more about what they do.

Mura said a few really smart things that I found helpful:

  • Asian-American writers should be particularly wary of falling into the best-in-class trap, although this can happen to any writer; if you're the kind of person who has been trained to excel, to strive to be the best, then when you're in workshops or classes, you'll feel a strong impulse to bring in work that the teacher / your classmates will approve of, so that you can be assessed as very successful. This impulse is the death of creativity and of risk-taking; it leads directly towards conformity and safe choices in your fiction. Beware it!

  • Minority writers should think carefully about audience, especially when they're working with minority material (as in my Sri Lankan stories, although this would apply to any minority, so queer material as well, for example) -- are you writing (perhaps unconsciously) for some imagined white majority audience? If so, it'll affect how you tell the story, what you choose to translate, what you choose to italicize, how much explaining you do, and most critically, how deeply you delve into the complexities of a situation. This is particularly something to be wary of because that white majority audience you're imagining is a myth, or if not a myth, a dying remnant of a fast-disappearing culture; the future readership for your fiction is going to be far more mixed, and they're going to be impatient with and bored by work that skims the surface.

    If I'm writing for my cousins, or my queer friends, or my poly friends, do I write differently than when I'm writing for an imagined general audience? I think I do -- and I think that's a problem. Because in the end, I think the writer should write as close to the complex truth as they can, and if that presents problems in translation for the reader, then the reader needs to educate themselves to read the text. That's what I have to do when reading work from the Harlem Renaissance, for example -- in many ways, it's very alien to me, and most of those authors didn't spend a lot of time or energy translating for me. Which can be frustrating to the reader, but I think it's ultimately more rewarding. I suppose I knew all this -- this is what Gloria Anzaldua is talking about in Borderlands / La Frontera, but somehow I hadn't really applied it to my fiction. Interesting.

    I don't think I want to make radical changes to the dissertation novel, but this may affect the threesome novel. If I'm writing it with Kevin and Karina and Jed in mind as my audience, people who have lived through poly relationships over many years, the perspective is very different than if I'm imagining my parents as the audience.

4 thoughts on “Stuffed head, phlegmy,…”

  1. Good ideas from Mura. I think the best advice I received at Clarion was something Emma and Will said early in week 1 (paraphrased here): don’t succeed by being safe and doing what you know how to do already; fail gloriously.

    Though, you know, it’s also good to succeed gloriously.

    As for imagined audience, I think it’s an extremely good point, but I also think that accessibility is something that’s worth considering. It’s a tradeoff; if you want to be widely read, or even widely published, you have to make some concessions to audiences (and editors) who won’t put in the work to educate themselves. This is relevant to sf, too, of course: Charlie Stross, for example, is writing for an audience of geeks, and people from outside a particular geek subculture are likely to be annoyed and confused by his work. Those who appreciate it tend to love it, and that’s definitely a valid choice—but there are a lot of people who will never read his stories.

    Anyway, I’m not advocating either side over the other; just saying there’s a range of possible (and valid) options along the accessibility and intended-audience scales.

    The choice of intended audience can affect all sorts of things about the writing—I think you and I discussed your choice of the word “fair” to describe a South Asian man with lighter skin than the people around him, for example. So if nothing else, I agree with Mura that it’s a good idea for authors to think about who they may be assuming their audience is.

    Thanks for passing these along!

    And feel better!

  2. I’m note sure, Matt — certainly a lot of it is set at the U of C, but that’s mostly ’cause it’s a place I’m very familiar with. I don’t think I’d say that it’s particularly directed at U of C people.

  3. I wrote an email to another writer about something of this sort a week or so ago. I think I will say it again. For cross-cultural communication and miscommunication, or just unfamiliar words, I think a glossary at the end of a novel works wonders. That way, a reader can either consult it or ignore it as s/he feels is appropriate. This is most often employed in fantasy and historical fiction, I think; but doesn’t it go a long way toward solving the problem whenever a cultural divide exists, whether it be a “real” culture, a created one, or a combination of the two?

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