I know, I know, it’s been entirely too long since I’ve posted anything. I don’t really have a good excuse, just that I haven’t had much to say and I’ve been consumed with things other than writing. But my novels progress still, in fits and starts, as they always do. I figured I would dash off a quick note talking a bit about where I’m at, and then ask a question to which I’m not sure I know the answer.
First of all, my status. I’m still working on “Camp Ferguson”, my novel about young wizards in government boot camp that’s a loose parody of the Harry Potter series. Just when I thought I was within reach of finishing, I looked back and realized I needed more content and space for character development, so I added a few more. Anyway, it now stands at ten chapters completed, with six more to go. Not too bad, right?
The bad news is that my original goal for publishing by the end of this year no longer looks attainable–baring some freakish binge of writing that is not unprecedented, but pretty rare. Truth be told, I am kind of disappointed by this, most of all in myself, but if I’ve learned anything by now it’s that everyone has their process, and you just have to let it work. If you try to force your writing when you’re not feeling enthusiastic or inspired about it, you’re not only wasting your own time by producing garbage you’ll probably just delete later on, but you’re wasting your audience’s time with the delay. So I’m just going to soldier on. I may be a bit behind, but I’m not worried. Everything will come together eventually. It always does.
Buzz-worthy topics in writing, meanwhile, have been kind of scarce recently, but in my work in news I did happen upon a story about something that happened in Australia at a writing festival there. If you’re not familiar with the incident, author Lionel Shriver gave the keynote address at the Brisbane Writers Festival about cultural appropriation–the practice of how one culture, race, or other group takes elements of another culture, race, or other group and adapts it into their own. The subject is extremely controversial, and Shriver has gotten into hot water in the past for what some have called prejudicial and racist depictions of minorities in her novels. The controversy arose when an audience member walked out on the address and told many media outlets she thought Shriver’s speech was making light of cultural differences and attacking her identity. For reference, I’ll give you the text of Shriver’s speech here (it also conveniently links to the counterargument by the young lady in question).
While I personally can see both sides of the argument, neither proposes any real solutions to the core issue (at least, that’s how it seems to me): how can a white person, for example, write about a black character in a story in a way that most reasonable people would think is fair and acceptable? I struggle with this a lot in my own work, because I feel the pressure to include characters of different races in my stories for the sake of diversity, but I obviously don’t know how people other than white people think or what they experience every day as compared to me.
This is especially true when put in the context of history, such as my setting of 1930s New Orleans for “The Showstopper Returns”. For the sake of realism, I would naturally like to include some black characters in that story, but the timeframe takes place when they were very much oppressed in society, before even the Civil Rights movement. How can I pretend to understand what their lives were like enough to create characters that depict them fairly? I would like to just explain it away by saying, “Well, people are people, we’re not really all that different, so don’t worry about it.” But even that idea seems to be coming under fire these days. On the other hand, does this mean, as Shriver suggests, that fiction is dead? Frankly, this discomfort was a big part of what stopped by work on “The Showstopper Returns”. Is there a middle ground here? What’s the solution? Is Shriver racist, or are sensitive young people promoting censorship? What’s going on here?
I don’t know, man. But it keeps me up at night.