So about four years ago I had a fun idea for a short story. It was a fantasy story, which was a little off the beaten path for me at the time. By which I mean I didn’t write fantasy, had no aspirations to write fantasy, and though I grew up reading it and still do and really dig the new directions people are taking it in these days, I was much more interested in what I termed ‘near-future speculative fiction with emergent magic realist elements.’
But this fun little idea wanted written, and I thought, what the hell, let’s see where it goes.
So, a little background before I tell you what the idea was. Like many nerds, I spent a good chunk of the ‘80s playing Dungeons & Dragons. Outside every dungeon there’s a tavern, where the players go before the adventure to learn some important backstory and play at a last huzzah before the adventure, because some of the party might not come back. At the tavern, there’s wenches, and more often than not their job is not only to bring food and drink but to absorb sexual harassment. Not unlike far too many of their counterparts in the real world. Men will be boys, after all.
The tavern wench is the most non-player-y non-player character there is. Seriously, there’s not even a TVTropes page. At least there wasn’t last time I looked.
So who are these women, I asked, and three women answered. There was Marinie, the tavern-keep, an aging beauty with a bastard son and a jaundiced view of the the world. There was Perse, who was shy and quiet and didn’t want to talk about her past, or much of anything, really, and not because she’s afraid, either.
And then there was Brenaea, working to put herself through magic school. She had the most to say of all of them, and while the other two pretty much are who they are, she was the one still in the process of becoming who she would be. It was clear pretty quickly that this was her story.
So I had some characters. The setting was obvious. The tavern’s near a dungeon. The dungeon has a dragon. There’s a magic school there, too. Sure, it’s chock-full of tropes, but it was enough for a short story, right? And obviously the story was how do I get these three into and through the dungeon to save the day?
Easy. First I needed some even tropier adventurers to come along and mess everything up by waking the sleeping dragon (thanks, JRR). The last dying one returns, bearing the McGuffin, and it’s up to the wenches to save the day. How do they make it through the dungeon? Well, Marinie’s been working the bar and talking with survivors for years now, and she’s managed to put together a map. Perse’s got mad skillz, because of course she does. And Brenaea, well she’s the one with the education to tie it all together. And the dragon, well, the dragon turns out to be a little different from what the classics might lead you to expect.
Hm. That’s a lot to pack into thirty pages. Maybe it’s a novellette. Or a novella. Oh, shit, I am writing a novel, Continue reading
I read a lot of great books, is the short answer.
So, a few days ago writer K Tempest Bradford published this article, in which she challenged readers to stop reading white, straight, cisgendered male authors for one year. Sadly (and predictably), certain corners of the internet exploded in rage at the notion (she has assembled a lovely collection of rage-tweets here, if you enjoy that sort of thing). I won’t reprise their objections, which savvy interneteers will likely be able to intuit themselves, nor pass judgement on any validity those objections may or may not have. But it so happens that I recently spent the better part of a year doing something very similar to Ms Bradford’s challenge. From roughly November 2013 until late last year, I read only books by women(*), many of them women of color, others not cisgendered (two of the new favorite writers whose work I discovered are married).
I did so for my own reasons, both personal and (for lack of a better term) professional. On a personal level it was simply the realization that the vast majority of the books on my overstuffed shelves were by men. I fought it for a long time, that realization. I mean, these were great books, each easily defensible on the merits. I have, if I may say, damned fine taste in literature, and reading material in general. Ask any of my friends. I’ve been an obsessive reader since kindergarten, the kind of person who never goes anywhere without a book and hasn’t since he could carry one. But looked at en masse, the unconscious bias in my collection was (and is) painfully clear (in my defense, I actually am a cisgendered white male).
When I was younger, the notion of placing any kind of limitation on my reading material for a whole year would have seemed preposterous. Now comfortably ensconced in middle age, it didn’t seem like that big a deal. It wasn’t like I was going to run out of good books to read, and while it might mean holding off on some things in my to-be-read stack, it’s hardly without precedent for a book to be in that stack for years before I get around to reading it. Really all I had to do was rearrange the order, though of course I used it as an excuse to go book-shopping, which is one of my favorite things to do.
The timing that November seemed propitious. I’d started writing Continue reading