A Little About My WIP

I recall seeing a presentation by Robert J. Sawyer about “Writing in the Zeitgeist” at Keycon one year, and I was really glad to hear his thoughts on the subject.

The dictionary definition of Zeitgeist is “the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time.” In his presentation, Sawyer encouraged writers to write about things that are relevant in the here and now of modern day – things that people feel passionate about, have opinions about, etc, and that doing so would help them find an audience of people who will enjoy the book.

I got thinking about it and how I’ve tried to follow that advice in my current work-in-progress lately for two reasons.

First is the obvious political climate. The rise of hatred we’re seeing right now is frightening, and unlike many previous generations, we have enough global awareness and memory of the last big time it happened that it’s disturbingly familiar.

So I’d been wanting to make a point of writing something that had more diversity in it than what I’d written before, so I came up with a black main character. But at the same time, I didn’t want to be taking over black people’s stories and telling their stories for them, so it wasn’t going to be a story about what it was like to be black or anything like that. I still wanted to be saying something about my feelings about racism and discrimination and such, though, so I thought a while about what I, as a white woman, had to offer.

And sometime around when I was coming up with the world my story is set in, Folklorama was on again. I hadn’t always realized it, but Folklorama is apparently, quite literally, the biggest multicultural celebration in the world. And I stopped to think about that, realizing that I live in one of the most multicultural cities in the world, in a country that has an official policy of not just tolerance of multiculturalism but embracing and celebrating multiculturalism as something that makes the country stronger.

And at the same time, Winnipeg also holds the title of the most racist city in Canada.

So when I thought about that, then I knew exactly what I have to bring to this conversation – it’s my experience living, not in a utopia of multiculturalism, but in a place that’s at least trying. A country and a city where that utopia of Star Trek’s Star Fleet is kind of the goal, but it’s a work in progress.

So what I decided to portray was just that – a society with government policy supporting multiculturalism, but people who are still struggling with it. A government that inconsistently applies those policies, governing people who disagree on how and to what extent those policies should be applied.

Sometimes the utopia seems like it’s just hopelessly far off. But I hope there’s room someday on the shelf in between all those dystopian YA novels, for a utopia in progress.

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NaNoWriMo Day 1

No, I’m not going to post every day, but I’ll try and not abandon my blog through Nano.

This is not going to be my best year for Nano, but I’m still going to try. In the past, if I’ve been doing school and work at the same time, I’ve never been able to make my 50k. On the other hand, that was the first three years, and I’ve got a lot of experience now that makes it easier, so I might still make it. Still, school’s got to come first.

I’m currently finishing up commercial ground school, but I’ve been working more lately, and haven’t got through all the online videos yet, which are really awesomely thorough. I’ll probably be writing the test in the next couple of weeks.

It’s been a stressful last couple of months. My husband has been very sick, with no end in sight, no diagnosis, and the next major diagnostic test not even scheduled yet. We’re told the only way they’ll likely speed up the process is if he ends up hospitalized, and with the amount of weight he’s losing, that’s becoming a real possibility.

So I’ve been flying less because I don’t want to overdo things, and I need to focus on the written test anyway, while the information is fresh in my mind from ground school. I’ve been going out about once a week to make sure I stay in practice.

So there’s my list of excuses for not getting my 50k this year, but not for not trying, so here goes. I got started at midnight, as usual, and plowed through the first 1666 words between midnight and 2 AM. Wish me luck.

Story related: I read an article a couple days ago, by Jim C. Hines. It wasn’t new information to me – I had read things about prejudice against Roma before. I think North America is largely ignorant of Roma people because there just aren’t very many around. I mean – I’ve never seen one. I’ve researched it because I was curious, and that’s probably the only reason I know as much as I do. I haven’t thought about it in a while though, so when I read that, and remembered I had planned a character for my nano novel with a gypsy/Roma background, I stopped to think about how I had planned to portray that character.

Does he fit one of the three stereotypes Jim lists? Well, he’s not a thief. He’s disliked and distrusted by others for being from a culture with a similar reputation to the Roma of IRL, but wrongly so. He’s definitely not a spooky witch/prophet type. And while I’m pretty sure the sexy gypsy/gypsy as romantic figure would certainly extend to male characters, and there will be a little romantic tension between him and the main character, his allure has nothing to do with him being a gypsy.

He’s a pilot, who happens to have come from a Roma people type background previous to joining Onesky. I actually chose that background because I wanted a character that would be treated as an outsider, even in a very multicultural setting. His most defining characteristics are his skill as a pilot, and his demanding teaching style.

His sister is another story, but while she does some terrible things, it’s not the sort of things that fit into the gypsy stereotypes, I don’t think. She steals something, but it’s not out of general practice or habit, and it’s not for profit. Neither is she a romantic or witchy figure.

So I think I’ll be fine on this portrayal. Articles like Jim’s aren’t saying that we shouldn’t write about Romani people, they’re just saying that if we do, we should be conscious about it and educate ourselves to make it a more real representation. And hey, that research can spur inspiration. A lot of Romani people were killed in the Nazi concentration camps, which kind of gives me ideas for book 3…

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to take my husband for a CT scan.

The Randomly Special Ones

There’s a story motif that’s really popular in YA fiction, where certain individuals, usually ones who are underdogs in the beginning of the story. Their story kicks off the moment they find out they are somehow special, or chosen, have special powers. Harry Potter finds out he’s a wizard. Talia of the Valdemar books is chosen by the head companion magical white horse to be a Herald. They form a telepathic bond with a dragon, or some other animal, and become part of some order. A million other examples.

They discover they’re part of a special world and get taken away, and though there are bullies and selfish people just like everywhere else, they’re still special and get to do all these wonderful things. It’s a story structure that’s quite popular and successful, especially in YA fiction.

And I hate it.

It’s not that those books aren’t good, or even that I didn’t enjoy at least some of them. It’s just that, it seems a cop-out to make certain people randomly special, to pull them into the story. And I always think, what about the muggles? What about the one’s left behind? Do they get to do amazing things? What happened to the stories where a character wants to do something so badly, they will fight through anything? But if a Muggle wanted to do magic, they’d just kind of be screwed.

Anyway, I had this neat idea for a premise that I thought would be good for my next nanowrimo novel. It would be set in a world where people are bound to the earth in a magical way, so that if they go too far off the ground, they get sick. People wouldn’t live on second stories of buildings, or build towers. If a person was ill, the village doctor would prescribe a few nights sleeping on the bare grass. But every once is a while, there’s a person who isn’t earth-bound. In fact there’s an order of them, who fly aeroplanes. And of course, my main character wants nothing so badly as to fly, so of course it would turn out that she’s sky-bound. I had a fairly simple, standard YA novel plot to play with – nothing so complicated as usual, though, and I was looking over it for some twist to up the ante and make the plot got bang somewhere.

Then I realized what I’d done, and I hated it.

And I thought, well, what about the people who want just as badly to fly, but they’re earth-bound?

That was when I had my story.

I will be having some fun kicking around some tropes this November.