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Thursday, November 12, 2020

Writing as a Newborn 9th Gendered Polyoriented Alien Wizard • by Guy Stewart



“Samther-Esuel was lucky this world had similar pronouns to the nine he was used to. His current fetish was to be called by a masculine pronoun to go with his nickname, Esam .

“He’d been long-gone, reveling in ‘amispringa’ when he got word that his parents had been executed by revolutionaries. He’d never go back, so what other world than River would suffice for an almost Newborn 9th gendered polyoriented Alien Wizard?

“The last thing had him worried. He’d have to wait to be Newborn, being gender S would morph him toward whatever was dominant here, but Mom’s Alien gave his skin a chlorophyllic tint, though brown freckles and his afro made his larger brain pan less noticeable. The crackling aura of Wizardry might be a problem. He could do simple Magic, but the Alien/Wizard mix had been unpredictable since birth. ‘I have skills!’ he muttered. His problem was that he didn’t know exactly which skills would manifest. He was certain of only one thing: he’d die to take down the exiled coward who’d pulled the trigger on his parents...”


How can I possibly write this story realistically? I’m a big, old, fat, white guy!

But, Blume wrote a near-adolescent boy becoming a peeping Tom convincingly; Shelley wrote a reanimated man who became archetype; Scalzi wrote realistic soldiers, though he’d never been one.

To write Esam, I need tools, and it can’t be easy.

At a 1992 writer’s workshop, Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward write “…one of the students expressed the opinion that it is a mistake to write about people of ethnic backgrounds different from your own because you might get it wrong—horribly, offensively wrong—and so it is better not even to try.”

She and Ward thought it was “…taking the easy way out…” and Ms. Shawl wrote an essay discussing how someone might write about characters marked by racial and ethnic differences. She and Ms. Ward eventually created a workshop to give writers tools to “write the other” as realistically as possible.

Ibram X. Kendi writes in HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST, “…[if we act like] a racial group’s seeming success or failure redounds to each of its individual members, we’ve accepted a racist idea.”

For me, these are all aspects of trying to successfully write characters who are different from me racially, ethnically, orientationally, and gender and ability-wise.

Writing through the eyes of someone I am NOT is difficult and takes practice. I’ve started to think that I should work harder at living up to the promise of science fiction.

About that promise, Bruce Bethke wrote

“…science fiction is…the literature of hope…the one idea…all science fiction has in common is very simple, and yet incredibly important…people recognizably like us—are there…That’s the core message of science fiction. Humanity has a future…[we] have a choice…We are not…running the programs installed in our ancestral genes four million years ago…we are not the prisoners of our past. We can learn from our history. We have the power to choose to become better.”

Science fiction—all speculative fiction—has the freedom to explore what MIGHT happen in other worlds. In doing so, we can get ourselves and readers to start thinking about our own future.

But if I were to write from my own personal point of view, I could tell few INTERESTING stories. To be interesting to a reader, a story has to stretch the writer first. A story has to HURT to write; it has to require something of me.

Bruce goes on to say, 

“…I hear the concussion as the Taliban dynamite the Bamiyan Buddhas; and feel the thuds of fists and feet on flesh as the Red Guards beat historians and teachers to death; and smell the smoke as the Deutsche Studentenschaft burn books in the State Opera square in Berlin, and hear the creak of the wheels and the crying of the condemned as the Jacobins drag them in tumbrels to meet the guillotine...”

To write the other, however, we DO NOT tell the story of brave Buddhists; brave historians and teachers; brave librarians; or brave condemned French aristocrats. To write the other, we instead painfully figure out what drove ONE man to the point where he joined the Taliban; ONE woman’s struggle that ended with her in the Red Guard; ONE gay man caught up in the Studentenschaft; ONE trans woman whose only solution was to become a Jacobin…and we tell their story; and we use them to make a difference in the story.

Writing that story, I have assume that my assumptions have been colored by…well, my color, my gender, my orientation, my wealth, my education and other things I can’t even put my finger on. Shawl and Ward note: “If you want to go beyond the level of just assigning different skin tones and heritage to random characters, you’re going to have to do some research.”

In an email, I wrote, 

“Stupefying Stories has always been about making readers think—not with easy, obvious, symbolism, but really THINK about what a story means…and all the while, Stupefying Stories has never ONCE taken itself too seriously.” 

We can use speculative fiction as a tool to explore other worlds—and not take ourselves too seriously—and serve a greater good.

Writing about “the other” shouldn’t be easy. If writing is effortless, then I’m afraid it will be meaningless as well, and meaningless is the last thing we should want to be.

—Guy Stewart 

References:

Kendi, Ibram X. HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST, 2019, One World (p 94)

Shawl, Nisi; Ward, Cynthia WRITING THE OTHER: A Practical Approach, 2005, Aqueduct Press (pp 6, 76)

Bethke, Bruce, WAITING FOR THERMIDOR, StupefyingStories.com, 2020 

 


 

Guy Stewart is a husband supporting his wife who is a multi-year breast cancer survivor; a father, father-in-law, grandfather, foster father, friend, writer, and recently retired teacher and school counselor who maintains a writing blog by the name of POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS (https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/) where he showcases his opinion and offers his writing up for comment. He has 72 stories, articles, reviews, and one musical script to his credit, and the list still includes one book! He also maintains GUY'S GOTTA TALK ABOUT BREAST CANCER & ALZHEIMER'S where he shares his thoughts and translates research papers into everyday language. In his spare time, he herds cats and a rescued dog, helps keep a house, and loves to bike, walk, and camp.

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