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Friday, 30 January 2015

The USC Scripter Awards - Diversity

It's Awards Season - specifically, USC Scripter Awards time - which I've already established is the coolest awards event on the planet. You know, because I have the credentials and clout to establish such things.

The short explanation for my fangirly enthusiasm is this: The USC Scripter Awards honors both the author of the original work (novelist), and the screenwriter who adapted that work into a film.

The long version is somewhat more complicated, and it involves a little word with a very, very big meaning: Diversity.

Now my white-girl, middle class upbringing establishes about as much in the way of credentials and clout to discuss this as my proclamation of the Scripter Awards' coolness. But stay with me here, because I'm going to veer around in some pretty big arcs before I come back to my point.

Patrick Rothfuss, author of the Kingkiller Chronicles, and blogger, speaker, gamer, and philanthropist extraordinaire, spoke to a group of authors about women in fantasy literature. Basically, there are none. Obviously, he didn't say that in so many words, and just as obviously, it's an oversimplification, but he pointed out that JRR Tolkien did not write a single female character in The Hobbit. Not one.

Wow, right?

So, I had this conversation with my eleven-year-old son while we waited at the bus stop one morning. And my decidedly brilliant, reader and gamer of all things fantastic progeny had this to say. "He's right. Usually, if there's a women in fantasy stuff, she's a sidekick, or she needs to be saved." The thing about that realization that bothered him though, was not so much that it was true (he mostly just thought it was weird), but that he hadn't even noticed it until that moment.

He hadn't noticed.

Walter Mosley, the extraordinary author of over forty novels, including Devil in a Blue Dress, is being honored for his literary achievements at this year's USC Scripter Awards. It's been debated whether he writes Jewish literature (his mother is Jewish), or should be described as a black author (his father is black). If you ask Walter Mosely, he prefers novelist. He once said he writes his characters because "there are black male protagonists and black male supporting characters, but nobody else writes about black male heroes."

I hadn't noticed.

And just like my son, it bothers me that I didn't notice the lack of diversity among book heroes. Considering the number of books I read every year (over a hundred), and the fact that I'm an author with a fantasy heroine, you'd think I'd have noticed. 

When a novel is adapted to film, diversity, or the lack thereof, becomes visual. When the lead characters are of diverse races and ethnicities, when they're female, or gay, or disabled - it all makes an impact on people's expectations of normal. Having a black hero shouldn't be remarkable, just like women in fantasy shouldn't stand out as unique to the people reading and watching the worlds which artists create to entertain and enlighten us.

This is why the USC Scripter Awards are so cool. They celebrate a truly diverse selection of artists, whose remarkable work stands out for its excellence, and for depictions of unique and diverse characters:

Gone Girl, adapted by Gillian Flynn from her novel of the same name
The Imitation Game, adapted by Graham Moore from Andrew Hodges' book Alan Turing: The Enigma
Inherent Vice, adapted by Paul Thomas Anderson from Thomas Pynchon's novel of the same name
The Theory of Everything, adapted by Anthony McCarten from Jane Hawking's Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen
Wild, adapted by Nick Hornby from Cheryl Strayed's memoir of the same name

Gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, economic status, disabilities - the writers of these projects, and the subjects of their stories represent a wonderful cross-section of humanity. They're the kinds of stories anyone can find themselves in, anyone can feel a kinship with, and anyone can recognize a piece of something that feels true to them. This is diversity.

And this, I noticed.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Changing Nature is live!

Everything about this book makes me happy.
Those are bold words, I know, and I may be setting some people up for disappointment (I apologize profusely if I have), but I'm stepping out on that ice and saying it anyway.

I love this book.

People have asked which of my books is my favorite, and I always responded that it was like asking which of my children was my favorite. Good thing I only have two kids, because now I have a favorite.

I still love the other books, but there was so much emotional turmoil wrapped up in writing them that my experience of them is collapsed in it. Marking Time - my first book - had all the first-book-angst. Did it suck? Would anyone read it? Was I delusional to think I could do this? Who was going to care about these people I made up and spent two and a half years writing? And Tempting Fate - book two - had all the sophomore effort fears attached. Did it suck? Could I pull off the weird alchemy book one seemed to have? Would anyone still care about these people I spent a year and a half writing?

But at the end of the book two writing process I began to sprint. And I realized I could write ten thousand words a week if I put my mind to it, so once I had the plot outlined for Changing Nature, I started writing at that pace.

And it was fun.

Every day I wrote something I didn't expect. Every day my characters took me down an emotional or physical path I hadn't imagined would look quite that way. And every day, on the long dog-walks I took with my boys, I had an interesting answer to their question: "So Mom, what'd you write today?"

The scene in Liz Edwards' kitchen, with her boys Connor and Logan, makes me happy, and my youngest son can't wait to see the movie version of young Shifter Logan playing animal games with his brother and Saira. I'm proud of the birthday conversation on the boat, because it feels real, and true, and full of love. And I cried when I wrote the scene in the secret garden, and every time I've read it, not because it's sticky with sap, but because I can imagine if it were me.

I had to do a lot of research to get the details and settings of this book, and some of it was very challenging, given that I don't speak French and have never taken a river cruise from Paris to Montargis. But enough people have written fascinating tidbits of the history of the region that I was able to piece together a framework of truth to weave my story through.

My characters have also been through a lot, so there's emotional growth they don't need to retread. It was really nice to let Saira and Archer just be partners in their relationship, and that allowed the adventure they were on drive the plot.

So, the first paperback of Changing Nature is sitting on my coffee table, looking gorgeous in its jewel-tone green cover, and I realize that underneath all the character and plot stuff I love about it is this: Changing Nature was fun to write. And when you're doing what you love, you'll never work a day in your life.