Book Trailer: Untitled Egyptian Steampunk Novel In Progress

Can one have a book trailer for a book that isn’t quite written yet? Dunno, but I decided to make one, anyway. Given that I have no budget and only rudimentary video editing skills, this was always going to look very DIY. Enjoy…

Teehee.

As you may have surmised, this is part of the video I made for my Patreon page. I’m in the middle of draft 2 of this novel and I’m looking for some support as I write it. If you become my patron, you can see excerpts from the book each month or even read along as I write one chapter per week. The draft is still pretty rough, so I cannot promise you polished.

I’ll also post about some of my writing process, including the quite intriguing research I’ve done and will do for this book.

Plus there will be deleted scenes, DVD extras, and microfiction every month. I have reward levels starting at $1 per month on up to $25.

Martha Jones in the TARDIS saying This is me getting out

Martha Jones: Fangirl Blues (from Chicks Dig Time Lords)

Martha Jones: Fangirl Blues (from Chicks Dig Time Lords)

Doctor Who is once again bringing in a woman of color as a companion. I haven’t watched the show regularly since Clara came on board, so I’m not as up with what’s going on. But author Na’amen Gobert Tilahun tweeted a link to a post on io9 with the headline “Doctor Who teaser shows new companion is cool with dying for the Doctor, and she might.” which… well, read this whole thread for thoughts similar to mine about all that.

Given these developments, I thought it would be a good time to post this essay online for all to read. It appeared in Chicks Dig Time Lords, a book you should read if you love Doctor Who.

Martha Jones: Fangirl Blues

When you’re a fan of Doctor Who, there are two discussions you’re bound to have with other fans, no matter what the setting: “Who is your favorite Doctor?” and “Who is your favorite companion?” Most people don’t make assumptions about my choice in the first category (Nine, by the way), but almost always assume that my choice for the second is Martha Jones. They assume this because I’m a Black woman. I find that annoying for reasons you may well imagine. The main one being that Martha is my favorite, but not just because she’s Black.

When the announcement came that Freema Agyeman would be the next companion, I was happy that there would be another companion who was also a person of color. Unlike some fans, I do count Mickey as a companion and I also count Chang Lee from the (admittedly horrible) American Doctor Who movie. But Freema would be the first on-screen “main” companion of color.

This kind of thing means a lot to me, but it didn’t mean that I’d automatically like the character or even prefer her over others. It remained to be seen if Martha Jones was made of awesome or just another stereotype.

The answer turned out to be a complex mix of both, with much of the blame lying with the show’s creators and writers, and much of the success attributable to the actress.

Made of Awesome…

The writers did many things right in introducing Martha. The character was impressive in her very first episode, but it was a bit of dialogue in the second that sealed the deal for me. In “The Shakespeare Code,” Martha steps out of the TARDIS and into the past. The Doctor is going on about similarities between Elizabethan London and her own when Martha asks a question that I’m sure many black fans had in the back of their mind:

Martha: Am I all right? I’m not going to get carted off as a slave, am I?

The Doctor (look of utter bewilderment on his face): Why would they do that?

Martha: Not exactly white,‘case you haven’t noticed.

The Doctor: I’m not even human. Just walk about like you own the place. Works for me.

Though the Doctor blows off the question, I believe my first reaction to that line was thank you. If I was traveling in the past, that would have been one of my chief concerns, too.

This is indicative of everything that made me love Martha from the beginning. When her hospital gets transferred to the moon in “Smith and Jones,” Martha doesn’t panic, logically deduces that the windows can be opened, and, when asked by the Doctor who she thinks is responsible for transporting the hospital, she immediately answers: extra-terrestrials. This was a very pointed way for the show’s creators to indicate that Martha was a companion worthy of the Doctor[1]

Another thing I liked about Martha was her willingness to stand up to the Doctor and tell him off when it was clear he needed it. Badly. At the end of “Gridlock,” she forces him to stop being oblique about himself. As things began to go south in “The Sound of Drums,” she refuses to simply follow his orders and puts her concern for her family over his priorities. In “The Sontaran Stratagem,” she won’t let him make her feel guilty for being part of UNIT operations that involve guns (as if there are any other kind).

I love that even before Martha met the Doctor, she was already clever and competent and doing something with her life. She didn’t need him to help her escape from a mediocre existence, she didn’t need him to blossom into an extraordinary person. That she did grow due to their travels is a bonus, but because she came from a solid foundation, she was better able to walk away from the Doctor when she needed to. The scene where Martha left the TARDIS was the perfect end to that season, especially given all the crap she had to endure while inside it.

moving image of Martha Jones leaving the TARDIS

Just Another Stereotype…

Though Martha is a great character, there were several choices the show’s creators made that diminished my enjoyment of the episodes where she appeared. Some have to do with her interactions with the Doctor, but most have to do with some troubling attitudes toward race and the introduction of a heinous stereotype.

Within the show’s continuity, Martha meets the Doctor a short while after Rose was accidentally sucked into an alternate dimension and trapped there. The Doctor is still mourning Rose, which is natural, and he constantly reminds Martha that she is not as good as Rose, which is a punk move. I often bemoan the fact that the Doctor is a huge jerk, despite being the hero of the show[2]. In Series Three, this quality is often on display when he interacts with Martha.

He screams at her (“Utopia”), treats her like second best (“The Shakespeare Code”), hides important information from her (“The Sound of Drums”), lies to her (“Gridlock”) and strings her along as regards how long she can travel with him (“The Lazarus Experiment”). This can be explained away by the whole Jerk thing–it’s part of canon, after all, that the Doctor can be nasty and mean just as easily as he is heroic and kind–but what cannot be explained away is why he treats her so differently than almost every female companion he’s come across since his ninth incarnation.

Though it can be infuriating and infantilizing, the Doctor tends to treat his female companions as damsels in distress. Rose gained some agency by the end, but there was only one time[3] in her tenure on the show when the Doctor blithely disregarded her safety and well-being in favor of whatever dangers were going on around them or other people. Donna, abrasive as she is, still gets the damsel treatment, though she often chafes against it. Astrid (“Voyage of the Damned”) definitely fits into the damsel profile.

Martha gets to play a different stereotype: that of the Mammy.

In her July 2, 2007 post in the LiveJournal community lifeonmartha, blogger Mikki Kendall laid out many of the problematic racial and sexist elements that cropped up during Series Three. She noted that the damsel stereotype is more often applied to white, female characters and that, “Damsels are always desirable, no matter how much ass they kick (or don’t) and nothing they do makes them unworthy of love or protection.” However, black women on television are often only given three choices: Mammy, Jezebel or Sapphire (a “nagging shrew constantly emasculating a weak black man,” as defined in the post). Martha flirts or pines after a couple of men, including the Doctor, but she isn’t wantonly sexual, so she doesn’t fit Jezebel. But she most certainly fits the Mammy stereotype, which is also closely associated with the Strong Black Woman stereotype. Kendall laid it out perfectly by saying: “[Martha] is supposed to be willing to sacrifice everything to protect the ones that can actually do some good.”

The first, and probably most annoying, example of this is in “Human Nature/The Family of Blood,” wherein Martha literally works as a maid for the Doctor who is disguised as a human in 1913 England. What I find most interesting about this episode is that it’s based on a Doctor Who novel, Human Nature, which was originally written with the seventh Doctor and a white companion. In the novel, the companion poses as the Doctor’s niece. Obviously, in the adaptation to television, this detail needed to be changed. But the nature of that change is troubling, especially for a black, female viewer such as myself.

From an in-series perspective, one wonders why the TARDIS chose an era which necessitated Martha having to play the part of a maid surrounded by people who would most certainly be horribly prejudiced toward her. Or why the Doctor didn’t offer it some guidance for eras of history perhaps best left alone. Imagine if they’d ended up in the American South just before the Civil War. From an outside perspective, one wonders why the show’s creators didn’t see this as a real problem. Of course, the disparity between Martha’s situation in 1913 and what she can achieve and be in 2007 is acknowledged within the script. That doesn’t absolve the creators of a sketchy thought process, though. I wish that they had waited to produce this episode with a different companion. Beyond this aspect, it’s one of the best in the series[4]

We again see Martha playing Mammy in “Blink,” where it’s revealed that she has to work in a shop in order to support the Doctor while he, supposedly, works on getting them home. The burden of being the care-taker falls on her again. Why the Doctor can’t also get a job is never explained. Nor why a highly educated person such as Martha would end up in a shop, a career path often held up in the Whoniverse as being highly undesirable and something to escape from (“Rose,” “World War Three,” “The Parting of the Ways”). It may be that Martha couldn’t get anything else due to her race or gender. If so, we have another instance of the creators putting Martha in a setting where she’s not allowed the same level of respect and autonomy, for no good reason. Then in “The Sound of Drums,” Martha is the one who has to brave being caught by the police to get food for the Doctor and Jack while they’re on the run. I also have to wonder if the Doctor would have asked Rose to wander the world, spreading the gospel about him, as he did Martha (“The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords”).

It’s a troubling trend, both seen within the context of the show and from without. This is the kind of thing that people of color often fear when one of us is included on mainstream television–there’s a community called deadbrowalking on LiveJournal for a reason[5]. For all that is awesome about Martha Jones, my enjoyment of her tenure on Doctor Who was marred by the subtle current of racism and sexism that runs throughout.

I know from watching episodes of Doctor Who Confidential that the producers and directors are very impressed with Freema and call her a great leading lady for her ability to exude and give energy to everyone around her. She infuses Martha with this energy, plus confidence and intelligence. Though obviously the character was written with this intention, the wrong actress or the wrong attitude could have ruined it all. She wasn’t given the greatest material to work with, but she always appeared to approach episodes with an eye toward squeezing the best out of them. In the Confidential episode “Alter Ego” (companion to “Human Nature”), Freema talks about how the script touches on issues of racism and how great it is to play a character that overall doesn’t have limitations due to race or gender.

In many ways, she’s right. In another time, Freema would have been given the part of a maid as a matter of course instead of an ironic, if problematic, twist. Her recognition of this lends weight to her performance, not just in this pair of episodes but all of them.

The elements of Martha’s character, both positive and negative, could so easily have slipped into triteness. The unrequited love thread throughout Series Three annoyed me to the point of distraction in nearly every episode. A lesser actress would have allowed that aspect to overwhelm everything else about the character–who doesn’t love a love story? But Martha is more than just a woman in love with a man who doesn’t love back. Freema worked hard to bring out all the other, deeper things that make Martha who she is.

Forever Fangirl…

This is why, despite all of the issues I have with the show and the creators, I still love Martha. Hell, I still love Doctor Who. After all that, many might quite rightly ask: why? The troubling race stuff doesn’t begin or end with Martha. I’m not even an old school legacy fan–the first episode of Doctor Who I ever watched was “Rose.” So, why?

There’s no easy answer.

The very basic one is that I just love the show. I love it down to the bottom of my toes. The SF geek in me loves all the cool aliens and different cultures and new planets and fantastic ideas. And the running. The running is awesome. I still love adventure stories, and stories about good people triumphing over the badness in the universe.

Doctor Who is a complex show, especially when compared to most television. Even when it’s being an adventure or good vs. evil and all that, the core of the story isn’t necessarily simple or straightforward. The Doctor is a flawed, damaged, brilliant, dangerous alien. He’s also the hero. How can any show with such a character at the center of it be simple or straightforward?

Yes, the show’s creators make thoughtless mistakes and probably don’t understand why many of the issues I raised are problematic. They aren’t completely clueless, though. And they are trying–note the number of interracial couples on Doctor Who and Torchwood ((I do realize this is a contentious issue on its own. Even allowing that Martha and Mickey wound up married, somehow, many fans of color often wondered if the show creators knew that people of color sometimes dated and even married each other.)). There does appear to be an effort to show the future as multiracial, and to give characters of color a range of personalities from hero/heroine to villain/villainess and the many, many shades in between.

I love the universe that Doctor Who often shows me. I love the other companions–Rose and Mickey and Jack and Donna–and I even love the Doctor. Whatever the faults of the show’s creators, they obviously love Martha, too. And it helps that Freema is a great actress that breathed life into her. Good acting is often able to make up for defects in writing and execution.

So I keep watching. And hoping.

Hoping that the writers do away with both the damsel and the Mammy stereotype. Hoping that they will stop underutilizing Martha so criminally. Hoping that they will, by some miracle, begin to Get It.

Because, yes, Martha Jones is my favorite companion. She’s clever and brilliant and brave and amazing. She’s less needy and more independent than Rose and more faceted and less abrasive than Donna. I want to see her treated better by all involved. She deserves to be only awesome and more than just another stereotype.

Footnotes

  1. Compare her to Donna in “The Runaway Bride” (who was always away on vacation when major alien events happened and was therefore ignorant–or just in denial–of them), and Gwen in the Torchwood episode “Everything Changes” (who knows about the incidents but denies that any of them were real).[]
  2. See my essay “The Lonely God is a Jerk” at Fantasy Magazine[]
  3. “The Girl in the Fireplace” where the Doctor essentially abandons Rose in the future in order to save Reinette, which makes no sense given the history of the characters.[]
  4. It’s worth noting here that several years after I wrote this essay I ended up having a conversation with the episode’s writer, Paul Cornell on the blog. It was very illuminating and adds to an understanding of where he was coming from and how his intention didn’t match up with the outcome.[]
  5. Might not be there, anymore.[]
Hugo Award

4 Reasons Why You (Yeah, You) Are Qualified To Nominate for the Hugos

The Hugo Award nomination period closes in just a few days. You’ve seen my recs, and over the weekend the #hugoeligible hashtag showcased so many more. But I know some of you are still thinking that you aren’t qualified to nominate because:

  1. You haven’t read/watched/listened widely enough (according to you).
  2. You don’t have enough nominations in every category to fill ever slot you’re allotted.
  3. You don’t have time to read all the cool stuff recommended here and elsewhere and on the tag.
  4. You’re “just a fan” and not anyone fancy.

I’m here to tell you that none of those things disqualifies you from nominating for the Hugos. None. Zip. Let’s break it down.

I Haven’t Read/Watched/Listened Widely Enough

Have you read/watched/listened to eligible media at all? Then you’ve done so widely enough. I’m serious. No one can read, watch, or listen to every single thing, and very few people can even consume all the stuff that gets floated as good by reviewers, friends, and the folks you follow on social media. Even as a person whose job it is to read and review short fiction I have not read every single piece of short fiction out there.

How do you know what stuff is best, then? It’s all relative. If you read just 4 novels last year and one of them wowed or moved you, then you nominate that one. It was the best of what you read.

I Don’t Have Enough Nominations To Fill Every Slot

This is fine as well. Like I said, if of the novels you read you only loved one, then you nominate one. Only two good movies, only one podcast, and no particular thoughts on Fan Writer? That is all fine. You are not required to fill out all the slots in every category nor are you required to nominate in every category.

I Saw All The Recs But Didn’t Have Time To Assess Them All

That’s fine. You’re not a bad person for not having gone through every single recommendation.

Do you know what you can do? Keep track of the people who made all those recs, because they probably share a lot of stuff they love throughout the year, not just at award nominating time. That way, you’ll have more time to check out stuff you might like for next year.

I’m Not Anyone Fancy, Why Should I Nominate When Better Read/More Engaged/Highly Connected People Are More Qualified To Do So?

I’m going to loop back to: did you read, watch, and listen to things? You are eminently qualified. Also, the Hugo is a fan award, driven by fans and what they like. It is absolutely not a requirement to be anything other than a person who loves SFF stuff and wants to see the stuff they like recognized for its awesomeness. That is all.

Your voice matters. What you love matters. It matters to the award even if the stuff you nominate doesn’t get on the ballot. After all, the people who create the fiction and movies and TV shows and podcasts and fan writing and art you love look at the list of what was nominated but didn’t make the final and go: oh hey, this many people thought my story was award-worthy! That’s the best.

In Summary

Nominate what you think is best of what you’ve read, watched, and listened to, no matter the number of overall things. Don’t worry about filling every slot if you can’t. Don’t worry about not getting to every recommendation. Your voice matters.

Got it? Excellent. Go fill out your ballot.

Tempest is on Patreon! (And Looking For Your Support)

As of this month, I’m officially on Patreon and looking for patrons! You can support me creating cool stuff for $1 per month on up to $500 per month if you have deep pockets like that.

If you listened to my interview on the Less Than Or Equal podcast[1], you might be wondering why I said I was going to launch my Patreon page last year (wow, six months ago…) when I only just did so this month. There are a few reasons, but the biggest one can probably be summed up with the words Impostor Syndrome.

What’s so insidious about Impostor Syndrome is that even though I can identify it in other people and always attempt to beat it back with the “You’re awesome and your voice is needed and I’m glad you’re alive and loud and sharing your talent with the world” stick, I cannot always turn that on myself. Luckily, I do have friends to do so for me. After finally wrestling my brain weasels into a bag, I put my page together and even made a video.

Because I know that people think the Tempest Challenge and the video series that goes with it are valuable. I know that the Write Gear podcast has already helped some writers. I know that my writing on this blog and over at Medium and the other places I publish has added more signal than noise to discussions about genre and race and gender and writing. And I know that you all want to talk about Jem and the Holograms endlessly, just like I do! (And sing the songs, right? RIGHT?) That’s why I finally launched the Patreon, and I hope you’ll click and pledge and support.

Right now the support is for making vids and podcasts and writing non-fiction and not directly for me writing fiction. Why? Because I am a s.l.o.w. writer of fiction. And deadlines do not change that one iota. But I find that my own creative projects are much less draining than my freelance assignments. The opposite, actually: they energize and inform my fiction writing. So by pledging money to me for making vids and podcasts and writing essays and columns, you’re supporting me writing fiction as well.

Plus, you know you wanna see more You Done Fucked Up vids.

You can Make It So[2].

Footnotes

  1. You really should! It’s a great interview, if I say so myself.[]
  2. To all those who click and pledge: Thanks![]
The Write Gear 7 Tools to Block Electronic Distractions While You Write

The Write Gear 7: Tools to Block Electronic Distractions While You Write

The Write Gear 7 Tools to Block Electronic Distractions While You Write

I used to feel a sense of shame around the fact that I am easily lured away from writing by the Internet shiny things such as notifications and new comments and tweets and whatever. To solve this problem, I would sometimes ask people for suggestions on minimizing or blocking distractions and there would always be one person—usually more—popping up to say that I should just have self discipline instead of looking for crutches.

This is some ol’ bullshit, I hope you know[1].

Not only are there some people who can’t just have self discipline in the way those jerks mean, every person has to own up to their limits or needs and find ways to work with how your brain works. And that sometimes means employing outside help.

That’s what this episode is all about. I’ve found quite a few useful distraction blocking tools to help me, and I hope they’ll help other folks. If you use different tools and have found them useful, please say so in the comments!

Listen to TWG #7: Tools to Block Electronic Distractions While You Write right here or subscribe in iTunes

      The Write Gear: Episode 7

Footnotes

  1. Anytime someone says that “You should just” as if their ability to “Just” isn’t based on factors they never have to think about–i.e. privilege–and is the absolute correct way of being, you have my permission to tell them to go to hell.[]
My head superimposed on leonardo dicaprio accepting the oscar

Awards Season Is Upon Us #1: My Eligibility

Hugo Award voting opened not long ago, and the Nebula nominations are out. Awards season is in full swing! And that means it’s time (long past time, actually) for me to mention that I generated some award-eligible content last year. And I’ll be honest: I would indeed appreciate you considering me when you fill out your ballots[1].

My head superimposed on leonardo dicaprio accepting the oscar

I didn’t publish any fiction last year (damn novel taking up all my energy), so all my eligible works are in other categories.

Best Related Work: io9 Newsstand

“Works of literary criticism” fit in this category, and my io9 column fits that label. Every week I posted links to short fiction (stories, novelettes, novellas) that I loved and wanted everyone to read. I hope I also shined a light on stories and authors the io9 audience wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

Best Fancast: JEMcast

Just in case you think Jem and the Holograms was not a genre show, I will remind you that it was about a woman who changed her appearance via hologram-generating earrings controlled by an AI that was magically able to connect to government computers via wireless Internet, which did not exist in 1985, when the show happens. And that’s not even getting into the time travel.

Every week on the JEMcast we analyze (and sometimes make fun of) an episode of the show. We also provide commentary on Jem-related stuff, such as the movie we’ve already all forgotten exists. I love our little show and I’m very proud of the episodes we produced last year and continue to produce this year.

Links to some of my favorite episodes:

Best Fancast: The Tempest Challenge

Fancast includes vlogs, and thus my challenge videos are also eligible. I didn’t produce that many last year, though, so I’m putting more effort into boosting the signal for JEMcast. However, I will not stop anyone from nominating the videos as well.

Some of my best:

Best Fan Writer: K Tempest Bradford

Writing from my blog is what counts toward this–well, the blog and social media posts and such, perhaps? I’m not the most prolific blogger these days. Though when I do write I tend to drop a bunch of stuff at once then go back to social media.

Here is the link to all my 2015 posts and here are a few I’m particularly proud of from last year:

And that’s it. As I said, I hope you will consider me when making your nominations. In my next post I’ll list the stories and other stuff I loved from last year that I think you should also consider.

 

Footnotes

  1. Do I need to put a disclaimer here saying NO SLATES, OH GOD, NO SLATES? I doubt it. Just in case: No slates, y’all. Nominate stuff you love and vote for what you think is best.[]
Write Gear episode 3 The Whole Body Is The Mind A conversation with Andrea Hairston

Who Needs Handwriting? The Write Gear vs Freakonomics Radio!

Write Gear episode 3 The Whole Body Is The Mind A conversation with Andrea Hairston

This week’s episode of my new podcast The Write Gear is almost the entire raison d’être I finally got this project off the ground. I recorded the conversation therein several years ago at ReaderCon, and ever since that time I’ve said to myself “I need to make this podcast happen so everyone can hear what Andrea Hairston has to say about writing by hand and creativity and journals and fountain pens.” After much help from my producer over at Hologram Radio, it’s finally out in the world.

Listen to TWG #3: The Whole Body Is The Mind – A conversation with Andrea Hairston right here or subscribe in iTunes

      The Write Gear: Episode 3

I’m happy it happened during the Month of Letters since this is the time of year I spend with my pen and paper people. And by total coincidence, it went out over the series of tubes the same week that Freakonomics Radio pushed their latest podcast, “Who Needs Handwriting?” Who, indeed?

The opening asks whether writing something down is “as outdated as saying that you’re going to “dial” a phone number…” The first person host Stephen Dubner talks to is Anne Trubek, former professor at Oberlin College who focused on the history of writing and writing technologies, and writer of the controversial article “Stop Teaching Handwriting,” which you probably read or heard about if you’re a handwriting nerd. Dubner also talked to Princeton’s Dr. Pam Mueller and professor Daniel Oppenheimer, who co-authored the paper “The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking,” which, again, you probably read or heard about if you’re a handwriting nerd.

Trubek is of the opinion that the trend of schools not spending time teaching cursive or penmanship is excellent, and that we’re better off in general moving on to newer technologies that are more democratizing. She feels this, in part, because of her son’s struggle with writing in the third grade. From the article linked above:

My son… spends much of his school day struggling to learn how to form the letter “G.” … Simon now fears taking up a pencil. Repeatedly being told his handwriting is bad (a fine-motor-skill issue) has become, in his mind, proof that he is a bad writer (an expression issue). He now hates writing, period.

That doesn't even look like a damn GI get that the emphasis on correct cursive can be detrimental, especially when you bring in the fact that some people may not have the fine motor skills to write the perfect G, and it’s silly to expect them to as long as they can write a G of any kind and recognize the letter and understand what it does in a word. And, let’s face it, the way we are taught to make Gs in cursive is ugly and dumb.

However, I feel like there’s a conflation with handwriting and cursive going on in both her essay and in the Freakonomics piece that I don’t think is warranted. One can write by hand and not write in cursive. One can get the benefits of writing by hand and not write in cursive. I agree with Kate Gladstone (handwriting cheerleader), who says:

Handwriting matters, but not cursive. The fastest, clearest handwriters join only some letters: making the easiest joins, skipping others, using print-like forms of letters whose cursive and printed forms disagree.

I do what Gladstone points out a majority of handwriting teachers do: a hybrid where I mix “some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive.” I go for what is fast and legible.

Handwriting does matter, and even moreso for creative people. In our conversation, Andrea talks about why writing by hand at certain points in the creative process are key.

I believe that the whole body is the mind, and so when I write with the pen I’m using my whole body. There have been a lot of studies that say when you write cursive it engages your whole brain because it engages your whole body.

I want to get into the dance of the words and the dance of the words can happen when I have a fountain pen. When I have a piece of paper that’s sort of like parchment and it’s got textures… and I am basically conjuring the words.

When I go to type, I don’t feel like I’m conjuring the words.

Andrea is quick to say that she loves and uses all her devices for writing, including her tablet and computer. They each have a role to play in the various steps of creating.

Anne Trubek would have you think that the only reason people cling to handwriting is to romanticize the old or as a purity test for the authentic self[1], and that the entities behind studies about handwriting are just “companies that make their money off of penmanship and curriculum,” and that people should embrace new technologies such as keyboards and voice recognition because they’re better for people without fine motor skills. This leaves out two important aspects. The first is that new technology includes digital pens for writing by hand, even if you’re not writing on paper. The second is that writing by hand has an impact on how we process information; a different impact than typing.

That second point is illustrated by Mueller and Oppenheimer’s research linked above (which was not funded by the evil pen and paper lobby, thank you) which talks about how your brain processes more when taking notes by hand as opposed to on a laptop. From the podcast:

Mueller’s argument is that because handwriting is slower, you’re forced to decide as you go what’s worth writing down. And this gets your brain engaged in processing the information as you go.

MUELLER: And when you process something more deeply, it’s more likely to stick.

There have also been studies that scan the brains of small children just learning to read and write to see what happens when a child writes out a letter vs identifying and typing it on a keyboard. Andrea talks about this, too. How forming a word with your pen different from typing it on a keyboard. With keys, the motion is the same. With a pen, the motion involves much more of you and is unique to you.

I found it odd that the Freakonomics episode failed to include any discussion of digital pens and styluses for computers and tablets. The iPad Pro is relatively new, yes; the tech behind it is not[2]. I’ve been using a Galaxy Note to create digital, handwritten notes for years. And there are many ThinkPad users who’ve been rocking stylus input for over a decade. In less than 10 years we’ve gone from having to memorize Graffiti strokes for Palm Pilot input to natural handwriting recognition on phones and tablets and laptops, no training necessary for you or the machine.

This wouldn’t have happened if handwriting wasn’t seen as necessary or desirable by consumers and business users. All those iPad Pencils and SPens and whatever they call the thing that comes with a ThinkPad aren’t only for artists. People still like to be able to write by hand, and find it less cumbersome than on-screen keyboards. That you can now save your writing digitally as strokes or as regular text is a big deal[3].

I reject Trubek’s thinking that the march of progress is going to leave handwriting completely behind. Not because I see it as the pinnacle of human expression, but because it has tapped into something in our brains that appears to be a key element in our development right now. Something that just typing doesn’t. That need not mean that we won’t keep using keyboards of some kind, and it doesn’t mean voice recognition or direct brain downloads aren’t the wave of the future. I think what it means is that we won’t leave handwriting completely behind–not for a long time–just because it isn’t new.

Your thoughts on any of this are, as always, welcome in the comments.

Footnotes

  1. Real talk: she’s not completely wrong. There have been more than a few people who go full hipster when talking about this topic.[]
  2. Apple didn’t even revolutionize the concept, they just made a tablet that does what Galaxy Note tablets and smartphones have been doing for about 6 years now.[]
  3. I’ve written several pieces on this in the past and I still ride or die for my LiveScribe pen as a journalism tool. Looks like I need to make an episode of The Write Gear about digital pens and stylii.[]
Less than or equal

Interview: I’m on Less Than Or Equal!

Less than or equal

I know I shared this on social media back when it happened. I didn’t share it on the blog, though! And if you missed it, you must listen.

Aleen Simms, who is on the JEMcast with me, has a podcast of her own called Less Than Or Equal where she interviews people. She’s an excellent interviewer, knowing just when to ask questions and just when to let people be brilliant. I was quite honored that she wanted me to be on the show.

If you don’t already subscribe to her show, you need to. But listen to the episode I’m on first, because it’s awesome and interesting. We talk about Jem, of course, and also music, and my college days, and Tempest Challenges, and other stuff.

How We Write

How We Write and How We Talk About How We Write

How We Write

For the past week I’ve been mulling over this excellent post on Neurodiversity, Writing Process, And Writing Instruction by Leah Pope of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She talks about how academia sometimes fails students by not making it apparent that there is no one best writing process and that if a student can’t follow a process proscribed to them by some professor or professional writer, it doesn’t mean they’re doing writing wrong.

The narrative we spin through the mainstream writing processes we learn and teach is not always an accessible one. As Rick Godden’s essay in How We Write demonstrates, not all of us have the option of following a model of daily writing or scheduled writing periods. Physical realities make highly regimented writing rituals impractical, even impossible, for Godden, as well as a not insignificant number of our colleagues and students. Preferring or needing to use dictation or screen-reading software in order to write might mean that recommendations about drafting or revision practices sometimes simply won’t work or will be excessively time-consuming within that physical reality. Such diverse groups of writers — at the undergraduate, graduate, even professional academic level — are often left on their own to sort out an effective writing process, frequently without resources like the standard Writing Center conference, which does not easily accommodate accessibility software.

I would suggest that writing is always a neurodiverse process. Regardless of label-happy diagnoses, one “normal” writer, if there is such a thing, will always be different in some way than another “normal” writer. We already acknowledge this with matters of timing: I am a morning writer, but that is considered no better or worse than my friend who writes best in the middle of the night. The logic behind accepting and encouraging our students to explore writing at different times of day (in different settings, in different media, etc) could be extended to make advice about writing processes more accessible to a more diverse range of students. No one (to my knowledge) is saying that having difficulty following one writing process or another makes a student a bad or ineffective writer, but I don’t believe we are saying often enough that there are endless possible ways to write by which a person can be an effective writer.

On that bolded point–Pope may not see that in the UW Writing Center, but it certainly happens among fiction writers.[1]

At the start of my short fiction classes I talk to my students about this Daniel José Older piece where he reads the idea that a writer must write every day for filth:

Writing advice blogs say it. Your favorite writers say it. MFA programs say it.

Write every single day.

It’s one of the most common pieces of writing advice and it’s wildly off base. I get it: The idea is to stay on your grind no matter what, don’t get discouraged, don’t slow down even when the muse isn’t cooperating and non-writing life tugs at your sleeve. In this convoluted, simplified version of the truly complex nature of creativity, missing a day is tantamount to giving up, the gateway drug to joining the masses of non-writing slouches.

Nonsense.

Here’s what stops more people from writing than anything else: shame. That creeping, nagging sense of ‘should be,’ ‘should have been,’ and ‘if only I had…’ Shame lives in the body, it clenches our muscles when we sit at the keyboard, takes up valuable mental space with useless, repetitive conversations. Shame, and the resulting paralysis, are what happen when the whole world drills into you that you should be writing every day and you’re not.

wild applause

From here I do actually assign them a daily writing exercise for the duration of the class (I lay out the reason why in this post), but I hope I don’t make them feel like they have to keep doing it forever to be a Real Writer™. My hope is that they’ll figure out what works best for them and to try, at least for some weeks, to do regular writing each day.

Pope’s article has me thinking more about my approach as a teacher and whether I’ve thought enough about neurodiversity as I plan out classes.

I’m fully on board with the truth that no one way works for every writer and that the process that works for you is the best process. It can be hard to find a process that works as long as you keep hearing that things must be done this one way. I agree with Pope that this can be solved by more openness and that there’s not enough discussion about writing processes–discussion without judgment, that is. It would be beneficial for writers to be able to talk about what works for them without making it sound as though one way is a certified Best Way and also without having their way scoffed at by people who do things differently. There’s a fine line between advice or suggestion and a command from on high (which has less to do with intention and more with framing). It would be nice to find that line, make it thicker, and stay firmly on one side of it.

At the end of her post, Pope makes this call to action:

I believe it would be good for us… to talk more honestly about how we actually write. By sharing our psychological experiences of writing, we might just find our way toward happier, healthier, and more productive writing.

Let’s do this! I’d love it if working writers of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, stage and screen answered this “simple” question: How Do You Write? What processes do you find successful? What was your journey to what works?

I’d also love to collect these for my students. Not only as a guide, but also proof: There are many ways to make writing work for you.

You can do so in the comments of this post. Or share your process on Twitter with the hashtag #HowWeWrite. On Facebook, comment here. On Tumblr, reblog and comment on this post and tag it how we write. On Google+ tag your posts #HowWeWrite.

I can’t wait to see all the different answers and explanations.

Footnotes

  1. Whenever some version of this discussion happens I think of this old post by John Scalzi that I always think of as “Writing: Find the Time or Don’t… As Long As You’re A Comfortably Middle Class, Neurotypical White Man”. One of the major examples gives for a person writing under extreme hardship ignores many, many factors that made it possible for that writer to keep writing: a white collar job he wasn’t in danger of losing, medical care that was comprehensive and not tenuous, medical care he could afford, a vast support network of people specifically devoted to him. Not everyone has all of this, and that’s not even getting into different levels of ability.[]
A Fine Dessert

KidLit Authors and Illustrators: Time To Step Up

This past week author Daniel José Older laid down some hard truth about the illustrations for the children’s book A Fine Dessert[1]. In the video below he points out that slavery is an “open wound” that America as a whole has been lying about to itself “forever” and that illustrations showing black children as slaves smiling, happy to work hard making fancy food for massa are a problem. Please watch the whole thing, because Daniel really lays it out and what he says is important.

He followed up his panel appearance with a piece in The Guardian that highlights the severe lack of children’s books with African-American people in them.

In 2014, only 5% of the 3,500 children’s books published were about black characters; Christopher Myers has called it “the apartheid of children’s literature”.

This doesn’t even take into account other groups of POC. I suspect that there are very few Latin@, Asian, and Native American characters in kid’s books as well, and that’s just naming three groups.

The article points out that the publishing industry still suffers from the Highlander problem: There Can Be Only One. This has to be addressed, no doubt. At the same time, we should also address the other side of the equation: Authors.

On the panel, Daniel acknowledged that “a book is a creation of a village, just like people are,” and he’s so very right. That means no single entity within the village–editors, publishers, authors, marketers, reviewers, readers–is solely responsible for fixing these systemic problems. However, each entity within the village should do whatever is in their power to effect change[2].

We need more authors from diverse backgrounds writing books with characters like them, and we need more of them to get published. We also need more authors from all backgrounds writing books with characters that aren’t like them, characters that come from minority, marginalized, or oppressed groups, characters that aren’t often found in children’s literature. We need those characters drawn in ways that reflect the vast divversity even within said groups. We need authors and illustrators to create books that reflect the truth of people from these groups, even if that truth is uncomfortable. We also need authors to create books that reflect how the world should be and could be for kids from these groups. Because it’s just as important to look forward and to speculate with hope as it is to look back with clear eyes and reveal hard truths about the way things were and how that impacts the way things are.

We need all of these things. Right now.

Now we get to the part where some authors say: I agree with you, but just look at what happened to Sophie Blackall (the illustrator) or even Emily Jenkins, the author. They tried and they got it wrong and they got attacked!

Yes well, that’s art[3].

Less flippant answer: It’s always worth it to try, to fail, to try again and be better, to learn from your missteps, to grow and keep trying.

Others will rightly point out that this growth that comes out of failure has an impact on people beyond the author, and that is true. It’s imperative to then do your best to learn from others’ mistakes and to put in the work so you can avoid the obvious pitfalls.

How?

This is the part where what I say sounds like a pitch, but it’s honestly not.

Here’s how: You learn how to write the Other sensitively and convincingly. It can be done. You start by reading the book Writing the Other: A Practical Approach by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward. Or, you start by taking Nisi and Cynthia’s workshop in person or online. Or, you start by taking a another workshop or class about writing and the Other online or at a university or at a convention or conference.

And yes, Nisi and I are teaching a class on this topic next month. (You can register here if it fits in your schedule, and you can get announcements of new classes here if not.) And we’ll keep teaching it whenever we can throughout next year and hopefully beyond. Because this issue is important to us, as it’s also important to Cynthia Ward and Daniel José Older and many, many, many other authors and editors and teachers.

Look for these opportunities. Read the book, read articles and blog posts and talk to people and listen. Because we need more authors, especially authors who already have relationships and contracts with publishers, to say: children’s books should be for all children, not just some. Also to say: children’s books that include Black and Latin@ and Japanese and Native American and Nigerian and other characters from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds are for all children, no matter their background, because we are all people and all of us deserve to be reflected in books and all of us deserve to be seen by the Other (relative to yourself) as people worth knowing and understanding.

We need this now. Let’s get it done.

By whatever means necessary.

 

Footnotes

  1. If you haven’t yet heard about the controversy, there are summaries, illustrations, and reactions from various folks, including the author–the illustrator is in the video–at Bossip and VH1[]
  2. For an example of what publishers and editors can do, see this blog post by the LEE&LOW staff.[]
  3. Also, I wouldn’t characterize the criticism as an “attack” though I know some will[]