Monday, February 22, 2010

On the street

Today, I spoke with four strangers.

To one, over the phone, I unloaded my entire f-ed up recent personal history and bad feelings. It was a phone interview for a sliding scale therapy clinic, and as far as I understand, I have my first appointment tonight.

To the second, I spoke via Chatroulette for approximately 20 minutes. We got disconnected after a while, but he was a 20 year old German student and we had actually a great conversation about English, nudists, mishaps and clumsy people, which we are. Also, about the beauty inherent in making mistakes.

The third was on the bus. I told him I was engaged but if he wants to be friends he can call me. Stupid? Sure. However- I'm trying to move past being a shut-in, and he builds model trains as a hobby.

Crossing the street to the library, I spoke to a fourth. She spoke to me, actually. I believe she was telling me that if I was 100 pounds, I'd look better in my current outfit (which, I lament, is a dress and black velour yoga pants). Honey- if I was 100 pounds and decided to wear my bra and some spanx as outerwear, the whole of society would approve. As it happens, I'm over 200 pounds- and I leave the house anyway, as a matter of course.

Oh, hey, people on the street? I am a fat lady. Bein' fat. Sometimes, while being fat I do such things as walk, talk, laugh, sit, read, ride the bus, ride the train, and eat. I know, right? Pretty f'ing scandalous. In any way, I just want to assure you that I AM aware that I am fat, am also aware that I would look more like a supermodel if I was skinnier, and I still continue to exist. Plan to exist for as long as possible, really. And I may always be fat.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Authors I like: Helen Oyeyemi

This is something I plan to do sporadically, when the mood strikes me or I am particularly impressed. Today's author is Helen Oyeyemi. That link is to her wikipedia page (thanks, Wikipedia!).

She is younger than me by one year, so I'm terribly jealous of her success, but I must admit she deserves it. Woman is a phenomenal writer. I've only read The Icarus Girl, which she wrote when she was 19 years old, but I'm partway into The Opposite House, and it promises to be wonderful.

The Icarus Girl is about an 8-year-old girl named Jessamy. To say she's caught between two worlds would be too simple, and I don't want to give out spoilers- let's just say that she has a white, British father, and a Nigerian mother. She is very smart, sensitive and imaginative, and suffers from the affliction that often comes with intelligence that comes on hard and fast and early- she is both lonely and a loner, and sometimes her brain and her emotional maturity are at odds. She is also quite perceptive, so catches often those little lies that adults tell children as a matter of course.

In Nigeria, Jess meets a ragged little girl named Titiola, and a lot of what happens next centers around just exactly how Titiola (nee Tilly-Tilly) fits into Jess' life, and what exactly she is.

One thing that is wonderful is the solid realness of Nigerian spirituality in this book. Tiresomely, a lot of books that deal with a conflict of cultures between the scientific and modern, and the older and more mysterious, have the latter coming out as a solid loser- superstitious and foolish. Not so with the Icarus Girl.

I would compare it to another book for that aspect, but I think that, as Chimamanda Achidie said very succinctly in her 19 minute speech for TED (you can find it here),

"I’ve always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar."- Chimamanda Achidie, The Danger of a Single Story

Transcript for this is here, courtesy of Restructure!

In any case, both Jess and Ms. Oyeyemi get to tell their own story, divorced from any other stories that have been told before.

Read this book!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

On fanfiction

Recently, I fell back into a habit I thought I had long since discarded.

Yes, you have that right. I went looking for fanfiction.

There's a book I am quite fond of, called Sunshine. Robin McKinley's books are all favorites of mine, and I've read most of them twice, three- sometimes five times or more- but Sunshine is the one I read over and over and over again, at least twice a year. If I didn't have so many other things to read for school right now, I'd probably read it more often. I'm a cursedly fast reader. It has less to do with my actual reading speed and more to do with my intensity as a reader. When I'm into a book, I read it at all times. In fact, I may as well admit that I would long ago have looked into a car loan if not for the pleasure of reading on the bus.

The thing that makes me long for- not even a sequel, but more- is that Sunshine is a brief window of time in a fascinating world. Rae Seddon, the narrator, can be petulant at times, as many real people are, and the surrounding characters flesh out the novel wonderfully.

There is nothing wrong with open endings. At the end of Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake, I speculated, as many did, I'm sure, about what happened. I had a lot of fun speculating, as a matter of fact. However, I did not miss Jimmy, or any of the other characters. What happens next in that book is anyone's guess, but the story is done. It's been told.

So has Sunshine/Rae's, of course, but McKinley does such a fine job of setting up the day to day existence of these characters and their lives that I longed to see more- to visit with them at work and eat one of the cinnamon rolls as big as your head that Sunshine gets up at 4 AM to bake; to ask her mysterious landlady more questions about her past. I wanted to watch Mel work on motorcycles. I wanted to rub his tattoos (hey- I'm a perv). I wanted to spy on Jesse and Pat, and go to the library and visit Aimil. I was curious to know what kind of creature that sweet old woman who maintains the flowers outside Charlie's place is a were of. I wanted to know more about the war.

One of the problems of making such well-fleshed out characters and making them so real you could expect to walk out the door and bump into them (vamps aside, of course) is that readers get attached. Those characters become your friends, and when they tell you about their lives, it's like you're talking over coffee. You MISS them. You want to talk to them. You want to know how their lives are. Except, being fictional, you can't exactly check up on their facebook statuses every now and then when you wonder how that whole double life thing is going.

A lot of my favorite authors state very clearly that they do not like fanfiction, and I totally understand. Fandom is a wide and variable place, and you can find well written noir-esque Ranma 1/2 fanfiction in the same place that you'll find slavering accounts of the time that Pikachu and Misty got stuck in an elevator *shudder* (I really hope I'm making that last one up, by the way). There are also some very understandable reasons to avoid a legal pickle. Jasper Fforde explains, on his FAQ, that:

My thoughts on Fan Fiction are pretty much this:
That it seems strange to want to copy or 'augment' someone else's workwhen you could expend just as much energy and have a lot more fun making up your own. I feel, and I think with good reason, very proprietorial about Thursday and all her escapades; clearly I can't stop you writing and playing what you want in private, and am very flattered that you wish to do so. But anything published in any form whatsoever - and that specifically includes the internet - I cannot encourage, nor approve of.

This is a little bit less forbidding than Robin McKinley who writes here that:

My personal feeling is that while using other people's worlds and characters as practise and inspiration is not only good but recommended — I did it myself, and you can learn a lot about the craft of writing by copying/plagiarising/borrowing/spinning off from books and writers you admire — and showing stuff you've written from these origins to your immediate circle of friends, family, teachers, creative writing group, whatever, as an exercise to improve your skills is also fine. And this would as far as I'm concerned (although if I get any queries about this I'd have to check with my agent) include any private, password-protected, invitation-only groups on the net. But using other people's work should only be an exercise in getting yourself going into your own work. (Or a private fantasy. What you do at your own computer, so long as you don't do it in the street and frighten the horses, is your own business.) And I feel that if you're going to display/hang/offer something for strangers, for anyone and everyone, to read — as on the fanfic sites — it should be your own work. Yes, sources, catalysts and retellings are always with us — but mostly it's pretty obvious where the line runs, and fanfic is by definition on the wrong side of the line.

On the same faq, Ms. Mckinley also has a post called There is no sequel to sunshine ...AND THERE PROBABLY NEVER WILL BE.

I totally get that, by the way. It has got to be terrifically annoying having people bugging you to write a sequel to a book when you're not inspired to do so. Of course, it might make more sense to say something like, "I'm not the story council if you want a sequel to Sunshine you need to write it yourself. also, if you try and make money off of it, I'll sue your pants off so don't even try.

Jasper Fforde follows up his no fanfic answer with a wry claim that someone accused him of lifting a plot from a Thursday Next fanfiction website that he didn't even know existed! Now that is plainly ridiculous. Any fan who would do that is a giant, no holds barred, jerk. The problem I have with writing off all fans as just waiting to sue the author is- well- in my experience as a reader and writer of fanfiction, I've just not seen a lot of that. Mostly, fanworks are prefaced with something like this:

Disclaimer: I don't own Flatland. (yes, that is from a Flatland fanfiction, which is both cool and weird to think about).

Disclaimer: I don’t own Buffy, if I did, I’d be writing scripts, not fanfics."

Because I can't figure out how to edit the actual story, here's the disclaimer. As you all well know, I don't own the characters of YuGiOh. They're Kazuki Takahashi's. I also make no money.

I remember writing my own disclaimers when I also wrote fanfiction.

There are some wonderful writers with their own fiction empires who started out writing, basically, fanfiction, in published form. Diane Duane is one of them. Viewing her Bibliography, one can see that she has written quite a few Star Trek books, among others. And what, exactly is Scarlett, if not an officially licensed fanfiction?

Sometimes people need closure. Sometimes they want to try whatifs. Sometimes they just fall in love with a character and want to watch that character grow up. Authors are not coin-operated. It is not their job to give us the ending we want, or not kill off a character, or tell us the answer when we finish reading a book and wonder what happened next.

That is what fanfiction is for.