5 Writing Lessons from Homecoming, by Suyi Davies Okungbowa

HomecomingEarly this year, I binge-watched the first season of the near-future sci-fi dramatic thriller, Homecoming, an Amazon Prime Video series starring Julia Roberts, Stephan James and Bobby Cannavale. I’m not sure if it even qualified as a binge-watch: the show has a miniseries vibe about it and each episode is a short 30 minutes. Only after being captured by its quiet brilliance, and diving into a Google wormhole, did I realise it was based on a podcast of the same name, created by Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg.

The story follows Heidi Bergman, a social worker who once helped soldiers transition to civilian life, but struggles to remember her time at the facility, called Homecoming. Many years after, the arrival of an auditor from the Department of Defense leads her to uncover the lies surrounding her time there and the true purpose of the program.

One of the things that struck me, though, was how many writing lessons I’d picked up simply by watching the show. I even did a Twitter thread about it. Here, I’ll just expand on that a little.

1. Less is truly more

Homecoming says a lot by saying very little. There are scenes and shots where words are not spoken at all, or few words are used, and most of the information is conveyed through body language and cinematography. Every single shot in Homecoming counts: miss a shot, miss some information. A lot of character history, behaviour and temperament is shown by subtle actions.

For example, Walter, a first-generation immigrant in the show, has his history demonstrated by him responding to his mother’s Haitian French in English, a common occurrence in immigrant families where parents retain the language of their original country. Their children can usually understand but barely speak due to limited cultural immersion. All of this is demonstrated in the show without even one mention of the family’s history.

What I learnt: One can tell a bigger story by alluding to just a small, recognisable part of it. This leaves the prose crisp, taut, and engaging. When the viewer (or reader) spends so much time engaging with what’s before them, immersion is guaranteed within a short while.

2. If any aspect can do multiple duty, let it

The camerawork and sound of Homecoming do not just set the tone and mood for the show, but also the meaning the viewer draws from the scene and the feeling they come away with. A lot of this great soundscaping can be attributed to the show first starting off as an audio drama, but the cinematography complements this beautifully too.

For example, the show uses architectural-plan-style overhead shots of office spaces in order to further the narrative of the people working for Geist as “cogs in the system”, by showing them like rats moving in a maze. Video ratio was also employed as a structural mechanism to chronologically frame the narrative arc, by using different video ratios to clearly spell out where the characters were in the plot’s chronological timeline.

What I learnt: If any aspect of writing could be doing double duty, let it. Physical descriptions could also allude to character behaviour, for instance, and narrative voice, style or word choices could be tweaked to imply a certain story mood.

3. Conflict, not kaboom

I grew up on loud, flamboyant and melodramatic storytelling (action flicks, martial-arts epics, Nigeria’s Nollywood, etc) where conflict was usually clearly signalled through big actions or the promise of them. It took me a while, and a lot of reading, to get into an understanding of the conflict latent in tensive, tentative moments.

Homecoming, being both a near-future science fiction drama and thriller/mystery/horror, uses this to its advantage. A lot of its conflict is quiet and contemplative, and even the dread and thrill is passed across sometimes with single images and not as much action. In one scene, there’s a shot of a dead, overfed fish in its tank, and a later scene shows the same tank rotting, raising dread in the viewer.

What I learnt: Sometimes, the biggest conflicts are quiet and contemplative, and don’t even have to be played out. Sometimes, cranking up tension to the highest dial and just leaving it there is enough.

4. Trust the audience

I’ve always struggled with trusting my reader to understand things. I come from a part of the world not a lot of people are familiar with, so I tend to over-explain. Homecoming demonstrates that relying on your audience/reader to do the work pays off if you trust them with the right things. This is especially notable because Homecoming is a mystery tale at its core.

What I learnt: Trusting the audience to put things together is important because it increases their investment in your story.

5. Romance isn’t a vital ingredient

One of the choices I made early on as an author is to not impose romance on my stories if it doesn’t have a place there. I think of romance as one of those things that stands out real quick if forced upon a story. Homecoming makes this choice very clearly: the most expected romantic involvement in the story never happens at all, even though it’s hinted at and there is quite palpable sexual tension.

What I learnt: If a concept doesn’t fit within a story, don’t force it.

107Suyi Davies Okungbowa is a Nigerian author of the godpunk novel, David Mogo, Godhunter (Abaddon, July 2019). His internationally published fiction and nonfiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Tor.com, Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Fireside, Apex, Podcastle, The Dark Magazine, and other periodicals and anthologies. He is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Arizona, where he teaches writing, and has worked in editorial at Podcastle and Sonora Review. He tweets at @IAmSuyiDavies and is @suyidavies everywhere else. Learn more at suyidavies.com.

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The Birth and Death of a Bad Idea by Jim Anderson

IdeasI’ve spent some time this weekend reading.  Some of that reading has been the news of the world, and my what interesting times we live in.  Some had been working my way through the accumulation of things I’ve bought, between NEW EXCITING books and the subscriptions that arrive every month or two, by post or by Kindle.

But the most intriguing reading I’ve done this weekend has been through my folder of many ideas.  All of us have such a folder, somewhere.  The ideas that eventually end up in my own folder have an interesting life cycle.  They will typically start on a scrap of paper, or a text to myself, rarely but occasionally a voice memo (and those are fun when I forget I’ve even made the memo until weeks or months after the fact), or even a scribbled note to myself on the chalk board in my office.

Lightbulb post-itThen comes the threshold check.  I don’t mind the bizarre and stupid ideas, because with them there’s at least something to work with.  The ideas that don’t go anywhere, the dead ends, these I view as a challenge and they survive to the next stage.

It’s the boring ideas I want to get rid of.  There would be a certain satisfaction, I suppose, about coming up with a never-before-seen hook to an Adam and Eve story that would make an editor weep with joy (a guy’s gotta dream), but this isn’t something I see in my future.  Santa as a Dread Pirate Roberts type character recruited from burned out Bond-esque secret agents and super villains, that one’s still kicking around.  Just looking for the right home.

I have to admit that very few ideas get thrown out at this stage.  In fact, just putting these words down has given me an idea that should rightfully perhaps fail this test, but I’m going to give it a few days.  Just to see.

One thing I find interesting is the extent to which these ideas cluster around particular themes.  Though it isn’t always obvious on a day by day basis, reading through the collected ideas folder does provide a very clear view of where my mind tends to wander.  Apocalyptic destruction for instance seems to be much less a favorite than I would have expected, judging purely by the relative paucity of ideas involving the end of everything.

My PhD supervisor told me once at the beginning of that particular journey that being a mathematician requires two things.  One is the idea generator, the whisper in the dark that we write down on the scrap of paper and save for later.  Like what I’ve been writing about here, I have another list for the mathematical ideas, and the process is very much the same. And one lesson I’ve taken from the mathematical side is that sometimes we get hit by an idea before we’re ready to work through it.  Mathematically this happens to me all the time, and this has given me patience on the fiction side to collect the ideas, especially the half-formed and inchoate ones, and note them for later.

jim_andersonJim Anderson (on-line at http://www.multijimbo.com) is a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Southampton, and is also the Associate Dean (Education and Student Experience) for the Faculty of Social, Human and Mathematical Sciences. Beyond mathematics, he practices the traditional Japanese martial art of aikido and writes science fiction and fantasy.

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Return to Dublin (or Let’s Talk about Ghosts by Rosanne Rabinowitz

Jacey Bedford has written about her experience of the 2017 World Con in Helsinki to give you an idea of what a World Con is like. For an idea of what attending a convention in Dublin can be like, I’ll write about my last visit in 2018 for another convention – the Dublin Ghost Story Festival.

The Ghost Story Festival was small and intimate event and the focus was on supernatural fiction and ghostly tales rather than SF. But along with the contrasts there are also continuities. First, genres and readership tend to overlap in the broad realm of speculative and strange fiction. And foremost, the common thread through both of these events is Dublin and its rich heritage in the speculative and the supernatural. I look forward to visiting this city again to talk about weird stuff!

This is an edited version of a post I published in July 2018 on my own blog. If you’d like to visit the post in its original habitat you can find it here.

Dublin Ghost Story logo

The Dublin Ghost Story Festival was hosted by Swan River Press, an independent local publisher specialising in gothic, supernatural and fantastic literature, with an emphasis on Irish authors. The event featured panels, talks and readings that explored strange and uncanny fiction.

Before 2018 I last spent time in Dublin in 2004 when I came for a May Day weekend of anti-capitalist demonstrations. This was back in the era of ye olde Celtic Tiger so I was expecting things to look a little different. As my coach made its way through Dublin city centre from the airport I recognised a few places, even a glimpse of the community centre on Cathal Brugha Street where we met up and hatched plans and it’s where some of our soggy minions returned after getting water-cannoned.

GPO_rainbowThen I was greeted by the fine sight of rainbow flags flying from the historic General Post Office, which had also been a meeting point for some of the 2004 events. I’d forgotten that it was Pride weekend in Dublin, so I was surprised and delighted by the rainbow bunting up all over the city. Though I was absorbed in matters ghostly and didn’t make it down to the parade itself, the Pride paraphernalia and revelry gave me the sense I was visiting a city shaking off the shackles of the past just after the pro-choice victory in the 8th amendment referendum.

Jesus frontThere were also some reminders of the old order.  Jesus presided in this glass booth in a small square near our B&B. Perhaps I missed something, but he just appeared to be part of the street furniture and not connected with any religious institution.

Though I enjoyed Helsinki’s massive World Con in 2017, I was looking forward to a much more intimate event this time around. It made a nice change to have only one stream of programming. Everyone went to the same events and hung out in the same venues afterwards. With the programme finishing around 7.30pm, no one had to worry about their 8pm panel or a late reading where you hope your audience will be merrily inebriated rather than snoring. It was a nice change to be able to relax with our dinner or drinks.

The event was held in the Grand Masonic Lodge of Ireland, which boasted plush decor, stained glass windows and a collection of rather alarming portraits of eminent masons. The programme featured readings and panels on many facets of supernatural and weird fiction. Guests of honour included Joyce Carol Oates, Lisa Tuttle, Victoria Leslie, Andrew Michael Hurley, Helen Grant, Reggie Oliver, RB Russell, Rosalie Parker and Nicholas Royle. I was pleased to meet Nick Royle for the first time; along with Joel Lane he was a big influence on me in the 1990s when I first discovered that thing called ‘slipstream’.

At one panel someone asked whether there’s a place for humour in a ghost story. The response was ‘yes, but it’s difficult’. And when Joyce Carol Oates read her story “The Crack” an even more emphatic YES came to my mind. The story is both poignant and funny as it lampoons the denizens of a high-rise faculty apartment building near the New York University campus.

On the Saturday Lisa Tuttle also did an in-depth interview with Joyce Carol Oates. You can see them chatting in the photo below under the watchful gaze of some very stern gentlemen.

Lisa Tuttle_JCO

Masonic nicknames tweet

It’s a shame that I didn’t get better photos of the portraits because many of us began to feel on very familiar terms with them, as you can see from the tweet.

I was a kid when Joyce Carol Oates shot to prominence after winning the National Book Award for Them. I ended up reading this book semi-surreptitiously along with The Exorcist and the first two chapters from the library copy of Gravity’s Rainbow that I carried around with me but never ever finished.

My mother periodically tut-tutted over the New York Times Book Review when a new Oates book appeared: “That woman writes about such awful things.”

Of course, that was all the more reason to acquaint myself with the work of ‘that woman’. I started with Them, a gritty account of the lives of a poor Detroit family amid the riots of 1967. I was introduced to Oates’ work as a realist, so I was later amazed to discover her supernatural and gothic fiction such as Bellefleur.

However, few people are able to keep up with Oates’ massive output. According to her bio in the festival programme, she has written over 50 novels and produced volumes of short stories, novellas and non-fiction. For more information you might want to check out the Celestial Timepiece  website, which is devoted entirely to her work.

While I was at the Ghost Story Festival I bought A Book of American Martyrs, which I’ve been wanting to read for a while. I also had it signed – so witness my fangirl moment of the weekend below!

These are a few quotes that stood out for me from Oates: “I don’t believe in any ghosts but I believe that other people believe in them… but what do ghosts do when they’re waiting for you to come to the place they’re haunting? Are they playing cards? And who launders the sheets?”

And while Oates doesn’t believe in ghosts, she believes in their importance as “a triumph of the spirit over the material”.

At one of the early panels I also enjoyed the following conversation about Lovecraft. Reggie Oliver: “I don’t go for all those tentacles. It’s a question of taste.” Joyce Carol Oates: “The best age to appreciate Lovecraft is about 12.” When I tweeted this exchange I had a comeback from someone who said they started to appreciate Lovecraft at the age of 45. I can see that point too. While I share Reggie’s tiredness of tentacles, I can still appreciate a good atmospheric Mythos tale.

Reggie Oliver also nailed it when he said:  “A ghost story should contain a revelation rather than an explanation.” It expressed my discontent too with anti-climactic endings that explain too much and tie everything too neatly as well as endings that lack any kind of closure. How does a writer steer between the two?  Perhaps a revelation heralds the kind of closure that deepens rather than dispels the mystery.

The event ended with a panel where Lisa Tuttle, Helen Grant and RB Russell discussed overlooked favourites. I was pleasantly surprised when someone mentioned Ethel Mannin and her 1945 novel Lucifer and the Child, which is about a poor girl in the East End of London who believes herself to be a witch. Mannin was a journalist, anti-fascist organiser, a comrade of Emma Goldman and possible lover of WB Yeats. She might have published over 100 books in her lifetime. The little I’ve known of her always fascinated me. I recall reading another novel from her called Venetian Blinds, which explores the price of upward mobility.

And this brings me to the finale of the weekend, when I learned about another ‘lost’ woman writer who was influential in her own time but not so celebrated today.

On the Monday after the festival we visited an exhibition about the prison writings of Dorothy Macardle, which had been recommended by Swan River Press. Macardle was an activist and historian – and a writer of supernatural fiction. She was involved in the Irish independence movement and she was working on a paper called Irish Freedom when she was arrested during the civil war. She served six months in Mountjoy and Kilmainham until her release on health grounds. However, she came to have serious disagreements with the prominent men in Irish politics.

While imprisoned Macardle wrote a book, Earth-Bound: Nine Stories of Ireland, which is a collection of ghost stories inspired by the women that she met in prison. I’ve often encountered a view that supernatural/strange fiction is escapist and backward-looking, but books like this show that’s far from the truth. Ghost stories – and the weird and esoteric in general – offer a powerful way to highlight historical and personal struggles and create fictional connections through time and space. That’s certainly the impetus behind the stories in my collection Resonance & Revolt. So while I indulged in a chuckle over the thought that I came to Dublin in 2004 to take part in an international anti-capitalist convergence and this time I went there to talk about ghosts, it doesn’t mean that the two are opposed – neither does it necessarily mark the softening that is said to come with age!

Each of the nine ghost stories in Earth-Bound is dedicated to a fellow prisoner, who are all featured in the exhibition. Some of the ghost stories in Earth-Bound incorporate Celtic myth, while others are set against the backdrop of the Irish independence struggle. One tells of a contemporary Irish revolutionary who is haunted by the ghost of a prisoner from the 1798 Rebellion. Pictured left is the knife and spoon that prisoner Eithne Coyle took with her when she escaped with three other women from Mountjoy in 1922.

Macardle went on to write more supernatural fiction, including a novel about a haunted house that was later made into the Hollywood film, The Uninvited. She also led the Women Writers Club in 1933. It’s possible that she might have even known Ethel Mannin, since the Women Writers Club had presented Mannin with its award in 1948 for her bestselling novel Late Have I Loved Thee.

My visit to this exhibit was a perfect way to end our weekend in Dublin.

Now I’ll say that while I enjoyed the intimate atmosphere of the Ghost Story Festival, I’m looking forward to doing it large again. So roll on World Con in Dublin 2019!

 

Rosanne Rabinowitz’s collection Resonance & Revolthas been shortlisted for the 2019 British Fantasy Award and is published by Eibonvale Press. Her novella Helen’s Story, which was nominated for the 2013 Shirley Jackson Award, is available from Aqueduct Press. Her latest short story appears in the anthology Pareidolia, published by Black Shuck Books (https://blackshuckbooks.co.uk/pareidolia/). She lives in South London, where she engages in a variety of occupations including care work, copywriting and freelance editing. She spends a lot of time drinking coffee – sometimes whisky – and listening to loud music while looking out her tenth-floor window.
Blog: rosannerabinowitz.wordpress.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/RoRabz

Resonance & Revolt and Helen’s Story are both available on Kindle. You will be able to find them at World Con at the Swan River Press stall.

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Matters Arising, by Terry Jackman

Thoughts that went through my head while listening to a panel. [Not necessarily what the panel said themselves, but what I took from it.]

June 8th saw the British Science Fiction Association’s AGM, held at Imperial College, London, a great venue in the midst of the museum district that we’ve used before. It was a good day out, the sun shone, unlike the downpour I left at home, and the programme was fun. The actual AGM took exactly half an hour. The rest of the day was a mini convention where we share organisation and content with the Science Fiction Foundation. The guests of honour were Juliet McKenna and Dr Rachel Livermore. And the first panel discussed the movement of some ‘literary’ writers into SF. Should we welcome them, or not?

I figure a lot of you will immediately recall the SF community reaction to Margaret Attwood’s assertion that The Handmaid’s Tale, now also a TV series, wasn’t SF, because she didn’t write about ‘talking squids in space’. Which did neither her nor SF any favours.

But setting aside the question, what is SF, what the !?! is ‘literary’?

Excellence? But there’s excellent crime, romance, and SF. Stories where plot, character, setting produce multiple layers of meaning? Surely, ditto, and I’m sure you can all name your own examples. So in the end there doesn’t seem to be any clear criteria, other than each person’s perception, or maybe where bookstores shelve things? And the mindset of people who maybe haven’t actually read much SF. Who ‘know what they like’.

Sadly, ‘literary’ writers who have strayed into SF often haven’t made themselves any more popular than Ms Attwood, and with good reason. Too often they have come in with the preconceived idea that SF is ‘less’, more lightweight, and will take less effort. So they don’t read what’s already out there and don’t realise what they think is original is actually rehashing common tropes. Or their world building falls short of the depth SF readers have come to expect. In other words they don’t respect the genre, and it shows in the results.

But then, to be fair, this happens in reverse as well. Some respected SF writers have tried their hands at other genres without putting in the hard research needed. I suspect you can name your own examples here too.

Roberts-pricking[Though I’m told, and intend to see, that Adam Roberts’ ‘By the Pricking of Her Thumb’ is a great example of doing it right!]

But back to the discussion. The moral of this story seems to be: if we want outsiders to accept more SF then shouldn’t we welcome them, both as readers and writers, rather than turn our backs on them and choose to stay isolated?

Though a polite reality check is surely allowable – ‘Yes, very nice, but did you read X, or Y, before you wrote such a similar plot/heroine/setting?’

And perhaps we also need to work harder to counteract that old image that SF, or at best hard SF, equals white/male/scientist/ the ideas are more important than the writing, a stereotype that may be partly responsible for the bias on both sides.

But look on the bright side, our genre is more accepted than it was, added to university courses and even GCSE set texts. [Even if media popularity doesn’t always help as much as we’d like.]

Hmm. So the split between SF and literary acceptability has actually narrowed? But maybe we now need to look at the splits we ourselves could be creating; I sometimes think there’s a bigger schism between SF and the LGBT label than between us and the  ‘literary’ shelf. Example: the poor publisher of my own novel, ‘Ashamet’, thought it was ‘literary’ enough to enter it for an American fantasy award. To be told it was ‘a very good book’ but should be labelled LGBT, not fantasy. I’ve come across some seriously good speculative fiction marooned in the same boat.

Move over, ‘literary’ world? Is the SF world in danger of shutting people out too, in a way very similar to the one they’ve objected to?

 

author pic 1

Terry Jackman began writing nonfiction, more by accident than design, before eventually tackling fiction. These days she runs the BSFA Orbit groups and edits-for-hire  between writing and the day job. She also runs the occasional convention workshop, and is strange enough she actually enjoys moderating panels.

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Worldcons – a Newbie Takes a Look by Jacey Bedford

I came fairly late to British SF conventions, dipping a toe in the water cautiously (and not terribly happily) in 2007, and then not until Eastercon 2011, where I got into the swing of things and then again in 2012 where I sat on my first panel. Despite some inconvenient things about the hotel venue (Radisson Blu at Heathrow), I enjoyed myself enough to become a regular attendee. Since then I’ve attended at least one, and probably two or three conventions a year, usually with a migratory group of writer friends. Not all friends attend all conventions, but we’re a broadly similar group.

I was lucky that in 2013 World Fantasy came to Brighton, and then in 2014 Worldcon – The World Science Fiction Convention – came to London’s Excel Centre.

Historically Worldcon has been held in the USA, but 2014, 2017 and 2019 have all been on this side of the Atlantic, and I’m taking full advantage. Last August I ventured out of the UK to Helsinki for Worldcon there and this year I’ll be in Dublin for the Irish Worldcon. Emboldened by that, I’ve already bought my membership for Worldcon in New Zealand in 2020. It’s official name is ConZealand, but I’m pretty sure some of us are already referring to it as Hobbitcon. I’ve never been to a worldcon in the US (though I’ve been to the US many times for other reasons), but I’m coming round to the idea. I believe it’s in Washington DC in 2021. (Air and Space Museum, here I come!)

So here are my thoughts.

VLUU P1200  / Samsung P1200

R.a.sf.c meetup

LONDON 2014: Worldcon is BIG, but the Excel Centre is bigger. Worldcon was tucked away at one end of it, but some of the hotels and restaurants were way down at the other end, and some of the workshops and parties were held in a suite of function rooms halfway down the Excel. When I say the Excel Centre is BIG, I looked it up. The internet tells me it’s 600 metres from one end to the other, but I can tell you it feels longer than that. There are six hotels, more than 30 bars and restaurants on the campus, and there’s a Docklands Light Railway station at either end of it. But it needs to be big to accommodate the crowds who turn up from every part of the world. A bunch of us who ‘met’ on a Usenet writers’ newsgroup were able to arrange a get together, which was wonderful. The downside of the size was that my feet were killing me by the time I’d been there half a day, and it was especially disappointing not to be able to get into some of the panels I wanted to see because of space issues in the smaller meeting rooms. Some of the panels were too popular.

Welcome to WorldconHELSINKI 2017: The convention centre in Helsinki is big, but not as daunting as the Excel Centre in London. My friend, C and I were lucky to be in the convention hotel attached to the venue.

IMG_20170811_193102582

Jacey, Carl Allery and Jules Jones. (Yes I admit I’m a lousy selfie taker)

 

It meant we were outside the heart of the city, but we took a few days after the convention to see Helsinki and to take the ferry across to Tallinn, which was wonderful.

Again, however, some of the panels were oversubscribed, resulting in huge queues for the more popular panels, and some hurried rearranging by the con to increase some of the room sizes. I didn’t attend the Hugos in London, but I did in Helsinki – my first Hugo ceremony – and had a surprisingly good time. Right then and there C and I signed up for Dublin and New Zealand.

Dublin-Convention_CentreIRELAND 2019: It’s only a few weeks to the Dublin Worldcon, held in the fancy new-ish convention centre. Our hotel (on the riverside) and flights are booked. We’re arriving on the Tuesday (the day before it kicks off) and departing on the Monday (the last day of the convention). The guests of honour include Diane Duane – writer, Ginjer Buchanan – editor, and Dame/Prof. Jocelyn Bell Burnell, the celebrated Irish astrophysicist. I’m listed as a programme participant, but at the time of writing I don’t know the details yet. [*Edit: 2 panels on the Friday] Whatever I’m doing, it will be fine. I’m really looking forward to meeting up with old friends, and getting to see my editor, Sheila Gilbert. She’s been nominated once again for a Hugo for Best Professional Editor, Long Form again (she won it a couple of years a go), so I’ll be there to cheer here on.

There’s probably still time to get yourself to Dublin and join in.

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If You Think You’re an Imposter, You Probably Aren’t by Nancy Jane Moore

Originally posted on the Book View Café blog on 16th May 2019

On social media, I regularly run across posts from talented and competent women talking about feeling that they’re not good enough at whatever they do. I see this with writers who aren’t well known and ones who have won awards.

Although I recently wrote about loving my body, it occurred to me after I wrote that piece that I don’t always love myself as a whole. I tend to feel like I should have done more in my life, that I haven’t pushed hard enough, used my brains enough. Also, I am known to get upset because of stupid decisions I made in the past.

I mean, I know I’m smart. I’m very smart. With me the issue is not living up to my potential or beating myself up for making a wrong call. I should know all the legal stuff. I should be better at business. I should have a bigger reputation as both a writer and a martial artist. And I really should have written this or that umpteen years ago.

At the same time, I have noticed an abundance of white men, including obscure congressmen and business executives, who seem to think they should be president even though there are heaps of people with more reputation, not to mention more ability, already in the race. Of course, most of the good people in the race are women, so that probably explains it.

It becomes obvious that we’re dealing with misogyny here, that our culture continues to tell women they aren’t good enough while it tells men to reach for the stars. I know there are men who have imposter syndrome and women who are overconfident, but still, the core problem is misogyny with racism and classism thrown in.

The primary difference seems to be between the people who were always told they had done a fabulous job when all they had done was color within the lines and the ones who always heard they weren’t good enough even when they produced a true work of art.

As psychiatrist Anna Fels points out in her book Necessary Dreams – which is my favorite feminist book of the past twenty years – one of the key elements of succeeding in your career is getting recognition from key teachers, mentors, and others along the way. Women have ambition, but they get a great deal less recognition than men. The same is true for people of color of all genders and for people who come from working class or poor backgrounds.

When I see imposter syndrome on social media, I find myself writing encouraging comments, especially when I know the person in question is doing good work. I even composed a senryu about this one morning because I was so sad about the worries of a very capable person.

I want to make awesome people who are being overlooked recognize how great they are. And I want to remind myself that the lack of outside affirmation doesn’t mean I’m not doing good work.

The political situation in the US is driving us all nuts. It’s not just the con man occupying our White House, but also all the states trying to control women’s bodies when they don’t even understand how human reproduction works, all the efforts to block any meaningful work on climate change or health care or education, and the amount of work it takes to implement even one small meaningful change.

Publishing is driving writers nuts, even the ones who are successful with either traditional presses or in the brave new world.

I’ve reached the point where I think it’s part of my job to tell women and others who get marginalized that we are smart, we are strong, and we are capable of fighting those bastards who want to keep us in our patriarchal place. Because we’re not going to be safe or successful until we gather up the self belief and courage to fight full out.

I’m not talking about leaning in. I’m talking about recognizing that we have power – intellectual and physical – and that we have the right to take up room and be successful at the work we want to do. We need to demand that others accept and respect that.

I come at this from teaching empowerment self defense. The more I think about it, the more I think it might be a cure for imposter syndrome as well as a way of showing women the power they’ve always had and giving them the tools to keep themselves safe.

We’re good enough and we’re strong enough. Time to go after our rights.

 

nan300Nancy Jane Moore’s science fiction novel The Weave came out in 2015 from Aqueduct Press. Her earlier books include a collection from PS Publishing, Conscientious Inconsistencies, and a novella from Aqueduct, Changeling. She is a member of the cooperative publisher Book View Café, where she has published several ebooks and contributed to anthologies. You can follow her on Facebook. She posts on Thursday at the Book View Café blog. Reprints of some of her stories are available at Curious Fictions. In addition to writing fiction, Nancy Jane, who has a fourth degree black belt in Aikido, teaches empowerment self defense. She is at work on a self defense book that emphasizes non-fighting skills.

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Books on Writing: What Writers Need (the Nitty-Gritty) by Tiffani Angus

Prose_ReadingI teach writing at the university level—BA, MA, and PhD. What this means is that in addition to my students having to write creatively they also have to write academically, usually in the form of an analysis of their creative work. This requires them to see what other people—other writers and critics—have written about literature, about how it works, and apply that to their own work.

Mullan_NovelsWhile literary theory is the backbone of literature classes, theory isn’t so important for writing classes because we approach literature from a different perspective: as a craft and skill to practice. For example, what’s important for me—for us—is not so much what the author meant by her use of a warbling vireo as a motif but how that motif works in the story: the mechanics of that little singing bird popping up here and there; how the author plays with the sound of the name and what that does for a reader more than if it was just called a little bird; and, finally, how it might contribute to a theme that the author is working with.

King_On WritingWhen studying literature, students are faced with a lot of choice. There are unlimited books and journal articles of literary analysis, but what about approaching the craft of writing? There are plenty of books that promise to help people write better; some, such as Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft and Jeff VanderMeer’s Wonderbook, are rather good because of the trust readers have for that particular author. You can also find books that are sort of in between, such as Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer and John Mullan’s How Novels Work, which don’t mention theory but rather explore how novels work from a reader’s perspective and work to get readers thinking about structure and other writerly elements.

VanderMeer_WonderbookBut the books that I wish there were more of are like what I had to write for my PhD: an analysis of the novel I wrote, of what I did and why. This is different from annotated editions of books, in which an editor has gone back and added footnotes to explain historical context of a reference or how a certain scene links to an event in the author’s life. You don’t find what I’m talking about very often out in the world. Sometimes authors will answer specific questions about their work in interviews but overall it’s rather rare.

Eco_PostscriptOne example—one that I used and that I recommend to my students even if they haven’t read the novel that inspired it in the first place—is Umberto Eco’s Postscript to The Name of the Rose. It’s a tiny thing, just over 80 pages, and translated from the Italian. In it, Eco touches on choices both big and small. For example, he explains why he chose November as the time of year in which to set his novel (because that’s when pigs are butchered), a nice world-building detail, and he explains why he included “long didactic passages” (to mirror the pacing of life in a 14th-century abbey).

Eco, however, is a bit ‘academic’ in places. What I mean by that is that he doesn’t always get down to the nitty-gritty on a sentence or even word level in a scene to explain his choices and how they work. For that level of self-analysis, follow Diana Gabaldon, author of the epic Outlander series, as she goes line-by-line in a small scene and describes the tiny details, such as word choice and historical research, and how these details affect and are affected by other elements such as rhythm and character motivation.

https://www.facebook.com/AuthorDianaGabaldon/posts/a-coda-in-three-two-timelast-weekend-i-was-a-presenter-at-the-surrey-internation/804624462913725/

Its resources like these that give writers and non-writers alike an inside look at the nuts and bolts of the job. As a [insert job here] you likely read about said job, to keep up to scratch or learn new developments in the field. Writers like to, want to, need to do the same. ​Consider how you would explain your own writing to a newer writer, or even a more advanced one. Thinking about our writing choices and having to vocalise those choices to someone else strengthens our understanding of our own craft and enables us to look at our own work from a perspective of purpose. So perhaps one thing we can do to help build a collection of this sort of resource is to create them ourselves. From blog posts to more formal outlets, explain the nitty-gritty: give an inside look into your writing choices, explain how the elements fit together, the changes you made and why. The benefits to newer writers are innumerable, but even more important is the benefit of better understanding ourselves as writers.

 

Tiffani AngusTiffani Angus works in Cambridge and lives in Bury St Edmunds with her partner. Her historical-fantasy novel Threading the Labyrinth (Unsung Stories Press), a sort of grown-up Children of Greene Knowe, will be published autumn 2019, and she has published short stories in a variety of genres. When she’s not busy teaching she can be found geeking out in gardens that other people have created. She can be found at http://www.tiffani-angus.com/ or as @tiffaniangus on Twitter.

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