I’ve Seen The Future, Brother, It Is Murder

I couldn’t help but bring Leonard Cohen into this. He’s one of the many artists whose loss gouged great wounds in our hearts. But Leonard’s poetry will live on in everyone he’s touched, and in every story he’s inspired.

This month’s post is about the future. It’s about two different futures, though. One is personal – my hopes and ambitions for the coming year – and the other is about a dominant theme for 2017 in my opinion.

Let’s talk about the big things first:

An image from when my corporate cyberpunk dystopia also was stylishly designed and beautifully filmed. Alas, we know it’s a dystopia by the fact only the worst will come and we won’t have any of the cool features. If you don’t believe me, check out the new Ghost in the Shell trailer. It had me running back to my copies of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex for the definitive adaptation of the material.

But as I was watching, and thinking about the themes of the series, especially the second one, I started to feel how it would impact our world in 2017.

The first series, dealing with the Laughing Man, introduced the idea of a Stand Alone Complex but the second series brought that idea to a more terrifying place: the idea that the phenomenon could be harnessed, with the right manipulation, to political ends.

As I watch it now, I realize this is rooted in something deeper I’ve been touching on in other entries: narrative control. Our world today, moreso than any previous time in our history, is vulnerable to active and directed efforts at narrative control. Information is spreading so fast, and people accept it so readily, one can use this to easily control a post-truth world.

We’ve been seeing this building for many years. But what once were ‘whisper campaigns’ or coded statements have become very open attempts at narrative control, and misdirection. The atmosphere has become so permissive, that people will shoot up local DC pizzerias based on deliberately created lies.

This upcoming year, I see Narrative Control becoming a key battleground for the spirit of the world we live in, but it will be done in tandem with something I’m calling ‘narrative distribution control.’ It’s not enough to create a narrative and set it lose in the world, then back it up. You’ve got to suppress counter-narratives or, even worse, actual facts.

I heard a description of a small mid-west rust belt town from a former resident. He said everyone listened to specific radio stations, which carried specific songs and messages. Listening to anything else got you odd looks. You only believed certain information sources. Challenging those would get everyone looking at you, saying ‘your education is showing.’ And Gods help you if you deviated from the norm.

It honestly sounded like descriptions of North Korea, except in this case the narrative control, and the choking of information to ‘approved’ sources, comes from the community and not the government. What’s more terrifying? A government imposing a narrative on you, or your own neighbors doing so?

So how do we stop this? How do we prevent us from becoming a less colorful version of The Village?

Do not not be pushed. Start small rebellions. Find these communities and the dissidents within. Let them know they’re not alone, that you know the narrative they’re being fed is not the whole truth. Create alternate narratives and find ways to deliver them to occupied areas.

We need to become the pirate radio station intercepting and countering the control narrative. We have to speak the truth, with proof and citation, and sneak the truth under the wire to those who need it. Learn from those fighting authoritarians elsewhere. Fight them here.

And don’t be afraid to yell “You lie!” when needed. They were willing to do so to support easy falsehoods, you have to do so to support the complicated truth.

Now, on a more personal note…

As with all years, I discover a bit more about myself as a writer, and then immediately get angry at college me for not realizing this. Time is the biggest enemy. But here is what I have learned:

Comfortable structures work best: Now, by comfortable I do not mean ‘comfort zone’ or anything similar. I mean finding a structure that works like a good hammer, or a pen that’s just the right size so it doesn’t dig into your hand the wrong way.

In this case, the comfortable structure is the one I was first trained to use: Screenplay outlines and treatments. During November, I cranked out several short stories at a speed which surprised me. And I realized the key was not only having a good old Syd Field outline for the story and writing up a treatment with scene breakdown beforehand.

I’m still working on how to scale this up, and start layering it for multiple plots, but the focus it conveyed contrasts heavily against the way I wandered around on Metaphysical Graffiti. Even using a plot outlining structure there, it lead to a lot of bloated beginnings and boring middles. I’m going to have to tear down the whole project at this point. But I think it’s for the best. I’m still unsure if I am ready to write this book yet.

Short Stories vs Novels – the battle continues: These days, with the limited time I have, my energy has gone into short stories and the submission grind. I’m still working on novels – still developing long form projects – but they are not my sole focus at this point. Right now, short stories are letting me further development my craft and try to get them out in the world. I won’t pretend I’m the second coming of Ted Chaing or Aunt Beast, but the chances of me getting stories published and developing a name is still greater than my chances of getting a novel subbed at this time.

Speaking of novels…

Generating Stories: Here, I come back to the great question – what stories do I want to tell? What do I want to read? I’m developing bits and pieces of backgrounds, thinking about the stories I want to tell, but finding the right voice for them proves difficult. I know the feeling I want to generate – a feeling I can’t get elsewhere – but grabbing onto it is taking a while.

But I’ll keep working on it. Can’t do much else – the stories aren’t being quiet.

Give yourself time: If this November taught me anything, I need time. Concerted, focus time where I can write. During this November’s write-ins with my group, I was able to put down words at a rate I can’t manage when sneaking out time after work, or in the wee hours before my job drains me of everything but anger.

The hardest part? The part of me, brought from a very Slavic upbringing, that says this isn’t real work, and I should be spending this time on the weekends fixing the fireplace. I think the biggest issue I have to overcome is the continued, nagging sense that this is not a worthwhile activity, even though I’d probably go mad if I couldn’t do it….

So, what am I going to do in 2017?

  • -Continue to write short stories, at least one a quarter, and keep pushing them out into the world to see who grabs onto them.
  • -Work on adapting Screenwriting structures to plotting
  • -Find characters and settings that will let me tell the stories I want to tell.
  • -Fight the part of me that won’t give time for writing
  • -Work on connecting with others and building a support network.
  • -Re-plot Metaphysical Graffiti
  • -Brainstorm the type of stories I want to tell and find characters within them
  • -Anger is an energy. Use it.

Talk to you all in the future
-> Andrija, Dec 2017

The End of November

November is, to most folks who write as either a hobby or professionally, NaNoWriMo month. People set themselves up to crank out over fifty-thousand words in one month’s space of time. For those on a certain side of the political spectrum, it’s probably a been a rough month. For others, they’ve probably beaten their numbers, though I’m unsure if policy briefs and manifestos count as ‘novels.’

Me, I set myself up to fail. And I did so in the most spectacular way possible.

My goal wasn’t to write a set number of words. Instead, it was to write at least three short stories by the end of the month. My writer’s group, as part of their NaNoWriMo prep, sectioned off five hours of time at a local library just for writing. During that dedicated time, I was able to crank out about 5k words per session.  Most sessions ended early, so my rate is a little over 1.5k words per hour. Had this been extrapolated across the month, I could have cracked the goal again.

But my goal was reached. Three short stories written, and a fourth almost completed. One has already been submitted to the intended market.  So how do I feel about losing?

8ec

I regret nothing because I learned a lot.

  1. Screenplay outlines are my happy place – I was able to plot out the stories and get everything set because I returned to my home, the good old-fashioned Syd Field screenplay outline.  It helped me know exactly where I had to go, what each scene had to do, and how to ensure I was never lost in the woods of ‘Well, what should I write now?’
  2. Given a clear vision, I can write and research at the same time – some of my stories involved looking up real events, or people. I was digging through and confirming information at the outline stage, but also as i wrote.
  3. Time is my enemy and friend – if I have time and I can focus, I can produce quite a bit.

So what was the hardest part? The usual: “that’s five hours wasted – think of all the chores you could have done” or “Hey, shouldn’t you be working on trying to cross-sell to all of your clients even if they don’t need a product?”

My brain is still wired to never see writing as a ‘useful’ act.  It’s not work. It doesn’t earn money (so far) and won’t get me life insurance, mortgage payments, etc. I have to constantly fight my wiring and says, “I need more than a salary in my life. I want to tell stories. I hope, some day, someone reads those stories.”

At the end of November I know, the biggest enemy I still have (next to time) is this guy named Andy Popovic.

Two Updates for October

(Image by the great Ron Spencer)

It’s the waning days of October and, here in the DC area, it finally feels like October. Morning air bites you on the cheek. Leaves rattle on the asphalt in slow-motion tornadoes. ALIEN ARTIFACTS has seen print. I’m still focusing on writing short stories, especially now that three new anthologies have opened for submission.

If you’re interested, click here.

Which leads me to my first update: This year NaNoWriMo is more about getting short stories finished than anything else. I’m finishing up one, and I’ve got at least three more I hope to write over the course of the month. If nothing else, t his is going to give me a good supply of stories I can rework and shop around at a later date.

Now, is the focus on short stories a good strategic one? Well, there are a few factors here. First and foremost: writing is not my full-time job. My goals here are not economic. This means, I’m more worried about getting my name out there and being seen for producing good stories, working well with editors, and adding to my publication credits.

Will I stop work on the novel(s)? No. Working on the novels(s) have taught me a lot and I’m still learning from the experience. But the short stories are giving me something immediate to focus on while, in the background, I can think about novels in a larger, more structural framework. In either case, I keep writing.

This is the second update. It’s more a follow-up on my last entry on writing horror.

I’ve started reading short stories in alternation with my massive stack of novels. My copy of People of Colo(u)r Destroy Horror! came in. Silvia Garcia-Moreno’s opening essay talked about her experience watching horror films from America, or reading stories where everyone was well-off, white and trouble-free until they discovered their idyllic house is on a Native American graveyard!

She rooted for the ghosts in those cases.

I immediately thought about going to see The Ruins with some friends. We expected a trashy horror film. We didn’t expect to have the theater almost to ourselves. And what I didn’t expect was to be rooting for the carnivorous plants right from the first five minutes.

“Oh, I hope these privileged little shits die horribly.”

Most American horror falls on the conservative side of John Carpenter’s spectrum: there is evil out there come to sap our precious American bodily fluids! We must do all we can to defend our white picket fences against these terrors, be they atomic-powered ants, Satanists, or ethnic folks.

For the most part, I couldn’t take those films seriously. If the dumb teenagers got cut up, was their own fault. There’s literally a crazy old guy telling you about the murders! What do you need, a Greek oracle?

I felt more for the people in Alien and The Thing. They were just trying to survive, same as the creatures they faced. Of the suburban horror films I enjoyed, they were usually handled by Wes Craven. The Nightmare films, at their core, are all about kids paying for the secrets and lies spread by their parents. Suburbia isn’t a thing to defend – it’s a prison hiding everyone’s sins.

What happens when you sympathize with the monsters too much?

Or, think of it this way: What happens if I do start with a human I sympathize with? Someone who’s struggling to make it through the day, is happy he doesn’t get pulled aside for a more detailed search while going to a game, has depression and a mess of issues? And then I sic some terrible traumatic horror on them, destroy their world, rip them to pieces…

My first thought was, “Why isn’t this happening to his douchebag of a boss? Isn’t life tilted enough in the dudebro’s favor that even the monsters don’t go after them?”

Yeah, there’s my world of horror:

One day, the great monsters dwelling in the outer dark will see you, weighed down by stress, anxiety and the grind of surviving this world. Instead of torturing you they will just sigh, pat you on the head, hand you some antidepressants, and go to haunt the $1.4 million dollar home your boss bought for himself and his mistress while working into an early grave.

But that’s not horror then, is it? That’s just a lovely, lovely fantasy.

Oh, The Horror. The Horror….

Oh, The Horror. The Horror.

I love horror fiction, and films. The weirder, the better. But, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to successfully write it. I’ll explain why after this gloomy self-portrait of Sir William Fettes Douglas:

If there was a philosophy to my early childhood, it’s this: “The world is dark and full of terrors.” (Apologies to George R.R. Martin.) I remember growing up in terror of the world, both outside the house (Stranger danger! Don’t run out into the street! Don’t go into that old shed! Don’t play on that tire, you’ll get tetanus!) and inside the house. My family wore feelings like flags. If someone was angry, the entire house knew it. You couldn’t deaden the yelling. It was like living in an emotional bombing zone at the best of times.

Later in life, I realized how lucky I was that this was the extent of my traumas, but that’s another topic.

Fear ruled my life. Some would say it still does but then, my fears were more tangible. They dug into everything I did: I wouldn’t see a movie, because I heard there was a scary part in it. I wouldn’t listen to a record because I heard it drove people to suicide. The constant protective fear I experienced left my emotional skin very thin. I had to thicken it up myself.

I did it with repeated listening of the story record for The Black Hole, with its gurgling audio of Anthony Perkins’ death at the spinning blades of Maximilian, the single most terrifying robot I’ve ever seen.  The pictures of his scowling red eyeslit combined with one of the nastiest deaths in a supposed ‘space adventure’ burned into my brain.

I went through a wilderness of knives with Young Sherlock Holmes and the sacrifice of the young girl, smothered alive by hot wax in a pseudo-Egyptian ceremony. (At that age, I could actually feel the claustrophobia and suffocation she must have experienced). And in my dreams, I fought off the horrifying painting of one of my ancestors which stood in the house, glaring at us with his wire-brush beard and dark Serbian eyes. It made the portrait above look positively cheerful.

Over time, though, the fears of the dark and  what lurked inside faded. I grew to love the fictional horrors out there. I’d dive into films, and books. Junior high was my first deep dive into terrors, as I found Hauntings: Tales of the Supernatural edited by Henry Mazzeo with illustrations by Edward Gorey in the Thomwas W. Pyle Jr. High library. The fictional terrors comforted me. Outside the library were real horrors, ones encountered at a young age and kept encountering all my life.

When going to school terrifies you because of the people waiting there, and going home is just as terrifying because of the people waiting there, what’s in a book becomes comforting. Now that I’m entirely too grown, fictional terrors on TV, the big screen, and in literature are a cozy blanket and warm cup of tea for me. I taste terrors the way some taste wine: enjoying the complexities, but never losing myself to the alcohol.

Why? Because every day, at work, I face a monitor which runs CNN constantly. I listen to political feeds, hear twitter conversations, read about the worst parts of humanity. I’ve lived through seeing both sides of my family go from obscure countries no one cared about to shorthands for mass murderers and despots. In my world, when someone racks up a body count which rivals any hockey-masked golem, the first response is: “How can we capitalize on this? Quick, send out a press release blaming the welfare state.”

I’m convinced that, in this world, the horrors of literature would be drowned in the banal horrors of humanity. A dark cosmic void pointing to our insignificance is actually far more inspiring and magnificent than a distant board of executives who consider me just another liability which can be ditched if we don’t make our annual profit margins. At least alien biomechanoids consider me a valuable resource on one level…

John Carpenter said once there are fundamentally two types of horror: external or internal. Internal horror is about confronting the darkness within ourselves – our actions have led to a horrific consequence. External horror features a malevolent force attacking us and all we hold dear. But both start one deep assumption: there is some value in the status quo. It may suck, but at least you’re not being assaulted by undead creatures or your dad isn’t possessed by some entity out to kill you. Right?

I don’t think so. Horror gives us an enemy. You can focus on the terrifying thing caught in a home movie. You can try to defeat it. How do you defeat the fact your neighborhood was red-lined into persistent poverty?

True horror is a private security firm’s attack dog with its teeth red from the blood of anti-pipeline protesters. True horror is an athlete caught raping an unconscious woman, let go after three months because he’s a white kid from the right school, with a sympathetic judge. True horror is a neighborhood dying from toxins in the soil and water because they’re too poor to register on anyone’s political radar.

This is why I can’t write horror myself. Because I don’t think I’ll ever be able to write anything as terrifying as humanity at its worst.

Alien Artifacts, and a new Kickstarter!

alien artifacts cover I wanted to provide folks with an update. As I mentioned before, my short story, “The Captain’s Throne” has been selected for publication in the Alien Artifacts anthology edited by Patricia Bray and Joshua Palmatier,

Well, my author copies have arrived, as well as the eBook copies I got through Kickstarter. The general public will be getting access soon. So f you are interested in pre-ordering, visit the Zombies Need Brains order page:

https://squareup.com/market/zombies-need-brains-llc

You can also get art prints of the amazing cover. But that’s not all. If you’re looking to help ZNB and get copies of this anthology and Were-, its sibling anthology, how about supporting their new Kickstarter?

This project will fund three science fiction and fantasy anthologies, titled ALL HAIL OUR ROBOT CONQUERORS!, SUBMERGED, and THE DEATH OF ALL THINGS, containing approximately 14 all-original (no reprint) short stories each from established SF&F authors in the field. The books will be edited by Patricia Bray & Joshua Palmatier (ALL HAIL OUR ROBOT CONQUERORS!), S.C. Butler & Joshua Palmatier (SUBMERGED), and Laura Anne Gilman & Kat Richardson (THE DEATH OF ALL THINGS).

If the Campaigns get enough funding, they will open the anthologies up to solicitations. This is a great chance for newer authors to stand alongside great, established talent and get a chance to shine. I encourage you, support the campaign. Only 26 days to go.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/543968884/robots-water-and-death-anthologies/widget/video.html

This Is Not My Future: Gundam Unicorn & Generational Conflicts

For those who didn’t shell out to get the blue-ray OAV releases, Bandai is broadcasting a re-edit of Gundam Unicorn. Mecha addict that I am, even though I’ve seen it before, I’ve been re-watching the series and it’s and finding more depth to it the second time around.

First, the opening theme as a spoiler break:

It’s really rare you open a series with a song trying to convince someone not to keep harming themselves. But in a way, Unicorn Gundam or UC as I’ll call it is the perfect vehicle for this song. Because the entire series is about wounds – old and new, inflicted and self-inflicted – and trying to grow beyond the pain into something better.

First, you’ll want to read up a little on the Unversal Century timeline in Gundam. You can check out wikipedia for some starting points, but ther eis also an amazing timeline here.

The key places to look are the main series (Mobile Suit Gundam, Zeta Gundam, ZZ Gundam, Char’s Counterattack) and the OAV’s 0083 Stardust Memory (which bridges Gundam and Zeta Gundam) & the ongoing Gundam: The Origin. For those in a reading mood, Gundam: The Origin is a beautiful manga retelling of the first series and I really recommend it. The Gundam Unicorn appears at the end of this timeline, 17 years after the start of the first series in Universal Century 0096.

What was to be the start of man’s glorious new future in space has, instead, been a century of war and horrors: environmental damage on Earth lead to forced migration of poor populations to space. A terrorist attack on the Earth Federation’s prime minister created a totalitarian atmosphere over the Earth sphere. Conflicts bloomed between those who remained on Earth (Earthnoids) and those who lived in space(Spacenoids). Exploitation, colonialism, nationalism and greed dominate humankind.

Even the idea of a “new type” of humanity, adapted to space and able to use psi gifts to communicate and increase understanding, is twisted by the rulers of the Dutchy of Zeon into an ubermench style philosophy. Political tensions come to a head in 0079, when the One Year War begins between the forces of Zeon (ostensibly representing spacenoid independence movements) and the Earth Federation.

The One Year War sees the death of billions. Even the hippiesh idea of a “NewType” is turned into a weapon of war, where pilots with these gifts are pitted against each other at the behest of their superiors. The series that follow deal with the aftershocks – entrenchment and pro-Earth fascism (0083 and Zeta), resurgences of Zeon by remnant forces (ZZ Gundam and Char’s Counterattack). Throughout it all, colonies are destroied or dropped on earth, along with several asteroids. When the series starts, there’s been about 3 years of peace.

And then, a mysterious foundation makes an offer to the NeoZeon remnants – a secret which will shake the Federation to the core. The dark heart at the center of the Universal Century.

The main trio of protagonists all grew up during the war years, and they all bear burdens based on legacies their parents & grandparents left.

Banager Links: An engineering student at the Anaheim Electronics school (leading builder of civilian and military mobile suits), Banager discovers he is the illegitimate son of Cardeas Vist, head of the powerful Vist foundation and holder of the LaPlace box – the key to the Federation’s power in the Earth Sphere. He’s given the Unicorn – a mobile suit designed to respond to(and destroy) NewTypes. It’s the map to the location of the LaPlace box.

Mineva Zabi: We first see her as a small baby in the original Mobile Suit Gundam series. Heir to the Zabi family, the ‘royalty’ behind the Dutchy of Zeon, she’s trying to prevent the Vist foundation from giving the box to the Zeon remnants under the command of the terribly named Full Frontal, as this may cause yet another war. Her grandfather, uncle, aunt and father were responsible for the start of the One Year War and all the horrors which ensued. History weighs heavily on her.

Riddhe Merceas: A Federation mobile suit pilot, assigned to the Nahel Aghama, part of the Londo Bell fleet. Their task is to neutralize Zeon remnants. Riddhe’s father is the Chairman of the Federation council and, through the series, he discovers that his family is the dark mirror of the Vist family, helping keep the LaPlace box secret and ensure the Federation remains in power.

The main series antagonists are a former member of the Vist family, now head of Anaheim Electronics and representing the corrupt side of the Earthnoids, and the Zeon remnants lead by Full Frontal. All are fighting for both the Unicorn and the data it’s revealing about the location of the LaPlace box.

In this series, the sins of the past weigh heavily on the plot and the characters. Each one starts off trying to free themselves from their legacies. Banager is our POV into this conflict, and the Unicorn is a literal representation of his legacy both negative (it’s designed to destroy NewTypes and the propaganda they represent for the Zeons) and positive (it literally responds to his will – a beast of possibility that grows with him).

And that thought of legacy, of paying for the sins of our parents and grandparents, is key to this show. At every turn, our protagonists are sincerely trying to avoid starting another war – Minevea’s whole character arc is about trying to fight against the Zabi’s genocidal legacy – but decisions they had no part in block the way. Riddhe eventually drowns because of his poison legacy, turning against his former friends and crew until the very end.

The show takes a lot of time to show the people getting caught up in this conflict. Between showing you good pilots on both side, as well as callous ones, you start to see the dividing lines are less about Earthnoid vs. Spacenoid, or Feddie vs. Zeek. It’s about power and control. Who has it? What do they want to do with it? Full Frontal is a (literal) Char Aznable clone but his plan for the LaPlace box is actually more terrifying than any colony drop – it literally involves isolating Earth and dooming it to economic irrelevance and impoverishment.

Cycles of violence are also a big part of this – do we choose to continue supporting the same cycle of violence? Mineva counters that Frontal’s plan by saying it will just flip elites, and we’ll have a generation of Earthnoids howling for blood against their oppressive Spacenoid masters. It won’t lead to a better world for anyone, just create fertile ground for the next war.

If any character represents poisoned legacies and cycles of violence, it’s Loni Garvey. Pilot of a massive Mobile Armor, it uses a psionic control system to direct fire through dozens of ‘funnels.’ It’s a system her family built, her father in specific, to tap into her Newtype capabilities and make her a weapon of mass destruction.

She and Banager connected, briefly, and on the battlefield he tries to use the Unicorn and their connection to get her to stop the slaughter. Innocent civilians are dying under the pent up rage of every Zeon remnant trapped on Earth for over a decade. And at one point they do connect. The system disarms – until the ghostly red hands of her father pushes Banager away. Literally possessed by her parent’s agenda, embodied in the war machine she pilots, she cannot stop the generational hate.

In the end Riddhe is forced to kill her while Banager watches a legacy of hate overcome the possibility of escape. It’s not the first, nor the last, tragic death in this story. But it illustrates the theme perfectly.

Given my family history, and the circumstances of my birth (GenX’er living under the shadow of the all powerful Baby Boom generation) this theme resonates with me. In the show, the Unicorn represents the ‘beast of possibility’ where we do not have to be trapped by past mistakes, and can make amends before going into the future. The show is about trying to find a better way than enforcing the same power structures and fighting the same wars over and over.

In the end, you do get a sense of hope that these kids – and they are all young kids – will be able to end the wars, escaping from their poisoned legacies and making something new. I like that idea and I do hope that our next generation can do the same.

I just despair that we won’t be able to do it – to escape, to stop the cycle, to reconcile and look for a better way – because we don’t have a Unicorn Gundam on our side. Where is our beast of possibility, or have they all been hunted down?

Our Map is Not The Territory

I originally wrote this before the events in Dallas, Minnesota, and Baton Rouge unfolded on our screens. It’s leading me to rethink a lot of things, especially what is happening in Baton Rouge, where a good chunk of Metaphysical Graffiti takes place. Will I have to revise the book so what happens to Ieshia Evans becomes commonplace? Should I be telling this particular story, seeing as I’m a traveler to this world and not one who has to live in this reality every day? –

Protestor Ieshia Evans is detained by law enforcement near the headquarters of the Baton Rouge Police Department in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S. July 9, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Protestor Ieshia Evans is detained by law enforcement near the headquarters of the Baton Rouge Police Department in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S. July 9, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Thinking about how to process these events, my need to tell a story about them, and how they could be seen had me reflecting on an article I’d read earlier on about the novel Underground Airlines. Go ahead and visit, I’ll wait.

For a good summation of the response amongst many, I recommend this article from the Daily Dot. This quote in particular stood out:

Some found this positive coverage galling for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s demonstrably harder for authors of color to receive equal media attention alongside white writers. Secondly, the Times story plays into a long tradition of white artists being celebrated for tackling topics others have already covered with more personal expertise.

Now, from all accounts, this is a < href=”http://www.tor.com/2016/07/07/book-reviews-ben-h-winters-underground-airlines/”>good book. But as the reviewer says, “Movies, TV, and books have repeatedly sidelined PoC-penned narratives in favor of white creators.” And all the while, these white creators get heaped praise for work build on the backs of other authors, who never get the credit or voice they deserve.

Call it “Literary Colonialism” if you will, but you can apply it any number of cultural aspects, like music or history or just ideas. For now, we’ll focus on literature itself.

Imagine an author striding upon what he (and it’s usually a he) feels is virgin country. Chin out, he braves the “perils” of this untouched land of storytelling, mining it for golden ideas or tilling it until his crop of tales grows to harvest. He then returns to his native lands, arms overflowing with plunder, and is praised for his “bravery” in bringing civility to this barbarous new world.

Of course, our bold explorer never bothers to notice there are already people living in this “dark country.” They’ve been mining and growing and creating for ages before he stepped foot on their shores. But if they are acknowledged, it’s either as inferiors who didn’t realize what they had or obstacles to conquer.

In the end, the work of the original inhabitants were not worth noticing. That is, until the anger builds up and someone screams out “Enough!” That’s when revolutions begin.

Literary fiction often treats fiction by marginalized groups (or genre fiction) as little more than new grist for their mills.

There are exceptions, of course. I like to call them trading partners – people with a genuine love of the genre, or understanding of the culture – that wish to share that love, and facilitate travel between these lands. They use their inherent privilege to say, “We were not here first – you need to see and understand.”

But they’re few, and don’t have the influence of the grand conquerors. The establishments don’t support anyone trying to counter the grand default narratives.

So these literary colonizers take the stories of minority authors and recast them (figuratively and literally). They plunge into genres and literary traditions, rip loose stories told within and yell, “Look what I’ve created! ME! I’m the God! I’M THE GOD!”

What can we do? First, speak out when we see it. Don’t let it go unrecognized. But when speaking out the second thing we can do – and the most important – is to point out the others who have been there before us and were ignored. In the case of Underground Airlines, many are pointing out Octavia E. Butler’s groundbreaking novel Kindred as an alternate. But they’ve also mentioned Derrick Bell, Robert O’Hara, Sigrid Gilmer and others.

But most importantly we have to realize we need to step aside, to listen and to amplify the voices for whom these stories have deep, personal resonance. And if the people who should be, and are, telling these stories cannot be heard then it is incumbent upon us to help them be heard.

Co-opting a story is, in a lot of ways, worse than silencing it. It shuts down any real conversation and exchange. It demeans the original tellers and their experiences. And it makes it easier for us to not question uncomfortable narratives, or confront ugly truths about ourselves.

I’m still going to write about Baton Rouge, but I will do it with care. And I’ll likely write about everything that’s happened in the last few weeks as well. But I will try very hard not to pretend I’m the first, or best, voice on this subject. And when better voices need to speak up, I will step down and insist the mic be passed to them. That’s the least I can do.

And if I allow myself to be called “brave” or “daring” for it, may Huey Freeman strike me down with a folding chair.

HueyFreemanChair