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Writer, Messenger, and Professional Weirdo
Yay! Pictures! Pop Quiz! What do all these pictures have in common:
If you said:
The answer is D: All of the above, but before breaking out the pitchforks, I’d like to point out it’s the covers I’m on about, not the content of the books. Mercedes Lackey is pretty in your face about sexuality, Jim Butcher has characters from all over. Ditto for Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Pratchett (and I picked that book in particular for a reason) is pretty vocal about deconstructing racism in many of his books and he’s funny when he does it. Double win. So content is not an issue here.
What is an issue is that you can walk down the fantasy/sci-fi section in any book store and be hard pressed to find a cover that doesn’t feature that lovely Caucasian look. We default to it. Granted, you might find one or two and, as time goes on, you’ll find more and more and that is a good thing. Having a white person on the cover of a book isn’t bad. Having nothing but white people sorta is yeah – especially when other people exist in the world. Hello!
Like I said: we default to white. Especially if we are white (hi!). My leading lady, Sam? Her looks were based off of a mix of this lovely lady and this one – because I am no less susceptible to falling into the default rut than anyone else.
Then something weird and totally unintentional happened. I sat down to write the second draft. Joseph stopped being a priest and Sam’s hair got curly. A person whose intentions I’m sure were pure [sarcasm tag] pointed out that an urban fantasy novel with an obviously African American lead (that’s right: curly black hair = obvious African American) wouldn’t sell easily.
So what did I do?
Nothing, actually. It became a quirky side-story to tell and make people laugh or roll their eyes. I didn’t change her personality, her description, nada. She’s pure nut-bar pixie dream girl who will mess you up if you look at her boyfriend funny. She’s been that way since her initial makeover during that fateful November. If people wanted to see Sam as black I was totally okay with that. I couldn’t (and still can’t) think of a good reason why it would be a bad thing. Then the time came to describe her to my cover artist, because yeah, Sam’s going on the cover.
And while I realized that it didn’t matter to me what color her skin was, I could do one of two things: I could “correct” the assumption that curly black hair = dark skin, because that’s just a dumb assumption to make no matter what. Or I could jump in with both feet and go, “Yes, this creative, spacy, smartass hyperactive half angel superhero who is her boyfriend’s knight in shining armor is, in fact, a black girl.”
And if it really didn’t matter to me, then why couldn’t she be? We’ve got plenty of pretty pale girls in the genre and Sam is not herself if she isn’t standing out from the crowd. She usually does this by wearing Rainbow Brite arm warmers, mind you, but y’know: whatever.
And if having a black girl on the cover of my self-published e-book means I don’t sell a copy to someone, then gosh I …I just don’t know what I’d do! /sob
This happened unintentionally. At first, Joseph didn’t have a last name. When I actually needed to give him a last name it took me a very long time before (and writers will understand what I mean when I say this) he just sort of sat down in my head, exasperated, and said: Singh.
Well okay then.
I didn’t start out to make a statement with my characters. It sorta happened and I’m good with going with the flow. My first goal is to tell an entertaining story. If I manage that and just one person who hasn’t had much in the way of heroes to look up to finds one in Sam or Joseph (or Ben, or Gretchen, or Theo, or Simon – have I mentioned that the majority of the cast is not white?) then awesome.
I hold no illusions. This will never ever be my day job. My book isn’t going to end up in the fantasy/sci-fi aisle at your local bookstore so putting characters with darker skin on my cover isn’t going to make the slightest dent there. It makes my job more interesting because what does a white girl know about this sort of thing? How do you write a character of color?
Gosh! Turns out it’s not a whole lot different from writing a white character. You give them flaws and strengths and personality quirks, just like any other character. You make them as rounded and real as you possibly can while avoiding the landmine field that is offensive stereotypes which really isn’t that hard. And then you hope you did it right and if you didn’t, you listen to critique and then you apologize and change what needs to be changed. Chances are if you treated your characters like people you did mostly okay. At least, I hope so.
I also trust that if I hit on something offensive by accident, my friends would graciously beat the ever loving snot out of me until the stupid went away.
Here, have a bunny:
I sincerely hope that, however you celebrate it, the holiday season was a good one for you. It was a good one for me! Mostly. I worked all of it. But then I’m easy to please and the post-holiday breakdown didn’t happen until the morning of the 26th when EVERYBODY DECIDED THAT SIX AM WAS THE PERFECT TIME TO ASSUME OFFICES ARE OPEN.
People. If the sun hasn’t come up yet and nobody is dead: go back to sleep.
Sometime in the last couple months (probably November) I took a call and ever since taking that call it’s been preying on my mind, like a brain worm. Since I’ve been scatterbrained and other things have been popping up hither and yon, I haven’t gotten a chance to write about it, but here – let me paraphrase it for you:
Me: Good Morning. This is [FUNERAL CHAPEL HOME PLACE], my name is [REDACTED because Olivia is a pen name yo] how can I help you?
Caller: Hello? Can I speak to [DIRECTOR]?
((It’s about 2am, so you know. Eyebrows.))
Me: I’m sorry, s/he is not in at the moment, may I take a message or did you need to speak to someone right away? I have [REDACTED – who was not the director she asked for] on call for emergencies.
Caller: Oh. Oh dear. No, s/he just told me to call when my family member, [REDACTED], passed away. I just wanted to give a head’s up.
((I actually do not roll my eyes at this point, because grieving family members get breaks. They just do. I hate it when they call in death calls because they never have any of the info and I feel awful asking them dozens of personal questions, but they’re upset and doing what they were told, so it’s a get out of jail free card.))
Me: Oh! Alright, well, I can certainly reach someone for you–
Caller: Oh no, please don’t bother them. We’re not ready or anything, this is just a head’s up for …well, for whoever.
Me: ((Patience padawan…)) Alright, well, what usually happens is when the facility is ready they go ahead and give us a call. We have a removal person that we can contact at that point who will come out and pick them up. If you like, I can take what information you have and get a hold of them for you?
Caller: Is that the director?
Me: No, in this case it’s a separate in-house removal person that we contact for death calls. I can certainly reach a director if you need to speak to them though. May I have your name please?
Caller: I don’t want to give that out just yet. The facility can call when they’re ready? We’re just getting ready to go up there now, so they should be ready when we get there. So …this is just a head’s up, I guess. No need to bother anyone.
((At this point, in case it’s not obvious, we’re speaking at cross purposes. I really can’t help her, and it’s sort of drilled into us that we’re to take messages all the time, hence all the “no seriously do you want me to reach someone?” questions. See, head’s up calls are messages, that will be cleared, provided I have the info.))
Me: If I take a message now I will have to page someone, so if you want to hold off and just want to have the facility call–
Caller: Wait, so you’re just an answering machine?
((Congrats random answering service drone, you’ve been upgraded to a T-1000 answering MACHINE!))
Me: I’m with their after hours service, yes.
Caller: Oh! Oh, how awful.
I wish I could make this one up, but that last line is a direct quote. And yes, if you’re reading it in a certain upper crust, prim and proper accent, you’re reading it correctly. In fact, it’s the only quote I really remember because it bothered me that much. The rest is paraphrased but essentially breaks down to someone not understanding that she actually was jumping the gun. Badly. After that, she muttered some more things and hung up on me. About an hour later we did get the call from the facility, so no business lost, I guess?
If you think I’m taking the comment the wrong way, let me assure you, from tone and context (let’s not get into the things she muttered after the awful comment), she was just mortified that she had to talk to a service. I don’t know why. I don’t pretend to understand, but when she found out I was a lowly worker drone, she just couldn’t take it.
Look, up until that point, the caller was extremely nice, if a bit scatterbrained, and also gets the “grieving family get out of jail free” card. But two things here:
1. No, what I do is not awful. What I do makes sure you got to talk to a living, breathing human (now with action punch empathy!) at two o’clock in the morning. Not a voice mail box. Not a calling tree. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200. Go straight to person. Sometimes people are surprised when that happens, but it’s always a pleasant surprise and you know what? I enjoy that part of my job. I’m the filter between slightly scatterbrained family members who called not really knowing what they wanted and the directors.
But you know, filters can get worn out, which is why #2 is so degrading:
2. I am not this:
And I am definitely, most assuredly, no seriously please knock it the fuck off, NOT THIS:
I am a human being. Nothing gets you put on my shitlist faster than asking if I am an answering machine. If you can’t tell the difference between a person and a machine then Skynet can’t wipe out humanity fast enough because frankly, I can’t with you anymore. I can’t even English. That’s how mad that question makes me.
Damn those birds.
So to recap: Please never assume the person you’re talking to is a cyborg, unless they introduce themselves as Siri and even then it’s probably best to err on the side of them having a fully functioning organic heart, brain, nervous system, and other assorted squishy bits. We’ll love you for it! Thanks!
I think maybe I mentioned once or twice, in passing, that I was a mom. I have a 16 year old son (I mentioned my age before, and if you remember then yes, you can do the math and yes, yes I was that young). I don’t talk about my family much because my comfort zone doesn’t extend that far. But since we’re pushing comfort boundaries here, let me tell you internets, being a parent is an interesting experience. I’m not good at it. My kid is fantastic and I have no idea how he ended up that way, because it’s not me.
The Universe is a tricky bastard. I don’t think it’s out to get me and mine, per se, but it is having some fun experimenting at my expense. The dialogue goes something like this:
Universe: I see you are turning 18 and graduating from high school soon. I see also that you are taking birth control and antibiotics at the same time. Did you know that antibiotics can negate the effects of the pill? Oh, well that condom broke and you do now.
Universe: Motherhood is fun huh? Well here’s a new job that pays you $50 a week. Make it work!
Me: Yeah okay.
Universe: I see you made it. Good, good. Time to go back to school!
Me: Yeah okay, I’m on the deans list?
Universe: …Here. Have a husband.
Me: I like my husband!
Universe: Congratulations on finding a decent paying job in this struggling economy! You’re digging yourself out of debt and have a nice place to live! Everything is going smoothly! Your kid is doing well in school! By the way, he’s gay.
Me: I am almost guaranteed not to be a grandmother by accident! *happy party dance*
Universe: Right. Okay. You shrugged off everything else but how do you handle your kid questioning his gender identity?
Let’s stop there.
Look, every 16 year old on the planet has gone through a period where they’re figuring out who they are, who they like, what interests them, and what they want to do. So what’s going on here is a) normal and b) no big deal. What makes me angry is when the rest of the world tells him that it’s a) not normal and b) a big deal.
I don’t like watching my kiddo look down, stutter, twist his hands together and nervously admit that things don’t fit. Like he thinks he’s broken. Like he’s wrong. Like I’m going to get angry with him, even though he knows better. That sense of shame is not something my kid should ever be carrying around, and yet here we are.
And I am angry.
I can’t snap my fingers and make the rest of the world fall into line, but I can make sure my kid gets what he needs. So I spent the majority of my days off hunting down information because while I’m moderately more informed than average, I still had no idea where to even begin. When your kid asks to play on the computer when he’s in the dog house for bad grades, the obvious answer is no. When your kid asks to speak to a therapist to help him figure out who he is the answer is ohshitGoogle and you start making shot-in-the-dark calls.
And you have no idea how the person on the other end of the line is going to react, so you have no idea how to phrase things. You officially become the bulwark between the rest of the world and your kiddo because you’re mom and that’s your friggin job. I got a lot of blank uncomfortable silences when I asked about gender identity so I dropped the coyness and started straight up asking about kids who are possibly transgender (even though the kiddo isn’t sure he is at this point, it’s the word that got the most “Oh!” responses and then I got to back up and explain). Do you know anyone who works with kids in this group? Do you know anyone who would know anyone who would… etc etc.
And I live in a moderately rural area. The closest metropolitan area is Green Bay (yeah, metropolitan in the loosest sense of the word) and that’s about a four-five hour drive away. So the answer to the question, “Is there a therapist in the area who works with kids questioning their gender identity?” is a resounding nope. There are several councilors who work with kids who identify as gay/bi/lesbian, but gender-queries are an entirely separate thing that has nothing to do with one’s orientation. What I needed was someone who knew what questions to ask and who was experienced in this area.
Nope, nada, nyet, non, zilch, zero, go fuck yourself.
But pester enough people and dig deep enough and someone will eventually point you in the right direction, if for no other reason than to get rid of you. I was put in touch with a councilor from downstate who gave me some good direction, a list of medical tests to get done to rule out any sort of chemical/medical causes, and the name of a local doctor to call and get them done.
So I called and the doctor works for the university and therefore won’t see anyone who isn’t a student/faculty/staff or their families. Well bugger me then. Their suggestion was to call the behavioral health center at the hospital. They couldn’t handle medical requests (I don’t know) and said that the best thing to do was contact his regular pediatrician and get them to do the tests, which puts us back at square one. I should note, in case it’s not obvious, that my faith in humanity is pretty low, so it wasn’t without a little trepidation that I put in the call to the pediatrician. Like all my initial calls, I had no idea how they were going to react, and that made me put my guard up, just in case.
I was actually very impressed. After the initial blink blink, the receptionist put me over to the nurse who also had a very brief blink blink moment before shrugging and getting into the nitty gritty. She took the list of tests and the name and number of the councilor I spoke to so she could call and make sure they were getting the right labs ordered. Then she made sure we got an appointment with kiddo’s regular doctor. That was it. No judgement, very helpful, and after the initial brief confusion (which I can’t fault them for, honestly, because I’m a wreck at explaining things verbally), got down to business and got things done.
So until then we’re in hover mode. The appointment isn’t until January, so there’s time. After the initial rush, the kiddo’s fine with waiting, because things are actually happening. It’s just slow, which is life. Once we get the test results we’re on to phase two which is…
…You know what. I have no idea. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
There is no other phrase that I hear while working that makes me cringe quite as much. There are times it’s fine, but most of the “heads up!” calls amount to the caller waking someone up at three o’clock in the morning for no good reason. This is especially true if the deceased is at a facility with access to a morgue.
Most of the time when I get “heads up!” calls, it’s because the nurses will call before they even arrive at the home of the deceased. They want to save themselves some time because they don’t want to wait around for the removal people to show up. They’re trying to time it so that the removal people show up about fifteen minutes after the nurse does. To the best of my knowledge this is rarely, if ever, successful and is only really appropriate in the following situation:
That’s it, really. In that case, by all means, get the director up and moving. If, however, the director is local, or they’re using a local funeral home or removal service, then chances are you’re waking them up to say: “Hey I’m going to be calling you later about this one body that hasn’t even been pronounced yet.”
They can’t do anything in that case and, chances are, they’re just going to go back to bed, grumbling under their breath and calling you names. Many places I answer for have instructions in place that say if the body isn’t ready (and if it hasn’t been pronounced, it isn’t ready) that we don’t even bother calling it out until it is. The only exception to that rule is if the family wants to talk to a director, but if you’re not at the home, how do you know if they do or not?
A lot of the time I’ll hedge when I get these calls and say something like, “Well, I can take the information now and get it to the director, or we can hold off until you get to the home and everyone is ready…”
Every time. Without fail. The nurse will (obviously not thinking this through) have me wake up the director who will then growl, “Okay,” and go back to bed. I’m getting the impression that the nurse thinks the director doesn’t go back to bed, but I can assure you, when we get the second, “Okay ready now!” call, I’m waking them up again. I know this because just waking up people have a distinct, groggy tone in their voice and a tendency to go “Mrfff,” “Grphf,” and “Fffstphk.”
Any hospice nurse worth their weight in student loans should know that a body cannot be moved from the place of death until it has been pronounced. In fact, five seconds with Google will tell you the same thing. Guess what can’t be done if you’re not there to do it? Right.
I also notice that a lot of nurses who do this (call before even getting to the home) will just sort of assume that the body will be ready shortly after being pronounced. Never mind any family members that are coming from a ways away that want to view the body before the funeral home arrives. Never mind any religious or cultural concerns. Never mind a husband or wife who just wants to spend a few more hours with their dearly departed for whatever reason. Never mind actually bothering to ask the family any of that. Just come and get the stiff!
This often ends in several calls back and forth saying the body is ready, then it’s not, then it is, then it’s not. Trying to jump ahead in the queue often leads to things getting messed up and wires getting crossed. It’s unprofessional. It makes the director look unprofessional and it puts a couple extra bucks in our bank account because we charge for every call we take and every one we have to make.
…On second thought, go ahead and make all those calls. Momma needs a new Playstation.
Sorry about flaking on Friday. Last week was something of a busy and not very good week for me. Erk.
Anyway, I come to you this morning looking for some help! I read my escapist stuff sort of fast, so having finished Y: The Last Man I’m on the hunt for something new.
As for Y: The Last Man, I enjoyed it, actually. I only had two issues with it:
Evolution doesn’t work that way and shock! deaths always tick me off because there was absolutely no reason for the deaths that happened other than the author wanted to tug at the proverbial heart strings. It’s 99% of the reason I don’t really watch anything Joss Whedon puts out these days unless it’s been vetted to be Not Typical Joss, because it’s sort of pointless to get invested in his stories and characters because they’ll all just randomly die whenever Joss gets bored.
Why yes, I did find end of the Harry Potter series to be as satisfying as a cake made out of dirt, why do you ask?
Anyway, seriously, I could’ve taken any other explanation for the “plague” – anything! I’ll buy aliens, fairies, magic artifacts, A Wizard Did It – any bloody thing but pseudo-magic-science that they used. When you try to have a real world explanation for something that is obviously absurd, try to make sure it’s something that can actually happen or at least reasonably believable.
I’ve got the rest of Fables to catch up on, and a couple “new” series – Unwritten and Locke & Key – in the to-read pole. They’re all comics and I’m sort of comic-ed out at the moment. I’m slowly, painfully slogging my way through The Ultimate Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy and while it’s fun, I don’t remember it being this much of a chore the first time through. I’m eying Neil Gaiman’s new book but while I acknowledge that Gaiman is brilliant and ten times the writer I will ever be, the books themselves are hit or miss for me. I’m not quite up to paying almost thirteen bucks for a book that I might end up loving as much as American Gods, but could just as easily end up bored with it ala Stardust (confession: one of the few times in my life where I’ve enjoyed the movie more than the book eek).
So what I basically want, at this point, is fun, escapist easy read stuff that I can get through in a night (so anywhere from 200-300 pages) and after looking at this and this (or hey, even closer to my own genre: this) I’m totally open to suggestions because what the heck.
I’m sure some of those books are actually very good but does there exist a book in the urban fantasy/modern-ish supernatural genre that does not have on its cover a sultry white woman (matching white dude and his washboard abs optional)? Because they’re all appearing the same to me and that makes me sad because variety, spice of life, etc.
Here’s (essentially) what I’m lookin’ for:
The floor is now open to suggestions!
So there are few things more exciting than being able to sit down and think thoughts and then put a loudspeaker up to your mouth and shout them. There’s also nothing quite so terrifying because I am a firm believer in the rule that says “people in glass houses shouldn’t throw badgers” …or was it ducks? Anyway. Bear with me here, because I’m a little bit scared!
The Pull is an epic Urban Fantasy tale nearly two decades in the making. Part fantasy drama, part heroic action tale and part journey of self discovery, The Pull is an unrelenting roller-coaster of a novel that hooks the reader with mystery from page 1 and never lets go.
Nick wants to believe he is an ordinary nineteen year old boy. He wants to believe he’s nothing special; but the sword in his hand, the metal monster at his back and the Pull in his heart towards a mysterious and frightful destiny tell him otherwise.
There are things to love and things that I thought could’ve gone better. Obviously I liked the book or I wouldn’t be here, sitting at my computer after work, getting blinded by my screen because I keep forgetting to turn the brightness down.
Er, one sec.
…Okay, we’re good.
I want to get this out of the way before I dive into the meat of the story itself. This link is an article from Cracked.com writer David Wong (speaking of books people should read…). I’m linking the second page specifically because the point I really want to get to is in #1.
Specifically this part:
Right now I’m reading a book from mega-selling fantasy author George R. R. Martin. The following is a passage where he is writing from the point of view of a woman — always a tough thing for men to do. The girl is on her way to a key confrontation, and the narrator describes it thusly:
“When she went to the stables, she wore faded sandsilk pants and woven grass sandals. Her small breasts moved freely beneath a painted Dothraki vest …”
That’s written from the woman’s point of view. Yes, when a male writes a female, he assumes that she spends every moment thinking about the size of her breasts and what they are doing. “Janet walked her boobs across the city square. ‘I can see them staring at my boobs,’ she thought, boobily.” He assumes that women are thinking of themselves the same way we think of them.
I am a fan of George R.R. Winter Is Coming Martin. I’ve read the books. I cackled a couple weeks ago when the Red Wedding Happened and the internet exploded. At the end of season one I was rolling on the ground, schadenfreude coursing through my veins like heroin. But Wong has a point: we here in Estrogenville really don’t think like this in real life. I don’t raise a stink over it because this is something that I default into assuming I’m going to run into when a dude writes from a woman’s point of view. Women trying to write from a male point of view (HI!) run into similar things.
But you will not find that in this book.
The women are the most well rounded, beautifully flawed, wonderful characters in the book. The other trap that Rob White avoids is sticking one “strong” (and by strong we mean “sassy but at the end of the day still needs a man to save her” S’up Zombieland?) female character in amidst a sea of testosterone and calling it a
love interest day. We are given three women who couldn’t be more opposite each other if they tried. They are fleshed out and even though a love interest is a thing, apart from one throwaway comment about how sex probably doesn’t even cross Melissa’s radar, ye ole horizontal tango is never mentioned.
Spoilers for the book follow. If you’re okay with that, hit the jump and read on!
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