Monday, May 20, 2013

Deborah’s Excellent Nebula Awards Weekend Adventure Continues

Saturday did not begin auspiciously. The Nebula Awards hotel is in downtown San Jose, which is not noteworthy for the adequacy of its public parking. After visiting one full public lot after another and having various adventures which left the paint of my car considerably worse for wear, I surrendered to the inevitability of having to pay a significant fraction of the national debt in order to leave my car somewhere. However, with the sympathetic reception of my tale of aggravation, I determined to leave that particular episode safely ensconced in the past…at least until I have to get my car out of hock.

As a consequence, I caught only the last part of the SFWA Business Meeting, and I wouldn’t have been able to report on what transpired anyway, it being SFWA-Sekrit. However, during the discussion of pirate websites, a couple of points arose that bear repeating and are nonspecific enough that nobody is going to track me down for indiscretion. If your traditionally-published books appear on a pirate site, notify your publisher, who are, after all, adversely financially affected and often have the legal departments, etc., to deal with it. Also, some of these sites do not actually sell pirated copies of books – they are scams for collecting credit card numbers. This latter notion boggles the mind with its likelihood.

Fast forward through lunch and various conversations to the panel on Writing For Young Adults (with Leah Bobet, Sarah Beth Durst, Steven Gould, and E.C. Myers). Herewith my notes:
Don’t be boring (especially for kids). Write well if the subject matter is difficult, and make sure every element is there for a reason. This advice strikes me as being rue for all fiction.

E.C. and Steven were asked if they got any push-back for being male YA authors; the common perception is that YA assumes a female protagonist in the same way science fiction has in the past assumed a male protagonist. Writers have been told there is “no market for boy books with romance,” at which the audience snickered. 

Regarding how much information to convey, kids are used to gaps in understanding and trust that eventually these gaps will be filled in. This seems to be one of the differences between YA and adult fiction, as adults already have an accumulation of knowledge and are less tolerant of the unexplained. “Expository burden” is the accumulation of unexplained material that the reader has to “carry’ through the book; before you load more on, resolve some by Making it Clear.

If your book has something controversial, make sure it’s not in the first few pages of the book, since these are the ones parents are apt to scrutinize to determine whether their child may buy/read the book.

Categories (like the division between YA and adult lit) change over time.

One of the challenges in YA is “getting the parents out of the way” in order to give the kid protagonists agency. Healthy, intact families are rare and hence, present both difficulties and rewards.

Notes on Writing The Other (with Saladin Ahmed, Aliette de Bodard, Ken Liu, and Kim Stanley Robinson): Use primary sources whenever possible; be aware of the “thickness of filter” and immediacy that are often lacking in secondary sources. However, secondary sources can be valuable for providing context and explanation (i.e., of elements assumed/implied in primary sources).
If you’re writing about a literate (or oral but later recorded) culture, seek out poetry and memoirs as especially powerful portrayals. Find “a voice that’s not your own.”

Why is writing the other valuable – for the author? For the reader? Ken Liu pointed out that an outsider’s perspective can illuminate that of an insider, provided the power imbalances are not too great. Saladin Ahmed commented on the power of stories to counteract prevailing (hateful) stereotypes on an individual-reader, if not a broad societal level.

Aliette de Bodard discussed the dilemma of how much information to include. Overload leads to confusion vs “watering down a culture and selling it for parts.”

There is a tropism toward the fantastic and a desire for, not fear of, the other.

Ken Liu mentioned that class distinctions are important in the US but are not treated the same as race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.  Related to the commonly held belief that we are an upwardly-mobile society?

Age is an “otherness,” not only from other people but from ourselves.

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