Tuesday, January 24, 2012

On writing about women in terrible situations

                The status of women in fantasy books has long been discussed and debated on the internet, and I have followed the conversations, believing it to be an important issue to address. People have different opinions about how, exactly, to confront sexism and objectification in literature as a whole and particularly in fantasy, which tends to be set in the past, when women had fewer rights and privileges.

                Some say that since an author has the choice of worldbuilding, there is no reason for them not to choose to create a world in which women are equal. I see the argument for this, and the way of looking at literature through the eyes of a parent whose daughter will be reading. But I also see the argument that our responsibility is not to present an ideal future, but rather to show how humans deal with conditions that are less than perfect – and this may include sexism and worse.

                In my case I freely admit the worldbuilding happened without enough thought towards these issues. And now, going into the second book, I am faced with a world in which women are in a different class, and in which slaves exist. Combined, these two facts create a nightmare of a world for a young female slave, who is constantly frightened and on the guard against sexual attack.

                Some despise reading about women who are always victimized, who have no ability to change their circumstance or fight back. I agree. It is torturous. However, having introduced this darkness into the palace in book 1, I cannot gloss over it in book 2. I would be dishonest to make a rosier picture of the situation. It is a difficult thing to write about but a more difficult thing, I think, to ignore.

                In all books in which women are victimized – if that cannot be avoided – I think the important thing is to address it realistically. Though each woman (and all people) react to trauma in different ways, I think it’s safe to say that in most cases, they do not get up after an assault, walk around and feel fine after meeting some nicer people. I will not portray it that way. What I will do is help the character find a survival strategy.

                Now I have spent too long writing this and not long enough finishing book 2. I needed to get my thoughts out on the page because to dive back in is difficult. I can only aim to show abuse and subjugation for the terrible thing that it is, and to do that as honestly as possible without blinking. Having got myself into this situation, the only way out is through. Wish me (and her) luck.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Difficulty of Choosing 2011 Favorites

[Cross-posted from The Night Bazaar]

I’m Mazarkis Williams, one of Night Shade’s new voices and author of The Emperor’s Knife, a tale of courtly intrigue and insidious magic. While writing it, I hoped to end with the kind of book I like to read—one with decent prose, interesting characters, a solid world, and meaningful themes. It is up to my readers to decide whether I succeeded in those goals, but late one September night, after typing in my final sentence and feeling a rush of euphoria, I felt that I had.

Having set my criteria, I should find it simple to choose my favorite book of the past year. Instead I find it impossibly difficult. We all know that our reading preferences can be subjective, not only from person to person, but also within one’s self with changing moods and circumstance.  Only time can show us which books transcend, which books continue to appeal regardless of our changing experience.

In simpler terms, I can’t choose, not yet.

There are authors I learned from this year. Carol Berg surprised me with her authorial sleight-of-hand in The Spirit Lens and The Soul Mirror. Mark Lawrence wowed me with his elegant prose in Prince of Thorns. J.V. Jones continued her amazing worldbuilding with Watcher of the Dead, and in The Cloud Roads, Martha Wells built a whole new species out of words and imagination. To these things I aspire.

Debuts surprised me (and seem to have surprised everyone): Miserere, The Whitefire Crossing, Among Thieves, The Winds of Khalakovo. I got some books I’d been waiting for, and read them too fast and greedily: Wise Man’s Fear. A Dance with Dragons. 

Choose one?  I simply can’t. Whether I returned to old favorites or discovered new ones, I was always entertained. Transported. In love with the craft and skill I was able to perceive. Never once while reading did I think to myself, ‘This book is better than that one.’ Why would I? Once I found myself in the hands of skillful authors, I became immersed in the stories.

One thing does strike me about 2011. In 2010, I spent a lot of time leafing through Amazon’s reviews or googling bloggers’ ‘best of’ lists. I was having trouble finding a fantasy book that appealed to me, and beginning to worry there weren’t any good ones left.

A year later, I’m excited by and for the genre.  I have all these excellent books under my belt, more on the TBR pile, and the promise of even more to come. I am itching to read Daniel Abraham, Myke Cole, Elspeth Cooper, N. K. Jemisin, and Saladin Ahmed. In a way, I’m annoyed I have books to write as well as books to read. It’s a fine year to bury one’s nose in a kindle.

So I am not going to choose a favorite book of 2011. It’s too difficult, and I don’t see the point. Is it to help someone make a choice? If there is a person who was buying only one fantasy book this year, they already bought A Dance with Dragons. Certainly nobody is waiting on my advice.

I will offer this: go out there and explore the fantasy world. If you were discouraged before, you will not be. If you were hoping for something different, you will be satisfied. If you want to be thrilled, inspired, and transported, you will find what you were hoping for. There is only more good stuff coming your way in 2012. Get started.