Fandoms, Evolution, and Creative Collaboration

| Friday, April 26, 2013

Today's Tune: Graveyard's Full

I've been thinking about fandoms.

I've written about fandoms a lot in the past, but today I've been thinking about collaboration and art. I'm one of those sort of writers who feels like we have a responsibility over what we write as far as telling a good story and doing it responsibly and taking the heat for our own mistakes and missteps, but I also feel that once you release your story into the public, it's not 100% yours anymore.

That doesn't mean I believe in plagiarism or anything. It means that I think literature is malleable and that readers can pull different things from it, and authors who insist on telling people they're reading a story wrong and stating blow-by-blow that you HAVE TO READ IT THIS WAY are being... kind of dickish. I mean, if someone reads a subcontext of you blessing a secret society of lizard people to take over planet Earth and enslave humanity when you were mostly writing about people being cool to one another, that's weird and unfortunate. However, the human experience is varied, and people might see things in your writing that you never intended, but has meaning for them.

This can be a good thing, in the sense that they found a profound connection to your work. It can also be hard, like when they point out your blind spots and indicate that you're upholding a stereotype you never meant to convey. But that doesn't make them wrong.

This is where the collaboration of fandom comes in, and why I'm personally not opposed to fanfiction and fan communities. Because when a work resonates with an extensive community of people, it becomes a living thing. Those people add to it, breathe life into it, and make it so much more than it could ever be in the hands of one person alone.

Fandoms explore the strengths of the things they love, adding new insight to relationships and worldbuilding that a single author could likely never imagine alone. Likewise, they discuss the shortcomings at length and even create alternate universes where those shortcomings are explored and developed into something so much more. The collective fandom creates elaborate discourse about the economics of Harry Potter or the geography of The Hunger Games' Panem. They fill in gaps, elaborate on character motivation, and tell the backstory that didn't fit into the primary narrative. And that's pretty dang cool.

When an author creates a story that resonates with people for whatever reason, their creation becomes separate from them. It twines its way into the minds of readers and continues to grow. As in the real world, it has its strengths and its pitfalls, and people discuss both at length. The story continues to grow and change as the world does.

I think that's nothing short of amazing.

It's one more indicator that art and literature are ever-changing and evolving. One person may plant the seed of an incredible new world and begin to build it, but it doesn't end with them. More people take up the mantle and help it grow. Into new eras, new frames of thought, new universes. How incredible is that?

Unsanctioned collaboration, perhaps, but collaboration nonetheless. I'd be branded a liar if I didn't admit that some of the deepest and most insightful commentary about some of my favorite fandoms came not from the author, but from the readers who reacted to the story.

Stories are organic. They grow, and age, and change. And it's cool to be cool with that.

How do you guys think fandoms affect original work? For good or bad?

The Same Old Thing About the Importance of Empathy in Literature

| Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Today's Tune: I Was A Fool

I'm not generally super big on telling people how novels should be written, other than the obvious "you might want to brush up on basic grammar rules and story structure so you can convey your thoughts appropriately" advice. Generally speaking, though, I think that everyone's method for creating, writing, and structuring a story is largely dependent on how they work as a person. If it works for you, then it's what you should be doing.

That said, there are things I think everyone should at least consider while they write. Caring about how you portray your characters, and who you decide your characters are, is one of those things.

In YA, there's a lot of discussion about inclusion and representation. We have people who are passionate about calling out cover whitewashing, as well they should. Others actually sift through the data to discover what the real numbers are when it comes to diverse representation on YA covers. There are people who make points that they want to publish more diverse books, but people have to commit to buy them. We have long lists of GLBT YA fiction, and we're always pushing for more, because the current numbers aren't nearly representative enough.

There's a reason for this. It's because we're writing for young people, and we know that if we want to see real change in the world, we need to help the younger generation not only see themselves reflected in their media, but inspire those who are already incredibly well represented to empathize with people who aren't like them. How many times have we heard that white kids can't relate to brown kids on book covers? That boys can't possibly be expected to read "girl books?" That two boys kissing on a cover will upset straight kids, and they shouldn't have to see that?

Well, why not?

Why are we so insistent that people who refuse to even try to relate to someone who isn't just like them be catered to? I'm hardly the first person to point out that members of privileged classes tend to view any attempt at inclusion as an infringement on space they belong in. We saw a shining example of this recently in young white women who think being rejected from their first choice college means their "rightful spot" was given to a person of color because of Affirmative Action, because that's the obvious conclusion to jump to.

It's not news that women have been required out of necessity to "relate" to male characters over the years. It shouldn't be a surprise that people of color have had no other option but to "relate" to white characters. Members of the QUILTBAG community have had a smorgasbord of straight characters to "relate" to, and they've done so. So why is it that we keep upholding this idea that a character needs to look, act, and be just like you* in order to be relateable?

* "You" only applying if you're white, straight, abled, and/or male, of course.

This is why there's such a push in the YA community for inclusion. Because we need to start somewhere, and starting with brilliant and capable youth is a perfect place to begin. We know, science knows, everybody should know that reading books inspires empathy. This is important. This means the things we read stick with us and shape our minds and our perception of the world. This is where we start teaching people that they can see through another person's eyes, walk in their skin, and gain a glimmer of understanding of what it's like to be someone else for a little while.

This is why "reverse oppression" novels are usually so crass. Because instead of writing about the actual people who are currently struggling with oppression, some writers feel like they have to take the privileged class and put them in a distorted position of oppression in order to illicit that empathy. This is what happens when we keep nodding our heads and letting people get away with pretending it's impossible to relate to someone who isn't just like them. And doing that inspires the kind of myopic and self-centered vision that perpetuates all of these issues. When you are excessively represented in every media outlet you could possibly imagine, you can benefit from listening to someone else's story for a little while.

And this is why it's so important to think about who we're including in our novels, how they act, and what they do. Because novels can change minds. Literature can make us see what we couldn't before. And representation matters. Seeing other people matters. When you're a kid who feels like kids like you don't get to have grand adventures, it can mean the world to see yourself reflected in the pages, and reflected well. Not with the same stereotypes hurled at you on a daily basis, but with nuance and realism.

That stuff means everything.

Some Links for Sexual Assault Awareness Month

| Friday, April 12, 2013

Today's Tune: Young Volcanos (I had a link to the video, but they redid it and it ended up being super inappropriate for this post, so I removed the link)

Ugh, you guys, I feel like this blog is getting seriously neglected! I'm sorry! I've been working on a new project, and between that and work, I've been pretty burnt out as far as coming up with new blog-ish type stuff. I'm hoping to get back to updating at least once a week.

In the meantime, you can catch me over on Tumblr a lot, which requires much less length and thought process to update (most of the time). I have a YA Tumblr and a personal one, which you probably already know if you follow me on le Twitter because I update almost daily.

Also, April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, which is kind of a big deal to me. So here are some links.

Here is a post I wrote two years ago about how rape is not a plot point.

Here's a post Maggie Stiefvater recently wrote in which she also discusses literary rape.

Laurie Halse Anderson partnered with RAINN this month to create the #Speak4RAINN campaign. You can give any amount. Every $10 will help a survivor through the national hotline, and if you donate $75, you'll get a signed copy of Speak.

With all of the hugely national press lately about some truly horrendous rape cases and the rape culture that encourages them, this is still such an important issue. Our society needs to be able to have a dialogue about sexual violence and consent without it devolving into unbearably heinous displays of patriarchy and rape culture. We need to empower and educate our youth, ALL of our youth, about the role they can play in destroying rape culture.

It starts with us. Let's make sure it ends with them.

(I'll aim for a substantial post next week. Happy Friday!)

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