The Unintended Romance

trainstalking by davitydave, on Flickr

trainstalking (CC BY 2.0) by davitydave

While writing Deviants, there was one twist in the story that took me completely by surprise. It not only changed the story I was writing – it changed me, as well.

Deviants started out as a story about Simon, a young man who, after being cast out of the remote, rural commune where he grew up, moved to the slums of a city to seek his fortune. While searching for work, he meets Li, a young woman who grew up as a rich Elite. They work together until Simon has to risk everything to save his (estranged) childhood best friend, Jamie.

As a major subplot, I had planned for Simon and Li to develop a relationship that led to romance … but somehow it didn’t seem to work out that way. Li craved adventure and excitement, and didn’t want or need an exclusive relationship with one person. Most especially, she wouldn’t be interested in tying herself to my timid protagonist Simon, whose idea of a good time was sitting at home with his loved ones and not gallivanting around the solar system looking for the next adventure. They might become good friends, and Li might take him out of his shell a little bit while he might calm her down, but they were never going to be happy together as a couple.

Since I don’t like forcing relationships with characters that don’t really fit together (I’m looking at you, Ron and Hermione!), I removed the romantic element from the relationship. I continued writing, and started developing the backstory of Simon’s childhood and how he met Jamie – a refugee slave taken in by Simon’s rural commune.

As I developed the friendship between Simon and Jamie, there appeared some hints of something deeper between them. I hadn’t really given any thought to making my protagonist gay at that point, so it threw me for a loop at first. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go that route, and if I did, how I should continue. After a lot of soul-searching, I decided that the pull between the two characters was too strong to ignore, and I let them out of the closet.

Up until recently, I hadn’t read very many books with gay or lesbian protagonists in them. Particularly during my childhood and teen years, even though I was a voracious reader, I rarely came across a character who was homosexual or bisexual without being pathological or tragic in some way. There was some bisexuality going on in Heinlein’s books, but he usually portrayed same-sex relationships as “good clean fun but still lesser than heterosexual relationships.” Anne McCaffrey hinted at homosexuality among Dragonriders in her Pern books, but it was only a hint, only for male Dragonriders, and not really something that the characters chose themselves.

I did eventually discover The Last Herald Mage trilogy from Mercedes Lackey, and some of the books from Marion Zimmer Bradley. Here were at last major characters who were definitely, unabashedly gay, lesbian, and bisexual. It was like a revelation, even if many of the homosexual relationships were fraught with suffering and tragedy.

After deciding to let my main character out of the closet, I started doing some market research, and discovered that there is a large variety of LGBT literature out there today. It is easily available on Amazon and encompasses almost every genre from classic literature to police procedurals to erotic romance to science fiction and fantasy (as an aside, if you like fantasy I highly recommend Lynn Flewelling). There are not a few tragedies, but also HEA endings and stable, loving relationships. Today, it is possible to find many role models and examples of people in fiction and in our daily lives who are gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, and everything in between. People who are queer, but who are a part of society instead of being outcasts, and who find love and happiness and success instead of pain and tragedy and ruin.

Through this process, I have not only become a proud supporter of LGBT rights, but have discovered that I, too, reside in queer space. Recent developments in society have reminded me of the potential for the pendulum to swing back, so I hope to add to the growing collection of literature with happy gay and lesbian protagonists to tide us through any dark times that might be coming, so that we can make things get better again.

Being a refugee

There are a lot of white supremacists in the U.S. Not every white person is one, of course, and not every Trump voter or Republican is one, not by a long shot, but there are definitely a few of them out there, and some belong to organized groups that do recruitment, have weapons, and do “survival” training and that kind of thing. I have met American white supremacists before, and I found them creepy, scary, and disturbing, even though I am white. I am certain that people who are not white find them even more threatening and scary than I do.

If I lived in, say, Afghanistan, I would probably meet more radical islamic jihadists, and would feel the same way about them, but in the U.S. I think it’s safe to say that the white supremacists outnumber the radical islamic jihadists by a fairly large number.

White supremacists are not innocuous; they have engaged in significant terrorist activity over the years. In Europe, for instance, white supremacists were responsible for the deaths of millions of people, and have caused considerable terror in the U.S. with lynchings, cross-burnings, and worse over the years. There have also been more recent examples of white supremacist terrorism, in Quebec City, in Norway, in Germany, and in the U.S. Even today, people like Bannon and his Breitbart Media as well as Putin have been supporting far-right groups in Europe, fanning the flames, possibly with the goal of breaking up the EU. The side effect that stirring up these groups might cause some of their followers to commit violent acts – and they have. They tend to be against “the Government” – at least against established democratic government that allows everyone to vote.

Imagine what if …

one of these far-right white supremacist groups started a civil war in the U.S., maybe with support from the Russians or Chinese or both. If they were intent on destroying the government and taking over, they would attack some big U.S. cities in order to destabilize the country, making them unsafe to live in.

Now, imagine that you live in one of these cities under siege, with your family, with grandparents, parents, your siblings, and your children. Your children are afraid go to school, you can’t go to work, and even going to the grocery store risks your life if you run into a band of supremacists, or get caught between them and the remaining U.S. military or the militant left that sprung up to fight the white supremacists. You don’t care who is shooting at you, you don’t care about politics, you just want your family to be safe and live a normal life.

After your brother is killed while trying to find food, you decide to take your family out of the country and escape to somewhere else. The closest safe places are Mexico and Canada, and both countries are already so overrun by U.S. refugees that they have to house them in tents, and are reluctant to welcome more. Who could blame them? The refugees cause a great strain on their systems, and although they keep asking the rest of the world to share the burden, most countries are reluctant to do very much.

Adding to the resentment, Mexicans dislike Americans ever since the Wall was built, and Canada is not much better, you’ve heard, ever since some white supremacists groups based in the U.S. tried to take over the country. You know that whatever you decide, it will be miserable until you can get asylum somewhere else, but you don’t have much choice. You decide to chance Mexico because Canada can get pretty cold when you’re staying in a tent. So you and your family pack only the bare necessities, sell everything you can so have some cash for the trip, and make the dangerous journey to Mexico, dodging white supremacist strongholds and paying a coyote a big chunk of your cash to get you all over the Wall.

Once you are in Mexico, you and your family are detained in a camp with inadequate sanitation and little privacy while you wait for your family to be vetted and granted asylum somewhere. Some of the guards are compassionate, but others mistreat you for no other reason than being white. Still, at least you aren’t dodging bullets every day, so it’s an improvement and you are grateful to be alive.

You stay in the camp for many months, and finally, after more than a year of waiting, you are granted asylum in India, which has been known in recent years for welcoming immigrants and refugees to help with their economic expansion even though the recently voted President seems anti-white and promised during his campaign to ban white people from entering the country. You don’t really believe this will happen, since politicians from his party often use such rhetoric in their campaigns without acting on it. You pack up the little you have left, buy plane tickets for your family with the last of your cash, which you miraculously managed to hang on to, and go to the airport, excited and thrilled to be able to start a new life at last.

Just as you are about to board the plane, you are taken out of the line and told that you are not allowed to travel. Why? Well, India has suddenly decided to ban all travel from the U.S., citing national security concerns. You don’t understand; white supremacists have been more active in Europe lately, attacking targets in North Africa, but none of those attackers were Americans. The new president is simply making good on his campaign promise. They may eventually let some U.S. refugees in again, but non-whites and especially Asians will have preference, since they are more at risk from the white supremacists.

In the past, refugees like you would have been somewhat protected by international treaties such as the Geneva Refugee Conventions, but ever since the U.S. chose to withdraw from international cooperation in the first half of the 21st century, ignoring treaties and conventions, the leadership role in international relations ended up going to the Chinese and Russians. Without some of its strongest champions – for Europe and England fell to the white supremacists just like the U.S. did – the cause of human rights has become a footnote to history.

Imagine how you would feel if that happened to you. How do you feel about the refugee ban now?

George Orwell in 2017

1984-2017

From Amazon.com, January 25 2017 11:45 CET

I was overjoyed yesterday to read an article in the Guardian about the surge in sales of George Orwell’s 1984, probably due to frequent mentions in social media and the press the last few daysAt the time the article was written, Orwell’s masterpiece from 1948 had reached sixth place in the bestseller lists at Amazon, and today it hit the number one spot.

Part of my pleasure comes from the fact that I am writing a dystopian novel, and this development gives me hope that the genre is still alive and well …but I also find it incredibly heartening to know that so many people are willing take the effort to read the book for themselves and form their own opinion about this work of classic literature.

I hope that some of the folks new to the genre continue their journey and seek out some of the other classic dystopian works, such as Brave New World by Aldous Huxley,  We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. One of my personal favorites is the short story “The Machine Stops” by E.M. Forster (which you can read for free online or download as pdf or epub from Goodreads ), written in 1909 and in many ways eerily prescient about the changes to modern culture and our daily lives due to technological advance.

One thing that Orwell and many other dystopian novelists missed is that subjugation to authority doesn’t necessarily have to be forced by the state, because we step into the trap willingly. How many of us have willingly given up our privacy to corporations in the name of convenience? Apple or Google or Microsoft can track our movements, know all of our families and friends, and know what we search for on the internet. Big brother is watching us, indeed, and unlike a nominally democratic government, corporations are by their very nature authoritarian.

As for news and the manipulation of truth … I was visiting family in the U.S. right before the Iraq war, and I was amazed how willing people on both sides of the political spectrum were to believe the “official” line, and quash any dissidence. What struck me the most at that time was that the censorship came not from the government, but from the people themselves, all in the interests of “unity”. So despite sanctimonious calls to unity and peace, just remember that dissidence can be a good thing, no matter which side you might be on.

Finished first draft!

I managed to finish my first draft of Amazon’s Apprentice, so I’m going to put it aside for a couple of months to concentrate on the rewrite and revision of Deviants. During my first read-through of Deviants, I’ve discovered that there are way too many threads, themes and characters in the story as it stands (what happens when you take 2 years instead of two months to write a book!). I think I’ve managed to get my story outline trimmed down to its essentials, which I’ll be using in the rewrite.

Anthropology for fun and profit

warrior woman

Image: warrior woman (CC BY 2.0) by Anne-Lise Heinrichs

Back when I was deciding on a major, I inexplicably eschewed sensible majors such as Computer Science in favor of the endlessly fascinating but less useful Anthropology. I returned to computers long ago, and thought I’d never have a use for my Anthropological studies again. However, I’ve found lately that Anthropology is actually very useful for a writer of speculative fiction, because it really helps with world-building.

One aspect of Anthropology is the study of  how cultures are shaped by and shape their environments. There are so many things that we take for granted, and assume are the “natural” way of things because we grew up with them, but are not necessarily universal human traits. This is helpful to know when designing cultures in a completely new world.

In the world of The Amazon’s Apprentice, magic plays an important role in daily life, and women are stronger than men because they can use magic more effectively. Anthropology helps me figure out what their societies and cultures might look like, because there are physical differences between the sexes that would make them different than being simply a mirror of our own.

For instance, woman are both more affected by and more in control of pregnancy and childbirth than men, unless her culture or circumstances remove that power. If women are in control of society and its institutions, the whole concept of family and marriage is probably going to be very different than what we know. Unlike a man, a woman doesn’t have to worry that her child is not her own, so the necessity of keeping her mate(s) under sexual control diminishes unless there is another compelling reason to do so. In my world, there are some reasons why a woman might want to bind a mate, but they are not as compelling as in our world so the institution of marriage does not have the same importance.

NaNoWriMo

nanowrimo_2016_webbanner_winner

This year I tried my first NaNoWriMo. I went into it with some skepticism, and didn’t really expect to reach 50,000 words, but to my surprise I finished with an almost complete first draft of a Fantasy novel.

Doing NaNo helped me conquer one of my major problems: I have a tendency to get stuck in an endless cycle of revision. I’ll write a chapter, revise, write another chapter, revise both, and so on and so forth until I get to the middle and have no clue what direction I want to go. Having a set goal for the month really helped me get out of my rut. I managed to write more of my NaNoWriMo book in 30 days than I achieved through more than two years of slogging through my other project.

I’m not really good at thinking up titles. I’m calling my NaNoWriMo project  “The Amazon’s Apprentice”  for now – the book doesn’t have any real Amazons in it, but it is based on a society where women have the power and men are their chattel. We’ll see if I can come up with a better title during revision.

I have a few more scenes to write to flesh out the story, and I’m hoping  to finish by the end of December and have a first draft to put through revision. After I do some revision I’ll go back to my Science Fiction project, and hopefully I’ll be able to take a fresher approach with it.