Archive for January, 2006

Still Feeling Down

January 31, 2006

If I don’t cut it out, this is going to start sounding like Simon’s journal… (ha. No offense, dude).

Trying to work on rewrite of fantasy saga today. Haven’t been sleeping well all week, and the last two nights I’ve had horrible leg cramps that have literally woken me up from a sound sleep 3-4 times during the night. My credit card balance looks like the GNP of a small South American country (ah, healthcare costs and retail therapy. Wheee!). Still swinging on the relationship rope, not sure what to do, not sure what I want. Really burned out at work.

There are all these big decisions to make that make HUGE differences in the next large chunk of my life, and I really don’t want to make them. I want to run away and join the Peace Corps or something.

Alternatively, I’d just like to write books and buy a beach house with a lot of land and a stream and put books in it. In the house, I mean. Not the stream. Or the beach.

I think I’m just tired.

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My Home State Passes Gay Rights Bill

January 31, 2006

And conservatives are already freaking out and trying to overturn it.

What’s this frightening bill all about? What “special rights” does it “give” to these troublesome gay people?

It’s the addition of two words to an already existing state law:

State law bans discrimination based on race, sex, religion, marital status, disability and other categories. The bill, which takes effect 90 days after adjournment, adds sexual orientation to that list.

Yea, let’s overturn that bill and bring back lawful bigotry! Fucking Washingtonians! What were you thinking with all this “banning discrimination” nonsense? Do you think you live in a free country or something?

"I Know Lesbians, and Lesbians Don’t Act Like This": Or, I Don’t Speak for all the Mostly Straight White Girls in America Who Eat Apple Pie

January 31, 2006

I went through Cheney’s links about “Writing the Other” and read over Pam’s essay on The Infinite Matrix on the whitewashing of SF and the “SF Media”‘s responsibility to engage with these sorts of issues (I’d argue that blogs and message boards *are* SF/F’s media, such as it is, but that’s a debate for another day).

What I read were stories like this one of non-people-of-color writers who had gotten the smack-down for writing characters whose skin color or gender was different from theirs. I’m wondering how many black writers get banged around for writing white characters? Or gay writers get harragued about writing straight characters? I didn’t see anybody harping on Michael Cunningham for “not getting the Straight Experience right” in his novel Flesh & Blood.

I ha-ha-ed these poor Clarion writers until I remembered an incident in my own Clarion class a few years ago.

One of our older (male, straight) classmates wrote a story with a lesbian character in it. When it came around to another (male, bisexual) classmate’s turn to critique the story, he proclaimed, “I know a lot of lesbians, and lesbians don’t act like this.”

There was a stunned silence. I looked at the story in front of me again. I knew some lesbians, too, and I could certainly see them “acting like this” (I believe the issue was that the woman was aggressive or too smart or something. And I had worked with a woman who was very similiar in temperment – she’d smash you up on her way to the top of the heap – and also happened to be a lesbian). For the record, the lesbians in the room seemed pretty confused by this utterance of absolute fact as well.

“Lesbians don’t act like this.”

How did he know? Well, he had a lot of lesbian friends, and because his lesbian friends didn’t act like that, no lesbians acted like that. There was only one Lesbian Experience.

It’s the old, “But I have black friends!” argument. So all of your characters are limited by the handful of personalities you see in your friends of color? If I only wrote about the personalities I saw in my friends’ group, I wouldn’t be able to write about asshole misogynists or, hell, blade-wielding brown women.

The tension in the classroom was cut when we got around to my buddy Patrick, who ended his critique of the same story with, “You know, I have some problems with your male main character. I know a lot of straight people, and straight people don’t act like this.”

It was awesome.

I haven’t written any books containing an all-white or even majority-white cast since Clarion. In fact, since Clarion most of my stories are full of brown and black people. My next stand-alone novel features an entirely black-skinned cast. In the world I’m building, that makes the most sense. Putting white people on that world would be like putting white people in Austrailia – watch your rate of skin cancer increase. I also want the root of these cultures in this new world to be southern Africa, with some North African influence. That’s going to mean a LOT of research.

I also haven’t written a book peopled entirely by straight characters since Clarion.

Why the sudden switch post-Clarion?

Well, I realized how much more interesting my fiction was when it wasn’t white-washed and straight. And I realized the world wasn’t white and straight, either.

I grew up in a little town, 98% white. Our “diversity” was a diversity of religion. Apostolic Lutherans, regular Lutherans, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics – you name it, we had it. I grew up next to a family of Apostolic Lutherans – known derogatorily around town as “bun heads” because the women kept their hair long and usually up in a bun – whose social mores encouraged both women and men to marry as young as 16. They would then drop out of high school and their families would help them build their own house. The men were encouraged to get jobs where they worked with their hands – constructions jobs like carpetry, drywalling, pouring concrete, etc. Contraception was taboo. Families of 13-18 children weren’t uncommon. They often married their 2nd or 3rd cousins, and primarily hung out with other people of their faith, and yes, even though they were “white,” you could spot a “bun head” from twenty feet away. Hanging out with the girls from those families, well, let’s say we all had very, very different views of what constituted a fulfilled life. And talking to them was really fascinating. I’ve never been a person of absolute faith in much of anything, and being able to talk to people who were – who really believed this was the best way to be – taught me a lot.

In high school, because I was involved in theater, it actually took me two hands to count the number of people I knew who were gay. That may not seem like a lot to people from a big city, but in a little town, that’s a good number. And high school kids in theater talk a lot about sex, so throwing out a question to one of the gay guys, “So, being gay, how does that work?” when I was fourteen was pretty illuminating.

Throw on top of that the fact that I’ve been interested in race relations for most of my life, and it’s constituted most of my academic work. I lived in South Africa for a year and a half. I don’t know what it’s like to have black skin, but I know what it’s like to be the only white person on the bus, in the hall; the only white person on the street for as far as I can see. And I remember coming back to the States and sitting in the airport in Minneapolis waiting for my connecting flight and feeling like there was something really *wrong* about the airport, something really *off.* It took me a good ten minutes to realize what was bugging me:

Everbody was white.

I’d gotten so used to being a minority in a sea of dark faces that I felt physically “off” when I wasn’t.

So I’ve read widely, talked to people who are very different from me, and even if I’ll never “get it” that’s OK – I’d rather “get it wrong” and have somebody go, “Uh, you realize you just did this racist thing, right?” than not do it at all.

Because I understand how important it is to see yourself in fiction, in media. I grew up seeing images of women who spent all their time shopping and gossiping about boys and playing with makeup. I saw women who were small and thin and had huge breasts like Barbie dolls. And for years I tried to conform to that ideal. I thought there was something wrong with me. I thought I needed to spend my time vying for male attention so I could be a “real girl.” What I desperately needed was to see a big, strong, smart woman like me who could go out and write books and take kick boxing classes and be smart and still get laid if she wanted to. I woke up one day and thought, “It’s not me that’s all wrong. It’s the society. Fuck this.”

Jenn told me that after the first time she watched the Buffy episode where Willow and Tara get together, she was floating around for days on a wave of happiness.

It’s so fucking cool to see the possible.

The first book I remember reading that broke down all of the cultural assumptions I’d been fed about women was Tamora’s Pierce’s book, Alanna. It blew me away. I think I was 10 or so.

For years I’d soaked up media that told women were all weaker (physically and mentally) than men (my parents thought otherwise, but I was very steeped in media as a kid). I was told women didn’t fight in wars. They couldn’t. They were weak and inclined to stay home and raise babies and clean the house. Staying home and raising babies might be a lifelong aspiration for some men and women, but it wasn’t for me. And yet the options I saw weren’t that great. If I was too smart, headstrong, and successful, I’d never get laid and I’d be socially ostracized (“Why aren’t you married yet?” “Why don’t you have a good man?” “Sorry, we’re only inviting couples”).

And here was this other 10-year-old girl who decided to say “fuck you,” and dressed up as a boy and went through knight training. And you know what? She was good at it. She wasn’t the best – she excelled at some things and not others. She wasn’t perfect, afterall. But she held her own with the boys and became a knight and even got two or three boyfriends in the process. She did what she wanted to do and wasn’t socially outcast for it.

Stories are important.

I want to see myself.

Jenn and I got into a series of conversations about the lack of good/happy lesbian films available at our local Hollywood Video, which morphed into a talk about good books with lesbians characters, and the ghettoizing of “gay/lesbian/black” fiction sections at Borders (Neither Sarah Waters nor Nicola Griffith’s books are in the “gay/lesbian lit” section. Why is that? Cause they’re good books?). And it reminded me again of the importance of being able to “see” yourself in fiction, in media. So much of what we’re fed is blatanly directed at a straight white male audience that you can feel the walls closing in while enormous breasts jiggle at you on the screen. You feel like something’s wrong with you.

I’ve been dying to see for big, strong, intimidating female heroines my whole life (Xena was just too cheesy a show for me at the time). However funny the idea of Buffy being a tiny girl without muscles was, she was still a tiny girl without muscles, as was River in Serenity. Not that little women can’t be buff – my 115 lb, 5’3 former martial arts instructer would kick my ass for saying that – but she was *buff.* And you could *tell* she could kick your ass.

I’m tired of little-girl heroines who are supposed to be super-scary, but aren’t. Because if they really were, guys wouldn’t find them attractive or something, they’d be intimidated, and wouldn’t watch movies or read books with characters in them who could kick their ass. There’s a swath of fantasy over it – sure, yea, ha, she’s a superhero, but in real life, I could crack her in half.

So I know something about wanting to see something that isn’t there.

It’s why I write what I do.

You write because you go out and look for something and don’t find it. Somebody has to write it. Why not you?

There’s a reason I love Russ and Griffith, but there’s not enough to go around.

I would rather write a story about a big butch black lesbian woman who was 6’3 220 lbs and get a bunch of pissed-off letters from black lesbian women who told me where I fucked up than write about a little straight white woman whose “intimate” scenes with male lovers describe her as “child-like” and perpetuate the white-washed SF/F world.

When I write, I try to be aware of what I’m doing. I recognize that I’ve got a character in God’s War who might be seen as “The Magical Negro.” I personally don’t think he is (and there are other black characters in the book, of course, and pretty much everyone else is brown), and I just killed off my gay male character knowing full well I’d just sacrificed The Gay Male Character (though there are lots of other gay people in the book). But you know, first and foremost, to me, he was a person. Which means that’s how I write all of my characters: person first. And then he’s also a half-breed gay guy with really good organic tech skills and an interest in Nasheenian politics. I’m a person too. I can relate. The rest I have to come up with through lots of talking and research, and imagining.

I’m a fantasy writer. That’s what I do. You know, imagination and extrapolation?

If I can create whole worlds in my head but can’t write a heavily-pigmented character, what kind of fantasy writer am I?

Nobody blinks when a woman writes from a male POV. That’s just expected. Even men write female characters all of the time (who do you think writes 90% of those Hollywood scripts?). Some of them do it badly, yes. And I’ll rant about it when they do. But would I rather get the opportunity to critique something badly done or just have 90% of all movies without any women in them at all? Better yet, why don’t *I* start writing Hollywood scripts that kick ass like Girlfight? (now there’s a woman I believe could kick my ass).

The trick is to be aware of what you’re doing. If you know what you’re doing but want to do it anyway, go for it. But know what you’re getting into and how some people might read it.

To tell the truth, I *like* writing about race and race relations. There aren’t any strange creatures in any of my fantasy books. There are culture wars. It so happens that one of the markers of race in my books is, indeed, skin color. I’ve got POVs in the fantasy saga from two white people (one male, one female, both “mostly” straight), one straight brown guy, one half-breed bisexual woman who can sometimes “pass” for white, and one black lesbian (I’ve taken out the brown gay guy POV and replaced it with hers for pacing reasons). There are also other markers: height, religion & other belief systems, eye and hair color and styles, facial features (and amount of facial hair and styles of such), clothing, transportation, mythology systems, diet (taboo foods, habits), fighting styles, and etc.

It ain’t all about color. Color’s often just the easiest to spot.

And, of course, I’m reminded in all of this that I *am* “The Other” in some circles. In business meetings. On conference calls.

As K once said to me, “You know you’re in trouble when you’re the Diversity in the room.”

Just like an Other, I’m not writing about All Women any more than I’m writing about All White people (when they make an appearance). I couldn’t imagine anyone assuming I was.

Like Duncan said:

Being gay is a similarly “othering” attribute to give a character, but you know what? When I write a gay character I’m not writing about the Other. I’m gay and I ain’t no Other, thank you very much. So I’m not writing, as if for the edification of some heterosexual reader, about Gays! or Gayness!, Gay! life, Gay! culture, Gay! identity, like there’s some great universal experience all us Gays! share in our day-to-day, Gay!-to-Gay! existence. I’m not waving the rainbow flag and standing up as spokesmen for the Gay! cause, for all my Gay! comrades-in-arms. I’m writing about a fukcing character, a gay character, this specific gay character, their life, their culture, their identity, their personal experience… The idea that by making a character black and/or gay you must therefore be talking about “the black and/or gay experience” is, not to put too fine a point on it, utter bollocks.

And when I write about a character of color, or a gay character, I sure ain’t pretending to speak for “all people of color” or “all gays” anymore than I’m speaking for “all white people” or “all women” when I write white or female characters. It’s absurd to think I would be.

I write books I want to read. They deal with my pet themes: war and gender – which includes feminism and definitions of masculinity – race and race relations, genocide, sexuality, ways of constructing families and extended kin groups and sexual relationships.

And if you think only white people deal with that kind of stuff, you’re cutting off a huge range of experiences from which to draw from. And you’re Othering a whole nother generation of readers by telling them that they don’t exist, that the future’s only for the straight white people, that only straight white people dream that things can be really different.

The Top 100

January 31, 2006

The top 100 best lines in lit.

Though I’d call them the “most popular” as opposed to “the best.”

One of my favorites comes from a genre book:

“My mother was the village whore, and I loved her very much.”

Target Pharmacist Fired For Not Doing Job

January 30, 2006

Imagine being fired for not doing your job!

It only took them five years!

Tomorrow morning, I’m telling my boss I can’t use computer equipment because of my personal aversion to things that use electricty. Let’s see how many years I can keep the paychecks coming.

My favorite part of the article?

Target declined to provide comment Thursday. But Williams emphasized that she was blaming Planned Parenthood — not Target — for her predicament. She cites Planned Parenthood’s heightened national campaign to persuade major pharmacy chains such as Target to agree to fill emergency contraception.

Those fucking baby killers and their “educational” campaigns! The nation shouldn’t be “educated”! Then people who don’t do their jobs might be fired!

Oh, the insanity!

Now You Need to Enforce It

January 30, 2006

Liberia’s new rape law:

The new law… broadens the definition of rape to included “penetration by any foreign object not just a penis.” Anyone under 18 is “automatically deemed not to have given consent”. Gang rape carries a penalty of life imprisonment.

I’m concerned a tad about the under 18s automatically not being allowed to give consent, but I’m uncertain as to the context. Is that only if she comes forward with a rape charge? What if her family does?

Otherwise, great. Now I hope she makes it safer for women to come forward.

Recovery Weekend

January 30, 2006

Spent the weekend feeling like I’d survived a big, brutal fistfight.

Drank a lot of orange juice. Rearranged my room. Doing some re-filing/organizing because I’ve got to many projects going. Went to see “Brokeback Mountain” with Jenn (it’s good, and I understand why it had to be Another Gay Tragedy movie, but still), ate some good food, did some line edits.

I’m still sleeping like shit, but I did have my first beer in months, and let me tell you it tasted good….

The Culprit is Revealed

January 30, 2006

The guy using the women’s restroom here at the office and leaving behind puddles of urine and raised toilet-seats in his wake has been apprehended.

One of the women here in the office (not me) put the smack-down on him.

No more urine on my shoes. Yay!

I get enough of that bullshit on the train.

You may now return to your regularly scheduled programming.

The Dragon’s Wall: Excerpt

January 27, 2006

Edits have finally begun. Should be making the rounds again by October, though if I could swing it this summer, that would be great.

_____________________________

Thirty-Six: The Cats

Zezili pulled back the sheet covering the body, still half-hoping the face would not be one she knew. The sheet stuck to the lips. Zezili tugged it free and saw the empty sockets of the bloodied eyes, the sharp cheekbones, the aquiline nose, the frosty face of eight hundred years of Dhorinian queens.

Zezili looked into the face of the last of them.

“He took her cat eyes,” Zezili said. “Tell me you have him.”

Sir Janvier stood next to her, her cropped brown curls squashed under a woolen cap. She kept her helm under one arm.

The body lay at the back of the inn’s big kennel atop a makeshift table. The cold room stank of dogs and red grass.

“We picked up tracks going south,” Janvier said. Her voice was raw, husky. “A dog, probably carrying two, and a set of footprints. Following them.”

Janvier did not say it, and Zezili would not. Not aloud. King Nathin, whore’s get of the south, had slipped a man into the queen’s circle.

Nathin of Lendynd, self-styled king of savages.

Janvier shifted her feet, wiped at the blunt mash of her nose. She opened her mouth, closed it again. There was another question to be asked, and she would not ask it.

Zezili jerked the sheet back over the corpse. She palmed her own helm lying on the table. She pulled it over her head, fastened the strap at the chin.

“I’m going to Daorian,” she said. She had already sent a runner, likely sent her into death, bearing news such as this, but that’s what dajians were for.

“Sir,” Janvier said.

“I’ll ask her to give you first of the legion,” Zezili said. “I’m serving her my head.”

“On a platter?” Janvier said.

“Silver,” Zezili said. “Is there another kind?”

Zezili went back out to where her big dog Dakar was kenneled. His shoulder was as tall as hers. She hefted the saddle from the pen bar, buckled it over Dakar’s shoulders, cinched it at the chest.

Janvier still stood behind her, motionless at the kennel gate. Zezili pulled herself up onto Dakar and regarded her Second.

“Anything else?” Zezili asked.

Janvier shook her head.

“Then get out of the way,” Zezili said. She kneed Dakar forward.

Daorian was a five day ride, but the snow was light, the roads clear, and way-houses Zezili stayed at were old haunts. She had failed the Queen of Dhorin. She had let the heir to Dhorin die. There was no other fate, no other path, and she went willingly. It would be a gift to take death at the hand of the Queen.

By the time Zezili reached the outer sprawl of Daorian, the city was already wreathed in red, the color of mourning. Great red banners flanked the tower gates, the spires of the distant keep. The city people had put out red kerchiefs in their windows, hung them from the snow-heavy awnings of their shops.

Zezili wound her way to the keep. She had left it over three months before with a dozen of the royal guard. She returned alone. She enjoyed the silence.

People knew her by her armor, the plaited skirt knotted with the hair of dajians and outer-islanders, the image of Rhea holding a sword over a dead dragon etched into the breastplate, outlined in flaking silver. Her helm had no plume, ended instead in a curve of metal like a snake’s tail. Her dog’s scars, the bulk of him, told all who she was as clearly as her dress, and the people came out to see her, muttered about her on their doorsteps, pointed. Some saw her and hid. Two old women made a ward against evil as she passed. It told Zezili something of the Queen’s silent ambiguity regarding her station that they did not spit at Zezili or curse her. The Queen had yet to post judgment.

The city waited.

Zezili brought Dakar up onto the hill of the keep overlooking the harbor, the black water rimmed in dirty snow.

Zezili whistled Dakar to a halt in the courtyard. A kennel girl darted out from the warmth of the kennels, took the reins of Zezili’s dog without looking Zezili in the face.

Zezili paused. She reached up a hand to Dakar’s ears and rubbed at the base of them. She pressed her cheek to his. The dog licked at her face with his hot tongue. She pulled away only to find that she had gripped the hair of his collar in both hands. She slowly uncurled her fingers. She turned away, walked up the loop of the outdoor stair and into the foyer of the hold. She met with the Queen’s public minister, a fat woman with the fey, beautiful face of a clean-shaven mardana man. Zezili could never remember her name.

“She’s been expecting you,” the minister said.

A little dajian ran ahead to announce Zezili. Zezili went to the long hall outside the queen’s audience chamber.

The dajian slipped back out the door, gripped the outer handle and leaned back with all her weight so she could pull it wide.

Zezili squared her shoulders. She concentrated on the length of purple carpet, but could not help but see the willowy length of the queen at the other end of the room, two red banners framing her silver throne. The figures moving at the edges of the room were not her officials, but her cats.

The sight of them sent a prickling up Zezili’s spine. The Queen’s cats were as tall as Zezili’s shoulder, sleek and black, with the queen’s eyes; they moved the way she did. They paced the length of the cold chamber.

Zezili walked onto the carpet. The dajian closed the massive door. Zezili still did not look at the queen. She walked to within a yard of the cusp of the Queen’s belled white gown, stared at the hem, and got down on both knees before her. She took off her helm, set it beside her.

The cats wound closer. A dozen, more? She imagined them chewing on her body, saw claws rent flesh.

She bowed her head forward, reached up to the tangled hair tied at the nape of her neck, brought it forward over one shoulder. She knelt with her neck bared and kept silent. One of the big cats yawned and stretched, lolled down beside her. Its tail caressed her legs, brushed the back of her head.

The Queen moved. A delicate hand alighted on the base of Zezili’s neck. The fingers were cold.

“I charged you,” the Queen said, her voice like a sigh.

Zezili trembled.

“The most important of my possessions,” the Queen said, and her fingers dug into Zezili’s hair.

“I failed,” Zezili said, and the words came out garbled. But the queen did not need her words to understand.

“Yes,” the Queen said. She released her hold on Zezili’s hair, smoothed it back into place, petted her absently.

“And the assassin?” the Queen asked.

“Her consort. The Thordon bauble,” Zezili said. “I didn’t watch him well enough. It is my head. My head and those of my house, if you will take them.”

“Yes,” the Queen murmured. She took her hand away, walked back around Zezili to the cat lolling next to Zezili. The Queen held out her hand. The cat licked it.

“Thordon,” the queen said.

One of the cats hissed.

“I tire long of Thordon.” The Queen stepped up onto the dais. She stepped back into the long curve of her silver throne, the fantastic menagerie of beaten silver rods and spires twisted into the faces of Delaraan demons. The first queen had had their faces set with emerald eyes.

“You have left me one child,” the Queen said. “You have left me the boy. These foolish choices are yours as well as mine.” And then, lower, to herself, to the cats, “I let the boy live.”

“Look at me,” the Queen said.

Zezili raised her eyes from the carpet. She did not know what she expected to see in the Queen’s face, but looking up she saw an unchanged visage, the face of the corpse in the kennels, unmarked by feeling; grief or fear or anger. The Queen was, as ever, a blank canvas, powdered in white, with the long, regal neck and supple form of her kind, the startling eyes.

“What are you doing this spring?” the Queen said.

Zezili could not speak. She looked for words, searched the floor, the carpet, let her gaze linger on the cats. She remembered Sir Kakolyn’s letter about the purging of the Drakish camps, remembered the last time she had knelt before the Queen, swore to cut out her own heart.

“Purging Drakes,” Zezili said, “if that’s your will.”

“I’ve changed my mind,” the Queen said.

Zezili kept her mouth shut.

“I don’t mind speaking,” the Queen said. “I was to take your head, yes, as you offered it to me. I have a platter, here.” She tapped the silver throne. “But my cats are not hungry.”

Zezili looked at the cats lolling about the audience chamber. They stared back at her with the Queen’s eyes.

“There is another use for you,” the Queen said.

Zezili shook her head. “My Queen –“

“I have told you.” She nodded at the cats. “They are not hungry. Another day? Until that time, I have changed my mind.”

“Your mind?”

“There are Drakish camps, yes. Kakolyn and Orianlyn will clean it. I have some… insects there. They need to be purged. But after, I have a task for you, one your death will not sully.”

Zezili bowed her head.

“You and Storm will go south.”

Zezili brought her head back up. “South?”

“Thordon,” the Queen said. “I want him. I want his country. I want it burned and routed, raped and maimed and mutilated. I want them scattered and twisted. And it is his head you will bring to me. On a platter, no less.”

“Pardon, my Queen, with only two legions?”

“Three. You will have Tanasai’s. I have contacted her.”

Zezili took a breath. Tanasai was dead, packed in snow in the storage house of Zezili’s estate. She tried to think of other things, but the Queen’s gaze had become keen.

“Or will I need to?” the Queen asked.

Zezili gritted her teeth.

“No,” the queen said softly, and her eyes never left Zezili. “No, perhaps I will not have to. Perhaps that time is done.”

“My Queen –“

“So your bauble has gone,” the Queen said, and a strange look came over her face, a turning inward. “Your bauble has committed violence and left you. Sought you out and could not find you.”

Zezili shifted on her knees. She had told no one about what the night keeper of the inn had told her: some hours after her departure, a strange person had come looking for her, too thin to be a woman, the voice too deep, his face hidden in a long hood. She had given him a room. He had disappeared along with the assassin.

“There were tracks leaving the inn,” Zezili said. “A dog carrying two. A third trailing.”

“Then it is both of us owe Nathin something.”

Zezili knitted her brows. “I don’t –“

“You will look. Your wife is south,” the Queen said. “And the killer. You owe Nathin something too, do you not?”

“Yes,” Zezili said. She would find her wife. And Nathin. She saw something opening ahead of her, beyond the throne room. Life. Pursuit.

“There were will be mercenaries from the outer islands. Three thousand Sebastyn pike men, five hundred Alorjan archers. This will not be your campaign, of course. I am giving it to Storm. He has first of the campaign. He decides his subordinates. You understand?”

“Yes,” Zezili said.

“Then we are settled.”

“I await your will,” Zezili said.

“Then rise,” the Queen said.

Zezili stood. Her knees ached. She bowed, turned. She put her back to the cats and the Queen. Her hands were pale, trembling. Cold sweat had gathered along her spine. She had not expected she would be allowed to rise, to leave the door. She had not thought past kneeling upon the carpet.

She saw the little dajian pulling back the door, leaning into it.

“Zezili?”

The tone was light. Zezili felt fear. She pivoted on her heel, regarded the queen. The cats were uncurling from the floor, stretching, yawning.

“Perhaps there is something else,” the Queen said.

Her cats crept up alongside Zezili, paced between her and the door. They circled her.

“My cats would like a token,” the Queen said. “Just a bit. You will give it freely.”

“Yes,” Zezili said.

The cats pounced.

She did not have time to bring up her hands.

How To Write About Afrika!!

January 27, 2006

“The View From Africa,” by Binyavanga Wainaina (abridged. See the link for the whole thing):

Some tips: sunsets and starvation are good

Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover
of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel
Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If
you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or
Zulu or Dogon dress.

In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is
hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of
animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot
and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don’t get
bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big:
fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy
starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your
book. The continent is full of deserts, jungles, highlands,
savannahs and many other things, but your reader doesn’t care
about all that, so keep your descriptions romantic and
evocative and unparticular.

Taboo subjects: ordinary domestic scenes, love between
Africans (unless a death is involved), references to African
writers or intellectuals, mention of school-going children who
are not suffering from yaws or Ebola fever or female genital
mutilation.

Among your characters you must always include The Starving
African, who wanders the refugee camp nearly naked, and waits
for the benevolence of the West. Her children have flies on
their eyelids and pot bellies, and her breasts are flat and
empty. She must look utterly helpless. She can have no past,
no history; such diversions ruin the dramatic moment. Moans
are good. She must never say anything about herself in the
dialogue except to speak of her (unspeakable) suffering. Also
be sure to include a warm and motherly woman who has a rolling
laugh and who is concerned for your well-being. Just call her
Mama. Her children are all delinquent. These characters should
buzz around your main hero, making him look good. Your hero
can teach them, bathe them, feed them; he carries lots of
babies and has seen Death. Your hero is you (if reportage), or
a beautiful, tragic international celebrity/aristocrat who now
cares for animals (if fiction).

Bad Western characters may include children of Tory cabinet
ministers, Afrikaners, employees of the World Bank. When
talking about exploitation by foreigners mention the Chinese
and Indian traders. Blame the West for Africa’s situation. But
do not be too specific.

Broad brushstrokes throughout are good. Avoid having the
African characters laugh, or struggle to educate their kids,
or just make do in mundane circumstances. Have them illuminate
something about Europe or America in Africa. African
characters should be colourful, exotic, larger than life—but
empty inside, with no dialogue, no conflicts or resolutions in
their stories, no depth or quirks to confuse the cause.

You’ll also need a nightclub called Tropicana, where
mercenaries, evil nouveau riche Africans and prostitutes and
guerrillas and expats hang out.

Always end your book with Nelson Mandela saying something
about rainbows or renaissances. Because you care.