Monday, February 29, 2016

Stereotypes are Like Frozen Waffles

I've been pondering this a while as we continue to discuss what expanding representation of both book characters and book writers (aka authors) could, would, or should look like.  And the thing I find some people get all concerned about when writing outside their experience is that if they are going to get slammed for using stereotypes, but what if the stereotypes are true?  I mean, they know this gay guy who likes fashion, there are plenty of them on "Project Runway", why aren't they allowed to use that?  And then, watching last week's "Top Chef", one of the chefs (okay, it was local chef Kwame, who has a new restaurant opening soon that I am very excited about, Hi, Kwame!), well, he decided to make chicken and waffles and to use frozen waffles. 
So, here's the thing.  I get it.  I do.  It was one of the challenges where they had to cook for a large number of people, and the logistics of make waffles on site were going to be tough.  And, as he said, they make tiny frozen waffles. 
But the show is called "Top Chef" not "Best Maker of Things Found in the Frozen Food Aisle" and so predictably, he went home for that.  They didn't love the rest of it too much either, so it wasn't just the waffles. But, why make it easy for the judges to be like, he made us chicken and waffles and he didn't even make the waffles! 
So, as an author, your job is to create a world.  Sometimes you are working from a modern setting, or fantasy, or history, or some blend, but you are creating a world.  And within that world you are creating characters. So, if one of your characters is gay and into fashion (not to pick on this stereotype because there are so many) and you don't further expand on that, you have basically given your reader frozen waffles.  And you can do that.  But if they come back to you and say, those were basically just frozen waffles, they are not wrong.  Because there are gay people who are into fashion.  Just like there are straight people, bisexual, pansexual, and asexual people who are into fashion.  You know why?  Because sexual attraction and fashion are not linked traits.  So, you can write a gay man who is into fashion but you, as the author, still have to hint to your reader why fashion matters to this character.  Just you would need to explain why a character was an accountant, or a bartender, or a collector of beanie babies.  And if you say to me, well, this is just a secondary character, I don't have time to spend on them, my first question is why are they in your story at all?  But again, no one is saying you can't serve frozen waffles on "Top Chef".  It's a free world, you can.  But don't be surprised when it sends you home.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Three Interesting Things

1. There's been a lot of talk about harassment reporting of late, and the common refrain from those accused of harassment that this should never have had to go public because they are nice and if they had totes accidentally hurt anyone's feelings with their clothing removal or their constant sexual remarks, they would have tried to maybe address it.  (I am paraphrasing.)  This post on power differentials looks at why these things sometimes spill out later, and not in the moment.  It's not new info for most people who have ever been victimized, but it is well put, and a useful thing to point to.
2. Have I mentioned lately that I love Hawaii.  Because this resolution
3. And this post about windows and mirrors captures what I've been struggling to sum up as we continue to talk about publishing diversity and who gets to write what.

Monday, February 22, 2016

City Of Conversation

I went to see "City of Conversation" at Arena Stage on Friday, and I'm still thinking about it, which I think is a good sign.  It spans several generations and covers a topic that is so on point right now, that I actually spent a few minutes wondering if this was the best or worst time to watch such a play.  The main character is a Georgetown woman who is deeply involved in national politics, though not an officeholder, and starts when her son and his (surprise) fiancee arrive home and participate in a political dinner party, where it becomes clear that the son (and fiancee) are of a different political stripe.  It shifts ahead, as the part in power shifts, and the family members negotiate what this means for their personal lives.  I think it raised more questions than it answered, and in some cases, I felt like the characters skimmed over what to me seemed crucial parts of their arguments (although certainly that could be a point towards realism).  It was definitely the kind of play that the conversations people were having as they exited were really interesting, so as that kind of thing it was very successful. There were quite a few cast members who were making their Arena debut (including a small child who turns out to be a friend of a friend's child, so that was a fun connection).  The cast was great. 
It was the first play I saw at the Fichandler where I felt really cognizant of the staging in the round.  During the dinner party in the early part, there was a noticeable amount of people shifting and bouncing and resetting themselves.  I don't know if it became less noticeable to me later because the remaining scenes had less characters or had better reason to move about.  This is a small quibble in a thing I enjoyed. 
Edited for spelling.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Three Interesting Things

1. I had talked about my Scribd experience a while back, and then they changed their model, and I was less happy, ultimately repeated tech issues with their audio books had me dropping my subscription, but this further adjustment to their model makes me sad because it suggests that they have been unable to find a balance that allows for voracious readers, and I can't imagine book subscription can survive without voracious readers.  Thank goodness we still have libraries. 
2. Football may be on a break, but this article about the NFL's only (current) black punter was fascinating.
3. And this Courtney Milan post touches on some of the issues publishing is facing, and this idea that shining the light on the barriers is just the beginning.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Travelling In Winter

When I worked with the high school youth group they traditionally had their winter retreat President's Day weekend.  When I worked with the toy company, that was Toy Fair.  So, in my life there's been a lot of travel on that weekend, although it's not an official long weekend for me.  I often send up prayers to the weather gods, please don't let me be trapped anywhere.  (Okay, the friend's apartment I stayed in for Toy Fair would have been okay.)  So, when my dear friend from high school invited me to her wedding on that weekend, I built some padding into the plan.  I left Thursday, so if there was weather, I had an extra day to get there.  And since the weather cooperated I had a day to wander about St. Louis, checking out the light rail. 
The day of the wedding was very cold.  Beautiful but cold.  The ceremony was wonderful, and I hitched a ride with the sister of a bridesmaid so I have nothing to complain about since I was in a heated car while they took a quick batch of pictures outside. 
The reception was also great.  Given the snowfall predicted for the night originally got shifted to the next day, there was discussion of when everyone was leaving. I briefly pondered trying to see if the airlines would waive changes to let me go back early, but then decided given the weather there, and the weather here, it was maybe just best to stick with what I had.  (It helped that I had pre-emptively taken Tuesday off of work as a buffer.)  And well, Monday dawned a bit foggy in St. Louis, but planes were still leaving, but as I checked one more time before hotel check out, I saw that my flight had been cancelled. And some social media checking unearthed that the DCA airport here had shut down to plow the runway.  (I could rant at the uselessness of airports and airlines having twitter feeds that don't announce such things, but instead wait until someone asks.  I get that they don't want someone to create a parody account, but if your account won't even mention that your airport is not accepting airplanes, I don't even know why you have it.) 
So, I called and was rebooked on a later flight that had a connection, which seemed doubly risky since it was the last eastbound flight of the day, but at least if I got stranded in Chicago, I knew there were lots of alternatives.  (Although, whether those choices were going to be cheaper than springing for an extra hotel night was an open question.) And I decided with the extra time to hang out a bit before making my leisurely way to the airport.
I got the same driver on my way to light rail that I had to the wedding, which tickled my driver a bit.  I learned about his art and his Pomeranian.  I hopped on the light rail back out to the airport and made my way in, where I sat down outside security to finish my bottle of iced tea.  And, well, while I was sitting there, my second flight got cancelled.  So, I may my way over to the desk, explained my predicament, and got the, "Oh, my, this is not good," response from the airline rep who told me what I already knew, that they had no more flights to DCA that day.  After consultation with another rep, he came back and offered me a flight to BWI, which I happily took, with fingers crossed that BWI's larger number of runways and slightly more northern position would mean this flight would stick.  The rep helpfully told me it was only a thirty minute drive, which a, shows he has not done in drive in traffic or weather, and b, was cute, since it didn't address how I was going to drive from BWI to DCA or home.  (I do know how to get home from BWI, I was just amused.) 
So, in an abundance of optimism I checked my bag, and made my way through security to hand out by the gate.  And the flight got delayed ever so slightly, but they began boarding (after making an announcement that Baltimore was currently experiencing weather, so that they were going to do their best to get us to the intended destination, but weather conditions may cause issues).  I got on the flight, which was packed (Philadelphia had also cancelled flights, so I know there were folks who had been hoping Baltimore would get them to the right time zone at least) and so I was grateful just to be looking for space for me.  And, it was a little bumpy, but we got there, and my bag got there and I was able to get a shuttle home. 
But, the answer to why more conferences don't occur in winter, might be buried somewhere in there. 

Monday, February 08, 2016

Food and Sportsball and Books

The big game, or possibly the football season finale was last night and there were a few things that were different for me. I watched at home with my cat instead of with friends.  It did mean I could do silly things like eat stuffing cubes and alternate knitting projects.  When I say I watched it with my cat, I mean she was present, my attempts to convince her she cared about the team with cats on their helmets were fruitless. 
It also was the first year in a while a team I don't automatically hate participated.  And in fact, two teams I have general fond feelings for participated, so while I had technically picked a side I really was okay with either outcome, and mostly hoped for a competitive game.  (Next time, assuming I actually am in control of such things, I will wish for slightly more competition on the offensive sides.) 
And the halftime show was great.  I do always wonder about the dueling demands of things that are televised like that because things that make a great in person stadium show with the crowd tend to seem a little more toned down at home, and great dance moves and what have you are likely lost to the stadium crowd who can't see some of the subtleties. 
It also wrapped up a nice week where I finally managed to get together with a friend and try a new to us restaurant, as well as see Ruta Sepetys at the Lithuanian Embassy.  One of the things she talked about was finding messages in bottles.  She was talking about her new book Salt to the Sea about a large shipwreck of evacuees during World War II, that people had put messages in bottles, sometimes saying some thing as simple as their name, their age and where they were from.  It reminded me that as much as we blame social media for this desire to be remembered, it really is a universal thing, we want people to know we were there. 
So, yes, the Superbowl is a game, but the spectacle, the shared experience, the fun, the food, I am happy we have all of that.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Three Interesting Things

1. This interview with Heidi Heilig might make it clear why I'm excited about her debut book (pirates and Hawaii). 
2. Buzzfeed looks into the story behind the cranky park bench dedication.
3. A chat with a Hong Kong bookseller who stocks titles banned in mainland China. 

Monday, February 01, 2016

Disproportionate Analogies

So, given the weather last week, I checked the status of my cross-state bus a few times before heading out on Monday.  Originally they said all Monday schedules as normal.  Then it said, some cancelled, but mine appeared to still be on the normal list.  So, I showed up, and...there were a lot of people waiting for the same bus, some ticketed, some hoping for the best because they had been trying to get back earlier and been stymied. And we stood there.  And the time of the buss arrival came and went and we stood there.  And the bus after ours came and went.  And I finally tried calling.  (The schedule continued to indicate our bus was supposed to be on time even though that was no longer temporally possible.) And finally, one of the bus line employees indicated it was coming in ten minutes.  And it arrived and, with the snow and the standbys people crowded up and while we had all tried to be cheery and happy waiting, there was a moment where, I had a seat and I could tell the driver was already talking to the people in the group after me, and I still couldn't get past to get my bag on so I could board.  And I pushed passed someone to get my bag on, and then when I realized the guy in front of me was still pulling up his ticket on his phone, I stepped around him and boarded.  And I felt so mean.  It was the same bus.  With the number of standbys, no one was getting a row to themselves anyway.  But, you know what, I didn't really hurt anyone.  I boarded.  And, I kind of had a point.  I did have a ticket that allowed me the joy of boarding first.
I mention this because when stuff comes spilling out publicly, there's often a big pushback.  I know so-and-so.  They are super nice.  They didn't mean to hurt anyone.  And, well, all of that may be true.  People can be nice and not mean to hurt anyone and still do so. But, make sure you understand who you are telling to be nice and why.  If I said something racist, or ran over someone's toes with my suitcase, I could still be a nice person who harmed someone else.  It is not a binary situation.  And if I say, I'm sorry I ran over your toes, but all this discussing of it really isn't helping, well, I am definitely being the jerk then.  Because as the person harmed, the harmed person gets to decide to speak out.  Can things get blown out of proportion?  Sure.  But me saying, shush up about your pain doesn't solve anything. 
And so, the discussion about how hard one reviewer is finding it to read diverse books (like pretty much any), well, if people started mentioning that her attempts to boost romance have come at the expense in some ways of recognizing LGBTQ+ romances, or diverse romance, or that by continuing to treat them as the special snowflake or vegetables of romance  - as in the things you read to be able to get back to talking about what you really wanted to talk about - then yeah, telling people to stop being mean isn't helping.  Saying you did something harmful isn't mean.  And telling people to shush doesn't make you nice.