Archive for March 21st, 2011

On writing what we don’t know

Or, what might be appropriately called stumbling into appropriating the other.

Marina asks: “…is it even possible to do this successfully? To borrow from a culture that isn’t your own and not totally piss off the people who already feel misrepresented?”

I honestly don’t know the question to this.

Her response:

For me personally, I think what I’ve arrived at is that I’m not bothered with borrowing as long as you admit – to yourself, in the structure of your narrative – that you are an outsider, that you have no interest in telling a story about this culture but rather using certain elements of it that appeal to you to tell your own story that has to do with your own cultural framework. And that means no copy-pasting things that will make me assume you are really talking about THIS, this thing I’m familiar with, that I live with, that is part of who I am. Borrow as you wish, but change the details, blur the lines. Don’t drop in things wholesale that will make the suspension of disbelief for me impossible.

It’s basically all about aligning our expectations. If you use certain cultural markers I am going to assume that you’re familiar with my culture as I am and will look forward to your statements/input. And then I’ll find out that the markers were just randomly inserted there, that you have no idea what they mean, that you’re not going to talk about anything that has to do with my perspective at all and then I feel cheated and angry and disappointed. Don’t lead me on. Never set up expectations and then fail to deliver.

I think that’s about most of it for me also.

The worst part about your failed cultural appropriation?

It’s not even when you get things wrong, wrong, wrong.


When you call Qixi the “Chinese Valentines’s day”. (It’s not.)

When you have Korean characters wearing kimono.

When all your Asian women are demure, docile, and etc ad nauseum.

It’s not even just when you use easily available stereotypes like geishas, subservience from Asian women, ninjas, samurai, kitsune, Monkey (as in the king of), or bound feet.

It’s not even when I realize that you don’t care about the greater culture, that you have no idea what exactly you’re pulling out of your ass and you don’t care that it is getting pulled out of your ass because you’re imposing your Euro/USian-centric paradigms on every thing.

Not even when you clearly did a quick Wikipedia check up on Asian tropes and myths and just called it a day.

What takes me to the book-throwing stage is when you mish-mash Asian cultures together or lump Native American mythology into a thin gruel and justify it by saying it’s “more interesting” that way.

What will take me to the “vociferously ban-hammering your book on my blog” stage is when I pick up a book that mentions part of my culture and get conned into buying it as a result — then I figure out that you’re just using the most readily available parts of my culture that you deem most interestingly “exotic” as a hook to get people from my demographic in and to appeal to the weeaboos and Asian fetishists.

It’s when I know that you’re doing it to be cool; to get brownie points for “stepping outside of the mold”; to be, again, “exotic”.

It’s when I know that you’re not interested in my culture for any reason other than to profit off of it.

Yes, it’s tone.

It all boils down to tone and handling.

To answer Marina’s question, nothing is too taboo for me, provided you handle it correctly.

I’m sorry I can’t give you the answer to life, oh ye budding aspiring authors, but that’s just how it goes.

I would prefer that you get off “Journey to the West” (Neil Gaiman, I’m looking at you) and move towards say the Ramayana or The Dream of the Red Chamber or even The Romance of the Three Kingdoms or even Feng Shen Bang but hey, again, no taboos here. Just treat it right.

Look at it this way:

I’m the father with a shotgun.

You’re the suitor wanting to take my underage daughter out.

YOU figure out what’s appropriate and what’s not cuz I’m sure as hells not spelling everything out for ya, but better know that if you fuck up, I’m going to be all over you like buckshot on yo white ass.

If you can’t take the heat, just back off, break off the date, and I won’t hold it against ya.

For those who say I’m a bitch?

Just prove you like her enough and that you’ll treat her right. Otherwise, no dice.



Author brand protection : necessary or selling out?

I initially read a post by John on that asked: “When does a reader know too much?“.

To be frank, the comments are fairly illuminating and not entirely in a comfortable way.

Asides from the expected  and deserved condemnation of Orson Scott Card and vague mentions of Authors Behaving Badly, I have to admit I was surprised that readers were put off by a whole variety of things from sounding too “cocky” to their personal voice sounding too much like their narrative voice to being irritating that the “personal stuff” was being mentioned too frequently.

Then I encountered a blog post by Zoe Whitten where she muses about “professional behaviour” on the part of authors and what should and shouldn’t be expected of authors.

This led me to think about my own stance on author branding and interfacing with the world with a writer persona.

I’m going to publish under a pen name if at all possible. Under kyrias to be exact.

I don’t intend to ever publish under my real name because I want to keep my personal life and my online/public life separate.

Whereas I’m not going to hide my personality or necessarily prevaricate about my beliefs in order to avoid alienating readers, I also don’t believe that it’s either in my best interests or necessary to enjoy my work to know about my spiritual or political beliefs.

My real life name is also fairly identifiable as belonging to a certain culture and I don’t want people picking up or avoiding my books because of their assumptions on how the book is going to go based on my name.

I’m going to keep this blog as “clean” of personal drama and “stuff” as possible unless it’s to share a genuinely funny story that I think people will enjoy.

I know that sometimes I’m just not interested in reading about the minor details of an author’s life because frankly, we’re not friends. We might become friends if we ever had a chance to interact as equals, but in my mind, authors and fans don’t stand on the same footing. There’s expectations, assumptions, potential one-way admiration, and simple lack of reciprocity that just doesn’t make for a genuine relationship. And an author can’t be expected to try and build a real relationship with very single one of his/her fans.

There’s my two cents.

What are your thoughts?