Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Con Report: ConCarolinas 2016 Fantasy the World Over

I moderated this panel on Saturday morning. A terrific panel of authors gave insight on writing fantasy based outside the traditional Western European traditions, and a great reading list!

In American publishing, fantasy has long been based almost exclusively on European mythologies. But the world is full of non-European cultures with rich storytelling traditions. Is it cultural appropriation for Western writers to set stories in non-European cultures? How can we borrow from these wonderful mythologies in respectful ways?

In American fantasy, the traditions are steeped in Greco-Roman mythology and European medieval/Renaissance settings. But the world is full of non-European cultures with rich storytelling traditions. Let's talk about some of the ones that interest us.

Janine, marine pilot, has traveled all over the world, is from Brazil
Short story "Inbrief", in the Star Wars 2016 Del Ray Sampler
Janine's daughter is from Mozambique, the main character is very much like her daughter
Janine used Portuguese terminology
There's a delicate line of cultural appropriation. Representing with respect - not taking. You can't take a white person and stick them in Asian or African culture as if it's their own…
A book she admires: Bride to the Sun, Lia Patterson, Swedish, written in English, lived in China as a teen, fantasy

Misty - recently decided to learn all the countries outside of her familiar Europe - so much beauty and amazing culture in every culture of the planet, don't limit ourselves to what's inside our own culture - look for someone inside that culture, or someone who's done their homework - lots of attention to detail
A book she admires: Daughter of the Sword, Steve Bean, main character is a female member of Tokyo police dept, fights sexism, doesn't depend on anyone else, magical swords, very interesting--tells story  of each sword

Val's father was Navy, brought back books as he traveled all over the world and sent letters with local stories that he heard - he loved Japanese cult movies and "chop sake" movies
Surprisingly good one: Saolin Grandma - very good, unexpected, set in post ww2 Japan
A book she admires: Weather Child, Philippe Ballantine, Australia , she's from New Zealand - she reads the audiobook in her lovely accented voice!
Val's mother's family are Ashkanazi and Sephardic Jews - different European culture - Eastern European culture has Mongol and Russian influence
We ignore Arabic
A book she admires: Guy Gavriel Kay's historical fantasies (Tigana, Song of Arbonne, Lions of Al-Rassan…most recently  Under Heaven about China

Christie doesn't read a lot in the field, better to read from other sources, doesn't want to lose her own voice
Always fascinated by myths and legends from other cultures, looks for sources, Joseph Campbell, hero's journey
Working on her own series based on elements (fire, water, air, etc)
Wrote three, now planning to finish the last two, looking geographically for desert cultures, lots of commonality based on climate, foods, rituals, religion
Weaving elements of Norse-Finnish, Celtic, Polynesian

Kalayna is a folklorist, mostly studies traditional Western European, loves to study around the world, almost all have a bloodsucker, a walking dead,  dragon….
A book she admires: Skinwalker, Faith Hunter, main character is Cherokee, very westernized, Faith's done a careful job of incorporating Cherokee elements that are integral to the story
Wickedly Dangerous, Baba Yaga series, Deborah Blake, Eastern European, Russian

Christie says avoid the stereotypes, think about it and be aware

Misty says do your research, don't rely on movies,
Talks about AJ Hartley's terrific new novel, Steeplejack, Victorian South African setting
Doesn't want to offend the cultures he's trying to express

Janine, War of the Seasons series, worried a little about it being a "bait and switch" - was new to Celtic mythology, didn't want to include just one thing, didn't want Tolkien  elves, had different races with each clan
This race is as diverse as the human race, they're the primary species on this world
[I think this was one of the most important points about writing cultures in a non-Earth setting - there should be at least mention of the variety like we have on Earth, or some explanation about why not, if not, but that's another panel…]
Loves fanfic, writing a Hobbit rebelling, cast a woman from India, wants to represent, not to offend or alienate
Don't be stopped by your fear that you'll get stuff wrong - you will!

Val - I try to have a lot of variety in the characters passing through, they don't all look like me, they're just people,  they are my side characters, but they're the protagonists in their own stories

Misty talks about our experiences with stories for the Weird Wild West anthology and our now-open submissions for Lawless Lands - You may be writing in a  Western culture, but think about what other cultures were coming in at that time? Native America, Mexican, Chinese…

The thing is, to be honest, diversity in traditional fantasy is hard to find - what are some stories out there that inspired your interest?
Fortunately there's lots of good new writing out there!

Preparing for this panel, I looked on Goodreads and was disheartened by the dearth of non-European-based fantasy in the "classics" until I found this:

Is it cultural appropriation for Western writers to set stories in non-European cultures? How can we borrow from these wonderful mythologies in respectful ways?

Cultural appropriation is a popular phrase these days, and it has taken on a negative connotation. The definition is
 Cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of a different culture.
Let's talk about when this can be a good thing and when it's a bad thing

Acknowledge your bias, your cultural lens
Margaret - I am a white cis het female, I grew up in American southern upper middle class culture. I've travelled outside the US and studied different cultures through the lens of anthropology. I know how much I don't know! I'm slowly realizing how much I take for granted, how much I don't notice from my position of relative privilege

Kalayna worries about it - it's a double edged sword
But if we don't make the effort, it's a very whitewashed world
Hollywood gives the non-European roles to white people anyway!
As creators we have a responsibility to add more diversity

Melanie (audience) says "I am the epitome of wasp", has had opportunity to work w/Smithsonian Native American museum, has gotten to learn, loves the phrase "Red heart"

Val - college friends would send the Filipino friend in their group to order Chinese food - they gave her the good spicy stuff!

Amy - Writing a Caribbean story, wanted a revenge story because whites came in and killed so many, took over - how to write a villain from that culture -
Janine if you cast them in a certain light, doing them a disservice, people are strong and weak, good and bad, don't want only character of color to be a villain,
If you only have one, they have to represent (even though that's not fair to them--no one person can represent their own culture)

Paula (audience) if you never have a main character from another society, at least have secondary characters--the crowd--more diverse

Val has an entirely different story - her main character talks about her isolated people and how hard she had to convince her father to let her go

Janine says you have to make it clear--Is the villain a villain because his goals are different from his opponents?

Misty loves a good revenge story--you do run the risk of your good guy looking like a bad guy--revenge vs Justice--if he's the last of his people, be cautious, you don't necessarily want him to turn into the bad guy

Be careful if you have someone from that culture read your work--they can give you their own personal feedback, but one person cannot give "permission" on behalf of a whole culture--still do not assume you haven't made any mistakes!

Ilona Andrews brings in a lot of diverse characters
They (husband/wife team) use a lot of Russian mythology

And so, with a loving heart, I offer you 
I’ve heard many translations. Here’s my favorite: 
The light of the universe that shines within me recognizes 
the light of the universe that shines within you. 

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