On Writing: Drafting, Revising, and the Critique of an Ever-Shifting Present

One of the perils of writing–or, more specifically, revising–the sort of near-future science fiction that I write in the slow manner that I tend to write it is that the issue that sparked the story often changes significantly by the time I get around to polishing up said story.

Stepping back a bit: I’m in the camp that believes that one of the purposes of science fiction (and really, any form of literature) is to critique some element of the present. Yes, these stories should be full of interesting characters having interesting conflicts while doing interesting things. But there should also be something that grounds readers to the present, or something through which they can view that present.

But what happens when that present suddenly and dramatically shifts?

What got me thinking about this is that I recently came back to a story that I drafted in 2014, a near-future SF story about a young new mother whose repressive family twists the circumstances and narrative around her child’s birth. Back in 2014, I wanted to explore the collision between recent research on altering memories and the usual reproductive rights issues that find their way into my fiction.

And then in 2015, we saw a religious backlash in the US to the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling, a backlash that gave a platform to certain southern judges and county clerks.

And then in 2016, the current US administration was elected, sort of.

And then in 2017, the Texas legislature passed laws that allow child welfare agencies to deny adoptions and discriminate against prospective parents based on the agencies’ “religious freedom.”

And so on.

Which left me wondering, should events in the intervening years affect the story? Or the world-building around it? Given the damage done to reproductive rights in Texas in the last legislative session and the real threats to religious freedoms handed down from the state and federal levels, should I alter the society as I’ve imagined it?

The readers of the story will be inhabitants of 2018 (or 2019 as publishing schedules usually go), so it makes sense for me to address anything that no longer works with current policy and so forth.

But ultimately, the question must be what will make for the best story? If I just want to explore the consequences of a given law, then I should just write an essay or a blog post. If I want to write fiction and affect readers, then any changes have to be in service to that end. The critique has to be secondary.

After all, if no one is moved or intrigued or delighted or enraged by a character, then what’s the point of telling her story?

Ursula K. Le Guin: An Appreciation

Most of the appreciations of Ursula K. Le Guin have focused on her fiction, but the SF master also wrote speculative poems. Like so many in the field, I began writing SF after reading her lyrical, intelligent prose. That lyricism, of course, we also find in the intelligence of her poems.

I’ll admit here that I haven’t read as much of her poetry as I’ve read her prose. That said, one of the most striking speculative poems I’ve read in a while is hers: “Werewomen.” which I encountered in The Moment of Change, edited by Rose Lemberg. (As an aside, the anthology is a solid collection of speculative poetry that I highly recommend. Read a review by Brit Mandelo on tor.com here.)

The poem is a cry of an older woman who, like the younger women and urban women she aligns herself with, implores the reader to “Listen what I need is freedom,” including the freedom to walk alone at night. In an era of #metoo, marches against the current US administration, and other calls to raise our voices, we should keep the last lines of the poem with us:

“All kinds of women
talk about walking alone.
When the moon is full
listen how they howl,
listen how they howl together.”

And so, we keep howling. Howling on placards and protest chants. Howling through calls and letters to our elected officials. Howling through our online posts. Howling through our stories.

From Around the Web: 23 October 2017

A few links of interest from around the web:

Dreamers, Teachers, and State and National Politics

The underfunded public school system here in Texas is about to face another problem: should Dreamers be forced out of the US, children across the state–and the nation as a whole–will be affected by their absence.  From The Dallas Morning News:

Texas stands to lose about 2,000 teachers who are in the DACA program, and as many as 20,000 such teachers would be affected nationwide. The clock is ticking, and without a legislative reprieve, within a few years it will be illegal for these teachers to  work in the U.S. Their loss would hit bilingual education, where there’s a constant dearth of educators, especially hard.

The lack of adequate funding for public schools in Texas is already forcing some schools to close and others to hire fewer teachers.  Funding bills passed during the 2017 legislative session did little to address these issues.   Should Texas lose as many teachers as is estimated, can we expect the state to do much about this loss during the 2019 legislative session?

From Around the Web: 9 October 2017

A few links of interest from around the web:

From Around the Web: 3 October 2017

A few links of interest from around the web:

  • A couple podcasts featuring SF authors: Gary Wolfe and Jonathan Strahan interview Nnedi Okorafor on the latest Coode Street Podcast. And Gregory Benford, David Brin, Geoffrey Landis and Larry Niven appear on a recent episode of Planetary Radio.
  • Here’s a poem featured on Rattle by Raye Hendrix, on the “death” of Cassini: “ELEGY FOR A SPACECRAFT
  • And for those of you in the North Texas region: I’ll be reading at this year’s Art & Words show, curated by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam.

From Around the Web: 11 September 2017

A few links of interest from around the web, writing on writing edition:

Hurricane Harvey: The Cost of Evacuating and the Cost of Staying

One refrain among the distressing stories coming out of the Texas Gulf Coast is that many people wanted to evacuate before Hurricane Harvey struck.  But they couldn’t leave.  They didn’t have the resources necessary to go.  From Think Progress:

The BBC recently interviewed residents in Rockport, Texas about why they decided to stay. [….] One woman, Judie, said she stayed because she had nowhere to go and didn’t have the money to leave.

As A. Mechele Dickerson concludes in a commentary in Fortune:

“To pay the costs—including transportation, housing, food, and other expenses—associated with an evacuation, the evacuee needs either savings, ample disposable income, or the capacity to finance an evacuation using short-term debt. [….] People stayed because they could not afford to leave.”

Evacuations in themselves can be expensive and dangerous.  But given that global warming may lead to stronger hurricanes and that the current US federal government is unlikely to do anything to mitigate climate change, perhaps we should be asking ourselves if we need to reevaluate our approach toward disasters such as these.

The question that I return to (from, admittedly, my dry vantage point up here in the northern part of the Lone Star State) is what we as a state and as a nation need to do to make available resources so that people who want to leave before a storm hits can do so.

Which really is a question of how to raise this issue with our elected officials.  In a state as conservative as Texas, where the ideas of fiscal responsibility and self-reliance permeate any sort of political decision, we’re not likely to find a receptive audience.

Do we really need to turn this into an argument about the cost of evacuation versus the greater cost of rescue and recovery missions?

Perhaps Harvey will spark more discussion of what we need to do to prepare for future storms.  But first, we may need to figure out the ways we need to talk about it in order to get a more humane response from our elected officials who are eager to put into place discriminatory regulation because it’s the “right thing to do,” but who are reluctant to do the right thing when it comes to helping out before actual threats.

 

No Major Democratic Challenger in 2018 Race for Texas Governor

The prospects for a Democratic candidate seriously challenging the Republican incumbent for governor in 2018 are dismal here in the Lone Star State.  From PBS Newshour:

“Democratic leaders haven’t yet lined up a substantial name to represent the party and its message despite months of trying. Any continued faith in a Democratic turnaround in Texas is now colliding with pessimism that it will happen anytime soon.”

Gov. Abbott has $41 million in his re-election fund already, and he has no significant Republican challengers, which makes his July re-election campaign launch focus all the more worrying.  From a July AP report run in U.S. News:

“Abbott formally announced his run for re-election Friday and is reviving anti-abortion measures, school finance reforms and a ‘bathroom bill’ targeting transgender people in a special legislative session that begins Tuesday.”

Moderate Republicans in the Texas House helped defeat the 2017 attempts at passing the “bathroom bill,” given pressure from business and testimony from Texans who would face discrimination should the bill have passed.  But Gov. Abbott hasn’t given up on the idea.  And he’s recently proven his opposition to reproductive rights, signing two bills in the special legislative session that hinder access to abortion in the state.

According to Houston Public Media (again, back in July), “The state Democratic Party says it’s talking to several possible candidates, and, ‘an announcement will come at the appropriate time.'”  We’re waiting.