In which I want to stab things with a pen

I attended many very interesting panels at Readercon. Of great interest were the panel on how to use an authentic voice that is not your own dialect and the panel on using cultures besides your own in your writing. The fantastic and well-spoken Nalo Hopkinson (who has some of the most awesome hair ever, seriously, check this out) said many wise things on both panels, but the following paraphrase really stuck with me:

It is important to remember that we are all more alike than different. We can all experience the pleasure of biting into a ripe piece of fruit. Use the interesting cultural differences without losing the things that we all share.

As I said, this is a paraphrase. But it really stuck with me. yuki_onna also made a very good point on the subject of using another culture in your work, which was an analogy to renting a house: leave the place in better shape than you got it, or you aren’t going to get back your security deposit. Meaning, try to contribute something, and do so respectfully. Don’t just slap a bunch of pretty posters up on the wall with that blue tack that never comes off properly. I appreciated that there were several panels that touched on this subject, as it is something that I think (read:worry) about a lot.

And then there was the folklore panel. I was excited for it, because yay! folklore! but also because it was wirewalking‘s first panel as a participant. What follows is in no way her fault, as she was not the moderator and all the comments she made were intelligent and relevant.

The panel began with the moderator asking the panelists: what is folklore? I thought, really? You’re going to have a bunch of authors argue about a definition that even folklorists have a hard time agreeing on? Okaaaay. The attempts at defining continued. The definition got broader and broader until it abandoned all meaning.

In desperation, I asked the panel: do you feel a responsibility to represent folklore in an accurate way when you use it in your writing, or do you feel that it’s yours to adapt as you please? You have to understand, this was an attempt to bring the conversation back to writing – the subject on which all the panelists could be considered experts. I thought this was a good idea. I was wrong, because the conversation then veered frighteningly into cultural appropriation land. Someone from the audience came in with the “all stories belong to everyone” argument, which makes me itch. A panelist who is a professor of Native studies (as I recall) referred to the Inuit as Eskimos. I began venting my frustration in my notebook, utilizing all the best swear words, and, according to tithenai, doing the “glasses adjustment poke of doom”.

So, that one was a bust. I can’t for the life of me figure out why they didn’t just pick some folklorist’s definition of folklore and move the hell on to talking about something that would have been useful for a room full of writers and fans.

There was also a fantastic panel on why all the best creepy things happen in novels set in New England, but I think I’ll save that for another day.

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12 thoughts on “In which I want to stab things with a pen

  1. See, when I signed up for that panel I was desperately hoping it would have at least a leetle to do with folkore’s relevance to speculative fiction & poetry, and the way in which writers handle it — from straight retellings to gleeful mashups (have you read Leah’s short story “Stay”? It’s got some Tam Lin, some Persephone, and a fucking wendigo. And it rocks). But nooooo. I was trying so hard not to glaze over. I’m amazed anyone came out of there thinking I wasn’t the village idiot, because given the angle the panel consistently took, I just didn’t find I had all that much to say. *shrug*

    • See, that’s what I was hoping, too. That would have made sense.
      You actually did a good job of not looking the way I felt like I was looking – WTF written across my face in red letters. I was like, thank goodness it’s not me up there, because I would never handle this nonsense with the grace that Nicole is managing.
      I’ll look for Stay. Thanks for the tip!

      • It’s just occurred to me that I think “Stay” is forthcoming & so unfindable. I’m sure she’d pass along the file, though!
        It’s funny. On that panel I just assumed I was a moron because I wasn’t on the same wavelength that the panel on the whole was. The more write-ups I read, though ..

    • You should post a blog of folklore and the fantastical. Do up two lists: “you’re doing it wrong” and “yes, please more like this.”
      I would definitely be interested in those lists.

  2. ooh, creepy New England! what fun! Especially if it’s not all bitter, reclusive dried-out people with twisted pasts, who turn out to be homicidal and crazy, driven mad by the stark landscape, harsh climate and lack of emotional warmth in their lives (now there’s a stereotype for you), but uses some of the customs and traditions and turns them on their ear. Being funny helps. I’m looking forward to hearing what people are saying about it.

    • I’ll try to get to that one later today… oh, and I finally finished the novel revisions. If you’re interested in the new, shiny manuscript, I’ll send it your way…

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