Indispensible

So I’ve been having fun the last couple of weeks appalling myself by watching Ross Putnam’s Twitter feed. He posts the opening description of female leads from scripts he reads, just changing their names to JANE to protect the guilty. Every single one is initially described in terms of her looks, and generally not even her looks, but the effect they have on men: “attractive,” “forty but still sexy,” and the cringeworthy “ripe with young womanhood” for a black heroine. These are the lead characters, mind you, not supporting cast. No one is allowed to be just bookish or athletic or, God forbid, shlubby, the way a male protagonist often is. These writers assume both that a woman needs to be attractive for us to care about her and that her being attractive tells the actress and director everything they need to know about how she relates to the world and how it relates to her.

I don’t think so much about whether my female leads are attractive because I see the world through their eyes and they don’t spend a lot of time looking in mirrors; they have more important things to do. But to be fair, I am guilty of describing their love interests in terms I find attractive. So, okay, if a male writer is writing from the perspective of a male character, they’ll probably do the same.

But all my characters (even the supporting cast) have two things that are way more important to me than looks, both of which I generally make clear the moment the character first comes onstage: a job (which tells us a lot about their skills and personalities) and a family (which tells us about the forces that shaped them from an early age, and probably still impact them). Those are the elements that are going to drive an interesting story and throw up the most compelling roadblocks.

Grandmaster Cherryh

Delighted by the news that CJ Cherryh has been chosen as SFWA’s latest grandmaster.

I read Foreigner for the first time at age sixteen, when I was still making the transition from fluffier SFF like Douglas Adams and Piers Anthony to more challenging reads. I was immediately struck by how real and complex her worlds were, and explorations of her earlier Chanur and Morgaine Sagas only confirmed and deepened my appreciation. All of her aliens are truly alien, completely different from each other, yet are still capable of eliciting empathy from the reader, not just wonder. All of her worlds are “lived in”: we see how events five years ago, two centuries ago, a millenium in the past, have influenced the current culture of that world.

But beyond that amazing worldbuilding and character creation, Cherryh is a hero of mine for another reason. She adapts to the market to remain successful without sacrificing her integrity. In the seventies, women SF writers were given a hard time, so she went by her initials and added an H to the end of her name to sound less girly, while still writing the books she wanted to write. In the nineties, preferred book lengths increased and she adapted seamlessly. When editors left publishing houses, orphaning one series after another, she switched gears to give the new editor something new, then went back to finish the old stories when she could. When the fans went online, she began offering regular blog posts about her home improvement projects, her dieting woes, and the difficulties of driving to cons with cats in tow. She formed a digital writing collective with other writers to offer their out-of-print backlists as e-books and promoted it by writing new online-only stories in her most popular universes. And she hits her deadlines year after year like they personally offended her. THAT’S a professional. Despite cries from the ever-dying publishing industry that writing is a dead medium, Cherryh knows that people will always crave stories, it’s just a question of presenting those stories in forms readers find convenient and affordable. She doesn’t wring her hands, she just tries new things until she sees what sticks, adapts, and gets back to work.

AND she’s a great writer.

Primary coloration

I’d say my Facebook feed is equally divided between Hillary boosters and Bernie lovers. And we’ve got another month until the Massachusetts primary (by which time, frankly, it’ll probably be decided anyway). I know you love your candidate. You’re not posting this stuff for other people who love your candidate, you’re presumably posting it for people who can both be swayed and show up on Primary Day. (That’s me, and has been every two years, EVERY election since my county finally stopped illegally barring resident college students in 2000.)

So. Bernie lovers. I don’t need memes about how Bernie is hip and with it–that’s the modern equivalent of Bill Clinton playing the sax, only with less effort on Bernie’s part. What I need is evidence that he can actually work with Congress, because not everything can be accomplished by presidential fiat, and if we have another four or eight years of nothing getting done, I worry that people are going to get pissed off and vote Republican next time, no matter how crazypants the candidate, just to see some movement. Don’t meme me, show me Bernie has the respect of his peers.

Hillary boosters. I was a voting New York resident for six years of her work as a New York senator. And while I think she’s done excellent work as Secretary of State, when she was senator, I saw her compromise her values again and again, saw her pass legislation that appalled me, saw her be one of the first to rise in standing ovation when Bush declared a War on Terror. (I kept an audio diary at the time, and have a recording of myself saying that night, “He’s just given himself the power to define this war however he wants for as long as is politically convenient.” I could see it. Did she not see it, or choose to ignore it?) All of that is why I voted against her in the 2008 primary. I know she can work with Congress. I need to know there is something, anything, that she won’t compromise on for more power. Because otherwise, the first four years are going to be her capitulating to try and build relationships, and I don’t know if she’s going to break the habit (or even be electable) for the second four years.

So. Both sides. I will vote for whoever the Democratic candidate is in the election. But if you want to sway my vote for the primary, THAT’S what I need to see. I need to see that Bernie CAN compromise sometimes, and that Hillary CAN stand her ground. Everything else is clutter.