The Elephant in the Room: Race, Sexuality, and Social Mobility in my YA High Dark Fantasy Novel

My post today is about topics I’ve chosen to represent in my high dark fantasy novel. I would love to say this was all my own decision and I was brave enough to write this character on my own. However, a friend challenged me and I’m very glad she did.

The Challenge (this was months ago but the conversation went something like this):

Indian Friend: “… you know, I didn’t have an Indian heroine in fantasy stories when I was a teenager. Could you write one for me?”

Caucasian Me: “I don’t know a lot about your culture, I wouldn’t want to do it injustice.”

Indian Friend: “That’s like saying because I’m Indian I can’t write a white character. I’ll help you research and I’ll beta read. Give it a shot and see what you can do.”

Caucasian Me: *thinks*. “Okay, I’ll give it a shot.”

Weeks later looking at my novel, “Okay, if the main character is Indian I can’t just change her name and physical description. I don’t want to white wash this….”

Lots of conversations with my friend later and the things I changed included: some customs, fashion, naming conventions, character descriptions, actively describing various races throughout the story, and things I probably can’t even remember anymore.

This challenge has been very rewarding and helped me expand my characters in my story and in helping me represent the diversity I want in the story. I always had a multi-cultural world, this just helped give me the confidence to expand it to the main character.

The world tropes I didn’t want in my story:

Here are a few things I actively decided to avoid:

  • Everybody is straight
  • A social norm is being gay has to be hidden
  • Everybody is white or race isn’t mentioned
  • The world is basically medieval England renamed with magic

My main character is an Indian sixteen year old girl who lives at the top of a mountain, socially and economically the worst place to grow up in her community. She dreams of moving down toward the Valley Settlement and up in the social structure.

Although the book is fantasy, I’ve been trying to have Indian culture and fashion significantly influence the country.  I’ve been doing a lot of research and I have a friend coming over today to help explain traditional Indian fashion (South Asia not Native Americans). She and I had many conversations about Indian fashion and today she’s bringing her Sari to explain how it works and the differences. I owe her!

Discussions I wanted in my story:

While writing I’ve been pushing myself to have a high fantasy story that has multi-dimensional characters who deal with many of the same common issues we do:

  • Social mobility
  • Race and Racism: although instead of being based on skin color, it’s based on the long-lived races versus the short-lived races.
  • Having homosexuality and asexuality represented without or with minimal social stigma
    • Part of this is giving me a headache because there are all new tropes I needed to familiarize myself with. I’m happy I did because it’s letting me see the potential pitfalls.
  • Teenagers who don’t always trust that adults know what they’re talking about
    • I was a teenager once! Adults are fallible so I’m trying to show both kinds of adults.

When other people have asked what I’m focusing on or working on in term of cutting edge topics I mention the list above. I was speaking with a woman who is probably in her forties and talking about this. When I mentioned the main character was Indian and the parts of the story which focused on LGBTQIA social norms in the world, she didn’t ask me if I’d researched Indian culture. Instead she focused on whether or not I’d researched LGBTQIA cultures.

The answer to both is yes, I don’t rank one above the other. Both elements influence a core piece of the world but neither are exactly the same as we see them here. There is a history in the real world we must take into account, luckily in Fantasy I create that history.

So, this is what I’ve been doing while working on my novel. What have you been doing to expand you world and enrich the lives of your characters? Do you feel this kind of research and attention to detail is hindering or helpful in your own writing?

I’d be happy to expand on any of these topics if anyone is interested.

The Gillion

I’ve been posting a lot of poetry but I’m also working on a young adult dark high fantasy novel. Here’s a bit of the pitch for it. Down below you’ll see the poem I wrote in college. The poem informed the flash fiction that is becoming the novel. Would you want to read this?

Pitch:

Death rolls over the mind, a lingering pain as dreams are slowly devoured. Mint scorches the air. A boy screams. Still, an ever persistent hunger lingers. Always so empty. Always alone. A mother walks into a room and sees a creature with glowing blue eyes leaning over her son. Sixteen-year-old Aarya wakes up screaming. Nightmares. The creature disappears. Days later, the boy dies. It wasn’t just a dream; it was the first of many deaths.

Poem:

I wrote this at least six years ago. It is the inspiration for my novel but is quite different in how everything works. However, I felt this would be fun to post and share with everyone.

The Gillion

The trees shook and shivered as the moon rose to its zenith
The felines hissed and canines barked voices raised in fear
People ducked inside as the rain cascaded down
And a jackal’s woeful cries echoed in my ear

The moon screamed once as a shadow took its glow
The stars hid and whispered as their master stole their light
You might ignore the cats, and tell the dogs to shush
But when the sky goes black turn in for the night

I’m sure you’re wondering, what caused this scene to peak
What caused the barks and meows, and made the moon go out
Have you heard of the Gillion, monsters of the sky
Who swoop and dive and strike when the darkness is about

The Gillion are the remnants of those forbidden dreams
Phantasms of a world of darkness and spite
Where dreamers are forbidden and children are concealed
And death is dealt quickly for each imagined slight

They always find our world a most pleasant place to feed
Culling out dreams burned with incandescent light
They cross at new moon to hunt as we dream
Of futures and fancies and the next day’s delight

Their long midnight tails pull the thoughts from our minds
They then tie them and bind them and lock them away
They feed on our hopes and devour our dreams
Until our dreams are but shards in thoughtless disarray

They say the summer sun will scare them away
And when soundly sleeping they’ll ignore our beds
They claim that a child can slay them from the sky
But that battle must be fought where only dreamers tread

Many weeks have passed since I was called to war
The felines hissed and canines barked warning all to hide
The trees shook and shivered as the moon hid away
That night I fought a Gillion and watched two worlds collide

He hunted me all night, my dreams an eerie call
I laughed as I hid preparing to do war
He finally caught my dreams and drug me to his side
I swooped and dived and then let out a mighty roar

I twisted from his grasp and grabbed my deepest dream
I focused deep inside and stuck a mighty hit
The brawl was long and fearsome but victory was mine
And down fell a Gillion made to finally submit

No more will we fear, the Gillion’s midnight romps
They no longer cross the border at the jackal’s woeful call
Fear not, my friends, a Gillion was destroyed by my blow
And at last he released dreams stolen from us all

I was a child

This is a poem I wrote several years ago and did some cleanup work on. I hope you enjoy and I’d love to hear your observations on it!

I was a child and he was a man when he took me far from my home
The world looked away and if they would say that I really should have known
Deep down inside I saw his pale eyes and I knew that I would pay
But he took me away to a place I could stay and a cottage I called home
He took me in hand and taught me to stand and always to fight for my thoughts
Then the men dressed in blue came and told him they knew and took him away from me

I was a lady and he was a was a crook when I visited him behind bars
The staff looked at me as if they could judge based on appearance and poise
Who I was and what I would do with this criminal, friend, and thief
I ignored their stares and broke through their cares and liberated the man and crook
We then ran away to our cottage to stay and live for several more years
Until the men dressed in blue came and told me they knew and took me away from him

I was crook and he an old man when he visited me behind bars
He smiled at me and was happy to see that I learned to survive on my own
He then disappeared and I really did fear that I would never see him again
But time passed on by and the medications ran dry and I saw him… I saw him….

I was a child and he was a man who wandered around in my thoughts
He took me to places and far away spaces and whispered words just to me
I knew he was false from pale eyes to the face but he helped me forget and move on
But the men dressed in blue came and said he was through and took him away from me
I saw beyond the stories he told but could never forget what he taught
As I sat in my room of white padded gloom he was the only freedom I sought

Snowflake

The pages of your book stole my freedom today
Building walls on the corpse of our great dream
Ashes of hope were wept from above as
Shattered bones baptized a fear based regime

“We’ll survive this,” they say, “as we did once before”
“Don’t be a snowflake, don’t fear a coming war.”

But survival is subjective from privileged memory
Six hundred and eighty nine thousand never lived to see
As words went unspoken and facts unchecked
An epidemic of ignorance leaving generations wrecked

“We’ll survive this,” they say, “as we did once before”
“Don’t be a snowflake, don’t fear a coming war.”

Don’t be a snowflake, project a happy veneer
Don’t worry for your life or shed a single tear
Don’t fight for rights, their destruction is clear
Though 3 million said otherwise and won’t disappear

“We’ll survive this,” they say, “as we did once before”
“Don’t be a snowflake, don’t fear a coming war.”

Don’t fear the winter which will never end
Don’t stand against this inevitable bend
You’re only upset because that woman lost
It can’t be because the world pays the cost

This isn’t about right versus left
Alternative fact just another type of theft
We snowflakes stand, shout, and dissent
Holding close the dream through this discontent

The pages of your book stole my freedom today
Building a wall on the corpses of our great dream
Partisan seems the only thing they all know
As slowly we become entrenched in falling snow.

I Marched for You

Look at all these people! #chills

I know you think I didn’t march for you. But I did.

I know we don’t have the same values.

I know our education, our past, and our present are different.

I still marched for you.

I marched for my sister.

I marched for my nephew.

I marched for you, even though I don’t know who you are.

 

As the clock threated to turn back

When legislation over my body returned

When the right to marriage became threatened

When hateful words became the norm

I stood with others, arms linked in solidarity

 

I know you may be pro birth but are you pro-life?

I marched for life.

I marched for the right to decide.

I marched for separation

Between church

And State

I marched so you could still worship

And I choose to not.

 

I marched for choice.

I marched for equality.

I marched so my brother in law

Has the right to choose

I marched so my sister’s marriage

Is recognized

 

I marched so my nephew

Knows that hate is unacceptable

That he can be anything he wants

Regardless of gender norms.

 

I marched for you

Even though you don’t understand

Or perhaps see the threat

I marched for your future

Because that’s all that is left.

White Rain

Hold me close as white rain falls from the sky
Burning holes on cheeks and parching mouths
Tongues stretched to taste the first signs of winter
The ash falls from above, a reminder of snowflakes
Voices raised, ideals straining to be heard
Silenced by virulent tweets gas lighting thoughts

I reach for the arms of family who came before
Ancestors who fought through famine and war
Parents who taught me to raise my voice, to roar

White rain falls from the sky, pouring over flesh
Vesuvius but a warning long forgotten
Hiroshima a reminder gone unheeded

Education once a right, now legislated by hate
Not just hate but ignorance and fear
Those without money made to wait, futures unclear

Snowflakes line the streets, looking toward the sky
Ignoring the toxic rain, they raise their voices and cry
Words stumbling, choking on smog, they continue
Struggling to be heard, they speak until hoarse

Hold me close as ashen remains fall from the sky
What gleamed in health now destroyed by ignorance
Fleshless hands grasp at decayed signs and destroyed ink
Burned out eyes stare ahead seeing nothing in death
Toungeless mouths soundlessly forming words
Even in despair the snowflakes whisper verses of hope

A momentous moment…

<3 I learned from the best!

Yesterday was an amazing and empowering day. It is a memory I will cherish for the rest of my life. I can say I was there. I not only witnessed, I participated. I stood with friends, family, and strangers. I stood for something. I marched for something.

In Washington, DC, 500,000 people of all genders, from all walks of life, all races, and all sexual orientations, gathered, chanted, held signs, and came together to fight for the future of our women, our country, and our world. Each person held a slightly different belief of what our country should look like, and that’s okay because that’s what makes America great. At the core of the march was a desire for equality, a belief in science, a belief in climate change, worry about Trump’s closeness with Russia, concern about immigration, and worries about his overall lack of transparency, ethics, misogyny, thin-skin, and proposed appointees. And, of course, the racism prevalent in our country.

Together, we overwhelmed Washington, DC. Looking down street inclines and around monuments all I saw were people gathering and marching. It gave me chills. It still does. There was laughter and every person regardless of how they looked, sounded, or what they wore, was immediately seen as an ally. Most of the cars trying to make their way through streets overwhelmed by people honked not out of agitation or aggression but in support. They waved, smiled, and waited. They understood they were sitting in the middle of a movement.

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Those who participated stood, marched, linked arms, cried, and laughed. Because, when you fight for something there is comradery. Somehow, that laughter and joy was missing the day before when my mother walked along the streets on Inauguration Day. She mentioned everyone seemed angry, there was no waiting for the metro, there weren’t the crowds Donald Trump tweeted were there. It was predominately unhappy and bitter.

That bitterness continued today when around 7am Trump tweeted about the March.

“Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election! Why didn’t these people vote? Celebs hurt cause badly”  

It shows a fundamental lack of understanding of the purpose of the march. We are watching. We are partnering with Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, organizations fighting for LGBTQIA rights, and the many organizations fighting against climate change, for our planet, and equality. We are watching. We are fighting for something. And, yes, we voted. Contrary to his own tweets and beliefs, he lost the popular vote.

Like a cramp during a period, a few hours later another tweet came: “Peaceful protests are a hallmark of our democracy. Even if I don’t always agree, I recognize the rights of people to express their views.”

Do I doubt he believes or even wrote this? Absolutely. I am not the only one for as I scroll through the comments many others agree. This is a man for whom we were told to look at his heart and not his words. So if his actions are his heart I need only look at his appointees and actions to understand what he believes in.

Here are a few of my observations: My body is there to be assaulted. Immigrants are not welcome. Education should be privatized. Nepotism is okay. I don’t have the right to my own body. LGBTQIA individuals don’t deserve equality. Open and uncensored news and reporting  threatens you and your administration. Journalism is fake news. Lying to the American public is condoned.

I know he’s upset that millions across the world gathered and marched. He’s upset that by winning he still isn’t popular, that many stand against his agenda and his actions. That he tweets and is immediately shut down by the millions of people who are watching and paying attention.

January 21, 2017 was a breathtaking day. I can only hope the momentum continues. Here are my closing thoughts for Donald J. Trump and his administration:

I will support you when you support us. I will stand beside you when you stand beside me, when my fundamental rights are more important than your twitter account, when you hold Russia accountable, when you hold yourself accountable, when I see your tax returns, when you put your assets in a blind trust, when you act like our president and not a bad reality TV host, when you appoint individuals who are qualified to run federal agencies, when you support immigration, when you stop talking about a wall, when you stand against torture, when you shut down racism, when the NRA no longer pulls your strings, when you stop being Putin’s puppet… when you stand for me. When you stand for America and her values.

For, we the people, are here. We are watching. We and history and judging you.