Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Writing Racial Slurs

About a week ago, my friend Juliette Wade posted a blog entry about using racial insults in your writing.  It was interesting timing for me because I've been struggling with the use of racial slurs in the story I'm currently working on.  Juliette's scenario isn't quite the same as mine; she was talking about inventing slurs for made-up races and beings, while my story involves a near-future Earth fifteen years after a vicious war with China.  But what she had to say sure resonated!

When writing about the near future, about people who actually exist, racial slurs can be hurtful, rude, and offensive.  My dilemma is that some of the characters would surely use that kind of language, would intentionally hurt with words, but I don't wish to do any of that.  That leaves me with three options--

1. Write the dialog in such a way as to avoid racial slurs all together.  There's no risk of being offensive in this case, but I'd be sacrificing some of the veracity of the dialog.  I know that people would come up with horrible racial insults, especially after a devastating war.  Besides, it robs me of the chance to develop characters through their dialog.

2. Come up with realistic racial slurs and have characters use them.  This is the most realistic option, but also the most offensive.  I actually googled a list of racial slurs, which was one of the most distasteful bits of story research I've ever had to do.  I even played around with inserting one or two into my story, but ultimately removed them.  I felt like I needed to wash my hands each time I typed them, and if I wasn't comfortable typing the words, I imagine that they wouldn't sound convincing to my readers.

3. Use toned-down language that is derogatory but not outright offensive.  This is the best compromise, I believe, but it doesn't come easy.  So I have a character say, "Hey China-girl, come here."  I'm hoping that the context of the story, plus the imperious and condescending dialog itself, make it clear the term China-girl is intended to be degrading.  In my mind, it's sort of like having a white supremacist character address a black man as "boy."  It gets the intention of insult across without having to use the n-word or something equally offensive.

Ultimately, how a writer handle the use of offensive dialog is a personal decision.  It's a function of what you're comfortable with, but it's a complex function whose amplitude varies with story context.  If I had been writing hardcore military SF, I might have felt more comfortable with soldiers using terms equivalent to gook or nip or kraut from previous wars.  But calling a twenty-year-old girl some of the words I found in my web search just didn't feel right.  People can be very cruel, but that doesn't mean I have to repeat it!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

My First Worldcon

Wow...where to start?  This past weekend, I attended my very first con, Chicon 7.  Yeah, I jumped right into the deep end, as quite a few people pointed out to me.  It was a blur, of course, and I often found myself wandering in a daze.  Luckily, I had some help getting my bearings.  I met my friend Lisa Montoya at O'Hare Airport and we traveled and learned together.  It was her first con too, but it's good to have someone to turn to and say, "Is this where we're supposed to be?"  The other person who kept me oriented was Jamie Todd Rubin.  Within minutes of tweeting that I had arrived, I had an invitation from Jamie to meet him at the Big Bar.  He walked me through a lot of the activities, showed me the ropes, and introduced me to a bunch of wonderful people.  Without Jamie's guidance, I would have spent much more of my time wandering aimlessly and I would have met far fewer people.

After a drink or two at the bar, Jamie and I decided to go looking for the SFWA suite.  We had the good fortune to share the elevator ride with David Brin, who entertained the crowded elevator with some jokes.  I've already lost track of exactly when I met people, but over the course of a few visits to the SFWA suite, I met Ken Liu, Dave Creek, Rob Sawyer, Bud Sparhawk and his wife, Rick Lovett, Mike Flynn, Allen Steele, Myke Cole, and countless others.  A highlight for me was bumping into Ed Lerner and having a good 20-minute conversation ranging from Interstellarnet to con panels to the future of Analog.  I also had the opportunity to meet Brad Torgerson and Alastair Mayer in person; I had been communicating with both of them online, and it was nice to finally meet face to face.

Friday was my Analog day at the con.  I spent most of the morning wandering the vendor area with Lisa, then met Stan and Joyce Schmidt for lunch.  We bumped into Jamie on the way and invited him to join us.  Stan took us to a wonderful Mexican restaurant, where we discussed his retirement, the future of Analog, and much more.  After lunch, Jamie and I talked about Stan and writing and cons over a beer.  That night, we hit the Analog party in the SFWA suite, where we celebrated Stan's career and met Trevor Quachri.

On Saturday, Lisa and I met the Escape Pod crew, including Mur Lafferty, Paul Haring, and David Steffen.  By this time I was catching on to the idea that most events at cons involve alcohol, and this was no exception.  We had a great time, and during the meet-up Paul learned that he had won a Parsec award.  I was fortunate enough to be among the first to congratulate him.  Later that night, Lisa and I hit a few of the room parties.  We drank with the Texans to celebrate next year's Worldcon in San Antonio, and also with the ChiZine crowd in their suite.

Sunday, Lisa and I bought a few things from the vendors and had decided to settle in for a quiet afternoon updating blogs, Facebook statuses, etc.  We bumped into Jamie, and ended up at the Big Bar with him instead.  Within minutes, our table filled in with the likes of Kate Baker, Kay Kenyon, Kij Johnson, and Bryan Thomas Schmidt.  Bryan and I did a lot of talking, and it turns out he has an anthology in mind that would be a very good fit for one of my stories.  That night, at the Hugo awards, we bumped into Bryan and talked a bit more.  After the ceremony we hit the London suite for their party celebrating their upcoming 2014 Worldcon.  Dave Creek and Rick Lovett arrived shortly after we did, and we talked with them for quite a while.  Later, we bumped into Bryan again and he took us down to check out the floor with the Hugo party.  Security was tight, so we went over to the SFWA suite once more and partied it up.

Monday was supposed to be a boring day--just a shuttle to the airport and a flight home.  It turned out that Jay Lake was on the shuttle with us, and we spent the trip to the airport listening to a fascinating discussion about the paleogeology of Mars.  Okay, so that had to be the end of the excitement, right?  Well...while waiting at the gate for my flight to be called, I noticed Trevor standing a few rows of chairs away.  Then he got into the same line I was heading for.  Aaaand...I counted off the rows, found my seat, and there was Trevor right next to me.  Am I the luckiest writer or what?  I was fortunate enough to spend an hour-and-a-half flight sitting next to Trevor Quachri, the incoming editor of Analog.  We talked about the magazine, of course, it's history and it's future.  But we also chatted about other aspects of life--hobbies, cooking, family, and more.  Turns out he's a Giants fan, but I can forgive him for that!  It was very nice to get to know him a bit better.

Okay, so that's the brief (!) synopsis.  I'm missing a lot of events, and even more wonderful people whose names are darting in and out of my mind as I think back.  And I shouldn't neglect the food, which was wonderful, especially some local places recommended by my old friend Jim Stem.  To sum it all up, Worldcon was more fun than I could have possibly imagined.  I was welcomed by the other writers and accepted as one of their own, I got to do a good deal of partying, and got the opportunity to put faces to quite a few names in my inbox.  Oh, and yes, I will be at San Antonio next year!