I am emerging from a period of fallowness. It’s not so much that I haven’t done anything as that I have had so many things to do that I have had very little to no time to write. I try to bolster my confidence with the reminder that the writer is always at work because even when the writer stands up from the work, the work never really leaves the writer.
This doesn’t really give me much consolation because if there’s anything I would like, it would be to escape the shackles of everyday busyness and just go off and write. My reality makes it impossible for me to do just that, but every now and then I’ll create a window in time when I can go away and stop thinking about house and school and children and just focus on the writing.
It’s a selfish thing, I know. Some people in this little town have taken it upon themselves to point out to me just how selfish I am to leave my children behind so I can go off and write or do writer things. The thing is, I have given myself the permission to be selfish when it comes to my work because I also recognize just how cranky I can get when I haven’t allowed myself the time to write. (Plus, the children are happier when I’ve done my wordage because it means they get a mother who’s fully into them to the point that she invents complete worlds that they can occupy.) (Also, why must women create excuses for their creative work when men don’t?)
To be honest, I had intended to write a very different column from this one. I’d written close to a thousand words on something about vanishing languages, shifting landscapes, and the way in which science fiction is changing. But other people have written on these subjects more effectively, and I can only contribute my small battle cry to the greater voices of those writers more established and wider read than I am.
From where I write in a small village in the Netherlands, the struggle for diversity in genre and visibility in science fiction seems like a very distant and vague thing. The majority of women I encounter in this town have no interest in science fiction beyond saying: “Oh that,” “Star Wars and zombies are scary,” “It’s not really literature,” and “Let’s talk about things like the weather and children and sports.”
If you’ve read Alternate Girl’s Expatriate Life, this town was what I had in mind when I wrote about neatly ordered gardens and numbered men. One thing I find incredibly remarkable about Dutch people is their dedication to neatness and uniformity. So much so that if you stick out and carry on as being obviously different, you’ll get hammered down.
It reminds me very much of how there are people who insist on broadcasting rules about fiction every now and then as if these rules were the gospel of writing and by writing according to these rules you’ll get automatic fame and lasting publication forever and ever amen. (Let me just burst that bubble for you.)
I don’t think I read a single book on writing fiction until after my first story got published in the Philippines and then I realized I might just be going about it all wrong because I couldn’t understand a thing about what these books were talking about. What plot? What character arc? What denouement? What? What? What?
For goodness’s sake, all I wanted to do was write a story. Was it really as complicated as it sounded? (So maybe it was laziness on my part and maybe the reason I still haven’t achieved fame comes from my ditching on those books. Oh Lord. How could I?)
In a bid to better my young writing self, I decided that a shift to creative writing would do the trick. Unfortunately (or fortunately), my father had a good friend who’d read my work and this man vehemently advised against allowing my enrollment in a creative writing program. He insisted that joining such a program would destroy me.
I had no idea what he meant at that time and I quite resented him. Quite. (Because I would pick writing over playing the piano eight hours a day until even your dreams are occupied with notes that dance up and down and all around.) But now, I think I understand how focusing on the do’s and don’ts of writing can hammer down things that make your work stand out. I think we would have more meaningful work if we spent less time worrying about what kind of style is being used and if our narratives conform to the expected or whether the work is just like author so and so’s work.
Come to think of it, of all the work that’s published in the span of an entire year, how many of these works will linger and stick in our memories long after we’ve read them? And don’t tell me that only work produced by MFAs is the work that stands out because I won’t believe it.
I do think that the best work comes from the place where we allow ourselves to speak truthfully. (At least, that’s how it’s been with me.)
But it’s fiction, you’ll say.
Indeed, it is. But all fiction is built on truth and I see no point in writing a story that doesn’t contain a smidgen of truth in it.
So, what about science fiction then?
And what about the fact that we already live in the world science fiction authors before us envisioned?
Is there anything left to speculate about when technology advances in leaps and bounds and the future we dream of today is tomorrow’s now?
What’s the point of writing in a field where the moment you think about some technical advancement, it’s already taken place before your story has reached second draft?
And yet, and yet—I can’t let go of science fiction.
To me, science fiction is this rich and fertile genre that allows me to explore social, economic, and cultural issues. It’s this place where not even space is the limit and I can imagine any kind of society and any kind of world while at the same time poking and prodding at existing norms and set values.
So here I am. Brown-skinned, expatriate mother of two. At times, I am a warrior. At times I am an adventurer. At times I lie on my back and just watch clouds pass by. But all the time, all the time, I am dreaming of what ifs. I write science fiction.
While I was wrestling with the final draft for this column, I read Alex Dally MacFarlane’s Poetry’s Potential for Voice and I had to think of how what she writes there resonates with my own feelings towards writing science fiction. If you haven’t yet read it, I highly recommend it.