Here’s a provocative thought. Joseph Campbell defines The Hero’s Journey this way:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
In my last post of black writers and Paranormal Romance, I wrote that black writers “already live in a world of immanent, anarchic threat from vast and powerful forces,” namely white America. I added that when white characters deal with paranormal forces those threats are beaten back, often comprehensively, but for black writers, the idea that the evil in which they live might be vanquished is childish Disney fairytale stuff.
The coming of the new Star Wars movie with a black Jedi character is intriguing as hell. The setting is one that allows anyone to go through the Hero’s journey, and the Star Wars universe carries enough cultural cachet that we will allow anyone in it to go through that journey, so long as the story is told well and with sufficient polychrome.
Star Wars is a special case. When The Hunger Games came out, Twitter erupted in protest that Rue was cast with a black actress, despite the character in the book clearly being black and being from a primarily black district. The idea that a black character can enter a topsy-turvy world and learn to harness its forces (what screenwriters call the fun-n-games part of the plot), then return to bestow boons on his fellows is deeply threatening to the fundamental American psyche, or at least that portion that indulges in convenient racism, the ones who say “I’m not racist but…”
Which, unfortunately, is a lot of people.
They’re not racist but America was better before women, gays, and minorities started to agitate for equal rights. They’re not racist but they prefer it when they don’t have to think too hard about whom to trust, skin color is a sufficient proxy. They’re not racist but the convenience of having a community that can be exploited and abused with impunity was really, really nice.
A black person completing the hero’s journey is oxymoronic to these people.
It didn’t used to be this way. Eddie Murphy was a brilliant example of this: Trading Places and Beverly Hills Cop are both classic hero’s journeys, and the former ends with Billy Ray Valentine not only holding onto his fabulous powers, but successfully sharing them with his fellow man. (A caveat, though, is that Murphy’s character never shares his earned power and authority with other black people. In a lot of cases, other black people barely exist. Even Trading Places makes much more noise about Valentine being poor, rather than black.)
As black equality demands center stage, as a black president enjoys his “lame duck” status while getting a lot of stuff done, the white audience for the idea that black people deserve even the opportunity to go on a hero’s journey has shrunk appreciably.
2015The missing scene from Yowlers
I wrote this scene a while ago as an explanation for (a) why magic works in the Yowler universe, and (b) how this answer solves the Drake Equation:
“The Drake equation,” Nick said. “It’s a famous formula. It says that if we look at all the stars in the universe, and calculate the odds of there being one that supports life, and run the numbers, there ought to be a certain number of radio-capable civilizations we can hear right this moment.”
“And what does this Drake equation say?” Tatia purred. Damn, she could get to him that way, couldn’t she?
“Right now, there ought to be between 200 and 400 radio-capable civilizations in the Milky Way But there aren’t. We haven’t heard from anybody. And now the Natural Philosophy people have an idea why.” Tatia stared at him, waiting. She wasn’t going to give him the pleasure of asking, which she knew was what he wanted. “Some four billion years ago, a star in our neighborhood of the galaxy went supernova and blew out a huge section of space around us. It may have contributed to the mass that makes up the Earth and stuff, since heavy metals are made by supernovas, but the big deal was that it swept space clear of something. We don’t know what.” Nick’s speech was speeding up. He was getting excited. “But the NP people think that whatever the star did, it suppressed a feature of the universe: the feature that will automagically becomes realization.”
“We know magic worked, right? Well, what if it works absolutely everywhere, naturally, except around our Solar System?”
“But it has worked,” Tatia pointed out.
“A few times. And very weakly. What if that were just mere shreds, dust, vapor of what the Universe is really like? What if all that observer stuff we see at the quantum level isn’t just weird, it’s just weakly weird compared to what the universe is really like? In most of the universe, the moment you will something it become reality. It’s just on Earth, which is privileged in this special way, where that doesn’t happen.” Nick was full in the grip of didactism.
“How is that priveleged?” Tatia said. “Don’t you want magic to work?”
“Hell no!” Nick said. “Just think about it. The second you evolve something with the intelligence of a lemur, the entire world is doomed. The mere thought ‘I want him dead’ or ‘I wish he would disappear’ becomes mutually assured destruction. That’s how it solves the Drake equation: we’re alone in the universe because we don’t have magic. Our ancestors didn’t blow this planet to rubble before we reached this level of consciousness.”
Which I think wraps everything up quite nicely.
2015“I’ve always loved dogs.”
So, there’s this scene in Jupiter Ascending where Jupiter and Caine are talking, and Caine reveals that he has more in common with a dog than with exalted bioroyalty like Jupiter, and Jupiter responds with “I’ve always loved dogs.” Caine, distraught by her willingness to engage in what he perceives as bestial, leaves, and Jupiter stands there, clenching her fists and groans, “I’ve always loved dogs.”
Foz Meadows, in an otherwise stellar essay on how Jupiter Ascending is The Matrix Regendered, points to that scene, as many have, as one of the silliest scenes in a movie full of silly scenes, but Foz also points out that, really, The Matrix has just as many silly scenes.
But I want to rise to the defense of the “I’ve always love dogs” scene. When it closes, Jupiter knows it was an off-the-cuff remark that was stupid. She’s cursing herself for saying the first thing that came to mind, despite the way it clearly drove off the object of her affection. This kind of scene is rare in movies, and it’s rare in most books. But it is common in fanfiction.
This scene is an adulting scene. Most fanfic writers are young. They’re figuring out the world. They’re explaining it to each other. This scene is a classic attempt by a writer to do two things at once: show Jupiter’s growing attraction to Caine, and explain to the audience how that attraction can make you say something that, in retrospect, is really freakin’ stupid. That scene is 100% Lana reaching into her dual persona as an adult and as a young woman and trying to help her fans understand their world, especially the romantic parts.
It does very well at that. But you only have access to understanding why that scene works so well if you know the fanfic trope that it’s working with.
Thirty-five weeks. Nine months of weekly fiddling and fixing. Almost two years of work. All for one silly Frozen fanfic. And it was silly. And fun. And, knowing me, deliberately sexy. I enjoyed every minute of trying to write a three-act story with rising tension, lots (and lots and lots) of Chekhov’s Pistols, varying levels of angst.
It was okay as a novel. At 98,675 words it more than qualifies. (The “unused” directory contains an additional 52,758 words– that’s what got thrown away!). The big villains of Acts I and Acts II are much more serious than the villain of Act III, but this is a romance so of course the main thing going on in Act III is whether or not the two characters will finally get their stuff together and tie the knot.
It was okay as a fanfic. It did not have the classic angst and anguish that seems to be endemic to all Elsanna stories; in classic fanfic “bang” fashion I did things to the characters that pushed them a bit outside canon; I tried to have much more plot, with strong points to the source material that were not just duplicating it, but actually going off and being its own thing, than what I usually find in fanfic.
It was fun as an exercise. Callbacks to eariel in the work, pulling the shades off and showing the readers what I’d built– the kind of stuff Lois McMaster Bujold does so effortlessly– was absolutely thrilling, and my fans really seemed to enjoy it.
I’m not sure what I’m going to do next. I may put a hold on writing for a few months while I catch my breath and work on some software-related stuff; my github is languishing.
But goodness, it was fun.
There is a kerfluffle in the romance writer’s community over JR Ward’s use of (Hollywood-esque) “black” language whenever her vampires talk. These are, as one commentor put it, “lily-white guys play-acting at being thugs and talking all ghetto.”
When my job sends me down to the main office in San Francisco, which it does once or twice a year, there’s a bookstore near the hotel I use that specializes in books by African American authors, and it has a huge romance section. And I’m a huge romance reader, so out of curiosity I bought a few. The entire romance section was modern day; I could not find, and I did try, to find SF, fantasty, paranormal or historical romance novels in that particular section.
On the one hand, the stories were a slog; I’m not a big fan of modern day romance, and the language wasn’t entirely my own. (Indeed, it was a bit like reading Alan Garner, where so much is said by not being said, the writer assumes you share her understanding of culture, and various patois intermingle with casual difficulty.) On the other, it was clear that the characters in these books are constantly worrying about “their men” being in jail, or getting into trouble with the cops, or facing the extra complications their skin color entails when getting a job or applying for college, constantly managing their outward appearance to thread the maze of stares and surveillance, to avoid “causing trouble” just by being black.
I haven’t read Ward, but having read (a few) romance novels by black writers, and (many more) paranormal romances, I’ve come to a conclusion: Paranormal romance creates for white writers and readers fictional worlds of immanent, anarchic existential threat from vast and powerful forces mostly beyond the protagonists’ control. Black romance writers already live in such a world, and feel no need to add vampires and werewolves to their characters’ already overwhelmingly complicated lives.
Vampire and werewolf characters are always talking about how hard it is to navigate a world that doesn’t understand them, and how they feel marginalized by their minority status and lack of privilege. Normal characters often feel threatened by the inherent power and immanent threat of the supernaturally empowered Other.
Which, if you think about it, sounds an awful lot like the way black Americans talk about America, and how the innate racism in America often manifests itself when conservatives talk about race.
I think the reason there aren’t more paranormal romance writers of color is that they don’t see the point. They’d just be writing in a genre where, in the end, that immanent, anarchic threat is beaten back, often with finality. To someone who already lives that life, such a victory is more childish fantasy than it is a thrilling conclusion.keep looking »