Friday, September 25, 2009

Getting Ranty Pays Off

Sometimes it helps to go on TILT.

As noted in the rant-fest of an entry below this one... The day after said rant was posted, I emailed a very nice email to said lecturer explaining my position and why I thought certain of her comments had disadvantaged my grade. Result? Lecturer remarked essay and bumped grade from a B+ to an A-

Her email in response stating that she appreciated my commitment to the subject was nice. I had no intentions for feeling vindicated, just to make sense.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Learn To Recognise Good Data When You See It: A Rant In No Particular Parts

It's been hard at times, but for three years I've kept my mouth shut. About what, you ask? Well, most of the time Stephen King (because the man can be a joy to quote). But on the whole—genre fiction.
  • Context: University. Double major—English Literature and Religious Studies.

In three years, I have never raised contentions about either a grade I was given or the content of an essay. Until today. Today, while I tried not to froth at the mouth and head-butt the pillars of academia, I lost my pip. I lost it quietly, because I still had lectures to attend, but still enough to write down a mini rant. And I rarely rant. Today, then, must be a rare day.

  • Point of contention: Quoting Stephen King as an expert in the field of writing.

So I'm writing this nifty little essay for my Religious Studies paper "Myth And Ritual". In said paper, I propose to put forth the notion that the act of writing is a ritual comparable to that practised within ancient Shamanic traditions. I got all my quotes and lovelies for the shamanism theory down, no biggie. During the course of this little essay, I manage to quote both Clive Barker and Stephen King. [if you're curious, the quotes are: "I work to loud music—hard rock stuff like AC/DC… Metallica… but for me the music is just another way of shutting the door. It keeps the mundane world out.(KING); "I think novelists go out into a space that is essentially a psychic space… report back and say 'That's what I saw' (BARKER)].

Notes in the margin, how we love them. So on the page where I offer up the quote from King, Mr Pet Cemetery's name is circled, and in the margin next to it, the following note: GOOD DATA ARE NEEDED.

Excuse me, what? That's funny. Because when I was writing this essay, I thought the best possible "data" you could get when it comes to what goes on during the creative writing process would be to quote a fucking best-selling writer. Now, it is interesting to notice that, on the very next page, Mr Clive has no angry circle around his name, and there is no mention of any GOOD DATA. Two things: 1)either the marker got sick of telling me to offer up GOOD DATA, or said marker didn’t recognise the name of Mr Clive, therefore having no clue that he wrote the same nonsensical, genre troll-trash as Mr King.

This is not the first time this issue has come up and I am sure you are all familiar with the biased opinions some academics hold against genre work. Yes, I know that in the academic field we like to have a nice theory from some third party who has, in numerous cases, never experienced exactly what it is they are theorising about. That's a good and a bad thing; good because it allows for a sense of distance and objectivity; bad because without experiencing something, really, can you ever know what the fuck you are talking about? Should academics not by now begin to realise that they can potentially benefit an enormous amount from people who are actually touching the very heart of what they themselves are working so hard at understanding?

I should perhaps mention that, said marker have on many an occasion displayed public disapproval verging on disrespect for Carl Jung's theories, many of which have an extremely close relationship to topics such as the imagination, the subconscious and the unconscious, human attributes that I believe are highly undervalued and underrated when it comes to understanding and interpreting not only literature, but us little Homo Sapiens as a whole. But then, those things are not concrete; they can't be put under a microscope and mapped, so fuck 'em. They mean nothing.

I'm not ranting because I want a better grade. But just once, I'd like you to recognise that, when it comes to fiction--writing it, knowing it, living it, understanding it--Stephen King and any other seasoned writer has something valid to say. And you can take it as "data".

Final comments on the essay? "Some good insights here; best when substantiated with some data." I gave you data. You just blithely ignored and refused to see it because you allowed what you think you know about a "hack" to make you think you know better.

End note: Not all academics seem to live inside a sheltered box of theory. Earlier this year, a different Religious Studies lecturer in the same faculty admitted to me that genres such as science fiction may very well be better equipped to explain metaphysical notions about ourselves and the world. Aces.

Monday, September 14, 2009

New Zealand Speculative Fiction Blogging Week

This week is New Zealand Speculative Fiction Blogging Week. It's all about creating an awareness of spec NZ writers, and getting us to connect with one another better. Which is kinda awesome.

I didn't know what I'd write about at first, because I do not know that many NZ spec writers. (Which is where the awareness thing comes in). I am also of the opinion that the NZ writing culture is largely "literary" as opposed to genre-orientated. (This notion was particularly well illustrated when, at a university writing workshop a guest speaker stated he "doesn't really understand why people write science-fiction… stories about robots from outer space".) Every time I see a lecturer with a copy of The Time Traveler's wife tucked under their arm I want to run up to them and bust them for reading SF.

I am not a New Zealander by birth. I'm South African. In August of this year (2009) I celebrated my fifth year in NZ. Sweet as, bro. I think the biggest influence NZ has had on my writing would be in terms of finding myself in a totally different landscape. I mean really: Africa—New Zealand. Bit of a difference. There's a wild desolateness about New Zealand that I love; it's…beautiful isolation. Particularly the South Island, where I lived for two years. It's not simply the fact that the towns are small and few and far between. To an extent it is also the physical location of the two islands on the planet. It's just a bit off to the side.

Then there is the interweaving of early and fairly new cultures, the notion of which creates a plethora of ideas and possibilities in any fertile writing mind once you examine them within a speculative fiction framework. How will future societies manage cultural differences? Will the differences matter? Will the differences be essential? Of course, Africa also have these issues and others but with New Zealand the scope is smaller, perhaps not so completely overwhelming. The spotlight is all the more vivid, and I think provides a unique opportunity for the writer to feel immersed in what he/she is writing about. One does not feel so completely overwhelmed by sheer space.

What else—oh, politics. I'm not as up to scratch with NZ politics yet. Even after five years, the culture shock remains. (Boy, does it ever). My lack of intimate knowledge offers up a certain measure of estrangement, and that in turn has made my writing stronger. NZ politics does not consume me with passion the same way that South African/African politics do; I can observe and be objective. Both these qualities have sharpened my observations in general, leading to—yes, you've guessed it—better writing.

So what am I trying to say? I guess…thank you, New Zealand. You are two small islands in the Pacific where I never in a million years thought I would go. You've given me insights and spectacular views. You've frustrated me and wooed me and wowed me and instilled in me a tremendous appreciation for lolly cake. You've helped shape me and thus changed the way I write forever.

Speculatively Yours

Lynne Jamneck

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Outer Alliance: Pride Day Post

As a member of the Outer Alliance, I advocate for queer speculative fiction and those who create, publish and support it, whatever their sexual orientation and gender identity. I make sure this is reflected in my actions and my work.

Yup, the first of September is pride day at The Outer Alliance. To celebrate, members will be posting short excerpts of their work. I've decided to post a tiny bit of the novel I'm currently writing. People ask me - "is it SF? Fantasy? Supernatural? Weird?" It's kinda all of those. It has gadgets. It has magic. It has... weird things. Weird people, getting into dark, deep trouble. Alternatively, they sit down and have tea. There are footnotes. It's kind of the global village on a bizarro scale.

Untitled: Excerpt (Novel In Progress)

She found the house on Custard Street without incident. It looked unremarkable. Olivia had expected something gaudier. The zealots must finally have learned the efficacy for flying their cockamamie ideas under the radar. Olivia opened the small white gate and walked up the path. The front door was made of steel; the first sign that those who lived inside had reason to fear for their safety. There was no bell. Olivia banged on the door with her fist.

"We don't want anything!" a voice yelled from inside.

"Open the door."

A hard laugh. "Whatever!"

"I have an appointment."

No answer.

"If you open the door—"

"Who are you?"

"Sarah Smith."

"Lying will get you no further than the porch."

She cursed under her breath. "Olivia Midnight."

Quiet. Olivia waited, already convinced that coming here had been a mistake. The sound of locks being turned held her back. The door opened to reveal a tall, gaunt-looking man in a grey suit. A pink tie set off brightly against his white shirt.

"Whatever brings you here, Harlequin?"

"I told you. I have an appointment with Levin."

The tall man frowned. "I don't see why Levin would want to talk to you." He looked past her, onto the street. The only immediate threat was a small kid on a tricycle. He scowled. "Come in before someone sees you."

The house was old. The fixtures all seemed antique. Not much evidence of computerised control panels. Manual light switches. A sweet smell lingered at the lower level of a more powerful musty odour.

"Stay here," the tall man instructed her gruffly. "And keep your magic in your pockets. None of that Abracadabra bullshit. This place will spike like an irregular heartbeat if anyone's monitoring the area."

He turned and disappeared down a dark hallway. Olivia felt antagonised for having to explain herself. She was used to getting her way easily. And yet… In the past her alliances had always seemed so strong, so clear-cut. When she'd still had a relationship with her father. When there had still been the hope of reconciliation between their differences of opinion. What would he think of her if he knew the things she'd done? Olivia refused to be swayed by her conscience. Not now. She had already risked too much. The idea that all of that had been in vain was unbearable.

While she waited, Olivia noticed the hodgepodge of framed photographs hanging on the yellowed walls. They were old. Most were black and white, a few in colour. Some had been faded by the sun in previous places they had occupied. Olivia wondered if they all belonged to Levin. She knew practically nothing about him. She had accepted his invitation on instinct.

Footsteps approached. The gaunt man paused in the shadows of the darkened hallway. A curious frown creased his forehead. "This way." Olivia followed.