I’ve had this post in the queue for several months.* It’s one of those posts that I’ve needed to write, but haven’t wanted to write, and… Well, here’s the thing: I can be dumb, and insensitive, and I write from my own life’s perspective (which has been pretty darned good). Since I’m a writer, sometimes there are elements in my projects that can be dumb, or insensitive, or come from my own life’s perspective (which sometimes ignores that other peoples’ lives have not been pretty darned good).
Note: Someday soon I’ll put up a companion piece to this one about Rachel being blind. It’ll be very similar in content, but will cover the year after publishing Digital Divide where I went from, “Hey, I’ve got a book out” to “Hey, there’s a need for representation of persons with disabilities in science fiction and Rachel is blind so I’m doing something good!” to “Um… Rachel can still see so I’m going to put this banner down and quietly back away before I get myself into trouble.” I will definitely be exploring a comparison between Rachel and her brain implant, and deaf persons and cochlear implants, in an upcoming book.
I’ve got the plot for the comic planned out, but I do a lot of last-minute tinkering with scripts. The strip for October 2 was supposed to be quite different, with Hope offering Mike to Lincoln as a possible therapist.
I backed away at the last minute. I’m glad I did: I’m trying to get through the entire story without mentioning the characters’ preferences in sex partners. (I was also trying to do this with race, but I think I blew that in one of the earliest strips.) I’ll explain why, but I’ll ask you to do a little light reading before we get to that:
Don’t be fooled by the first couple of questions. Once you get past the normal Ask:Response section, the interview goes batshit. You can almost pinpoint the exact second when the interviewer realizes that this was no longer a fluff piece, and the pleasant stroll down Memory Lane has careened into Racism Road.
Yes, diversity matters. Yes, representation matters. No, we don’t have to hang spotlights off of every single difference to show that these matter. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a Jedi more than anything else in the entire world. I wanted the lightsaber and the mindpowers and the… the everything! But I couldn’t, because girls weren’t Jedi. They weren’t anything, really.
If the Star Wars expanded universe had existed back when I was a kid-if I had seen just one female Jedi way off to the side!-the games I played with my friends would have been different. The stories I wrote in my head would have been different. When you’re a very young child, you don’t realize you’ve got options. You learn from example and context. Role models can be something as stupidly simple as a background character. The fact that they exist can open entire worlds within a kid’s head.
So I don’t talk about race or preferences in sex partners in the comic. They exist. Hell, they exist in the main characters: Mako is Black, Rachel is Chinese-American, Mike and Rachel are gay, Josh is so straight the Kinsey scale needed to be pushed into negative numbers, and Pat’s bisexual. (I’ve got a side story in the works that addresses this, where Pat wasn’t entirely comfortable with this aspect of himself until the collective kicked in, and then came the mental rush of everybody doing everything with everybody else. Sharing a hivemind shatters a lot of mental walls.) But they exist in the background, to inform the characters’ choices and actions. They don’t take the spotlight from the actual story.
That Pete and Pete article? It’s lovely. I mean that. It’s a wonderful example of why it’s critical for creators to use characters that don’t conform to a standard template of traits. And yes, there is the threat of tokenism if a single person uses a wheelchair, or if a single person is Black or female within an entire cast of White males. But I think a lot of young girls would have played different games on the playground if they had seen one female Jedi.
Now, if Yoda had been female…
Long-time readers of the comic may remember that I’ve been working on the Rachel Peng series for years. I’ve got giant files full of scraps of notes and stray paragraphs, and each time I found a new news item that could fit in her world, I’d open these files and slide that tidbit into its appropriate place.
Maker Space closed with Rachel coming to terms with her blindness. The next book in the series has her relearning how to read. She’s one of those people who has a stack of favorite books, and she can pick one at random, flip to any page, and plunge herself into a familiar world. In that respect, she’s probably like every one of you reading this. Now, imagine if that was taken away from you. All of those worlds you loved? Gone. Rachel can still read, but it takes her a lot of effort: ever since she woke up and found her eyes no longer worked, the only way she can visit these favorite worlds of hers is on brief business trips.
Semi-tangent: Audiobooks are often held up as a viable substitute for reading for persons with visual impairment, or just used as a substitute for reading in general. They aren’t. Listening to a book is passive. You are an audience to a performance. Reading a book makes you an active participant in a world that is only partially described, and you fill in the rest with your own ideas. What did the birds sound like the first time you entered the Shire, what did the sewers smell like under Derry… A good audiobook gives us some limited opportunity to fill in these blanks, but the rises and falls within characters and plot? Those are carried along with the performer, and tend to dominate the experience.*
It’s been my intention that Rachel will relearn to read with her fingers instead of her eyes. A few years ago, Yanko Design went into my plot note files. This is a South Korean company that’s been working on innovative technologies to translate printed text into Braille. They’ve developed a portable Braille tablet, as well as some other (ridiculously cool) product concepts. Fast-forward to this week, when I’m working on the part of the new novel where Rachel is relearning how to read, and I decide to revisit Yanko Design to fact-check their progress on these products.
As far as I can tell, none of them have gone into production. This seems kind of messed up to me, so I started looking around and found that no low-cost portable Braille e-readers exist.
For me, this is an opportunity. It’s a handwave where smart people do things with wires and poof! Rachel has her magic device:
“The Braille e-reader was slightly thicker than a tablet, its back and edges sealed in some sort of silicone to make it waterproof. Calling it a first-generation device would have been generous: the thing was so far removed from the production line that it might as well have come from the technological equivalent of a farmer’s market. The silicone was lumpy, the metal shell beneath covered in deep scratches where a Dremel tool had kicked sideways, but the reader’s face was as smooth as glass. Mako and Santino had made it for her, and it had quickly become one of her favorite things in the world.”
In real life, tho’…
Guys, this is truly messed up. I’m going to do a little more searching to check if there’s a different barrier besides “the economics don’t make it worthwhile.” Maybe the prototypes worked for about three days and then caught fire, I don’t know. I do know that we are at a time and a place in our civilization in which these types of products should exist.
*Not bagging on audiobooks, by the way. We got the recording and editing of Digital Divide all wrapped up just this past Friday. Just saying that listening to a book is a different experience than reading it.
As I sit here, watching the pool we uncovered this weekend slowly turn through multiple shades of green, it occurs to me that the year is already slipping away and I should post a project update.
Big success. Huge. On many different levels. Most of the rewards have been ordered, or are being processed in some way. The release of the bonus story, League Night, has been held up, but for a very good reason that I can’t talk about until it’s confirmed. However, once all this is over, I will be writing up a post about how difficult it’s been to interact with many organizations which work with seeing-impaired persons. Not all organizations, mind! Just almost all.
The JoshSmut series has been indefinitely postponed. Sales of The Russians Came Knocking weren’t nearly as strong as I needed them to be, and it hasn’t earned out its costs, This is sniffles-sad for me, as sex comedies are too much fun to write. I’ll see if it’s feasible to return to the other seven wives of Josh Glassman at a later time.
The Rachel Peng Series
The third book is taking shape. I’m much more hopeful about this one than Maker Space; by this third book, the world’s nicely established and now there’s some adventures to be had. As for when this is supposed to come out? Well. Last night, I realized there was potential for a spinoff novel from this book, but told from Hope Blackwell’s perspective because it involved the ghosts. Since there won’t be any ghosts in the Rachel books (or talking koalas. sorry), this spinoff novel would get shifted back to Hope. So what is essentially a series of books spun off from the comic is now spinning back to the comic’s characters… and now I’m so dizzy I’m going to throw up. The question is, do I write two books and publish them simultaneously? I would love to do this to make sure consistency between events carries over between them. Downside? These novels are now my primary source of income and I will be hella broke by then. Mull, mull, mull…
As of this weekend, Intelligence has been cancelled. We behaved like sensible adults and let the show do what it was going to do, and now we can move on with our lives. I’d love to see OACET on the small screen one day, Scandal-style. Maybe we should see their version of the straight-up cyborg procedural as testing the television waters for what would need to happen with full-on OACET conspiracy theory sexytime weirdness.
Now, have a baby possum.
You know that moment when you’re all like I NEED TO WRITE OUT MY SCHEDULE FOR… OH HELL JUST PUT IT ONLINE AND CALL IT A BLOG POST? I did not just have one of those moments. Nor is this my rough schedule for first-quarter 2014*
JAN 20 – Launch 30-day Kickstarter for the DIGITAL DIVIDE and MAKER SPACE audiobooks.
I’m keeping production of books and audiobooks completely separate. MAKER SPACE will exist no matter what. Audiobooks? Well, that’s what the Kickstarter is for. Since Rachel is blind, I think it’s critically important to make the Rachel Peng series available in audiobook form and improve accessibility of the story to persons who may be visually impaired. However, producing a high-quality audiobook is pricy. Boom. Kickstarter.
MARCH 3 – MAKER SPACE RELEASE DAY
I learned quite a few things from the release of DIGITAL DIVIDE. I think “set a release date and stick with it” might be the most important of these. Then you can schedule the production phase of the book, and add some extra time when all of these internal deadlines go whooshing past like doves. Or bullets.
MAY 1/JUNE 1 – JOSHSMUT THE SECOND
The next Joshsmut will be a treasure hunting adventure through ancient ruins (giggity). It will either come out in early May or early June, depending on how well the Kickstarter does and how much time I have to spend on shipping.
Again, depends on how well the Kickstarter does. I’ve heard a high-quality audiobook can take over a month to record and another month to edit.
And then there’s the comic, and the paid work, and the home repairs, and the work on the next book in the Rachel Peng series…
Bye gonna fall down for like six days okay thanks.
* This is totally my rough schedule for early 2014
Edited to take out a paragraph that didn’t fit.
HEY I’M GOING TO RAMBLE NOW OKAY? THANKS! WOO!
(Spoilers for Book 2, maybe, but if you’ve read Digital Divide then you’re good. Moving on…)
Now that Digital Divide is done, I’m returning to the original outlines for Book 2. Maker Space (working but very likely title) is grouped around the theme of “outing,” or personal and societal response to perceptions of ability and the self. In Maker Space, the mental damage done to the cyborgs has been made public, and Rachel’s status as a person who does not have working eyes will be revealed. Thus far, it’s been established that anyone who refers to Rachel as “blind” gets their butts handed to them on a pretty silver platter. Rachel will shout far and wide that she’s not blind, but there’s a rather telling line on p.230 of Digital Divide which shows the lady doth protest too much. In the back of her mind, Rachel knows she is blind, or at least her life has been irrevocably changed because of limitations on her visual senses. For example, she was an avid reader who can no longer read or write without putting a lot of conscious effort into it, and that has altered her experiences when she encounters the written word.
I knew going into Maker Space that I’d have to do a lot of research to understand how members of the blind community perceive possible alterations to sight via new technologies. This is absolutely necessary: I am not a member of their community and I shouldn’t go throwing assumptions around of how the blind community thinks or feels. On that note, I also can’t group “the blind community” into a single lump sum; sharing a single physical characteristic does not result in homogenization of preferences or opinions.
So I’m sitting here on a Friday night and dreading the next few weeks of research. I’m going to be spending a lot of time walking on that razor’s edge of “privilege,” which is the Internet’s way of telling you to shut up and sit down because you are not truly capable of understanding anything different from yourself. That view concerns me, but I don’t think I should be restricted to writing specific characters because of it. If I did, I’d be drowning in a book full of carbon copies of myself. I think Rachel Peng is more interesting than I am, more compelling than I am, and has more to say than I do. But since I’m the one behind her decision-making and her dialogue, I need to understand those parts of her life which are different from mine. And as I go over these old outlines and realize how many blank spaces need to be filled out, I’m sort of scared I’m going to mess very big parts of her character up in a very big way.
Anyhow. That’s what I’m up to. Yippee.