Archive for June, 2009

God’s Failed Ambassadors

Or Don’t Trip … He Ain’t Through With You Yet

While I was thinking through what I was going to say about “The Story of (My) Christianity”, I was left with a bunch of issues that I struggled with. It’s the whole idea of God sending us to be His ambassadors and then seemingly not being able to equip us adequately for the job. I see it in my church. I see it in my life. I see it in my heart. Shouldn’t there be a more demonstrable difference between “us” and “them”? Why are we still so broken?

A friend of mine put it this way: “If God is to be the all powerful diety he is, why does he not do more to change us when we confess his Lordship over our lives? Yeah, yeah, free will and all that, but still what are we saying when we are calling him “Lord”? Isn’t part of that an invitation for Him to change us? Sure, it takes work on our part, but I could use some help and, if you believe the surveys, so does everyone else. When I look at the Christian community, I see epic fail and it’s really hard for me to just say that it’s all our fault. If we are to be representing Him, and if we are calling Him the Lord of our lives, then I would think we would get more help…and if He isn’t then how can we say the blame is all on us?

We were created in the image of God and declared “good”. Good. We forget that part of things, that as image-bearers, we have inherent worth. We don’t always live up to that potential, what we were created to be. We could look at our place in the greater scheme of things as a matter of us not being able to save ourselves, but that’s not the whole story. We’re invited into a way of life, a life of transformation. We don’t have to remain as we are, mired in the mess of our lives. We can seek a path of wholeness, become humans to be restored in all the dimensions of humanity.

Probably points more to our misunderstanding of God and our relationship with him. We don’t have to be perfect to be dispensers of God’s grace. Martin Luther spoke of Christians as being simultaneously saints and sinners. It has taken me quite a while to understand that God’s not interested in fixed vessels. We have it in our heads that we need to be perfect, have our act together, be the “best” representatives that we can be because how else can we be used by God.

This idea of perfection has crippled my spiritual walk. The Bible seems to not only demand perfection, but it seems to imply that perfection is attainable now. Then someone pointed out to me that I had a screwed up view of “perfection.” When we read the word “perfection” through our modern mindset, we see the Greek ideal of perfection. We can’t attain that. Yet for most of my spiritual life, I was tormented by the guilt of failure because I couldn’t reach this goal of perfection. My life was littered with seemingly endless failures. But when you read perfection more through the eyes of the original audience, you find the Hebrew idea of wholeness. Being complete is something that we can attain.

We are no more immune to sin and temptation than our neighbor, as much as I (and many in the churches) would like to believe otherwise. We’re sick and we need resurrection, divine healing. He calls us to join with Him, to be set free of the lives we’re imprisoned in into a new world, a new way of living. In our imperfection, in our brokenness, we know each other’s pain and weakness—without room for judgment—and can best be there for one another. We can be the consoling arms of God for one another.

Our actions define our eternity. The strongest, most impactful message you can have about your faith is the one we speak with our lives. If we aren’t living it out, it invalidates anything we have to say on the subject. If what we say and how we live don’t match, we’ve probably already lost the battle. There’s the heart of my struggle. I’ve tried to follow Jesus and it’s hard. There’s nothing simple about it. It’s paradoxical. It’s counter-intuitive. Often I feel as if I know the truth, but have no experience of its reality or fail to fully live it out.

God is engaged in a gentle dance with us, wooing us to Him not wanting to force Himself on us, but rather wanting us to freely choose to love Him; to join with His redemptive mission for each other and for creation. He chooses to work through a failed people for reasons we may never understand. We are cracked vessels, works in progress. God doesn’t give up on us … we give up on ourselves. We aren’t defined by our failings and stumbling. We’re defined by how we get back up, bruised knees and all, dust ourselves off, and keep on our journey.

[BIB/ReadersRoom] Our Bi-Directional Assumption of Trust

When a publisher of any repute buys a book from you, it’s a bi-directional assumption of trust. The author trusts that the publisher will do their best to edit, publish, and market your title. The publisher trusts that the author will do their very best to see that their book is a success by taking it on themselves to do a respectable amount of self-promotion.

We tend to forget that when we get published, we writers join with our presumptive publishers in a peculiar relationship, this “bi-directional assumption of trust”. There are certain things I want the publisher to do for me, the things I might not necessarily be capable of doing for myself (or which they can do better) as we partner in the promotional efforts for our project. Because, indeed, my book becomes “our” book, as their advance indicates an investment in me/it.

Small press or large press, when you are considering who to go with as a publisher (especially if you are weighing the traditional route vs. self-publishing) there are several things you want to consider. Better said, there are certain things you want the publisher to do for you.

Here are some of the things I expect from my Publisher (even small press ones):

-distribution (my book into as many venues as possible)
-getting my book into libraries
-getting my book into book clubs (especially not forgetting urban book clubs)
-trade advertising (Weird Tales, Cemetery Dance, Shroud, Publisher’s Weekly, etc)
-press releases (Gila Queen, FearZone, Weird Fiction News, Hellnotes, HorrorWeb, etc.)
-advertising on book specialty web sites (CushCity is a site recently brought to my attention)
-full support on the publisher’s web site (you think would be a given, yet …)
-sending out review copies
-in house street team efforts (for instance, message board announcements)
-tip in sheets, bookmarks, postcards, and other promotional materials.

Basically, I want to see that I’m being taken seriously as a product. On my end, I tend to bring my marketing plans to the table so that the publisher knows what to expect from me. Even when I publish with the small press, I put in the work:

-I will make convention appearances, schmooze and do signings
-I specifically target black bookstores with my marketing efforts
-I give full platform support (my blog, FaceBook, MySpace, Twitter)
-I personally send out review copies (again, with a focus on black reviewers and places my publisher my have missed/not thought about)
-I do podcasts and interviews.

Ultimately, it’s about protecting your brand. And yes, cries of the struggling artist aside, you are a brand. One that deserves to be treated specially and promoted seriously, by you and your publisher.

My Sister’s Keeper – A Review

“A Rain of Tears Under a Piece of Blue Sky”

Directed by Nick Cassavetes (The Notebook), Jodi Picoult’s dense and melodramatic 2004 novel about a family struggling to save a terminally ill child comes to tear duct exhausted life on the big screen. Brian and Sara Fitzgerald (Jason Patric and Cameron Diaz) customized their second daughter, Anna (Abigail Breslin), in utero to be a perfect biological match for her sister Kate (Sofia Vassilieva), who was diagnosed with leukemia at an early age.

With each of Kate’s relapses, Anna’s parents drag her to the hospital to harvest her blood, lymphocytes, granulocytes, and bone marrow. With the final relapse, she’s asked to cough up a kidney. So she takes her life savings and hires a lawyer (Alec Baldwin) asking to be medically emancipated from her parents

The Fitzgerald family and movie itself wrestle with unanswerable moral questions from can parents force their child to become an organ donor for a fatally ill sibling? to the meaning behind such tragedy and pain? And the audience is left wondering how will the family heal from not just the ravages of the disease, but also the splits caused by the courtroom battle.

The movie mixes some interesting POV jumping interwoven with flashback sequences which sort of confuses the narrative at the beginning until the viewer gets used to the rhythm of the movie. A counterintuitive choice, Cameron Diaz desperately tries to act her butt off as Sara Fitzgerald, playing a mother who had basically quit her life (as a lawyer) in order to fully care for her stricken daughter. And despite the height of melodrama, we buy her performance despite how shrill she gets in her more overprotective moments.

“At any moment, our whole world could come tumbling down.” –Brian

It’s easy to dismiss events as “life is life, death is death, and no one understands either” though we try to find meaning in both. Even in the living, prolonged sickness can have various effects on a family. Among the many possible emotions it can elicit, it can make you hard, weary, battle hardened. It can produce resentments and reveal cracks in your life. There can be such a black hole of need within the family, in this case Kate, others can get over looked: Jesse’s dyslexia or Anna not necessarily wanting to be an organ donor.

“My whole life is a pain.” –Kate

We’re only here for a finite period of time. The stark reality of our lives is that we’re all going to die we just never know when. Be it by disease, accident, age, or random crime, death adds gravitas to life. By thinking about death, we focus on what’s important in the time we have. It causes us to re-prioritize and make us realize what is really important. Yet in the living, we have to find a way to feel and navigate the pain of life in a fallen world without numbing ourselves from it.

“Most babies are coincidences … I was engineered. Born for a particular reason.” –Anna

Anna is essentially a donor child, conceived to be spare parts for her sister. In some ways, she’s no different than any of us. We’re all donor children, here for one another. Rather than being genetic saviors, we’re relational saviors. We’re more than just accidents to one another. People aren’t an interruption of our lives, they are the reason for our living. The things and people that interrupt us are the reason why we’re here. We’re God interruptions: the interruptions are the point of life. We DO have a choice: we choose to be donors of our time, resources, and emotions.

Family and friendships are a blessing from God, opportunities to both share and receive His love through another. We must live in the midst of a caring community. Love must be shared. Life must be shared: taking care of one another, spending time with one another, fighting our battles for one another, taking care of one another, and building each other up. All relationships have a measure of inherent risk to them and we have to be willing to risk being vulnerable.

“Once upon a time I thought I was put on this earth to save my sister … that that wasn’t the point. The point was that I had a sister.” –Anna

My Sister’s Keeper avoids being overly manipulative, but the word subtle is not in the movie’s vocabulary. Between the family angst, courtroom drama, and the story of terminal illness ripped from the heart of every other Lifetime movie, it creates a jumbled stew of tonal unevenness which almost can’t be helped. Also, the movie pulls no punches in showing the reality of a disease eating away at a body as well as the toll of caring for the sick and dying, driving home the human condition (read: Nothing says tear jerker movie like copious buckets of vomit). Its saving grace, though probably adding to the tonal unevenness is how leavened with a gentle humor the movie is.

It’s an interesting counter program against the launch of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen this weekend.

Warning to my sister: yeah, you will cry through this whole thing.

The Community of Building (Extreme Makeover: Home Edition) Pt. II

[click here for part I]

“You remember the story of Nehemiah?” Rev. Martin asked. “Before he got there, no one was doing anything. But when he got there, the whole city got together and started working. The people had a mind to work.”

The spirit of community and mission appealed to the best in the Hoosier community. There was a holistic approach to restoring the neighborhood and you didn’t exactly have to twist arms to get folks to participate because the virus of generosity spread quickly as folks got caught up in the “what can I do?” attitude. There were can food drives to stock food banks. Different vendors pitched in where they could, from J. Ennis Fabrics donating fabric then wanting to go on to teach sewing lessons at the donated community center; to AV Framing Gallery donating pictures to be hung inside the home.

Though prepped by the producers a few weeks earlier, no one knew for sure which house would be selected. All they knew was that the streets would be blocked off and folks would be given the option to stay in nearby hotels during the duration because of the noise and inconvenience. Mark Smith, a student at Martin University, had lived in neighborhood for four years. “At 6:30 in the morning, our house was shaking when all the people marched down the street. It’s been a positive impact and will hopefully be an incentive for people to keep their property up.”

Some residents had been in the neighborhood for over 32 years, seeing things like this on television but never expecting to see it in real life, much less in their neighborhood. Everyone pulled together to continue to improve the neighborhood. The Estridge led crews landscaped the property of Martin University. Wheelchair ramps were built for houses who needed them. The entire neighborhood was equipped with wifi and Dell donated computers to all of the IPS students who live there. Marian College will be providing tutoring and literacy training at the local elementary school in Martindale-Brightwood (IPS School #51) and also at the new community center. Crews painted some of the surrounding houses, paved the alleys, and cleaned up the trash. Over 1200 trees, six miles worth, were planted.

“Thank God for the Rain”

This experienced even changed how people spoke about neighborhood. Everyone had stories. Neighborhood children baked cookies for the production crew. There was a story of a little girl bringing her “Jesus money” to donate to the project. Even inclement weather became an opportunity to serve. That Sunday, the weather was awful during one of the “hurry up and wait” moments before the volunteers could do their “Braveheart march”. The Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church opened its doors and welcomed the volunteers in from the cold and rain. The crowd filled out the balcony, the choir section, and the basement. Jessie Hickman admitted that they were “caught a little bit off guard, but the people were so friendly and then they wanted to hear some singing.” The church stopped teaching their Sunday School class and started a prayer service for them which included prayer, dancing, and singing. Everyone was invited to tap along to a rendition of “Let it Rain” which gave goosebumps to the listeners.

“I think the church had a profound effect on them,” Jessie Hickman went on to say. The collection plate was a little fuller than usual. The church remained open all week, servicing the needs of whoever walked through its doors. The Estridge group re-sided it and also did some landscaping. Says another parishioner, Kathy Griffin, “they were an answer to prayer. It’s truly a blessing coming down from God.”

Reverend Martin summed up the experience this way, “God is a God of restoration. He’s restoring hope in this neighborhood. He’s restoring lives. He’s restoring dignity.”

All of this started with one man, Bernard McFarland, a school teacher going about his business, trying to make a difference one child at a time. His life caught the attention of the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition production team. Their mission coincided with Paul Estridge’s and a community was forever changed. As the wave of beautification extended out from the McFarland home, everyone’s hope is that it continues to spread. No one wants things to stop with this project but want to see it replicated in other neighborhoods.

“With the revitalization that’s going on, you’re seeing a spark. People want to try to do what they can for the neighborhood. It can’t help but rub off,” Jessica Hickman said. “I know people are going to keep up. If you see it beautifying, what are you going to do? You’re going to pick and help at least maintain it.”

“Shout all you want to!”

April 4th, at 2:45 p.m., Bernard McFarland, his sons, his family, and his neighbors yelled “Move that bus!” and finally saw the results of a community pulling together. It was a cathartic celebration, the payoff moment, for a community rally and neighborhood family coming together. Not only had Bernard leapt out of limo at his return to his neighborhood, but ran up the street once he saw his new home for the first time … so that he could high five his neighbors. “Shout all you want to!” some cried out. At one moment it looked like Bernard was going to runoff with Paul Estridge. Then came his grand shout: “Thank you community!!!”

The house at 2356 N. Oxford St is like the proverbial city on the hillside, a light in the darkness. It serves as a beachhead to reclaim the rest of the neighborhood. Both a point of pride and a symbol of community cooperation, it illustrates the power of transformation.

In many ways, we’ve lost the community spirit of sitting out on our porches. It seems like we are determined to keep moving away from each other (in the name of “escaping the crime” and “those people”); and if we can’t move, we build fences from one another. Maybe we ought to answer our own question of “who is my neighbor” by sitting out and getting to know them; learn the comings and goings of our neighborhood and maybe keep an eye out for each other. We need to take ownership of our neighborhoods, even in the tiniest of ways.

Caring about our neighborhoods means spreading a viral concern to “love thy neighbor.” Not just keeping a vigilant eye, but having a proactive mindset, one that fixes problems as we see them. If we are truly to be lights in a world of darkness, the least we can do is start by fixing a broken window and being a good neighbor. That’s the work that Paul Estridge and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition began and the residents of Martindale-Brightwood hope to continue.

The Community of Building (Extreme Makeover: Home Edition)

[Remember when I was tweeting from the set of Extreme Makeover? This is the unabridged version of the article I wrote about the filming of the episode filmed in Indianapolis which appeared in the May/June issue of Indy Magazine.]

The school bus rumbled along, carrying the next groups of spectators and volunteers from the State Fairgrounds down to the staging area. Though hot and cramped, there were no complaints. Instead, the ride was filled with pleasant chatter. “What are you doing?” one passenger would ask. “Whatever they tell me,” another answered.

Such was the spirit that charged the site of the latest episode of the highly rated television show, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. For those unfamiliar with the show, it typically featured a race against time to finish a complete renovation of a house, from its redesign to landscaping to decoration, with a team led by Ty Pennington. Usually changing the lives and fortunes of the families they touch, its viewers were left in shared tears or heartwarming uplift. In its 6th season, the show filmed its season finale with an unusually ambitious project. At its heart lay a forgotten part of our city in the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood, the home of Bernard McFarland and family at 2356 N. Oxford St (re-dubbed McFarland Drive) around a new home and its (new) Pack House 2000 library, not to mention all of the changes in the surrounding area.

While Extreme Makeover gave them the means, most of the vision came from one man. Paul Estridge, president of the Estridge Corporation, is the patient zero, the Typhoid Mary spreading a virus of generosity. Befitting the nature of the project, the orchestrating had to have been an organizational nightmare (“organized chaos” was the phrase of the day). All about the staging area walls were various Estridge mottos: Serve and Enrich. Continue to Grow. According to Biblical Principles. We Build Together. Time. Talent. Treasures.

There have been a couple of places where Extreme Makeover had painted a few additional houses, but no one had done anything on the scale of what Paul did in terms of a whole neighborhood. With the redressing of alleys, manicuring of streets and lawns, repainting of homes, and demolition of an abandoned home, over 198 acres were affected by the revitalization. With his greater vision of investing in neighborhood and community, his heart for the city rallied community leaders from councilmen to businesswomen, from artists to clergy.

The business philosophy undergirded by Christian values—to give back and be a blessing to the community—may partly explain why the community responded the way it did. Over four thousand volunteers descend upon this part of the city most would have avoided any other time. Carpenters, dry wallers, and unskilled hands, running the gamut of races and ages, volunteered their time, passion, and sweat. Some volunteers arrived from as far away as Texas. Some volunteers worked days that ran from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m., with no job being too small for them to lend a hand.

Fueled by a sense of mission and a camaraderie of common purpose, crowds gathered to literally watch paint dry. Everyone pitched in and become involved. Neighbors hosted dinners. Neighborhood folks picked up brooms to sweep up adjoining areas. The common cry was that “we’re supposed to give back” and “we’re either going to be a part of the problem or try to be a part of the solution.” The renovation of a house, of a neighborhood, transformed the volunteers as well as the community.

IPS School #37 was gifted to the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood association to serve as a community center for the neighborhood. Amy Harwell, a member of the neighborhood association, loved the fact that School 37 will be put to good use as a community center. “School 37 is a landmark and I’m glad there’s someplace for neighborhood kids to go. Mr. McFarland has been taking kids into his house forever and now he’ll have some help. We’re proud of our neighborhood.” Built in the 1920s, the 50,000-square-foot school building had 20 classrooms, a gymnasium and food service area (but no air conditioning).

Before, the neighborhood was neglected, if not written off. People had given up on the neighborhood because it seemed that everyone else had. Pizza places wouldn’t even deliver to it. For your safety, you had to pick and choose the streets to carefully travel. “A lot of the crime and the drug selling came from people outside of the neighborhood,” former resident Jessie Hickman said.

Some streets had older people living on them, so they were fairly quiet. Other streets, however, had trouble brewing. You couldn’t even drive down the street without people running up to your car asking if you were looking for drugs. “I wouldn’t be caught up in here by myself. When you roll through you better lock the doors and roll up your windows.” Reverend John W. Martin, Sr, of the Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church said. “but for the first time ever, this week I walked down this street.”

As Mary Catherine Grau, director of marketing for Estridge, admits, “Estridge has always been a pretty philanthropic company, but when this opportunity presented itself, it was a wonderful way to do what we’ve always done except do it on a much grander scale.” Paul Estridge had two conditions before he decided to partner with Extreme Makeover: 1) he wasn’t going to do a home so grandiose that families in the area couldn’t aspire to build one also; 2) it couldn’t just be the home, the project had to be much more involved in the neighborhood.

[to be continued …]

The Faithful Wrath

I don’t know why Wrath James White can’t simply say “Hey Maurice, I miss you. Why don’t you give me a call sometime?” Noooooo, instead he has to go all passive-aggressive on me and write a blog specifically designed to pick an argument with me. (Right, because we all know Wrath’s passive-aggressive … when he’s not being, you know, aggressive-aggressive.)

In the foreward of Orgy of Souls, I wrote that “faith is that sometimes tenuous, sometimes stronger than we think thing that keeps our world in order. [Wrath and I are] both men of faith in our own way, be it faith in ourselves or faith in God. We each are on our own spiritual journey. My faith follows a story, something that especially resonates with me as a writer. However, Wrath’s faith is every bit as rich and varied as my own.”

Why have I described both Wrath and I as men of faith? Because of one of the definitions of faith he cites: complete trust; something that is believed especially with strong conviction. Faith is an intuitive leap to what you choose to believe and how you choose to process the world around you. Any choice of a worldview requires a leap of faith, to believe that your worldview is the “right” one. I believe quest/knowledge journeys begin with a leap of faith, that is, what we choose to put our trust in. For some, it is ourselves (the individual or humanity). For some, it is science (the determination of our senses). For some, it is the spiritual (under the assumption that there is more to this life than presented, both in terms of the spiritual and in terms of after this life). To quote from the blog of my friend, Rich Vincent:

“Christianity does not consist in a series of verifiable and interlocking hypotheses. Nor is it a philosophical system consisting in satisfactory, mutually consistent propositions… the way that truth is sought and engaged with is not through detachment but through a living relationship of faith and love with the object we seek”. The Christian seeks more than “objective truth,” facts, or information. “The goal is not to find information, or even to discern fact, but to bring ourselves, as living subjects, into engagement with reality, culminating ultimately in a participation in the ground of what is real”.

Also, Christians don’t have a monopoly on truth. As Christ himself says, “Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice” (John 18.37). In my faith worldview, Christ is the universal truth and all truth leads to him. Faith doesn’t always make sense to me, I think that’s one reason why we’re told to work out our faith in fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). I can only work out my faith in the doing. I have always seen myself as a soldier, someone who dives in to do the work. Your faith should drive you to action. It has its own dangers as I’m prone to working hard FOR Him, or doing good works for their own sake, rather than working hard to KNOW Him. And it’s the knowing of God that’s at the heart of my faith. Again, to quote from Rich’s blog:

An authentic encounter with the living and eternal God touches both our hearts and our hands. God calls us to nothing less than complete spiritual transformation. Those who desire to simply dabble in religion will get nowhere. Only thoses willing to submit to the rigors of regular acts of self-examination, confession of sin, and deeds of repentance can know deep and lasting change.

An authentic encounter with the living God will never leave us as we are – it will challenge our lifestyles, attitudes, actions, and motivations. The reason is simple: God regularly calls us to change – to repentance. If we are unwilling to change, we harden ourselves to spiritual transformation. Only a humble heart, open to God, ready to admit mistakes, willing to start again can know the fullness of what God desires.

Religion needs to be more than a get out of hell free card and church needs to be more than a collection of folks who huddle together to debate theology and revel in their rightness. The point of Christianity isn’t to make it into heaven, but rather the story we find ourselves in: we’re lost, dying, and in need of new life. Through Christ we’re found, saved, and given a model for a new way of living.

I believe that we’re all people of faith in our own way, it’s just a matter of what we choose to put that faith in, be it in ourselves, science, humanity, or in God. As such, each of us are on our own spiritual journey. There will be times when science will clarify matters of faith just like there will be times when faith can temper our sometimes irrational admiration for the rational. I think we can do more than just make “a” decision and hope that we’re right. We can continue to test what we believe and say we’re about and live out our lives accordingly.

It’s Official

ANGRY ROBOT IS PRESENTED TODAY BY THE LETTER “M”

Hide us! Something seriously spooky just happened. Today, the planets all being in the correct alignment, we are announcing the signing of not one, not two, but three authors whose names begin with M. Only our devious Robot overlord master (you know, him, whose name begins with… M! Aye caramba!) knows how the hell that happened, but check this trio out:

Maurice Broaddus* is one of the real good guys, so why the hell his fiction is so terrifying is beyond our understanding. The three books of the KNIGHTS OF BRETON COURT series is a modern retelling of the King Arthur cycle, set among the drug gangs of inner city America. Told through the eyes of King, as he tries to unite the crack dealers and do the right thing, it’s a stunning, edgy work, genuinely unlike anything we’ve ever read. Cheap movie analogy for you: Gilliam’s Fisher King meets The Wire. The first volume will be published by Angry Robot in summer 2010, with the remaining parts at six month intervals. Extraordinary.

continue reading to see whose company I’m privileged to be joining!

*All author pics taken by Surreal Image Photography

RaceFail ’09 – Feedback II

I’ve received a couple of really interesting responses to my RaceFail ’09 – Why Horror Ignores the Elephant blog. I thought I’d share a couple. Today is from a comment left on my blog a while back which I wanted to give further exposure to. As always, I look forward to your comments:

Hello, Mr. Broaddus,

I have been keeping a somewhat distant eye on Racefail ’09 and found your blog and the relevant bingo cards via a simple google search. I am not a writer of any professional leaning, nor am I immediately aiming to be.

What I am is a woman of the Indian/Caribbean diaspora who spent some time teaching in Japan. While I was there I was immediately adopted into a tea ceremony club when the teacher decided I was just the right size for her to practice tying kimono with. She gave me lessons and my first yukata and I gave her saris in return. I wear my yukata on occasion and my teacher wept tears of joy when I gave her the first sari, so there’s no doubt about appreciation on her part. I can eat with chopsticks, knife and fork or just my fingers and view the respective table manners as useful skills under my belt.

There are things on that Bingo card that I might say myself and racefail has raised uncomfortable issues for me. Is it only cultural appropriation if it involves caucasians? If there’s a history of exploitation between groups? How much effort must go into understanding another group before people can agree it is actual cultural exchange and understanding rather than appropriation? Where is the line drawn, who draws it and why? Should I have said something to that African American girl I saw on the bus during college, wearing a bindi upside down?

My own heritage is a mishmash and a jumble, thrown together on an island and forced through a sieve of colonialism. For better or worse, borrowing and lending, adopting and sharing, adapting and evolving has been my cultural experience. Everything I am says there must be some avenue to explore this varied earth, that an upside-down bindi is a chance to educate rather than rail, but the sentiments arising from Racefail seem to acknowledge no possibility at all. Along with that is the sneaking suspicion that my post-colonial education brainwashed me better than I thought.

I hardly expect that you’d have all the answers but I am interested in any thoughts you might have on the matter. Thank you for your time.

RaceFail ’09 – Feedback I

I’ve received a couple of really interesting responses to my RaceFail ’09 – Why Horror Ignores the Elephant blog. I thought I’d share a couple. Today is from the mailbag. As always, I look forward to your comments:

My name’s Hunter Eden, and I’m a young writer just new at this whole “forging the English language into something meaningful” thing. You and I corresponded very briefly a year or two ago on this same issue of race and horror, but I think I dropped the ball in responding to you, for which I humbly apologize. Point is, I had no idea that there was some kind of speculative fiction-based dust-up over race (or perhaps lack thereof).

Facts up front: I’m a white male of mixed Jewish/German-Norwegian (Hebrew Viking) descent. I don’t actually write about that many white characters, though. I finished a novel (currently with an agent but no publisher) describing the war between two ancient Mexican gods in a world where Europe didn’t conquer the Americas and Aztec gangsters smuggle contraband alcohol into Incan Cuzco. The only white character is the reanimated corpse of Charles Darwin, who probably isn’t (within the context of the story) actually human. My first story appeared in City Slab and was written from the perspective of a Mexican cabbie in a very Cancun-like city. I’ve got a story due out in Weird Tales about samurai fighting dinosaurs.

I’m not trying to brag or show off when I say all this, just that I wrote these characters because I wanted to. I hate when writers pull the Last Samurai card and go to the trouble of researching a whole different culture, but then don’t have the courage to actually go ahead and write someone from that culture as the main character (The Last Samurai particularly pissed me off in this regard because Tom Cruise becomes a better samurai than the Japanese characters).

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m conscious of race (who in today’s world isn’t?), but I think the key (and I’m really not trying to land on any bingo squares here) is to remember that in the end we’re all human. That’s not to whitewash, but just to say that whether I’m writing a character who’s Mexican or American or even a Jewish Aztec mob boss, we’re all motivated by the same needs. I think a lot of speculative fiction pussyfoots around race. I especially hate the way that fantasy, even fantasy written by American authors, always seems to go back to the same Anglo/Norse/Celtic pseudo-culture. Reading Imaro by Charles Saunders was great not because it made me feel like a Racially-Enlightened Young American but because it was something new. I loved the fact that somebody had taken a part of the world as vibrant and culturally complex as Africa and given it a fantasy treatment. (The fact that Imaro is a hardcore Maasai bad-ass who fights demons and necromancers was just icing on the cake).

I think a lot of speculative fiction’s difficulty with confronting race is based on two factors in writers and readers very much contrary to the spirit of the genres–cowardice and laziness. I guess these points have been made before, but they bear repeating. I think a lot of white authors and readers are scared to step out and confront the Elephant because they don’t want to be labeled as racist themselves. But then, there’s also the tendency to fall back on the same garbage we’ve grown used to. If there’s a fantasy culture, it’ll be based off somewhere in northern Europe because Tolkien did that. If there’s a non-white culture, it’ll probably be based off Japan or China or some fusion of the two. Maybe, if we’re really working, we’ll get some kind of distillation of the Arab world filtered through a heavily fantasized verneer with genies and carpets and sultans with veiled concubines. But Zanzibaris or Aztecs or Australian Aborigines? Not a chance. If Aztecs appear, they exist to either be heinous blood-sacrificers or a conquered and oppressed people (don’t get me started on Apocalypto). It angers me profoundly as a writer, and I’m not in the least bit Hispanic in my descent. It’s an affront to the imagination, and frankly, an extreme marginalization of a powerful and advanced culture.

Extreme words, I realize (and don’t get me started on Ancient Astronauts, either). I guess the reason I feel strongly about this is because it’s just more evidence of total lack of imagination in what is supposed to be the most imaginative set of genres we have. I guess my thoughts on writing the Other is that this doesn’t need to be some sort of birdwatching exercise. I’ve got friends from a wide spectrum of religious and racial backgrounds and I don’t stay friends with any of them so I can write minority X better.

Sorry to carpet-bomb you with this, but I’m glad somebody is confronting the whole issue and doing it without kidgloves. Personally, I’d love to see more speculative fiction written by people who aren’t white and JewCatholiProtestant. Thanks for confronting the elephant (or shoggoth?) in the room.

Sincerely,
Hunter C. Eden

The Hangover – A Review

“Fellowship of the Strippers”

Finally, a raucous, raunchy comedy in the grand tradition of Porky’s, Anchorman, and director Todd Phillips’ previous efforts, Old School and Road Trip (and I’d say There’s Something About Mary, but I always found it over-rated as a comedy). Rife with funny dialogue with plenty of memorable one-liners, its flashback structure adds a sense of intrigue to what could have been a rather pedestrian movie.

We have the four stooges, Doug (Justin Bartha), due to get married in 48 hours, along with his two best friends, school teacher Phil (Bradley Cooper), and “just a dentist” Stu (Ed Helms), along with Doug’s soon to be brother-in-law, the not quite right in the head Alan (Zach Galifianakis). They perform that most ancient of rites, the bachelor party, in Las Vegas, in search of a night they won’t forget. They promptly have such a good time, they can’t remember a minute of it.

“Can’t you see the fun part of anything?” –Phil
The inherent mystery of their lost night, as they retrace their steps, figuring out where they went wrong, how they went so far astray, and figure out where they go from here. After all, such are the deep philosophical questions that naturally accompany a night of marrying strippers, naked Asian men popping out of car trunks, missing teeth, awkwardly walking chickens, Mike Tyson’s tiger in the bathroom, hospital visits, furniture still smoking, and finding a baby in the closet.

“Are you happy?” –Phil

So I’m sitting at my computer wondering if there’s a spiritual connection that I can make to this movie (cause I managed to find one for Borat and Slither). The “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” credo flies in the face of the reality of the fact that sin/secrets have a way of finding you out and following you home … nope … that’s not going to work.

Friendship is best defined during times of adversity. It’s easy to be friends when things are going easy. Sunshine friendships. It’s when you have to walk through each other’s messes, even self-created messes, telling each other hard truths, that you can figure out who your real friends are.

We long for such friendships, sometimes believing ourselves to be “a wolf pack of one”, unloved, unlovable, and unworthy of being loved. Yet we’re wired for relationships, we want to be known. We desperately desire our wolf pack of one becomes a wolf pack of four, to find “the three best friends that anyone could have”.

Life constantly presents opportunities for us to love and to learn to love better. Difficult circumstances can cause relationships to dig deeper, driving each other to get to know one another on more significant levels. And there is a spiritual point to it all. Our friendships, limited, temporary, and transitional as they are, are meant to drive us to a higher friendship. If only to prove that we can’t live without love. Even the loneliness, the grief, the deficiencies of friendship prepare us for something more permanent, more eternal. We were made for higher companionship, an infinite hole within us that can only be filled with the Infinite. A love that does not pass away.

That’s as good as I’m getting.

“Just get me home.” –Doug

The Hangover, this ode to irresponsible behavior, basically finds boys masquerading as men, re-living their college days in a night fueled by alcohol, debauchery, and boobs. It pretty much delivers exactly what it promises: big laughs wrung from a whole lot of wrong. The entire movie pays off in laughs, one ridiculous moment following the next. The humor is unapologetically raunchy (the closing photograph montage being a fitting closing argument for that case). Though I did leave the theater wondering what was up with the chickens.