Thursday, December 24, 2009


I started Chap 43 but stopped to do serious plotting. It's possible I'll be done with Pya at around 50 chapter. I'm giving you all heads up. Some of you can go back to Skene and even Ginny Bates, lots of reading ahead. But others may see a drought in 2010 -- I really should edit instead of starting a new book.

Not to mention return to full-time real blogging instead of FB Fun.

Here's a question for those of you reading Pya: This is an enormous family spanning the equivalent of two nations. Personal names are distinct but unfamiliar linguistically. I do my best to limit the introduction of new characters, referring to those who are going to appear only once or twice by an occupation or descriptor rather than a name the reader might have to remember.

However, for the plot I need to bring in a couple of new families with actual names and personalities to introduce. Are you already relying on the Cast of Characters and/or Skene Lineage Chart appendices to help keep track? How's it going for you? Any comment or requests?

While I'm asking questions: A major component of the Skene books is imagining a world beyond gender or racial constructs. If I've failed in some area, how and when? Which of the characters not already identified as "Y"s do you think of as maybe "male" in your mind? (There are several.) If you are white, are you having a hard time remembering the only character who looks what we would call white is Maar? Do you attribute a "race" (i.e., ethnic or racial behavior) to a character when I physically describe them as non-white in some way?

Lastly, you're an astounding bunch to write for. Your feedback is extremely useful (esp Cowboy Diva, Genia, Margot) and yes, does affect the course of the novel but don't worry, I have my Voice and you won't alter what I really want to do with this book.


Blue said...

You want my extremely useful feedback?


Just had to get that off my chest. I'll be able to focus on your questions now.

C. Diva said...

The only Y that I definitively give a male gender identity to is Dodd (in an early chapter of the sequel you actually used male pronouns for Dodd [probably will be corrected in proofing, I know], as well as mentioning baldness). Qala, I don't. Go figure.

I'm not using the cast list, other than reviewing it once or twice early on in _Pya_.

I'm not necessarily registering coloring/hair specifics, although the second time (IIRC) you mentioned Pyosz's dreads it caused a little bit of dissonance, but only to the point of "C Diva, really should be reading this more closely."

It's been a pleasure reading your fiction. If you need to take time to actually, you know, work* on your novels, please by all means do so. It's rather fascinating to watch the process like this (I could compare it to Whitman's many editions of _Leaves of Grass_, you know), and I am honored you are sharing it with us.

*yeah, yeah, like character formation, plot development and the writing process itself aren't work, but I was thinking more about the editing/proposing for publication aspects.

Maggie Jochild said...

I'm going to copy in here the eloquent and thought-provoking answer to my question that was posted on my Facebook page by Margot. Thank you so much, all of you. I'll respond later. I have to do this in 2 parts:

Part 1 from Margot

I’m not actually using the genealogy or cast of characters, in spite of my intention to open more browsers. As I mentioned, had I an actual book in my hands, I would be flipping back and forth avidly, also devouring the maps (I love maps); but this is less to do with understanding than it is to add to the richness of the reading experience. I’m generally a slow and thorough reader, sucking out the marrow of a book, and consequently I rarely feel the need to read one twice (apart from certain beloveds, of course, like my periodic self-immersion in Austen).

I’m afraid I have ignored your pronunciation guide, and have instead settled on renditions that work for a native speaker of English with a background in the romance languages. As far Skenish goes, my versions of your Latinate words are probably fine; anything that requires a knowledge of Germanic or native American tongues is probably rather wide of the mark.

There are usually enough clues in the context to remind me who people are, and I don’t think I’m missing the nuances of kinship.

I originally interpreted all the characters as women, and I still respond to them that way (in spite of the odd beard and alternative genitalia); but that doesn’t mean that I endow them with “feminine” attributes. I initially envisaged them as Caucasian, but you quickly threw in enough characteristics for me to revise my inner film reel, and I now have very clear mental images of at least the main characters (no doubt very different from yours – don’t you hate it when they make a film of a book you’ve enjoyed, and you find yourself protesting “No! X doesn’t look like that!”? My Captain Corelli looks a lot more like Super Mario than he does Nicholas Cage... mind you, Penelope Cruz... I digress...)

If you accept the premise that a society has evolved for generations with no racial or gender expectations, then it is logical to assume that individuals would not display any, particularly when the “breeding programme” ensures that homogenous groups who might assume certain characteristics we may define as “racial” do not emerge. Even if – and it’s a big if – certain characteristics are defined by race or gender, they would still fall well within the normal range of human behaviours, and I don’t believe that in such a society, lacking our historical clutter, they would be remarked. Any reader attributing racial or gender characteristics to your protagonists is responding to their own conditioning, not your text.

It occurs to me that a certain sort of eugenics would have been in place from the start: the original settlers were an expeditionary force sent to exploit the planet and then leave. There is no way that the technological society they came from would have sent anyone but the fittest specimens on such an arduous and important mission. Hence all the people of Skene are descended from a notably superior gene pool, at least intellectually and physically.

Maggie Jochild said...

Response from Margot Part 2:

This is such a fascinating topic, I could bang on for hours! I’ll restrict myself to a couple more random thoughts:

When Joni Mitchell, an otherwise apparently sensible human being, says she prefers the company of men, I believe that what she is really saying is that she prefers the company of persons who do not exhibit stereotypical feminine traits. Which let’s face it, are pretty bloody annoying in any gender.

My best friend identifies as male, but for family reasons has not sought medical intervention. That said, s/he is a far better cook than I, and is dotty about babies, which I have no time for. For the record, s/he is ethnically Indian (from the subcontinent I mean), but his/her family was several generations in East Africa (where they originally went to build railways for the British Empire), and arrived in the UK as refugees, having been thrown out of Uganda by Idi Amin. Unfortunately s/he carries an enormous amount of cultural baggage; otherwise s/he would make a marvellous Skenian! (If nothing else, this sentence demonstrates your genius in ditching the masculine pronoun.)

A couple of questions for you (fair’s fair). Do you know the size of your readership? What do you do to publicise your work? (if you hadn’t got sick, I would never have found you...) Do you have a literary agent, or are you looking for a book deal? Come to that, do you know if there is still a market for this sort of fiction, or is it limited to that certain class of middle-aged dyke who used to devour lesbian-feminist utopias and dystopias back in the day?!

Finally, thank you for the lovely compliment, and for the invitation (here keenly embraced!) to participate. It’s a thrilling and novel experience to contribute to a work of art in-the-making.

Maggie Jochild said...

Okay, to respond, in no particular order (I've had to divide it in two parts because of Blogger's character limits in comments):

Readership of the novels is still guesswork. When I'm posting essays and politically-related materials, unique visitors daily are at least 200 and have gone up to 6000 (if I'm covering a hot topic and Google front pages me). Drops a lot on weekends and holidays, indicating the high percentage of folks out there who rely on work for computers and/or internet access. After long periods of mostly novel-related posts, readership will drop to 100-200, which may be a baseline for who are reading the books. I'd say 97% of readers will never comment, that's the best I can venture.

I'm not currently looking for an agent because life priorities are much more fundamental at the moment. But yes, I very much want an agent, an editor, abd publication for Skene, Pya, and Ginny Bates.

I've read most feminist scifi over the last several decades and lean heavily on their broken trail and experiments to create/write Skene and Pya. In particular, I considered LeGuin's effort to challenge male pronoun dominance in The Left Hand of Darkness and various writers' attempts to come up with a non-gendered set of pronouns (Riverfinger Women, anyone?) I am counting on having my way with flipping default maleness to default femaleness in this book, especially since I have dissected "femaleness" from either femininity or masculinity -- which is very easy to accomplish inside my head because my generation of lesbian-feminists lived that revolution. I expect it will still feel revolutionary to a current generation raised under the anti-feminist backlash, who somehow believe embracing masculinity will lead them out of the wilderness. (Didn't work in the 50s, either.)

And despite my love of innovative language, I never read a gender-neutral pronoun story without the invented term remaining intrusive, jarring, distracting. I'm asking enough leaps of imagination of my readers, I'll leave she/her in place with subtle reminders it simply means human being. From what you've said, it's working -- at least among readers not emotionally dependent on the masculine/feminine binary.

Every now and then, a human population in exile/isolation and under threat of extinction reacts to the issue of survival with not a reactionary, conservative mode but instead wild innovation. Of course, the innovation is still built on what the prior culture considered "real", but these leaps are what I find most compelling about human adaptation. I decided that abandoned, terrified, starving bunch of around 100 original colonists would emerge from the rape, murder, and slavery of "The Troubles" by deciding to do Something Completely Different -- as deeply devout Jews thrown out of Europe during the 1400s decided to literally rewrite Genesis and male g*d both female and fallible (Tikkun Olam). Such heresy creates its own rigidities on down the line, of course, but Skene's brave new world is so far allowing for individual reform. Hence, our heroes.

Every ripping good yarn is about When It Changed.

Maggie Jochild said...

Response, Part Two:

Because of my faithful reading, I am also aware that when scifi writers attempt to invent a "new" language in its entirety, they are always undone by their own biases or reaction against language hegemony, and the new tongue is usually, well, boring. Whereas human beings constantly steal from other vocabularies and grammars, when not prevented from doing so by elite control via propaganda, and babble reflects our basic craving for polyglot. So every Skenish term has an actual origin in some earth-based word -- how could it not? -- and it thus sounds "believable" to our ear. Language created by groups of people in response to geographic and cultural stressors is recognizably authentic as compared to that "invented" by a single imagination. Tolkien was wise enough to loot, and I'm doing the same. One trick I'll give away: Cultures who on earth have a long association with the ocean are where I've turned for most fish, seaweed, and aquatic terms. Ditto agrarian and philosophical terms -- I've looked to vocabularies already focused in those areas.

The unacknowledged power machinations of Skene, and its twin subcurrents of gossip and bureacracy, are deeply familiar to anyone who lived in lesbian-feminist communities in the 1970's. It's also similar to Native American communities after European occupation.

Pya is a new world for me as the writer as well as for Skene. I firmly believe agrarian conservatism (which is essential to produce crops) does not have to mean repression or fear of difference, and I'm exploring what that might look like on Pya, which is unabashedly agrarian at this point. Pyosz's descendants somewhere down the line, when Pya's population vastly outnumbers Skene's and has become stratified in ways Europe chose to avoid actually facing reform (colonization was a much easier outlet), will hit a wall at high speed. A possible future novel? Centered on the great-grandchildren of Pyosz and X?

Or maybe a natural disaster scrubs both archipelagos clean except for a small band who must start over?

Or perhaps Earth travelers return?

Well, I need to finish this one first. Lots more sitting on my plot arc page to bring your way.