lea_hazel: Typewriter (Basic: Writing)
[personal profile] lea_hazel
And not just because it's supposed to be the book I want to see in the world. And not just because I can't help but think that it's my responsibility to make that book happen, for other people.

The set-up goes something like this:

The people at the center of my world-building are unequivocally fantasy Jews. They are also bats, because why not. Nocturnal, carnivorous, winged and possessing of a number of physiological features that make other people nervous.

Already I've gone and violated one of my own rules, "don't dehumanize a fantasy counterpart of a living culture". This rule is very important and I'm not sure how to recover from this, considering I would just much rather write about not-humans in general. I am not sure whether making all the other people not-human helps at all. One of the main problems in the original trope as it stands is that it posits that different cultural groups are physiologically distinct to the extent they can be readily identifiable by sight. Which is racist nonsense. On the other hand, I really wanna write about Bat-Jews.

The political situation is even more ambivalent, if you can believe it. I couldn't figure out a way to balance wanting them to have a good and stable living situation, with the kind of alienation and constant cultural balancing act that I wanted to write about. Consequently two of my major characters grew up within their own cultural community, but spent most of their adulthood traveling or living among strangers. And the peer community is a kind of limited autonomy by royal decree, which is problematic (much as I hate to use that term).

One of the things I was excited to write about is the idea of a normalized third gender, so they have that. But the character that I created to explore this is one who was raised outside their community, which complicated things. This was probably a poor decision to begin with, and might be the first thing I try to reverse -- but it was such a major part of the story, I don't know how I'll manage.

Basically what happened is that I wanted 1) to have a normalized third gender and 2) to have a nonbinary gender system that is still imperfect. What this actually led to is 3) me accidentally retreading the sci-fi pattern of creating a variant social structure as a thought exercise, positing a protagonist who's a cultural misfit, and consequently "correcting" this character back to the norms of my own culture. I did not mean to do this, and I'm not certain how to backtrack -- other than removing the character altogether and replacing them with a totally different one.

To say nothing of the fact that my initial POV character (Melody) proved to be much less interesting than her twin sister. For once thing, her sister actually has a proper plot attached to her. Even if it still needs developing. Said plot also treads on some thin ice re: the land grant and the role of fantasy-Jews in the structures of power of foreign governments.

The whole thing is a mess. I can try to untangle it, but I don't know how to judge whether it's worth such an investment of time and energy. I mean. Wouldn't it be simpler to write a story about bat-people who aren't coded Jewish? Or about a nonbinary protagonist who just is, without struggling with their gender and cultural identity, assimilation, adoption, etc. etc.?

Sigh.

2017-01-16 16:13 (UTC)
alias_sqbr: She's getting existential again. It's ok I have a super soaker. (existentialism)
- Posted by [personal profile] alias_sqbr
Hmm! So! This is just my opinion as a only-sort-of-vaguely Jewish person with a huge "biology=destiny" squick.

But I think a 1-1 correspondence between culture and biology always goes to a bad place. And I feel like even if it started out that way, if these people have anything like human psychology it wouldn't stay that way. There will be adoptions and immigration and pan-species subcultures. If mixed-race children are possible, they will exist, and you will have some who resemble the 'wrong" side of the family. If they're not, you'll still have mixed race families through marriage and adoption etc. You'll end up with whole sub-subcultures of people with the 'wrong' physiology.

I mean I guess you could have the biology affect culture in a way that makes it impossible for people with the 'wrong" biology to join, and not have mixed-race children be possible. But that will create a unique "it doesn't matter if we want to welcome outsiders, we can't" dynamic human cultures never have.

So I feel like either you can have a subCULTURE or you can have a subSPECIES. Jews are a culture, so to be exactly like Jews, your Bat Jews would have to be an at most vaguely physically distinct subculture of a larger bat society. If you wrote a subSPECIES then they could be physiologically distinct and the only bats around, but would differ from Jews in a lot of ways. They could still draw on Jews, I mean I can totally imagine humans treating a distinct sentient subspecies in similarly awful ways to the way Europeans treated Jews, and that in turn leading to some similar attitudes and experiences, but you'd want to avoid the metaphor feeling too...I'm struggling to think of a less mathsy term than "isomorphic".

That said, even beyond Not Actually Being Jewish Per Se my experience of Jewishness is very different to yours: in Australia, coming from an only somewhat Jewish family, a huge part of What It Means To Be A Jew is the constant pressure to assimilate. If you can't assimilate then that changes the whole dynamic, and also means my family's sort of experience doesn't happen. So I may be having a failure of imagination about other forms of Jewishness.

And oh god I am just...empathising with no useful comment on the non binary thing. Because yeah, I am drawn to stories about people who struggle against cultural norms, but also like the idea of writing about cultures with DIFFERENT cultural norms, and it's hard for those to not add up to something unfortunate.

Anyway, good luck :)

2017-01-21 12:49 (UTC)
alias_sqbr: the symbol pi on a pretty background (Default)
- Posted by [personal profile] alias_sqbr

nods

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