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Friday, April 09, 2010

Running with goats, etc.

Here's another question and answer from the Shared Worlds people that will eventually go into the writers' pot at the Booklife site. I'll let it sit a few days and then tweak the answer and send it over to Jeremy Jones at Wofford.

It'll be clear that I have evaded answering the first half of the question. As it happens, I didn't feel like it and have exerted my right to be whimsical and difficult. Feel free to pelt what is there with rotten fruit. Or even to make sensible (or silly--I have a liking for silly) suggestions.

The question is from writer Nisi Shawl: ROAARS is an acronym used in Writing the Other [written with Cynthia Ward] as a shorthand designation for a set of differences dubbed "important" by the dominant culture: Race, (sexual) Orientation, Age, Ability, Religion, Sex. 1.) What is your best experience writing a character of another ROAARS? 2.) What about your worst experience writing a character of another ROAARS?

As a woman, I am in some danger when writing about a man who could be described as sensitive or reflective. I was raised in an era that tried to declare that men and women were the same, but it's not at all so, "equal" being so very different from "same." I've had to tweak several male characters in revision to make sure they weren't women in disguise, and that happened even when the character in question was waging war or exerting himself in feats of redwood-climbing.

I'd say that the clearest I've ever been on writing about the opposite sex was in the book I'm polishing now. I've written a fantasy for each of my children, and the current one was for made for a sports-mad boy of 12 who came late to liking books and school (still hates homework) and who is extremely social. He is blessedly normal in all his boy-ways, and all I had to do was meditate on his likes and dislikes to have an imaginary boy rise up around me along with a pack of young associates who didn't always want to follow his lead, a fair degree of silliness and nonsense, twists and puzzles, feelings conveyed through action and reaction, a bit of revelatory violence, a fairly quick pace, and a general male refusal on the part of the primary character to ponder about anything except what must be done next, now. And football. We had to have football. If I could have worked in track and wrestling, I would have done so.

I have long advocated tossing little boys out the door to run with goats and goatherds until they are ten or eleven years old--until they are ready to sit still in a classroom and crack open a book--although nobody ever pays attention to this modest proposal of mine. So what I have aimed to write for my son and any other young readers is a book that might serve as one of the first adventures a boy hears after coming in from the fields and joining what is called civilization--a story full of juice and sun and life. And a dash of football.

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I have been rather over-involved in facebook--all those funny people! all those writers!--and am now making a resolution to do better in tending to the blog. Oh, and if you want to know about my upcoming books (I'm up to four now), please slip down to the next post.


  1. Interesting. The book sounds invigorating, and I hope it pleases its intended audience.

  2. Robbi,

    You might take a look at the site--it might be useful to you.

  3. I like your approach. What do you make of the female personae in Randall Jarrell's poems?

  4. Isn't that funny? I just did two interviews for speculative fiction outlets (as in, did one Wednesday and one Thursday) and found myself talking about "The Woman at the Washington Zoo," although I hadn't thought about Jarrell in a while. I loved Jarrell in high school and college (poetry and criticism and children's books and novel), but I'm not sure that I'm able to give an answer to that question now.

    Have you read Richard Flynn's book about "the semifeminine mind" remark he made in a letter? Think it might be interesting! I know Jarrell has been accused of sentimentality and self-indulgence in his female monologues (though I don't remember that happening in regard to children's voices), but it has been so long since I read him that I should go back and read him again before answering! Certainly the war poems felt the most rigorous and stripped down.

    On the other hand, you sound like a poet with an opinion. What do you think?

    Also: any new poems up or coming up where I can see them?

  5. I am not familiar with the Flynn book or the comment. Thanks for bringing it up. I will have to look into it.

    It's been a while since I've read the poems, too, but I have always loved them. However, I have never tried to answer the question of whether or not the speakers are believable as women, and for obvious reasons wonder if I can adequately answer the question. It seems to me that it might not be his aim to wholely convince the reader, but that the characters are made women in order to drive the language and narrative to a certain place. This is something I have thought for a long time, but haven't yet researched.

    Thanks for inquiring about my poems. I have one up in the current Unsplendid, and one coming up in Think Journal. How about you? I see you have some exciting book publications forthcoming.

  6. It's just serendipity all over again. I was looking at the summer faculty at Hollins graduate program because I'm doing a few weeks there as writer-in-residence--and he's doing an event, so I read about his Jarrell book.

    Yes, you should think about women's voices and Jarrell and then tell me! Blog it or something... He certainly spent a lot of time with women--Sarah Lawrence, UNC-Greensboro. I'll be thinking about that criticism too the next time I read him. It is interesting that nobody seems to have objected to the poems that are in the voices of children. Gender is a more touchy subject. Or maybe I have simply missed those complaints.

    I'll go look at your poems. I like "Unsplendid" but haven't read "Think Journal." I tend to be lazy about sending out. I have some poems coming up in the June issue of "Mezzo Cammin": "The Buried Girl" and "The Bottle Tree." I've never had so many books coming out. It should be interesting. Or frightening.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.