We are default people too

“When we say that someone is ‘writing from the margins’, what does that mean? […] They’re writing about race, or gender, or country of origin, or disabilities, or… the list goes on. But. Why are they still in the margins? Why is it still considered that?” (Morgan Hazelwood, Writing SFF From the Margins)

Krystle Matar and I decided to talk about this topic, and how we refuse to keep both ourselves and our characters on the margins of SFF literature.

Shifting the default: what does it mean to you and why do you want to do it?

Krystle When talking about how much of your characters to include in your books, I’ve seen the advice, “if it serves a purpose to the plot, absolutely talk about their sexuality/identity.” This advice always rubbed me the wrong way. When have we ever asked if a character being heterosexual and male “serves a purpose” in the plot? Why should our characters being full and complicated humans have to be anything more than aspects of who they are? Why should they have to justify their existence by a checklist?

Maybe it’s because I’m a character writer first and a plot writer second—every part of them serves a purpose, but no particular part of them is more important than the other. In my head, they live and breathe. Those of us that don’t fit the default shouldn’t have to “serve a purpose” to be allowed to express ourselves to the fullest breadth of our existence. We should be allowed to just be—and I wanted to give my characters the same multifaceted depth that I’ve seen in the real world.

Books I want to read

I taught myself to read when I was four years old. This is neither an exaggeration nor a joke. I was one of those kids who wanted one out of three books (very short ones, but still) read every single evening over and over and over again. Eventually, my grandparents and mom had enough and told me “you memorised all those books by now”. They were correct. I was smart enough to notice there was a connection between the written words and the ones my mom said out loud. I became a minor sensation in the neighbourhood, but I had no interest in fame and fortune. I just wanted to read, and once I was done with my three kids’ books I found out that there were hundreds of books in our house.

I started plundering through the adult library without anybody really noticing – how would a 4-year-old manage to read science-fiction or blood-dripping thrillers? In the beginning, the answer was “slowly”. When I got to school and we had to learn each letter separately, then read sentences along the lines of “Anna has a cat” I couldn’t figure out what all that was about. I decided that probably we had to memorise the texts, because otherwise what was the point? Once I memorised the two lines that were our homework, I went back to my Kir Bulychov books.

I remember being seven or eight, reading a book that had a sex scene of some sort in it, and being bewildered as to why someone would want to do ewww-y things like this – or even write about them. Hello? SENTIENT ROBOTS! Stop the stupid thing and tell me more about the murderous robots! Nobody noticed I went through my stepfather’s entire collection of thrillers, horrors, crime stories before turning 10. But then what books were suitable for my age back in the 1980s? Dumb ones, I decided, then went back to Stephen King.

Around the age of 13, I discovered the local library had THOUSANDS of books available. It was free, and you could borrow six books per person, or per library card. I got three cards – for my mom, my brother, and myself. That gave us a total of 18 books. Every month I would borrow 15 books for myself, three for my mom, and, er, my brother liked football. I didn’t go by genre, I went alphabetically section per section without paying much attention to the genre. I ate those books. Once I discovered Julio Cortazár’s Hopscotch I went to the librarian and asked innocently what would happen if someone, theoretically, of course, lost a book. The librarian somehow guessed that someone would be me and told me the person would immediately lose their access to the library.

What kind of hateful monster! (The book was, of course, out of print.)

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