Hello everyone. I am Ekaterina (Kathy) Sedia, and I’m here to guest-blog this week. For my first post, I’ve decided to talk about my recent trip to South Carolina, to the Shared World Workshop, of which Jeff is an assistant director.
My trip started in Philadelphia, where the plane took me to Memphis. I would complain about this detour, but thankfully Memphis airport is rich in barbeque. Also, popping off into another time zone just to change planes felt especially… quaint. The plane was delayed, and I arrived to the world’s smallest international airport of Greenville/Spartanburg at midnight. Our valiant host, Mr. VanderMeer, was awake enough to drive me to the hotel and then go in search of beer. Cigars he brought with him.
I was miraculously awake the next morning early enough to teach my workshop, dealing with representations of non-Western cultures in fantasy and science fiction, and how those kinds of things relate to worldbuilding. Basically, I talked about the predominant whiteness of both fantasy and SF, secondary or primary world, about monolithic cultures, about behaviors codified into every single member of culture as if it were genetic. My sense of it is that no matter where you look, OTHER cultures appear monolithic from a distance, but your own, the one you know up close, is full of diversity and lacunae and fissures in which non-dominant groups â€“ cultural, ethnic, religious â€“ live. The trick is to look at other cultures close enough to see the same variety you know in your own.
The class was really great — 22 kids between 13 and 16 yers old, all bright and interested and engaged in geekery. It was really more fun that it had any right to be, and in the second hour I asked them to develop a minority culture/subculture for the world they have been already building for some time before I got there. Their worlds were elaborate and fanciful, and they thankfully avoided any warrior people and simple holy people. I just wish I had more time to talk about reasons behind religions and rituals and behaviors, of how peoples make sense of the world and fit into it.
One of the interesting things about these kids — which are really the next generation of spec fic writers — is that to them multiculturalism is a default, and they are influenced by media produced in other countries (especially Japan) to a great extent. Another endearing thing was that they were already developing cultures based on China and India. I also liked that not everyone there wanted to be writers — there were aspiring artists and game designers, all the kinds of people who can actually use some worldbuilding skills and team work. Yay for youthful enthusiasm!
Another highlight, of course, was getting to hang out with Jeff. There is always that fear when meeting someone whose work you have admired for years — are they going to be interesting in person? Will they turn out to be unbearable? In this case, the answers are respectively yes and no. Plus, you know, beer and cigars.
Random discoveries in Spartanburg:
1) I can live in any town with beer and sushi restaurants.
2) If two genre writers get lost in a strange town and contemplate their possible demise, they will wonder what sort of Locus Blinks will their injuries generate. (Dear Locus: If anything happens to me, please refer to me as a ‘literary fantasist’. Thanks!)
3) Spartanburg’s Mariott’s lobby is decorated by sculptures of South Carolina natives who won various beauty pageants, and those dead-looking women in glass cases are creepy.
4) Parking lots can be relaxing places to sit and shoot the breeze. All you need is beer and cigars.
There was also a reading in which Jeff gave a hilarious talk about the intrusion of mayfly squid from the literary to real realms (and the readers of this blog are probably familiar with some of the story), and plenty of other pleasant moment that convinced me that I would like to go back next year. Seriously, if you have children between 8 and 12th grade, send them. Writers, if you get invited — go.
Finally, what to expect this week: some blathering about three very underrated writers and their books, some contemplation of things that do not belong in reviews, and olfactory descriptions and how not to do them. I am looking at you, Journey!