allchildren: kay eiffel's face meets the typewriter (☢ and he was screaming)
Amy Ponds of the 99% ([personal profile] allchildren) wrote2011-01-01 04:03 am

You know how fic commentaries used to be "DVD"? Well, this is the DVD's making-of special.

After my first year of Yuletide (wherein I defaulted, and then ended up writing the pinch hit for the assignment I defaulted on), I have been determined to never be that silly again, but 2009 and 2010 Yuletide were both much, much more challenging than that first year, which just goes to show you that, uh ... writing is hard? I'm good at finding new ways to make Yuletide way harder for myself than it should be? #ITSAPROCESS?

And still for some reason I persevere! My story this year was Sincerely, Cindi. (Metropolis: The Chase Suite - Janelle Monae)

And now, I would like to discuss my Yuletide ~process. Seriously. Not even the fic. I barely talk about the actual finished fic. This is like nine thousand words on just the fucking process.


In 2009 I threw a story together on the fly for a fandom I wasn't matched on. I didn't expect it to be good, although I really wanted it to be (as per my "make things worse for myself" dictum, I ended up writing a new fic entirely on Christmas Eve because the one I had uploaded on deadline day sucked), and since I wasn't actually writing in one of my own fandoms I didn't expect it to linger in my mind. But after it had a little time to breathe, I actually became rather fond of the piece. In fact I continue to want to write a commentary for it, because I almost accidentally ended up saying some things with that fic that were pretty important to me, that critiqued the movie, and unknowingly presaged a lot of what I would spend 2010 thinking about. SO, in November when signups began, I decided that rather than fall into another situation like the one I'd had the year before, I'd purposely offer only fandoms that could afford me a similarly cerebral and resonant subject matter. I spent a lot a lot of time in 2010 thinking about science fiction and what I believe it should engage with: colonialism and resources, gender and race, worldbuilding and differences and the enormity of space and time. Those were the sorts of things I wanted to engage with, along with the usual; I wanted to do something fairly origific-like that I could really develop my own ideas with and I also wanted to be able to really critique the source.

So the only fandoms I offered were:

Planetes (Planetes is a hard sci-fi anime set on a space station in the near future and it is toootally about resources and privilege and politics and the enormity of space and relationships. SO GOOD!!!)

Ursula Le Guin's Hainish Cycle although it bummed me out that all her books in that 'verse are lumped together since they aren't really a series (I had a dream while I was reading the Left Hand of Darkness that I was a man who married a Gethenien and then real-me was watching dream-me and critiquing him for being homophobic for always thinking of his Gethenian spouse as a woman whereas every other "gender-neutral" Gethenian is referred to with male pronouns)

The Hunger Games (I knew I probably wouldn't get that because I very specifically didn't offer Peeta or Gale, but I was excited at the idea of writing about Johanna or Foxface or Rue. I enjoyed the books but holy wasted potential batman and I was really interested in engaging with what I felt Collins didn't give its due.)

Deep Space Nine (but only offered Sisko, Kira, Dukat, Winn, and Kasidy. I would love to write something about Bajor or Cardassia or the Maquis or religion* or spaaaace or what it means to be a bad guy, would rather impale my head on a bike rack than write Bashir/O'Brien.) (*even though the Help Haiti fic I am now almost a year overdue on for Lizzen is totally about Sisko, Kira, and religion. lolol.)

Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
(just because [personal profile] sophia_helix mentioned it to me and it sounded really fun to write my own winter apocalypse)

And Janelle Monae! I felt it'd be going overboard to offer both her albums, but I always intended to deal with both and luckily my recipient [personal profile] livrelibre felt the same way.

I should probably note that despite all these really ambitious thoughts, I was also terrified about signing up at all because HELLO HAVE YOU SEEN MY WRITING OUTPUT THIS YEAR? In 2010 I completed five drabbles/ficlets, the longest of which is not quite 500 words. But maybe this could be the push I needed. And man I needed lots of pushes.

Finally: An Assignment!


Step two: ...Jesus fuck she knows WAY more about the supplemental canon than I do. Time travel? Messiah? I THOUGHT KNOWING THE LYRICS WAS ENOUGH OH GOD

Step three: let me just spend two or three weeks flailing about a) my own dear author letter because really, words have just not been coming out! and b) SERIOUSLY WHERE IS THERE TIMETRAVEL IN THIS CANON.

Answer to B: I STILL HAVE NO FUCKING CLUE. I did a lot of Janelle Monae research, and I asked a lot of friends, and I filled in a lot of details -- but the time travel element is still a complete mystery to me. At a certain point I finally just went "fuck it" and decided to ignore it and focus on what I could understand.

At which point the real research began! Because, see, historically I haven't been the biggest fan of robots and their feelings. This was basically the fault of Battlestar Galactica being the fricking worst, and I've grown very much fonder of the subject matter since Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles entered my life and was the fricking best, but still, I felt somewhat to very out of my depth. Furthermore, I was pretty sure that the albums contained references to a lot of classic sci-fi canon, with which I had better fucking be familiar with, and so (with the particular guidance of Lizzen) I embarked:

First up, Blade Runner! (Which I loved a whole lot.) Main obsession: the line "you are the blade, blade runner."

Then, The Fifth Element! Okay, not about robots at all, but it had been a really long since I'd seen it and Blade Runner made me want to. So... there.

Also, books? I was very intrigued by Kalpa Imperial, one of my recipient's other fandoms, and ordered it right away thinking maybe I could incorporate some ideas from it into my story, but it took a while to arrive and I didn't want to disrupt my train of thought. Lizzen had recommended Neuromancer, and I mentioned it to ye olde cyberpunk scholar Ariel, who said even more relevant would be Idoru. Both books have been on my to-read list for a long time, but it was already a week or two into December and I was beginning to panic about time, and I also didn't want to break my year-long female authors streak, so I ended up randomly plucking Maureen F. McHugh's Nekropolis off a used bookstore shelf and discovering it seemed to be about a human/robot with feelings relationship, and, relevant to my non-Yuletide interests*, had a DUDE robot sex object! That book is a total bummer, btw. Also not that helpful, although I did find the harni's, erm, anatman (no-self) to be very interesting and was somewhat influential. But I really liked the parts narrated by the mom and the bff, and uh also it made me crave couscous?

* you may have noticed an obsession on my part with lady vampires. This is sort of the result of an epiphany I had about a year ago: in popular genre fiction, male vampires and female robots are far more common than female vampires and male robots. Why? Because each represents a fantasy archetype for the presumed heterosexual respectively female and male audiences. You have the taciturn, controlling, dangerous dude and the programmable, emotionless, personalityless sextoy (yet infertile!) fembot. This epiphany came while torturing myself by watching some gross countdown of the Top 20 Sexiest Sci-Fi Babes on tv -- spots two and three were both robots (Tricia Helfer and Jeri Ryan). And I realized that if you polled today's fanboys, Summer Glau could easily be in the top three too making an actual trifecta of fap object grossness! SOOO ever since then I have longed to subvert these archetypes, and thus the idea of a programmable male sex object excited me. (Smallish spoiler for the book: SHE NEVER EVEN ACTUALLY FUCKS HIM; indeed she has no sex drive at all. So much for that subversion! Although bigger spoiler: he does work as a prostitute. But all his clientele are men! YOU SEE!!)

So one of my goals was to avoid that shit hardcore. Cindi may be an android, but she is a PERSON and not an object.

Which brings me to my other main fork of thought, once I felt a little more solid with the whole robot thing: the social justice/allegory aspect, which is at least as important as the sci-fi trappings. What I felt really strongly about was the idea, perhaps best expressed in Janelle's song "Cold War": I was made to believe there's something wrong with me. And the whole bridge of "Many Moons." This idea of kyriarchy as emotional abuse -- because that is how abuse works too, you convince the victim that she is weak and cannot get along without her abuser -- but instead of being individual abuse, it's a cultural institution. How dark-skinned people are taught to long for the white ideal and good hair, how women are taught to abhor to femininity even as it is relentlessly sold to them. THIS is what I really wanted to tackle, much more than the specific star-crossed love of Cindi and Anthony. But I did not know how.

I watched the newest restoration of Fritz Lang's Metropolis. Y'all, that movie is long as fuck after all these restorations and for something reputed to be pro-working class, the moral of the story is EERILY LIKE the end of Harry Potter which I will never get over which is that we shouldn't liberate the house elves we should be slightly nicer to them and then they won't hate being our slaves, which they should be, because they just cold love being slaves! P.S. The next time you think of rising up from your horrible dwellings underground you will ruin your own lives and drown your kids you selfish plebes and/or Kreacher. Hitler was a fan of this movie for a reason. Also: this movie is not actually about robots at all? I was most interested in the movie's strange obsession with the Bible, in particular Babel and Babylon, and in poking at the story of Babel online I discovered two things:

1. The reason the tower failed was not because the uneducated workers didn't understand the architects' grand plan (per the movie) or because something something different languages and isn't this a sad story on how humanity cannot communicate (per my fuzzy cultural osmosis). No, the reason the tower was never finished is because the humans are getting along TOO WELL and God is like "well this'll show 'em who's boss" and curses them with languages! DICK

2. No, seriously. This is about humanity not needing God and reaching heaven on their own.

Weirdly, this ties into exactly my biggest problem with the very basis of Christian doctrine, which presupposes that there is sin and thus that humanity needs divine salvation. I hate that idea with every fiber of my being. (P.S. If you don't, that's cool, I don't care! I'm an atheist for reals yo)

Weirdly, this ties into exactly what I'm heading towards with my cultural emotional Cold War abuse thought. Pride and self-reliance, bowing to no one.

-- only, if Cindi is the robot messiah, and that is what an ArchAndroid is, how does that work? I mean, how does the entire messianic concept work at all in a truly populist collective movement? This was another thing in Metropolis: the idea of the Mediator, and the specification that he needs people to believe in him. If a messiah needs people to believe in her, if a revolutionary needs people to follow her, how the hell can that be a revolution of equality and self-respect?

It was around this thought, like three days until the deadline, that I realized I needed at least another three months for research. Fahye was like, you should read some eyai FINALLY and I was like, yay reading eyai FINALLY and I read the first three stories and omg Ji girl you are my hero. But I couldn't keep reading because I had to think my own thoughts and figure out this messiah thing.

I tried. I thought: liberation theology! (Catholic theology developed in South America to deal with and rise up against systematic oppression, which has interested me a lot for years because I have a pretty fucking substantial issue with Catholicism as a tool of colonial oppression. lol guys i'm so fun) So I started doing some internet reading on liberation theology, and I also found some stuff on specific BLACK liberation theology, and as it turned out my dear friend Emily totally had some liberation theology literature.

So Emily and I go see Black Swan (not relevant, just ~painting a picture~) and she hands me a big bag full of books and then we stand around in her kitchen for an hour talking theology. You may be wondering why I am so gung-ho about theology when I'm a cranky atheist secular humanist but guys this is why I'm so fun! Because I am the female Aaron Tyler and if I could laze around in life learning dead languages and studying scriptural interpretation of shit I don't believe in and am actively angry about, I would be perfectly content. And because I can't do that but I do believe in working towards a better world and fighting the forces of colonialism I do believe it's fucking important for me to see what is good (like liberation theology! fun fact: one of the most vocal opponents of this school of thought was Cardinal Ratzinger lolol THAT WACKY POPE) and support it and appreciate it and also I guess to know my enemy if it comes to that.

That conversation in Emily's kitchen, about radical love for each other and for oneself as the revolution and each person being her own messiah, was very important. Driving home from her house I finally began to know what I would actually write. Because up until that moment my options were either a) some random story I'd make up that would not really reflect any of the shit I had been thinking about or b) a completely nonfictional dissertation on robofeminism and race and emotional abuse and philosophy. My original thought, possibly influenced by the fact that Emily is Lutheran, was to do Cindi's own nailed-to-a-door theses. (Omg you guys I love the Reformation. LOVE IT. Ohh I am the funnest atheist)

So, there you kind of have it. IDK. I still was not done researching. One night I just flopped on the couch and watched six fucking Data-centric episodes of Star Trek TNG in a row. "The Offspring" damn near made me cry. And who can forget "Measure of a Man," wherein Data actually has a trial to prove his sentience when Starfleet claims to own him? Data is the best character on TNG and this is just a fact. Also Brent Spiner is amazing. But I digress. Star Trek! I love you!

I read some of a book on Negritude Emily had lent me in the bath and that's when I decided to add a little bit to the fic that specifically dealt with the unwinnable logic/emotion gap -- that is, an old standby of imperialists is that they are equipped with reason and Enlightenment, whereas other societies are primitive and based solely on impulse; BUT in sci-fi you always see this condescending idea that humanity is great because they feel so many feelings while Vulcans and androids are cold and overly logical and should want to be more human. See also, the Western cultural meme that men must be gruff and women are emotional and irrational EVEN AS the romantic comedy shifts to be about men and, you know, a few millennia's artistic legacy where all the great emotional journeys ever are taken by men. Ha HA.

The thing is, I eventually reached the point where I had so many ideas and so many things to dig deeper into that writing something of a manageable length in such a short time was nearly impossible. So I tried to make the prose of my piece musical, to focus on sound and make it PRETTY to read, and to be as evocative as I could of the ideas I was referencing, but all I could really hope for is a basic distillation of concepts that are really only being hinted at. It's kind of frustrating to me. Especially since for all my free-floating ideas and the vagueness of my canon, I DID have somebody's request to try to meet and I couldn't just contradict canon as I saw fit and have Cindi totally abdicate her messianic leadership. Another thing I worried about is the "Many Moons" lyric your freedom's in your mind/your freedom's in a bind which to me makes the point that as much as ~freeing your mind~ from the harmful cultural messages that abuse and oppress you is great and wonderful and should be done, it is not enough. It is not fair to ask an oppressed class to just love themselves and be super happy in their subjugation, and while the idea of finding nirvana in samsara is lovely, what about all those left behind? There has to be actual tangible change too. So I tried to stick that in there, and to acknowledge how much my piece lacked, but Christmas came eventually and at a certain point (um, midnight on Christmas) I did have to stop working on it.

But hey, maybe I'll write a robofeminist antiracist postcolonialist dissertation one of these days after all! OR MAYBE THIS GIANT, GIANT ENTRY SHALL HAVE TO SUFFICE

You know... consuming a drink that contained caffeinated soda was perhaps not the smartest choice I made last night. I don't know. It is possible.
nextian: A shot from the "If I Were A Boy" music video of Beyoncé aiming her gun. (straight aim)

[personal profile] nextian 2011-01-01 05:54 pm (UTC)(link)
Fahye was like, you should read some eyai FINALLY and I was like, yay reading eyai FINALLY and I read the first three stories and omg Ji girl you are my hero.


(What, I mean, I'm not fixating on that sentence

but seriously, seriously, seriously)

Also all of this is AMAZING to me. And really shows up in the story! It reads like someone who could write a robofeminist antiracist postcolonialist dissertation but instead wrote a boss story! And now I have to listen to the ArchAndroid maybe half a million more times.
nextian: A woman in a Victorian dress with three old keys around her neck. (eyai)

[personal profile] nextian 2011-01-02 05:36 am (UTC)(link)
YES. YES IT DOES. Omg, omg, Tris. Come play. Mai Linh needs you *_*
livrelibre: DW barcode (Default)

[personal profile] livrelibre 2011-01-03 08:32 am (UTC)(link)
I'm typing from my phone on the road so this comment is way shorter than I want but I have to say I absolutely love the story you wrote for me! I was utterly blown away by how you got right at what I wanted and what I couldn't say but went YES THIS when I saw it. All these ideas you mention here, all that research paid off and in such a wonderfully organic, lyrical and allusive way. I am beyond thankful for the time, energy, thought and care you put into this as well as for the marvelous end product. Seriously, just blown away.

And reading about your process was enlightening; it gave me ideas I hadn't considered and things to look up and encouragement to continue the fic I stopped due to the need for research.

Thank you again so much for this! Oh and sorry about the time travel thing; I think it may only be in the CD liner notes?
trascendenza: turtle with flippers thrown up: "yay!" (-cute yay turtle!)

[personal profile] trascendenza 2011-01-09 02:02 am (UTC)(link)
I LOVE EVERYTHING THIS POST CHOOSES TO BE. <333 Seriously, I can so relate with your process -- any story that I actually want to mean something ends up going through a process like this.

BUT in sci-fi you always see this condescending idea that humanity is great because they feel so many feelings while Vulcans and androids are cold and overly logical and should want to be more human.
Condescending is exactly the word. I can't even count on all fingers and toes how many storylines I've seen that hinge on this, ending with the human protagonist saving the day because they listen to those "irrational emotions" that somehow always prevail over cold, inhuman logic. Pfff. These storylines annoy me even further because I think that intuition is fantastic, yet the way it's presented manages to make my skin crawl.
jmtorres: From Lady Gaga's Bad Romance music video; the peach-haired, wide-eyed iteration (Default)

[personal profile] jmtorres 2011-05-09 08:23 am (UTC)(link)
Hi, I am totally following you because of this entry.

...following you on dreamwidth, not in the creepy stalker way.