Right. Um. Let me start off by saying that I’ll try my best to stop this growing too weird. So, the primary developmental edit of The Necromancer and the Reaping Spear is done. It’s wonderful stuff and I’m proud of it. It’s just that I forgot to make time at any point in the past few years for an equal developmental edit of one little, teensy, miniscule part of my series.
The concept of Canno as a world and the areas of the current version steeped in my own poor choices. That bit.
There’s much about Canno I love–in the sense of storytelling potential rather than things I’d actually want to experience–and wouldn’t change for anything. For example:
-The gods are either self-serving parasites or so weak they can do nothing against the former.
-Power goes to people who seek power, and has no inherent relationship with morality.
-A broken world naturally produces broken people, meaning that few of those who gain the ability to heal it would actually try
-See also: mountains of evidence that expecting perfect goodness from massively traumatized people so we can feel inspired by their perseverance, in fact, really screwed-up.
Also, that such narratives lead to unfit folks throwing themselves into situations where they don’t belong, and where they cause irreparable harm, because they believe it’s how they’ll be/prove that they’ve become better people. And… stick a pin in this one with the addendum, “North is terrible at following her own advice.”
I’m afraid it’s important for later.
I still stand by these ideas, and many others besides. In fact, there’s just one key point on which I really wish I’d more swiftly pulled my head out of my ample rear.
Canno’s cultures and, no use sugarcoating it, the extent to which many of them appropriate Earth cultures.
I don’t mean the pseudo-Germanic Black Havens or Ulm’s mix from France and the U.K. I’m white as white, definitively European in descent and enculturation if American by birth, home, and hearth. I can’t ‘appropriate’ white culture because I’m white and, also, white people aren’t oppressed.
Anseth’s merit isn’t mine to comment on. All I can say for it is that its intent was less flawed from the start. While it’s geographically placed much the way Africa is and that’s not coincidence, I was careful not to take anything from any African culture extant or otherwise. As far as I know up to the present, the cultural details invented for countries such as Kiwoda (might drop that “a” on the end in the series rewrite, reads as uncomfortably stereotypical) are my own. Much the same can be said of the continent-sized archipelago that is the Shards. I do want to refine the phonetics to be more “Canno” and less coded for “sounds white people will think sound vaguely African”.
In answer to the obvious: I don’t cling to any ideas about what it means for something to “sound African.” But I did when I started this series and this world back in 2016. That half-examined racist impulse left its mark on my worldbuilding. I failed to confront myself on this for too long. Trying to dance around the issue through well-executed storytelling has only given it room to fester, and made its legacies the more galling by contrast with the rising quality of the work they infect.
If this post reads like a court jester punching herself in the face while trying to play for sympathy, well… trust your instincts over anything I say. I swear that I’m doing my best to be honest, but it’s not for me to decide whether that’s good enough.
Obviously the above does not exempt me from admitting and correcting further mistakes as I am called on them. But I can at the least say my methodology wasn’t fucked from the start by way of its most basic elements–
–until we come to the overly-Chinese “inspired” north Ton and the similarly-obvious Arabic influence of Hanir. There’s no point citing my good intentions, my desires to provide representation or attempts to be respectful here. Not my cultures, not my stories to tell. The fact that I assumed it was for me to try any of this is, in itself, damning.
As with every culture on Canno, there are elements purely of my own invention sprinkled throughout both groups. This begs the question as to why I didn’t just invent a culture in its entirety to place Gratai into. Between the Tresar, the Coyetta, the Marrowscours of Creation’s Fringe (who admittedly derive some inspiration from Gaelic cultures, but guess which idiot fantasy writer has a hefty dose of Scots and Irish in her?), and the sheer amount of effort invested in 80,000 or so words of pure cultural lore about forty-plus distinct alien races as part of a fucking side project at this same time last year, it’s not as though I haven’t learned how.
The answer is that I should have from the start. I SHOULD HAVE invented new cultures whole cloth at any point when I felt tempted to lift an existing one to which I have no claim. There was no good reason for appropriating Earth cultures. I did it anyway.
As egregious and slimy as that is, it’s not unsolvable in itself. Written works aren’t as unmalleable as writers sometimes like to pretend. At least, they’re not unmalleable when handled by a lone indie author who retains sole rights to everything she’s written. I still have all my documents; there’s nothing at all stopping me from cracking them open in a word processor and going to town. If my worldbuilding is fundamentally appropriative, then the solution is equally fundamental.
Not to put to fine a point on it, what I want to do is… I want you to imagine the sound of teeth gritting so hard they splinter–rewrite the first book, again. This would be the fourth full-scale rewrite of The Necromancer and the Revenant, and its third time being published. I still believe there’s a lot to love in that story, but there’s no reason readers should have to slog their way towards it through the creepy, obnoxious, or just plain uncomfortable mire left behind from its earlier, immature incarnations.
Especially since some of Gratai’s long-term character arc hinges on a few of the creepy elements remaining. That makes it doubly important that I remove all the ones that don’t need to be there. The ideas I want to grapple with about cultural appropriation and identity are worthy ones, but there’s no reason I need to canonize the appropriation of an actual culture in order to do this. It’ll work just as well if it’s one purely of my own invention, and be vastly less uncomfortable for BIPOC readers in the process.
And as far as thematic resonance between art and artist is concerned, the fact that this idea originally came from my appropriation of a real-world culture will be more than enough. Kind of garbage to admit that I did that and it’s deeply wrong, then leave that wrongness written into the story, isn’t it?
That leaves me rather nauseated about publishing Reaping Spear in its current form. We’ll come to that in a few paragraphs.
On lighter notes, there are so many possibilities of Canno’s worldbuilding that I just didn’t consider fully enough during the first run–there are nowhere near enough odd interactions between overlapping supernatural powers, occult relics, eldritch encounters in Revenant. I want a version that properly saturates the world with these things. And… c’mon, this is mature North talking. At the most basic and base, I’d rather like to do a version of Revenant that’s as horny as Reaping Spear has turned out to be. Just three sex scenes? I can do vastly better than that!
Also, I’m not sure Reaping Spear has enough sex scenes. More time to think of more to add is something I’d not mind at all.
Ideally, if I had the time and money, I would dive into this lore and story rework wholeheartedly before even finishing line-edits on Reaping Spear V2, then publish both within a month or two of each other. You can feel it coming–the words I’m about to hide behind. The explanation for why, much as I’d rather not, I’m going to leave the current flawed, problematic edition of Revenant where it is. Why I intend to publish the version of Reaping Spear which contains the same flaws.
I do not have the time and money to correct my wrongs. Their scope is too great to mend using what little I have left to work with. I’m hoping that by leaving the current version in the world, and adding Reaping Spear to it within the next few weeks, I’ll somehow gain enough breathing room to go back and undo this final layer of my own misdeeds.
So, profit motive behind a thin veneer of desire for a last chance at getting it right. That’s a terrible reason, and no excuse at all. I’m not expecting a redemption arc or sympathy. No one owes me anything, least of all those. Hell, by definition anyone who’s messed up badly enough to need a redemption arc cannot be owed one.
I don’t claim to know what the most moral decision would be. I just know that I’m falling far, far below that standard. Right now I’m not good enough to do better. I reason that I can, at least, put it in the open how compromised I am. Still cowardice, if I’m being honest, but at least I’m not a coward with any chance of taking you in. Any who continue to support me at this point will know the nature of the creature they deal with.
If you’re still here, I’ll close this out by explaining further. I don’t write any of this to garner pity, but I’m aware it could have that effect. Perhaps that awareness in itself is reason enough not to write it. If so, I’m sorry, for I’m choosing to err on the side of openness and write it anyway.
Trigger warning: suicide mention, some words about past trauma.
It’s an open secret on this blog of mine, and secret only in the sense that you have to scroll back a while to find the posts about it, that I’ve a long history of struggling with depression, self-hatred, and suicidal ideation. I nearly killed myself last summer and only pulled back at the last moment. My writing focuses heavily on characters who need to find reasons to go on, to prove to themselves and the world that they’re not done fighting, because that’s the only way I can remember how to live. Just living for the joy of life is something I’ve long since forgotten how to do.
I wanted, and I still want, to write fantasy that destigmatizes characters who face the same struggle. I’ve come to feel more and more alienated by the genre in recent years as it becomes increasingly dominated by plucky young-adult teams who are… well… just better people than I am. I write characters who need to overcome their own flaws in order to create good in the world because, again, that’s the only way I’ve ever created good.
In sum, I wrote these books to make a point. To my parents, who doubted my ability to “make it” as a writer in the most archetypal ways. To former friends and acquaintances who I felt had abandoned me. To myself. To prove that I could keep going, no matter what. The littlest extra doubt would’ve destroyed me. So obviously, I couldn’t admit to the existence of any flaws that would force me to to question the worthiness of the effort as it was at the start.
Flaws like, “the story you want to tell doesn’t belong to you.”
I thought that because my intentions were good, the actions that resulted from them would be good. Ironically, the last of my old naivete sabotaged those good intentions. I thought in binary terms: representing BIPOC people and cultures is good, period. I focused on the easy warm-fuzzy belief that I was doing good. How did I know? Why, because I felt I was, of course! I ignored the entire swath of real-world history, trauma, and power that intersects with these things.
Again, not my cultures, not my stories to tell.
I told them anyway. I was obsessed with moving the books forward. You might think I’d have realized that “if I stop I’ll recognize how depressed I am” isn’t a state of mind that lends itself to clear-headed decision making. But… see previous statement. At many times, the knowledge of my tales’ imperfections seemed like its own excuse–“of course this flaw exists, I’m a flawed writer telling stories about flawed characters”–and because I was using these books as much to unpack my own deep-seated trauma as anything else, I ignored them.
For similar reasons, it took me too long to examine the underlying ideas of what I’ve often termed “old school” or “traditional” fantasy. Hence, the appropriation. As a white American writer, my idea of the old school is by definition steeped in colonialism. What is old school white, American fantasy but a chance to escape to exotic lands that don’t belong to us and make them our own anyway? It was always appropriative.
I grew up on games like Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights. The Forgotten Realms as a whole feels nostalgic for me, and I channeled the comfort born from that nostalgia into my writing. In so doing I channeled a lot of other things that I badly wish I hadn’t. Perhaps I needed them to help me through the process of working on myself. But again: I was writing these books to prove that I could. To prove that I hadn’t given up.
It occurred to me far too late to ask what, exactly, I hadn’t given up.
This will sound odd coming from someone so staggeringly awful at it, but I do want to be a good person. I hate the idea of hurting people, of doing wrong, just as much as I hate injustice. No coincidence, then, that I’ve so often hated myself. It took me too long to separate the way my books make me feel from the way they would make others feel. They comforted me. I thought they would comfort others as well.
Suffice to say reaching the point where I could admit the need to write this essay-length exercise in self-flagellation… it didn’t go easily. I spent a sizable portion of the night of the 26th lying on my side with my bedside fan droning at my face and mumbling “Kill me” over and over again. Part of me still wishes someone or something had.
I don’t like being here again. I don’t like that after everything, it comes down to another angsty post confessing how badly I’ve fucked up. But denying reality isn’t the same as changing it.
So, here we are.
I could keep at this. I could delve into how my surge of trans euphoria on coming out, and the heady emotions of my life’s first great romance, led me to pass over the infantilizing implications of Gratai’s shift towards a more motherly persona over the course of The Necromancer and the Revenant. Those, however, I’m going to keep for just that reason: it’s a negative character trait, but not one I’m uncomfortable keeping as part of the series canon. On the contrary, unpacking and eventually dismantling said negative trait has led to some of my favorite storytelling.
This post isn’t about the mistakes I’ve managed to rework. It’s about the ones I can’t. And as far as that’s concerned, I believe it’s comprehensive enough.
The Necromancer’s Vengeance series, barring a change in circumstances towards which I can see no path at present, is condemned by my own moral and professional failures to be a work of appropriative fantasy.
You have it clear from the sinner herself; that’s all she wrote. Well, that, and–
–I’m sorry. For all of it.