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Friday, January 29, 2016

Inheritance - a Dive into Worldbuilding hangout summary

Inheritance is a surprisingly rich topic in worldbuilding and storytelling. The plot of King Lear depends on it, as do all those stories about the third son going off to seek his fortune, and all the ones about dynastic struggles and lines of succession.

You can inherit property, titles, land, and so much more.

It's hard to talk about inheritance, at least of titles, without involving issues of gender. The British crown recently changed its rules to include girls more directly in the succession, but when Queen Elizabeth took the throne, it was because there were so few boys in her generation of the royal family. There have been similar issues with the Japanese Imperial family, where the Crown Prince and his wife have had a daughter, and she is their only child.

Empires and crowns often have issues with trying to prove an unbroken line of succession, due to the idea of the divine right of kings and emperors. The Imperial Household Agency of Japan is known to have forbidden archaeological research because of its interest in preserving the image of an unbroken line stretching back to the sun goddess Amaterasu.

Glenda pointed out that gender is critical to the idea of patrilineal vs. matrilineal inheritance. Morgan noted that in orthodox and conservative Jewish populations, one's identity as a Jew is inherited matrilineally.

In an agrarian society where there is a benefit to having many kids to work a farm, there is a natural problem that arises when you talk about inheriting the land, because land can only be divided so many times.

Morgan brought up property and monetary assets. Assets that have named beneficiaries are relatively straightforward. If there's a will, these will be distributed according to the will. But what constitutes a will? What if there is no will? Will money be distributed by the state, and how? Will the State eventually inherit the money if there are no living heirs?

Morgan told us how she had worked through the inheritance rules of her secondary world. Kenehar has a system most like us. If you are a business owner and you die, the partner will inherit the business. However, Kenehar has been invaded by the Ukandir, who work based on houses. The title of Head of House is inherited by bloodline, but the Head doesn't own the house's assets, and property belongs to the House. Imposition of the Ukandir laws over the Kenehar system lead to complications. Morgan told us that people who leave the Ukandir houses and make money from outside jobs can still have their assets appropriated by the house if they die. Disinheriting someone from a house meas that you never existed as part of it.

I spoke briefly about inheritance questions regarding the throne of Varin, my own secondary world. In Varin there is no blood line, but the Heir is selected by successive votes of a fifteen-member Cabinet between candidates put forward by each of the Great Families.

How does an unfit ruler become ruler? By blood inheritance? Or by some other method?

People often compete for an inheritance. Lots of movies have that as part of their premise. The Aristocats is one of those; Who Framed Roger Rabbit? another; All of Me yet another.

The role of Executor is crucial. Is that person named in the will? Someone needs to be in charge of distribution. Sometimes people can show up with false wills, or less-than-recent ones. How can you tell which one is valid? Must there be witnesses to a will, or a notary? Think about what happens if there is no legal will. What happens if there is a letter but it's unsigned?

In the Mystery genre you see a lot about inheritance and wills. Another question that comes up is the rights of the caretaker. What benefit, if any, accrues to the person who took care of the deceased through their last illness? Did the deceased recognize that person and their efforts or not?

The will of the deceased is not necessarily just. The will may have conditions intended to influence the behavior of heirs from beyond the grave, such as requiring a relationship with the guardian of the assets in order to maintain access to them.

There was a Twilight Zone episode where anyone who wanted to inherit part of a considerable fortune had to wear a mask for 24 hours, and that mask was a hideous reflection of their inner character. Over the 24 hours their face became molded to the mask so it was permanently that way. Conveniently for the story, the deceased was right about the character of the heirs, but what if he hadn't been?

We also mentioned Trusts, which make for a delay in inheritance.

Regents can get in all sorts of trouble! Look at what the Steward of Gondor did: the position became a hereditary rulership because the kings had disappeared, but there were big problems when the kings returned. This thought made me ask, "What if the regent or steward is good and the heir is bad?" What if you wanted to get rid of the heir in order to protect the kingdom, but your ethics couldn't let you kill them? Could you send them away? Could you groom a different heir to be a good person?

Some interesting issues came up right at the end, such as the relationship between the ruler and the culture of a kingdom, and whether the culture would sustain itself if the hereditary succession of the ruler was broken.

We also spoke about cases where Native American people object to scientists studying the remains of their people and what their legal rights are when they are not necessarily directly related to the deceased.

We also asked whether cultural heritage could be a form of inheritance.

By the end of our discussion, we wanted to make sure to talk about this topic again!

Next week we'll meet at 10am on Wednesday, February 3rd to discuss Culture Shock. What happens when you move into a new culture, or convert to a spouse's or other new religion? I hope you can join us!


Friday, January 15, 2016

Isabel Yap - a Dive into Worldbuilding hangout summary

This week we had author Isabel Yap join us! After reading two of her stories, Milagroso at and The Oiran's Song at Uncanny Magazine, I was quite surprised by a comment that she'd made to me when we spoke privately about her worldbuilding. So I started by asking her how she defined worldbuilding, and wasn't surprised when she said that she thought mainly about secondary worlds. She noted that worldbuilding panels at conventions very often feature secondary worlds. She describes herself as comfortable with contemporary fantasy, using a modern setting with a few changes. She has tried to come up with new worlds.

I explained the definition of worldbuilding that I use in my hangout series, that worldbuilding has to do with the creation of a world on a blank page. She said she appreciated the more expansive definition. She likes to go about presenting our world in a different way.

She told us that she has a background in fan fiction. The fun part there is that you get to use canon. Other people have done the heavy lifting of creating the world, she says, and thus words and character names evoke a whole lot. Working in original fiction, the task is different. "They are coming to my world completely cold," she says. "How can I get them to care?"

With fan fiction there is a kind of co-creation between the fan and the work. Isabel likes to ask "what ifs" about a story, and do character sketches and backstories, etc., for example: what would happen 10 years after the Hunger Games? She always asks herself if this would make sense in the context of canon.

She says even during this time she was always writing original stories, too. She notes that as a reader growing up, you don't see much short fiction. She says she wasn't aware that such things get published, and wasn't conscious of any need to publish them. She remarks that in short fiction, every sentence really matters.

Isabel told us that she wrote "Milagroso" during her stint at Clarion in 2013. In week 1 she'd written a story about two hackers traveling around the world, but had received feedback that there was no sense of setting in it. She decided, "I'm going to show my class that I can write setting." That, she says, was the first driving factor behind the story, while the second was instructor Nalo Hopkinson. Isabel told us, "I wanted to write a very Filipino story." This was important, she says, because she grew up with the perception that "no one will really get it if I write about my life." However, Nalo made her feel safe because they were both writers of color.

She described the research she did for the story, which features a festival she hadn't attended herself, but which several of her friends had attended. She spoke to high school friends and watched YouTube videos about the festival in general and about how to make kiping, which features prominently. She was very happy when the story was well received by her classmates. She describes the setting as almost like a magical setting, but taking place in a near future which is very like the present.

Glenda asked if it mattered whether the description featured things that were "real" or not. Isabel responded by describing the difference between the reactions of Filipinos to the story vs. non-Filipinos. She said that the Filipinos were more likely to say "I know exactly what you're talking about," while non-Filipinos unfamiliar with the festival were more likely to remark on the emotional impressions of the description. Isabel said she was thrilled when her sister really "got" the story.

The second story we discussed was The Oiran's Song. Isabel told us that it also involved a lot of research because it is historical fiction, even though its not set at a specific historical period. She had always wanted to write about a soldier and a courtesan, but the story didn't really start coming together until she learned about the difference between an oiran (whose duties include sexual ones) and a geisha (more of an entertainer). Studying the history of the role of the oiran helped her pick the approximate historical period, and she then had to decide roughly which war she was depicting. She read a whole book on the Floating World (the world of artists and courtesans in Japanese history). She also got some inspiration from a couple of manga series. She wanted to show the oiran breaking down and feeling her life was hard... but "Spoilers!" she said, she is also an assassin and a demon! She describes the story as personal and triggery.

Pat asked if the oiran were still around, but to our knowledge they are not - the geisha and the maiko remain, however.

I asked if she had a particular world she preferred to work in, but her preference is for discovering new things, and writing in our own world, which feels quite natural. We discussed how difficult it is to write about people whose experience is not the same as ours. She feels nervous, she says, not writing about Filipinos. "I'm going to mess up this American..."

She mentioned the critical question that many writers face, where they can't travel everywhere in the world and wonder if that should stop them from writing about something. She says it shouldn't, but that one must make sure to be careful and do research. She is comfortable working in Japanese settings because she consumed a lot of Japanese media growing up, and studied Japanese starting in the 6th grade. She also spent 3 months studying abroad in Tokyo, which gave her an interesting perspective on the relation between the narratives featured in media and the reality. In the case of shojo manga, she says, it's remarkably close.

She urges us all to check out Filipino Speculative Fiction, which is a strong anthology series, and also The SEA is ours.

Isabel is currently working on a project called The Hurricane Heals series, taking the story of 5 magical girls, but instead of setting them at the typical age for maho shojo stories, they are 25 and dealing with the reality of adult lives in the US. Apparently one of the stories features a monster showing up at a strip club in the middle of a bachelorette party. She wanted to work with the magical girls trope, but make it more realistic.

We briefly discussed how authors consider different kinds of things "realistic." Isabel told us about looking at things like Power Rangers and asking "but how would that actually work?" When does it hurt? When is it tiring? Pat added, "Who gets to wash out all the bloodstains?" These works (like Power Rangers) have a narrative format so familiar it becomes invisible. It is interesting to ask what happens when those elements become visible.

Isabel says, "I do have a perverse love of the painful stuff."

Another thing she is working on features two handsome young men (bishonen) in space. She also is working on a secondary world fantasy that draws on Filipino myth, complete with some interesting gender flipping.

Isabel, thanks so much for joining us and talking about your work! We'll be looking out for it. I hope you will all enjoy the video below. Join us next Wednesday at 10am to talk about Inheritance!


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Announcement of change: this week's guest is Isabel Yap!

This week, on Thursday, January 14th at 8pm Pacific (that's pretty late for East Coast folks, sorry), awesome author Isabel Yap will be joining us to talk about her writing and her worldbuilding. She is the author of Milagroso and The Oiran's Song, and I'm really looking forward to learning more about her worlds.

Make a note of it, and join us on Google Hangouts!


Friday, January 8, 2016

Hospitality - a Dive into Worldbuilding Hangout Summary

We had a great time discussing hospitality, which has a lot more consequences in a great many more stories and experiences than it might appear at first glance!

Hospitality, of course, is that thing where you invite people into your home - or welcome people to a place you control, as when you find people entering airline "hospitality suites." Hospitality can be voluntary and involuntary. When British Royalty are coming to your house,  you don't have any choice but to be a host.

Cliff noted that Hospitality drives many sections of Tolkien's The Hobbit, as in the opening when the dwarves arrive and Bilbo is forced to deal with them. Also, in Game of Thrones, many events are set in motion when the king's court shows up at Winterfell. A large portion of Nicola Griffith's Hild is driven by the fact that the king and his court must move from place to place, eating the hosts out of house and home as they go. Hospitality is also a key issue for Shakespeare, as in King Lear. It's also critical to many plot points of Wagner's Ring Cycle, and in Dante's Inferno there's a special area of Hell dedicated to people who have been traitors to their guests.

People who fail as hosts are often marked permanently as evil people. When hospitality fails, bad times are coming.

There are hospitality holidays. These include Halloween, where you are supposed to prepare for strangers to come to your door and demand candy, and Passover, where you are supposed to invite people to come in and join you for your meal. There are hints that Christmas also used to have a strong hospitality element associated with caroling, as in "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" where the carolers demand to be taken in and fed.

Hospitality rules have changed in modern life, but they are still critical. The Syrian refugee crisis is about hospitality.

In general, the more isolated and dangerous the location, the stronger the rules that say you have to help one another, and take people into your care.

The Christmas story is about a failure of hospitality that landed Mary and Joseph out in the stable. The Bible and the Torah are filled with hospitality-based stories. In the Torah you can encounter angels who disguise themselves as guest. Even older traditions have similar stories, as when Odin (Wotan) travels in the form of an old man to test people's hospitality.

Such a test of hospitality is essentially a test of the host's moral character. As such, you as an author could do a lot with hospitality to indicate the characteristics (good or bad) of your protagonist. After all the dwarves have arrived and been taken care of, we end up feeling quite strongly that Bilbo is a good guy.

Morgan mentioned international student exchanges as a good example of a hospitality-based activity. Adoption is also a form of hospitality.

In Star Wars, Lando is a bad host and has to make up for it.

There are also stories about dishonest guests. Vampires must be invited into the home, but once there, don't carry out the traditional duties of guests! They are predators taking advantage of hospitality rules.

Morgan noted that in cities, it can be risky to take people in. This leads to culture clashes where people coming in from desert (or forest) environments expect hospitality but can get none. There are circumstances in cities where people end up sitting in dangerous or unsafe circumstances because asking for aid might be worse.

Conflict can also come from different cultural expectations surrounding the roles of host and guest. In the Netherlands, the host is supposed to serve food until the guest stops eating; in Japan, the guest is supposed to eat until the host stops serving. This could make a Japanese guest in a Dutch home rather uncomfortable!

Hitchhiking is a form of hospitality. There are stories about ghost hitchhikers, and predatory supernatural hitchhikers.

Rules surrounding the host's role vary based on circumstance. When guests from far away come to visit, do they stay at your home? They most often do at ours. When we have gone to Europe, friends have often hosted us in their homes. However, when we go to Japan, we typically get help from our hosts finding an inn not from the house, because the houses are too small to accommodate extra residents.

In Japanese history, there was another twist on hospitality, where the Shogun required his vassals to live with him for half the year. This kept local leaders from consolidating their power in their places of origin and from conspiring with each other against him.

In English history, feudal lords would gather in London to play politics and display wealth. As in the Japanese example, this expenditure for travel and showing off was good for the king, and bad for their own power.

We also talked about fostering. When children were fostered, they could be hostages or brainwashed (conditioned?) by the hosts as well as being welcomed. There are instances of this in Game of Thrones, and also in Anne McCaffrey's Pern books. The Pern example was particularly interesting because of its association with craft guilds. Fostering served to keep skills from dying out in the isolated locations where they were practiced.

An Irish king called Niall of the Nine Hostages kept women of his subject kingdoms hostage in his court, and also used them to spread his DNA through the population. This would mean that rape was involved, as a breach of hospitality.

Some stories have featured travelers expected to sleep/have sex with a host's female relatives.

In Beaumarchais' The Marriage of Figaro, much of the plot revolves around the lord's attempts to have sex with Figaro's fiancée before they can get married. We talked about whether Droit du Seigneur was a real thing, or just a rumor.

Slave traders can pose as hosts who then drug and chain up their guests and sell them.

Morgan brought up the question of the purposes of hospitality, and its limits. Passover hospitality is for a meal, not for an indefinite period. There is also that expression "guests are like fish - they smell after three days."

We discussed the question of children moving back in with their parents, how college was expected to help kids (in America at least) transition out of the home, and how children moving back in encounter the tricky situation of not quite being a household member, not quite being a guest.

Boarders are often called "paying guests" so they lie close to the borderline as well.

Bed & Breakfast places are sometimes hotel-like, but sometimes are also instances where people invite you into their homes.

There are a lot of potential plot and conflict ideas that can grow out of the expectations surrounding hospitality. I hope you have found this discussion interesting!

Thank you to everyone who attended. I hope you enjoy the video.