Song of the Body Cartographer

I've signed up for the Clarion West Write-a-thon and I hope to be more successful at blogging about my progress than I was last year. Of course, last year I had a spotty internet connection--so this year I have no excuse.

My Write-a-thon page is here and thanks to the repeated rt's, we've achieved the goal of 200 participating writers and in so doing some very generous sponsors are giving a total of 2000 dollars to the workshop. Yay!!!

I'm doubly pleased then that just as the Write-a-thon is getting off the ground, my short story, Song of the Body Cartographer, has been published and is now available for everyone's reading pleasure at Philippine Genre Stories.

I thought I'd blog a bit about Song of the Body Cartographer, not only because this is the first story I sent out after my fallow year, but also because this story represents a number of things to me. It's also an extracted story from my wip--so yes, it's part of something bigger. Writing this wip is a real challenge for me. It's probably going to be my longest story yet.

On the PGS site, the illustration used is Remedios Varo's Creation of the Birds. This picture inspired me to write a previous flash piece which was published by Byzarium (it's still available here), and perhaps this image sunk so deep in my mind that when Kenneth Yu asked if I had an idea for an illustration of the piece, I couldn't help but think of this painting and how I imagined the Timor'an would look somewhat like this. The painting does play a crucial part in the big world story--and its significance comes out partially in the section where Siren thinks about Corazon's depiction of the Qa'ta. I was trying to imagine how an artist from Lower Ayudan would paint a transformation, and it's still me conversing with this piece of art which Varo created.

But at the heart of the inspiration for Song of the Body Cartographer and the larger wip, are the conversations on women's bodies that we conduct back and forth as we reclaim ourselves. It comes from reading history, reading commentaries, reading poetry, and discussing with other feminists. It also comes from a weariness with having to surrender the body to male approval or to the male gaze and it is born out of this place inside me that wants to turn a deaf ear to what society and convention dictates as being the one true way of seeing story or living life as a woman.

I look at the female body and think of the power of the spirit inside that vessel and I think of how this vessel is subjected to so much outside pressure in an attempt to suppress and subjugate that power. I believe in women and in the things that we can accomplish when we band together because I have seen it with my own eyes. When we shed ourselves of the imposed guilt at being woman, when we choose to embrace our own definition of the right way to go about being women and being with women, we reclaim our power. We return to that image that is true woman: pure and unsullied, full of strength and light.

If you liked Song of the Body Cartographer, please consider sponsoring me during the Clarion West Write-a-thon. :) Thank you for reading.

Presenting the Cultural Imperialism Bingo Card

If you think colonialism is dead... think again. Globalisation has indeed made the world smaller--furthering the dominance of the West over the developing world, shrinking and devaluing local cultures, and uniformising everything to Western values and Western ways of life. This is a pernicious, omnipresent state of things that leads to the same unfounded things being said, over and over, to people from developing countries and/or on developing countries.

It's time for this to stop. Time for the hoary, horrid misrepresentation clichés to be pointed out and examined; and for genuine, non-dismissive conversations to start.

Accordingly, here's a handy bingo card for Western Cultural Imperialism--and we wish we could say we've made it all up, but unfortunately every single comment on this card was seen on the Internet.

Card designed by Aliette de Bodard, Joyce Chng, Kate Elliott, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, @requireshate, Charles Tan, @automathic and @mizHalle. Launch orchestrated with the help of Zen Cho and Ekaterina Sedia in addition to above authors (and an army of volunteer signal boosters whom we wish to thank very much!)

(In case card doesn't show up well, you can also view it here)

The Western Cultural Imperialism Bingo Card


Returning to the indigenous body and the body's narratives

I sold Song of the Body Cartographer to Kenneth Yu of Philippine Genre Stories, which to me is a significant story because it represents a return to and a reclaiming of the body.

This week, I spoke with one of my nephews and he told me that my sister had printed out Decolonizing as an SF writer and was busy telling the students in her class as well as our younger cousins that this was an essay that they must read. What will they think when they read Song of the Body Cartographer?

I am thinking of how decolonizing allows us to break away from the dominant narrative wherein women's spaces and women's bodies have been subjugated and devalued.

Some things I have been thinking on as I continue to read history:

- there is a colonialist narrative that shames the body. The object of this shaming is more often than not the body of woman--specifically, the indigenous woman. As a point of illustration, one of the acts considered important by colonists coming into tribal areas was to cloth the women in "modest" apparel. Records of colonizers refer to the upper body nudity of indigenous women and call them immodest and lewd.

White missionaries coming into the mountains consider it imperative to clothe the woman's body. I find myself asking--"Why?"

In the indigenous narrative, woman's body is beauty. There is nothing lewd or immodest about the natural body and there is no reason for shame or malice. We all have bodies, we are all connected to the earth and to each other. If I look on my sister with malice, it is a malice that comes from myself and not from the earth. I am the contaminated one and must cleanse myself.

- in colonizing the body of woman, the colonizer expresses shock and disgust at the open attitude of the woman towards sex and pleasure. It is unthinkable for woman to demand pleasure from the act of sex. It is unthinkable that man should go to so much lengths as to pierce himself with a foreign object in his desire to please the woman. It is unthinkable and unacceptable that the woman should demand or expect equal pleasure. This behaviour of woman is considered lewd, unnatural and of the devil.

To what extent has this damaged the way we look at sex? Some of us can't even speak the word without being embarassed. There is a saying: to the pure, all things are pure. I believe that sex is a pure thing. It is meant for pleasure and enjoyment--it's not just for making babies and ensuring the next generation. Where does the stigma come from? ( I have my thoughts on this as well, but I won't post them just yet.)

- The indigenous woman's narrative is one wherein the circle of women, the connection to other women is essential. Woman's mind is directed towards community, towards communion with sisters, brothers, family, the earth and the universe. Woman's influence is extensive and woman holds a position of power whether it is in the household or in the community.

-While there is no explicit mention of gendering, I get the impression that gender and sexuality are fluid descriptors. For instance, I read of males who adapt women's apparel and who act out in a feminine way. There is no stigma to these actions and it is not treated as deviant. In fact, the men who do these are men who want to tap into the source of power.

What does nature tell us about gender and sexuality? I think of the Wrasse fish and how it is the female Wrasse who is capable of changing genders when there is a shortage of males. Lots of food for thought there.

I find it interesting that in a lot of published sf/f males are invested with powers to commune with the dead/speak with the spirits/perform magic. I find it interesting because in the indigenous tradition, these are functions that are given to women. So...I'm just saying...maybe we have to think about why we as women choose to put male characters in central roles of power in the narratives that we write.

I want to say that there is beauty in this narrative of women. That there is beauty in human relationships and that it is natural for women to be strong and weak and to be intuitive as well as logical. And that even in science, not everything is explainable.

There's still a lot more that I want to write about and a lot more that I want to post, but these are the things my mind has
been dwelling on the past few days and I thought I'd just get them down and see what others think about them.


Decolonizing as an SF Writer

In the past few weeks, I've been quite preoccupied with conversations on colonialism and identity, so much so that I quite forgot to update here. I think twitter sort of took up my life for quite a while.

As a result of these conversations, I wrote an essay on Decolonizing as an SF Writer. The essay has been published by Djibril Al-Ayad (editor of the Future Fire) and by sf/f writer Kate Elliott.

You can read the essay and leave your comments at Kate Elliott's blog or at her livejournal (kateelliott), or you can go read it at The Future Fire blog and leave your comments there.


thinking aloud

aliettedb interviewed Fabio Fernandes and Djibril al-Ayad on their peerbackers project to raise money for the We See a Different Frontier sf anthology. Interview is here. Link to the project is here.

Jeff and Ann VanderMeer have launched a peerbackers project for a Feminist Speculative Fiction Anthology. More details on that here.

The objectives of these two projects speak to me and I want to contribute towards these projects even if it's just a little bit. Since I'm not rich, I hope spreading the word through whatever means available to me will help towards making these projects come true.


I've been thinking about narratives since Eastercon, and I have to say that a lot of the discussions I come upon seem to circle around the subject of narratives as well. Narratives coming from insiders, narratives coming from outsiders looking in, narratives from the dominant group, and narratives coming from non-anglophones. It's an interesting subject and one that we could keep on discussing...so it's wonderful that people come along with concrete projects meant to address the questions of narratives that are rarely given space.

I have to think of Barbara Jane Reyes's essay at the Poetry Foundation blog where she talks about Filipino American writing and how our voices are made invisible by our absence from the mega bookstore shelves. We talked about suppressing women's voices and about the need for diversity in the genre--and I think Barbara Jane makes a great point there which can be applied to the suppression of women's writings and the invisibility of non-anglophone voices.

The challenge for us, extends beyond translation. In an ideal world, translation would be a two way street. We translate from English and English translates from us. Our thinking and our knowledge of other cultures and other lands would be shaped by hearing the diverse voices coming from each culture, because no one voice can claim to be the authentic and true story of a culture. It is the diversity of voices within a culture that give us a clearer picture of what that culture is really like.

I find myself enraged when I think of stereotypes because the Filipina is often subject to stereotyping. A recent television program featured three Filipinas and their Dutch partners and I found myself growing enfuriated by the blatant sexism and the obvious persistence on depicting relationships between Filipinas and Dutch as one wherein economics and sex (not true love) play a huge role.

It's true that there are Filipinas who enter relationships with white men because of economics, but these are not the only kinds of relationships that exist. To imply that these relationships are typical of Dutch-Filipina relationships reduces the Filipina to a commodity--an object that can be bought or tried out. I wonder how aware program makers are of the messages they send out and whether they are conscious of the role they play in contributing to false expectations and the rise in incidents of domestic violence between couples of mixed races.

It pains me, it grieves me and it enfuriates me because I have known a good number of women whose partners treat them as objects. Exotic objects (sorry for the E word) bought and paid for and put on display as proof of their superiority. Is it a wonder then when such marriages/partnerships often end in divorce or in domestic abuse?

That the media opts to present only one type of story, is an injustice because it paints all mixed race relationships with the same brush. The message such stories project is often this: We are all in it only for money or because we do not have a future back home.

As if marriage were not already a fraught experience where partners need to adjust and accept each other's flaws and foibles, the media insistence on stereotype adds the pressure of having outsiders looking at the partnership and judging it based on the story media has presented.

Memo to all: Not all mixed race partnerships are brought about by economic need or because we don't have a future back home. The majority of successful mixed race partnerships are brought about by mutual love and respect and by meeting of minds and true understanding of the sacrifices made in order for the partnership to work.

Someone told me that presenting the story of equals in mixed race relationships is just not sensational enough for the networks...and that is really, really sad because it relays a message of: we don't really care about presenting a diversity of stories because as far as we're concerned one story is enough.

I thought of this as I worked on this post and I thought of how important it was for us to read, not just the one story written by the one writer from said culture...it is important to read more than that one story...to read more than that one writer...to see not just through the eyes of the well-researched outsider, but to see also with the eyes of the insider as she or he reveals to us the country and the culture that is familiar and dear to their hearts.

More thoughts after Eastercon 2012

First a link:

In case you missed it here's: Alex Dally MacFarlane's, Eastercon: It was fun, but...

Also, if you haven't read Tori Turslow's Dear Western SFF: stop it with 'exotic' already, the link is in the post below this.

More thoughts from Eastercon:

I roomed with aliettedb during Eastercon and as usually happens during the moments when we do actually get to see and spend time with each other, we wound up talking until all hours about the things that matter to us. Perhaps this has to do with how we both write Science Fiction and Fantasy in a borrowed language, but I think it's mainly because we've moved from being people who just know each other online to trusting each other as friends.

There are things from the non-anglophone panel that continue to circle around inside my head. Some assume that because we write in a borrowed language, we can't delve the nuances of it and can't truly express in it as native english speakers do. Sometimes, it felt like we were artifacts placed under examination. I suppose it's human nature..but still, it doesn't mean I feel comfortable about it. 

And finally, this poem was born out of all those thoughts. I hope it speaks in ways that I cannot.

Afterwards. . .

They said my tongue was twisted
They said I had no range--

I looked them in the eye and
I refused to be silenced.

They told me I should
surrender, why struggle?

"Assign someone else to be
the translator of your

I remained stubborn as hell
Refusing to be silenced.

I brought worlds to life with my words
And turned stars into dragons breathing
water, I saw them murder fire-- ( aliette's dragons )

I narrated the birth of the great mother's vessel
and told of how the skygods
unfolded the gates
of time--

Songs are born as throats break
We birth legends as
we die--

I have a voice
I choose not to be

@rcloenenruiz 2012

thoughts from eastercon 2012 part one

I'm basking in post-Eastercon energy. This journal has been slowly reviving, but I thought it was about time to push it into full resurrection. This was my third con and I don't know if that's what made this con stand out for me as being the best Eastercon I'd been to so far. While I still felt the imbalance, being one of the few brown people in a dominantly white populated con, there was a vibe going on that made me feel like my opinion mattered (or maybe I was being more courageous this con than I was in the last ones I'd gone to).

aliettedb roped me onto the non-anglophone sf panel which she was on.Lavie Tidhar was on it and Nir Yaniv and lord knows I absolutely admire these three writers and their work. It was quite interesting to finally meet a Dutch novelist. Thomas Olde Heuvelt is a young Dutch writer who has published a bunch of novels in the horror genre.  I've never read him, but it was nice meeting him and finding out how Dutch publishing works. Myra Caakan, a german sf writer whose body of work is all in German, was also on the panel, and then there was me. Filipino sf/f writer who has yet to complete her first novel.

The interesting thing and at the same time the frustrating thing about the panel was how it seemed to revolve mainly around translation. I do feel that if we are to have more diversity in the field and if we want SF to live up to itself as being an inclusive genre, it is important that we get to read fictions that are being produced in countries that are not our own. Someone in the audience suggested that mono-language people should learn a second language--which I think is always a good idea, but it still doesn't address the problem of imbalance.

Aliette mentioned a pathetic statistic of 3% of books published in English being books translated from other languages and that 3% includes technical manuals. It's an apalling number and while we may open our mouths and say "it's sad that we aren't getting all that diversity", the reality is that publishing is a commercial thing more than an art thing and translation costs money. I think that publishers also want the sure thing. So if a non-English language novel does really well in its country of origin, an English language publisher would be more inclined to take a bet on it and invest. The non-anglophone writer has a lot of hurdles to overcome before getting to the point where he or she gets published in English.

Being a person who has made the choice to write in English, I thought to mention how the colonial mindset influences our bookbuying habits in The Philippines. Well, not only that, but there is also the fact that the majority of the bookshelves in a bookstore are crammed with books written by writers from the English speaking nations. How can a Filipino writer compete? And is it even worth competing when the few ways to gain recognition as a writer in The Philippines comes from either winning a major literary competition, gaining a reputation as a writer of "literary" things or getting your stuff published abroad (meaning the US or the UK). I guess, this all ties back to how ingrained colonialism is in our culture that we tend to think that since it's been published or made abroad, then it must be really good.

I came away from the panel feeling that we hadn't quite gotten down to the meat of the matter. There was still a lot of ground to cover, but we just didn't have sufficient time. I also had to think it would have been interesting to find out just how different our narratives are and I did wonder if any of my fellow non-anglophones ever felt the pressure to conform to an expected narrative.

The good thing about the panel is that it made us think of things that need to be delved into further. It also made me feel somewhat hopeful about the future of non-anglo writing in the sf and f field. Anyway, there's still lots to write about and think about and among the good pay-offs is me resurrecting my online self and going back to writing as much as I can whenever I can.

** I think it's important to mention here how the tireless advocacy efforts of charlesatan have gone a long way towards bringing our speculative fiction to the attention of readers.


writing with history

I recently rejoined the Online Writing Workshop and posted a story based on events in Philippine History referencing the life of one of the heroes of the Philippine Revolution.

One thing I realized is how important it is to ground the story in true historical detail in order for it to really come alive. This story is turning out to be one of my favorite projects ever. I loved researching it, I loved writing it, and I love how I am learning more about writing stories with historical detail in them.

I presented the first draft for this story at Villa Diodati and the close to final draft is what's up at OWW. I'm so pleased that it's almost where I want it to be. Perhaps one or two more tweaks and I'll be able to send it off.

One challenge about writing a story based in Filipino history: non-Filipino readers won't read the story the same way as Filipino readers will read it--mainly because most non-Filipino readers don't have the immersion in Filipino history that Filipinos in the Philippines have. Although, I'm not so sure if there's really much of a difference since one of the younger Filipinas I recently met looked at me quite wide-eyed when our conversation went in the direction of what I'm working on and I found myself enthusiastically telling about the struggle for Philippine Independence and all the challenges Filipinos had to overcome before we gained recognition as a people.

Our conversation went on with me relating the names of Filipino heroes and her saying: Really? I didn't know there were heroes other than Rizal and Bonifacio. And I found myself groaning to myself and wondering what the state of education is like right now...and wondering if the person I was talking to was just someone who never absorbed anything while at school.

It's kind of depressing to think about it. God. I hope the young people of today don't forget just how much the revolutionaries sacrificed so we might enjoy this thing called Freedom.

more delayed linkage

I am so guilty of falling behind. But I simply have to share this link to the Shared Worlds Critters Map which includes the Uk-uk Pra. I just love the Pra and am so delighted I could share this entry.

Thanks to the amazing Jeff VanderMeer for thinking of me for this project and to the delightful Therese Goulding who collected all the critters. I hope to someday meet this lady in person. The email exchanges were brief, but it was like e-meeting a kindred spirit. :)

And while I'm at sharing delayed linkage, I should share this link to an interview that I did for Alternative Alamat with Paolo Chikiamco. I haven't done lots of interviews, but it was fun to talk about Harinuo's Love Song and how the story came into being.

Oh...and finally: I believe we are now close to the final days for application to the next Clarion West Workshop. What can I say? Each year, I wish I could go again.

Clarion West changed my life and my writing in so many ways. It's not just the sense of community and of being connected. I think the Clarion Workshops hones the writer's inner eye so we are able to see the work more clearly. It does take time to absorb and internalize the lessons learned at Clarion West, and it certainly isn't easy to give up six weeks of time plus a huge chunk of cash to get there, but it is all certainly worth it.