Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Introducing Karin Bishop (GUEST POST)

About My Writing:
I have written all of my life, but with a big gap in the middle where I traveled professionally before the age of laptops. There were some fiction awards when young, and I went the usual high-school-and-college-creative-writing-magazine-editor route, but most of my writing has been non-fiction, technical writing for manuals, newsletters, and “whatever the client ordered”.  All along I’d been writing fiction on my desktop computer, and making notes by longhand.

Finally taking the dive back into fiction, I needed to know how my writing fared so I began participating in every writers’ conference and writers’ group around. Loved the conferences; hated the groups. There was more ego and backbiting than literary critique. So I took graduate courses in fiction and screenplay writing. There was a bit more of the same, with politics and ideology added. In the writers’ groups your work might be dismissed as “trivial” while the same piece at university was dismissed as “Marxist”.

I found that the face-to-face nature of a group or class created prejudice—in the literal sense of “pre-judging” even before the story was read. This was especially apparent after we were encouraged to “tell us a little about yourself”. Housewives were dismissed out of hand; only edgy young things wearing black were considered valid, and so on.

Every critique’s point-of-view was prejudiced by the age, sex, and background of the author—none of which, I felt, should be a factor of a literary critique in a learning environment. I attended to have my writing reviewed, not my life. I withdrew from the groups, finished the semesters and still wasn’t sure about the quality of my writing. Writers’ conferences are still valid and I attend whenever possible, but I decided to find writers’ groups online, hoping the anonymity and geographical disbursement would shift focus from the writer to the writing.

That anonymity worked both ways; I began noticing critiques based on a female name, so I flipped it and posted with a male name. I played with ambiguity, such as “Kelly” or “Dana”, and even posted the exact same story on two different boards, one as “Danny” and one as “Dani”. Predictably, disappointingly, the critiques followed the same gender lines as the face-to-face groups. Mourning this over drinks with some other writers, it was suggested that I try transgendered fiction. He’d been writing for a site called “Storysite” and, as he put it, “venting the steam of my inner porn”.

I never forgot that phrase, but I never really had inner porn! However, I am supremely interested in People and Plot rather than Porn, so I was reluctant but decided to try. As before, I used different pseudonyms for different boards, before finding a home, of sorts, on Big Closet Top Shelf. I was referred to that board because it's very supportive to its writers, with comments and criticism It's also international, which is interesting in the readers’ comments and reviews, specifically concerning the believability of dialogue and how it "translates" to other English-speaking countries.

My stories were very well received, and the public and private critiques were instructive. I can say that I’ve learned more about my writing from those readers than from my writers’ groups, but I’ve also learned more about the myriad of personal experiences of transgendered men and women. It helped that I have always been interested in what was called "abnormal psychology", ever since I was a teen. Not for prurient reasons, but because I was interested in criminal or socially-aberrant behavior—when I was in high school, I seriously considered going to college to study criminal psychology. Then I saw what they pay a penal psychiatrist for the state's prison system—the pay is criminal! So I went into other areas.

Unfortunately, for a time, transvestites, transsexuals—and the later term, transgendered—were grouped together and classified by the DSM as mental aberrations. That's changing now—not far enough and not fast enough, but changing—but I was also influenced by Julian Jayne's controversial "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind", in terms of inner voices, core identity, and so on. I also read everything I could get my hands on, from transgendered fiction to extracts from medical and psychological journals.

My books currently listed grew out of that transgendered-fiction board, which is why they all have a transgendered character. However, my other "influence" of sorts, is Alfred Hitchcock's theory of the "MacGuffin", the plot element that drives the narrative but is not itself of importance. In his film "Notorious", the whole point is to get Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman together, although it's radioactive sand in the wine bottles that Cary's initially after.

But nobody cares about the sand at the end of the movie. Nobody cares whether Indiana Jones actually got the Tabernacle. Nobody cares about “the letters of transit” in “Casablanca”. All we care about, what moves us—what we cry over and cheer for and remember—is whether Cary and Ingrid get together, about Indy’s adventures, and about Rick and Ilsa’s parting in the fog.

First and foremost, I want to write stories that move people.

About My Writings:
Samuel Rafaels’ review zeroed in on a central point of "Fool Moon", which deals with a gradual magical transformation. The book is really about choices, roads taken or not, and so on. The irony is that the protagonist does not have a choice, as the inner female becomes outer, so to speak, but it's by no means just a book about a sex-change.

And yet that's a criticism I've received; my book "The Haight" is a study of a group of people in a house in Haight-Ashbury in 1967. I was intrigued by the era as a "tipping point". There is a transgendered character, yes, but she's not the protagonist. Yet one review said they didn't finish the book "once my agenda became clear". I had no agenda other than a snapshot of an era, the tumultuous social cauldron of the Sixties.

"I Should Have Known" is by far the most erotic I have written, and deals with a forced feminization, a hot topic in the transgendered community (and generally despised).  It has sections that are the closest to porn that I’ve ever written. But the book is my own take on Michael Crichton's book "Disclosure", where the illicit liaison between the two (Michael Douglas and Demi Moore in the film) is not the point; it's truly about industrial espionage, as is my book. The TG aspect is the MacGuffin, in a way; it's really about an elaborate con job.

Reclamation” grew out of my vacations to Whistler, British Columbia, originally to ski and then year-round because I fell in love with the place—and with the “Whistler Women”. I tried to get their society and nature, and used an escapee from a religious compound as the wedge, peppering the story with the women I’ve met. There's also a thriller element.

Sail Away” also has a thriller element and features a transgendered woman living and working successfully as a woman, caught up in a dangerous situation because of her past as a male. It not only threatens her future happiness, but her life itself.

Then I have my “YA” titles: Several books that feature younger characters, who either know they are transgendered, discover their true nature, or have it forced upon them. This is really the case with only two books: “Desperate Measures”, about a family on the run disguising the two sons as daughters; and “Solutions”, about a grandmother desperate to curb her grandson’s juvenile delinquency, and discovering a granddaughter underneath the antisocial exterior.

Dress Code” concerns a girl, already transitioned during her adolescence, dealing with the transition not from boy to girl, but from home school to public school.

Fashion Class” is about a boy taking a fashion design class and discovering his skills and true nature.

The XY Axis” tells about a boy transitioning and meeting her family as a girl, and the genetic anomalies within her family.

Role of a Lifetime” is for every young actor wannabe; in this case, the boy must play a girl for a television pilot—but at some point, learns that the role may be more real than television.

Breath of Life” creates a new (and I hope believable!) world of urban magic, as a boy gradually becomes a girl, the better to fulfill her magical destiny.

My YA titles also try to examine the family and friends around the transgendered character, and especially to capture the language and culture of teens.

And, finally, the "On The Road—Again" series of four books, was an opportunity to live out some rock-and-roll fantasies, as well as being the closest day-to-day transition journal I’ve written. And doesn’t everybody dream of working their way up to become a world-class rock star?

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