Writing Journeys – Timandra Whitecastle
Today I welcome Timandra Whitecastle, SPFBO semi-finalist and author of Touch of Iron. From the sounds of it, she’s a true Wolverine at heart. Not someone to mess with.
How I got into writing
Picture a school yard. It’s a large stretch of concrete, gray like the school building, and fenced in. The bell rings. Break time. Kids come pouring out the building, shrieking, catcalling, the wild mob disintegrating into smaller units as groups of friends huddle together to arrange how they’re going to spend their fifteen minutes of freedom.
I grew up in the late 80’s, early 90’s. In our breaks, we’d play ThunderCats, He-Man, or if we sauntered together in an all-girls group, yes, My Little Pony. Playing out your favorite characters is an act of ownership. Ask any cosplayer. It’s a form of asserting control over yourself as you slip into that borrowed skin. You affirm where your own boundaries are, by testing out the space a different character lets you inhabit. Role-playing is fundamental to kids forging their identity.
Now picture this: a group has decided to play X-Men. Roles are being taken or being advised on, and a skinny girl with freckles and banged up knees says she wants to be Wolverine.
I mean, come on! Who wouldn’t want to be Wolverine? The guy is indestructible. He always, always comes back round. He has a skeleton clad in adamantium. He’s a survivor. He endures pain, and he STILL makes jokes. Plus, retractable steel claws. How cool is he? I want to be Wolverine.
But then this one boy turns around and says: you can’t be Wolverine. You’re a girl.
Another time, someone says: you can’t be Storm. You’re white.
And another time, further down the road, someone else says: you can’t be Lara Croft. You don’t have big enough tits.
Remember what I said about taking on roles to try out identity? Well, see here – that girl? She does the only thing she can do. She takes whatever role is thrust upon her and makes the best out of it. She plays along. She’s training this special skill for the rest of her life – as most girls do. Role-playing the part of ‘good girl’ becomes part of her identity.
But on the inside, thank the Maker, she never stops thinking: ok, so I can’t be these people in public, but in my head, I can be whoever I want to be. I can take on whatever roles I want to. I can identify with Wolverine. I can feel Storm’s anger. I CAN BE WHOEVER I WANT TO BE.
It just took me a while to figure out that I could do that through words on a page.
Here’s how I really got started with writing: fandom. It’s true. I appropriated the stories I loved and made them my own, ever more elaborately. First simple switches, inserting myself. But God knows I’m boring as hell. And besides, no one destroys a good story like a Mary Sue. Moving on, I started to inhabit the story worlds, exploring what other adventures could be had there. I did this with everything I loved – so I can’t mention a specific fandom. I’d have to list them all, and this blog post would get … well, boring as hell. But the first story I ever wrote and finished was a fanfic piece. I was hooked.
I stayed in my safe pond for a long time.
But I kept reading stories. And I kept identifying with the ‘wrong’ character. The middle-aged white dude with the split personality disorder in Fight Club (whoops spoilers – nah, come on. That film is ages old, and if you haven’t seen it already, shame on you!). And yep, still Wolverine, I’m afraid. And Batman. And Logen fucking Ninefingers. And I started to think, maybe it wasn’t just me being a furry, noncannibalistic llama (Thank you Kameron Hurley for your words)? Maybe it was that the story was wrong? Maybe the narrative of which role you get to play in society is deeply flawed?
Maybe it should be re-written?
But by whom?
Remember what I said about taking on roles to try out identity? Well, I believe it works the same way with stories on a larger scale. In its own pages, the Bible – that Good Book – describes itself as mirror into which a person may peer to see a reflection of themselves. (James 1: 23-25) The peerer into the Word is enabled to act upon who they saw. Change initiated through recognition. But it’s not just sacred scriptures that have that power. The language we use asserts our everyday reality. The words we use, shape it. Stories can work as mirrors; the written word tells us individually who we are. You can find yourself in the words of a stranger and marvel at how this person far removed in space and perhaps time could articulate who you are so well, in a line of poetry, in a fragment of song, or a character stuck in what seems to be an impossible situation.
But stories also tell us who WE are, the people, the culture, who tell the story to perpetuate it. They tell us our values. Mostly they tell us about sex and death. See, stories tell us what’s important. And so the answer to who could re-write the stories we tell is: a whole bunch of people. New writers. Old writers. Male writers. Female writers. It doesn’t matter, as long as they believe in their heads they can be whoever they want to be. There must be a wave of stories to flood into the groove caused by the old ones, to rinse it clean, and eat away at its sides, until the stream spills over, seeking new directions, and finally meanders out in a massive delta just before the ocean starts. We need voices, we need language, we need words. We need power to drown out the words of people who tell us that other story, the one of who we can’t be because of some shitty reason.
And when I realized that, I sat down to write my own story. All my own. A step out of the fanfic pond.
It’s not perfect. It can’t be – it’s my debut after all. The language is not where I want it to be. The prose could be neater, more poetic. But, hey, it’s what I can do with the talent I have. I’ll get better in the long run, no doubt. And yes, I’m in it for the long run. And yes, I am aware I’m only one voice. We still need more. Lots more.
Here’s why I write: I wanted to re-write that simple fantasy tale, the classic hero’s journey. I appropriated grimdark, because that’s what I prefer, and also because it’s a damn subversion of a genre already. I’m subverting the subversion. In the end, though, my mindset behind the writing game is still that of the little girl with freckles: in my head and on my page, I can be whoever I want to be, a variety of genders and skins, messy, complicated, passionate, enduring pain, causing it; but always, always an active player.
To paraphrase Jorg of Ancrath:
“A new time comes.
If it offends you.
Well … Fuck you.”
Timandra Whitecastle lives on the original Plains of Rohan (Lower Saxony) in Germany, with her family. She is a native speaker of both English and German, but she’s also fluent in Geek, Gaming, and Whale.
Reading is an obsession that borders on compulsion most days.
Tim has never bothered to get a life because she feels like she’s been trying to lead three different ones already – and, yes, she totally stole that line from Terry Pratchett. Also, she’s partial to Mojitos and Baileys … er, just in case you meet her in a bar and want to buy her a drink, say. (She knows people don’t actually read author’s biographies, but feels mentioning this might be worth a shot … or two.)
Tomorrow on the blog is Steven Poore, British Fantasy Awards nominated author of The Heir to the North
fantasy authors, timandra whitecastle, writing journeys