A.M. Tuomala

Myths and Morphemes

Category: Blog (page 2 of 2)

Review: Susan Jane Bigelow’s Broken

BigelowBrokenI’m a bit new to writing reviews, so bear with me if I neglect to observe the conventions of the book-reviewers’ trade; in the interest of proper disclosure, I should note that although Broken was published by Candlemark & Gleam, my own publisher, I bought the book myself and was neither asked to review it nor compensated for writing a review.

Susan Jane Bigelow’s Broken is a work of future-Earth science fiction, focusing on two protagonists: Broken, the former Extrahuman (superhero) who has lost her cause and many of her powers, and Michael Forward, the precognitive boy who must save a future leader of the human race. Both Broken and Michael are incapable of seeing a future for themselves — Broken is the story of how they square with that awareness of their finitude. In the process, both learn the many shapes that love and sacrifice can take, and both decide what they want their lives (and, implicitly, their deaths) to mean for others.

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Close Companions on a Long Road: Why I Write Gay Characters in Fantasy

When I first read The Lord of the Rings, I was convinced that it was the great, epic love story of Legolas and Gimli. This was when I was about seven, before I knew that queerness was a thing–before I really understood what sex was, and definitely before I’d come across archives like Axe and Bow. In my childhood, when the world of epic fantasy was still shiny and new, I couldn’t have cared less whether they were friends or comrades or lovers. I only knew that I took an unaccountable and unadulterated delight in learning that those two eventually sailed off into the West together.

This isn’t really a story about my childhood, though. I’m old enough to read critical queer theory and to pay attention to my own queer identity, and I’m old enough to love the stories featured on blogs like Amara’s Place. (I’m definitely old enough to have worked my way through a solid quarter of Axe and Bow.) I’m old enough that I’ve started writing my own fantasy novels, and of course I’m drawn to the tropes that I fell in love with all those years ago: The consciousness that lives on when the body dies. The temptation of immense power, to heal and to destroy. The love that arises between devoted companions.

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Visiting Amara’s Place

I’ve got a guest post up today at Amara’s Place on why Erlen and Jeiger are totally in love. If that sounds like your thing, stop by a fantastic lady’s blog!

Naming and Gendering the Author

There are better ways to start a post than with V.S. Naipaul, but few that give better context for my concerns on authorship and gender. Our names have a pleasing symmetry, with his “V.S.” and my “A.M.” His name, though, concludes with “-paul” — that archetypical church-father, that name shared by Beatles and Popes. My own name has the Finnish -la suffix, like power metal legend Tuomo Lassila‘s name. Like the suffix in Tuonela, the land of the dead, and the Kalevala, the national epic of Finland that tells of the land of heroes. It ends with an -a, which Romance languages have trained western readers to gender female.

In retrospect, it was inevitable that readers (and reviewers) would interpret “A.M. Tuomala” as a female person. Most readers, trained on Spanish and Italian and French, had no other linguistic context for the name. Perhaps an avid football aficionado might think of Jani Tuomala, or a Finn would recognize the name as his own or his neighbor’s, but otherwise, who would know? My grandmother used to tell me that people would pronounce her name almost correctly, although it was difficult to spell. “Except they’d pronounce it too-MA-la instead of TOO-ma-la, like it was a Spanish name.” It might be a modifier for a quarrelsome daughter: “hija tuomala,” that ill-behaved girlchild.

I write stories about women, too; I mustn’t forget that. Because only women write about women; men are interesting to everyone, but women are only interesting for women.

As a person who doesn’t identify as gendered, my deep uneasiness with this gendering of my author-self is partly personal. I see reviewers referring to “her writing,” and I experience a disconnect — “Who is she? What troublesome woman has made my writing her own?”

I have to acknowledge, though, that another part comes from the culture of sexism in which I live. It comes from the same place as V.S. Naipaul’s contemptuous pronouncement that no female writer in history could match him. It comes from the same place as Smurfette and all of her sisters, who must always be only women and never the helper or the fixer or the gutsy one or the engineer.

It comes from the place where my culture has always told me to stay, as in, “Stay in your place.”

Well, I’ll have none of that.

I can spend the rest of my life fighting for recognition of a genderqueer identity and not account it time ill-spent. I can fight to convince reviewers to call me sie or xie or zie, to speak of hir writing or zir writing, to create a space in their language for a gender that is neither male nor female but instead both or either or neither, and I would not account that time ill-spent. But if I choose those fights, I may inadvertently spend the rest of my life fighting against the recognition of a female identity, and I cannot brook that.

If A.M. Tuomala must be identified as a woman, I want her to be that troublesome woman, that ill-behaved girlchild. I want her to be a person in her own right, complex and difficult and impossible to condense into an archetype of femininity. Most of all, I want her to be a woman who makes myths of a place of heroes, who are men and women and neither.

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