Nikki Does Derrida

So I’m Albuquerque, at the SW/TX PCA/ACA conference, “Reeling in the Years.”  I’m giving a paper on the vexed connections between fiction, testimony, and truth-telling, as philosophized by Jacques Derrida using a text by Maurice Blanchot as his inspiration.  It’s way less wankerish than it sounds, and is actually really interesting and accessible.  Seriously.  I mean that.

I arrived late afternoon yesterday, so only made it to one panel, and I chose to go to a panel that was entirely about the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer.  It was really, really, interesting, not least because my thoughts about the book are very conflicted.  It is a problematic book, to say the least.  And coming at it with both of my two hats on (the one hat being that of an academic who studies gender issues and issues involving power and ideology; the other hat being that of an Urban Fantasist who writes about vampire nookie) often leaves me even more confused.

So we had a paper on the monsters in the book, from a woman who studies Fairy Tales and monstrosity, and one on liminal spaces within the book, from a woman who, you guessed it, studies liminal spaces, and a very good reaction paper from a woman who considers herself a second-wave feminist AND a mother, trying to understand whether or not this book is anti-feminist, or an excellent representation of third-wave feminism.  So in the discussion afterward we talked about cyborgs, and how vampires are a great representation of the theories regarding post-gender (I used the word disengendered, which is wrong, but I also liked it), and how many adult critics focused on the male (or peni-ed vampires, as the case may be) characters while the young girls reading the books often seemed to focus on Bella, as a protagonist, as their true area of interest.  In that vein, I realized that Bella is, actually, a lot like many UF heroines out there these days, and actually shares a few (and I’m talking FEW, but they’re interesting) similarities to my own heroine.

Anyway, it also made me think in terms of some last minute changes I just made in the manuscript for Tempest Rising regarding some sex scenes.  I do some work for Planned Parenthood in Louisiana, and I’m the faculty sponsor for Planned Parenthood’s VOX group at my university.  And I had my character blithely having unprotected sex –  granted, with a vampire who assures her that it’s fine – but was that really where I wanted to go?  I’d always been slightly bothered by that inevitable paranormal romance scene in which the supernatural love muffin says, “Baby, we don’t need to cover my shit because [insert creature here]’s can’t carry the hiv.”  As a writer, I totally get that it’s a BITCH to have your sexysexy interrupted by a jimmy, but seriously?  I’ve seen the Montel where the girl cries, saying, “He promised me he was shooting blanks!” or the boy sits, sobbing, “She promised me discharge was normal!”  

I was raised never to trust the people I have sex with, when it comes to my bits.  That they are MY bits and I am responsible for them.  And yet, I had my heroine throwing her bits out there without a care in the world, just because some random dude promised her he was a vampire.  Okay, it was a way better scene than that, but the no-protection part of my otherwise sensual and aesthetically superior sex scene (really, yo) always bothered me.

So I fixed it, and I made the inevitably-interruptive aspects of the condom a running gag.  Which totally sounds like something you get when you DON’T wear a rubber.  Anyway, I worked it, and made it work, just like couples all over the world do every night.

And I felt better.  Because my book is a total beach-read, fantasy romp.  But I also want it to be real.  Which is a paradox but it’s true.  I also think this paradox is what bothers so many adult readers of Meyer’s books.  Because our fantasies are, in large part, determined by our realities.  And our realities are determined by our fantasies.  So when a novel, such as Twilight, offers so many mixed messages to our most vulnerable age-groups, we’re not sure who to trust.  Do we trust the author?  The reader?  Do we interfere, as parents or aunts or teachers, and sit the child down to explain that they will never be no-longer-pooping, shiny, 19-year-old mothers of psychic babies, none of whom, apparently, poop, either?

Move over Derrida.  I got some urban-fantasy-filosofizing to do. 😉

Finally, check out my interview with Cindy Pon, over at the League.  Awesome.

7 thoughts on “Nikki Does Derrida”

  1. The problem with the sex in Twilight is that Meyer specifically stated several times that vampires cannot produce offspring. More than that, they don't have bodily fluids. It was more of a problem of consistency than condoms in her case.

    As for overall, I still have a problem imagining how a vampire could produce offspring in pretty much any situation…but maybe he could have a disease?

    I don't know! I've never written a sex scene…

  2. You raise the issue here of the intersections between fantasy and reality and the moral responsibility of the artist. To paraphrase Dr. Johnson, "reality is always creeping in." So–should you position fantasy characters as role models for the real world–because that's what you're doing? If so, logically, should you eschew violence in fantasy because it sends a bad message? I don't think you want to go that far, right? Hmm. . But of course, I'm totally with you on your editorial changes (as the mother of a 13 year old girl especially) but you have certainly vexed the reality/fantasy boundary.

  3. First, your discussion of the conference makes me miss going to that conference. I always love it, and am looking forward to the PCA in April. 🙂 I hope you're having a blast there.

    Then, I really am glad that you thought about this and I totally like the decision you made both aesthetically & as someone who encourages responsibility. Obviously, fantasy is fantasy, but what's wrong with having a little bit of responsibility in there? If you imagine your characters real, then they feel more real, and then your readers have a better time with the "willing suspension of disbelief" thing. Plus, you can make it funny, because it sounds like you're making a lot of the typical elements funny, which is why I think your book(s) will be popular and/or great. 🙂

  4. Hey guys! Thanks for the comments. Jen: I loved and I loathed those books at the same time, and I'm SO conflicted over them. So the panel was really neat, because one paper was a very ambivalent, yet really strongly articulated defense from a feminist perspective, one person clearly loathed it, and one person was just breaking it down. It was fun to watch and it really made me think.

    Nelly: I KNOW, you're hitting my conflict on the head. And it was interesting, because the fantasy element of a fantastical romance would demand no VD, no unplanned pregnancy, etc., and yet would a girl around my age REALLY not think about protection? So I actually went with the fantasy trope, and it never felt right. And it obviously doesn't feel right to a lot of other PR/UF writers, as they address it all the time. Anyway, I'm not making any sense. I'll think about it after I do more conferencing. 😉

    Kim: It is SO fun although I kinda wanna go run around NM. 😉 I hope it works, the edits I did on the plane. I gotta look at them again. And I was bothered by the responsibility issue, because Jane is a very responsible character. So it never felt "real" that she would just trust this dude. So I went with the funny and I hope it worked. We'll see. But thanks for the support!

    Rootie: I still think that should be the emergency dentist. Seriously?

  5. What a great post!
    There was a discussion on a blog that I followed where they ask when a character is in the middle of intimacy, does it take you out of the realm of fantasy for one of the characters to mention protection. In most UF, I hardly see any protection between the hero or heroine because usually one or both are supernatural and there is always a reason why one or the other can't catch something.

  6. Thanks, Katie! It was a bit garbled, I'm running on diesel at the moment. But yeah, I think it's a really big issue, because I had no discussion at all, between Jane and Ryu, originally. Which didn't ring true. So I added another type of scene, where he assures her everything is fine, and it reminded me of a scene from Sally Jesse Raphael. So I finally went with my gut and changed it into something I think is more believable for JAne, because she's a really strong, confident woman in a lot of ways and especially sexually. So I hope, when you see it in print, you smile. 😉

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