21 July, 2015

#GuestPost :: Depicting Race in Fantasy by Emily Mah Tippetts

About the Author:

Emily Mah Tippetts writes science fiction and fantasy as Emily Mah and chick lit as E.M. Tippetts. A native of New Mexico, she writes full time, when she's not chasing around after her small children. You can usually find her with her laptop, typing away every spare moment she gets. Before she was a writer, she was a lawyer who specialized in estate planning and literary estate planning.

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Depicting Race in Fantasy

I’m not the first author to base a fantasy race on a Native American culture, nor do I think fantasists in general are racist. Rather, I think that modern fantasy still has the strong stamp of Tolkien on it, so there are still a lot of quasi-European races with castles and magic in the genre. I will say that choosing Native American influenced main characters presents a challenge, though. Because it hasn’t been done much before, it’s still an uncharted market. As I prepare to launch my Sky Chariots Saga, I honestly do not know what the initial response will be. Its readership is out there, but I’m not sure how long it will take to find it.

When I first approached my illustrator, Raya Golden, with the concept for the books, she was excited. She, like me, is mixed race, and we’re both rather tired of the marketing advice that insists covers depicting white people sell more books. Even if that’s true, it shouldn’t be, and we both feel that it’s a lack of exposure to different races on covers that has brought this about. I absolutely love the work she did, and the way she brought my characters to life.

The two places I’ve lived for the longest in my life are my home state of New Mexico, in the USA, and Britain. New Mexico is tri-cultural and the three cultures are: 1) Native American, the indigenous tribes; 2) Hispanic (or around here people call themselves “Spanish”), these are people who are descended from both Spanish colonists and natives who chose to become subjects of the Spanish Crown. This population has been here since the first Conquistadors arrived from Spain. For a period of time, New Mexico was part of Mexico when that country gained independence, and then it was taken by the USA in the Mexican-American War (save for the southernmost part, which was purchased.) With this came: 3) Anglo culture. A misleading term, perhaps, because we aren’t terribly English by descent, as a group. The name refers to the language, though. We tend to speak English as a home language and came with this third wave of colonization, from the rest of the United States. 

It therefore struck me as a very fun idea to take the dreaming spires of Oxford, where I did my undergraduate, and set them right next to the mud-walled pueblos of home. Thus was the Kingdom of Andalia born. At the beginning of these books, it is a bi-cultural kingdom. There is an “Anglo” race (the Andalanos), that is more properly English with its architecture and legal system, and a “Native” race (the Tanoa). In Andalia, these two peoples have lived near and tolerated each other for centuries, but the very first event of the story sets change in motion. The Tanoa are set to lose a good portion of their lands to a volcano, and the only place to run, eventually, will be the Cauldron Valley, which is held by the Andalanos. The Andalanos are fighting a war at the opposite end of the country, and that’s not going to go well for them. Hence these two peoples will both be vying for the same space at the same time.

At the flashpoint of all this is Kasha, a fifteen year old Tanoa girl who was trained, in violation of the Andalano King’s law, to be an engineer. She lives in hiding, and only the facts that 1) she lives in a remote city and 2) she is a genius protect her. If the Guild discovers her identity, she’ll be executed. But when Andalia’s on the brink of collapse, can the Royal Family afford to dispose of their nation’s greatest asset? A woman who is changing the rules of what is and isn’t possible and has invented technologies no one ever dreamed of? They can’t embrace her, though, without unraveling the very fabric of their society. If a Tanoa girl can work a trade, can any Tanoa? What about women, who cannot hold property or sign contracts under Andalano law? When the Crown Prince has to decide between the final conquest of his kingdom, or letting Andalia become an entirely new kingdom, he finds himself balanced on a knife blade at the crossroads of history.

And there are flying horses. This is based in part on the American West, so there have to be horses, and flying horses make for a lot of very fun scenes. My father is a pilot of both gliders and small aircraft, so I grew up around aviation and know quite a bit about how to fly an engineless craft. Hence, I hope my flight sequences are more fun than just the standard wing flapping until you end up somewhere different. Besides, if Westerns are fun, Westerns with flying horses are way more fun.

While I have chosen to paint with a palette of real world issues: race relations, cultural convergence, the evolution of a society, and so on, I still very much intend to have fun in this world. It won’t be a lot of long, dry lectures on culture and history and politics. There is a lot of running around, flying, death defying leaps, epic questing, and all the things you know to expect from fantasy. 

First and foremost, I want my readers to enjoy Kasha’s journey, to cheer for her and her cousin Ahote as they devise a way to not just beat the odds, but shatter them for the sake of preserving their people. Similarly, I hope people fall in love with Sarah, Becky, Rachel, the City Magistrate, and the cast of Andalano characters who are fighting for their own survival. Finally, I want an excuse to write about death defying deeds that involve flying horses. What’s the fun in being a fantasy writer if you don’t do that, after all? 

If you’d like a free ebook of Restless Earth, the first book in this series, you need only join my mailing list: http://eepurl.com/bskovD You can, of course, unsubscribe at any time with the click of a mouse. I hope you enjoy these books half as much as I enjoyed writing them.

About the Book:
For over a thousand years, the Tanoa have relied on their Earth Shamen to bring rich harvests, temper stone tools and weapons, and imbue pottery with strength like metal. Now, though, the bloodline has dwindled to one Shaman, Tuwa, who is trapped high in the mountains, holding bedrock together to prevent a volcanic eruption while the rest of her people flee to safety. The only way to save the village is for her to sacrifice herself and buy them the time they need to evacuate.

But her grandson, Ahote, refuses to abandon her to die. Rather than do as she asks—marry and bear daughters who might inherit her gift—he sets out to find the one person who might be able to save Tuwa’s life.

Kasha is a Tanoa girl in who lives in Wingmout, a city of the pale-skinned Andalanos. If the Engineers Guild ever discovers her gender or race, they could order her execution—for in violation of the King’s law, Master Engineer Seamus trained Kasha as his apprentice. She is a genius in all things mechanical and earned her master certification when only fourteen years old. Since Seamus’s death, she has been discreetly working his job as the City Engineer.

She knows there is no machine or technology that can save Tuwa. In order to complete this task, Kasha must invent a vehicle unlike anything the world has ever seen, and risk exposure and death in the process.

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  1. This sounds like a very different and intriguing story!
    I have only read a few stories with Native American culture in them, but truly enjoyed them. I am looking forward to reading this.
    I agree with you, that we shouldn't conform to the cover ideology. I like to see differences, especially if it depicts the characters and stories for what they are.
    Thank you for the great post! :D

  2. I am sure it is a fine balance when writing a great story about serious topics. But I do believe that the story needs to be interesting independently.