Honorable Mention and Cultural Appropriation

IMG_4044 shrink“Meddling Gods” recently received its second honorable mention from Writers of the Future. As I pondered what to do next, the conversation on Twitter has involved a lot of talk around cultural appropriation. Now “Meddling Gods” is a secondary world fantasy, but it is based on 13th century Korea. So did I need to worry about cultural appropriation?

The question people kept bringing up was why write outside your culture? So why did I want to write about Korea? My first answer was because I was tired of medieval Europe. But doesn’t answer why Korea and not Persia or sub-Saharan Africa? My second answer was that I liked the time period of the Mongol invasion, but that still wasn’t good enough.

So I looked at what some other authors did. N. K. Jemisin has a Q&A at the back of The Killing Moon where she answers why it was set in a world based off ancient Egypt, and her answer was that it couldn’t have been based anywhere else and one reason was that the magic system was rooted in ancient Egyptian science and medicine. Then I thought on Shannon Hale’s Book of a Thousand Days and how a part of Mongolian culture was a key element of a conflict resolution. It couldn’t have happened that way anywhere else.

My conclusion – don’t include another culture just because it is alien to me. If that’s what I’m going for, just make something up. Include another culture because it will add to the conflict. So, looking at “Meddling Gods” I didn’t do this, but the seeds are there. I have a ruler who is descended from someone chosen by the gods, similar to beliefs about many Asian rulers. I also have characters wrestling with fallout from mistakes, which lends well to the concept of saving/regaining face.

So really, thinking about cultural appropriation is actually going to lead me to make this story better. It forces me to put more thought into these characters, instead of just defaulting to my American approach. That will make the characters richer, the conflicts deeper, and make the world feel more solid.

Now to go do that.

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