Monday, January 13, 2014

Guest Post & Giveaway: Diversity and Power by Tali Spencer (Storm Moon Press 4th Anniversary)

When asked to write a blog post about diversity and my writing, I admit I struggled a bit. I don't consider diversity when I'm writing. If diversity happens in my writing, it happens because I write about people and people are diverse. Mostly I write about power: who has it and who doesn't or the way power shapes people, such as what happens when someone who wants power gets it. There's a lot of diversity in power.

Look at who has the power in any society—then, look at everyone else.

A lot of stories about diversity in Western societies look at people on the fringes, those who feel like and are treated like outcasts. You know, the ones without the power. A favorite way to empower them is to make them exceptional—such as shifters or paranormal beings like vampires and angels. It's a subversive way of celebrating diversity: taking power away from the powerful and giving it to the powerless, bringing them out of the shadows.

When I first arrived in Bolivia, I felt drawn to the native culture because it was different from my own. I wanted to understand it. This greatly irritated the men of the family I had married into, and they repeatedly tried to tell me the only difference between the Spanish culture (them) and the indios (the natives) was that the natives didn't have any culture. There was nothing to understand.

Guess who had the power?

Despite the disapproval of the menfolk, the women helped me out. I sat on the patio with my mother-in-law and the maids, picking stones out of the day's corn or potatoes, and learned a great deal. One of the things I learned was that the Aymara language they spoke as often as they spoke Spanish doesn't identify most nouns as male or female. Much of the language is gender-neutral and can be used for both men and women. "Jupa" can mean he, she, or they depending on who's being talked about. In English, a pronoun identifies gender first and foremost. In Aymara, a pronoun identifies a person but not their gender (or number). And there are gender modifiers to indicate not two genders, but four. That's another story.

Like every language, Aymara encapsulates a way of thinking and of viewing the world. Because of it, the native people are often remarkably free of sexism. There's no automatic assumption a business owner, homeowner, or caretaker is a man or a woman. Or gay or gender fluid, for that matter, because that's just a person, too.

What I really learned a lot about, though, was power. Colonialism has power that lasts far beyond the conquest. Language has power so insidious it's taken for granted. So does religion.

One of the things I hope my writing can do is bring people into some of these vanquished cultures. I've begun to write stories set in Bolivia, fantasies in which I draw on the stories told to me on the patio, on the steps of Tiahuanaco, and on high mountain roads about the old Andean gods and the heroes and heroines preceding the Incas. There are plenty of stories about the Greek or Norse gods and culture, and a few about Egypt and Mesopotamia, but not so many about South America. The pre-Columbian world had a deluge too, and creation stories, and their gods are considered quite dangerous. Excuse me while I make a libation to Pacha Mama.

When I wrote The Seventh Sacrifice, I didn't water down the native demon in the story. Katari means "serpent" and is a common Inca and Aymara name. Though he presents himself as an Aymara sorcerer, Katari is a descendant of an amaru, a primordial Andean supernatural being. His magic is real. The story tells what happens when a Spanish visitor to the city of La Paz chooses to pursue a little black magic for revenge—only to become Katari's instrument for a very different revenge of his own. The story's quite dark and Beltran is not a willing sacrifice or lover.

Such a dark story wouldn't suit most publishers. I needed one willing to take on a story with non-consent and violence, because I didn't want to play down those elements. The history of the Spanish conquest was brutal; so are the consequences I imagined. I was delighted when Storm Moon Press offered to publish the story in its Devil's Night anthology. The story is now available as a separate ebook.

What makes me happiest is that a story about this part of the world is out there for readers to find. An important part of celebrating diversity is making diverse characters and cultures available. Oppression thrives when the powerless are kept invisible and silent.

Here's an excerpt in which Beltran talks with Felicia, the family's Aymara maid:

The house in the southern district of Calacoto had high walls to keep it from being seen from the street. The wealthiest Bolivians were also the least visible. The gardener opened the gate for the car and Beltran thanked his uncle's driver before exiting. After greeting his aunt in the flower-filled courtyard he made his way up the stone stair to Marisol's room.

Marisol's maid, Felicia, stopped him at the bedroom door.

"She's sleeping," the old Aymara woman said, dabbing at eyes set deep in a wrinkled face. Felicia had been with the Dorrantes for so long the family could not remember itself without her. "Marisita's very sad. She mourns for her spirit. Do you have the charm?"

He handed her the bag. "One wax penis, ready to be burned."

"Katari made this? No one else? Other shamans are fakes and thieves." She opened the bag and studied the contents with dark, suspicious eyes.

"He said he was Katari." He grinned at her. "You should have told me he was beautiful."

"And you will belong to the Devil for thinking such things." Felicia was a good Catholic and disapproved of his sexual preference, but she loved him because of Marisol and prayed for his soul. She scowled a warning. "It is not too late. Perhaps Katari can make a charm that will cure you."

Beltran doubted that very much. "I'll ask him tonight. I am going to meet him back at the church."

Felicia shook her head. "That cannot be good. Why go back?"

"I didn't have enough money to pay for the charm." It was not quite a lie.

"Ah." She folded the bag closed and frowned. "He gave it to you without full payment? That does not sound like something a sorcerer would do."

"I gave him what money I had and promised to come back with the rest."

"Then you must go. Only a stupid person cheats a sorcerer." Felicia tucked the bag with the charm into the deep pocket of her full skirt. "I will help Marisol burn this before you do something to make him angry."

"She has to spit on it first, and there's a powder to add to the fire."

"Ha! I have worked with charms before. And fools, also."

With a laugh, Beltran went to his room to prepare for his date with a sorcerer.

Tali Spencer fell in love with writing at an early age and never stopped. Thanks to a restless father, she grew up as a bit of a nomad and still loves to travel whenever she can. Her longest stint in one place was Milwaukee where she went to college and enjoyed a series of interesting careers while raising three surprisingly well-adjusted sons. She later married her true love and put down new roots in Philadelphia, where she lives in an ongoing Italian American family sitcom. At least she's learned how make good pasta. When not writing, Tali reads everything from sweet goofy romances to Lebanese cookbooks, manages her fantasy football team—go Gekkos!—and takes long walks with her loving, if slightly neurotic, poodle.

Visit Tali's blog at
Twitter: @tali_spencer

This post is part of Storm Moon Press' 4th Anniversary Blog Tour! Thank you for joining us, and please take a moment to enter both Tali Spencer's giveaway for The Seventh Sacrifice and our blog-tour-wide giveaway! The prize is receiving an ebook each month from SMP for 12 months! We hope to see you around the Internet and at RainbowCon in 2014! Happy New Year!

SMP's 4th Anniversary Rafflecopter Giveaway

Tali Spencer's "The Seventh Sacrifice" Rafflecopter Giveaway


  1. More cultural diversity and strong settings would be good, as well as more well-rounded characters of the opposite gender...

    Trix, vitajex(at)aol(dot)com

  2. How interesting about the Aymara language and culture! Japanese has no singular/plural indicators unless specified, which is hard enough to translate (usually the context gives you an idea, but not always), but they do have genders. I would love to hear more about your Bolivian experiences!

  3. I'm open to any and all cultures a author decided to explore in their stories. I love learning new things and picking up tidbits about cultures and language I know nothing about.


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