“The Weight of a Blessing” is one of those stories that took me a long time to write–by my standards, that is. I first had the idea for it around August or so, walking around in Brittany with the H; I wanted to do something about “refugees and virtual realities”.
(spoilers after the cut, please read the story first!)
It more or less immediately made sense to me that one of the function of the virtual realities was going to be re-creating history–thereby bringing the problem of all historical narratives, namely that they’re biased by who tells them (and generally written by the victors!). One of the subjects I grappled with in writing the story was perceptions of history, history as a legacy, and enshrined historical bias –particularly painful when inflicted by a dominant culture to a dominated one (the continued insistence of the West that “colonisation had good sides!”, for instance, keeps erasing all the horrible things that were done to maintain political and cultural dominance–mass arrests, torture, genocide, erasure of languages and cultures…). And, of course, what happened to history when you lived in a coloniser country as a descendant of the colonised.
To some extent, this is also a story about family and immigration and integration, and about the anger of children of immigrants, who grow up on tales of a sometimes mythical countries that many won’t see (probably not the case for everyone, but for those displaced by war, there’s a strong awareness that home might well be lost forever that gets passed on). Whether that anger is justified or not is another problem–as Minh Ha points out, Sarah doesn’t really knows what it means to live on Moc Tinh Hau; and doesn’t know either what it cost the family to relocate while losing all they had.
The Dead came through a conversation we had with Rochita Loenen-Ruiz and Tricia Sullivan during the Rainy Writers’ workshop in Brittany: about how Western culture was systematically denying a role and a voice to elder women by making them seem foolish rather than wise–and thus cutting cultural roots (either its own or those of other cultures–discrediting elders was a fave colonial tactic). The Dead–still present, but essentially voiceless unless one takes a deliberate risk–are this concern made literal.
By the end of the workshop, I had the bones of the setting (and had in fact written another story with a slightly different concern, “Memorials”). But this particular piece of plot–the story of Minh Ha and Sarah and Charles–refused to come together. I basically got to Charles’s visit, and the moment when Minh Ha stares at the ancestral altar, and then stopped because I felt foolish and unable to resolve the plot. At the time, I gave it up (work moved into a pretty stressful place, and I just had little leisure activity to spare).
Flash forward five months or so. I find the story in my “scraps” file, take another look at it–and it occurs to me that my problem is that I’ve been trying to tell it in chronological order. As a result, I’ve failed to build momentum for the final scene, and the story itself feels loose and baggy because I have scenes that are exclusively there for the exposition. “Fine,” I think. “No chronological order”. It was a most… liberating thought. I scrapped all the scenes in the Hall of the Dead, and replaced them with the italicised narration; and rearranged the scene order a bit, while keeping most of the other scenes with Minh Ha. Total editing time–maybe 20 minutes? The awesome Rochita Loenen-Ruiz later helped me redraft the bit that reads like a report from the people who run the Hall of the Dead, so as to make it clearer.
A few tidbits: “The Vermillion Seal” is of course a reference to official and/or personal seals and the colour of the ink used with them. You’ll notice that Sarah has a Galactic name; compare with Minh Ha’s niece, Hanh, and you get a glimpse of different ways to assimilate. And “Cygnus” is all I could come up with in the way of planet names
- Sale: “Weight of a Blessing” to Clarkesworld
- Quotelog: “ethnic sensibilities”
- Presenting the Cultural Imperialism Bingo Card