Reality Skimming

Reality Skimming

Reality Skimming promotes optimistic SF -- stories that inspire us to fight the good fight for another day. Committment to larger projects, the writer's sense of mission, joy of reading, the creative campfire of the SF community and the love of deserving protagonists are celebrated. We believe in heroes and striving to be what we believe in. It is also a news hub for content related to the Okal Rel Saga written by Lynda Williams.

16Feb/14Off

Dialogue on Dark & Light

Dialogues: Perspectives from two authors of SF on Dark & Light.

Topic: Dark & Light in SF

Krista D. Ball Krista D. Ball tells lies for a living, according to her mother. She is the author of several short stories, novellas, and novels. Krista incorporates as much historical information into her fiction as possible, mostly to justify her B.A. in British History. Krista enjoys all aspects of the writing and publishing world, and has been a magazine intern, co-edited four RPG books, self-published several short stories and a novella series, and has been a slush reader for a small Canadian press. Whenever she gets annoyed, she blows something up in her fiction. Regular readers of her work have commented that she is annoyed a lot.

Lynda Williams Lynda Williams is the author of the Okal Rel Saga originally published by Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy and the publisher behind Reality Skimming Press. Part 10: Unholy Science will conclude the series in 2014. Lynda's work features larger than life characters contending with radically different attitudes to sex and social control surrounding space warfare and bio-science. Drop into the scene at Reality Skimming Press at http://facebook.com/relskim. Lynda works in learning technology and teaches applied computing.

1) What's your position on dark and light in human nature?

Krista: Many people like to think of humans as inherently good creatures. We have the capabilities for such kindness and compassion that, underneath our dark natures, there must be something that makes us want to be good. I do not believe this. I look at the world and see a struggle between good and evil, what is right and what is selfish, and the disregard for humanity. Unless raised to be compassionate, caring, and an upstanding member of the global community, people need to be taught how to be such individuals. It's no wonder that fiction reflects that darkness.

Lynda: I discovered the depths of man’s inhumanity to man as a previously innocent teenager by joining Amnesty International and volunteering with a crisis centre. I've been working on coming to terms with it ever since, because my gut reaction to darkness is to fight it. How to be sure it's really darkness and to what extent one personally can or should fight back are details I'm still working on. Theoretically, at least, I finally found the math to support my instincts in a biography of the statistician who uncovered the mechanics of why a sense of ethics is the only non-genetic trait that can be selected for on the basis of group dynamics -- provided the ethical group is in competition with unethical ones. Which is fascinating when one looks at the way bad guys are so essential to a good story in SF. The book is The Price of Altruism by Oren Harman.

2) Should there be darkness in YA books?

Krista: There weren't really "young adult" books when I was a teenager. The few books that existed specifically for teenagers generally preached to me about the evils of sex, why pregnancy would ruin my life, how guys all wanted to rape me, and how smoking a cigarette would cause me to end up addicted to heroin and prostituting myself for my next hit. (This is not an exaggeration, by the way). Now, YA is full of depressing dystopias where violence reigns. And I'm ok with that. I think there is a need for all kinds of YA works, from adventure stories that are fun and suspenseful, without any true threat or danger, to the extreme end that looks at the dark underside of the world of teens, to the capabilities of teens under extreme circumstances. Bit just because one teen wants to read about the brutality of child soldiers does not mean the next wants to. I think we owe it to everyone to provide both options.

Lynda: I used my characters to process my teenage reaction to darkness, pushing them to their limits in their Okal Rel Universe adventures. Later, my characters had an even worse time of it because I introduced handicaps and imperfections. But no matter how I tortured Amel or drove Horth to the breaking point, they remained heroes because they hung onto the good things that they strove for. Darkness in fiction, for me, lies not in what happens to a character but how the story influences the reader. If we come away thinking it’s smart to be the bad guy, it gives me shivers because we can’t afford to build a world where people are either too afraid, or too cynical, to even aspire to be heroes. By heroes, I don't meam perfectly unselfish paragons. I don't believe in those kinds of heroes. Stories should strive for the light, even if they transverse darkness, exactly to help us recognize heroism when we see it, and celebrate it as something it takes courage to champion. Something that lifts us all above the day-to-day concerns of life to aspire to make the world around us just a little bit better, when and where we're able.

3Jul/13Off

Dialogue with Nathalie Mallet

Dialogues: Lynda Williams and a guest author tackle the same topic from two points of view.

Topic: Write What You Love - Part 2

Nathalie MalletNathalie Mallet is a mystery, science fiction and fantasy writer. She grew up in Shippagan, New Brunswick, but now lives in Prince George, British Columbia with her husband and two Scottish terriers. She is the author of the The Prince Amir Mystery series published by Night Shade Books. The third book in the series, Death in the Traveling City, is now available. For more information, please visit Nathalie Mallet’s website: http://www.nathaliemallet.com/
Lynda Williams Lynda Williams is the author of the ten-novel Okal Rel Saga and integrity editor for additional works set in the Okal Rel Universe. Other publications include stories in Mythspring edited by Julie E. Czerneda , and The Future Fire

3) When should an author avoid writing to please herself?

Nathalie:It all depends on what the author wants. If you are writing entirely for your own pleasure then go nuts. But if your goal is to be published, then you might need to evaluate your work and maybe rein in certain aspects of it. You can’t let your passion for the subject affect your story in a negative manner. For example: I love historical details of all kinds—love them madly. But I try not to overload my stories with them, so it doesn’t turn into a lecture on life in the Middle Ages. Still, I have to be me. It’s a delicate balance, and it’s different for everyone. Bottom line, it all comes down to goals.

Lynda:Every decent writing coach will tell you to “know your audience” but personally I work best on the assumption I am writing to please readers “like me”: people I can connect with through the magic of story in the same way I make connections as a reader. I am always looking to touch a similarity of spirit, in another, that is both personal and universal. I’ve achieved this miracle, myself, in works as different as Love You Forever by Robert Munch and Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. I think that’s why I’m bothered by pigeon-holing for marketing purposes, even though I understand how important such things are to acheiving your goals.

4) When have you 'sold out' by conforming with external requirements?

Nathalie:I haven’t sold out yet. Fingers crossed. But as an agented author, I often have to revise my work to better fit the market. Sometime it’s just a question of length or tightening the plot. But other times the changes are more profound. I must admit that I’m very lucky. My agent loves what I do and likes my quirks. Her notes straighten my work without changing its nature. We’re a team, and that’s pretty awesome. But that wasn’t always the case. She’s not my first agent. I worked with others and it wasn’t always harmonious. I recall being asked to transform a fun sci-fi romp into Harlequin in space. Needless to say that didn’t happen. I have nothing against Harlequin books; lots of people love them. They are just not my cup of tea—set in space or not. Sometime the best thing an author can do is shelf a novel for a while and move on. The timing might just be off for that one. In this business timing is important and often is a key factor to success.

Lynda:I used to have too strict an interpretation of “selling out”. So maybe I have sold out now and then, by my old definitions. I’ve learned to re-consider if a scene isn’t pulling its weight or even to sacrifice a non-essential bit I like in order to placate an editor. The old writer’s maxim “kill your darlings” makes me cross because it sounds as if the mere fact a scene or character is beloved by the author is reason enough for mindless slaughter. It should be: “If necessary, kill even your darlings.” My new definition of selling out is warping the message to suit a trend. I want my readers to go away inspired by heroes, not depressed by the futility of everything. Not because they are blind to life’s cruelties but because they’ve done their best to grapple with them. And it means something. I believe art is about constructing meaning, not deconstructing everything to a scrap pile. Entropy will do that fine on its own without living things helping it.

26Jun/13Off

Dialogue with Nathalie Mallet

Dialogues: Lynda Williams and a guest author tackle the same topic from two points of view.

Topic: Write What You Love - Part 1

Nathalie MalletNathalie Mallet is a mystery, science fiction and fantasy writer. She grew up in Shippagan, New Brunswick, but now lives in Prince George, British Columbia with her husband and two Scottish terriers. She is the author of the The Prince Amir Mystery series published by Night Shade Books. The third book in the series, Death in the Traveling City, is now available. For more information, please visit Nathalie Mallet’s website: http://www.nathaliemallet.com/
Lynda Williams Lynda Williams is the author of the ten-novel Okal Rel Saga and integrity editor for additional works set in the Okal Rel Universe. Other publications include stories in Mythspring edited by Julie E. Czerneda , and The Future Fire

1) What does 'Write what you love' mean to you, as an author?

Nathalie: The minute I decided to write I knew from the get go I was only going to write what I loved. And for me that means genre. Fantasy, sci-fi, mystery and horror, I love them all. I doubt I would be happy writing straight mainstream novels. I’m not even sure I could. My projects need to have some supernatural elements for me to be excited about them. Otherwise, I’m bored.

Lynda: If I can’t write what matters to me, it’s barren slogging. That’s how I interpret “write what you love”. In the beginning, I wrote to swell my chest with feelings and while I still love that, I now find a subtler satisfaction in “nailing” something. By which I mean capturing a truth or perception that’s been nagging at me. But I’m less likely to re-read the pieces that are solely intellectually satisfying.

2) Is writing what you love compatible with success? 

Nathalie: Of course, authors can have success writing what they love. I always believe that you could have your cake and eat it too. The success of writers like J. K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer and Naomi Novik proves it. I’m sure these women were writing what they love. I don’t believe they sold out because they were successful. Same as I don’t believe that writing without passion solely for the market is a guarantee of success. Many of those stories get rejected too. And bear in mind that you don’t need to sell a million copies to be a success either. Getting published is success in itself. That’s my opinion anyway.

Lynda: Confession time. I used to be sour about the success of books I thought inferior to my favorites. What wisdom has come with age helps me hold the image of a teeter-totter in my mind. On one end sits self-sufficient introspection. This player might be labeled “quality” or “self-indulgence” depending on circumstances. On the other end sits public-facing engagement. This player might have benign or nasty labels as well. We all have to find our sweet-spot for balancing the two.

9May/12Off

Dialogue #4: Krista D. Ball (2 of 2)

Dialogues: Lynda Williams and a guest author tackle the same topic from two points of view.

Topic: Dark & Light

Lynda Williams is a strong proponent of optimistic art, but others believe that the dark side is necessary in Speculative Fiction. In how much detail should unsavory acts/thoughts be described, and to what purpose? Are there situations in which a reader may need be offended in order to convey a greater message? The same dark themes also seem to pervade contemporary young adult speculative fiction. What are the issues surrounding this?

Last week...

Krista D. Ball According to her mother, Krista D. Ball tells lies for a living. She is the author of several short stories, novellas, and novels. Krista incorporates as much historical information into her fiction as possible, mostly to justify her B.A. in British History. Krista enjoys all aspects of the writing and publishing world, and has been a magazine intern, co-edited four RPG books, self-published several short stories and a novella series, and has been a slush reader for a small Canadian press. She has also written a non-fiction blogging guide and is currently writing a non-fiction historical book for authors called, "What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank." Whenever she gets annoyed, she blows something up in her fiction. Regular readers of her work have commented that she is annoyed a lot.

Today...

Lynda Williams Lynda Williams is the author of the Okal Rel Saga (Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing) and editor of the Okal Rel Legacies series (Absolute Xpress). Part 7 of the Okal Rel Saga, Healer's Sword, arrives in 2012. Lynda's work features moral dilemmas in a character-driven, multi-cultural setting with radically different attitudes to sex and social control surrounding space warfare and bio-science. She also works as Learning Technology Analyst for Simon Fraser University and teaches a introductory web development course at BCIT.

Lynda Williams: Dark & Light

Confession –I love heroes. When I face a dreary day or a mean-spirited adversary in the daily slog, I need my touchstones to make it through: like Frodo hanging onto memories of the Shire to help him contend with the evils of Mordor. And as melodramatic as it may seem to equate making it through to lunch on a bad day with saving the world of humans, elves and dwarfs, I suspect many lovers of the genre will know what I mean.

We all need something to believe in.

When I discovered the depths of man’s inhumanity to man, as a teenager who read widely and volunteered with a crisis centre, I was shaken. Not only could people behave in far more ugly ways than I’d imagined possible, but their victims typically lacked the advantages of SF heroes empowered by mysterious origins or superior technologies.

To process these shocks to my sheltered but imaginative self, I used my beloved characters, pushing them to their limits in their Okal Rel Universe adventures. As I got older, and grappled with the less perfect heroism of flawed and fragile human beings, my characters had an even worse time of it because I introduced handicaps and imperfections. But no matter how I tortured Amel or drove Horth to the breaking point, they remained heroes because they hung onto their belief in good things, like love or integrity. And if they could do it, I could.

Because we can’t afford to build a world in which people are too traumatized to dare to be the good guys.

So darkness, for me, lies not in what happens to a character but how the story influences the reader. If readers come away from a story thinking it’s smart to be the bad guy, it makes me feel a little ill.

When I was researching how to portray Amel as a survivor of sexual abuse in childhood, I discovered many men abused as boys become abusers (1) because of the two roles “available” they prefer the dominant, stronger one. Those who escaped this fate were the ones able to sustain empathy with others despite their experiences. More broadly speaking, exposure to extreme harm off all kinds, particularly warfare, has long been known as harmful to one’s ability to function in society (2) and continually demonstrations that resistance is futile leads to giving up (3). Are these the effects we want to engender in readers or viewers of SF?

There’s considerable debate on whether the vicarious experience of violence makes people more violent (4). But what if violence isn’t the key issue? What if it’s more about whether the good guys are portrayed in a positive light, suffering to achieve something meaningful– or fools who would do better to be more selfish, grasping and cruel?

I can’t, as a writer, help living in hope that my creations might have some influence, however slight, on others and if so, I want them to weigh in on the side of light and heroism.

Footnotes

(1) Why do People Abuse?
(2) Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome
(3) What is Learned Helplessness?
(4) Research on the Effects of Media Violence

Next week: Lynda Williams writes her response to the central topic.

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2May/12Off

Dialogue #4: Krista D. Ball (1 of 2)

Dialogues: Lynda Williams and a guest author tackle the same topic from two points of view.

Topic: Dark & Light

Lynda Williams is a strong proponent of optimistic art, but others believe that the dark side is necessary in Speculative Fiction. In how much detail should unsavory acts/thoughts be described, and to what purpose? Are there situations in which a reader may need be offended in order to convey a greater message? The same dark themes also seem to pervade contemporary young adult speculative fiction. What are the issues surrounding this?

Today...

Krista D. Ball According to her mother, Krista D. Ball tells lies for a living. She is the author of several short stories, novellas, and novels. Krista incorporates as much historical information into her fiction as possible, mostly to justify her B.A. in British History. Krista enjoys all aspects of the writing and publishing world, and has been a magazine intern, co-edited four RPG books, self-published several short stories and a novella series, and has been a slush reader for a small Canadian press. She has also written a non-fiction blogging guide and is currently writing a non-fiction historical book for authors called, "What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank." Whenever she gets annoyed, she blows something up in her fiction. Regular readers of her work have commented that she is annoyed a lot.

Next week...

Lynda Williams Lynda Williams is the author of the Okal Rel Saga (Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing) and editor of the Okal Rel Legacies series (Absolute Xpress). Part 7 of the Okal Rel Saga, Healer's Sword, arrives in 2012. Lynda's work features moral dilemmas in a character-driven, multi-cultural setting with radically different attitudes to sex and social control surrounding space warfare and bio-science. She also works as Learning Technology Analyst for Simon Fraser University and teaches a introductory web development course at BCIT.

Krista D. Ball: Dark & Light

Many people like to think of humans as inherently good creatures. We have the capabilities for such kindness and compassion that, underneath our dark natures, there must be something that makes us want to be good.

I do not believe this.

I look at the world and see a struggle between good and evil, what is right and what is selfish, and the disregard for humanity. Unless raised to be compassionate, caring, and an upstanding member of the global community, people need to be taught how to be such individuals. It's no wonder that fiction reflects that darkness.

"Gorn Porn" is a phrase coined a lot to protest the extreme usage of violent and gory scenes with no other purpose than the gross people out. Those have their place and readerships, but I don't think it's really necessary in the bulk of mainstream fiction. A vicious beating of a beloved secondary character can have readers in tears with very little details, just as a graphic blow-by-blow (as it were) of what's happening. Less can be more.

Then there are times that more is indeed "more". I recall In The Heat of The Night, with the language used by Chief Gillespie. I was shocked, having been raised in a sheltered, religious home and school. In fact, the teacher asked if anyone was comfortable doing it because he was not. There was only one volunteer and I remember even he turned red a few times.

Could that book have had less language, less hate, less racism? Of course. Would it have impacted me the same way? Doubtful. It's twenty years later and I still recall that book, that language, that feeling of anger in my gut. I needed to be offended so that I could look past my own nose and see the world as it was, not as it could be.

In Road to Hell, I have a scene that many people have found offensive and disturbing. After a frantic hunt, Captain Francis finds her missing crew member: tied up in a vent shaft with part of her face burned off in strips. It offended people because of the choice Francis makes to murder the man who did it. It wasn't that she murdered him - that didn't seem to bother people, more than the reason. She did it to protect herself and not to avenge her friend.

And that pleases me to no end. That should offend people. That should make readers angry. It should make people talk. Because we often see injustice in our daily lives and do nothing to stop it because we are protecting ourselves. I think people see themselves in Katherine when she fires her weapon: they remember all of the times they sold someone down the river to cover their own behinds...and it makes them angry.

The desire to balance the reality with the reader's tolerance gets even trickier when dealing with young adult and middle grade fiction. Right now, MG seems fairly unmarred, but YA is full of depressing dystopias where violence reigns. And I'm ok with that.

I think there is a need for all kinds of YA works, from adventure stories that are fun and suspenseful, without any true threat or danger, to the extreme end that looks at the dark underside of the world of teens, to the capabilities of teens under extreme circumstances.

There weren't really "young adult" books when I was a teenager. The few books that existed specifically for teenagers generally preached to me about the evils of sex, why pregnancy would ruin my life, how guys all wanted to rape me, and how smoking a cigarette would cause me to end up addicted to heroin and prostituting myself for my next hit. (This is not an exaggeration, by the way).

So, for the twelve year old girl who started sneaking Jackie Collins novels and who was reading Sidney Sheldon and Danielle Steele religiously at fourteen, I'm ok with dark themes in young adult. I think there needs to be easier subgenre classifications so that teens of all ages and tastes can find what they want. Just because one teen wants to read about the brutality of child soldiers does not meant the next wants to. I think we owe it to everyone to provide both options.

We're authors, after all. Surely we can help provide a reading experience for everyone?

Next week: Lynda Williams writes her response to the central topic.

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25Apr/12Off

Dialogue #3: Lillian Cohen-Moore

Dialogues: Lynda Williams and a guest author tackle the same topic from two points of view.

Topic: Culture, authenticity, and spec-fic.

What’s similar and different about writing one’s own, real culture versus writing an invented one? What are the complications involved in depicting a specific culture in fiction, and does the genre of speculative fiction offer some freedom in that respect?
Lillian Cohen-Moore is a multiracial Jewish writer and journalist based out of Seattle, Washington. Her speculative fiction has been published by 365 tomorrows, Timid Pirate Publishing, The Edge of Propinquity, White Cat Magazine and The Irish Times. She's currently a staff writer for Another Passion, Geek's Dream Girl and Booklife Now. When she isn’t compulsively interviewing people, she acts as the Editor-in-Chief of The Broadsheet, for Broad Universe. She thinks Lois Lane is cooler than Superman. She blogs at www.lilliancohenmoore.com
Lynda Williams Lynda Williams is the author of the Okal Rel Saga (Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing) and editor of the Okal Rel Legacies series (Absolute Xpress). Part 7 of the Okal Rel Saga, Healer's Sword, arrives in 2012. Lynda's work features moral dilemmas in a character-driven, multi-cultural setting with radically different attitudes to sex and social control surrounding space warfare and bio-science. She also works as Learning Technology Analyst for Simon Fraser University and teaches a introductory web development course at BCIT.

Q. “Inside baseball” is a metaphor for the details of a subject requiring such a specific knowledge that they cannot be appreciated by an outsider. When depicting a real culture in fiction, how can a writer be authentic without shutting out the general reader with too much “inside baseball?”

Lillian Cohen-Moore: It takes a lot of murdered darlings. As tempting it is to slip in every cultural fact you can think of, there comes a point where readers are going to be able to tell that what you wrote isn’t for people not ‘in the know.’ Michael Chabon is a great example of someone who walks that line with incredible skill. It’s possible for someone who isn’t Jewish to enjoy books like The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. There’s a degree of nuance that I think allows for emotional connection for Jews with the book, but it’s an incredible novel for non-Jewish readers as well. At the core of it, Policeman’s Union has an incredibly taut murder mystery at the center. That’s how you build a book that doesn’t shut people out — no matter how many cultural or linguistic details they might not understand off-hand, readers can still follow a strong plot.

Lynda Williams: My mother's rule was never talk about family to outsiders. So writing about topics like the stresses caused by my father's depression were impossible. I started fictionalizing my issues by laundering them through Sci Fi. Throne Price comes closest to portraying the struggle of someone (Amel) struggling to hold the "family" together in a worsening situation. But the sexual abuse elements came from my years at the Crisis Centre and the "slut or frigid" dichotomy of coming of age at the tail end of the sexual revolution. I stripped away details until even I didn't recognize, 100%, what I was talking about through my characters. In the process, I developed my own "inside baseball" in the form of alien cultures and practices which I had to fight to keep palatable to readers. Part 4: Throne Price was written first, and it shows. It needs a re-write to bring it in line with the airier style of subsequent volumes of the saga.

Q. Offending others who identify with the culture: Is it inevitable? Is it a problem?

Lillian Cohen-Moore: You can’t please everyone. I think you run an equal risk of offending those who identify with a culture as you do those outside it. I think that’s a reality of writing, and that the problem of offending others is how it’s responded to. Whether or not you feel that you’ve erred in your portrayal, reacting in a knee-jerk, defensive fashion doesn’t help your work or your readers. It takes a lot to sit down and listen to reader concerns. If you agree with their points, then by all means do what you feel you should in order to address the issue in the present and future. Even if you don’t agree, considering the possibility that you’ve written something from a biased perspective, conscious or otherwise, encourages you to look at your work from a different angle. That’s never a bad thing.

Lynda Williams: When I started writing the Okal Rel Saga it was the adults of my middle-class life I feared offending via my sympathetic portrayal of the Vrellish, with their multiple kinds of sex partners and promiscuous behavior. I never expected to find myself, in the new millennium, worrying about whether the disdain for Vrellish excesses felt by Demish characters might offend friends who act a little Vrellishly.  Likewise, Di Mon and Ranar's affair was so avant-garde when I began developing it in the late 70s, that I was warned I'd never sell a genre book featuring a homosexual romance unless I pumped up the erotica and went for a niche market. Now I find gay-advocates annoyed with me for Di Mon's failure to come to terms, entirely, with his sexual orientation. All I can hope is that the characters are well enough drawn, all around, that they work whether or not people are sometimes offended by them.

Q. What are the pros and cons of working with a real vs. an invented culture?

Lillian Cohen-Moore: Working with real culture presents a lot of challenges that I enjoy wrestling with, but the pros and cons tend to drift across the categories for me. Should I follow historic details, what details need to be more malleable in a speculative setting, how much do I want to break from history and how do I defend those choices. I think that the closer you get to the present day, the more potential you have to offend readers when you make the decision to seriously play with alternate history or speculative explanations for historic events and societal mores. The closer something is to us, to have affected our lives or loved ones, the touchier those topics can be to address in fiction, as a writer or a reader. That’s the fundamental issue to keep in mind in terms of cons, for me. Just because its fiction doesn’t mean it lacks a capacity to hurt.

Lynda Williams: Fiction lets me abstract arguments about what's right and wrong in a way that divorces them from the cultural baggage any reader brings to a story. Nesaks, for example, represent the maddening truth, for me, that good people with wholesome family lives can be racist/sexist/war mongering monsters outside the family circle. I don't have to say whether Nesaks represent the bigoted people of my own life experience, Islamic extremists or far-right Americans. Invented cultures let you tackle issues as pure thought experiment. In Part 2: Righteous Anger, for example, a happy marriage causes death and mayhem. Not because I am against marriage, but because I wanted to experience the issue from the point of view of Vrellish people whose way of life is threatened by it.  Some of these ideas came from reading about culture clashes between Europeans and natives across the British empire and other examples of culture clash where the a majority norm encroaches on the perfectly workable, but very different, norms of others. However, I don't believe in pure cultural relativity so I'm always searching these situations for grains of something universal.

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