Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Food and Fantasy

A fun little article about food in fantasy, with a couple of charming links, including Inn at the Crossroads, which is a recipe site for food featured in the Game of Thrones.

I'm actually a pretty big fan of food in stories, and have written various stories about people who work in kitchens and restaurants, people eating people, glass, money, mold, hearts, butterflies, flowers, and so on. I had hero win the day with a cinnamon bun. Another hero was a sentient carrot cake.

Damnit, now I'm hungry.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Some Recommendations

Rachel Swirsky made a big ol' list of year's best recommendations over at her blog. While I don't necessarily agree with all of the ordering (I would have put Lessons From A Clockwork Queen way higher, for example) it's still a really spectacular list, with lots of links to the archived works. Go, play, have fun.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

On Tribe

Oy, out there. Oy, I say!

I get, I really do get, that it's human nature for people to put up totems, to define themselves as one group, to mark everybody else as outside people, and to loudly proclaim how it's the inside people who are the best and the rightest. It's tantalizing to belong, to feel special, to have a sense of an order in which the things you associate with yourself are of central importance.

But really, relax and get to know your neighbor. It's totally worth it.

So I got to see the Circle Jerks play at one point. It was, all in all, a pretty good show, but I was struck especially at one point when Keith Morris, in between songs, urged the people who had come to see his show to look around the whole festival, and not discount the techno and house stuff, because some of it was really cool, cutting edge music. He actually had people boo back at him.

I get liking something, and wanting something more of what you like. There's absolutely no evil in that. I think the problem is when we start to define ourselves as Spaceship and Explosion people, or Dragon and Elf people, or Only in the New Yorker people. I hear genre folk talk about literary fiction like Jane Austen is hiding under their bed ready to strangle them if they put down their light saber. I read people over and over again talking about the defining differences between the way literary and genre fiction writers think (and when you provide counter examples like "what about Kafka?" or "have you read Gene Wolfe?" mostly they blink at you and go "well I haven't read that one specifically").

I am infinitely richer as a reader and a writer for having read Nabokov, Austen, Tolstoy, Faulkner, and Hemmingway, and I consider myself a pretty straight genre person. It's not something to be afraid of. These guys aren't some tribe from over the mountain that sacrifices to strange unholy idols and has a blood feud with your people. They're more like the aunts and uncles you don't talk to enough. Go and say hi.

Seriously, guys. It's okay. Take off the war paint and put down the standards for a bit. Make a fruit basket and go say hello. I bet you'll be glad you did.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Thursday, February 16, 2012

In Soviet Russia, Culture Counters You.

A really delightful article about Soviet culture and counter culture, up to the recent protests. This is long, but it's amazing. Check out "rib records" and Soviet punk.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Happy Valentines Day, Internet!

While I wait for my heart-shaped sausage pizza to be ready, I thought I'd talk about something topical: Sex.

Or more specifically, the writing thereof.

I generally tend to think of sex as something I don't write much, but that doesn't hold up to any serious scrutiny. Most of the characters in my stories are sexually active, many even sexually aggressive- I don't have a lot of patience for that coy, nervous first part of romances, where people are wringing their hands and thinking "ohmygosh does he like me?" The story that's being reprinted in Aoife's Kiss next month starts out with a casual hookup (followed by a vivisection, because... well, why not?), but on the other hand I do tend to glide over a lot of the details. I find myself generally treating it much like I do other character traits and interactions. Unless a character is a fanatic about her car, I'm probably not going to give more information than, for example "a black SUV in good condition" or "a red Mustang" or "the pickup her father had kept running since the depression" (since I'm not personally a car person, I'll generally give less). I'm certainly not going to write a whole paragraph about it, unless it's a major point in the story. Likewise, I find I tend to give information about sex that's little more than "on the cold stove", "messy and embarrassing", "well, at least it seemed like she had a good time", or "with handcuffs and heavy tongue; standard, but adequate". I think part of it is that if I've written a character conflict, by the time the characters have sex, either it's resolved successfully or the sex came before and isn't related to the conflict. And if the conflict isn't between the characters making whoopie, then the sex is not any more narratively important than that pick up truck- it's interesting and it adds character development, but it doesn't need its own paragraph.

I've read a number of books with sex scenes, and they have a tendency to fall into three camps: 1) good sex scenes were two developed characters come into a scene with an established conflict of dominance, emotional attachment, confidence, etc- whatever it is, something that can either get better or worse by the end of a sex scene; 2) lame sex scenes in which there is no conflict, just a kind of point by point "and then this happened" in a way that kind of feels like the writer's nudging you for a bro high five (I say that, but lady writers are just as guilty); 3) rape scenes, where the conflict is, of course, obvious.

Actually because I enjoy horror, I should probably add a subset 4) the scene where there's endless, off-putting objectification and sexual tension build up, and then one party turns into a monster and eats the other. Seriously, this is not a twist ending anymore. Please stop doing it.

I have to give props to romance writers here. While the romance books I've read have some sex scenes that have made me giggle like a middle schooler looking up "butt" in the dictionary, I've also never scanned over them thinking "blah blah blah penis blah blah blah oh baby blah blah suck". I've read thoroughly and turned the next page (also there's not very many sex scenes in romance books, and allegedly if you read a lot of them, you can open straight to the page number where you know they will be, based on a formula of sexing). But then again the central romance plot is pretty much always getting to know the other person in a new relationship, and sex is a reasonable part of that process.

The second class of sex scene- the one where it seems to happen on some remote island with nothing to do with the rest of the plot (or in the worst case scenario where the "plot" appears to be nothing more than a framing device for the sex scenes)- always makes me uncomfortable. In practice it tends to be the longest and most explicit of the examples (unless we're counting four) even though in theory there's no reason it needs to be and I always get the feeling that the author expects me as a reader to be having a menage-a-une over. I mean... if it's not doing anything narratively productive, then clearly it's pornography, right? Which I suppose is all well and good if you want pornography, but is obnoxious if you've come into it looking to read a story.

It's also very hard not to feel about it the way one feels about Mary Sue fiction- that it's self-indulgent wish fulfilment, especially because this sex tends to involve at least one super hot character, usually not the one whose viewpoint the story is told through.

I think there is a part of us that wants there to be perfect sex- maybe as a kind of breather, maybe as a reward or even just something nice for characters we identify with. Maybe even just because we hate to write about sex being disappointing or conflicted- the same way we often like happy endings to be wrapped up and cleanly happy. But, I mean, how much space would you devote to a character having a really delicious piece of cake? How much cake eating would you read before you start scanning down to the point where the ship blows up? Even if the cake is a reward for a character having gone through fifteen pages of horrible unsuccessful diets, isn't there an upper limit?

Anyway, I'm off to pick up a heart shaped pizza. Y'all go on and celebrate love in your own special ways.

Happy Valentine's Day, Internet!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sita Sings The Blues

I can't believe I hadn't put this up here. Sita Sings the Blues is a creative commons movie that mixes American blues, personal narrative, and a retelling of the Ramayana. Enjoy it and share alike.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

John Skipp!

John Skipp (New York Times bestselling author, editor, zombie godfather, compulsive collaborator, musical pornographer, black-humored optimist and all-around Renaissance mutant" per Amazon, and, I might add, fabulously nice guy) has a brand new blog and so far it's lovely! Go check it out.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

What Do You WANT to Write?

It's actually kind of funny, because I've said, multiple times, that knowing the answer to this question is (and should be) one of the fundamental parts of writing. But when I sat down and asked myself, my answers were really pretty vague. I want to write something fun and beautiful, I want to write something of lasting quality. Statements like that mean only a little more than nothing.

The first things that come to mind are in terms of other people's fiction where I think "yeah, that's the sort of thing I'd like to write," rather than something really sui generis. For specific stories, I'll sometimes have a very clear picture of what I'm trying to achieve, but just as often I'll be flying be the seat of my pants, and vision is something that will come up int he rewrite. I don't think either is necessarily a bad way to work, but it has been weirding me out since I asked myself the question.

I'm also forced to admit that sometimes when I have a specific idea in mind for a story, particularly if it's ambitious or important to me, I start to slow down and fret every time the story veers away from living up to that expectation. I don't think goals are necessarily counterproductive- I tend to think you actually need them if you're going to right focused, directed fiction, but I also can't exactly ignore my own experiences with this pitfall.

So... all you out there in internet land- what is your relationship to goals writ large and for specific pieces of writing.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Chilling Effects

Chilling Effects is a website that tracks free speech, censorship, and intellectual property concerns, if that's something you're interested in following.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Project Unbreakable

This is more rape stuff, just so you know.

I got pointed at Project Unbreakable recently, which is an art project for people who have been raped to talk about their experiences. Most of it is men and women holding up signs with quotes from their rapists on them. It's really powerful stuff, and hopefully this helps get the word out to someone who needs it.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

On Picking Projects

I have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to things I could be doing with my writing time. I have multiple notebooks full of ideas- some of them even sketched out into acts and arcs. I have what's frankly become a shameful number of first drafts and stories I really meant to finish. I have some novels that are not ready to send out yet. And on top of that, I'll very often sit down and just bang out something new, either for a prompt or a specific anthology opening.

Picking what to do is something I really need to be better at.

Mur Lafferty once said she has a big jar with all her projects in it, and she will draw one at a time from the jar, work on it until it's done, and then draw another one. I'm not quite that disciplined- in fact I find when I'm stuck, going off and doing something small and different will often jostle me out of my funk. On the other hand, there have certainly been things I've walked away from and failed to come back to.

At present, the first for me is social- if I've promised a story to someone, if it's a group activity with friends, if it's something for a project someone I like is doing, that will usually take precedence.

Secondly it's impersonal deadlines- deadlines have just always been a big kick in the pants for me, and I'm trying to stay more aware of upcoming anthology and themed publication deadlines, and either write to them or find a story that fits well enough but needs a little polishing.

Then there's the question of moments of inspiration. Lately I've been of the opinion that when you've got the surging drive to work on something, you may as well work on it until it's done, so that's a spanner in the works. Fun is very often a main motivator for me, because I'm resigned to not turning a great deal of profit on this.

Then there's shame. There are things I've started and meant to finish, and knowing I haven't finished them fills me with that productive sort of self-loathing that means I have to correct the deficit I have allowed to happen.

Honestly, this is something I need to be much more disciplined about, and probably something for which I need to form some sort of plan, but on the other hand, I really do enjoy the strange spontaneous turns things take when I fall in love with an idea, or rediscover something fun.

I don't know, how do you fine folks out there in internet land handle this situation?