Friday, June 29, 2012

The Big Thing This Season In Unitards

Fashion It So is a tumblr blog about the fashion choices in Star Trek the Next Generation. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

500 Free Movies Online

I know that looks like spam mail, but it's a list from the Open Culture project of 500 movies including classics, independent films, and films made with government funds. Check it out, it's pretty cool. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Racist Books and Your Little Ones

This article is mostly middle class (presumably white) liberal hand wringing, I'll admit, but it's got an excellent point at its core, which is the question of "how much is it right to shield your children from the ugly parts of the world?" And after that the question of "how do you explain things when you do decide to explain?"

I know when I was growing up, my parents erred on the side of keeping my childhood a happy, safe place as much as they could. I actually remember the first time I heard about the Holocaust from friends, which should show you how old I was. I didn't believe it was real, because 1. it made no sense and 2. I couldn't believe there was something that big out there and I hadn't heard about it.

My personal experience is that not having more direct contact with these issues allowed me to hold on to some ultimately racist assumptions (like how blonde white women (like me) are the most universally desired thing in the world) way past the point where that was reasonable. Stuff someone told me when I was a kid and not very good at critical thinking, and which I then carried around without questioning because I was not often exposed to things that forced me to question it. It's a large part of the reason I seek out racial equality blogs nowadays and read as much as I can.

(This is not at all a slam against my parents. They're wonderful people who tried their best and, I think, did very well, and to their credit, whenever they caught me doing or saying something unacceptable, they'd sit me down and tell me no, that's not okay).

Stuff is coming up now with my nephews. We sat my younger one down recently and had a talk about 9/11 because it was the 10th anniversary and it was something they were discussing in school. My stepsister, whose parents had been less sheltering, showed him video footage and we talked about who did this and why. Or how the older one was running around enthusiastically and incorrectly quoting Madagascar in a way that made us all cringe.

I love these kids. They're wonderful little people, and I hate to break their hearts with how ugly things can sometimes be.

But that's really how you grow up, isn't it?

Monday, June 25, 2012

On Identifying With Fictional Characters

An article about research done on how reading might affect your personality. 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Brobdignagian Backlist of Badassery

You know, I don't think I've actually linked Badass of the Week here before, which is a shame, because it's an awesome site. As indicated above, it's got a lot of content built up. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Zen Pencils

I actually found this site when they quoted Neil Gaiman, but the whole thing is worth a read through. This guy has a great hand at mixing art and words (my personal favorite compositions so far are Dr. Seuss and Buddha. The one from Neil Degrasse Tyson is pretty spectacular too). Yeah, go poke around.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Awkward Critique

So, in general, I assume most people reading this blog are either writers or Russian spambots (Здравствуйте, робот тараканов!). Assuming you are the former, you're probably in a critique circle of some kind, either online or in person. And statistics dictate if you are, eventually someone is going to hand you something painful.

And I don't just mean the kind of painful where homophone errors proliferate a like spell-check proof rabbit plague across the hot Australian terrain of their story, I mean the kind of painful where it's a story in which black people are all poor because they're lazy criminals, or women exist only to tempt unsuspecting men to evil and ruin, or you WILL go to Hell unless you follow X religious doctrine. And you're going to read this story and have to say something to this person. Because that's what critique groups are there for. (Alternately, their story may make the blanket assumption that anyone religious is pants-on-head stupid, that all men are monsters waiting for their chance to rape anyone they can, or that white people are all rich imperialists who are genetically incapable of compassion, you know, pick your poison).

What often makes this harder is that the person in question will very likely not agree that what you find to be a problematic aspect of their story is in any way problematic. People not listening to you in general is one of the hard parts about a critique group anyway, but it's worse in these cases because it's very hard not to put someone on the defensive with "hey, are you aware this sounds kind of racist?"

So, how do you let someone know that they're being potentially quite offensive? Honestly, the dynamics of your group figure into it a lot. Being polite and gentle always makes bad news easier to swallow, and as a general critique strategy, I find it helps to start with "I think what you were trying to accomplish here is ______, but it isn't working for me as it is because of ________" (eg. "I gather you're trying to show that your main character is kind of a likable rough around the edges guy, but for me as a reader the macho way he bonds with the guys by calling his girlfriend a dirty bitch is really off-putting and makes it hard to sympathize"). It's a hard problem because so much of this is context and tone, and what one writer can pull off in a compelling way (like the above example) another might just not be able to make look like anything other than meanspiritedness.

When possible, I try to bring this up to people privately, especially in an internet group. As hard as it is to keep from being defensive when just one person is telling you this, it's going to multiply for every additional person able to throw their two cents in.

I also try not to argue with people, because you almost never win. I let them know the read I'm getting off it and why (always, always point to specific examples), make my case, and if they say "no, I think you're wrong," that's it. We're both entitled to an opinion and in the end, it's their story, not mine. If someone's not at least a little open to the idea that they might be misrepresenting someone, or subverting a whole group of people for their own didactic narrative purpose, telling them twice is probably not going to be more effective than telling them once.

But I do think it's important to tell them once. After all, you're the critiquer, and it's a valid critique.  

Sunday, June 17, 2012

25 Great Words With No Direct English Equivalent

I maintain if you want to write, one of the best things you can do is speak more than one language. You come to realize how constructed, arbitrary, and completely neat languages are.

Have some great foreign words, most of which seem to be Japanese. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Awesome People Hanging Out Together

Another little tumblr blog of famous people chatting with other folk you might not expect. It's fun to see big names hanging out. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

I'm Not a Gamer

Every now and again, someone will link me to an article about another time where someone has complained about sexism either in video games or the gaming industry and the response has been at best to dismiss them. More often that they get swamped with hate mail and rape threats. I had been discussing one of these articles with a good friend and I said something to the effect of, yeah, I'd just come to accept that the video game industry and culture is hostile to me and doesn't want me as a customer (probably more accurate to say that the steps they would have to take make me feel welcome would alienate more of their current base than it would bring in in terms of myself and people like me). I know some perfectly lovely gamer gentlemen, but generally speaking, I'm okay with just writing the larger industry/culture off as a place I would not enjoy, and, if I ever doubt that instinct, it just takes one internet comment thread to convince me I probably did right.

But that did get me thinking about the things I won't cut ties with. Certainly science fiction has some atavistic little trolls lurking in its communities. And comic books seem to be in a race to the bottom in terms of drawing women as soft-core pornography. Is it a question of prevalence? Is it just that I can point to creators and creations within those other avenues that have been not only wonderful but friendly to me as a reader? Am I still okay with comics because for every Frank Miller and Dave Sim, there's also a Neil Gaiman and a Gail Simone (dreamy sigh! Gail Simone)?

What's our responsibility as consumers? As creators? At what point is it okay to just pack up and head for greener pastures and at what point is it morally imperative to say "no, this is mine as well, and I will not allow you to ruin it"?

EDIT 6/15:

You know, that all said, I've also been reading several things recently where people throughout the industry- not just the ladies- are stepping up and going "woah there, let's not just dismiss these complaints out of hand, and let's conduct ourselves like decent human beings". I apologize to anyone I offended or slandered with too broad strokes.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Some Self-Publishing Statistics

A broad look at authors self-publishing and what they're making. 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Economics of Anarchy

Well, not really, but it's some thoughts about economics from a different perspective.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

LitReactor

I try to be on the lookout for sites that run writing advice- especially useful writing advice (you know, not just "have a blog", "build your brand", and "feel the fiction"). I've been poking around LitReactor and it seems to be pretty handy (my favorite so far is the article on visceral horror by Jack Frickin' Ketchum). There's a pay-only section of the site that includes more articles and a workshop forum, but I haven't paid, so I can't tell you anything about those (though there are lots of free services for critiquing).

Anyway, go have a read, it's nice. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

On Progress

So I recently went back to a story I wrote about 6 years ago and gave it the once over, because I'd like to get better at the editing.

I'm not really sure how I feel about the exercise.

On the one hand, I'm happy to feel like I've improved in some ways. My prose especially is much tighter. The story's biggest problem is long sentences that have more than one way they could grammatically be read. I also go on quite a bit, though honestly I still do that. Cutting out repetitive examples is going to be a big thing in the revision. Another structural weakness was that the final scene was essentially a long monologue where a character pours out all her feelings in a very repetitive and predictable way.

Actually it's also got me thinking a bit about structure in general, because before the confrontation, I actually had an epiphany scene, which in many ways is sort of a better climax (especially as it echoes the first part of the story where the other character is not present- sort of a reorientation of the main character). I think I can shorten the final confrontation to make the new actions the character takes a direct result of that epiphany- so that it's essentially denouement with a lot of gross body modification.

That was another thing- I found places where I felt like I was being unnecessarily gorey. And I say that as someone who really enjoys red splatter (my published stories include dismembered cats, thousands of drowned dead being compared to cereal left too long in milk, and a scene where a character reaches into the chest of a living horse and attempts to rip out its still-beating heart). This just felt like a child screaming "pay attention to me!"

While it's unfocused, there are ideas, single images, and phrases in this story that I loved to death rereading them. The plot is pretty archetypal, but I think it's carried out in a way that still makes it fun. Some of these things I look at and think: I don't think I could have come up with anything this cool. I did manage to add a bit of horribleness I think is thematically in keeping, but basically there are some bits that are as good as anything I've written recently.

And there's the rub.

Six years. I just don't feel six years better than this story. I'm inarguably better than I was when I wrote this, but I don't feel better enough. I feel like I should have mastered more secrets, uncovered more of the secret formulas that make things work.

I get that things are going to be slow, and progress was never made overnight. I get that I have a full time job and in fact work close to 60 hours most weeks. But other authors do far more and still get good work accomplished. I feel a little like I'm spinning my wheels in sand. I want to get to a point where I look back on what I've done and feel mortified at its simplicity and childishness. And that doesn't seem to be happening.

So I guess that's really the goal. Horrified transcendence. It just feels such a long way away.