Monday, December 16, 2013

Erotica, Before it was Cool

An older gay erotica writer reminisces about a past time, when you could write smut, get paid for it, and feel like a rebel, all at once. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Installations

I have loved many installation arts in the past, and this is a very nice bundle of a bunch of great ones. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Podcastle!

With amazing speed, my flash story Georgina and the Basilisk is now up at Podcastle, which has always been one of my aspirational markets, particularly as it's the first podcast I started listening to way back in the day.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

On The Word "Tribe"

P. Djeli Clark talks about why he doesn't use the word "tribe" in his fiction.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Unethical Pregnancy

Ruth Fowler discusses trying to be both an anarchist warrior and a mother, and the difficulties therein. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Saturnino Herran

Well I didn't know about this guy, and he's awesome. So here you go

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Compensating Executives

Was your populist rage tank running a little low? Here's a website that lists the 100 most highly compensated US Executives, and if you click on their names, it will give you the orders of magnitude more they are being paid than the average (not lowest) paid worker. For example, in 2012 Lawrence J. Ellison made 2,776 times the average worker's pay.

So, yeah, that's a thing. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Battle Royal

Ralph Ellison's The Invisible Man is one of the most fantastic American novels out there, in my opinion, and I found out recently that the Battle Royal chapter was released as its own short story as well, which you can read here

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Tuatara

Okay, yes, this is a link to wikipedia, but omigosh! This is a three-eyed lizard whose single lungs have no bronchi, with a turtle heart and little beaks in their skulls. It's at least as interesting as a platypus.  

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Superheroes in Oil

Well, mostly photomanipulating superhero costumes on to classic works of art. Some lovely and surprising ones, a lot of sprayed on Wonder Woman suits. Still, very fun. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Forty Years of HP Lovecraft Pulp Covers

"Jim, I need to you gimme a cover for this book by, like, Tuesday."
"What's it about?"
"Shit, I don't know, man. Unspeakable horror, madness so twisted and perverse you can't even look on it without going insane. That sort of thing."
"Um... what... what's that supposed to look like, Fred?"
"Just... I don't know, Jim. Fish people. Mushrooms. Some girls in their underwear if you can squeeze it in."
"Yeah, okay. I can have that by Tuesday."

I'm not being completely fair, because some of these covers are genuinely fabulous. Some of them look like the Dagon cult has come to town for tea and manners comedy. Trying to do visual Lovecraft is hard, because if seeing your illustration doesn't live up to the whole mind-breaking promise, it kind of decreases the already strained credibility of the story. And if it does, they're not going to buy the book because they'll be a gibbering wreck. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Omigosh, Owls!

Oh Japan, you so crazy. 

I recognize that there are problems with this set up. But I want to have hot chocolate with an owl so much. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Why Batman is Not a Mary-Sue

Or: What I Think Makes a Character Mary Sue-ish, With Some Guilty Self-Correction

So on a forum I was reading recently, it was put forward that Mary-Sue is a slam applied near exclusively against female characters, when there were plenty of male characters that were unbelievable wish fulfillment and they never got tarred with the Mary-Sue brush. Batman was brought up as the example.

A quick origin note, the term Mary-Sue comes from fanfiction writing, and refers to a non-cannon character that is an idealized wish-fulfillment version of the writer, with many or all of the writer's obsessions and proclivities, who becomes the star of the (fanfiction) show by any combination of: 1) being beloved by everyone 2) being more competent than cannon characters at their specialties 3) having a romantic relationship with the writer's favorite character of their preferred gender 4) being best friends or family of characters the author likes but doesn't want to sleep with 5) giving "richly deserved" come-uppance to characters the author does not like 6) sometimes dying heroically to be universally mourned by everyone who the author thinks isn't a jerk. (The masculine equivalent term "Gary-Stu" exists, but despite the fact that it's an explicitly gendered pejorative, from here on out, I'm just going to use "Mary-Sue" to refer to both male and female characters because it comes out of a very feminine milieu and I'd like to keep that alive)

Mary-Sue fanfiction is kind of by definition written for the author, not the audience, and as this term has escaped into the wild and mutated, I like to think that's always been the defining characteristic. A Mary-Sue is born out of the primal id-centric sludge of what an author wants, believes, and values in an unexamined way.

Before we talk about Batman, I want to talk about a character now largely referred to as Fantomex (he's the one in that picture whose ass you don't see). Because when the topic of male Mary Sues comes up, this guy is my go-to example. He was introduced during the Grant Morrison run of X-men, which is a set of comics I feel profoundly ambivalent about. It has both some of the best X-men stuff ever and some of the stupidest, in my opinion.

Fantomex appears in one issue, in which he waltzes onto the screen, speaks with an eccentric put-on French accent, informs Wolverine that he's completely wrong about his own origin story (and mainstay of the comic)- that he's not Weapon X the letter, he's Weapon X the roman numeral, and Fantomex is Weapon XIII- observes that Jean Gray is wildly sexually attracted to him and trying to hide it but he can totally tell by all her tiny non-verbal cues (which is better than her telepathy anyway (which also doesn't work on him)), then after a long dialogue-heavy exposition about how cool he is, he flounces off into a city of the mind in the future. I nearly pulled eye muscles from all the rolling I was doing, and I say that as someone who really likes the Weapon X retcon.

I'm willing to give him a little more of a pass after finding out from his wikipedia that he's an homage to a longstanding European comic character and not just Morrison's personal pet "what's cool" list. He's a reference I didn't get- an inside joke I was on the outside of.

But that's the heart of what a Mary-Sue character is. They aren't for you. They're for the writer.

I'd like to highlight another comic book example here: Spider Jerusalem of Transmetropolitan. It's very easy to see Spider as a bit of a Mary-Sue. He's chiseled in the image of Hunter S Thompson, but his internal monologue is virtually indistinguishable from any blog post his writer, Warren Ellis, has ever put out onto the web. He gambols through his future world having anarchic fun, punching priests, and shaming politicians. I'm hard pressed to think of a character in any medium who has more of his author transparently in his makeup than Spider, and there is no small amount of misanthropic wish fulfillment that goes on in this comic.

That all said, Spider's also a great character specifically because Ellis is a great story-teller who does not let him off easily. It's not at all certain that Spider will win, and in the darker parts of the story, it's not certain he deserves to. As much as he wants to see himself as a champion of right and decency (in his own cynical, angry way), the character is forced to confront the fact that he's also an ego-maniac with poor impulse control and that many of his decisions have been the wrong ones, both for himself and for the people he reluctantly cares about.

We think of Mary Sues as being about the character, but I think really when it comes down to it, Mary Sues are about the world around that character. About the way you tell a story. There are loads of characters with every possible advantage, with every pet obsession of the author, with a competence level that exceeds a normal person's by several orders of magnitude- and they're not inherently bad. The fact that your characters have strong opinions and beliefs that match your own can be a great thing. That they want the same things you do isn't always a handicap.

You just have to have the maturity and discipline to make sure they aren't always right; that they don't always get what they want; that if they do, it comes at a cost.

No realistic character is the center of the universe, and it's only a flat, cartoonish, unsatisfying world that would let them be, no matter how smart or competent they are.

Which brings me to Bruce Wayne, a handsome, billionaire master-ninja who is both the world's greatest detective and owner of the coolest car in that has ever existed. He's a genius. He almost always wins his battles. Sure, he has a tragic backstory, but lots of Mary-Sues do.

Aside from the fact that Batman is a character with a long, established history written by a rotating stable of writers, thus pre-empting him becoming the fictional flesh-suit/mouthpiece for any single one of them, there's one main thing that I feel makes Batman clearly not a Mary-Sue.

Batman isn't winning.

Batman may win his individual battles, but Gotham never becomes a safe place, or even a safer place. Batman may gain allies and have some people who like and admire him, but it's a net loss when you count the people he's constantly alienating. Bruce Wayne is making a heroic effort, giving everything he has and more than he can afford, and at best he is losing more slowly than he otherwise would, and losing any chance of a normal human life while doing so. Neither crime nor the system of justice are fixed. And perhaps most importantly, he's never made peace with his own tragedy, never meaningfully healed.

And if you ask me, the sisyphean futility of all his life's efforts and the inability to see that what he's doing isn't what he really needs are the things that make Bruce Wayne a compelling character and not a Mary-Sue at all.

(If he were a Mary-Sue, the series would have been over years ago after every hot villainess fell in love with him, and his totally tragic death inspired all of them to switch sides and fix a world that was never good enough to appreciate a guy as awesome as Bruce Wayne in the first place. Also, all those people who made fun of how much he loved Raymond Chandler detective stories would be shown to be obvious jerk-faces with a 75 IQ and terrible breath, so there).

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

In The Artist's Way

I picked up The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron specifically because I don't agree with its basic principles, to whit: there is a higher power controlling the universe and creativity is the universe speaking through you (though to be fair, it turns out I was about half mistaken on the latter). As I've mentioned before, I'm pretty antagonistic to the idea of a muse.

Since I picked up the second job, I've been in a bit of a slump as far as writing. That's not just the time and energy issue, I'm also trying some projects that are outside of my comfort zone, as well as there being some non-work, non-writing stress factors recently (both positive and negative).

I try very hard to be open minded. There's all sorts of things I flat out don't believe, but every now and again I like to pick up one of their big texts, take a deep breath, set aside what  I think I know, and try to appreciate something I don't believe on its own merits. Generally I don't come out of it vastly changed, but I enjoy the experience, and I get a better understanding of something that's potentially going to affect my life. It also helps shear away some faulty assumptions I've tended to take for granted. So I've read young earth creationism texts, I've read Atlas Shrugged, and now I'm reading the Artist's Way.

 It's better than I expected. It's not really so much about writing as it as about general self-help "know thyself" stuff, with a theme of creativity. I do find myself resenting the constant implication that I'm probably blocked because of well-meaning but critical parents, because I have possibly the most embarrassingly encouraging gaggle of parents that have ever existed, but self-help in my experience tends to be like horoscopes in terms of reliance on statistical likelihood. The advice of having fun and setting aside time to feed and nurture your creative self are very good. Early on in the process I did sit down and just write out a story in one go- an easy bit of fluff thing that was much more inside my range of what I know I can do in a couple of hours- and it felt great. I've been thinking a lot lately about how much little triumphs like that and an environment full of other writers help me out. I'm still behind where I want to be, but I feel artsier. I'm thinking about what I want and why I do this. And I think that's to the good.

There are times this book feels incredibly selfish in a very mid-90s California way. I understand the me me me aspects of it are meant as a counterbalance to the idea imposed on us that the greatest virtue is selflessness and that our wants should be subsumed under the wants of others and the larger cultural norms. But I don't feel like that's a problem I have in any serious way.

Still, it feels like it's been a bit of an emotional high colonic. In a good way. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Denmark Doesn't Want to Bang You

Apparently, Pick Up Artistry (or PUA, if you're into douchey acronyms) doesn't work in places without widespread financial insecurity and vast gender inequality. Go figure.

Monday, September 30, 2013

What Do You Do When a Girl Hits You?

Well, assuming you're a man. This is actually a really serious problem for guys who are on the receiving end of domestic abuse- which they are a lot more than people recognize. You basically have a class of victims almost no one believes, and who are so afraid of the social consequences of admitting the abuse that they often don't come forward. And that's not okay.

There's a bit at the end about female on male violence in the media and how it's played for laughs, which is what the commentors mostly seem to latch on to. I think it's an important point, but it's a symptom of the problem, not a cause. We have a narrative where there's only one way the genders behave relative to each other, and we put on blinders when the situation doesn't match that. We can't help what we refuse to see. And that's not okay.

This is totally a feminist issue.  

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Friday, September 20, 2013

It's Easier to Write a Story About a Queen

So I read Tor.com's article on "Diversity in SFF", which was a twitter thing, then an articles about what's going on on twitter thing, and then a blogs about articles about what's going on on twitter thing. There's a fun Russian nesting doll effect with social media. Anyway, I got linked back to it by a minority writer complaining that it was a very white take on the whole thing, and it would have been awfully nice for them to have asked some minority writers to contribute to the discussion, which seems to largely be a fair critique of the tenor of the article section of this media social media turducken. So I skimmed the article and then skipped down to the comments.

I read internet comments on most articles. They're not generally informative, and often it's an exercise in endurance, but I think they're valuable, especially on articles dealing with touchy social subjects. Once you filter out and throw away the "Obama=Hitler", "liberal media attack dogs", and "fox news is a pile of lies" comments, you're generally left with at least two interesting sets of voices- the people who are actually affected by the subject of the article but would not have ever been asked to write it, and the people who genuinely don't understand why the thing the articles poses as a problem should be considered a problem (I don't mean trolls, I mean people who really don't get it and are transcribing their thought processes as they try to make sense of it). And generally, I like reading both of those for a good sense of perspective.

One of the comments on the Tor article struck me. It was about class more than race (which is a thing that happens in these debates that is both good and bad) but here it is: "First, how much of diversity of character roles has to do with the fact that it's much harder to come up with dramatic plots for waitresses than queens?"

And the question here, I think, is: is it? Really? When you think about it?

I mean, it's not impossible to apply the "person who is in line for my job wants to kill/incapacitate me so they can have it" plot to a waitress. It's a very different story, and the people who would murder a queen and a waitress respectively in order to replace them are very different people, but you can do it. Waitress lends itself really well to crime plots- the person who stumbles onto the clue to a conspiracy and suddenly knows way too much. There's probably more room for a waitress to have romance and romantic triangle plots. The "clever solutions to save the business" plot is not that markedly different from the "cunning diplomat/ruler" scenario where you assess the tools at your disposal and use them in clever ways toward a stated end. Mystery and poisoning plots are both equally easy. The "anything to save my starving/dying husband/child/mother" plot comes much more easily to a waitress than a queen, although I feel like Tsar Nicholas II proves you can do it no matter how rich you are. The unequal status and forbidden love plots have a different role for the waitress, but she can absolutely be the center of them, and you really CAN tell them all from her side. 

Which is the thing here, I don't think it's actually harder to write waitress fantasy plots, nor are any of her plots necessarily less dramatic. I think we've just been conditioned to think the waitress isn't important and the queen is. 

Part of this is the epic fantasy trap that everything has to be giant armies that will annihilate the world (or sometimes just country or city, but usually the world). I think sometimes at book length the genre forgets how to tell personal stories, and I think that's a shame. Frankly, I do get bored by sieges, in the same way I no longer have all that much patience for "will-they-won't-they" romantic tension (unless there's a genuine chance they won't, but how often does that actually happen?). To an extent, I have to assume that actually is what readers want, because it does keep selling. 

But I'm also a reader.

And I would love to read a waitress book. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

From the Wikipedia:

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes.[1]

Actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding. David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University conclude, "the miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others."


Speaking in any reasonable or objective terms, I'm doing better as a writer in the last twelve months or so than I had in years previous- sales, contests, personal rejections, the like- but I don't think I've ever felt less confident about it. I'm aware of why this is- in short, I used to be more stupid than I am now.
The first year of this blog has the temerity to be full of writing advice. When I had sold one story. It's not even bad advice, really, I just feel silly for having given it.

I'm getting better at editing. Not actually good, but better. I'm looking back over the old things, and banging some of them slowly into a more pleasing shape. There's nothing like getting down into the grit of sentence-level craft for seven thousand words to make one feel like a clueless hack. And sometimes a little exhausted. I've sent off things I knew weren't as good as they could be, because I was very tired and I couldn't figure out how to make them better.

In some ways I have the frustrating feeling of being on the edge of some obscure sort of "leveling up"- that there's an insight that's going to seem painfully obvious in retrospect crouched just outside my vision, and if I can just catch it, pin it down, everything will click into place. I know that's silly. But I feel sometimes like a mediocre juggler who's been given twice as many balls as they're capable of keeping in the air.

I've been reading Nick Mamatas's Starve Better, which is excellent and comes with my thorough recommendations. I also picked up and thumbed through the Artist's Way, which keeps being obliquely recommended to me, and appears to be full of everything I don't believe about writing.

Which is why I'm going to do it.

I took an ink painting class once. At the time, what I really wanted to draw was comic book and animation style stuff- human figures in action poses and the like. Instead I spent four months doing bamboo and chrysanthemums, and my ability to draw human figures in action poses has never improved more swiftly than it did in those months. There are insights that are not within my field of vision. It would be silly of me not to look elsewhere. (I don't expect my opinions about art and craft to have changed by the end of this, but I do intend to give it an honest go.)

I want to be good at what I'm trying to do here, and I don't feel like I am- not the way I want to be. I know that I feel farther away because the journey this far has left me better able to judge the distances, and I'm painfully aware how much I probably still don't know.

But here's to trying, right?

Monday, September 2, 2013

On Cold Equations

Paul Kincaid talks about the classic sci-fi story The Cold Equations (also, because I just recently listened to it: the fantastic full cast Drabblecast production of the story).

I'm going to go ahead and say that for all its antique chauvinism, I really like The Cold Equations, but I've tended to think of it less as the hardest of science fiction (which feels like a pretty big claim) and more as a sort of Space Western. It's not about fixing problems with science (or really even causing them, though the essay above makes a good argument that the story is fundamentally one of criminally flawed engineering), it's about being one the frontier, on the thin edge of the protection the grand engines of humanity can offer to individuals- no different than a lone rider on a horse three days from water. It ends on a down note- and it has to, because otherwise the threat isn't real. That's what makes the story so good, despite the aspects of it that have aged poorly- life is hard and unfair and dealing with that is important.

And also I really like frontier stories. 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

On Influences

I recently re-read Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn, which I first read when I was nineteen, and which I've listed among my top five favorite books ever since. The experience was very interesting.

This is still, of course, a fucking exceptional book. I'd like to make that clear. It's just that coming back to it years later, my relationship with it is very different.

I've talked before about the disproportionate importance we can attach to things that expand our horizons as we cross the threshold of adulthood- I think my example at the time was someone arguing that Grant Morrison's the Invisibles is a revolutionary work of genius that changed the writer's life at seventeen. The Last Unicorn was that for me. It was probably the first thing I read that was postmodern and heavily thematic in a self-referencing way. It was the first thing I can remember reading where the poetry of the language was at least as much the point as the story itself. I read it straight through and then immediately got onto the e-mail (which at the time I was paying by the minute for) and wrote a long, ecstatic letter to my best literary friend about how she had to read this book right now.

In the years since, when I started writing seriously, a lot of the aesthetic sensibilities from this book semi-consciously bled into how I wrote. I know at a conscious level I walked away from it with the idea firmly entrenched that daring metaphors were the awesomest thing ever, but I couldn't say I'd thought more about it than that, specifically. But as I read back through I was constantly cringing as dozens of phrases I'd written over the years came bubbling back up in my mind and I realized how much they were all impersonations of Mr. Beagle's particular style. I'd always claimed this man as an influence, but realizing exactly how much of an influence hit me in that same painful, embarrassing place as pictures from high school.

Luckily most of the stinging examples were older, and the newer ones were things I felt relatively good about- things I felt were mine with an influence, rather than the work of someone looking down at her wristband to remind her the most important thing when writing a sentence was to think "What would Beagle do?".

Because I read the anniversary addition, it was also bundled with interviews and retrospectives from Mr. Beagle, talking about how much he hated writing the novel, and hated the novel itself for about a year after he sold it. He also talked about how organic and discovery oriented his writing was- which is a pretty big departure from what I had imagined, given how strongly its themes run through. He talked about the original draft, which had a unicorn and a demon wandering through the modern world. The edition had the sequel novella "Two Hearts" which I had read before- it was not what I wanted at the time, but I like it quite a bit now. It was strange to take something which I'd put on kind of a pedestal and not only examine it afresh, but see some of the gritty behind the scenes about it. On the level of the work itself, I deeply enjoyed reading the book again. For me personally as a fan of it, the experience was more mixed. I felt kind of shabby and derivative.

Funnily enough, right now I'm working on trying to do a novel length work, and I'd picked up the Last Unicorn because I was worried that I might be unconsciously letting it influence certain aspects of plot and tone. The things I was worried about couldn't be farther from the truth, but I found a lot of ways where it had influenced me more than I had been prepared for.

Growing up in any respect is uncomfortable, and I always look back on the older iterations of myself with embarrassment. I've been thinking a lot recently about the extent to which I am progressing as a writer- it's a mixed extent, certainly- and this held up yet another mirror for me in that process of self-evaluation. Which, like sit-ups, is good for you in the long term but no fun at the time.

But you can't ultimately beat yourself up about it, can you? Well, obviously you can, but you probably shouldn't. We were all kids at some point, messing our pants and putting our fingers firmly up our noses, and I don't think it's entirely different with writing. We get experience. We grow. I feel like I'm slower at it than I should be, and that worries me, but so long as I'm moving forward, I figure it's okay. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Intersectionality and Bullying

Black Girl Dangerous muses on whether or not she is a bully. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

She Was Not Beautiful, But...

This is a great list of lady protagonists who aren't beautiful but (insert laundry list of attractive features).

I'd actually really like to discuss this phenomenon with you, and why perhaps you think it continues to happen. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

At the Sex Doll Factory

Juxtapoz is an awesome art site to begin with, but I love this one especially

Friday, August 23, 2013

Colorized Black and White Treasures

It's amazing to me how different my emotional reaction is to the colored version. Not always better, but definitely different. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Story Gravity

A discussion about the inevitability at the heart of hollywood blockbusters. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Timeline of Foods and Ingredients

A really cool historical reference for when foods were domesticated or manufactured, and what people made out of them. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Medieval Killer Bunny

I love medieval bestiary stuff, and for me, that's more the joy of this article than the rabbits. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Burka Avenger

No, seriously.

Apparently this is the first animated TV series to be exclusively produced in Pakistan, and is a pet project of local pop star Haroon (you'll see him singing in the trailer). The plot is that a mild-mannered lady teacher dons a burka like a super hero mask and uses book-based kung fu to defeat religious fanatics and corrupt politicians who keep trying to close the local school.

Also, is that not the absolute coolest logo you've ever seen?

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"It Traverses With Terrible Slowness the Distance Between Wisconsin and Massachusetts"

Girl Hours by Sofia Samatar
Surreal Fortune by Bruce Boston 
Terrunform by Tori Truslow
The Melancholy of Mechagirl by Catherynne Valente
Ophelia by Qyn
Neuschwabenland by John Zaharick
Lost by Amal El-Mohtar
What Ray Taught Me by Jenny Rossi
With Teeth by Alexander Lumans
April by Nita Sembrowich

Sheshnaag by Shweta Narayan

(honestly, you probably may as well read the whole spring issue of Goblin Fruit I haven't read one so far that I wouldn't link)
At the Duck Convention by David C. Kopaska-Merkel

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Nail Houses

This article starts out with China, but talks about all sorts of edifices that fight the march of progress and property development. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Nine Eyes

Jon Rafman has created a tumblr of google map street view images. Some are heartbreaking, some are funny. There's a lot of people mooning the van. It's pretty awesome. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

100 Great Science Fiction Stories By Women

The list is alphabetical, with one story per author. I'm actually kind of charmed by the non-hierarchical presentation. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

OMG DATA

I clicked through to Nation Master from a gun argument thing, which cited some statistics from it in a kind of selective way. But holy cow, man, there's so much here. Crime, economy, environment, demographics. Rate of McDonalds per capita. It's a numbers paradise (also worth mentioning the numbers are pretty raw- like for country variable rape statistics, for example, Sweden is one of the highest ranked rape places, not because more rape goes on, per se, but because more things are classified as rape by law and enforcement actually files rape charges instead of telling victims to go home and think about whether or not they really want to ruin a nice boy's life and try not to be such an easy lay in the future. Also, when comparing countries of vastly different sizes, you often get either per capita data OR raw numbers, but don't always get both.) Mousing over categories will get you expanded definitions and citations.

This is going to be a black hole of my time for a bit.  

Sunday, July 14, 2013

My Old Timey Radio

MyOldRadio.com has hundreds of old radio shows. Including the one where Superman fights the KKK. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Teddy Girls

Youth fashion is pretty much always silly and wild. Especially in London. Here's an article about the girl variant of the Ted gangs

Monday, July 8, 2013

Period Accurate Princesses

So, okay, it's a Disney Princess thing, and I apologize for that, but it's really, really cool, by an artist who does right by the costumes, and had a great sense of humor.

Actually, I've been kind of fascinated by Dinsey princesses lately, since that whole mess with Merida (I still haven't actually seen Brave, but I did love Tangled). I even went to their site and played with their digital paper dolls. Mulan, Rapunzel, and Pocahontas have also gotten some kind of objectionable make-overs, and there's sparkle animation all over the place, but honestly? I kind of like it there. The splash page is iffy, but once you get past that, it's all coloring and java games, and, okay, the Pocahontas paper doll kind of hurts (it's kind of a grab bag of any Native American-ish look they could think of (oddy, Snow White's is, for my money, by far the best)), but generally it all seems pretty harmless, even positive.

But the Princesses. Man. It's this weird thing where they transcend themselves and their sometimes mediocre movies, and they're not just brands, they're kind of icons. Dense cores of cultural signifiers. Avatars. Semiotic cluster bombs. That can be endlessly recombined into things that are both lovingly and criticizingly askew. Maybe it's because they're sold to us so hard, or because we first run across them in our childhood, or because they're such powerfully distilled archetypes. Or some combination. I dunno. It's late at night.

Anyway. Princesses. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Ex-Manic Pixie Dream Girl

Laurie Penny talks about expectations and performance. For the ladies.

Also, happy Fourth of July!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

This Whole Convention Harassment Debate

Actually, I want to start with a small but relevant aside.

I'd been exhausted by stories where people threatened to rape somebody for saying something they didn't like. It's been a really long year for that, and lately I just hadn't been clicking on the stories forwarded to me because once you learn the pattern, it's depressingly predictable. I don't open about 75% of "gaming culture" interest articles for this reason.

And then somebody forwarded me this.

While the Zelda stuff is cool, incredibly well drawn, and focused around an already relatively strong (in later games) female character from a property that my mom and I played together when I was a child, what really struck me was "inspired by Anita Sarkeesian's video game tropes".

If you were lucky enough to miss the row, Anita Sarkeesian is a feminist gamer who set up a kickstarter to fund a series of videos talking about tropes in video games that were misogynist, like how frequently they are kidnapped or incapacitated non-playable characters. Sarkeesian's kickstarter was successful, but plagued by criticism like how she was asking a suspiciously high amount to cover production values of a series she was already producing and also how she was a horrible bitch who needed to be raped to death (the latter coupled with denial of service attacks and porn on her wiki page and so on). The bulk of the information available about the project has focused on the harassment campaign, with many people being very excusing of it as "just the way the internet is".

And then this Zelda thing. This thing where somebody opened with "I listened to Anita Sarkeesian and I thought she had a point, so I did something about it." There've been a couple of these- hacks that let you play the Princesses instead of Mario or Link and the like- people doing stuff that's creative, productive, positive, and elegantly brilliant.

And it uplifts my whole soul.

Despite the convention harassment debate following a depressingly similar early trajectory, I have been keeping up with it. If I want to play games, I can play them without interacting with too many of the people online who give the hobby a bad reputation, but writing and meeting other writers is something I want to do at a semi-professional level, and that probably means conventions.

And honestly, I feel good about where it is.

There was a while there where the first women out of the gate to complain about behavior they had experienced got shouted down. The dismissal of  Rebecca Watson (not a sci-fi writer, but the same sort of thing) was particularly ugly. But what started as a trickle turned into this gut-wrenching flood of testimony from women who hadn't previously spoken up because they were afraid they'd cut themselves off from careers, because people around them told them it was somehow their fault- or they did speak up and nothing was done. It got too big to ignore, and for the most part- and this is what's important here- everyone I've seen has said "this is a thing we should not allow to happen." Almost nobody anymore is saying "maybe it's just all in their heads".

And instead of spending time arguing whether people (both male and female, which is a point I've seen made multiple times in the last few days) attending conventions have a right to expect not to be stalked, grabbed, and harassed, people are posting information about how to report. People are posting about how to organize conventions to avoid this while keeping the environment fun for people. Big name authors like Scalzi are pledging not to attend any conventions that don't have a clear harassment policy and information about how to report.

People are past the stage of complaining, and they're in the stage of doing. Of fixing.

It's very easy to feel like standing up and saying something is wrong isn't worthwhile. It opens you up to attack, it can cut off avenues to reach your dreams. But stuff like the above gives me a lot of hope, because people aren't just speaking into an angry, hostile void. People really are listening, and at least some of them are going to pick up the tools they have at hand and build a better world.

And that's fucking beautiful. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Repurposed Churches

Absolutely beautiful old houses of worship turned into beautiful living spaces, eateries, offices, and museums. 

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Please Don't Tell Me What I Like

I enjoy what is sometimes referred to as "literary fiction."

I understand that a lot of people, particularly genre fans, don't. And that's fine. Everybody gets to have an opinion. If you read a bunch of New Yorker stuff and you think "my god, this is nothing but oblique, narcissistic, upper-class language porn and I want nothing to do with it", that's fair. You tried it and you formed an opinion for yourself.

What bugs me is when people try to claim just because they don't personally enjoy a thing, it is objectively not enjoyable.

Every now and again, I'll run across a genre fan (or occasionally a genre author) who will make the claim that no one actually likes literary fiction- that it's nothing but a shadowy cabal of English professors who have steered right-thinking people down this awful path of conceiving of literature as nothing but symbolism and drudgery, and as a result generations that could have been enjoying themselves with stories about swords and rayguns have wandered away in embarrassment and disillusionment and not come back. The theory appears to be that they've done this in order to establish a monopoly on literary culture, thereby granting themselves all the power, status, and easily-led sexy graduate students- and anyone claiming to like literary fiction is basically an initiate into a cult, hoping to move up its nefarious ranks.

Again, I do want to reiterate that if you personally don't like symbolism or first person or stories about disaffected twenty-somethings whose parents own beach houses in the Hamptons finding themselves, that's cool. I'm not trying to invalidate your opinion.

But I love this stuff. My favorite writer, hands down, is Nabakov, and it's largely due to turn of phrase and imagery. I loved The Sound and The Fury. One of my favorite short stories in the world is written almost entirely in questions. I like second person present tense (sometimes). I am genuinely excited about subtle, ambivalent characters in stories where very little happens in the actual text. I read modern poetry recreationally. These things, when they're good, make me profoundly happy.

I also like swords and sorcery, space opera, and splatterpunk horror. Because one doesn't have to have just one favorite.

I've long since gotten used to liking things that weren't always a hit with my friends. I like fast, terrible punk rock and one of my favorite foods is eel. I have watched the movie "Deathbed, the Bed that Eats" multiple times. When someone asks me if something is good, my default response is "well, I liked it." Because I can say that, at least, definitively.

I realize part of that's just how I speak and interact with the world. But to anyone out there reading this who might be tempted to universalize:

Please don't tell me no one likes the things I love. There's at least one exception. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

Patton Oswalt on Comedy

I enjoy stand up comedy, and this is a fun bit in defense of the craft, through the minefield of theft, heckling, and rape humor. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Prisoner Rights and Werewolf Erotica

The court orders prison guards to return an erotic werewolf urban fantasy book to a prisoner they had confiscated it from. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Monday, June 24, 2013

Two More Webcomics

As I've mentioned, I enjoy webcomics. Here are two I'd like to recommend:

Sub-normality. This one's very text heavy, but I like it very much. Reocurring jokes include a people-eating sphynx and nazi/anti-nazi time travellers. This is my favorite one so far, and I think very representative of the tone of the comic.

Run, Freak, Run. The ahistorical adventures of some sort of mutant nun monster-fighter in 1611 Spain. The dialogue is not it's strong suit, but the art is like some beautiful jagged love child of Aeon Flux and Sin City. It's very striking, and the visual fantasy going on is top notch. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

My Favorite Rape Joke

So let's start out here with the agreement that nothing is objectively funny. A lot goes into any joke being well received: timing, tone, shared cultural references, whether the things that came before build up adequately, one's expectations of what's coming, and honestly, whether the audience is in the mood to laugh. Two different people can say all of the exact same words to a joke, and one can be hilarious while the other can bomb completely. The same person could say the same joke about your mom, exactly the same way, and if you're out drinking and having fun you may laugh till you're in danger of soiling yourself; if your mother is dying in the next room you might just stare at them in blank horror and quietly hate them for the rest of your life. Or not. A lot of factors go into it.

Humor's a complex system with a lot of moving parts.

There's been a lot of talk about rape jokes, the people who tell them, and the people who object to them. Like humor itself, there are a lot of factors at work here.

One factor that goes into a lot of humor is being deliberately shocking and transgressive. Breaking cultural taboos is exciting and surprising, and if you think about it, you've probably been giggling maniacally at jokes like these since you were five, on the playground, and saying "poop" just out of earshot of the teacher. We chafe under the restrictions imposed on us by society (be polite, don't lash out, don't pick your nose, don't talk about controversial political ideas, don't wish ill on people, respect your elders, respect religion, keep fit, don't be disgusting, don't be rude, don't be unpleasant, and on and on) and having someone talk about deliberately breaking taboos, even if we agree with them, can be pretty cathartic. The infamous "Aristocrats" joke is one of these (there's a really good documentary about it), George Carlin has a squirmy, fantastic routine where he talks for about twenty minutes about picking scabs, and probably the big king of transgressive jokes are dead baby jokes- laughing about fatal violence against defenseless infants. Very little about dead baby jokes are ever specifically funny, except for the fact that someone would say something so appalling in joke format- all the fun of it comes from being horrible and naughty, especially when they're a back and forth between two people, like some game of morbid infanticide chicken.

Unless you're an exceptionally horrible person, you would never actually tell a dead baby joke to someone whose child has just died.

If you're a stage comedian, and you want to tell a joke about a dead baby, you're basically rolling the dice that you're not out on stage on the night the local grieving parents support group decided to go out to cheer themselves up. Or that you can couch the joke as part of a larger act that is funny without hinging on people laughing at that one bit (maybe you're doing a long bit about your horrible experience as a dog owner and one of the things you find it's buried in your yard is your neighbor's missing toddler. You know, something incidental, but still a calculated risk- the truth is, if a joke lands badly enough, it may not matter how funny the rest of your set is. The audience might no longer be in a mood to laugh).

The statistical problem with rape jokes is twofold. A pretty significant portion of your audience has probably been raped or has a loved one who has been. And a solid 90%, easy, of your female audience has been afraid they would be.

I'm actually of the opinion that no subject ought to be completely off the table, because, frankly, anything CAN be funny given the right set up and execution. But it isn't necessarily going to be, and you don't have the guarantee that just because something makes you chuckle, it'll land with everybody. In any given audience, a certain percentage of people are going to laugh, and a certain percentage aren't, and the people who don't laugh cannot actually be objectively wrong, because humor isn't objective. People have a right to say "wow, that's really insensitive, it isn't funny, and you're a bad person for saying it." If you're doing comedy, you're getting up there and taking a calculated risk. As much as you, as an artist, have an imperative to push boundaries, surprise your audience, and be true to your own principles, you also have something of an obligation to anticipate how the people on the receiving end of your humor are going to receive it.

And then, you make a choice.

Do you try to amuse a broader range of people by backing off certain subjects? (Which is, in and of itself, a whole range of questions, with as many factors as the joke itself: could you salvage it with a different set up? Do you believe morally in what you're saying? Is shock humor your whole thing? Will you alienate your base audience by doing so?) Do you approach them differently? Do you carry on as if nothing has happened? Do you lash out at your critics (probably not a good idea, especially if it's cheap ad hominem)?

And then, whatever you do, you deal with the fallout. Because there's always some sort of fallout.

My favorite rape joke in stand up comedy is this Louis C. K. bit (video link).

(For those not watching the video he describes being a young comedian and going to his hotel room with a waitress. Their perfectly consensual make outs are going well, but when he tries to take it to the next stage she pushes his hand away and after a while she leaves. Later they meet again and the waitress asks him why they didn't have sex. He says, well, you said you didn't want to, and she explains to him that she was really likes it when guys ignore her resistance and just go for it. He says I wish you'd told me, I'd have done that, and she says no, it doesn't feel real if I have to ask, and which point he launches into a frustrated rant about the ridiculousness of him being expected to rape her on spec, just on the off chance that was going to turn out to be what she wanted.)

Firstly, Louis C.K. has a delivery I think is hilarious, and liking him generally as well as this being part of a larger show I quite like means I'm pre-inclined to be amused. It also operates on one of those kind of inherently funny Catch 22 premises, where a sane, relatively decent person is interacting with a world that wants him to jump through a series of hoops, but isn't willing to tell him what they are. It says something about consent I think is true and valuable. There's a fun reversal of expectation- the girl wants rough, nonconsensual-seeming sex, and the guy does not. And aside from some sexual frustration on the part of both parties, and a bit of regular frustration on Louis C. K.'s part no one is hurt at the end of it. It's very gentle and accessible for a joke that's ultimately about deciding whether or not you're going to rape someone (though honestly the main joke is miscommunication and unreasonable expectations, which is part of why it's so gentle).

George Carlin also had a small bit on whether or not rape could ever be funny, I believe followed by the observation that it does not take any particular cleverness or creativity to piss off a feminist.

A lot of times when people come out and say "hey, man, not cool," about humor, or art or movies or whatever, there's a tendency to write them off as prudes or people without any sense of humor, and I don't think that's necessarily true. I would say it's easily possible to love stand up comedy and still not think Daniel Tosh is funny, for example. I don't think rape is funny (or racism, or war, or any number of other things), but I think rape jokes can be, in the same way that it's possible to jump a motorcycle over several cars and through a wheel of fire. It can be done and if you succeed it's a great show. And if you don't succeed, it ends up pretty gross.

And really, it's important to be aware of both potential outcomes before you rev up your bike. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Interactive Pornography Map

This is a good ten minutes worth of snickering enjoyment. Europe and the Middle East are particularly fun. 

In My Day, A Coke Cost a Nickle

And in the 13th century, 80 pounds of cheese cost 3 shillings 4 pence, according to this list of medieval prices. If you're doing pseudo-medieval fantasy, it's probably worth looking to see the wages and relative values assigned. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sci-Fi, Structure, and Politics

There's some overlap with the romance article a few posts ago, but also a fair few good bits about class and mass culture. The point about Las Vegas performing arts made me smile.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Junk DNA and Schizophrenia

An accessible, interesting article detailing a theory of schizophrenia via prehistorical infection carried forward in our DNA. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Copyright in SPAAAAAAAACE

A breakdown of the weirdness of international/interplanetary copyright. Consider reading if you're building a space-faring future.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Chrestomathy

by Anatoly Belilovsky.

I'd liked Mr. Belilovsky's work quite a bit when I'd run into it before, but recently I began seeking him out specifically and it's been very rewarding (I also found out he'd written several things I'd very much liked but not realized were his). This story is not super-easy, but it's very rewarding. And if I call it literary fanfiction I mean that in the absolute most loving way possible.

Also, if you're not reading Ideomancer, you probably should be. They do wonderful work.

(Edit: also, here's an interview with Mr. Belilovsky that I enjoyed)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Ecology of Lady Warriors

Django Wexler offers some thoughts about the societal structures that allow for a female army in your fantasy novel. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

We Have Always Fought

There's a good chance you've already read Kameron Hurley's article on women fighters, but here's the link again anyway. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Fanfiction Extravaganza!

Everyone who actually reads this blog probably already knows, but Amazon announced it's going to be paying for fanfiction- or rather, it's going to extend some licenses to an open call for submissions of in-universe stories. They've explicitly stated no porn, no crossovers, and no "poor customer experiences".

Given that 50 Shades of Gray is selling like bibles full of chocolate-flavored heroin, I guess that's not surprising, but I'm curious what you guys out on the web think of all this?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Übermenschen

Cracked makes some surprisingly good points about Super Hero movies, and what exactly it is you're rooting for. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Outside the Norm

So, I get spambots. That's just a thing that happens. Or rather, I get referral spam- in which what is possibly a robot, and is possibly just some guy in Indonesia click to my site through a link posted on some other website, in the hopes that I will see it and click back through. Sometimes they're from "I hate Obama" sites, sometimes they're from places that would like me to pirate free movies. In this case they're from a straight up porn server. 

Today people did this over two thousand times.

I get that a reasonable percentage of views on this site are going to be robots; it makes me sad, but that's just the sort of thing one learns to deal with. I get that I'm not going to be able to have completely accurate statistics to look at. I can live with the crushing ego blow that I probably don't have hundreds of people in Russia who have looked me up by name. But seriously, out there. Two thousand hits?

Nobody's got time for that. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Creativity and Capitalism

This is a long article about what creativity is and isn't, and how it's perceived in a system principally designed around monetary transaction. Trigger warnings for Marxism. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Some of My Favorite Fantasy Ladies

So Tor.com had a big discussion about why breast plates with actual breasts will kill you, and because I am the sort of sucker who continues to read internet comments even when it's manifestly a terrible idea, I did that and it made me sad. I considered taking some time here to list and rebuke the arguments made (among them: "breasty breastplate is unrealistic? Hah! What about the inherent unrealism of women being able to fight in the first place?" and "I don't care if it's unrealistic or you find it demeaning, I like to look at breasts, you horrible prudish feminazi"), but instead I thought, hey, let's be positive.

So here are some ass-kicking fantasy ladies I always liked.

Eowyn (Lord of the Rings)

I understand why they changed this aspect of Eowyn for the movies, but for me the great thing about her wasn't that she was resilient and stubborn -because she wasn't- it was that she was ultimately tragic, like she walked in armor out of an opera. She doesn't ride out onto Pelennor fields dressed as a dude because she believes in her heart that middle earth has a fighting chance and she wants to part of it; she's trying to commit suicide by orc because she put her heart on a plate and handed it to the man she loved and he said, gosh, that's sweet, but I've got this girl who's had no lines of dialogue but she's super pretty. The reason Eowyn can stand up to the pervasive aura of gloom around the nazgul isn't secret vagina powers, it's not that she's inherently braver than her male Rohirim counterparts, it's that she's already so past caring that the complete eradication of hope in the shadow of its wings is not a measurable change. She's got that grim determination of the Aesir marching toward Ragnarok. Her strength comes from a dark place, but a place of character, and that's always made her so much more fun for me than a lot of heroes who picked up a magic sword and beat the dark lord because that's what fate demanded.

Red Sonja

I know, I know, Red Sonja is the gold standard of comic covers that scream "hey, young man, I notice you're not old enough to buy real porn." The only less protective armor than what she's got on is stripper pasties, and she's usually thrusting her backside out while she stands with her leg spread on either side of some suspiciously penis-shaped monster. But when I was in my young teens I devoured both her comics and the old D&D ones with the centaur in the party (which also had a lady at the head of the party, and a lady of color at that). I loved that they were fantasy, and I particularly loved that Red Sonja was a tough, competent fighter (who in my defense usually had a shirt on) who was in charge of her own mercenary team, who never had to be rescued, and who I can't remember once, at least in the old issues I owned, resorting to seduction or pretending to be helpless.

Aerin (The Hero and the Crown)

This was another book I picked up in my teens and just loved. Aerin is, once again, the hero of her own story, in a time and place where (everyone assumes) all the big dangerous dragons are long since dead (the cover gives you a clue otherwise). Aerin doesn't just go around whacking things with a sword, she works out flame resistant poultices and studies dragon history and ecology in order to master a skill most people put on par with taking terriers out to hunt rats. And then something bigger comes along and it's time for what is admittedly a straight up Campbellian hero's journey with all the genders flipped (also she climbs an infinite staircase instead of descending into the underworld). She's one of those great martyr heroes who does most of her work in such a way that people will never her give her the credit, but she has moments of huge suffering and triumph, invents a new riding style, and gets to pick between not one but two devoted gentlemen. Like I said, I loved this book when I was a girl.

Brienne of Tarth (Song of Ice and Fire)

You know the first thing I loved about Brienne of Tarth? She's freaking huge. She's not big for a lady; she's big for a knight. She's not pretty or clever, but she's loyal and tenacious. She's not magically the best fighter, but she's a good fighter, and a realistically good one. And more than that, she's a realistically good character. She's had to deal with being the size of commercial class refrigerator, and she has some baggage from that, but she doesn't let other people's disapproval be the thing that motivates her. She has loves and dreams, and she follows them wholeheartedly, and the result feels organic, real, and sympathetic.

(The HBO series is doing a spectacular job of putting talented actresses into roles that had struck me as somewhat one-sided in the books, and as a representative result Cersei went from being my least favorite character in print to one of my absolute favorites on the screen).

Korra (The Last Airbender: Legend of Korra)

Again, the star of her own show, and Korra has a character arc that lady characters almost never get: she starts out excessively physically competent (the series has a martial arts based magic), brash, and even kind of a bully, and throughout the series, rather than gradually overcoming her doubts and building up confidence, she spends her arc being forced to come to terms with her limitations and reach out to a more spiritual side. Korra's a very flawed character: she's an incredibly talented young woman who's been raised knowing she was special and given all sorts of special considerations, and her story is about growing up and learning that the world is infinitely more complicated than she imagined.

Actually, the entire Last Airbender franchise (cartoons, not movie) deserves a nod for fantastic and varied lady characters, both heroes and villains, whose interests may include romance but are not circumscribed by it, and whose personalities are as diverse and vibrant as the gentlemen in the series (special shout out to the ladies of the family Bei Fong).

And that's really the thing, isn't it? That the best female characters are characters in their own right, rather than just being "the chick" and only doing things that fit within a preconceived notion of what a female character does. Here's to the girls that aren't just love interests, fan service, or victory conditions, but interesting, dynamic people.

Yay for women in fantasy!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Character Design Blog

There's no post on this blog that isn't a combination of informative, eye-opening, and beautiful. It's especially good for monsters and dinosaurs. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Game Theory and University Class Dynamics

Well, once at least. A professor gives their students cheating amnesty for one test and discusses the results. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Punching Up/Punching Down

A nice examination of what makes comedy mean-spirited, and what makes it uplifting. With George Carlin examples, no less!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Picking Sondheim's Brain

It'll probably surprise a few readers to know I love musicals. It probably won't surprise people to know that I like musicals on the darker, more snarky end of the spectrum, like Chicago, Assassins, and the musical adaptation of Evil Dead (which featured blood pumped on stage through a visible garden hose and a number called the "What the Fuck Tango").  The form is, in and of itself, so artificial and so goofy that I think it lends itself especially well to a really surreal experience that, if it's done right, can be moving, creepy, and downright hilarious. That said, I will gnaw my own arm off to avoid sitting through a whole Gilbert and Sullivan musical.

There's a lot of amazing thought that goes into these things. Here are the creators of Assassins breaking down the pace, the tone, the strategy, and the music of a jazz-handed upbeat revue about murdering presidents (video link).

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Perils of Themed Anthologies

K. H. Vaughan talks to several editors, including your friend and mine K. Allen Wood, about writing stories specifically for themed anthologies... and then trying to sell them elsewhere

Thursday, April 25, 2013

BestScienceFictionStories.Com

It's a wonderful resource for free science fiction online. In case you didn't have enough to do. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Seven Devils of Central California

Three Catherynne Valente poems. Even if you don't like poetry that much, please give these a try. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Raymond Carver, Edited

"What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" presented as a heavily edited version of its prior draft "The Beginners". Eye opening, I say. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Thing About Romance

I'm ready to take a break, for a while at least, from stories with the following plot:

Boy likes girl, but is terrified to talk to girl. Girl indicates in several ways she would not mind being talked to, including usually late in the story outright saying "I was really hoping you would come and talk to me." Boy overcomes his pants-wetting terror of girl and talks to girl. Happy ending.

Science fiction, for better or worse, has a certain expected fan and author base, and I probably wouldn't run across this so much in other genres (though we could have a long hard talk about awkward boys and terrifying women in horror). Honestly, it's even a good story, and I wouldn't mind it at all if I didn't come across it so often. But it's not really a story about a relationship.

I don't completely understand why we romanticize awkward, inhibited, adolescent-style love the way we do. I mean, yes, there's something charming about the purity of an ideal before it comes into contact with reality, but it means the conflict you get is often completely internal and the character being lusted after is by definition a frightening, alien, mysterious object. You can play that ironically and make it great fun, but so often it feels like people are playing it very straight. It can't be because we never really grow out of that phase, because I look at these stories and think Jesus, I'm glad that horrible chapter of my life is over. Maybe it's because adolescent-style love is automatically bound up in more emotion than love as part of a well-balanced set of emotions- but that also kind of fixes it in this amber of hormones and stupid decisions. More than half of the stories with the above plot that I've read lately did not have protagonists who were teenagers, and when they love in a teenage way, it's hard not to think of them as stunted and a little pitiful (though then again, part of that is a lack of sympathy to the proposition that women are terrifying other beings that are in no way to be expected to respond like people).

There are so many stories about the approach, or the chase and catch, and so few stories that are actually about a relationship between two people. We have these predetermined cut offs- when he talks to her, when she says yes to a date, when she agrees to sex, when she's getting into his car so they can drive off into the sunset. We almost never seem to follow them down the road to the motel, or the fast food restaurant, or the campground, or whereever it is they stop on their sunset-ward drive. Is that not also interesting? Is there no story there?

Reading in the short form is also probably working against me here. There's only so many beats available. The formulas are high-yield for drama and emotion.

Still, I'd like to read something else. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Premise, Turn

Modern Broad dissects story structure, with the bonus of it being another Jeffrey Ford story! Really, the whole blog is fantastic both for art and writing. Do check around while you're there. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Project Rooftop

Like Project Runway, but for superheroes. Right now it's ladies on the first page, but if you scroll back you'll find a lot of male characters as well, including some great villain redesigns. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Mantis Shrimp

I like the oatmeal anyway, but this may be my favorite thing they've ever done. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

History!

Erik Lund runs an insightful and amusing history blog. Go and enjoy it

Monday, April 8, 2013

Warrior Poets of Mars

Alright, so. I'd resolved to both read and write more poetry, because that's the sort of writer I want to be, and to a certain extent I feel like getting away from poetry has dulled some of the imagery I reach for. It's had the unexpected, but pleasant, surprise of me writing a few things with more emotional involvement, rather than intellectual process (at least in the rough, obviously rigorous intellect goes into editing) and I didn't realize until I sat down and wrote very personal poetry how much of that wasn't going through into the fiction I've been doing of late.

I've been reading quite a bit more poetry as well, and checking out what the markets are for things. I'm a few years back into the strange horizons archives, and I had started making a list of my favorite poems to share on the blog, but ended up stopping once I realized I was putting more poems onto the list than not. I think what I'm going to do is just keep a rolling draft post open, paste poems into that, and present them to the blog in chunks as it fills up.


The Beetle Horde by James Valvis
The Three Immigrations by Rose Lemberg
After, Ever by Caitlin O'Brien
Cave Bear Dreams by Ann K. Schwader
I Understand Video Games Aren't Real by Leslie Anderson
Atlantis by Caitlin R. Kiernan
In the Court of the Khan by Lisa Bao
The Vampire Astronomer by Chris Willrich
Carrington's Ferry by Mike Allen
Loki, Dynamicist by Michele Bannister
Fallen by Shannon Connor Winward
Imageography by Robert Frazier
The Theater for Cloud Repair by Sandra J. Lindow
Bone China by David Sklar


I also made some observations.

Here are some things I've been finding I really like:
  • some lovely images
  • a really nice sense of irony between what's being said and what's being meant
  • ideas that are beautiful but aren't really stories
  • tips of unconveyed stories
  • poems that are broken into smaller sub-poems that make good use of the format to build a larger, more nuanced argument
Here are some things I find put me off poems:
  • the persistent address to an unidentified you
  • poems that don't work without having read the work from which it is derived, especially when the alluded work is not particularly specified.
  • poems with simple language and little metaphor
  • really, really long poems, in most cases. By then you need something more than language and emotion to tie it together, and poems can be pretty obtuse ways to tell stories.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Down to a Sunless Sea

Neil Gaiman doesn't remotely need help from me in terms of getting the word out, but here you go. A short, grim story

Monday, April 1, 2013

At Reparata

Jeffrey Ford is one of my favorite writers, and At Reparata is the first of his stories I ever read. It has a special place in my heart. 

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Myke Cole Talks About His Experience with Post-Traumatic Stress Disored

And opens his essay with a good point about being open with psychological struggles. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Self-Examination

That's right, it's navel-gazing time for Lesli again.

Please don't take anything that follows as a sign that I'm looking for cheering up. I'm hoping writing things down helps me figure out answers to some of the questions I've been working on.

I've been in a weird position lately with writing. I have something that I can do fairly easily, which is take a small germ of an idea and bang out a first draft story with a beginning, middle, and end and a couple of characters in it. They're not BAD little stories, though they're often pretty obvious. The ideas are often worth a smile. They're significantly better little stories than I wrote a couple of years ago.

But I'm dissatisfied with them. They're not good enough.

I had a writer friend come by the last week and we talked about process. Mine is very often slap-dash. All throughout my academic career I could write a paper the night before and run away cackling from the scene with a relatively high score. When I joined a writer's group with monthly contests (and later one with weekly prompts) I did relatively well by the same methods. I've sold multiple stories that were written fairly quickly; not terribly complicated pieces, but small quirky things that were over too quickly to be examined all that closely. The bulk of my sales are flash.

I really like quirky flash- I enjoy how much a tightly focused story telling structure lets me leave to the reader's imagination by implication and by omission. I'm very very good at the discipline/skill of saying "that information doesn't need to be in this story because that's not what this story is about" (laugh if you want, that's very hard for a fair number of people, and is the genesis of numberless info-dumps).

But I don't want that to be the only trick my pony has, and I find these days I'm much more self-aware about when I'm failing to live up to my ambitions. I wrote a story about two weeks ago and when I went back today to see what it was I'd marked down as a finished story (I keep a count of goals accomplished or not) I had completely forgotten what it was about or what happened. It's not a bad story- it has scary psychic twins, it has some fun images and some weird behavior, it has a character arc for the narrator somewhat separate to whole psychic twin bit; and of course it has a beginning, middle, and reasonably satisfying end- but I was so unimpressed by it I actually completely erased it from my mind. Like doing etch-a-sketch drawings when what you really want is to be a capable painter.

I'm worried that volume is not helping me, and trying to make sure I produce a certain volume in the interest of constant practice is detrimental because it keeps me from focusing on taking time to craft something more ambitious.

Except I also tried doing that and ended up just staring at the screen in despair when that wasn't structurally sound enough to avoid crashing into flaming ruin.

I've been trying to focus on editing these last few months; taking mediocre stories and making them good ones. I'm getting to the point where I do feel like I'm making the stories better, at least (I had an earlier period where I abandoned a lot of things because every pass at editing I did seemed to make them worse), but nothing has turned out as good as I would like.

I recognize that these are growing pains. I have improved, and I'm continuing to improve, but I'm at a point right now where I can't see what the next productive step is, and treading water feels exhausting. There are a lot of false starts, and right now I'm spending a lot of mental time on forensics of my own inadequacies- where did these things fall short of being the stories I wanted? What could I have done better?

Part of the problem, though, I think is that I want to surprise myself and lately I've been doing some pretty unsurprising things. It's possible I've run to the limit of what I can currently do intuitively. I've been trying to make sure I'm doing exercises to counter that, but training in any direction requires me understanding what I need to fix and working out  a program specifically for that.

So, yeah, like I said, growing pains. Looking for answers. If you're still reading, bless you for your endurance.