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.