Abdominal surgery sucks!

English: KINGSTON, Jamaica (April 17, 2011) Lt...

English: KINGSTON, Jamaica (April 17, 2011) Lt. Cmdr. Katherine Austin, left, Lt. j.g. Demetria Aaron, Lt. Erin Watson and Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Valerie Burgess perform an abdominal surgery on a female patient aboard the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) during Continuing Promise 2011 (CP11). CP11 is a five-month humanitarian assistance mission to the Caribbean, Central and South America. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Courtney Richardson/Released) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oy, so it’s been a week now I’ve been out of hospital for emergency abdominal surgery, and I was in the place for a week for the surgery.

I’ll say this:  it ain’t fun!

Thing is folk’ll tell you this shit hurts; what they don’t tell you is that it will hurt through narcotics (then again, I’m not good with pain killers … for all I know, the narcotics work on people who aren’t me).  They also never mention, and no one ever really thinks about it, but, good luck getting any sleep in a hospital.  Seriously, every few hours someone’s got to come take your vitals, or give you a shot of one thing or another, or inject something into your IV line … my first day home I took a two or three hour nap, it was heaven.

Suffice to say, though, given that I’m pretty sure my brain isn’t quite on right between distracting pain and neurone scrambling pain killers there will not be any writing or editing getting done by me right now.

“Oh no!  A writer must write every day no excuses“, bah, fuck off with that crap.  I write when I feel like it. Shit, even a job that’s “earn €100k/day for getting utterly pampered by 75 Playboy bunnies” is a job I’d want the occasional break from – sometimes you just want to sit somewhere quiet and read a book, go for a walk in the woods, or – in my current condition – just to hold still and not brain for a spell.

I can’t get fired from writing; I wrote in the first place because I wanted to, if ever I don’t want to I won’t write.  It’s that simple.  If it’ll take something so tiny as not writing for a few weeks of hospitalisation and recovery to make me decide to stop writing … just trust me, ‘taint that easy.

I’ve actually finished a few short stories and vignettes.  I need to get them typed and edited sooner or later, and then decide how I’m going to publish them.  So look out for that in the nearish future.

Indie Author Land interview

SONY DSCStolen Time got an entry from the folks over at Indie Author Land … was it yesterday?  Yeah, yesterday!  And today I got the site sorted out properly!  Hurray!

For them who don’t know it, Indie Author Land is a site dedicated to providing free promotion to, three guesses, yeah indie authors (who’d have guess it with a name like that, eh?).

Their interview is kind of interestingly done.  You fill out a form that isn’t necessarily the same two days in a row, and that goes to the folks who manage the site who then compile your answers to that into an interview.  So while it might not, by strictest definition, be one — it’s also not just some wiki of people going “here’s my book and stuff I have to say about it” either.  It’s somewhere in between.

Still, they’re awesome, they have a fair following, so it’s good exposure, doesn’t cost a dime, and they’re really nice folks if you need to contact them directly about anything.  They even promote the shit out of your sales and giveaways if you tell them you’re having one (has to be Kindle, though, at least for now).

A new look at self-publishing

calibre

calibre (Photo credit: arellis49)

Well, last spring I wrote a little something on how to self-publish your work.  I dare say, things have stayed somewhat the same, whilst others have changed.  So I’d like to offer an addendum to my previous advice.

First off — Adobe InDesign isn’t really terribly important any longer.  It is, if you wish to embed fonts, and for Windows users it’s still one of the only real options for getting something turned into an ePUB, but by and large its usefulness is non-existent.  I can’t recall the last time I opened it for any reason.

How did this come to be?  Calibre got their shit together.  Seriously.  I now export from Pages to ePub using the previous directives, tweak in Calibre using the same previous directions, then I use Calibre’s conversion tool to make the MOBI files for Kindle.  It works.

I’m still not terribly fond of the ePUBs Calibre produces, but they’re not half so bad as they used to be, so if you can use a Windows software to make something Calibre can read and convert, I suppose it could be your ticket to ePUB creation — but approach with caution.

SecondlyPubIt! doesn’t exist anymore.  It’s no NookPress.  It has some neat features, including being a place wherein you could, in theory, compose your work (or copy paste) and then tweak up into your workable ePUB.  I’ve used it to make minor changes to a work already for sale through B&N, but I haven’t really used this feature yet.  No idea how good it is, but this comes back to my advice about getting to know your publishing outlets’ tools to whatever extent you intend to use them.  I like what I have, so I familiarise myself more with the changes to the uploading functions.

ThirdlySmashwords has been redesigned a bit.  I don’t know if this includes changes to the autovetter and meatgrinder or not — the changes happened after the last book I uploaded.  However I can say that some of the management tools for the books you’ve already uploaded have got some interesting and not-too-shabby updates.  So who knows.  I’ll try to remember to blog about it next time I have call to use SW’s stuff.  I will say, if you don’t have foot notes, and your chapter style is called Chapter Name then the meat grinder will accept a fairly unadorned Word 2011 document (in .doc format, iirc, I seem to recall .docx gave me fits) without too much fuss, but I still hated the experience for some reason that has scarred over in my psyche and can no longer be properly recollected.

Fourthly — a somewhat up and coming little alternative publishing outlet — OMNI Lit/All Romance/ARe Cafe.

Lastly — I admit, this could have been a special, but I suspect not:  Create Space’s expanded distribution option is (was?) free!  Your royalty sucks, so bad in fact that you’ll possibly have to raise your print price to even break even on any sales through that channel, but it means availability to Barnes & Noble, libraries, Alibis, Powell’s Books, Books-A-Million (yeah, turns out they still exist), et al.  Remember:  more places you can be sold is the more places you can be bought, and the more money that is in potentia to come visit your wallet!  If it costs you nothing it is absolutely worth it!

Idle thoughts

Women in hot tub

Women in hot tub (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So I’ve noticed it’s been awhile since I had anything much to say.

But what to talk about?  The Duck Dynasty guy?  What’s his name?  Phil Robertson?  Never met him, a few people at work have mentioned the show.  Never watched it, don’t give a rat’s arse what some old guy from backwoods Louisiana had to say about homosexuality — unless it was “hurrah, gays fucking rock!” it isn’t going to surprise me one bit.  A little quick research he didn’t advocate killing, jailing, or otherwise doing something totally dick-bag to anyone; fuck it.

The Hugos?  They weren’t too recent, and what is there to say?  Congratulations to the folks who won, whoever they were.  I don’t really follow the Hugos; just a few authors I like have a neat habit of winning them.

Writing advice?  Nah, 99% of writing advice is bullshit.  The remaining 1% comes down to Neil Gaiman’s 8 Rules.

I think I’m going to talk about reading.

Reading is easy enough, right?  Well, you’d think so, anyway.

Thing is, people do weird things when they read.  First, they sometimes get a bit egotistical.  They seem to think that the author was writing to please them, personally, and get upset when something in the book upsets them or their sensibilities.  Why?  What has the author done to you?  Did the author put a gun to your head and say buy it?  Oh, sure, be disappointed if you bought a book you aren’t enjoying!  I’m not saying we can’t not like what we read.  I don’t like Starship Troopers, it’s boring — at least the first page is, and I can’t get past that.

I mean like some of the criticisms of Song of Ice and Fire, George R R Martin‘s lovely bit of work.  ”The people are just too young!  Never mind historical verisimilitude, you should have made them older to fit modern sensibilities better” and things that amount to the author should have changed the ages of the characters just to be more in line with modern thought?!  Two words:  fuck that!  In this setting a fifteen year old is Lord of Winterfell.  Why?  Because that’s how it works when you’re 15, your father dies, and you’re the eldest.  That’d be the case today!  The difference is that today it doesn’t really mean anything that isn’t mostly ceremonial.  I’m sorry, but a thirteen year old fighting in a battle … it happened, and happens.  Just because you live somewhere cosy and warm with no troubles except that the girl at Starbucks screwed up your latte order doesn’t mean everyone is or ever has been so lucky.

When we read we should let the author tell us what the world we’re reading about is like.  Maybe we don’t like that world.  Return the book, if you can, swap it for something else at the second-hand shop if not.  I don’t like the world of Xanth, so I don’t read Piers Anthony‘s biggest work.  I don’t complain about a world constructed of puns — except when I’m making fun of him and his setting with my friends; what? just because I’m an author doesn’t mean I’m not human, but it does mean I’m not going to go making a critical essay or a negative book review about it.

When we read, too, we should read.  All of it.

This is a little harder to get specific examples for, but I’ll try to work by a constructed analogy.  Let’s say we’re talking about the setting that a lot of my and Shannon‘s work centres around:  Sweytz.  Sweytz has no laws about nudity, you can strut down the street in your skin and no one bats an eye unless they love or loathe what they see; same as if you were dressed.  Too, bathing is something that is readily accepted as a social activity — some homes have a large, jacuzzi-like, centrally located tub.  Just because a couple, trio, quartet, or what have you, all decide to climb into this tub together naked doesn’t mean a damned thing is going on but some chit-chat and washing one another’s backs.  On Sweytz nudity is not a euphemism for sex.  So when a couple of twelve year olds come back from a date together, and climb into a bath — it’s not hanky-panky unless you’re told it is.  Now, this hasn’t been clearly established in anything published until just now — this post — but believe me, Shannon and I wouldn’t have such a thing without a little tip of the hat to our Terran readers; we’ll tell you this is normal and platonic, we just might not say it directly.  To pull into something a little more contemporary, we’d establish things like nudist parents or hippie family.  We’ll give you clues that this is normal.  They won’t be subtle, just just won’t be “They came home from the holos and Courtney suggested she and AnĵerÏs should relax in the bath, but it wasn’t anything sexual; on Sweytz this is just something people do together.”  I know, some authors would, but give us some credit for integrity here.

The point of all of that?  Leave your preconceptions, your expectations at the door.  Some you should bring with you.  I mean, if we write a fantasy and we mention a troll, it probably shouldn’t be tiny, beautiful, and have gossamer wings — that’s a fairy.  A troll ought to be big, ugly, and preferably stupid.  That’s called a trope.  That’s a building block that helps us communicate some things to you — tropes are the universal gimmes that we ought to tread on carefully, and with some thought to how we’ll easy our readers into our derivations therefrom.

Now, as writers, some preconceptions aren’t exactly tropes, but we should tip our hat to them as well.  This would be things like the expectation that a black open lesbian in 1950s Mississippi isn’t likely to be Mayor, or the CEO of a major company.  Shit, she’ll be lucky to live to see sunset.  That’s not a trope, that’s simple reality.  But, just to bring things back around to our Sweytzian communal baths, just as you and I could share a hot tub, clothed or nude, without it being or leading to sex … you see?  One is an expectation based on historical fact, a reality; the other is based on some weird and ephemeral hangup, one that didn’t exist an hundred years ago and may not exist an hundred years hence.  I could probably come up with others … how about a religious character, never mind the religion, who is a brilliant and renowned scientist?  How about an honourable character who passes away quietly in her sleep at the ripe age of 112 surrounded by a large and loving family and having never once harmed a single living soul?

It’s a game of remembering:  just because you are tall and have a beard doesn’t mean you’re Abraham Lincoln.  Yes, agreed, in fiction, the tall bearded guy in a top-hat standing at the bar in 1861 may very well be Abraham Lincoln; a character might say:

“Hey, Jim!  C’mere!  Izzat the President over yonder by the bar, talking to Frankie?”  Just then the man turned his head and his dark complexion and half-missing nose came into view.  ”Aw, nah, it’s jes that ole nigger Jessie tole us strolled inter town yesterday.”

Otherwise, if there isn’t an unavoidable and undeniable correlation between two things; best leave them out or leave them in only based on what the text tells you.

Symbolism!  When we read, yes, we might see homages, symbols, etc.  Some are tucked away and hidden, some are unintentional, some are blatant.  Thing is, despite what Literature classes tell us, not every work has symbolism in it — and accidental symbolism is often just as much in the imagination of the reader as really present; if we didn’t put it there on purpose … it’s debatable whether or not it really exists.  But let’s save discussions of applicability for another day.  Truly, it’s safest to assume that most nouns in a story made up by the author get explained; otherwise it’s best to assume it’s something with an accepted definition.  I wish I were kidding, but people actually thought GRRM got ‘citadel‘ and ‘dire wolves‘ from [insert, apparently, the only fantasy story they'd ever read here].  And as for looking for symbolism a little too desperately:  here (warning;  I don’t recommend reading that if you value your sanity or IQ).

It goes on.  Still.  Reading is hard.  We have to watch for symbolism to better understand the story — because it might be there, and it might be important, or even just a clever easter egg (not really symbolish, more an homage, but Trebor of house Jordan of the Tor, anyone?); but we shouldn’t look too hard or we go mad as the hippogriff symbolism proves.  We shouldn’t walk into a book a clean slate, no tabla rosa here, but we should still keep an open mind and let the author tell her story, not the story you’re dreaming up as you go from your own experiences.  And we should let the setting be the setting that the setting is; if we don’t like it we should put the book down and find something else to read.

Brash?  Rude?  Don’t I want everyone to read an enjoy my books?

Maybe.  Probably.  It’d be cool, but it ain’t gonna happen; it’s impossible to please everyone.  I know people will read Stolen Time and hate it just because Georgia and Serena are fianceés — as in, both are women, and they’re engaged to be wed.  They’ll take issue that Georgia is 15.  They’ll take issue that someone says ‘fuck’ or they’ll dislike that Georgia and Serena are both fair skinned blondes.  So, no, if someone doesn’t dig Universal Nexus, Stolen Time, or whatever, I sincerely hope they’ll just put the book down, and move on to something else — it’s why I’m such a firm believer in the downloadable ebook samples.

UPDATE: it turns out that the hippogriff symbolism essay I linked is not THE hippogriff symbolism essay.  My bad.  Apparently Google, likely in the interest of the preservation of humanity, is preventing me from locating the correct link.  Still, the one linked seems weird enough we’ll go with that.

Writing advice

Neil Gaiman (2005)

Neil Gaiman (2005) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So I’ve spent some time recently paying attention to things like book reviews, some writing forums, writing blogs and I’ve started noticing a bizarre phenomena:  writing rules.

Oh, I know, I’ve mentioned writing rules before.  It’s not like I’ve never heard of it.  I’m just looking around and it mesmerises me just how many people read one or two books by someone who tells them How To Write and then take this as gospel.  Worst part is that this is going to lead to a lot of stories that all look alike (oh, wait, come to think of it … that explains a lot when it comes to why I read so little that’s new).

Now some writing advice is fine.  Neil Gaiman‘s 8 rules, for example. Or Lawrence Block‘s Writing the Novel.  Maybe Ray Bradbury‘s Zen in the Art of Writing.  These are advice.  They’re ‘this works for me’, and general musings on the nature of writing, creativity and so forth.  The most any one of them treats as a thou shalt is rather tongue in cheek, Block recommending anyone who wishes to write a novel take some aspirin and have a lie down until the feeling goes away; very sound I should say.

Still there’s others that lay down Rules.

  • Thou shalt not use adverbs
  • Thou shalt not start in media res
  • Thou shalt start in media res
  • Thou shalt show everything
  • Thou shalt show only what’s important
  • Thou shalt not …

It’s insane.  Stephen King wrote, from what I’ve gathered from these discussions, such an “advice” book.  Thing is, if you totally dig King’s writing style and stories, it’s not such a bad job to read the book that things like that.  You’ll, theoretically, end up writing just like him.  I can’t understand why anyone would want to.  Never minding that I don’t like Stephen King’s books, that’s not why I say that, it’s why would anyone want to write just like someone else?!  

You can see the authors who read Kipling as children.  You can see the people who read the people who read Kipling as children.  There’s a certain … something in the way they narrate.  It’s more diluted in that second generation than in the first, so the people who read the people who read the people who read Kipling … the influence is fairly gone.  Still, we all find our own voices, our own styles, our own methods.  Why is it that we can say, in painting, that there are cubists, and abstracts, post modernists, surrealists, realists, and more, all of them paintings, all of them painters, all of them doing good and brilliant work.  No one tells a painter thou shalt anything.  They paint with feces, oils, watercolours, acrylics, spray paint, latex, berry juice, mud, bacon grease … true, some of those beg the question of “is it still painting if it isn’t with paint?” but it’s not argued.  The work is judged on its merits.  Writing, though?  ”Oh no!  A ~gasp~ cliché!” (all too often not actually one, I might add … I think I already said something about trope vs cliché) or “How dare they italicise thoughts!” or “Why am I reading the character’s thoughts!?” or … it’s insanity.

Thing is, it’s because so many writers, so many people who want to tell stories, don’t just tell their story, don’t look for their voice, don’t look for their style.  They get a textbook to tell them how to tell their story!

That can’t work.  I can’t tell someone how to tell their story.  No one can tell me how to tell my stories.  It’s fair to say that someone can say “this ought to be a comma, not a semi-colon”, it’s fair to say “this should be the past perfect, not the pluperfect”, it’s fair to say “hey, uhm … on this page, Serena’s a blonde, but over here in the next chapter you say her hair is green … did she dye it or are you an idiot?” Those are fine.

It’s even fine to start questioning things like … well, I’ll pick on Twilight.  I reviewed it on my Indie Fic Reviews site saying how the characterisation was shaky, how Bella was an annoying character, things of this ilk.  Just as people discussing painters might comment on not liking the artists use of red in a piece.  These are discussions of the actual artistic end product.  This is all subjective stuff.  Some people love Bella Swan, some hate her.  Some love Da Vinci, some prefer Michaelangelo.  I don’t like King, but obviously a few million people disagree with me.  I love Terry Pratchett, hard as it is to believe, some people don’t.

That’s the point.  Writing is art.  It’s subjective.  Some like mysteries, some like fantasy, some romance, some blend … the people who sneer at “genre fiction” don’t seem to realise that, in the grand scheme of things all work is in a genre, even theirs.  Genre is simply a way to discuss what the central driving forces of the narrative are.  Some even just give you a background.  Fantasy and SciFi aren’t about any special themes or driving forces, it’s about props and backdrops.  Mysteries and Romances, on the other hand, are very much about themes and driving forces and backdrop is interchangeable — including to be scifi or fantasy.  Genre is a tool for discussion, and a tool for guiding the end result — just as a painter who wants to do a cubist work, might want to consider remembering what a square looks like.

Writing advice can only ever be that.  Advice, yet today it is used as hard and fast rule, even given as such, and people take this with them when they try to review, critique, write, and so forth.  What makes King any more an authority on how to write than Heinlein, Bradbury, Block, or even E Racine.  I pick on him, because he’s one I know people are thumping on like it’s a Bible full of Holy Writ.  There’re certainly other Gods of Writing with their Sacred Scriptures full of thou shalt this, and thou shalt not that.

No.  Don’t go there.  Read stories.  Not just the genre you intend to write, possibly especially not that.  Read, as Bradbury puts it, everything.  Oh, not indiscriminately.  Bad writing can hurt as much as good writing can help.  I mean, only, that you shouldn’t tie yourself down.  In being diverse in your tastes you experience more, you might find inspiration for an SF short story in a Louis L’Amour western.  You might find inspiration for a sappy romance in an action film.  Read philosophy, sure!  But textbooks?  Only if you know that, in the way your brain is wired, you’d never notice the subtleties of when to break paragraphs, when to use quotation marks, when to … technical stuff.  Most of it you’ll learn from observation, if you read, but sometimes we need something explaining bits.

As in all things, if there is any Holy Commandment to life at all, it might be “be yourself”.  Don’t be King, don’t be Tolkien, don’t be Block, don’t be Fitzgerald, don’t be Austin … be you.  Pay homage to those you admire by learning from them and allowing their styles to shape and guide your own — let the fact their legacy be that little hint and whisper of their methods that you take with you and put into your own work, like a genetic marker.  Don’t copy, though.  Don’t let anyone tell you pigs can’t fly, the sun can’t circle the Earth, starships don’t make banking turns, nor that someone can’t say something shyly.  In your world, in your story, in your imagination, they do and, last I checked, it’s your name on the by-line.

Taboos and other Bad Things

Incest: From a Journal of Love

Incest: From a Journal of Love (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oh wow, what a great way to make your story either beloved or berated.  Stick in a taboo, and you’re nigh guaranteed to have no one who feels neutrally about your work.

Taboos are funny though.  They’re society’s big damned no-no, the cardinal sins, the unforgivable crimes.  Thing is … what is taboo?

Incest, rape, murder, theft, women in skirts, women in trousers, men in trousers, men in skirts, high hemlines, low hemlines, showing ankle, not showing ankle, exposed tits, covered tits, homosexuality, sex in public, sex in private, woman on top, woman on bottom, swearing, not swearing … no one can agree!  Even the ones that are usually taken as universal:  rape, murder, incest, and theft.  True, it’s safe to say every society thinks they’re bad, but the definitions of those words … not so consistent.

In some societies, it’s not incest if you’re not siblings; no one would have the slightest issue with uncle/niece.  Once upon a time, cousins — any degree.  Some say, not first, some so not second, others go “Shit you guys are 11th cousins 87 times removed!?  that’s sick!” never mind, of course, that it has been calculated that no two people on Earth are more distantly related than 12th cousins.  Rape?  Oh, let’s just not go there, suffice to say that rape is defined differently depending where you’re standing on this planet – and likely several others – and just move on.  Murder, okay, seriously?  Do I need to make you watch CourtTV (or whatever it calls itself now) all weekend?  Even a single society can get in arguments over whether or not something is murder!  Theft – true, theft is generally well defined, it’s more a matter of who is doing it as to whether it’s theft or something else (no I am not just making a stab at taxes, there’re other things I was commenting on with that statement, too – let’s be fair).

Some taboos are somehow more acceptable than others.  You can put rampant murder in a show and it’ll be a hit series:  Dexter.  You can make a smash movie, more than once, about theft:  Ocean’s Eleven.  You get told off for not having characters raped: Seanan McGuire can explain that one here.

Some taboos come with stipulations.  Some people can’t accept a christian homosexual.  A gay man is somehow more disturbing than a gay woman.  Bisexuals fuck with some people’s heads.  Polyamoury, polyandry, and polygamy, are … something.  Don’t get me started on men in skirts, dresses, or kilts.  If we get to movies, a naked man makes it NC-17, a naked woman it’s R.  Kill Bill is R, but Showgirls was NC-17.

What’s the bit about love and hate, though?

Take Heinlein.  Time Enough for Love.  People adore it, or they hate it.  Funny thing is, so few people can seem to hate it without bringing up the very brief scene in wherein Lazarus Long has sex with Maureen Smith, mother of Woodrow Wilson Smith, the little boy who would grow up to become Lazarus long who would go back in time and end up meeting his family a little before the first world war.  Let’s forget all the places before wherein there is much discussion, and thought, on the subject of incest and taboo.  Let’s ignore the argument Lazarus has with his daughters/clones Lapis Lazuli and Lorelei Lee before he leaves for 20th century Earth.  Let’s completely ignore the part that is as long or longer than the part wherein he actually has sex with Maureen wherein he is having quite the internal discussion with himself about what’s going on.  Oh, and let’s also absolutely ignore the fact that Maureen seduces him, not the other way around (seriously, there’re people saying HE starts it.  Illiterates).

There are big taboos and little, though.  You can make a lot of people mad by making a truly strong, competent woman … especially if you make her actually feminine.  I mean, the bad arsed chicks in action movies are great, but gods save you if they voluntarily wear and own dresses.  Men can’t be gay and tough.  Children can’t be mature and responsible; a budding romance between a boy and girl in 5th grade is cute and sweet, between two boys or two girls is just sick and the author should be locked away from decent society and made to register as a sex offender.

It’s funny, too, don’t you think?  Theft:  and by corollary extension, murder and rape (if you think about it, they’re just very specific kinds of theft – one of life, the other of … dignity? we’ll go with dignity) … no one really takes issues with them.  They’re horrible though, as they actually undermine society.  Social, society, grouping, people getting together as a community, co operation, etc.  This is what theft violates.  Theft betrays the trust of your neighbours that you will respect that which is their in exchange for their respecting yours, and so on.  But sex, oh my gods, sex; that is the one people freak the fuck out about!

Fetishes, bestiality, incest, homosexuality, bisexuality, plural marriage … none of it impacts society!  It doesn’t!  Nudity?  Nope, well, it could if people don’t bathe, I suppose, but that’s details.  Who wears the bifurcated or unbifurcated garments?  Who can strut around with their breasts exposed (newsflash guys, all Humans have breasts, even the males – shit, guys, you can lactate because the glands are present).  NONE of that has the slightest bearing on community and shared co operation of those around you to make life less of a struggle.  Yet it is sex that people freak out about.  Sex that we have endless laws, etiquette, rules, expectations, et al. to govern.  Statutory rape, age of consent, not with brother, not with cousin, not with daddy, not in the arse, not on Thursday, not during the full moon …

I think it’s because of these things though.  Some people are upset by seeing positive light shined on that which undermines the glue which binds society.  Ocean’s Eleven does offend some people, Kill Bill would upset some folks, and there are those who feel that rape should be left far away from our fictional realities.  And, if you’re somewhere that a lot of people feel strongly about this – then rape, murder, theft … you’ll scandalise people.

Shit, once upon a time, the interracial element of Hairspray, had it been made in the era in which it is set … wow, that, boys and girls, would be what is generally regarded as a Shit Storm.  Kind of a pity, it didn’t come out in the sixties … that might’ve been fun.  I wasn’t born yet, but I could read about it.

But no … it’s true, today, that if you want that polarised reaction: they love or hate you, no in betweens at all, you must go with sexual taboos.  In this age, sex doesn’t just sell it pisses people the fuck off.  In other eras you might have tried philosophy, theology, theosophy, themes relating to death, occult.  You might have scandalised with certain portrayals of murder or if your thief weren’t of noble intent as was our dear friend and saviour Robin Hood.

Yeah, this was rambling, I suppose.  I never promised to not write this as I thought about it. I think the point is there though.

It’s that time of year again …

DVD release of the 1961 cartoon.

DVD release of the 1961 cartoon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gods help us, it’s NaNoWriMo again.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the folks who came up with this thing have a pretty keen idea — it certainly helps Shan; her personality says she works best if she has neat little progress graphs and deadlines, word count goals, and all those other things that I’m too lazy to give a damn about.  In short, it ain’t for me.

Oh, but the forums.  The forums are amusing, and terrifying.  Shannon certainly finds more than a few ways to give me nightmares; things like Write or Die.

It amazes me, first off, how many people get the idea:  I’m going to write a novel!  Who clearly are not literate.  I make typos, I know I do; I’m dyslexic and I didn’t get a very sound English education, but I try.  And hell, I’m Human (or humanoid anyway), we all make mistakes.  Mistakes are not some of these forum posts, excerpts, and so forth.  I’m not sure some of these posters and participants aren’t agents of Lord Cthulhu working to wear down the sanity of those reading.  Too, the questions, dear gods the questions.   They will quote perfectly good, clear, proper English bits from the FAQ, or other parts of the site, then ask questions that show that Reading Comprehension is not a skill the poster possesses.  It’s horrifying.

But I’m not going to post about that.  I am, however, going to take a few moments to point and laugh …

[Pointing and laughing]

There, I feel better.  I’m not trying to be cruel, I’m just … if you can’t remember not to eat the paint, you probably shouldn’t be a painter; if you can’t hit a nail more often then your thumb, you shouldn’t be a carpenter; if you couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, don’t be a musician.  It’s the same with writing:  If you can’t, don’t.

No, I’m more interested in wondering what is wrong with our society that we feel the need to codify art as a science.  To ask questions about technique, is one thing: Does it work better to put the final punctuation inside, or outside the quotes (this is a grammar “rule” that no two manuals, let alone dialetcs of English, can agree on)?   To discuss matters of pacing, and the like.  Sure, of course.

No, I’m talking about things like “Should my characters use the bathroom?”  ”Should my characters shower?”  ”How long should I make a chapter?”  ”Should the villain be a woman?”  ”Do I have enough black characters?”  ”Do I need a warning that this contains nuts, if I show someone eating a Snickers bar?”  (Okay, I made that last one up, but some of them are pretty ridiculous).

On the surface, the ones not about the Snickers bar seem reasonable enough, until you think about it, or until you discover the context.  The one about black characters, for example, could just be intending to ensure that the demographic of the setting is right, so you don’t pull a … oh, bugger, some new popular author who’s getting a lot of shit, and deserved I should think, for “whitewashing” a predominately black area of some big city, Chicago or something.  Harry Dresden?  That sounds wrong, but I don’t know what to throw at Google to find out, so fuck it.  But no, it’s nothing so useful.  They just want to make sure they have a sufficiently racially diverse cast.

Thing is, that doesn’t work.  I went to school in an area that was under a court order to ensure a certain racial diversity in the schools — made the zoning look like a gorram tie-dye, let me tell ya.  Doesn’t happen though.  Some schools are simply going to be whiter, blacker, latiner, or greener than others; demographics are a bitch.

Chapter length?  Trust me, I’ve looked, I can’t find a dictionary of the English language, from Webster to Oxford which defines the noun chapter with a fixed page or word count, nor a range.

Gender of the villain?  Again, maybe you’re getting ready to reveal the mysterious villain, and all this time the identity was ambiguous — even to you (hey, that’d be a great way to write a mystery, eh?  Seat of the pants thriller!  That’d be full of surprise twists for damned sure) — and you’re trying to decide if it might be fun to pull a Dick Tracy (for those too forgetful, or young to know, Dick Tracy was an old comic character who had a movie in the 90s with Warren Beatty and Madonna, [spoiler alert] Madonna’s character turns out to be the faceless “man” who’s a semi-villain).  No, they’re worried about offending people.

Oh, fun, the social justice and political correctness crowd.  Boy do they ask some odd questions.  They’re writing stories that strive for a certain realism, grit, darkness, etc.  Or, worse, historical novels.  Regardless, they’re not trying to write some utopian thing, but they’re worried about putting too few blacks in the Confederate gentry?  About writing a Strong Female character in Victorian London??  It does work, to put a black antebellum gentleman; believe it or not, they existed — they also owned slaves, yes black ones.  And, yes, some quite strong and independent women have existed throughout history — there’s a reason that, prior to the Women’s Lib movement, they were names of legend and gossip, news and tall tales — names we still remember today (Anne Bonny, anyone?)

Some cultural sensitivity is important.  If a Lakota warrior is going to feature prominently in your narrative, and you’re not writing a campy, old fashioned, dime western — learn something about the Lakota, and try to portray this man in his proper glory.  On the flip side, if you’re writing a modern Wild Bill adventure, put -um on the end of every third verb or noun (suddenly can’t remember which), “How” means “hello”, and scalp some fuckers.  It’s fine, really.  Now, telling a modern Wild Bill with the Indians accurately portrayed, admittedly, could be a really fun twist of the tropes — but, hey, that’s up to you.

And that’s always true.  WHAT STORY ARE YOU TELLING?!  What is your vision?  What is your art?  It’s your story, after all.

A fact of life, no matter if you write, film, paint, fuck, juggle geese, eat fire, shit checkers, race cars, or bake cakes — you will never please everyone.  You won’t.  Someone will bitch.  Maybe it’s Human nature, maybe it’s a bizarre disease of modern Western Society — but whatever the cause, some prick is going to bitch.  The trick is to appear natural.

Ah, I said “appear” not “be”.  Fun thing language, things aren’t always what we expect, or mean exactly what it seems on the surface.  Being natural would mean being always careful about your demographics, historical mores and vernacular, etc.  Appearing natural is when you make the reader believe, for just a brief moment, that John Carter mysteriously teleported to the great red orb of Barsoom, and thereupon live giant green, four-armed warriors and the egg-laying noble copper-skinnedpeople of Helium.  Seem a bit of an extreme example?  Thing is, you just need to make it real for the moment — for just long enough to make the reader believe that a hare and a tortoise will race, and that the tortoise will win — and it isn’t enough to make an ordinary, plodding tortoise outrun a hare, you must explain how.  Sometimes your characters will do daft things, because for the duration of the story they’re real, and real people make mistakes and do daft things.

What makes me an expert?  I read.  I read what those who have told stories that entrance millions have said about writing; I’ve read their books, too.  I think, I ponder, I write, and I read.  Observation of the universe is the only true education in any matter — except maybe history, that tends to take some digging, but let’s not get pedantic.  Anyone who reads, not just stares at pages of text, any idiot who’s been taught the alphabet and a little bit of phonics can do that – reading requires taking it in, remembering the story, feeling and experiencing it, understanding it.  Just as any idiot can stare at moving pictures on a screen, if nothing is going on behind the eyes, they are not watching it, they’re only staring at it.

Back to my point, though:  art is not science, and science is not often very artistic.  The questions, amusing and terrifying alike, they show people approaching the art of writing as though it were the science of it.  As though there is a quantifiable, qualitative, definitive Truth of what makes a great story, of How One Constructs A Narrative.  There’s not.  It’s art — a mix of talent, luck, imagination, inspiration, and some technical know how (brush techniques, a good rhyming vocabulary or dictionary, a proper understanding of how to use your language of choice, how to hold a chisel, etc.).

Science is, if you put sodium and chlorine together in a 1:1 ratio, you get NaCl (aka, table salt) — always happens, funny thing that, you can’t put them together and get gold or sugar or bacon, you will always get salt; it’s a Rule, it’s how the universe is put together, and anyone who is upset about it can take up with the gods, and anyone who doesn’t want to believe it is probably delusional or insane.  Art is when people discuss it, argue over it, and when doing the same thing twice gets different results.  Mixing a hobbit, thirteen dwarves, and a wizard will not always give you The Hobbit.  Yoko Ono’s art is brilliant or insanity depending who you ask; if it were science it would always and forever be one or the other, just as NaCl is salt no matter who you ask (you may have to translate it out of German, Chinese, Swahili, Klingon, or Galfarran, but it’s salt).  Love or hate Bach, adore or deplore Shakespeare, brilliance or lunacy, garbage or masterpieces, still, they are art.

A story is what you make it, it’s what you tell, the tapestry of another reality that you weave.  It doesn’t matter if you take a true story, change a few names — you’re still weaving a fiction, unless you have an accurate account of every word spoken, you’ve at least had to improvise your dialogue.  Weave your story, make people who they are or what they must be for the story to be what it must be and what it is.  You’ll piss someone off no matter what you do, so just make sure you are not pissed off.  Write for yourself, you’re the only one you can guarantee will enjoy it; if you don’t enjoy it, why write it?  Make art that you want to see or hear, and if you choose to share it — there’re some seven billion souls upon this Earth, and untold trillions among the stars (this universe is too big, simple probability says we’re not alone), believe me someone will like it too.  Just don’t go into art for wealth.  If you want money do “art” for hire.  If you really are creative, your art will shine through the boundaries and parameters, otherwise you’re someone with some technical skill following a formula — an accountant working with language, paint, or notes instead of numbers.

G’bye Targus, hello Thinkgeek

CVR600_cases_bTo the left we have my lovely Targus backpack. Today I say sayonara to it.

Now, don’t get the wrong idea.  This has been a very good bag.  I’ve had it for years, but it’s finally dying.

Now the single real complaint I’ve got is that this thing doesn’t distribute weight well.  Adding 1lb (0.45kg) to it can feel like 15 (6.8).  Also, it’s got nylon zippers … not a huge problem until they get old, as mine have, and … well, they’re the main reason I have declared it to be dying.  That, and one of my damned cats pissed all over it and the smell won’t come out (ugh!).

13f3_firefly_kaylee-inspired_messenger_bagHello, new Kaylee bag.  Now, in all honesty, for my purposes, I probably ought to have chosen the Bag of Holding, but … c’mon, a Kaylee patches bag!!  Too fucking cool.

It’s actually a really good bag.  Though I’ll warn you, it does none of your organising for you.  There are 6 pockets about the size of large men’s back pants’ pockets … maybe somewhat bigger, I guess.  A few inches to a side, maybe as many as 6.  4 inside the main, 2 just under the flap.  Then it’s got these little tube shaped elastic sealed pockets on either end.  Then the main compartment.  If all you need is something to carry your laptop, or just some random stuff.  It’s fantastic.  If you, like me, need to keep some unholy mess of works in progress, plus writing tools, AND a laptop one day?  Well, it’s not bad for it — but have folders and things to keep it all.  Right now I’ve just got this huge mass of paper in it.  I’ll definitely need to be organising it better at some point, but first I have to decide how.  Regardless, ThinkGeek did a wonderful, if not awe-inspiring job on this thing.

Want one of either of these bags?  Click the pictures.

More reviewy madness

English: British versions of the Harry Potter ...

Well, I’ve ranted about reviewers criticising things for being what they are.  And for criticising things that aren’t out yet or never existed.

How about this:  criticising things for what they were never meant to be!

Yep, it happens.

I can vaguely recall any number of example, but one I can specifcally think of is one W. H. Stoddard criticising Variable Star for not being a Heinlein Juvie.  Thing is — it never claimed to be, no one ever said it would be.  He got it into his head that it was going to be, and then carried this delusion into reviewing the work.

It’s like the people who criticise the Harry Potter series for not giving more information about Draco and Snape … uhm … it’s not Draco Malfoy and then …  nor is it Severus Snape and the … it’s Harry Potter and the … So obviously Harry is who the narrative will concentrate on and who will get to be the hero.  Somehow they don’t get that the stories aren’t about [insert their favourite (oddly enough usually a villain) here].

Come ON people!  You don’t go to an art gallery, look at a painting and go “Boy, this is a shite arsed sculpture”, you don’t go to a rock concert and say “damn, this is lousy chamber music“.  No of course not (Well, I hope not, but I imagine I’ll be disappointed if I went looking — given my line of work I’ve met or talked to folk who just might … believe me, I can’t possibly underestimate the supposed intelligence of H. Sapiens).

Let’s be reasonable and sensible about these things.  It all should be judged on the merits of what it is, what it’s meant to be, and all of that sort of thing.  Otherwise we’ll all go mad looking at endless reviews of Twilight saying “God, this sucks — it wasn’t written by Stephen King and doesn’t have enough murderous clowns in it!”

I guess I just can’t fathom the self-centred, brain damaged, fucktarded mindset that leads to this kind of stuff.  I mean, the one-star reviews of things for being what they claim to be, I could almost chalk up to a lack of reading comprehension, but THIS?!  This borders on a complete lack of brains.  How else do you do things that amount to saying this Romance sucks because it isn’t a Mystery/Thriller!?  How else do you explain “why isn’t this person the book isn’t about the major protagonist and hero?”

Clearly, there is something fundamentally wrong with this species.

SWFA now that I’m feeling less ranty

English: Ann VanderMeer accepting 2009 Hugo Award

English: Ann VanderMeer accepting 2009 Hugo Award (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Science Fiction Writers of America.  It’s a writers’ guild, ostensibly.  Thing is … compared to the other writers’ guilds out there — it’s a boys’ club that has delusions of being a gentlemans’ club.

Am I being unfair?  Maybe a little, but only a little.

Most writers’ guilds I’ve encountered will accept aspiring authors — a sensible thing, it allows them to communicate with authors in the genre as well as other professionals, thus helping them to improve the story before publication as well as aiding in finding an agent/publisher.  SFWA not only doesn’t accept aspiring, it doesn’t accept anyone published in anything that pays less than a certain figure.

This exclusivity is quite a turn off — SF is a notoriously poor paying environment.  Seems to me that it’d make more sense to be as accepting as possible of the aspiring artist to try to discourage them from becoming published by scam artists — instead you shut them out and they miss out on this bit of advice, or you look pretentious so the advice when found seems more pompous and is unheeded.

They’re a bit unaccepting of self-published.  Again, odd.  This is being very exclusive.  SF is one of the genres I see a lot of self-pub out there.  And by accepting these people in, perhaps more of that self-published work would be of higher calibre due to the opportunity to converse with more experienced writers and editors.  Other guilds, very accepting, and lauded for the help that is found there in crafting a better story.

Finally there’s this:  It’s officially the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.  Fantasty almost always gets left out, and in both the internal discussions as well as the public discussions fantasy is treated with a great deal of disrespect.  Then again, there’s the fact that not only do unheard of members criticise the nominees and winners of writers’ awards (namely the Hugo and Nebula awards), but even prominent and well known ones who, rather than congratulating their fellow authors and fellow guild members, will write scathing tirades calling the system rigged, or other stupid nonsense.  Of course these people aren’t censured (as in told, hey, you’re out of line — keep this up and we’ll kick you the fuck out, this isn’t the kind of image we’re looking to promote … etc.), so … seems condoned, neh?

Let’s add to this the scandals of the president before Scalzi, who’s idea of how to fight internet piracy of books was to upload pirate copies with typos?!  And who would not only get public domain or creative commons works taken down from shared places (including, as I recall, Project Gutenberg), but doing so on the behalf of people who were not affiliated with the SFWA, never minding that even the member works were not at the request or knowledge of the members.  Then there’s the newer scandal with the blowhards being so horrible to the female members of the industry, and worse to the black female members …

I guess the way to put it:  I pay my fees to my ISP.  If I want scandal, drama, insults, and other such nonsense … that’s all I need pay.  I don’t have to add an $85/yr membership fee for any of that.

Really … I doubt heavily that the SFWA is going to die off and become defunct, but I can’t believe that, without some radical change, that it’ll remain relevant.  I’d not be the least surprised to discover a new SF guild emerging from this.  The SFWA has been a bit of a joke for awhile, Scalzi renewed some of its old respect, but … vultures are circling, and disgruntled members have left and some are considering it.  Starting a new guild has been discussed already, too.  Who knows … maybe that I’ll join.