theferrett: (Meazel)

As a GM, I’m not sure whether my pop culture references are a strength or not.

References make things more vivid for me – if I say, “You shoot, but he slides under your bullets Matrix-style, trenchcoat flapping,” then to me that’s a great visual shorthand that lets players know what’s happening.  Likewise, if I tell my players, “This robot talks like the Iron Giant” or “It’s a vast and curved space station, like the one from 2001: A Space Odyssey,” then that provides a lot of info. So I do that a lot.

The issue is, if my players don’t get the reference, then the whole image dissolves – making it a risky technique.  As they’re not likely to tell me they didn’t get it in the heat of things, leaving them out in the cold.

So I have to ponder how to do that.  Because on one level, a good pop culture reference can tell you exactly what mood I’m trying to go for – saying, “He totally Jackie Chans out from under your punches, flipping across the table and then kicking it in your direction” lets the players know that this is a fast-paced kung-fu fight.  But maybe I’m overusing it, and not allowing my own game to breathe in the process, giving players an impression that’s more pastiche than essential creation.

And certainly if I’m going to do it, I need to provide alternate explanations, because “This robot talks like the Iron Giant” is pretty bad description in isolation.  There’s no context for the culturally-bereft (though honestly, I’m not sure I’d want to play with someone who hadn’t seen The Iron Giant).  If I said, “This robot talks deep and metallic, like the Iron Giant,” then that’d be better – but when I’m GMing and trying to juggle so many things at once, I tend to shorthand.

I’m unsure whether it’s a weakness or a strength, or how to leverage that.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I had an interesting discussion about prologues yesterday.

Some folks seemed to feel very strongly that readers universally skip (or skim to the point of skipping) a prologue.  Which isn’t actually a bad approach, since as Raymond Arnold accurately pointed out, “The opening prologue either gives backstory, or shows teaser scene of who the Big Bad is without introducing why our character cares about them.”  (For more info on why authors do this, check out Dan Wells’ thoughts on The Ice Monster Prologue.)  And the anti-prologue people were vociferous in insisting that most folks flat-out ignored the prologue, and maaaaybe went back to read it later when they got better context.

Whereas I’m of the opinion that most people read straight through.  I believe this because I was shocked to discover that most people read anthologies straight through, in order.  (I’m a “read my favorite authors, then read the shortest stories, then read the ones with the interesting titles, then read the rest” kinda guy.)  So the idea that people are skipping the prologue in a book intended to be read sequentially seems crazy to me…

…but what do I know?

Well, what I know is that for purposes of being a better writer, agents and book companies do read the prologue first, and you’ll get your ass rejected if it’s not good, so you’d better treat your prologue like it’s the first thing people will read, or they won’t ever get the chance to read it.  (Unless you self-publish, of course.)

But leaving all thoughts of manuscript salability aside, when you are presented with a prologue, what do you do as a reader?  I personally read lightly – it’s foolish to get attached to anyone in a prologue, to the point where I’m considering titling the prologue to my new book “Don’t Worry, Dude Dies At The End Of The Chapter” – but I do read it.  And if I’m skimming through books at the bookstore, if the prologue’s uninteresting, I won’t get to the first official chapter.

Yet that’s me.  I could be mapping my preferences onto the world at large.

How do you read prologues?

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Today’s attempt to analyze what makes for a compelling opening chapter is a classic of the steampunk genre – one where gas-crazed zombies chase desperate scavengers through the underground of a collapsed alt-history Seattle.

And yet the story opens in a vastly different, and dare I say audacious, way.

For I have theorized that a good opening chapter will will not just introduce you to the main character at some point in the first three paragraphs, it will actually tell you what that character’s emotional dilemma is.  You’ll not just know who they are quickly, but be rooted in whatever it is they’re trying to do.

And yet Cherie Priest, wisely, said “Fuck you and your silly theories, Ferrett,” and went a different route.

Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest (Feel free to download the sample to your Kindle, if you’d like to play along.)

Opening Sentence: “Unpaved, uneven trails pretended to be roads; they tied the nation’s coasts together like laces holding a boot, binding it with crossed strings and crossed fingers.”

When Do We Find Out What Motivates Our Protagonist? …we don’t. 

The protagonist doesn’t show up at all until Chapter One.

In fact, there’s no protagonist at all in this introduction.

(A side note: Some may complain that the “intro” isn’t “the first chapter.”  But it is the first thing we read, and if it’s a bad intro or prologue or foreword, we will never actually get to the so-called start of your book.  So for analytical purposes, I’m sticking with my definition: this is the opening chapter, even if it’s not the first chapter.)

What Cherie starts out with is, essentially, a nonfiction summary of her alternate history.  Here’s why people were incentivized to build big fucking steampunk mining-drills just before the Civil War,  here’s why they tried the drill in Seattle, here’s the disaster that occurred when the drill went awry and destroyed downtown Seattle, and here’s the mysterious gas that seeped up from the ground after the nefarious Dr. Blue and his Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine bored a hole straight to Hell.

Now, one of the cardinal rules of worldbuilding is that you do not infodump.  You string the reader along, giving them only what they need to know just before they know it,  because a big clunky chunk of “Here’s how my technology works” is going to stand in front of your plot and characters and bore the crap out of people.  It’s considered kind of amateurish to just go, “All right, here’s what happened” and blather on for a thousand words to get your backstory across.

And Cherie pokes that rule right in the face.

She’s doing the audacious bit of telling a story without a hero – there’s no one person we’re following here.  And that’s hard to pull off, but she does it with lots of clever and visually dazzling phrasings to keep you going, such as:

In California, there were nuggets the size of walnuts lying on the ground – or so it was said, and truth travels slowly when rumors have wings of gold.

And, discussing the disappointing hauls the miners found:

Gold came out of the ground in dust so fine that the men who mined it could’ve inhaled it.

And:

On the afternoon of January 2, 1863, something appalling burst out of the basement and tore a trail of havoc from the house on Denny Hill to the central business district, and then back home again.

Cherie gets away with it because she’s continually creating interesting images to grab and pull you along, which keeps us interested until we get to the devastation about 750 words in – and frankly, if a rogue steampowered drill collapsing downtown Seattle isn’t enough to keep your attention, I don’t know what will.  Yes, it’s a block of infodump that’s unrelated to the emotional struggles of the characters who will be introduced shortly, but it’s a really interesting block of infodump, and so we read without complaint.  It slides by on pure, compacted prose.

And it breaks the so-called rules, but also breaks them for a damn good reason.  Because honestly?  Trying to quietly intersperse this complex alt-history and chronicle of events while introducing characters you actually cared about?  Would be hell.  You’d have to keep ping-ponging back between character development and “Oh, here’s what you need to know about Seattle and its zombie-creating gas pockets now,” and I don’t think you could do both effectively in parallel.

Yet what I really have to applaud is the way Cherie quietly transplants another genre into fiction.  Because this opener is not, actually, fiction.  What it is is straight-up RPG Supplement material – this could have been cut-and-copied from some parallel universe’s reference sourcebook for THE CLOCKWORK CENTURY’S GUIDEBOOK: SEATTLE.  And Cherie melding the world of roleplaying games and science fiction so effortlessly, remolding them together without a care in the world, is quietly genius.

Yeah, in the next chapter we meet crazy Dr. Blue’s poor abandoned wife and son, and the son runs off, and damn if the wife doesn’t have to chase him all over Seattle.  And that’s compelling, too.  But the start is a different kind of technique, and a welcome reminder that really, in fiction, there’s no one way to make a sandwich.

Past analyses:

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

WARNING: This post is rife with Game of Thrones spoilers.  You now have three presses of my “Return” key to get the heck out.

 

 

And now you have three presses of my “Return” key as a trigger warning:

 

 

Let’s begin, shall we?

Hey! Dreamwidth has actual spoiler cuts! )

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Brad R. Torgersen had this to say about my discussion of the Hugos the other day:

In an ideal world nobody would care about the ethnicity or gender or sexual orientation of the person on the ballot in a given category — they’d care about the story that was written.

I agree.  But it’s not an ideal world…. And so we do care.  And yet I suspect Brad’s comment was far more along the lines of “Why must we make such a fuss about whites and women and minorities, when we should all just concentrate on the work?  Why not just let the works speak for themselves?”

The issue is that when we let the works speak for themselves, we wind up with the Gemmell Awards: 70,000 votes (several orders of magnitudes greater than the Hugos), and every single nominee for Best Novel is a White Dude.  Every best debut novel is a dude, most of them white.

And here’s why I think white dudes shouldn’t make up the majority of award lists: because I’m a programmer, and I do a lot of database queries in my day job.

How’s that work?  Well, I work with half a million Magic: the Gathering cards we sell, put into hundreds of thousands of decks that we also track, and one of the things I’m tasked to do most frequently is, “Run this report.”  In other words, “Find the best-selling cards, find the most popular decks, find our most popular authors.”

In other words, I am paid to ascertain, via data analysis, what the best is.

Admittedly, I have it easier: I have objective criteria to look at, such as “Find me the product that sold the most units on shipped orders between this and that date.”  Still, some of the retrievals get pretty hairy as we start adding in more clauses to narrow the data down, until eventually I’ve got maybe ten or twenty sets of criterion that I’m searching by.  It gets complicated.

And when the query is all structured, I check the data it’s returned.  Just as a sanity check.  And here’s the thing pretty much every programmer can tell you:

If I query for our bestselling cards, and every one of the top sellers I’ve found is a “white creature,” that’s a sign I’ve probably fucked up my query.

Real data is messy.  So the first thing I check for when running reports is a little messiness.  Because if I’ve run a report and the results are very clean and even and uniform when I didn’t ask them to be, then chances are good that my query is wrong.  I likely haven’t actually asked for “the best-selling card,” I have instead accidentally introduced an error that somehow narrowed the query to “show me the the best-selling cards that are white and a creature.”

Now, sometimes data aligns, and it turns out that thanks to a run on cards, this suspicious data is correct.  But as a programmer, if you don’t double-check that too-neat list to verify the data, you’re a terrible fucking programmer.

Likewise, with the Gemmell awards, I ask: with all of the vibrant new voices in fantasy out there, putting out work by the score, with hundreds of novels published annually on this topic, what’s the likelihood that only white dudes turn out to be really awesome at this?  I’ll grant you, there’s a chance that maybe white men have a very special connection with fantasy – such a natural bond, in fact, that out of the twenty-one nominees over the past four years, only two have been women.  Maybe there’s something about writing good fantasy that only white guys can really do it.

Or, if we’re looking at this data with a programmer’s cynical eye, maybe there’s some sort of accidental bias introduced to this equation, where white guys are disproportionately rewarded in the field of fantasy, and in that case it’s not about the books, it’s actually about some subtle query error that’s funnelling our results in the wrong direction.

None of this is to say that the Gemmell Award nominees are bad books.  I’ve read some of ‘em.  I liked ‘em.  They’re definitely worth picking up.  But if we’re asking, “What’s the best novel in fantasy?” and for four years running the answer has been, “A book a white guy wrote,” then either you’re arguing that white guys are somehow just better at writing fantasy than anyone else, or you’re wondering if that data is somehow skewed.

I think it’s skewed.  That doesn’t mean that I think the Gemmell Award nominees are bad writers, or that these books aren’t good – but I do wonder what’s going on with that data that tells us that either women aren’t very good at writing fantasy, or women are not getting rewarded for their fantasy-meanderings.  And if the answer is that women aren’t getting rewarded, then it could be a ton of subtle biases introduced into the query, all the way from agent-queries to marketing to covers to reviewer biases to fandom biases, all of which cascade into one quietly skewed set of answers.

Tell me that question’s not worth exploring.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

….is the same problem that every other awards program faces.  Namely, that there’s no good way to run an awards system.

Is there some sort of criteria for entry, a barrier to pass before you can vote on the award?  Well, your awards will become inbred and cliquish, representing a skewed version of fandom.

Is there no criteria for entry, and anyone can vote?  Well, then you’ll have awards that invariably reward the most popular books anyway, never providing surprising choices because the best-known books will get the most votes.

Is there some sort of criteria for entry?  Well, the people on the inside will generally come to know each other, being a small group, and logrolling galore will happen, where people get votes by promising theirs.  Small movements can create disproportionate reactions, generating ballots with weird choices that no sane person would have chosen.

Is there no criteria for entry?  Well, then ballot-stuffing will occur, and accusations of fakery will emerge, and the awards will be tainted as people feel the system can be gamed.

Is there some sort of criteria for entry?  Well, the jurors of the award may be skewed, narrow-minded old men, and you can have lily-white male ballots consisting entirely of unconscious prejudice.

Is there no criteria for entry?  Well, given years of White Dude being the default perceived mode of author, the massive numbers of voters won’t be aware of other, less-popular writers, and you can have lily-white male ballots consisting entirely of institutionalized prejudice.

Look, folks: the problem with setting up any award system, no matter what, is that the system can be gamed.  Because it is a system.  And there’s plenty of incentive for people to find edge cases in the rules and exploit them.  You can complain about the Hugos, or the Nebulas, but do yourself a favor and Google the Oscars, or the Emmys, or the Tonys, or the Grammys, or anything else and you’ll find thousands of people griping about how the awards are botched and unfair and here’s how to fix them….

…and they’ll never get fixed.

Even if by some wonderment we somehow managed to create a perfect balloting system (hint: we won’t), even then “What we like today” is a far shot from “What classic literature is.” It takes time for us to see what sticks, to separate today’s pleasure from tomorrow’s magnificence.  Look over the classic lists in any category from thirty years ago and you’ll find #1 smash hits that nobody remembers, and widely-acknowledged masterpieces that went overlooked.

An awards showcase does not actually represent the best books/movies/songs/shows of any given year.  What it represents is a cultivated taste: When I watch an Oscar-winning “Best Picture” movie, I know I’m not going to be seeing a whacky comedy or an edgy horror movie.  The Oscars represent a certain style of moviemaking, one that says, “If you make a movie sorta like this, and it’s good, we’ll nominate it.”  It’s not “ZOMG THIS IS THE BEST EVER,” but rather “ZOMG THIS IS WHAT WE REALLY LIKE,” and that’s a subtle but serious distinction.

The Oscars, and the Hugos, and the Nebulas, all pretend to be The Arbiter Of Absolute Quality because hey, that’s what gets people interested.  But like every awards showcase, they’re actually The Arbiter Of What These Folks Like.

And that’s fine.  In many case, those folks have fine taste.  They’re almost always good books of a sort.

And let us be honest: part of the reason awards are so hooky is because they’re unpredictable.  If you didn’t have the inevitable breakouts of GOD HOW DID THIS CRAP GET NOMINATED and JESUS THIS FINE THING GOT ROBBED and WHOAH WHO EXPECTED THAT TO WIN, then I suspect awards would be of far less interest to people.  It’s a horse race, where anyone can break a leg just before the finish line, and that provides that gambling-like happiness to our monkey brain center.  We keep tuning in because it’s unpredictably predictable.

To sum up: The Hugos are broken.  They have always been broken.  They will always be broken.  Just like every other award.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Yesterday, I wrote about how it takes some training to learn to shrug off insults, and said this:

“Speak carefully. Try to be kind. And don’t be a dick unless it’s your last choice.”

To which one commenter replied:

“Rather than attempt to tailor speech to be inoffensive (which is a neverending race to the bottom), we should be equipping people with the tools to handle a world where people disagree with them.”

I’m sorry – when did I say inoffensive? Christ, I offend people all the time.

I wrote “Dear Daughter: I Hope You Have Some Fucking Awesome Sex,” which was read by millions. It offended tons of conservatives, took parents off-guard, shocked hundreds of religious groups.

Did I set out to not offend them? No.

I wrote All Women And Never Men: A Rant On A Polyamory I Dislike, about the one-penis policy and how it’s usually (though not invariably, I hesitate to add) sexism and selfishness wrapped into a package that a lot of women ultimately come to regret. I still get angry letters on that one.

I wrote Can I Buy You A Coffee? and its follow-up essay, which talked about how colossally rude it is to hit on women and then pretend you were just trying to do them a favor. Pissed off a lot of guys on that one. Men’s Rights Advocates aren’t too fond of me, either.

And look through my archives! I’ve said lots of things that have deeply offended my liberal buddies, my conservative buddies, my religious buddies, my atheist pals. You’ll find thousands of comments from people who not just disagreed, but were actively enraged at what I had to say.

And you know what?

I chose to offend them.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve written tons of essays where I fucked up and said something inadvertently offensive, mainly because I didn’t understand transgender issues, or kink-related issues, or some subtle form of politics. And I’ve written lots more essays where I meant to say, “Hey, I’m in favor of this” and wrote it so badly that I appeared to be me criticizing that, and that’s my piss-poor words rising up to rightfully bite me.

But with each of my better essays, I thought carefully: Who will this offend? And I quickly devised a list of the sorts of people who I thought this would piss off…

…and I was okay with it.

If some conservative father who never wants his daughter to have sex gets pissed off, then I’ve accepted that as a cost of doing business. If some douchey pick-up artist takes offense when I tell him how he’s manipulating women, sorry, but it’s what I believe.

If some couple who’ve been perfectly happy in their one-penis policy is mad because they’re different from all of those other OPP people, well, I feel a little bad, but I couldn’t figure out a way to get ‘em out of the line of fire.

If I use the phrase “Girl Drink Drunk” to discuss my love of flavored vodka, I’ll undoubtedly annoy a couple of my feminist friends who don’t like the genderification of drinks – and, more importantly, don’t love classic Kids in the Hall sketches the way I do. But I pondered that, weighed their annoyance as comparatively light versus my amusement at the term, and chose to offend a little.

But note in each of those cases: I’m usually aware of what I’m doing, and making a conscious choice. (And if enough of my friends really get bent out of shape about the Girl Drink Drunk bit, then maybe I recalculate the equation. Maybe I don’t. Times change.)

So no. I’m not trying to erase all offense from the universe. I’m trying to say that I make decisions, weighing my free speech versus how upset someone’s going to get versus how legitimate I feel their offense is, and making a judgment call. In others, I say things more nicely to cushion the blow.  In some cases, I don’t say things because I think it’d hurt people’s feelings for no good reason.

(NOTE: You may not be able to avoid hurting people’s feelings when you’re speaking the truth as you see it.  But when you start hoping to hurt people’s feelings as part of an essay? That’s when you’ve become a dick.)

And there are times I just go off on those I’ve decided I don’t give a rat’s ass about.  Point is, I offend all the fucking time. It’s impossible to do comedy without offending. It’s impossible to make legitimate changes without offending.

I just try to offend as part of a greater plan, is all.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

There’s a common sentiment that goes, “Nobody can make you feel bad without your permission” – generally trotted out when someone’s been hurt by a mean thing that someone said.

The idea, I believe, is that we are all rational, robot-like beings who can control our emotions – and thus if we get upset by someone’s assholic statements, we have chosen to be upset. We could have shrugged it off instead.

Problem is, people don’t work that way.

Now, first off, “shrugging off other people’s insults and accusations” is a learned skill. If you’ve ever raised a kid, you know most of them don’t come pre-baked with the “Eh, whatever” switch – if you yell at them, they cry. If other kids make fun of them, they get upset. Actually placing the “Okay, they’re mocking you, but do you respect their opinion?” switch in place is a process that takes years, requires a healthy ego on the kid’s part, and isn’t 100% successful.

So expecting everyone to have that skill is kinda jerky. Admittedly, it’s a vital skill that everyone should actively cultivate – without it, abusers can emotionally manipulate you into the most awful of situations by pressing your “guilt” button whenever you complain about valid stuff.

But not everyone had nice parents. Not everyone’s discovered how to interrupt their emotions with logic. And as such, sneering, “Well, you chose to feel bad”isn’t actually true. They have yet to develop a barrier between the onrush of primal feelings and the rationality to say, “Wait, no, that’s actually something I shouldn’t feel.”

You might want to start that long discussion of how to get to the point where they can shove off that tidal wave of sadness with a cold freeze of logic… but that’s not how this is used. Instead, the “Nobody can make you feel bad…” argument is generally wielded as a club to make it the victim’s fault when someone decided to be an asshole at them.

Yet hey! What about me? I’ve been on the Internets for years. I’ve received death threats. I’ve had hundreds of blog-entries devoted to what a jerk I am, entire forum-threads of vitriol. Some people loathe me personally, and they’ve never met me – and yet I’m still posting my opinions daily.

So as one of the most thick-skinned people I know, I clearly understand how nobody can make me feel bad without my permission, right? Otherwise I’d just be shivering in a closet.

Wrong.

What I know is that I can shut down those bad feelings that come when someone chucks a nastygram in my direction - but it takes me effort to do so.

I think of it as walking to the store. Under normal circumstances, I’ll get to where I’m going. But with the right insult, some asshole can drop a fifty-pound weight in my backpack. I’ll still get to the store, but thanks to their jerktasticness, it’s a fuck of a lot more effort.

And if I was low on energy that day? Or in a rush to get somewhere?

Lord, those insults can fuck up my day, whether I wanted them to or not.

And that’s not me saying that human interaction should be scrubbed of all potentially harmful content. Some people do get butthurt incredibly easily, and I think there’s a point at which you have to make the decision that this person’s rigid boundaries are going to hem in your speech to unacceptable levels, and blow them off.

(Some people don’t read me because they’re offended by my swearing. I support their right to unfriend me in order to protect their sanity, but stopping? Fuck that noise.)

But when you say, “Well, nobody can make you feel bad without your permission!”, that sets up a world where you have no responsibility for your speech. Were you digging for weak spots, mocking to make a point? Oh, hey, well, you were trying your damndest to make them feel bad, but if it worked it’s their fault for not having sufficient defenses. It’s not 100% correlation, but when I see “Nobody can make you feel bad!” I usually find a taunting dillweed nearby, taking potshots from the brush and then claiming no responsibility.

No. You may not be able to make someone feel bad, but you sure as fuck can make them burn strength they were planning to use for other projects that day. So speak carefully. Try to be kind. And don’t be a dick unless it’s your last choice.

It won’t hurt to be a little nicer, man. I promise.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

These are Novel Cupcakes.

Untitled

Because I sold my first novel, Gini bought me a dozen cupcakes from my favorite cupcake store and we get to eat them one by one to celebrate this once-in-a-lifetime achievement.

Only Gini gets to eat them with me.  Because I could not have done it without her.

And that’s what success tastes like.

You will hear of this no more; no cupcake reviews, no discussing what flavors each of those twelve delicious cupcakes turned out to be.

Because some things we do? They’re not meant to be shared with the Internet.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Yesterday, I wrote about all the hidden privileges that allowed me to sell my first novel.  I still had to put in years of effort, don’t get me wrong, but I had a lot of advantages – being healthy, being financially stable, having the right support group – that let me close the deal when others might not have.

And several conservative friends of mine said something along the lines of, “Yeah, I have those advantages, but I don’t feel guilty about them.”

Which is strange.  I don’t feel guilty, either.  I’m not sure why they’d think I would feel guilty.

I feel a deep duty.

See, when confronted with the idea of privilege, my conservative friends invariably bristle and go, “Well, hard work counts for something.  Real people suck it up and triumph whatever the odds.” To which I inevitably think, “Yes, but is that an excuse to keep handing people shitty odds if we can do something to level the playing field?”

Yes, the human spirit is lovely and noble and inspiring.  But if we can do something to, say, ensure that black kids have an equal chance to white kids, so that both children putting in the same effort will have the same odds of success, why not do that?  Chronically ill people have it hard enough in life without further raining hell down upon them with bills and paperwork – why not try to fix that?

Why are we saying that people should triumph over the odds when we have the power to adjust the odds?

Note that I don’t feel responsible.  Some poor people are poor because they’re lazy, and to heck with them.  I’ve known some chronically ill people who used their illness as an excuse to shirk every responsibility.  I am not, despite how my words may be twisted, feeling any sense of need to save everybody.

But I feel that if people work hard and clever, that work should be rewarded as consistently as possible.  And the simplistic conservative equation of “You work hard, you win” is not borne out anywhere in nature.  There are plenty of people who work their asses off and, thanks to luck or circumstance, fail and fail hard.  Working hard is your best shot at success, but to reduce that to “Work hard and win” is like telling someone if they play the odds they’ll always beat the casinos.

No.  For some very hard-working people, the odds are tilted against them, handed many difficulties that I do not experience and may not even be aware of… and I feel strongly that if those people wish to work their ass off just the way that I did, they should be rewarded proportionately.  Some of those things I can’t fix; not everyone can stay at home programming, like I do.  Some people gotta load cargo.  But there are other factors, such as the way society reacts to me being white, or the lessons I learned about working smart that I got only because I was born into an upper-middle-class family, that I can attempt to patch up.

I don’t feel a goddamned scrap of guilt over my privilege, because what I got I also worked hard for.  Rather, I feel a duty to erase the challenges that I didn’t face, so that everyone has an equal shot at success.

And yes, that’s a battle that I can never win; there will always be inequalities popping up somewhere.  But that’s the nature of any good fight; you’ll never extinguish evil in all its forms, but that’s no reason to never try.  We keep fighting because it’s worth it, and tossing generations of people into the meatgrinder with a shrug of “Hard work will triumph!” is callous.

If you really respect hard work, you want everyone to benefit from it.  And to do that, try to ensure that effort pays off as frequently as it possibly can.

At least that’s how it is to me.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So yesterday, after twenty-four years of struggle, I sold a novel.  (Read about it here, pre-order it here, if you like.)

Let’s be honest: That took perseverance.  I wrote for hours a day, writing on vacation, writing on my birthday, writing when I was recovering from heart surgery.  I went to critique groups to get better feedback.  I networked online so I could find better people to give me feedback.  Out of any given day, you can point to at least an hour and say, “Ferrett put in his 10,000 hours.”

Except.

* I was lucky enough to be healthy, so I didn’t have to deal with days torpedoed by chronic pain issues or going to doctors or filling prescriptions.

* I was lucky enough to have a sedentary, work-at-home job.  Yes, some of that’s career choice, but I went to college for seven years on scholarships and my parents’ dime, and they were rich enough to buy a PC back when they were super-expensive so I got familiarized with computers about ten years before the curve.  I happened to be born male, so people just sort of assumed I could be good at computers.  Now, I work hard at being a programmer – but there’s also a lot in my background that enabled this career choice.  If I had to work an hour away lugging crates at a warehouse, my writing time would be cut into by exhaustion and commutes, rendering me less productive.

* I was lucky enough to be wealthy enough to go to the Clarion Science Fiction Writers’ Workshop after I got accepted, which costs thousands of dollars.   (As witness this less-fortunate soul raising the bare-bones $3,600 it’ll take him to attend this year.)  It cost me probably $4,500 after all was said and done, and that’s a lot of change to just plunk down.  (Viable Paradise is less expensive, as it’s shorter, but that’s still $1,100 plus travel.)

* I was lucky enough to have a good enough job that they gave me the leave to go away for six weeks, though I was so hot to trot that I would have quit if I’d had to.  Thankfully, they were gracious as they usually are.  Thankfully, I had the financial cushion to be able to walk away if I needed to, and a family supportive enough to deal with my absence for six weeks.

* I was lucky enough to have friends who told me about things like Clarion, and conventions, and what to expect from publishers.  I didn’t go hunting for writer-friends; I happened to have a few who I ran across in town.  If it wasn’t for a friend telling me about Clarion that year, I wouldn’t have heard of it, and you wouldn’t have heard of me.

* I was lucky enough to have wise parents who modeled secure, sane marriages for me, so when I found my wife – who has been wise, supportive, and a stanchion of my writing career – I was smart enough to not destroy the relationship.

Now, none of those gifts take away from my tremendous drive.  And they don’t mention things like, say, my chronic depression, which does in fact take away from my production time.  But those are all advantages that were, in some fundamental way, given to me.  Yeah, I had to work efficiently to keep my job, and yeah I had to be lovable enough to keep my friends, and yeah, I had to be talented enough to get to spend all that money on Clarion – but in all those issues, I had a huge boost from forces beyond my choosing.

It was hard enough getting this damn novel sold.

It would have been even harder if just a few circumstances had changed in my life.  Maybe impossible.  If I’d had young children and a wife with a job at 7-11, going to Clarion probably wouldn’t have happened.  If I’d been incapacitated by chronic back pain for three hours a day, my writing time would have been affected.  If I’d run with a different set of friends, that whole “Clarion” thing – the event that restarted my career – would have zipped on by.

I call those privileges.

And Brad Torgersen (he of the other first novel happydance) said that in the military, privileges are things you earn.  Which may be true.  But I don’t know a better word for those quiet advantages.  “Gifts” don’t seem right, because frankly, me walking around healthy isn’t really a gift, it’s just something I feel most people oughtta have in a sane world.

But whatever you call them, I acknowledge them.  Yes, I worked hard to break through.  Super-hard.  But despite all that effort I put in, it could have been harder.  And writing is such a challenge to get write, requiring such focus to hone, that I don’t think it’s a surprise that a lot of writers are white males who come from middle- to upper-class homes. They’ve got a whole societal structure geared around supporting them.

And again!  Like me, that doesn’t denigrate their effort.  There’s a zillion middle-class white guys, and the majority of them suck at writing because they either don’t care or didn’t put their time into the craft.  Anyone who hauls their ass across this finish line has done something significant.  But there are others who had additional hurdles in front of them on that track, and I think it’s intellectually dishonest to wave that aside.

I guess that’s why privilege is such a difficult concept to express: it feels contradictory, on some level.  It’s You did do something really difficult, but it could have been harder.  And nobody wants to hear that they had it easier than others… particularly when they fail.  Particularly when “privilege” is not a singular power-up that magically erases all difficulty, but a bunch of small factors that can often cascade into greater things.  Particularly when some people only have certain privileges (a decent income, good physical health) but lack others (like my depressive fugue-states chipping away at my mental health).

But that doesn’t erase the concept.  And when I look at my achievement?  I’m happy.  I wanted to publish a damn novel, and now I will have, and I put in my 10,000 hours to get here hard-core.

Yet when I look at society and all the things I’d like to fix, there’s a bunch of people who never got what I did.  I’d like to give it to them, if I can, or just plain make coping with those issues easier.  And I refuse to erase that reality by claiming I’m a self-made man or somesuch.

I had a lot of help.  I had a lot of advantages.  I did a lot of fucking work.

Those concepts are not mutually exclusive.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

When I was fifteen, my parents dragged me to a book release party.  Not that I knew it was a book release party; I was, like every fifteen-year-old kid, self-centered to the point that I wore my colon as a hat.  It was at the Goldsteins’ house, so I assumed it was another party celebrating the fact that brave Mrs. Goldstein had survived yet another round of brain surgery.

But no.  Mrs. Goldstein – a clear-eyed woman who walked with the help of a cane – pressed a hardcover book into my hand.

“I wrote this,” she told me.  “About my experiences, relearning how to walk and talk and write.  It’s a memoir.”  And though I’d read so many stories that I had ink permanently dotted on my nose from sticking it in books, it had never occurred to me that actual people wrote them.  Authors were Gods who lived in little editorial heavens, flinging down books from clouds up high.

But Mrs. Goldstein had written a book.  And taken it to the publishers in New York.  And gotten it published.  She told me all about how she wrote it, how you had to send it in a manila envelope to people, the letters of rejection you’d get, and slowly I came to understand that books – books! – were written by people like you and me.


When I was fifteen, I vowed to publish a novel.


When I was nineteen, I wrote my first novel: “Schemer and the Magician.”  It was about a nerdy college kid (basically me) and a wiseass college kid (also basically me) who got kidnapped by aliens and sucked into a galactic war OF INCONCIEVABLE CONSEQUENCES.

…It wasn’t very good.

I sent it to two agents, who wisely never responded.


When I was twenty-three, I wrote my second novel: “A Cup of Sirusian Coffee.”  It was a Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy-style riff on the afterlife, where for all eternity you were forced to do whatever you did in life.  Were you a plumber?  Look forward to spending the next five Pleistocene epochs fixing pipes.

I wrote the first three chapters, handed them around to my college buddies, who thought it was hysterical.  So every day I cranked out another chapter, handing out printed manuscripts to a small group of fans who demanded to know what happened next, until eventually I snowballed a slim plot into a musical Ragnarok that shut the universe down.

This one I sent out to three agents, two of whom dutifully informed me that I was not quite as clever as I thought.


When I was thirty, I wrote my third novel: “The Autonomist Agenda, Part I.”  Screw my own muse, I thought: this one would be commercial.  So I wrote the first book in a huge and complex fantasy series, complete with smoldering relationships guaranteed to appeal to the ‘shipper crowd, and prophecies that propelled a young boy on the inevitable journey to become a Big Damn Hero, and even a gay warrior because I was Just That Ahead Of The Curve.

(Not that it was revealed he was gay until Part II.  I had Plans, you see.  I’d sell all three books at once!)

I slipped a copy to my friend Catherynne Valente, who’d had some success at this writing gig.  She read part of it, then took me out to a sad lunch at Bob Evans to break the news.

“I guess you could get this published somewhere,” she told me.  “But is this really what you want your name on?”

I guess I didn’t.

But damn, I wanted my name on something.


When I was thirty-two, I wrote my fourth novel: “On The Losing Side Of The Dragon.”  Sure, the winning knight eventually kills the dragon, but what about all those poor wannabe schmucks who get devoured along the way?

I gave it to my wife.  She informed me she liked how it ended, really liked it, but the beginning was tedious.  She would never have gotten to the good stuff if she hadn’t been, you know, obligated to read my crap on account of our wedding vows consisting of the words “to love, honor, and beta-read.”

I locked myself in my room and cried all evening.  Thirteen years of effort, and I had not managed to write one single novel that anyone wanted to read.  I had not sold one story.

All I’d ever wanted to do was write novels, and I pretty much sucked at it.


When I was thirty-five, I wrote my fifth novel: “A Cup Of Sirusian Coffee.”  Wrote the whole goddamned thing from scratch.  It was a funny idea, and my college buddies still asked about it, so clearly I just needed to go back to the drawing board.

This was novel #5 – and that was the toughest one.  See, Stephen King, my favorite Unca Stephen, had written five novels before he sold his first one.  He’d famously wadded up Carrie and thrown it in the trash, and his wife had rescued it, put his ass back in the seat, told him to keep going.  He did.  Fame and fortune resulted.

That meant this was my lucky novel.  This was the one I was guaranteed to publish.  After all, how many novels did you have to write before you got good?

After sending the new manuscript far and wide, I heard back from a publisher two years later.  They told me the opening paragraphs were “interesting” but then it “fell apart quickly… if the author could capture the style of those first paragraphs again, it might be worth it.”

But by then, I’d pretty much given up trying.


When I was thirty-eight, Catherynne Valente yelled at me.  “Just send in the damn application,” she said.

“I’m not a good writer,” I told her.  “The Clarion Science Fiction Writers’ Workshop is for serious writers.  I’ve sold three stories in twenty years, for $15 total.  I’m never going to get in.”

She smiled.  “So send it in.  Just to shut me up.”

I did.

I got accepted.

I got scourged.

I got to learn that over the last twenty years, I’d accreted all kinds of bad habits – stiff plotting, flabby prose, a reliance on recreating stereotypes instead of actually writing about people I knew.  Clarion taught me that I wasn’t a bad writer, I’d just been too overconfident in my raw abilities… and now that I had finally been forced to acknowledge all my weak spots, I could fix those and reinvent myself for the better.

Over the next three years, I sold fourteen stories, five of them at professional rates.  For which I still thank Catherynne.

But I wasn’t quite ready to write a novel.  Not yet.


When I was forty-one, I finally got the courage back to work on my sixth novel: a sweeping science-fiction epic called “The Upterlife.”  I spent a year revising it, and – I shit you not – not two hours after I finished the final draft of that damn novel, Mary Robinette Kowal called me up to tell me that my novelette Sauerkraut Station had been nominated for the Nebula Award.

If that wasn’t a signal from God that I was ready to sell a damn novel, what was?  I sent that manuscript to all the best agents, with a killer query, telling them by way, I’m up for a Nebula this year and I just happen to have this novel for you.

They all rejected it.

Every.

Last.

One.


When I was forty-three, I wrote my seventh novel.  It was Breaking Bad with magic, a desperate bureaucromancer turned to manufacturing enchanted drugs to save his burned daughter… and it was by far the best thing I’d ever written.  I polished that sucker until it shined.  It shined.

But I was two novels beyond Stephen King.  I’d been struggling to get a novel published for twenty-four years now, clawing at the walls of the Word Mines, and I had no hope of anything but oh God I couldn’t stop and I realized that I wasn’t going to stop, that the breath in my body would run out before I stopped writing tales and who the hell cared if I got published or not I was locked in.  I had to create.  I had to.


And I sold it.


Flex, by Ferrett Steinmetz.  The story of Paul Tsabo, bureaucromancer, his daughter Aliyah, and the kinky videogamemancer Valentine DiGriz, who I’m pretty sure you’re gonna love.  Published by Angry Robot books – the very publisher of whom I said to my wife, “If I could have any publisher take my first book, it’d be Angry Robot.”

Coming to bookstores on September 30th.  (EDIT: And you can pre-order it now through Amazon. Lordy, that was fast.)


I don’t care what novel you’re on.

Do not give up.

(Cross-posted from Angry Robot’s blog.)

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I used to think the worst casting of all time was Jack Nicholson in The Shining.  The man looked like he was about to put an axe through your head the second he walked through the door, so it’s not like there was anywhere for him to go.  But at least the rest of The Shining was successful, so the film worked around him.

Noah, however, collapses at the casting of Russell Crowe.

The central problem with Noah is that its main character ark (see what I did there?) is at odds with what Russell Crowe is known for delivering.  If you’re looking to deliver a vegan soft-hearted guy who doesn’t want to kill anyone, Fighty McRussell is not your first choice.

And yet that’s what the film’s heart is, ostensibly, about: literally the best man in the world, someone shocked by the idea of eating animals, a man who, when confronted with the evils of the world, falls into despair and honestly believes that God wants to use him to save the animals and then let mankind die off.  The journey of Noah is from good man to despair, a man who loses faith in his own children and comes to see them as sinful, worthy of being scourged.  After all, he’s traumatized by seeing his Creator kill off every other living being in the world – given that mankind was what destroyed the Garden of Eden, is it that big a leap to believe that God wants his family to be the last of humanity?

But the film doesn’t back that.  In the opening segment, we see three men perpetrating the shocking crime of killing an animal – for meat!  And they threaten to kill Noah.  And Noah becomes the Gladiator, slaughtering them with major karate moves without a second thought – the sort of glowering destruction that Russell Crowe is known for.

Problem is, that’s not what the movie actually wants to do.  Russell Crowe-as-Noah kills them, shrugs, and moves on… which implies he’s killed a lot of men, and no longer cares.  But since the whole point of this movie is Noah’s great love of mankind rubbing up against his hatred of man’s sins, turning this pivotal moment into a generic action sequence is precisely wrong.

My preference would be to have Noah not be a knife-slingin’ badass, the kind of man who kills awkwardly because he’s reluctant to do so – and if he has to be good at it, let it be that terrified Jackie Chan style of fighting where it’s mostly defensive and Jackie looks like he’d rather be somewhere else the entire time.  But even if that’s not the case, if the goal is to show how Noah the compassionate man comes to despair, we need to see that reaction afterwards – the pain of him knowing that oh no, I’ve done this again, the terror of realizing that he too has once again been backed into the ways of Cain.

But nope.  We get a shrug, and Russell Crowe stoically walks away to feel bad for the animal.  And that defangs so much of the rest of the movie, it’s not even funny.

For we know plot of this movie – he’s going to build an ark, save the animals, float a while, bump into land, see the dove.  So all that’s left along this journey is to provide us with surprising and fitting character moments.  And having Russell Crowe, who swallows all of his emotions, be the vehicle to deliver a tale about curdled faith followed by redemption, is a wrong choice.  We don’t see him struggle with his faith so much as rage against it, and “rage” is probably not the ideal choice.

I’m not sure who I would have chosen to deliver this Biblical epic – perhaps Viggo Mortenson? – but Crowe’s ill-matched.

Now, what I find fascinating about the film is that it’s criticized for elements I’d actually like to have seen more of.  People complain about the half-science fiction elements of the world, with crumpled angels walking about and remnants of technology buried in the desert, but the Bible itself says the world was stranger in those days.  This is a world shortly after the Fall, where the echoes of God could still be heard, where men lived a thousand years and routinely bred with angels.  It was a different time – and while some are put off by Aronofsky’s interpretation, I wanted more weirdness, more of a reminder that the Earth has moved on. I wanted to see more of these great cities that drowned, instead of keeping the action to a small and distant forest.  So much of the movie is just Noah in a boxy ark, with sleeping animals almost invisible in the firelight, and those shots could have been filmed in almost any warehouse.

You can complain about the weirdness of the murder angels, but seriously, read the Bible.  There’s a lot weirder stuff in there, mang.

And like all of Aronofsky’s films, it’s just flat-out beautiful.  He has an eye for composition, and it’s pretty… but unfortunately, yanking the tension from the Noah plotline leaves the rest of the movie feeling turgid.  Look beyond the acting and to the words of the script and you can see that place where there was supposed to be a crackle-and-hum of Noah, the best man in the world, being forced up against unthinkable amounts of sin and death.  What psychological damage would that grind into even the best man?  Is Noah, who literally holds the fate of the Earth in his hands, stable enough to rest such a burden on?

The answer we get from Crowe is, Yeah, I’m tough.  Which is an excellent answer in many movies.  Just not this one.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

When I expressed dread at the upcoming Star Wars movie yesterday, I got a lot of people floating their dream directors for the project.  And I have to say: given the idiotic constraints Disney put on the film, JJ Abrams is probably the best director they could have gotten.

Which is to say that Disney treated Star Wars as “release date first, everything else second.”  They’d locked down the date so all the other movie studios would get out of the way, and are now lurching towards that date come hell or highwater.  As noted, it’s coming eighteen months from now, and they haven’t finished the script.  (It took Lucas four years to write the script for the original Star Wars, and about eighteen months for everyone concerned to finish the script for Empire Strikes Back – and that was with Lucas’ overarching story notes.)  Clearly, what the big D wants is “A huge profit center,” and the actual quality of the movie is secondary to dominating Christmas 2015 with the inevitable Star Wars juggernaut.

So given that a huge quality film often takes years to develop, and they needed to toss something together quick, JJ Abrams is a good choice.  He’s flashy, he works quick, he’s clever.

But if we had infinite time, and Disney had treated the Star Wars films as though they were, you know, Star Wars and not some expensive direct-to-video sequel to the Lion King, who would have been best qualified to direct?

Not Kevin Smith.  Disclaimer: I like Kevin Smith. He’s directed some funny movies.  But I can’t recall a film of his where he’s had a memorable action sequence (and yes, I’m recalling both Dogma and Red State), and his characters are often all quips and no depth.  The glory of Star Wars is that it has things both ways – Han is both snarky and a real character, as is Luke, as is Leia.  Kevin Smith would certainly nail the quips, but would you really root for his heroes the way you did for Luke and Han?  I doubt it.  Plus, Kevin’s kind of a lazy writer.

In addition, Kevin’s a big Star Wars fanboy.  That’s actually not a real bonus for me.  When you have someone who treats the original material with such reverence, what you get is a sort of Christopher Columbus-does-Harry Potter movies thing where you have someone working so hard at emulation they forget to do anything actually interesting.  I think Kevin, with no experience helming big-budget, high-SFX projects, would be a disaster.  (Though script-doctoring?  Oh, bring in Kevin!)

Not Joss Whedon. 
I also like Joss, but when all this hooplah started he was committed to Marvel via an adamantium contract. I’ll hold out for quality, but I don’t really wanna wait until 2021 for my movie.

Plus, Joss needs to be restrained to work properly.  When he has his own projects, he winds up making all his characters miserable.  Do you really want Luke to die, Wash-style, at the end of this new Star Wars?  I almost guarantee you something like that’d happen; Joss loves his heroic sacrifice, and who would be a bigger moment than watching Harrison Ford get the noble sacrifice he was pushing for all the way back in Return of the Jedi?  You might see Luke and Han and Leia going out in a blaze of glory.

James Cameron. 
Given that he’s obsessed with Avatar, you’d have to back a truckload of money up – maybe even buy him the sunken remains of the Titanic.

But seriously, gripe though you might, Cameron is the spiritual successor to Lucas.  Corny dialogue that actually works for most people?  Check.  Ability to direct the best action sequences put to film, sequences that could only really be appreciated on the big screen in an age of video streaming?  Check.  Familiarity with SFX?  Check.  Overreliance on the Campbellian hero archetype?  Checkity-check.

Yes, Cameron would probably bring his techno-fetish to the new Star Wars, and make it a little more military than I’d be comfortable with.  And the new Star Wars wouldn’t appear until 2018 at the earliest, even if he started the day of the announcement.  (The man takes his time.) But assuming you could get him to do the job, he’d be damned perfect for it.

But Cameron would probably have turned it down (who’s to say he didn’t?), so that leaves me with my next bet…

Brad Bird.
“Who?” You ask.  The guy who directed The Incredibles, that’s who – perhaps the best superhero film of this century.  The guy who directed Iron Giant, and don’t you dare tell me you don’t tear up when you hear the robot saying “Superman.”

“But those are cartoons!” you say, and I’ll counter that he directed the last Mission Impossible with its breathtaking “Tom Cruise leaps off the side of a Dubai skyscraper” sequence.

Brad Bird is the perfect choice, because he really cares about melding character with action, the old Star Wars way.  He’s got good lines in him (especially if you get a Kevin Smith in to funny it up).  And he really knows how to direct some amazing action sequences with ratcheting tension, which is what Star Wars is known for.  It’s a shame he turned Disney down because they needed him to start directing ASAP, but I’m still looking forward to Tomorrowland (coming 2015 to a theater near you).

Gore Verbinski. 
Okay, yeah, he just bombed and bombed hard with The Lone Ranger, so nobody would want him.  And his work on Pirates of the Caribbean sequels were, shall we say, exactly the sort of crappy sequel that I fear (and that Disney rushed out in the same way that they are rushing Star Wars).

But my hope is that Gore has learned his lesson – and when he’s on his game, he makes the original Pirates of the Caribbean and The Ring.  He’s visually inventive, and I’ll put the original Depp-vs.-Bloom duel in Pirates, complete with witty banter, up against anything in Star Wars.  If he understands that his job is to fight the studio’s onrushing deadlines and work to get only quality, I think he’d actually do a damned fine job.

Darren Aronofsky.
Okay, the guy who brought us Noah, The Black Swan, Pi, and The Fountain would be a terrible choice, transforming the visuals into hunched dark landscapes and Luke into a zealot seeking redemption at all costs… but damn, if anyone’s going to wreck the series, I want to see the way he wrecks it.

Someone I Hadn’t Considered.
Hey, Peter Jackson was not on my radar when Lord of the Rings was announced, but he turned out to be a fine choice.  “The guy who directed Evil Dead” would not have been my go-to for revitalizing Spider-Man.  The Spanish guy who did that film about two dudes taking a roadtrip would not have been my pick for directing the best movie in the Harry Potter franchise.

If I was going to go for Star Wars, I’d probably skip the guys who’d had multimillion dollar hits and choose someone who’d had success with limited budgets, someone who knew how to take $1,000 and make it look like a million, someone with the same hungry eye that Lucas had when he started out.  After all, if you were going to direct the new Star Wars, would you choose the guy whose biggest hit ’til then was a film about teenagers in the 1950s?

But you know, that film was American Graffiti and that director was one Mr. George Lucas, so it just goes to show: you never know.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

We love the Meyers, but they are inconveniently located.  We live on the West Side of Cleveland; the Meyers live on the East.  And thanks to Cleveland’s bizarre reluctance to build a freeway anywhere near population centers, there is no direct route.

So instead of a twenty-minute trip, getting there is a forty-minute ride across buckled streets and dodgy neighborhoods.  This makes scheduling tricky; I have to work eight hours, I have to write two hours, and if I want to see the Meyers then to the East Side’s inconvenience we must go and that’s ninety minutes vanished right there in transit.

Yet we must.  Not just because they are our friends, but because our goddaughter Rebecca has brain cancer.

We don’t know how long she has.  And we need to stand by our dear friends in their hour of need.

And Kat, seeing our stress, has been encouraging us to go to a cancer counselor – someone specialized in dealing with the grief and stress that comes from watching a loved one go through this.  And it is stressful.  We call Rebecca our godchild, but Gini pointed out to me that we were literally the first ones to lay eyes on each of the Meyer children as they arrived at the home.  We’ve changed their diapers, bandaged their wounds, played with them regularly.

In a very real sense, the definition is closer to “grandchildren.”

In a very real sense, as Rebecca diminishes, so do I.

But I’ve been holding off on going to the cancer counselor, because I don’t have time to squeeze in yet another ninety minutes of driving on top of everything else.  I’m glad Kat and Eric have someone to go to, but me?  I can’t haul my ass over to the East side again, not for therapy, I really can’t.

Until Gini pointed out that there was also a clinic here.  On the West Side.  Ten minutes away.  She seemed aghast that I’d think there was only one clinic to deal with Cleveland’s cancer-related psychological issues.

But really, deep in my heart, I’d subconsciously hoped that what we were going through wasn’t that common.  Watching Rebecca is tearing us to shreds.  Watching the Meyers is breaking our hearts.  Watching ourselves struggle to face this cold reality is slicing time off our lives, the stress weighing on our bodies.  I can feel the anxiety shortening my time here, and though I knew it was possible to die of heartbreak, only now do I truly feel how such a thing could happen.

I’d hoped that it was just us.  But it isn’t.  It’s a hundred people, a thousand, maybe hundreds of thousands over the years, dealing with this goddamned disease and the helplessness you feel as some sickness ravages someone you love, and it was okay when it was just me but knowing this is replicating across the city, the state, the nation, the globe, feels like a door has swept open and all the evils in the world are walking in.

I wanted just one clinic.  Inconveniently located.  Infrequently used.  And the goddamn thing all but has franchises, and today that seems so unfair it makes my fingers tremble.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I saw Star Wars well over fifty times in the theater.

I met my wife in a Star Wars chat room on Compuserve, where we debated the dubious wisdom of the Death Star Trench approach.

When we got married, we put Luke and Leia on top of the cake.  (I’m not a Han, and you can’t make me.)

And I am dreading the new Star Wars movie.

It’s not that I’m not excited about the idea of a new Star Wars movie, but it seems that “an idea” is all Disney had… well, that and a release date.  Which they aren’t changing.  So the new Star Wars is coming out next year – and they may not have finished the script, or finished casting, but by God they sure are shooting footage because when the date is looming, dammit, you start filling celluloid.

And what we’ll get, barring some miracle, will be something like Pirates of the Carribean 2 and 3 – also Disney productions that started shooting before the scripts were finalized, pretty things with plots and motivations that hold together only long enough to carry you to the next scene, stitched together with a lot of witty one-liners that you never quite remember because they’re witty like some Twitter status, not witty locked into characterization.

(“Witty locked into characterization” is like the first Pirates, where someone told Jack Sparrow “You’re the worst pirate I’ve ever heard of” and he riposted, “But you have heard of me,” which told us everything we needed to know about the Captain.)

And I like JJ Abrams, but he’s only done an okay job on Star Trek.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the movies… but I enjoy ‘em largely because I’m a Star Trek fan, and I tend to forget about them when they’re not around.  Yeah, people like the new Star Trek, but do you see half as much fangirl squee about it as you do, say, Sherlock, or Doctor Who?  Hell, I’ve seen more happy posts and image memes devoted to Adventure Time than I have these two movies.

The new Star Treks are fire-and-forget summer blockbusters – a good place to be, don’t get me wrong, but it’s coming from a show that was the formative fandom, literally the first adult sci-fi frenzy in history.  Those old Star Treks were so popular that the fans went seven years of isolation, not a film or a show or a bone, and still they threw conventions, warming themselves by the fire of old episodes.  Those old Star Treks were so popular at the time that they made Doctor Who fandom look tiny.

And now we have two movies, and if there was never a third, I don’t think anyone would have a great uproar the way people still moan for a Firefly reunion.  We like those movies.  They made us happy.  But there’s a difference between “That’s cool” and “ZOMG I CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT THIS,” and I’d argue Doctor Who and Sherlock and even Downton Abbey fill that role more than JJ Abrams’ remakes.

And Star Wars?  A high bar, man.  And JJ Abrams has already shown us what he’s capable of with infinite time to work with: he’ll come up with something sleek, clever, and ultimately dispensable.  I’m not bashing JJ Abrams – trying to recreate that magic is all but impossible – but JJ really does like ZOMG PLOT TWIST over character-building any day, and what people ultimately stay for is character.  And what happens when the script – the thing that builds character – is being back-written to accommodate Big Splashy Action Sequences?

So I’m pretty sure what we’ll get.  It will be pretty.  It will be fun to watch.  It will be entertaining.  And it will slide out the back of our heads, getting dumped into the neglected back yard of Blockbusters We Enjoyed, and won’t take up residence in our souls.  It’ll be something we’ll be happy to watch if it comes on late-night television and we’re bored.

But will it be like Princess Bride, or Galaxy Quest, or any number of other films where we don’t just consume it, but actively crave it time after time?

I hope.  But I doubt.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I think Emily Asher-Perrin is the best blogger on Tor.com right now, and she wrote an article called It’s Time To Get Over Firefly.  Which basically states that Firefly is overrated because a) it ended before it had a chance to disappoint us, and b) some of the impending plotlines and themes were a little troubling (specifically, the overarching themes of Southern Restoration and the appropriation of Asian themes without actual Asian people).

This caused a hubbub in certain circles.  “How dare she say Firefly is overrated!” people cried, rallying the flags, and I’m all like What, hey, why? 

I don’t get that defensiveness over fandom.  I never have.

I love old-school Doctor Who.  But the episodes are padded, the special effects are laughable, and the acting is often wooden.  So what?  I can acknowledge those flaws and not have them bother me.  If I waited for a show to be perfect on every level before I could enjoy it, then I’d never watch a damn thing.

And even if I thought the acting on old-school Who was wonderful, hey, it’s a big world.  Some people think Daniel Day-Lewis, the most acclaimed thespian of our generation, is a terrible actor.

Am I such a neurotic that I cannot enjoy something until everyone loves it in the way I do?

And I see all these silly fandom scuffles where people get really bent out of shape because You Do Not Understand The True Batman or ZOMG How Can You Not Love Star Wars and You Dumbass Picard Is Way Better Than Kirk, and some people are getting seriously upset over these things – as though they cannot rest until everyone shares their opinions.  As though somehow, a difference in taste is a wound to their very soul.

And I think what happens is that people are making the silly error that “I love it” means “It is perfect.”  This is a thought process that inevitably leads to ruin, whether it’s in fandom or work or in romance.  Something can sweep you up in whirls of dizzying rapture, but it’s not that it doesn’t have flaws – it’s that you don’t mind them.  (Usually because the good stuff is so damned good that you may not even notice the fractures in the background.)

Look, I get that this TV show or movie or comic book has spoken to something deep within you.  It expressed something important about your very nature in a way that you wished you’d been able to do it, becoming in a very real sense a part of you.  And that’s great.  That’s the power of fiction.

But then people make the leap of, “Well, if I like it, then everyone should!”, turning their love into a popularity contest, acting as if they can make this show as well-loved as possible then somehow they’ve vindicated something about themselves.  And their fandom mutates away from expressing a love for the show and into a sort of baffled belligerence that anyone could ever not like this thing so crucial to them.

Then they do the usual thing zealots do – they get angry whenever anyone points out an error with the thing they love, they take it personally, and they try to stomp that opposition to the curb so no one brings up this troubling issue ever again.  It ceases to be a fandom and more like a religion, where the One Truth Faith must prove itself over the bodies of others.

Look.  Pointing out flaws shouldn’t destroy your enjoyment.  Poke deeply at the greatest works of art in the world, and you’ll find so-called flaws.  Those flaws bother some people, don’t bother others.  They don’t bother you, apparently, and that’s all that should matter.  Love shouldn’t consist of a battle to the death to justify its existence – there will always be people who don’t like what you do.  There will always be people who don’t believe as you do.  And as long as they’re not trying to cancel your show (hint: pretty much no fan is ever trying to cancel your show, and none successfully), then their difference of opinion shouldn’t matter.

Relax.  Sit back.  Let all of those other people roll on with their hatred.  The glory of the Internet is that you can find people who like what you do, and fandom should be about accentuating and deepening that like instead of angrily justifying what you enjoy to people who wouldn’t like it anyway.

It’s a big world.  Big enough you can sit back in your living room and read the words of people who agree with you.  And on those occasions you find someone who disagrees violently, it’s okay to clear your browser cache and move the fuck on.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Who is the most popular character on my blog?  If you think it’s me, you’re wrong.

Gini?  Nope.

Basing popularity on “How often people ask about them,” the most popular person on this blog is… my bees.

And I have good news!  Watch this video!

That’s right – the bees survived the winter.  Which was a very uncertain thing for a while.  We saw the bees doing cleansing flights a while back (bees do not poop all winter, instead waiting for spring to do their business outside the hive), but then we had several cold snaps again in March and didn’t see them for a month.  It was entirely possible that the bees had died in that chilly final stretch, which included four inches of wet snow on the final weekend in March.

Ah, Cleveland.  We love your weather.

Better yet, we know the queen survived, because these were new bees.  How can you tell?  Well, younger bees do an “orientation flight” around the front of the hive, zigzagging back and forth as they map what home looks like before venturing forth, and the hive was alight with lots of bees making sense of the place.  So the queen is inside, laying eggs – precisely what we want our queen to do.

But which bees are these?  Long-term readers will know that our original bees were the Good Bees – well-tempered bees that hardly ever stung, accepting of our constant novice intrusions.  The queen in that hive died off and our attempt to re-queen didn’t take, so sadly, the Good Bees all died.  We replaced them with the Bad Bees – very hostile suckers who stung every time we got near them, and chased anyone who got near the hive.  We didn’t feed those fuckers and they died off last winter, much to our relief.

So who are these?  These are the Mystery Bees.  We intended to take care of them, but we went on a trip to Hawaii in July and then Rebecca was diagnosed with brain cancer when we got back in August, so we pretty much ignored them from July on.  We don’t know their temperament.  Alas, thanks to crazy life-issues, we have become bee-havers, not bee-keepers (as they say scornfully at the meetings), and so we must learn to take care of these guys once we get better gloves.  (The mice ate the fingertips out of our gloves.)

We’ll be doing a hive inspection once the weather warms up a bit.  But it looks like we’ve got a hive in somewhat working order.  That’s a bit of nice news, something we’ve been short on lately.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

On Saturday, I posted this half-assed bit of Twitter activism:

You can go read the link if you want to find out what the hubbub was about, but basically, like many restaurants, Chili’s has various “days” where it donates some percentage of its profits to charity.  The charity in question was the National Autism Association – who could be against helping Autism?

Well, I could, as it turns out, since they’re apparently notoriously anti-vaccination.  (And if you’re anti-vaccination, then please.  I’d tell you to educate yourself elsewhere, but if you were capable of doing the math on it, you’d have done it by now.  Suffice it to say that your beliefs are doing a lot of harm to a lot of kids – and even if you were completely, 100% correct in your fears [which you are not], you’re basically saying, “I’d rather my kids die than get autism!”  Which, you know, not so wonderful an approach.)

And I’m pretty sure I know how this happened: some overworked schmuck at the Chili’s HQ with a ton of work on their plate saw “National Autism Association,” said, “That sounds nice,” and approved it.  That person had never had an Internet come crashing down on their head before, because usually charities to help sick people don’t come with nefarious controversies attached to them, and hadn’t done the research beyond ascertaining that they were a legitimate organization.

And so, when Chili’s reversed course, I said, “Okay, fair enough, thank you,” and undid my boycott.  (Not that it was much of a boycott anyway, seeing as I haven’t eaten at Chili’s in a decade.  My real boycott with Chili’s involves a lack of enthusiasm about their food.)

Now here’s the thing you have to remember about boycotts:

If you boycott someone permanently, you’re fucking up the boycott.

The whole point of a boycott is that there is forgiveness at the end – a way for these companies to get your money back.  I’ve been boycotting Chick-Fil-A for over a decade now, and it’s anguish, as they’re right across the street from me and I love their food and especially their delicious breakfasts.  But they’re anti-gay, and keep doing stupid anti-gay things just often enough that I’m unconvinced that I’m not hurting gay rights’ causes by filling their coffers, and so I stay away.

But if they were to do an about-face that I was comfortable with – which would, admittedly, be a high bar after years and years of disappointment – I would probably buy there more.  I would reward them for doing the right thing at last, even though it took years, because when you’re dealing with something as fiduciarily-motivated as a soulless business entity, the only form of motivation they understand is dollars over the transom.

Now, I saw a handful of folks who were still fuming at Chili’s for giving money to anti-vaxxers, saying, “Well, I’ll never eat there again!”  Those people are almost as dumb as the anti-vaxxers.  If you yank away your money permanently, what you are teaching companies is, “The slightest mistake will cost you customers you can never get back again” – which, in this day of exceptional sensitivity and Internet-stoked fires, could be any mistake.

No.  You must teach them, “You can piss us off, but you can also work to win our forgiveness.”  Which encourages them to do the right thing as we define it.  If you’ve dropped Mozilla because the CEO donated to Proposition 8 and now refuse to use Firefox ever again based on a single error, you’re doing it wrong.

People will screw up.  You have screwed up – I guarantee this.  And if all it takes for you to abandon someone forever is a single error, then you’re inflexible and punishing.  Allow the companies to err just as people do – because remember, like Soylent Green, multinational corporations are made of people, and usually underpaid people trying to work under the rapid pressures of idiot bosses.  Not every error is a concealed agenda, indicating that this company is committed to destroy everything you love.  This is a complicated world, and things frequently get lost in the whirlwind of other concerns, and it’s frequently not obvious just how awful this is until someone with more experience looks at it.

Chili’s screwed up.  They made it right, and I’m pretty sure they’ll do better vetting next time.  In this imperfect world that’s all I can ask, and in this imperfect world all I can ask is that you occasionally allow a screwup to be just a “whoops.”

There is a certain grace in accepting an apology.  Learn to do so, when you can.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

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