theferrett: (Meazel)

So there’s this great Buzzfeed article about Spotify: “How Hip-Hop Conquered Streaming.”

In it, we learn that this current generation of kids does not understand purchasing music at all – which maps to watching my various Godchildren interact with music.  When they want to listen to a song, they go to YouTube.  For them, music is something you get by going to the Internet.

And hip-hop, the music that appeals to the youngest of demographics, reflects that change.  Spotify’s a service that has an extremely young audience – their core listeners tend to be 18-24, right in the pocket of hip-hop’s most engaged audience.   So when it comes to the intersection of streaming + hip-hop, Spotify multiplies and dominates.

Spotify is, largely, a young person’s phenomenon.  Here’s the most fascinating bit, to my mind:

According to a study by GMI Market Research provided to BuzzFeed News, the average age of users of major music platforms is as follows: Spotify, 28; Pandora, 32; iTunes, 34; SiriusXM, 42; terrestrial radio, 43.

(I love the way “terrestrial radio” sounded all space-aged to me until I realized it meant “Car radio.”)

But basically, there’s a huge age gap in who Spotify appeals to. The average age of users is 28, but the Buzzfeed article indicates that the most engaged Spotify users are teens and college kids.  And that doesn’t even map the audience sizes of each: I’d be willing to bet that if you’re over 40 (and particularly if you’re not hooked into the Internet beyond checking Facebook), the chances you’ve heard of Spotify are comparatively slim, at least compared to the widespread brand-name recognition of iTunes and Sirius Radio.

So Spotify has a marketing challenge.

So on Saturday, Spotify made a (now deleted) Tweet that said:

Ahead of #MothersDay, how would you explain Spotify to your Mom? There could be free Spotify Premium in it for her!

…And the cries of #Sexist and #Ageist rang out.

Sexist? Maybe. I mean, it’s an advertisement for Mother’s Day, so it’s going to reference women, and maybe it inadvertently stomps on the societal (and erroneous) undertone that “Women aren’t good at technology.” It may also have been that they would have clumsily asked you to explain Spotify to Dad if Father’s Day had come up first on the calendar, so I can’t say definitively.

But ageist? Absolutely! This Tweet assumes that mothers who are old enough to have given birth to people following Spotify on Twitter don’t know how Spotify works.

The issue here: statistically speaking, they are probably correct.

On average, a woman has her first kid in her mid-to-late twenties.  Adding in the average age of a Spotify user, that means the average mother is going to be roughly fifty-five – twice as old as the average Spotify user, and hence a statistical outlier.  (Being charitable, and assuming this Tweet was aimed at teens, maybe we’re talking about mothers in their mid-to-late forties.  Still above the curve.)  They may understand streaming in some vague sense, but not in the concrete sense that they can stream music in their car, with their cell phone, on a fairly crappy connection.

Spotify’s in a bind here, because they’re trying to avoid stating their real reason for this Tweet.  A more accurate version would be:

Ahead of #MothersDay, how would you sell Spotify to your Mom?

But then people would go “Crap, I don’t want to be a shill for Spotify” and tune out. (Not that the original Tweet was a mastery of the form, but it at least had some plausible denial.)

There’s more tone-clueful ways to dance around this issue – “Make a Mother’s Day Playlist for your mom, send it to her, get her to download this software she doesn’t use, and maybe she’ll win free Premium!” – but none of that gets around the central problem that this “Ageist” assumption is, well, probably likely true.

Not true for everyone.   But a chronic problem people have is in conflating “Well, I know someone!” with “This statistical data is wrong!”  I mean, there was that new study that shows that on average, people stop listening to new music at the age of 33.  And as we speak, I have the Spotify top 50 station open, because I like to know what the kids are listening to these days, and so I listen to a lot of new music.  (Here’s my favorite song of late, BTdubs.)

I could easily go, “Hey, I’m 45 and I listen to new music! That study is crap! My experience disproves it!”

Whereas the truth is that my experience neither proves nor disproves that study.  Yes, I listen to new music, but the study isn’t saying no one listens to new music after 33, just that most people do not.  Yet if I’m the sort of person who does, chances are good I’m going to get insulted by that accusation.

My saying, “My behavior reflects the behavior of everyone in my demographic!” is not particularly logical… but lots of people do it.

Likewise, yes, there are plenty of older people who do listen to Spotify, and understand perfectly how it works.  I’m 45, and the reason I listen to all that new music is because Spotify makes it easy for me.  Yet I can acknowledge that even as I do listen, if you were to take 100 45-year-old men and say, “So do you listen to Spotify?” the answer would largely be “No,” with a considerable portion of 45-year-old men answering, “What’s Spotify?”

And people can get angry at that assumption, but that doesn’t make the challenge facing Spotify any less true.  If these studies are accurate (I cannot attest that any of them are, but I’d bet dimes to dollars Spotify believes they’re accurate), then most mothers – and most people who are in their late forties to fifties – may not understand streaming, and certainly do not listen to Spotify.

And they have to find a way to sneak around that truth, because God forbid they imply anyone is ignorant.

Implying someone’s ignorant in something they’re informed of thumbs their rage button quicker than anything.

Which is why I’m not saying that Spotify was right to say what it did.  It was a tone-deaf Tweet that pissed off users, which is never a good thing.  But what I’m saying is that the tone-deaf Tweet pissed off users not necessarily because it was inaccurate as a whole, but because it got taken specifically.  If the study is true, then what happened here was that the outliers got really mad because they hated the way this assumption was incorrect about their personal experiences, even if that assumption may have been largely accurate for people in their age group.

So Spotify – and every other company on the planet – is now engaged in this weird dance where they know the truth, but dare not speak it. Yes, most 20-year-olds don’t vote, but if we say that we’ll piss off the ones who do. Yes, most people don’t know how Obamacare really affects them, but if we say that we’ll piss off the ones who do. (And always, always, we’ll piss off anyone who is actually ignorant, merely by stating the fact of their ignorance.)

How do we skitter around this ugly truth to inform the ignorant without annoying the people who are actually informed?

I wish I knew.  All I know is that I’m 45, and outside many demographics. I’m a weirdo polyamorous young-listening hypersocial introvert writer, and I see ads that assume bad things of me all the time.

Yet despite knowing what a demographic weirdo I am, I still get mad when corporations make awful assumptions about what I like in life.  Because while there are many things I’m an outlier on, “Being immune to anger when I’m miscategorized” isn’t one of them.

The embarrassing truth is, I’m okay with Spotify miscategorizing me, but only because I take it as a quiet proof that I’m living my life as I want to live it: Hey, these other older people haven’t a clue, but you are hip and young!  If there was an advertisement that suggested men my age and weight were sexually unattractive, even if that was statistically correct, I’d be furious.

Just like the mothers who have just been told that their technological skills are insufficient are furious.

So maybe I’m wrong to be angry when Budweiser assumes I love sports and hate clothes shopping simply because I’m a guy – a majority of American men fit that profile, and they’re merely playing the odds. But Budweiser’s job isn’t to correct me; it’s to sell their products and services, and that means ensuring that “correcting my bad assumptions” isn’t a wise move on their point.  If I’m angry for irrational reasons, far better to tiptoe around that rage and find some other, more clever, way to sell me things.  Or just pretend they didn’t hear my complaints, because hey, there are plenty of men who do love sports and hate shopping, and why not focus on this profitable cluster of dudebros where all the money lies?

This is why advertisements don’t make the world better.  They just find ways to sneak around our irrationalities or to marginalize us. Because that’s what sells.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I mentioned it on Twitter, but then promptly forgot to note it here for posterity:

The audiobook rights for Flex have been sold to Audible.com, my favorite books-on-audio site.

I have no details other than this. No, I don’t know who’s reading it. No, I don’t know when it’ll be out (though I hope it’s out by this summer).  No, I don’t know how much it’ll cost.

All I know is that it’s a two-book deal for both Flex and The Flux (Flex’s sequel, which drops in October), and someone will be tasked with reading that impossible prologue with all of the parenthesized numbers, and I’m as excited as hell to see how it sounds once it’s all out on digital.

So yay! Thanks for buying, and liking, Flex enough that they’re doing the audio production!

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Yesterday, on Twitter, Alyssa Wong asked this:

To which I replied:

…which is a weird thing about writing that nobody outside the creative arenas quite gets: Popularity does not equal personal satisfaction. History is rife with musicians whose most popular song they wrote was one they couldn’t stand, and full of authors whose “best book” fell to dust while their toss-off novel went on to win awards.

Me, I’m lucky; as a short story writer, there’s two I’m known for, and I like them both. “Run,” Bakri Says is a great sci-fi time-travel story, and Sauerkraut Station (which I’m writing a sequel to) is a pretty decent riff on “Little House on the Prairie” in the stars.

But if I had to pick my top two stories, “Bakri” would be one of them, and “Shoebox Heaven” would be the other. Shoebox Heaven was printed in Andromeda Spaceways magazine, and then disappeared. Couldn’t get it reprinted, couldn’t get it put on one of the audio podcasts for a performance.  It’s like my hipster story in that occasionally my deep fans reference it, but mostly it’s vanished.

Yet when Alyssa asked about it yesterday, it occurred to me that I hadn’t actually reprinted that story on my site, even though the rights had reverted to me. And why not? It resonates with me.  I’m proud of it. It should be on the web somewhere.

So without further ado, I present to you: “Shoebox Heaven.” The story of a boy who flies to Heaven to rescue his dead cat.

I hope you like it as much as I do.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Gini and I were creeping up on a divorce, one angry fight at a time. “We need to get help,” we said, so we found ourselves a marriage counsellor.

Our marriage counsellor loved to watch us fight.

Every Monday after work we’d go in, and the counsellor would pepper us with variants of the same question: “So how do you feel your partner is being unfair?” And it would take a good twenty minutes before the room would heat up – but with unerring accuracy, the counsellor would home in on the exact places where I thought Gini was being a cold bitch and Gini thought I was being a whiny bastard.

Then, leading us on with quiet questions, he’d evoke all the ways we constrained each other. He’d ask Gini what her life would be like if she didn’t have to deal with my anxiety. He’d ask me how I’d feel if only Gini respected my feelings. His voice would never rise, but ours did, as he outlined all the crimes we perpetrated on each other.

We’d start yelling.

It’s not fair that you need me to call when I stay out late!

Yeah, well, how fucked up is it that all I need is a call and you can’t even pick up your fucking cell phone?

Maybe I don’t call because I know just calling won’t ever be enough for you! You’ll –

“Let’s bring this to a close.”

And just like that, our forty-five minutes were up. We were in the middle of a screaming fight now, but the counsellor had other patients in the waiting room, and we’d made some breakthroughs today, and we’ll continue this next week.

Like hell we would. We’d go home and fight for three hours, reiterating all the horrors of our marriage in detail until we were so tired all we could do was hold hands and try to remember what it was like not to hate each other.

We lasted four sessions with this counsellor. I don’t know whether he had a plan – maybe if we’d had more time, he would have guided us towards answers instead of raising all the ugliest of questions – but after session #4, Gini and I fought in the parking lot for an hour because the kids were home, and then finally said:

You know what? Fuck this guy.

Yeah. Fuck this guy.

And we left.

Now, I still believe in the power of therapy, and counseling, and professional aid. I’ve had friends who are still together today, only because they found a good therapist who gave them the tools to fix their marriage. Good therapy is empowering, brilliant, life-saving.

The problem is that you have to find good therapy.

And that’s something that doesn’t get discussed often enough. When someone’s in a suicidal depression, we tell them “get some therapy” like a therapist is a magic wand that gets waved in your face, and *poof!* your problems are gone.

And the truth is, therapy is a lot like dating. It’s not that there are good and bad therapists (though there are), but rather that there are good and bad counsellors for you.

Some therapists make a lot of suggestions, which is great for someone who bounces ideas off of people, but can be terrible for someone with poor self-esteem who won’t realize these suggestions are harmful to them. Some therapists are very hands-off, which is great for someone who’ll recognize their own problems if they talk it out enough, but can be terrible for someone lacking self-insight. Some therapists default to heavy medication, which can be great for someone who has a broken brain, but can be terrible for someone who simply needs to talk out a few issues and now is buried under a fog of medical side-effects.

Every therapist has their own approach, and not all approaches are compatible with yours.

And even that caveat ignores the issues you can run into finding a therapist who isn’t qualified to handle your lifestyle choices. There’s the obvious issue of a queer person getting a conservative therapist who thinks that homosexuality is a disorder, but it can be more subtle – a kink-ignorant therapist who sees all BDSM as self-harm, a polyamorous-ignorant therapist who quietly pressures you into finding a primary partner because she believes all relationships should have a core partnered center.

And it gets ugly. Because psychological professionals in all their stripes are good things, but often the people who need them most are folks who are dysfunctional enough that they can’t recognize a bad relationship when they see it. They’ll stay with a therapist who’s clearly not meeting their needs, maybe even a therapist who’s inadvertently doing damage.

I say this because I was talking to a good friend this weekend, and she told me how when she got therapy, she sat down with them and said, “Okay. I’m queer, deep into leather protocol, and polyamorous. Are any of those going to be a challenge for you?” And she could tell by the doctor’s reaction whether this was going to work out for her.

Which was, I thought, the perfect way to handle therapy. Those first few sessions are a job interview, to see whether this person gives you feedback that betters your life. If it’s not working, you leave, and find another therapist.

(An option that’s often sadly not available for the poor or those in court-mandated therapy or simply for those with narrow insurance policies, but in an ideal world it should be as simple as “Not this guy, find someone better.”)

Yet what happens in real life is that we often treat therapy as though it’s a singular thing – “Yeah, I tried therapy, didn’t work.” Whereas what really happened was that you went to two doctors, neither of which were helpful for your needs, and wrote off the entire approach.

That’s like saying, “Yeah, I dated two people, it didn’t work out, I’m not the sort of person who can handle intimacy.” Maybe that final statement is true, maybe it’s not, but there’s so much at stake here that you should probably try more than two people before writing off the entire process.

And like dating, you should be aware that while therapy is an awesome thing, a life-affirming thing, a totally transformative thing, it only really works when you find the right person to do it with.

We often say “Get some help” as though you get a therapist and it’s fixed. Yet the truth is that you need to get the right *kind* of help, and it *is* out there for you, but that getting help is the start of a process where you look over a bunch of options and try them out and see what you feel better after you’ve had a few sessions, and you keep trying until you click with someone who brings you to your happy space.

That marriage counsellor probably worked some miracles for some couples. He came highly recommended. And the fact that he didn’t work for us isn’t proof that couples’ therapy is worthless, it’s proof that we needed to fight the right person to help mend our differences.

And yes, it is totally unfair that when you’re at such a low point in your life that you need a professional to step in and aid you, you may need to do extra work to sort through various flavors of assistance to determine which ones are going to get you out of this mess. You’re tired. You’re depressed. You may not think life is worth living, and yet here you are having to put more effort into it?

But that’s how this works. It’s not a one-size-fits-all shop. It’s like shopping for clothing, and if you’ve got the psychological equivalent of stubby legs and a long torso, you’re gonna have to shop around.

Yet when you’re done, you’re gonna look fabulous. I promise.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Every Memorial Day for the past decade, I have linked to my Memorial Day essay: A Love Letter To Those Who Kill.

And inspired by Jon Stewart’s recap of our country’s long history of screwing over our veterans – seriously, watch it, it’s both amazing and damning how long we’ve called people to sacrifice and then abandoned them – I’ve decided to institute another tradition:

So I started thanking soldiers for their service with more than words, by actually donating to a charity that helps them.

This year I donated $75 to Fisher House (A+ rating on Charity Watch’s list of veteran’s charities), mainly because they fly families to injured soldiers and I think it’s important to help the folks in the field. If you’ve got the cash, it’s not a bad place to throw a few bucks.

A word on the essay: A few years ago, someone expressed concern about the gendered language of this essay, of the repeated usage of “our boys” when there are, in fact, a lot of women in the military risking their lives as well. She felt that using the term “our boys,” though traditional, renders women invisible. She asked me to revise the essay to change this.

Unfortunately, a combination of “this is a snapshot what I said then, no matter how dumb it may sound to me now” and “I’ve watched George Lucas edit his shit into horror” and “I’m not sure in editing I wouldn’t change the meaning/introduce other errors which would then also need to be edited” makes me have a rule that I don’t edit an essay at all once it’s been up for a day or two. (Otherwise, I would doubtlessly edit some of my more controversial essays into such well-reasoned processes that people would wonder what the fuss was about. And the job of this blog is not to always make me look good or enlightened.)

But she raises a good point. I also raise a glass (and lend a hand) to the women in our services.  Thanks to everyone, all genders and races and religions and beliefs, who serves.

In any case, flaws and all, here it is.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So you prooooobably know my debut novel FLEX is out by now.  Probably.

There’s, like, a 40% chance you know the sequel, THE FLUX, is available for preordering as we speak and will be out in October.

Which is the weird thing about publicity, really: done properly, it punishes those who are paying attention. Because I’ve mentioned that the sequel is available for preorder at least five times on this blog, maybe more.  Those of you who were super-fans of me registered that fact, then committed that fact to memory.

Those who weren’t – and most of y’all aren’t – probably weren’t reading me on the day that I mentioned “Hey, the sequel’s dropping in October.”  Or you did read it, but you hadn’t read FLEX yet and didn’t give a crap about a sequel to a book you hadn’t even read yet.  Or you read FLEX and were vaguely interested in a sequel, but your cat was knocking over a glass of milk when you read me mentioning it and so you forgot.

The paradox of book-shilling is that to some, you’re talking about this book too damn much, and to others, you’re screaming PR at the top of your lungs and yet they have yet to hear you.  Yeah, it seems like The Avengers merch and advertisements were everywhere, but that’s because you were already keyed in to watch The Avengers movie: to the average joe on the street, they may not have even been aware the movie was coming out until the week beforehand.

And it’s not entirely a punishment, because if you’re Avengers-friendly, then you’re probably not too upset to see another Avengers trailer or another Avengers movie poster.  Still, the fact is, as an Avengers fan, you get pummelled with Avengers advertisements, all because someone who doesn’t care about the Avengers needs to see that damn trailer six or seven times before it triggers the “Oh, yeah, maybe I should see that” button.

(Truth: Most marketing studies show you need five to six impressions before you make a sale.)

So I try not to hammer on Mah Book overmuch – I talk about it a lot because it’s What I’m Doing these days, not as part of a marketing scheme – but there’s this weird conflict where I risk annoying the people who were paying attention in efforts of drawing the attention to those who weren’t.

Yet the weirder thing still?

That only gets people to buy your book, which is in and of itself pretty useless.

Thing is, I have a shelf full of books I bought from people I liked, and there the books sit.  And sometimes I even read the books and go, “Okay, that was decent,” and then I never mention it again.

The marketing these authors need, which only the quality of the book can create, is to have me going, “Oh my God, I am halfway through Ramez Naam’s Nexus and fucking loving every line of this book.”   There are only a few authors who have me handing out their books like candy, touting them on Twitter, recommending them to friends who I think I’d like.

The word-of-mouth where people spontaneously recommend your book without you nagging them?  That’s the key to long-term success.  And you can’t control that. All you can do is to write a good book that’s something you’d be excited to read, and hope that it catches fire.

Because I’ve written stories that I loved, but disappeared without a trace. And yet Sauerkraut Station, a tale I did almost no PR for, got handed around enough until it got nominated for multiple awards.  When you’re an author, you come to realize that only some of your tales stick enough that people tell their friends, and God, if you knew how to do that consistently then you would, but you don’t, so every story is a crap shoot where you go, “Okay, I can get people to read it, but are they going to love it?”

So when I see people recommending FLEX, I’m still a little weirded out.  I didn’t remind them that the book existed, I didn’t ask them to do anything, they just liked my book enough that when a friend said, “What should I read next?” they leapt to their keyboards and said, “Haaaaave you met FLEX?”

That’s how books really sell, though.  You can get asses into the theaters for Avengers. You can get them excited in advance. You can get a blockbuster opening weekend.

But when the people come out of the theater, they start to tell their friends. What they tell their friends affects how the movie’s going to do in the long run.

That’s the real marketing, and that’s why you get things like The Princess Bride, where it wasn’t a big success at first, but people kept telling their friends. And I’ll bet you dimes to dollars that Princess Bride has now made way more money than Three Men And A Baby (the #1 box office of 1987), but that took time.

So it’s weird. As an author, you do what you can to remind people that your books exist. Then they take on a life of their own, one where you find it growing into fanfic and fan theories and all these other delightful things I’m slowly exploring, and I’m glad someone’s liking it.

More importantly, I’m glad they’re liking it when I’m off doing not a thing at all to remind them that it exists.  That’s the sweetest thing of all.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Everyone’s talking about That One Scene from the last Game of Thrones, which is egregious and stupid and redundant.  We knew that That Character was a villain. We knew that That Other Character was a constant punching bag for more powerful men.  So when we saw that it was dumb, because it was a gratuitously rapetastic scene that actually didn’t show us anything new about the characters and did little to further the plot.

But the dumbest scene, the one that didn’t even make sense in the fucking show, should have gone like this:

“SO YOUR ‘SQUIRE’ KNOWS OF A BIRTHMARK ON YOUR THIGH, SIR.” 

“My squire dresses me in armor for all battles, and tends to my wounds afterwards. My squire would be quite lax if he did NOT know of the birthmark on my upper thigh. Can we go now?”

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

“We have this awesome nerd bar in Cleveland called The Side Quest, and they’ve chosen my book Flex to read for their monthly book group.  Can you give me some Angry Robot freebies to throw in their direction on June 2nd?”

And, look what Mike Underwood sent me from the Angry Robot vaults:

Free Books at The Side Quest On June 2nd!

 

Now, The Side Quest would be a great place to hang out anyway, as they have all sorts of board games for people to play, and screens playing Doctor Who reruns, and crazy drinks like this:

Free shit at The Side Quest!

But the truth is, there will be a discussion of my book Flex at 8:00 on June 2nd – a book that’s filled with bureaucromancers, obsessive magic, pudgy goth females kicking ass, and donuts.  I will be bringing both books and donuts to this discussion group – so if you’re in the Cleveland area, stop by and sample some great drinks and some great goddamned authors.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

 

I have a theory: People go to movies to see things they’ve never seen before.

It’s a terrible theory on the surface, because sequels permeate the theater.  And a lot of people want comfort.  But when you look at the big blockbuster films, the ones that dominate, they’re full of sights you cannot get in any other movie. Say what you will about Avatar, the visuals are uniquely itself. Say what you will about Gone with the Wind, the spectacle there has never been beaten.

And Mad Max: Fury Road is like entering a whole other world.

You’d think the “dystopian post-collapse society” has been mined, but no – Fury Road is ablaze with bizarre concepts, ushering you into this car-worshipping nightmare where suicide bombers spray their face with chrome paint before entering Valhalla, where the flares are glorious puffs of dust like fireworks, where the conveys of killer cars bring their own musicians swinging from chains before walls of speakers.

If you’re looking for an experience you can’t get anywhere else, Fury Road is the only place to get this.

And the action is unrelenting.  Fury Road seems to delight in throwing such insurmountable odds at the characters that when the camera pans back to show you all the massive resources of each warlord setting out, you have zero idea how our heroes can survive.  And then the assault comes, and it’s overwhelming, and enough scars get inflicted every time that the resources keep diminishing, and how will they live?

Fury Road’s acquired some bizarre reviews, though, which I don’t get.  Some people have said that Fury Road has no story, which is bizarre because – like last year’s reaction to “Gravity” – they’re confusing “Complexity” with “Storytelling.”  Max is a simple story, basically a two-hour car chase, but in it there’s character growth and conflict and commentary buried in that pedal-to-the-metal plot.

Saying that Fury Road is some sort of abandonment of storytelling is like saying that Calvin and Hobbes had no meaningful stories because the linework was simple. You can tell great stories off of simple threads, and if you disagree, well, Old Man and the Sea would like to have a word with you.

As for the other criticism, people keep telling me that Fury Road is a feminist movie, and, well, I’m not seeing it. It’s ostensibly feminist in that Max is escorting some women out of a breeding facility, but we’ve seen that story before when Big Tough Man escorts women out of a rape factory.  Or one man, standing against a dystopia that has incalculable power.  In the end, it’s mostly women against men, but that’s just because the women aren’t in power.

No, to me, Mad Max is the lowest possible bar for feminism, and it sort of bothers me that this is seen as a feminist movie, when in a sane world having female characters with their own agendas would be, well, just a movie.  It’s kind of like how in America, Hillary Clinton is ZOMG SOCIALIST whereas in a sane society she’d be a slightly right-of-center politician – it’s just that we’ve shifted so far that actually not wanting to tear down infrastructure is a leftist attitude.

Mad Max is a very good movie.  Which happens to have female characters who get just as much (simple) characterization as the guys.  I wish that could be unusual, but it is.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

 

And as it happens, we rewatched all three of the prequel movies this week. And every time, I have the same damn reactions:

Why did the Jedi fight so boring?
In Star Wars, we got empathy and mind control. In Empire Strikes Back, we got clumsy telekinesis. In Return of the Jedi, we got Force Lightning.

And in all three prequels, we see the Jedi at the height of their powers, and we see… the exact listing of powers.

I’ve literally seen more variance in the Star Wars videogames.

Come on, man. These are the Jedi Knights, and every swordfight is a cut-and-copy of the Holy Trilogy. I was hoping for new and exciting uses of Jedi powers that we see in fan films, the tie-in novels, even the Clone Wars cartoons, and it’s like the inspiration just ran out.

Why did Yoda have to fight? 
Oh, God, having the great Jedi master be a badass at combat was such a mistake. Here’s what he should have done, and why.

Why did we have to see Anakin as a young boy? 
Seriously, it added nothing. You could skip the Phantom Menace in its entirety and the story could start there, with a minor backfill to explain Ani’s mother in slavery. It’s two hours of wasted time.

Why was Qui-Gon Jinn so goddamned concerned with Anakin? 
We know that Qui-Gon Jinn wanted to “bring balance to the Force,” but that’s not a motivation: that’s a reason.  And as a writer, motivations trump reasons.

Take another example: why does Darth Vader try to recruit Luke in the Empire Strikes back? The reason is that he needs an ally to fight the Emperor.  Okay, fine, but emotionally that doesn’t tell us what itch that’s scratching in Vader’s burned little head.

The motivation is that he wants to join up with his long-lost son and create a new family.

Reasons give us logical rationales. Motivations tell us what emotional urge this satisfies.

We have reasons for Qui-Gon Jinn going “WE HAVE TO MAKE THIS BOY A JEDI.”  But at no point do we know why he’s so hell-bound on this. Is Qui-Gon Jinn dissatisfied with the Jedi Council’s lying and secrecy and secretly wants to undermine it?  Was he himself an orphan at some point and cannot bear to leave a boy behind? Is Qui-Gon Jinn just secretly sick of whiny Obi-Wan and is desperate to find himself a new partner?

Done properly, when the trilogy finished, we’d have an idea of whether Qui-Gon ultimately got what he wanted, or whether things went horribly ironically wrong for him. As it is, Qui-Gon Jinn is an enigma: his every action tells us what he wants, but we never find out why.

Why did Lucas get so wrapped up in terrible CGI?  
Watching Revenge of the Sith, there’s a great moment where Anakin and Obi-Wan climb out on a gantry, fighting, and it’s clear it’s a real gantry.   The actors have to adjust their weight, look worried they might fall off, are tentative.

Then, two minutes later, Anakin is standing on a tiny robot zooming forward at thirty miles an hour over a river of lava, and he looks exactly like he’s standing on a greenscreen floor. Because he is.

Cracked has a good article on why modern CGI looks surprisingly crappy, but it’s particularly telling in Lucas films, where the actors don’t seem to have been told where they are. There’s one scene in the latest Raiders where the actors are standing feet away from boulders rocketing past their face, and they don’t react like humans by cringing or expressing some hesitation or nervousness, because they’re not rooted in the moment.

I wish Lucas had recognized that practical effects make the actors sell it more.

Was Anakin justified or not? 
The biggest problem with the sequels is it wants to have it both ways: Anakin Skywalker’s fate is a tragedy, but he’s not really a villain. And so it dilutes its punch by going, “Well, Anakin’s bad, but he’s got some good sides!”

You gotta commit, George. If the Jedi Council was bad, then show how worm-infested they are. And if Anakin was bad, then he’s gotta do more than kill some offscreen “younglings.”  But as it is, Revenge of the Sith’s strongest scene is where the Emperor is talking to Anakin about how the Jedi council is spying, and stealing, and they obscure knowledge, and yet oh wait they’re the good guys and who’s right again?

There’s ambiguity, and there’s feeling like the movie can’t make it its damn mind. The prequels flop back and forth between whether the Jedi Council was efficient and undermined by a creatively evil mastermind, or weak and shoddy and deserving of fresh ground.  Alas.

If Padme really didn’t want to have anything to do with Anakin, how come an experienced politician like her invited him alone to her romantic bungalow and wore skimpy outfits straight out of the Frederick’s of Hollywood catalogue?
Did someone tell the costume designer what this scene was supposed to be?

Where did Padme’s motivation disappear to? 
She died of a broken heart? Just gave up? Oh, well, that’s good.

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

“I was always kinky/sexual,” she says. “Even though I didn’t lose my virginity until I was 17, pretty much right after I started experimenting with kink, threesomes, lesbian sex, and orgies.”

And I feel a little sad, because I was always just slutty.

Slutty’s different. You don’t need to know anything to be slutty.

Which is to say that I didn’t so much as kiss a girl until the month before my seventeenth birthday, but from then on it was lighting a firework. I dated wildly, widely, catastrophically, racking up about forty new women in the next four years…

But weirdly, I was also strangely vanilla.

I knew about kink, of course. I’d read all up on PENTHOUSE LETTERS, and Playboy advice columns, back in the days long before the Internet. But that was the moral equivalent of porn. I knew threesomes existed, I knew that people tied each other up, I knew that bisexuality was A Thing, but…

Culturally, I knew nothing, Jon Snow.

These were days long before the Internet, a good decade before THE ETHICAL SLUT was penned, and so while I’d heard of wife-swapping I’d never heard of polyamory. I knew about whipping people, but never understood what purpose it fulfilled in people’s lives.

Basically, there were normal people, and then there was Kink. And Kink was a big red door you passed through and never returned from, an all-consuming passion that devoured all your other hobbies, and when you became A Swinger you never woodworked or had children or played tennis, you just fucked and fucked and fucked because nothing else satisfied.

And to be fair, the handful of Swingers I bumped into were like that, omnivorous, not interested in mere friendship, every relationship they had angling towards getting you in bed. If you didn’t fuck them within a few months, the fuse was burning down, and once they realized you weren’t walking willingly towards their bedchamber, the friendship terminated.

None of this was shameful, mind you. If they wanted to surf on a tide of Crisco, good for them! I had no problems with gay men spending their days in bathhouses losing their minds in anonymous sex.

Yet I had other hobbies, so I wasn’t kinky. The PENTHOUSE LETTERS erotica was mostly the same: Innocent, Roped Into Crazy Once-In-A-Lifetime Adventure. You couldn’t just start kink, you had to have someone basically abduct you into it.

I was a lesbian sheep, waiting patiently for someone to arrive, not quite sure how to start this process. I would have welcomed a threesome, or some crazy orgy, but those didn’t just happen – they were planned, by Orgy People, with Orgy Invites. The Orgy People owned Orgy Apartments.

So I ran rampant with vanilla sex, and some of it was in weird places – in the backs of hearses, on the floors of bookstores, certainly in theater bathrooms – but though I wanted threesomes, I didn’t know anyone who was a Threesome Girl. Because if you were a Threesome Girl, then you’d be nothing but a Threesome Girl, and all I knew were women who went to concerts and watched The Simpsons and had, you know, normal things.

Which was stupid, obviously. So fucking stupid. While I was doing all of this vanilla fucking, I was emceeing the goddamned Rocky Horror, surrounded by phone-sex girls and strippers and bisexual women who dressed up like men and fellated dildos for fun.

Yet I knew them in other aspects. And again, kink was the eclipse of all other hobbies, the black hole into which you fell and never emerged, and these people weren’t those people.

Furthermore, I wasn’t those people. It never even occurred to me to experiment. My girlfriend hog-tied me once and I fucking loved the experiment, but that wasn’t kinky. She just tied me up one day, bored, while we were watching television. If it was kinky, she would have worn An Outfit, and put on mood lighting, and started talking dirty – oh, God, I have such problems talking dirty – and I would have known that Kink Was About To Happen because man, Kink was a performance like Rocky Horror where Frank strode down that fucking floor and you knew.

She just tied me up. You couldn’t have kink in a living room with television reruns, man. Or have part-kink.

What I’d enjoyed wasn’t kinky, it was just… a thing. Which I didn’t know how to ask for. Because how do you ask someone to tie you up without it sounding kinky, and that’s awkward because you’re not kinky, you just want a girl to tie you up and sit on you?

Christ, I was so fucking stupid.

But that’s why I think the people who grew up with the Internet are at a real advantage. They’ve seen the same porn that I have, sure, but they’ve also seen FetLife and CollarMe and tons of other discussions of polyamory and kink and QUILTBAG issues where they can go, hey, alternative sexuality is an addition to a personality, not a subsumation of it. They watch accounts like KittyKuriosity’s Twitter feed, where yes, Kitty is a sexy owned painslut camgirl, but she also has pets and wants to be a vet some day and is getting into Final Fantasy cosplay.

And had I seen that melding back in the day, I think I would have been a lot kinkier. Because I could look at myself as I do today and go, “All right, I need to finish up my chapter of this book, and find some plans for the bookcase I want to start this weekend, and get some more alcohol for my fire wands, and get some ice cream.” That kink was a thing I did, not a destination.

I would have realized that some of those girls were Threesome Girls, I was just too stupid to see the signals, and I would have asked my girlfriend to tie me up, and I would have said “Hey, let’s try poly instead of me cheating all the damn time,” and I would have explored more.

Instead, I was convinced all that Kink stood far away from me, clearly for Other People, and I was a straight boy from Connecticut. It didn’t even occur to me that I could explore there.

But I’m here now. A little late. A little slow to understand that hey, maybe I could do that, too – even after all these years.

It’s a nice revelation to have.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

As I’ve been progressing down the path of Debut Novelist, I’ve been playing a secret game myself: when something happens to me that only happens to professional authors, I mutter, “AUTHOR ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED.”

Got my first blurb for Flex? AUTHOR ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED.

Book went into a second printing? AUTHOR ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED.

First appearance on a bestseller list? AUTHOR ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED.

First complaint that the ebook is too expensive, even though I have no control over pricing once the publisher buys it? First time I find my book pirated? Sure, I’m a little sad at people’s dickery, but AUTHOR ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED!

But today, my friends, is one of the happiest days in my Author Achievements, as it was one I was never certain would arrive:

Kick-ass fan art? AUTHOR ACHIEVEMENT FUCKING ROCKED!

The first official Flex fan art!

This lovely image of Valentine DiGriz is brought to me by the most excellent Tormented Artist, who I’ve pondered doing webcomics with from time to time, but man, prose writing is just enough these days.  But Bill is extremely fond of the fuller female form, and as such Valentine was every bit as sexy to him as I’d hoped to convey.  And here she is, with all of her mental backup. I love her stance, and her shoes.

He assures me this will only get better as he fills in the inks and applies color.  Oh, I believe it.  His other art is also awesome, so check it out.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

In relationships, you can have identical actions that generate vastly different consequences. Kind of like watching “Say Yes To The Dress.”

Which is to say that my wife adores watching fluffy wedding shows where the bride tries on a zillion froofy outfits, parading this latest dress in front of her family, before finally settling tearfully on the perfect dress.

The bride flutters her hands in front of her face. Tears mean that this is the perfect dress. Gini tears up, too.

And sometimes, when Gini is having a bad day, she needs to curl up and watch a “Say Yes To The Dress” marathon.

We have one big television, so if she watches it, then I can’t spend my Saturday ferociously trying to beat the new Dragon Age game on the Xbox. And me, I need my videogames to blow off steam. Not destroying the Darkspawn will leave me stressed and unhappy.

Yet I recognize watching silly wedding shows makes Gini happy, and as such it’s a worthy thing to do. And so I’ll find something else to do on my laptop while Gini watches her dress shows.

Yet if I gritted my teeth the whole time, going, “I fucking hate this show, one day she’ll stop needing these stupid gown-parades, and until then she fucking owes me for putting me through this,” well, we’d have the exact same situation – me, watching “Say Yes To The Dress” with her – but the consequences and fallout would be profoundly different.

Which is to say that I occasionally get emails like, “Hey, I’m polyamorous, but I want my monogamous partner to be happy. Will this work?”

And the answer is that yes, they can – as long as they approach your polyamory as though it’s a choice they actively make in order to make you happy, and not some grudging sacrifice they make where there are secretly bills piling up, underlaid with the unstated assumption that this is a phase you’ll grow out of.

The two situations can look very similar – the monogamous partner staying at home, nervously passing time while you go out on a date – but one situation is going to implode eventually, whereas the other won’t.

And it’s okay that sometimes, you’re going to be uncomfortable in this relationship. Because the truth is, almost every partnership involves you stretching in some uncomfortable ways to accommodate your other partner’s needs. When our goddaughter Rebecca died, Gini dealt with her grief by withdrawing and silence, I dealt with it by needing hugs and attention. We both sacrificed our needs temporarily, switching off between me leaving Gini alone when my body screamed for hugs, and Gini cuddling me when her body screamed for isolation.

But we never resented. Because during those moments, we actively said, “Yes, this is outside our comfort zone, yet I love them enough to stretch beyond what I’m comfortable with.”

It’s possible that I could have left Gini alone for a day, yet silently seethed with frustration that she was being so unreasonable, wondering why the hell she couldn’t just get over this. The result would have looked the same, but eventually the resentments would have exploded into arguments.

But I chose willingly. Not because it would enable us to stay together, but because it would make her happy.

The root motivation makes all the difference.

So if you’re trying to decide how to make something work out, whether it’s a new partner or a switch to poly or a downshift from heavy BDSM adventures to more “vanilla” sex or any of the thousands of differences that can divide two people, a common mistake is to just get them to do the actions. Too many negotiations hinge upon Doing The Thing – but it’s not enough for them to just sit there passively, resenting the compromise, quietly blaming you for this fault.

They need to say yes to the dress.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

On Monday night, we celebrated by playing Star Wars trivia at our local nerd bar.  So on Tuesday, I posted this to Twitter:

The response was as though millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced.

Yet the weird thing is that The Phantom Menace is bad, but it’s weirdly bad, uniquely bad, the Rebecca Black’s “Friday” of bad, where yes it’s a terrible movie and yet there’s just enough good remaining in it to stick with you.  The visuals are often amazing: Princess Amidala’s outfits are beautifully improbable, the Gungan City is still a breathtakingly interesting, and the final lightsaber battle is still a physical feat of amazing stuntwork.

Attack of the Clones, however?  I’d forgotten whole swathes of it.  TPM sticks because it’s got so many unique elements, but Attack of the Clones slides out of you like yesterday’s bad burrito.

The weird thing about Attack is how Lucas forgot the number-one lesson about being a writer: a story is about growth.  Emotionally speaking we have to go from A to Z in our stories, and the ending of the prequels is known, Khaleesi.  We know Anakin will become Vader.  We know Obi-Wan eventually has to cap his ass.

So it is completely inexplicable that Attack of the Clones starts with Obi-Wan and Anakin sniping at each other.

They’re not friends, to start – they’re snappish, clearly separated already, and though Anakin recites some dialogue about “Obi-Wan is like a father to me,” there’s none of the camaraderie that we had between, say, Han and Luke.  They scowl at each other, Obi-Wan berating Anakin to oh, don’t go there, Anakin reminding Obi-Wan peevishly that he’s really good at the force, and…

Where’s the evolution?

We start off by seeing two people who don’t get along.  And then the plot makes it so that Anakin and Obi-Wan are instantly separated, and spend the next two hours on separate plot arcs, not even thinking about each other.

So there will be no surprise in the Star Wars series.  They started off fighting, and they end up fighting, and how do you get any emotional revelation from that?  If we’d seen them as really good buddies, the best of friends, two experienced men who trusted each other implicitly despite their differences, then this could have been heartbreaking. But no.  Lucas bobbles that.

He bobbles the relationship, too, where Anakin is instantly stalkerish to Amidala, and jealous, and angry, and again, we have no where to go except to wonder why the hell Amidala is attracted to this creep.  People blame Hayden Christianson’s performance, which Lord knows doesn’t help, but the dialogue is repeatedly I AM GOING TO CHOP OFF YOUR LIMBS HAH HAH ONLY KIDDING, and that’s the opposite of romance.

Like, we knew he was going to be Darth Vader. Why did Lucas forget to put in the reasons that we should be rooting for Anakin?  Was he afraid we would feel betrayed when he turned evil?  Yet what we get is clearly a nascent bad guy, and it’s hard to feel bad for him when he’s being a jerk all the time.

And Lucas forgets that we need to see people together. The scene with him and his Mom is sad, yes, but abstractly so, because Mom’s only gotten five minutes of screen time total.  The scenes with him and Obi-Wan are, as noted, almost absent after the first and last action sequence.  If you want us to understand two characters’ relationships, we need to see them working together, and it’s like Lucas went so heavy on the archetypes that he just assumed we’d be sad because Mothers Love Sons and Sons Losing Mothers is sad.

Even more bizarre: The special effects are worse, in Attack of the Clones. Watching Phantom Menace, Jar-Jar still holds up, and had TPM been a better movie I think we’d celebrate the visuals more. Attack of the Clones has Anakin riding very fake monsters, action sequences that are clearly CGI, and if you’d asked me from an SFX perspective, I would have told you that TPM was made after Attack.  It looks cheesier.

And again, Attack is weirdly bland.  I remember several scenes from TPM vividly, but Attack seems to be pasted together from other movies.  The chase scene through Coruscant is very well done, but visually it’s a sped-up Blade Runner.  The space scenes are, well, space scenes, and the white light of the clone factory looks like an Apple store, and the glorious fields of Amidala’s home retreat are generic romance covers with a bit of sci-fi mixed in.  Attack of the Clones is both stunning and redundant, and I kept looking up and going, “Oh, yeah, that’s there, too.  How did I forget?”

But it’s easy to forget.  The movie is cloned, its sources too clear, and it’s bad in the worst kind of way: the kind where you have to be prodded into remembering it exists at all.  Such a waste, when you had such a juicy storyline about friendship and betrayal and love curdled sour.

So much lost potential.

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Mind you, I don’t want a Republican President, especially given the current crop of batshit insane candidates.  The idea of Ted Cruz’s grubby hands on the economy makes me shiver, and I see absolutely no moderates anywhere in sight.

But there’s three factors that feed into my impending fear that 2016 is the Year of the Right-Wing Nut:

First off, we’ve had eight years of Democratic Presidency, and one of the weird things about America is that we can only tolerate about eight years max of one party being in charge.  Sometimes we’ll extend a strong Presidency with a Bush I, but then they’re one-term chumps before we flip right back to the other side.  Basically, you generally get about eight years of your dude in charge max and then America says, “All right, time to give the other guy a chance.”

Second, the times when someone has extended the term of power to twelve, it’s been an incumbent after a great Presidential term, going, “…what he said!”  We do not have that grace with Obama, who loves passing laws but seems oddly reticent to actually advertise what these laws actually do – as witness the electoral terror over OBAMACARE, where people are in favor of what it does when you go down it line-by-line, but thanks to Obama’s reluctance to double down and go OBAMACARE IS FRICKIN’ AWESOME HERE’S WHAT YOU GET YEAR BY YEAR BECAUSE YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT’S IN THIS SHIZ, you instead have Republican candidates quietly caving in to add their support for Obamacare without giving Obama any credit for it.

So we don’t have a President who mainstream America is, largely, going, “Yeah! More of that!”

(Note that I still resent Gore for fucking up the 2000 election because all he had to do was go, “Yeah, four more years of Clintonian greatness without the unfortunate roaming penis problem!” and instead he tacked hard to the right in a mangled attempt to pick up more voters, thus bobbling a should-have-been landslide into a weak dribble where he got mugged in the back alleys of Florida.  Yeah, Bush arguably stole the election, but Gore was so dumb he put himself in a position to have it stolen with a handful of hanging chads.  He should have been ahead twenty electoral votes, not hundreds of Florida retiree votes.)

And lastly, in the Democratic candidacy, we have… Hillary.  And pretty much Hillary.  Bernie Sanders has thrown his hat in the ring (I gave him $25, merely because I liked the way his donors weren’t largely banks), but I don’t think he has a chance.

I think we’re doomed because once again, I hear dim democrats tossing around the “E” word.

“Well, I’m not thrilled about Hillary, but… she’s electable.”

“Electable,” to Democrats, means, “Doesn’t have any objectionable qualities.”  And I don’t know whether this is because Democrats are so used to The Big Tent, where charmless policy wonks who offend nobody seem like a really good idea - but every time I’ve heard the shrug of “I’m not really for ‘em, but they’re electable,” we have crashed and burned.

Hey, remember Kerry? He was electable. Except he wasn’t.

Hey, remember Gore? He was electable, too. Except he only started to become interesting once he gave up hope grew a beard, and started getting strident about shit.  And except he wasn’t.

Remember Dukakis? God, Dukakis. Totally electable, according to Democrats.  And wow, he wasn’t.

Obama? He wasn’t electable. He was a black guy with no experience, and he’d pissed a lot of people off by stating pretty firm opinions in his books, and I’m not sure about this guy, but – oh, hey, he won!

(Admittedly, it took the choice of Sarah Palin to get him over the hump, I admit.)

“Electable” is the Democratic curse. Every guy you slump shoulders for and go, “Meh, but… electable!” dies in a horrible electoral fire.

Stop choosing people you don’t like personally, but think will win.  You have no clue.  Hey, if you’re a die-hard Hillary fan and tout her to the heavens, great! You’re the sort of person I’m in favor of.  I want y’all going RAH RAH RAH for your person.

But I don’t hear too many of you out there.  What I hear a lot more of is that resignation of “Well, I guess she’ll do,” because why? Yeah, she’s electable. And I think in the absence of greater events, that moping “electable” gets us killed in the polls.

Who knows? Maybe Hillary will buck all these trends and win.  I think she’d be a decent President – don’t get me wrong, this isn’t about her competency, this is about her chances.  She’d be fine.  I’d be happy with her in office.

But what I suspect we’re going to get is another candidate who no one but a handful of people is super-thrilled about, but we’ll line up behind her because, well, she’s got that mysterious “electable” vibe that Democrats never seem to realize is an illusion. People don’t vote because a candidate is inoffensive; they vote because they are riled so much up for their guy, they’ll overlook their sins.

They did that for Obama, and hoo boy did he have sins. Maybe they’ll do that for Hillary- I hope! – but I suspect what the Hillary talk we’re seeing is just an admission that most of us Democrats don’t have anyone we’re really stoked about, and so we’ll give her a shot, and I think we really need someone strident and new to get people off their chairs and out to the polls.

No, I don’t know who that is, either. Because Elizabeth Warren won’t run, damn her clever eyes.

In the meantime, I’ll chip a few bucks to Bernie and see what he can stir up. God bless his unelectable little socialist heart.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I’m gonna tell you about a new charity, but first I have to tell you an ugly truth about kids fighting terminal illnesses:

Sometimes they die.

And when they die, sometimes the whole family goes terminal in their wake.

Which is to say that losing a child is a terrible math – you had three kids, once. Now you have two. Even answering an innocuous question like, “So how many kids do you have?” becomes an awkward thing, because by saying “Two” you’re quietly burying the memory of your dead child, but by saying “Three” you’re making things awkward in otherwise-light conversation, and Jesus how do you define your life?

Your family’s rhythm is broken.  You buy lollipops out of habit, before remembering the only person who liked lollipops is now gone.  Your kids, traumatized by having all their time scheduled in between the sick child’s treatments, now have too much free time, and the three-kid dynamic is now different and they’re not sure how to play with each other without Her in between to play peacemaker.

And all those places you used to go to heal as a family are now saturated with the wrong kinds of memories.  That ice cream shop you’d treat the kids to when they were good? Now you look at the wall, see her favorite flavor, realize she’ll never eat it again.  You want to go out with your old family friends, but sometimes they freak out at death and you actually lose support after the death, crappy as that is.

And your spouse, well, when you lose a kid it’s harder to look at the person you love.  There’s a feeling of failure saturating this household, that sense that somebody should have done something, and it’s not fair but you want to blame someone.  Maybe you blame yourself, withdraw from your spouse, self-destruct.  Maybe you blame them, snap at them, because God’s too far away to yell at and you’re exhausted from constantly fighting your kid’s disease for a year, two years, five years.

I’ve heard that the divorce rate skyrockets after you lose a child.  I believe it. Sometimes that death punches a hole in your family, and you flywheel apart because you don’t know how to redefine yourself as a unit without them.  Because you’re in your house, with a family that has to redefine itself, surrounded by all the things that used to bring you happiness but now feel like anchors to old memories.

You need to get out to somewhere new to find joy.

Rebecca’s Gift wants to help. By giving families like these a vacation.

Because when my blessed goddaughter Rebecca died, I watched the Meyers struggle – and what helped them the most to regain their footing as a family was going down to New Jersey and forming some newer and happier memories.  To remember that even in the wake of this grief, there were still good times to be had.

To go somewhere new, as a family, and explore who they were now.

And I think of poorer families, who can’t move and can’t go anywhere, and think of how Rebecca’s Gift is going to help them.

Look.  After the child dies, the official assistance often dissolves.  It’s sexy for charities to go, “This kid’s on the brink!  They might live if you chip in!  Donate now!”  But after?  All of that assistance packs up and leaves – if you’re lucky, you get a grief counsellor to spackle over the cracks – and yet there you are, with children who are ripped open from watching their sister or brother die before them, and no assistance to be found.

Grief is its own disease.  And so I ask, if you have a few bucks to spare or a platform to mention Rebecca’s Gift on, give a dollar and/or donate your retweets and reblogs.

There are surviving children, surviving parents, who might just be able to support each other if they can remember the joys of being a family again.  Rebecca’s Gift is going to do its damndest to help ensure that these families make it together. And anything you can do to lend a hand, I assure you, would be a mitzvah.

Thanks for doing what you can.

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I always get weirded out when someone discusses draconic behavior with the confidence of someone discussing a real animal: “Well, you know, dragons aren’t pack animals, but they do get lonely and seek comfort.”  What the fuck?  Dragons don’t exist, motherfucker!

But my friends discussing the best ways to kill a zombie, with the confidence of hardened apocalypse survivalists who’ve put a thousand walkers back in the grave? Sure, man, that’s what we do.

Remember, kids, it’s pretty fucked up to discuss unicorns like they existed. But if you wanna talk about how to avoid Cthulhu? Shit, sit in my living room and opine.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

We all know how the murder mystery ends: the clever detective corners the perp, having solved the crime, and peppers him with pointed questions until the villain cracks.

“All right, I did it!” the villain cries. “I was bad and wrong and evil, and I’ll acknowledge what a murderous scumbag I was, before even so much as a trial!”

Often, the villain fills in the details the detective missed. Because fictional villains are helpful like that.

But in real life, the cunning villain remains silent. He knows he’s got a trial coming up. There’s long years of court battles, legal tricks, friends he’ll lose if he confesses now. He’s gone to a lot of effort to plan this crime, and he’ll go to equal efforts to wriggle out of punishment for it.

In real life, the villain’s answers are less satisfying: “So?” “No, that didn’t happen.” “I want to talk to my lawyer.”

And there often never is a full understanding of what happened. The only person who could explain their rationale has all the incentive in the world to stay silent, to lie, to tell mixed truths, whatever will best muddy the waters in their favor.

All good people can do is interview people, get fragments. But the evidence never fits together like a jigsaw puzzle: it’s messy, overlapping, incomplete and contradictory.

There’s no certainty. No explanation. Just someone who probably did something awful – and you don’t even have 100% certainty on that, just a lot of evidence that points in their direction.

Yet if you’re not careful, you treat your bad breakups like they were fictional crimes, not real ones. You’ll go back to that partner who cheated on you, demanding explanations, never satisfied until they crack and acknowledge that yes, they saw themselves as evil when they were fucking you over, that they both knew and understood that they were Satan incarnate, and that they carry a deep loss and sorrow over playing the villain in your story.

Strangely, they don’t. They make excuses. They wrangle for sympathy. They feel justified in their abuse, and you will never wring the confession out of them that you need to feel whole.

But you’re not a goddamned story in a book.

You need to leave this need for closure behind.

They were jerks to you. They will probably be jerks to someone else. I’m sorry that you’re not important enough to function as the climax to their story, because that sucks, but the truth is that your requirement to be the star in everyone’s life – including your own – is a toxic thing.

Because you can waste years of your life trying to get this closure. You’ll keep going back and talking to them and getting upset because they sound so convincing when they tell you their story, and why don’t these facts neatly line up? If you’re really unlucky, you’ll fall for their bullshit all over again and get back with them, and discover that “sweet words” do not equal “righteous actions.”

Truth is, some asshole hurt you. You may never know the reasons. You may never see them punished for it. You may never hear them admit why. I’m sorry, because that random pain is deeply, deeply unsatisfying.

But you know what’s less satisfying? Wasting valuable time you could be using to make your life more awesome, and draining that by endlessly piecing together messy snippets of real life to try to shape a nice plot out of nothing.

They were jerks. And consider this: you may have even helped them be jerks to you by wanting so badly to believe in a narrative that you bought into their narrative of them-as-hero, quietly eliding the facts that didn’t fit into this glorious story of You Together, Forever. That’s not always the case, because some jerkdoms spring out of nowhere, but it’s not always not the case.

Rather than seeking a narrative structure, can you instead assemble a profile of jerky behavior, in order to avoid falling into the same trap again? We do not need to understand the origins of gravity to know that leaping into chasms will cause large amounts of harm.

Then also contemplate this: good detectives don’t need a confession to make a case. They assemble evidence, make judgements, and convict in the absence of nice bright narrative structures. And most of them still sleep well at night.

I encourage you to do the same.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

He sags backwards, boneless, so beautifully certain you will catch him before he hits the floor. And when he falls into your arms, it feels like fate; you are strong for catching him, he is brave for trusting you completely, how could the two of you not be together?

That’s the beauty of the trust fall. Someone you love going limp, allowing the universe to brutalize them, knowing that only you will interpose yourself between them and the the skull-splintering hardness of the cement floor.

And when it is done, you have been forced into a hug so intimate it feels like no other will do. His smile, so grateful. Your body, bearing weights you didn’t think possible.

You used to be helpless and weak. Now you are the rescuer.

How could this be anything but love?

You stay together, and still the trust falls continue. Aren’t you taking your medications? Trust fall. Shouldn’t you be looking for work? Trust fall. Where did you go last night, can you just tell me who you were with? Trust fall.

Every time they tumble backwards, blissful in the comfort of your catch, always so certain you’ll snatch them up before their staunch passivity smashes them into that cold, hard cement.

They keep falling backwards, and you come to realize: it’s not you they’re trusting, it’s the universe. You find them flopping into someone else’s arms, anyone’s arms, and realize the intimacy you thought belonged to you and you alone is just transactional. You lecture them on the need to stand up, to build their own strength, and –

Trust fall.

You catch them before they break themselves in hospitals, in the hands of angry police, in the hands of owed bankers. And you come to realize that what you’re doing is not strength, not really; it’s being held hostage by all your most protective instincts. You can’t bear to see anyone hurt, because you got destroyed so thoroughly by the malicious work of bastards and you have vowed inside you’ll never let anyone endure that again.

Yet you know there’s a difference. You got hurt because of what others did to you. He’s getting hurt because of what he’s doing to himself. And you make excuses, listing all the reasons he can’t help himself, but fall after fall he doesn’t take the slightest effort to better his own situation, he’s a crash-test dummy flung down a flight of stairs with you flinging yourself after him, and –

Trust fall.

Is it strength you have now? Would strength maybe, possibly, be walking away? You’re weakening now, missing work to help him, forever paying bills, losing the social support you desperately need because your friends can’t pretend he’s good for you any more. And even his gratitude at you catching him is thin, now – he yells at you for daring to ask anything of him that might make your life easier, he doesn’t have *time* for that bullshit, don’t you understand his life is –

Trust fall.

Every fall is in slow motion. You can see him tumbling down. You can practically hear his spine snapping as you imagine his head hitting the pavement. You have plenty of time to envision how horrible this will be if you don’t catch him.

He’s going to hurt himself badly. So badly.

You have so much time to walk away.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I have been lulled to sleep by many an author-friend.  I show up at their readings because they kept me up until two o’clock in the morning, laughing at their wild anecdotes, listening to their observations…

Then they start reading their story, and this vibrant personality becomes the world’s dullest newsreader, rattling off the words in monotone fury like they had a train to catch.

So this is the first rule of Reading A Story: The audience did not come to hear your story. They came to meet you.

Now, if you’re good at improvising in front of crowds, then you can do what Matthew Dicks did, and just turn your event into a meet-and-greet where you take questions from the audience.  But note that Matthew is a sixteen-time poetry-slam winner, so he’s a performer.  (Me?  I’m super-good in front of crowds because I emceed the Rocky Horror Picture Show for three years, which gives me the side-benefit of being super-comfortable in fishnets and high heels.)

Yet conventions usually won’t give an unknown author a slot on the schedule for “Author does random shit.”  It’s easier to sell them on “Give me an hour to read this story.”  And if you’re not comfortable in front of crowds, then having Something To Do is a good shield in case you don’t feel like vamping for an hour.  So reading a story is a good thing, for beginning authors.

So rule two: You are not reading them your story. You are telling them what you liked about your story.

“But didn’t you just tell me to read my story?” Yes, I did. But “reading your story” is not transcribing the words with your lips.

With every paragraph, you’re telling them why you kept this paragraph in the story.

Did you keep it in because it was exciting? Then read it like you were excited. Did you keep it in because it was snarky? Read it in a snarky tone of voice.  Is this the slow, lyrical section? Read it slow and lyrically.

(Or if you’re understated, be understated. My friend and fabulous author Kelly Link thinks she’s not good at reading, because she’s low-key. But her stories are dry and understated, just as she is often dry and understated, so when she reads it’s actually perfectly suited to her personality.)

Think about the reasons you loved this paragraph enough to keep it in, then find a way to convey that audially.

And note that you’re telling them what you liked about your story, which involves telling it in your way.  The audience came to get a sense of you, so don’t try to read your talelike some bad imitation of your favorite actor.  (Unless your personality is a bad imitation of your favorite actor – an embarrassing amount of my life is a terrible Bruce Campbell ripoff.)

If you’re snarky, be snarky in the way that you are when you’re bitching to your buddies.  If you’re reading dialogue, try to give it the rhythms that you have when you speak.  This is the Whitman’s Sampler of Who You Are, and people will be grateful to see that.

Which leads me to rule three: Slow down and give the audience time to process.

You know every word in this story. The audience doesn’t. In the excitement of the performance you may well barf out the entire tale in one breathless lung-emptier, but then nobody will know what happened.

If you read your entire story and nobody can tell, audially, where your paragraphs are, then you have not conveyed rhythm.

So slow down.  Speak about 30% slower than you think you need to (and about 50% louder).  When you have delivered a chunk of meaningful information, give the audience a second to process what that information means.

And don’t step on your own punchlines. When I first started reading, I was afraid of silence, so I’d read something funny and then fill that gap with more words before the audience realized I’d made a joke.  I’ve since come to realize that a joke is a gift you make to a crowd – and like any gift, you don’t give it and then walk away (or worse, give it and then eye them anxiously until they provide the obligatory squeeing). You hand them time to savor it, and hopefully they’ll laugh. Sometimes they won’t. Crowds differ.

I give the audience my punchlines like the sampler lady giving out little sausages at CostCo.  I put it out, give the audience a moment to recognize it’s there, let them pick up the funny if it’s to their taste. Some people don’t want it; that’s fine.  Move on.  But if they crowd in and start to laugh, let the laugh build until it’s done.

So how do I know all of these places to stop and swell?

Practice and time. Practice and time.

I read every story I write out loud at least twice.  That’s good advice for any author.  “Reading out loud” will pick out awkward phrasings in your story like you wouldn’t believe, and is usually my final step before story submission.

But before an author reading, I read my story out loud three more times, with a timer handy. Charlie Jane Anders gave me some great advice that a story can hold your audience for about fifteen minutes, and you should never go over twenty.  (I have gone past my time, and it’s gone well, but I like edgeplay.)  You should know precisely how long your story takes to read, which means you get to read about 2,000-2,500 words before you’re done.

(What if 2,500 words isn’t enough? Cut. I have stories I have slashed to ribbons to make them convention-readable, with black lines gashed through whole paragraphs. Or maybe start halfway through the story; better to have an exciting fifteen-minute reading with a two-minute explanatory introduction than it is to have a forty-minute reading that exhausts the audience’s attention span.)

And when you read it, that’s when you think about why you liked this paragraph.  Which each reading, figure out ways to emphasize that paragraph-love better, get at ease with the story so you’re not reading words, but instead channelling the essence of you that you put into this tale.  Each reading tells you the rhythm of this story – where you trip up so you need to slow down, where you realize this makes you sad so you need to speak as though it is a sad thing you’re discussing.

Is that a lot of work for a single reading?  Yes.  But it’s a lot better than boring an audience.  And knowing your precise run-time convenient for multiple-author readings, so you won’t step over someone else’s time and piss off another author.

(My reading from my novel Flex requires three minutes of explanatory setup, and eighteen minutes of very exciting magical drug-making.  A little over, but when you’ve got two characters trying to figure out how to condense dangerous magic into crystallized, snortable form, people are forgiving.)

You’re going to be nervous. Crowds do that. But you should not be nervous about translating your story into tongue-compressed waves of air, and reading it in advance burns off the nervousness of Can I do this? and changes it to the slightly-more-manageable Can I do this in front of all these people?

You damn well can. Good luck.

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

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