theferrett: (Meazel)

So there’s an app called CleanReader out there that censors the filthy words from author’s books so that people can read them.  And a lot of authors are very upset that someone would dare to change their words before reading their book, because they put those fucks in and there they demand those fucks stay.  Those are artisanal fucks, hand-placed, meant for impact, and how dare you delete the fucks.

And speaking as a guy whose debut novel features the word “fuck” roughly once every three pages and features a lead female character who’s really into fucking pretty dudes up the ass with her strap-on, I have this to say about CleanReader:

Did you buy my book legitimately, so I get paid?

Are you presenting this bowlderized version as something I approved?

Are you posting it to a larger audience in some attempt to usurp the original content?

If the answers are “yes, no, and no,” then do whatever the fuck you want.

Mind you, it’s not that I think well of the tremulous parents who must scrub all the profanities personally from their children’s eyes.  It’s just that to my mind, when I hand you this novel of mine, it is then yours to do with personally as you please.  Wanna write fanfic where Paul Tsabo plooks a goat while filling out barnyard animal forms?  Go right ahead.  Wanna draw pictures of Valentine (who is specifically presented as a beautiful, plump woman) as some skinny anime figure?  Hey, I dropped my book into your imagination, and though I find it distasteful you’d remove a significant portion of her description, it’s yours now.  Wanna cosplay?  Sure.

Once the book’s in your hands, you can tear up the pages and use them to make a papier-mache idol of Newt Gingrich that you then marry, for all I’m concerned.  I made the words, my publisher helped put ‘em out there, and now how you enjoy the book?  Is up to you.  Judging any fandom of note, “What the author wanted” becomes a shriekingly marginal portion of how the fans slice ‘n’ dice their reactions to it.

I once had a post up here where I asked, “Hey, do you read prologues to a book?”  A small minority – about 5% – said they skip all prologues because they’re boring.  Nobody got their undies in a twist over that, and they’re skipping more of my book than stripping all the profanities there.  They can read it however brings them the most enjoyment.

Read the chapters from back to front for a Memento groove.  Read every other sentence.  Gender-flip the protagonists.  Make the magic system a virus inflicted by aliens from the planet Mars.  Get creative.

Just don’t say I wanted that, is all.

And again; I swear a fucking lot in my journal, and in my fiction.  I disagree with people who think that a book is better without all those fucks.  I do, in fact, think less of you for such an opinion.  But if it makes you happy and you are not trying to say, “This is what Ferrett’s book is!” then sure, go nuts.

Now, I’ve heard some rumors that CleanReader is actually not paying all its authors for the books, in which case I’ll quote Goodfellas and say “Fuck you, pay me.”  But otherwise?  I’ve got a big “meh” there.  I think the folks at CleanReader are too Ned Flanders for me, and offensive in different ways (“bitch” to “witch”, fellas? Pagans count), but they can consume my book in different ways.

If you disagree? Well, Chuck Wendig has some instructions as to how to get your book off of CleanReader, and he really fucking hates it.  And do so if the urge strikes you.  Every author’s going to react differently.  You may disagree here, and that’s another aspect of how I approach this: I made this essay, I tossed it out there, and now y’all can tell me how I’m wrong.

Me?  I gave it to you.  I may not respect the way you read my book, in the end, but by God it’s your right.  Just as it’s my right to go, “What Star Wars prequels?” and ignore their very existence when discussing things.  It pisses off George Lucas, but it makes me so much happier.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Well, you’re in luck!  For I am on Daniel M. Bensen’s most excellent podcast The Kingdoms of Evil, and while we ramble most amiably on about a variety of topics, I discuss how the Internet’s relentless focus on things helped shape my approach to the magic system in Flex.  I’m totes chattery, so go check it out if you’d like to hear me talk!

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Untaken is an interesting blend of styles, combining Judy Blume-style coming-of-age stuff with the roughness of Stephen King.  The one thing both of those authors share is their solid grasp on characters, and so you’ve got some interesting teens at the heart of a story of an alien invasion.  The characters are so interesting, in fact, that I kept getting mildly annoyed when the aliens or the government squads showed up, because I far preferred the quiet scenes where they were toodling around on the road looking for shelter.

This is, to say the least, an interesting complaint for a book about a space invasions.

The two leads are sharply delineated: you have Gracie, a slightly spoiled ordinary teenager who bitches about Mom and Dad until they get vacuumed up into the sky by silver-tentacled space parasites.  And you have Brandon, the son of an alcoholic and blatantly crazy father, who’s trying his best to live up to his Dad’s skewed ideals before again, whoops, space monsters.

The two make for a pretty good team.  Brandon has the know-how to survive, but has his dad’s twisted dreams of AMURCA and no common sense.  Gracie has a lot of common sense and a lot of school booksmarts, but not a whole lot of courage in dealing with the initial onslaught.  They make a fine team, especially when they pick up a small kid who may or may not be an alien himself.

If you like Stephen King, some of the action sequences are superbly Kingenated in flavor, particularly the scenes where a) the aliens invade Brandon’s house, and b) the scene where the aliens stalk our heroes through a shopping mall.  Anckorn has a really good sense of tension, and when you combine that with her natural gift for characterization, you bite your nails worrying that everyone will make it out okay.

And in fact, the biggest issues I have with the book is when she strays from Brandon and Gracie.  The end of the book doesn’t tie into their personalities as much as I’d like – it’s an ending, but they feel a little ancillary.  And there’s a romance in the book that felt a little YA-obligatory to me, because Brandon and Gracie are good for each other but I didn’t necessarily feel sparks flying.

Still, it was a lot of fun, and I gobbled it up in about three sessions in the bathtub, which is quick reading for me.  The aliens were interesting, and they had actual motivation, which is something that’s comparatively rare in alien stories – quite often aliens are treated like deux ex machinae, doing whatever they in order to propel the plot, yet the aliens here actually had a pretty solid reason for their invasion.

I’d like to see where Gracie and Brandon go from here.  Currently Untaken is only $4.99 on Amazon Kindle, so if you feel like being creeped out, I’d say it’s a good purchase.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I’m signing in San Diego next Saturday, and Mysterious Galaxy – one of the finest bookshops in the nation – would like you to RSVP at their Facebook page.

Now, I feel a little embarrassed about pimping my goddamned book appearances so much, but every stop thus far gone literally like this:

*two months before* “Hey, I’m going to be in Portland!”

*six weeks before* “Hey, I’m going to be in Portland!”

*one month before* “Portland!  I’m going!  You should totally show!”

*three weeks before* “Do you see my goddamned arms flailing?  Here’s another blog post entirely devoted to my arrival in Portland!”

*one week before* “ZOMG I’M SO EXCITED TO GO TO PORTLAND.”

*one day before* “PORTLAND I AM IN YOU CONSENSUALLY”

*on the day of the event* “Ferrett, you’re in Portland?  Why didn’t you say something?”

See this cracked skull, right above my eye sockets?  That’s from the force of this headdesk.

So to reiterate: I do not know where any of you live.  I am facing this metal box with an Internet in it, and you live in this Internet.  I’m the one shouting my impending arrival, and unfortunately it is up to you to tell me your location.

So!  If you are in San Diego, or within driving distance of San Diego, I am going to be there this Saturday. I will be right here.  And if you’d like to see me, please mark your attendation of this event.  Please inform any San Diego-close friends that BTdubs, Ferrett will be at Mysterious Galaxy, maybe we could all go to see him, for he will hug us and go out for drinks afterwards and laugh and chat with you.  These signings are like mini-cons where I see cool people and hang with them, and I would like to hang with you.

But this only happens if you know about this, so please.  If you’re nearby, note this impending wave of me-ness.  Because when you go “Wait, Ferrett, when did you say you’re in town?” I will be very kind and not show you the goddamned list of seven fucking times I told you; I will merely retain an icy silence and not reply because my teeth will be fused together from intense grinding.

I love you.  I want to see you.

San Diego’s where I’ll be.

If you can get down there, show up.

Love,
Ferrett

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

“Are you sure you want me to come?” she wrote.

We’d been friended for years on the Internets; we started way back before the gravestone days of LiveJournal, and had played tag on just about every social network possible. We’d texted, lightly.

And she had all of my social anxiety, and more.

I knew that even writing to me to ask if I wanted her to come had caused her tizzies of anxiety.  Opening a window into her fears wide enough for me to peek in and see all of her turmoil was an act of supreme trust.  And of course I emailed her back to tell her of course I wanted her to come, I’d wanted to meet her for years, if she came I would hug her and show her just how happy I was to see her.

And I thought: I don’t know if I could come, even with that.

Because I am a severe sufferer of social anxiety.  I can just about do book signings, because there I am at least reassured that people came to see me; if they didn’t, all they had to do was stay home.  But when I imagined going to visit an online friend of mine?  Who’d immediately home in on all my physical ugliness, feel pity at my awkward jokes, would wince at my too-loud laugh?  Who might actually look at me blankly and say, “I’m sorry, who are you again?”

I’d stay home.

I would so stay home.

And so she came out to see me.  She’d had to enlist a friend to come with her, for strength.  And it was a large crowd there, all milling, and when I saw her out of the corner of my eye she trembled a little sometimes, but of course I called out and gave her the biggest, warmest hug I had it in me to give, and whispered in her ear just how glad I was, so happy that she’d come.

Nobody but me would have known how scared she was.  She looked completely normal – even beautiful.

But that’s the way we socially anxious work.  We look good on the outside, and are as tight as hand grenades on the inside.

And when the signing was over, and I was trying to round everyone up into going out for drinks afterwards, she pulled me aside and told me, with a thin smile, that it was too much.  She’d gotten overloaded.  And though oh how she wanted to stay, all of these people had drained her introvert-batteries and now it was time to be escorted home.

I didn’t know that I could, but I gave her an even bigger hug than the first one and thanked her, thanked her, thanked her.

Thing is, she’s not alone.  One of the reasons I have any audience at all is that I blog about my insane burblings of social anxiety, and how hard it is for me to go to conventions.  I’d say about one out of every five people who’ve come to see me read from Flex and sign books has that hesitant smile when they approach me, and I know that the only reason they crept out into such a whirlwind social situation is because I’ve lent them strength at some point by sharing my own tearful fears, and that they and I are intertwined with the same terrors.

They’re braver than I am.

I couldn’t come out to see me.

And so when I see them, I ask to hug them, and I thank them, and I smile, and I try to tell them how fucking proud I am that they came.  I know the cost. I know the fear.  And yet they thought somehow, I was worth it.

I hope I’m worth it.

Two stops left on this tour.  Next Saturday I sign in San Diego, and a week later I sign in San Francisco.  Some of you are thinking of coming out.  And I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t; the world is scary sometimes.

But if you do come, tell me.  Tell me how hard it was.  Because you deserve all the fucking hugs for battling that Godzilla of a terror, you deserve to see how proud someone is of you for coming out, because I know.  I know how hard this is.  I know how beautiful you are for trying.

You’re so magnificent for transcending your fears.  And you get thanked so rarely for all that effort it takes to reach the level of normal.  So tell me, and I will thank you, I will thank you endlessly, I will tell you how beautiful you are because oh my God you are.

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I did a half-assed job cleaning the kitchen the other day.

Gini was out at court, and I had ten minutes between tasks at work, so I picked up around the kitchen.  I didn’t do any dishes, Lord, no, or even put them in the dishwasher; I just picked up the stray glasses around the house, scraped some food into the garbage can, tossed some old junk mail. The dishes were in the sink, filled to the brim with Bachelor Water, that miracle substance that all men believe will clean dishes perfectly if you just let them soak for long enough.

When she rushed in to the house, off to another meeting in an hour, she put her coat on the chair and sat down to check her email.

“Hey!” I said.

She looked up in confusion.

“Did you notice the kitchen?”

She squinted at the kitchen. Indeed, the kitchen had gone from “abominable” to “barely acceptable.”  She had not registered the change because while the old kitchen had made her wince at the mess, this new kitchen wasn’t clean enough to make her stop in wonder.  She actually had to mentally compare the two to note the difference.

Then she gave me a big, wide smile.

“Thank you,” she said, pulling me into a warm embrace.

And that was that.

Later that evening, my wife was hip-deep in a pile of work, and was drinking wine.  “Would you freshen my glass?” she asked, tapping the crystal.  “I’m swamped.”

I got up and poured her a fresh tipple.  When I brought it back, she took the glass and held it up proudly.

“Did you notice?” she asked.

I hadn’t.  I’m so used to asking for things that self-care doesn’t register.  If I’m busy refactoring a program, you bet your ass that I’ll ask for as much catering as I can get.

But Gini came from a very dysfunctional family where she played “mom” even when she was eight years old.  She did everything, and was punished when she asked her parents for help.  So Gini never ever delegates tasks, and she tries to do too much because she *will not* ask for assistance, and then she melts down.

So Gini asking me to get her a glass of wine was, in fact, a major breakthrough for her.

“Thank you!” I said, leaning down to hug her, and that was that.

And some days I think the reason we’ve been successfully married for fifteen years is that we thank each other for the dumbest goddamned things.  I mean, I’m thanking her for being allowed to bring her wine, she’s thanking me for doing the minimal amount of effort.

I thank her for not stepping on my punchline when I’m telling a story.  She thanks me for not leaving toothpaste in the sink.  I thank her for not taking it personally when I scream at a broken computer.  She thanks me for watching reruns of Say Yes To The Dress with her, even though I don’t mind it all that much.

Our days are suffused with gratitude.

And yet it is a genuine gratitude.  She’s put together my weekly regimen of pills for years now, coordinating the various prescriptions and putting them all into a single M-T-W-T-F-S-S pillbox for me.  And every time I see her do it, I hug her and thank her, because we don’t let “routine” clog our thanks.  It’s still special that she does it, even if it’s the hundredth week in a row.

It’s also a silly, specific gratitude.  Sometimes Gini thanks me for things I don’t do, remembering the stuff her ex used to take her to task for and just hugging me because I don’t blame her for stupid shit.  But she’s thankful for that difference, and I let her.

We say thank you probably eighty times a day.  For big things.  Little things.  Trivial things.  Insane things.  And we never say them because we feel we ought to, we say them because we feel this swell of love at realizing the little efforts we’ve gone to, and smile a quirky smile, and fall a little more in love.

And I wonder if there’s some study that counts the number and quality of the thank-yous.  I’ve been in relationships where expecting thanks for putting the pills together would be stupid, that’s your job here, I do the fucking laundry so you handle the pills.  I’ve been in relationships where asking for thanks for the half-a-job in the kitchen would have led to a gigantic WHY DIDN’T YOU DO ALL OF IT argument, and then in the future I would never do anything unless I had time for the whole shebang, and we’d have much dirtier kitchens.

I suspect relationships get harder where the thanks are thin.  But fortunately, our air is thick with healthy oxygen and healthy thanks, forever grateful, even grateful that we’re grateful for such absurdly stupid things.

I’m grateful Gini lets me post things like this. Gini’s grateful I gush about her.

It works out.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

The greatest sign of success on Flex, for me, is that I’m getting the right kind of feedback from my friends.  I’ve seen the hesitant, stiff-smiled, “Oh, yeah, your book was good!” look too many times not to know it when I see it.  Instead, I’m getting that wide-eyed, holy-shit look of “Flex was good,” followed by a pointed query as to when the sequel drops.

The reviews, too, have been kind.  My Goodreads rating still hovers between 4.1 and 4.2 stars, which is frankly amazing for a first book.  And the sales have been decent, and the first three stops in this insane book tour have been well-attended by people I love and don’t see nearly enough.

Judging it as a first novel debut, I’d put this in the top 10% of first novels.  Maybe the top 5%.  I am living a happy dream that I’ve worked for all my life, and it almost expunges the sad nights I spent stacking up rejections and writing with the sad realization that maybe nobody will ever read thisMaybe all this effort means you’re not good enough.

But let me be clear.

Last night, I was lying in bed, planning my trip to Seattle, for a two-week book tour, having just been tagged by an old friend on Facebook to tell me that I was, and I quote, “white-hot” as an author.

I would have given every bit of that up to have my dead goddaughter Rebecca walk through my bedroom door.

Every last fucking sale.

Every last fucking review.

Every last hope of being a writer.

Rebecca is deep in the DNA of Flex.  I’m not going to say that she is Aliyah, but when I wandered lost I asked, “What would Rebecca do?” and her riotous indignation was inevitably the answer.  And I wrote her not as a tribute, but as a triumph; when I started Flex, Rebecca was four years old, and healthy, and an adorable, unstoppable little thug.

We could not have known about the tumors growing in her head.

We could not have envisioned that someone so spunky would be gone.

Look at this kid, all this compassion and snarkiness and love in ten seconds, and tell me you can imagine she’s gone.

While I was on my book tour this weekend, hitting New York and Boston, some far braver people than I were shaving their heads for Saint Baldrick’s charity to raise funds in Rebecca’s memory.  To stop other families from going through what we did.  To find, as best as is possible, an end to cancer.

They are teetering on the edge of raising $100,000 in funds.  At $98,273 as I write this.

I ask you: if you bought Flex and loved it, I am grateful. I am.  But I would be more grateful still if you could reach deeper into your pockets and donate what you can to help assist the people who tried their best to save my little burning girl, my hope, my love, my loss.

I would throw my own book onto the bonfire, if God would let me, to bring her back; since I cannot, I will throw money into science to bar others from putting another child’s body into a tiny, tiny coffin.

Thank you.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I haven’t read anything about the new Star Wars, nor do I really intend to; I’m going to be getting enough spoilers incidentally without seeking them out.  But I have a sneaking suspicion of how Star Wars is going to handle the introduction of Luke, Leia, and Han – which is to say, given JJ Abrams’ fondness for ancient gravitas and some of the teaser images from the trailer, I suspect we’ll have them hauled out of carbonite.

Not literal carbonite, of course, but script-carbonite – which is to say that after all their adventures, Han, Luke and Leia will have done precisely bupkiss since the films ended.  Some spunky younglings will have to haul their inert asses out of the ancient desert – just like Luke found Obi-Wan – where they’ll have curled up in isolation for years and have to be brought back out for one great adventure. Kinda like Spock in the Star Trek films.

That’ll be deeply disappointing.

For me, I want active old geezers – the kind of spunky folks who are smart enough to recruit a new generation when they realize they need fresh blood to handle to this challenge.  I don’t want hoary old guys being noble – I want Luke, Leia and Han as the cool uncles and aunts we all secretly wanted to have as a kid, the kind of people who grab us by the arm and go, “You’re more awesome than you think! Come on, let’s save the damn world!”

You know, like a squadron of lightsaber-wielding Doctor Whos.

And what I really want is the implication that Luke, Leia, and Han continued to have really cool adventures after the films.  The greatness of Star Wars is its implied backstory – remember when nobody knew what the Clone Wars were, but really wanted to? – making a movie seem like a snippet of some grand history.

So I think there should be plenty of conversations like this:

HAN, LUKE, AND NEW KIDS FACE DOWN UNTHINKABLE DANGER

HAN: This is just like when we had to wrangle Gundarks back on Ceta Tau!
NEW KID: What?
HAN: Long story.

And then, later, facing some other crazy Star Wars action sequence:

LEIA: Doesn’t this remind you of the starwheels of Apocrypha Seven?
NEW KID: The what?
LEIA (waving her hand): Old history. Not relevant.

And that becomes a running gag throughout the film, that Han and Luke and Leia have seen it all before but still need these new kids because these new kids are awesome, culminating in a scene where, I dunno, they have to swing across a chasm:

LUKE: Whoa, this is just like when we had to swing across that chasm in the Death Star!
NEW KID: Death Star?  Who the heck would name something as bombastic as “The Death Star”? Now I know you’re just making stuff up.
LUKE: You got me.

(NOTE: Yes, I know there will be like twenty novels documenting the adventures of Luke and company between the end of ROTJ and these new films.  If you’ve been paying attention at all, you know the films never give a rat’s ass about the novelizations, so no, those aren’t going to be referenced unless Abrams has really upped his game.)

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So the most excellent podcaster Brent Bowen interviewed me for his podcast Adventures In Sci-Fi Publishing.  If you liked my novel Flex, we get into an awful lot of discussion on how (and why) that was created – and in discussing the magic system, we get into a new branch of ‘mancy that pops up in The Flux, Flex’s sequel (due out in October), which may be the craziest magic I’ve devised as of yet.  (It’s not super-spoiler territory as far as I’m concerned, but it is spoiler-ish.)

There is about fifteen minutes’ worth of talk prefacing my appearance, discussing the “Sad Puppies” slate of the Hugo Awards, which may or may not be of interest to a general audience.  But considering that he asks me my take on the Sad Puppies – and it’s an interesting story to my mind, of a bunch of right-wing authors attempting to change the composition of one of science fiction’s most prestigious awards – it’s almost certainly worth listening to.

Anyway, as usual, I crack jokes, I say things I regret, and I use the term “basically” way too much.  Check it out.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I’m reading Brad Torgerson’s The Chaplain’s War right now, which is currently half of a helluva book.

The opening half had a start that dragged me right in – huge, mechano-mantis creatures had effortlessly destroyed our invading armada, and a handful of prisoners were trapped on an alien planet.  The chaplain’s assistant, who is not particularly religious but is the only man left to comfort these POWs after the chaplain was killed in battle, is approached by one of the mantis-overlords: they’ve decided to exterminate humanity, but first they want to try to understand this foolish concept humans have called “God.”

Problem is, the chaplain’s assistant isn’t quite sure he understands it.  But he does understand that teaching them something is the only hope humanity has.

Things don’t go quite where you expected from there.

The problem is that this narrative has serious drive – the stakes are great, there’s huge battles, there’s desperate moves from needy people on both sides.  I can’t wait to see what happens next…

…but unfortunately, at least thus far in the book (I’m about a quarter of the way through), every other chapter is a flashback to the chaplain at bootcamp.

There’s a lot of bootcamp narratives in military fiction.  And I feel, at this point, like I’ve seen most of them.  The recruit arrives at the boot camp as saggy sack of potatoes.  The upper echelons insult them gratuitously, give them impossible tasks and then punish them for not doing it.  Because we can’t demean the officers, there is of course a local villain – either a slacker who’s going to take other good soldiers out with him, or a nasty piece of work who has it in for Our Hero, or both.  And eventually, Our Hero learns more responsibility and camaraderie and becomes tougher than he’s ever been before.

It’s a lot like the Cop Narrative, in that I feel I’ve seen it too many times to get excited about it.  And I love it when there are twists – I think Ender’s Game did a great job in twisting it so that the boot camp created isolation and not brotherhood, I think Old Man’s War had the joy of seeing elderly people given new genetically engineered bodies lusting for a second life, and The Forever War had a boot camp in icy space that was almost more fatal than the war.

Yet I keep seeing that boot camp narrative show up in novels without much of a twist, and I wonder: what’s appealing about it?

I thought initially it was that soldiers love to relive that time period and will read anything that triggers that experience, and maybe it is, but I posted a status update yesterday and three ex-military friends of mine expressed the same bafflement.  I suspect I may be friended to outliers, but still.

And I myself am an outlier myself in that I don’t comfort-read.  I know there are people who read, say, romances merely because they’re predictable, taking comfort in hearing all the narrative tropes click into place, and I’m not one of them.  (People keep saying my novel Flex is wildly unpredictable, and that’s because if I got bored when I was writing it I tore up that chapter and wrote something weirder.)  So maybe it’s that military fiction readers like having variants on the same story, and they’d get itchy if the boot camp didn’t make its obligatory appearance.

And Brad’s a smart writer.  By alternating boot camp with ZOMG MANTIS WARS, he’s telling me implicitly that the audience he’s trying to court would find both halves equally compelling.  I don’t.  For me, it’s kind of like “These chapters are about an eight-year-old boy trying to fight off his murderous stepfather with a steak knife, and these alternating chapters are about his friend’s struggle to fix his ant farm.” I’m all like WTF MANTIS and find myself skimming the boot camp chapters like blazes to GET TO THE BUGS.

And maybe the boot camp pays off.  It may be a narrative choice to have something with the boot camp resound firmly down the pike – again, Brad’s smart, I wouldn’t put that off of him.  But I’ve seen so many fictional boot camps that don’t really pay off at this stage that I find myself wondering where the appeal of boot camp in general stems from.  There’s nothing wrong with it, I’m just trying to figure it out.

Any ideas?

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So Xuenay posted a really excellent comment the other day, linking me to this essay “What Universal Human Experiences Are You Missing Without Realizing It?” Which, if you look to the comments, lists common human feelings that people didn’t realize they lacked.

The best example is from someone who had no sense of smell, yet because of social conditioning mocked her sister’s stinky feet and held her nose when she ate Brussels sprouts, just because she was supposed to.  It took this person years to realize that people actually smelled things.

Then there are other weirdies of “Wait, other people are not like me at all”:

  • Realizing that some people actually like their jobs;
  • Realizing that yes, some people actually get so physically stressed that it affects their emotions;
  • Realizing that “not getting pumped up by being among big crowds of excited people” makes them an outlier;
  • Realizing that some people really do care about the taste of food, and aren’t just ordering fancy meals to show off.

And I’m curious as to when y’all had that moment of realization of “Huh.  People really are that way, and I’m not.”

Here, I’ll share mine: I was in my mid-twenties when I realized that, bizarrely, putting the words “I feel” in front of sentences actually affected people’s reactions to an opinion.  Until then, it was super-obvious to me that everything I said was my opinion, it came out of my mouth, it’s created by a potentially-flawed brain, why should I have to put “I feel” in front of it to remind people that this opinion is an opinion?  To me, it’s like prefacing every sentence you speak with “I say that,” because shit, it’s that obvious.

But no.  Around my mid-twenties, I came to realize that merely shimming two words – “I feel” – in front of the exact same sentence radically changed how people reacted to my speech.  Which is something I still have issues with today, if you’ve seen my writings.  It’s something I struggle with, this idea that people feel that what they say is objectively correct until they specifically flip a switch otherwise.

So.  When did you have your moment of “Wait, I’m different from most people,” and what is the thing that sets you apart?

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I know people mean to be helpful with their advice. They do.  But if humanity has one sin nestled at its heart, it’s this:

People can’t truly imagine that someone else is different than they are.

So what you see, over and over again, is this strange process where someone who has a horrifically fucked-up life finally finds a way out.  It doesn’t matter how their life was fucked up – maybe they’re a depressive who found a therapy that worked.  Maybe they’re a drug-abuser who found a good way to get clean.  Maybe they had food allergies, and found a better way to cook meals.  Maybe they felt lost, and they found religion.  Maybe they felt tense all the time, and they found BDSM.

Doesn’t matter.  What matters is that for them, we have sadness + cure = happiness.

And that’s good!  As annoying as the people with these micro-savior complexes are, let us take this moment to celebrate the fact that they found something that worked for them – even if it’s a transient cure!  Happiness is mighty thin on the ground, my friends, and if you find a flickering source of pure-D joy, then you curl up beside that thrill for as long as you can.

Yet what then so often happens next is wretched: they see other people with problems like theirs.  Or, at least, from their perspective, sort of like theirs, because as mentioned most people don’t actually see other people.  They look out across this great country and they see not a million unique specimens of humanity, but a million vague clones of them.

Oh, they recognize that “people are different,” but that’s a sort of muddy background wash that fades away when they start making decisions.  They know, in their heart of hearts, that everyone feels the same emotions that they do.  That’s why anyone of the opposite political stripe is so often portrayed as evil – hey, those other guys know deep down just all of the harm they’re doing, and they’re choosing to do it anyway, so they must be actively wanting to fuck people over.  What monsters!  They can’t possibly be acting in good faith!

Likewise, anyone of an alternative sexuality is doing something that’s purposely creepy, because they can’t possibly have genuine feelings for something that repels you as much as it does.  Unless, of course, you’re comfortable with alternative sexualities, in which case anyone who feels the slightest bit uncomfortable must be a raging bigot because God, look how easy it is for me to be okay with all of these concepts I’ve dealt with for years, the fact that you can’t instantly come to acceptance means you’re a monster.

Nobody’s an individual, sadly.  They’re all just warped reflections of you.  And if they have any differences, it must be because they know better and yet have chosen to do the wrong thing, not that they actually have entirely different experiences and conclusions.  (Perhaps wrong and harmful conclusions, true, but it’s possible to come to a wrong conclusion through the best of intentions.)

Which means that when one person finds something that brings them happiness, they are convinced they’ve found the cure for everyone.  And when they see someone who has problems superficially similar to the issues they had, they automatically go “Well, that looks like my problem, so it is my problem,” and set about barraging people with This Cure They Found!  It works!

And here’s the thing: the cure does work, for some people.   Because the world is large; cast your net wide enough, and you will find a few people similar to you.  So they get just enough evidence to see that this is a fine cure, a beautiful cure.

Then they become accidental dicks.

Because this isn’t a possible cure – it’s the cure, and if you’re not happy after trying it, well, you didn’t do the cure properly.  Hey, you were depressed and medications didn’t work for you?  You just didn’t find the right medications.  You were sad and religion didn’t cheer you up?  You just didn’t have enough faith.  You felt sick all the time and this new diet didn’t work for you?  You must have cheated on this diet.

And slowly, the cure becomes a weapon.

And slowly, people start to feel even worse because they have so-called friends who are hammering on them with cures, and these cures aren’t working, and that means there’s something wrong with them.

And no.

There’s nothing wrong with you if a cure doesn’t work.  The world is big, and problems are complicated, and even problems that seem similar can have wildly different root causes.  The whole point of life is to try as many damn things as you can, because solutions come from odd areas, and the more you can explore the better a chance you’ll have of finding the fix that gets you the serenity you deserve.

But there is no one cure.  There’s a million specific cures, each targeted at the millions of people who are legitimately different, and while there are people who genuinely don’t view other folks as extensions of themselves, most do.  Which means that they’ll be very firm about fixing you in the same way they’d fix themselves, and they’ll be aghast and skeptical when the cure that brought them to happiness doesn’t work on you.  They’ll think you didn’t clap hard enough to save Tinkerbelle.  They’ll think you did something wrong.

And maybe you did do something wrong.  That’s a possibility.  But it’s also a possibility that you are not them, and your cure for depression or sickness or panic is something different entirely.

I hope you find it.

And I hope when you find it, you remember that not everyone’s like you.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So I’m signing in Boston this Saturday – or, as I’ve been calling it, Bostonish.  Because I wanted to support indie book stores, and as such I’m signing at Annie’s Book Stop, which is in Worcester, about half an hour away from Boston proper.

(I’m told. I never know where anything is. I just follow the GPS.)

ANyway, some folks have mentioned they don’t have a car, or don’t want to make that trip alone.  But never fear!  Because Annie’s is smart and proactive, they’ve created a ride-sharing thread where Ferrett-minded Boston people can gather together to figure out how to burrow out of your snow-caves and see a weasel.  So if you wanna compare notes or find someone to come on out, then that totally works.

Anyone who arrives at Annie’s, for all the trouble it’s worth, gets extra-big hugs from me.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Gini and I have been watching reruns of MASH on Netflix, and holy God does this show hold up; there’s a lot of sitcoms from the 1970s that have become embarrassingly dated, but MASH deals with situations that are still actually shocking by modern standards. There’s a whole episode devoted to Hawkeye’s being unable to get it up because he’s so stressed about the war – and while it’s couched in 1970s network standards-and-practices censorship terminology, it’s still pretty explicit.

Yet I wonder how many people Hawkeye killed.

Thing is, it’s made clear in MASH that the choppers can drop off wounded men at the surgical unit at any time, often at the worst times, almost always without warning.  And there’s much hullaballoo made of the fact that it never ends.

Yet somehow, whenever Hawkeye and BJ go on a bender, getting laughing-drunk shitfaced, the choppers never come.

Oh, I know: the MASH 4077th is allowed to operate in this distinctly unmilitary fashion because they have a 97% survival rate, a fact that’s hammered home time and time again in the course of the show.  Which seems unrealistic – how good a surgeon is Hawkeye, to make up for Frank’s blatant and routine incompetence?  I mean, if 97 out of 100 wounded men who make it to the MASH unit survive, doesn’t that make Frank actually a brilliant surgeon, just not as good as Hawkeye and company?  Or is Frank entirely responsible for those 3% dead, and is Hawkeye’s moral duty to shoot Frank in the head so he can achieve a saintlike 100% survival?

And come on, man.  Benders take a while to recover from, and these guys are getting plastered.  Surely the choppers came in while Hawkeye was too soused to see.  Surely Hawkeye had to resect a perforated bowel while he was sweating bathtub gin, some poor bastard of a soldier dying because of bad timing, unconscious and unaware that Hawkeye’s hand-eye coordination with the scalpel deep in his guts has been obliterated due to booze.

I still like MASH.  But I wonder about these things.  I can’t not wonder.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

DSC08663

“I shouldn’t do this,” I said to Gini, huddling back in the car seat as we rode over to the bookstore.

She didn’t even look away from the road.  “Of course you should.”

“It just feels so… indulgent,” I said.  “Egotistic.  A whole party devoted to me.”

“To celebrate something you worked for all your life.”

“But… I went too crazy!  There’s a cake!  And my book-themed nails!  And I’m wearing this suit, like it’s a costume!  I should have just had a get-together in our living room.  Loganberry books will hate me.”

“You talked with all those writers at ConFusion, and they told you that it was okay for you to go nuts on your first book party.  They all did. And besides, when are you going to have another first book release party?”

“I shouldn’t do this,” I said, and turned up the radio.

But when I got there fifteen minutes early, I ran into two friends from the clubs that I hadn’t expected to see there.  They waved happily.  That was a good sign.  And when I walked through the door, there was a thick stack of books, covering an entire table – my books, so many it barely seemed possible that this many copies of Flex existed.

And I went back, and there were three more people, and a Very Large Room filled with chairs.  Too many chairs.  And a lectern, wherein I discovered that everyone but me had thought, “Surely, Ferrett will be doing a reading from his new book!”  But fortunately, there will be a special audio production of one of the climactic chapters of Flex, and so I’d prepared a specialized excerpt designed as an introduction for new readers, even if I would have to read it off of a teeny teeny screen.

And still more people.

And more people.

And more people.

All friends of mine, but who knew I had that many friends?  Just a stream of my beloveds walking through the door – some of them folks I hadn’t seen in years.  And it was chaos, because I could barely shake their hand and have two minutes of conversation with them before someone else I adored showed up and I had to hug them, but…

…some of them had read the book.  And they had that surprised excitement in their eyes, that thrill that said I started reading this book because you were my friend, Ferrett, but then I couldn’t put it down and I finished it in a day.  That happiness of not having to feign excitement, of actually having excitement, because they weren’t just here for me, they were here because the book was good and they wanted to be here when it all started.

(Which was still weird, because Flex is getting largely good reviews, and the GoodReads rating keeps going up the more people who review it, and I keep getting tagged on Facebook and getting texts from people and I just got my first fanmail from someone who’d never heard of me yesterday, and all this is a series of firsts with luck I cannot believe.)

And I was too nervous to have cake.  Not then.  Not yet.

But that big old room filled up.  With sixty-plus people.  The bookstore owner, Harriett, seemed surprised and thrilled.

And that table of books sold.  Every one.  I had to run out to the car to sell them my author’s copies.

And I read, and the audience laughed in the right places and seemed tense in the tense ones, and when it was done that wave of applause broke over me.

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And I signed books, so many books, fifty-plus books, and each one I numbered and gave a personal insignia, and there was even a guy there who didn’t know me, the book just sounded interesting, and that was awesome.

And I discovered that when you do a signing like this, each signature is a little moment, this tiny microcosm where you say hello and greet and have a little mini-waltz of friendship, and it was like this repeated pocket of hello, how are you doing, oh that’s wonderful, so glad to see you, how shall I sign it, hugs, goodbye, goodbye.

The FLEX debut novel party! WHOOO!

And then it was over, and I ate cake, and the cake frosting was dyed black to match the book, and it turned your teeth and your tongue black but I didn’t care if it gave me Orc mouth this was my cake of triumph and I ate it, I ate it so happily.

And I thought of the upcoming dates: New York next Friday. Boston(ish) next Saturday. Then Seattle and Portland the week after that, and San Diego, and San Francisco, and I worried that maybe people wouldn’t show up at those signings, that it would be the stereotypical bad signing – a sad little author at a sad little folding-card table, making sad eye contact with passing customers in the hopes of attracting their interest, a stack of unsold books on the table.

And it may still be that.  Maybe nobody will come to those other signings – because that, too, is egotistical, this bizarre hybrid of a vacation and a book tour, just me wanting to go to other cities and see some friends and see who’ll show up to celebrate with me.  And see the Special Flex-themed nails that you can only see if you come see me on this tour, which is ridiculous, but also strangely secretive and awesome.

But this night?  It was untouchable.  It was better than I’d dreamed, this glorious room that looked like a movie set (and seriously, if you like it, check out Loganberry books), and this future ahead of me, and all of these people in a room that bubbled over with friendship.

All the love.  So much love.

The FLEX debut novel party! WHOOO!

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

“You actually read it?” I asked, surprised.

“Yeah!” My goddaughter clutched my book to her chest, seeming a little confused that I’d be confused.

“But…”  I tried to put this delicately. “You don’t like reading.”

“I don’t!”  She beamed.  “But I loved this book.”

So I hugged my goddaughter, and felt happy.

And then I checked the Amazon page for Flex and found that she liked the book so much she had to leave a review:

Kat’s daughter Carolyn- This book was the most interesting and emotional book I have ever read. This book pulled me in and made me think that Flex is a reality. This MUST be made into a movie. I can see and picture it already,in other words this book is just PERFECT. Good job Ferrett,good job.

But my favorite line from any review I’ve ever gotten ever is this:

I would recommend this book to people ages 15+ because f*** is in the book on almost every page.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

ZOMG GUYS, I’m doing my first serious “Ask Me Anything” today over on Reddit. I’m all nervous that nobody will have any questions, so if y’all have a Reddit account and feel like asking me whatever you feel like, then go over there and start peppering me.

Such a little country mouse, I am.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So there’s an Atlantic article going around entitled “How Kink’s Largest Networking Site Fails Its Users,” detailing how abuse, consent violation, and rape are prevalent in both BDSM and FetLife, and how FetLife’s crappy terms of service allows abusers to thrive.

This is absolutely true, but the reality’s a bit more complex.

First, my bona fides: I’ve been a member of Fet for about four years now, and I’m pretty well-connected there with about 2,500 friends and acquaintances. I blog on kinky topics there on a regular basis, and my essays routinely hit Kinky and Popular – a sort of “best of” leaderboard page, voted on by users.  Because I write on those topics, I get probably three or four emails a week from people in various forms of trouble asking me for advice.  As such, I see a lot of Fet’s flaws, and strengths, and know a lot of its core users.

And Fet encourages isolation.

This shocked me when I first got on FetLife, because I was used to an OKCupid-like experience.  I wanted to know what kinksters were in my town, so I searched in vain for a “look for people near you!” form, or in fact any friends recommendation algorithm like Facebook.  As it turns out, Fet makes it actively difficult to find people – you can look through the 800 people in your city, with the results arranged in no particular order, but that’s about it.  Everyone starts on Fet with a very small world.

That’s actually superb user design, as it turns out.  Because a lot of FetLife’s design is intended to protect the user from abuse.  Imagine if your  ex-spouse could search your town for people your age and gender in the hopes of finding dirt on you.  Or if a happy message popped up when you logged in suggesting that you friend your boss, with the sick realization that FetLife’s probably just outed you to her.  Or if your old stalker would be routinely alerted to your presence through casually unkind social networking.

Unfortunately, saying “Yeah, I’m really into fisting pretty boys’ asses” is grounds for losing child custody or a job in many places, as the outside world does not react well to many of the common things you’ll find on Fet – things like rape play, blood play, needleplay, trans identities, you name it.  FetLife understands that and does their best to make it so if you want to find friends, you have to work for it.

(And in addition to that UI issue, women routinely obfuscate their details further to avoid identification – the running gag on Fet is that Antarctica is a sexy refuge of 93-year-old women with astonishingly healthy bodies.)

That’s a good thing.  But the flip side to that is that it means that when you log into Fet, you are isolated.  It’s hard for people who might know better to find you.  FetLife suggests you join groups, which are places for people to gather, but the groups are little fiefdoms of varying quality.  Anyone can start a group.  If you join up with “Novices and Newbies,” there’s no real knowing who runs it or how creditable they are.

So when that starry-eyed 50 Shades housewife comes onto Fet, she might join a good group that encourages her, or she might join a group run by a predator who knows how to work that isolation.

Now, Fet’s taken some measures to prevent this with welcoming agents vetted by Fet, but the truth is that Fet is trying to balance one harm with another – how do you get people to know who the “good” folks are when even the “good” folks could lose their job for people in the outside world knowing their identity?

And that’s before we even get to the consent violation issue, which is complicated as heck.

Now, as I start this discussion, let’s set some clear limits: yes, a lot of abuse is easy to spot.  If you tie someone up and have sex with them against their will once they’re helpless, that’s rape.  And it happens more than anyone wants to admit.

Yet while there is jet-black abuse there is also, as they say, 50 shades of gray here.  “Negotiating a scene” is a complex skill in BDSM, because a lot of what you’re trying to do is use brutal physical sensation to induce catharsis or an altered head-state.  There’s a state called “subspace,” which is oddly druglike, where you’re floaty and find it hard to concentrate and agreeable to a lot of things that you might regret in the cold light of morning.  (Or, worse, you just drop so hard into subspace that you find it hard to vocalize objections when things start going wrong.)  There’s a lot of very person-specific markers that are hard to read – what does it mean if someone starts crying during a scene?  What does it mean if they start screaming “NO!” when the official safeword is “Red”?  For a lot of people, those violent protests and breaking down is part of their kink.

Admittedly, a good top knows to quietly ask, “Is that a real no or part of this?” and check in.  But a lot of people with very good intentions can learn that in fact, a boy who they were enjoyably mistreating was, in fact, so traumatized they weren’t able to call a “Red” when they needed to, and Bad Shit Happened.  And people with very good intentions can learn that their sub thought they wanted to be whipped until they cried, and now that they’ve actually done just what was requested it’s not good catharsis but in fact just trauma uncorked, and how the hell do you fix that?

Even people with good intentions can accidentally do bad things in a world with a really weird learning curve.

And in the cracks like these, predators thrive.  Because there are so many miscommunications and mistakes and oh shit man sorry it turns out that you didn’t want that that people who are actively trying to fuck people over in order to get their kinks in can shrug and go “Whoops, my bad!” when in fact it was a carefully targeted assault designed to get them what they needed.

Then add that to the complexity that predators are charming motherfuckers.  I tell people on Fet, “Don’t trust me. People who abuse you act and react just like me.  Yes, even down to talking about how bad predators are.”  And they go, “Aww, Ferrett, you’re one of the good guys,” and I scream, “Did you learn fucking nothing?”

But no, a predator doesn’t abuse everyone – in fact, there are often lots of people they do good for in the community, targeting only specific people they desire.  They’re often pillars of the community, a social hub.  And so when an accusation of abuse is made – on FetLife or in any local dungeon – it’s not as simple as “Bungie_boy is a predator!” and everyone going “Oh, that’s bad” and figuring out what to do.  No, what invariably happens is that there’s the usual flurry of “How dare you accuse Bungie?  She’s a wonderful person, look what she’s done for me!” and “I’ve dated her for years!” and “No, you don’t understand!”

Unbelievably, that happens even when the bad shit happened with witnesses.

And again, there is clear abuse and rape in the community.  Too goddamned much of it.  But there’s also the not-common-but-also-not-unheard-of missteps created by good intentions, as outlined above, which feel no less like abuse when you’re the one who suffered at the hands of an honest mistake.  And within all of that, there are the predators stirring the pot and confusing the issue, generating good PR to cover up their fucked-up deeds, casting doubt upon the people who speak out.

So while we should do more to “out” abusers, the problem in reality is that those threads degenerate into ugly firestorms every time, just as they do in real life.  I’m not sure how you fix that, because often the only way people can remove an abuser from a community is to cause so much drama that it effectively dissolves or splits the community, and then the predator just waltzes off to somewhere else and starts over with a new crowd of ignorant people.

It’s not a good solution, but I wish there was a better one.

(And then there’s the fact that newbies to kink routinely participate in a phenomenon so well-known that it’s called “sub-frenzy,” where someone new to kink decides they need a Master right fucking now, and no matter how many people tell them “Wait, you need to choose carefully,” they find the first bozo with a paddle who’ll collar them, and often they move in with them, and then discover wait, even if you’re a slave you need to still value yourself.  The results are routinely tragic, and I’ve yet to see a good way to stop them personally, let alone on an institutional level.)

And then there’s FetLife’s legal liability.  Their attitude is, “If you have an issue with an abuser, go to the cops.  This is not the place to do this.”  Which is a shitty answer because hey, remember why everyone’s anonymous on Fet?  Because the cops don’t have much sympathy for “So you went to his house, you negotiated a scene to get tied up and beaten, you got naked…and then he raped you?”  The law is almost worthless when it comes to date rape, let alone violating the limits of something kinky.

Yet I don’t know what I’d do if I was in charge of Fet.  They force people to remove the names of abusers, fearing defamation lawsuits.  And I don’t know Canadian law (they’re located in Vancouver), so maybe that’s a real concern, maybe it isn’t.  But what people routinely forget is that you do not have to lose a lawsuit to lose your shirt.  If McDonald’s decides to drop a $5 million defamation lawsuit on your doorstep for that two-star review you left on Urbanspoon, sure, they’re gonna lose in court.  But not before you shell out lots of money for a lawyer, and have to take time off of work to go to court, and by the time all is said and done you may be in bankruptcy.

I suspect the caretakers of FetLife have determined that they probably wouldn’t lose in court if they allowed names to be dropped, but they would have to spend so much money defending themselves from abusive doms that they’d go broke.  And that’s a reasonable concern: in my experience, the most abusive doms are the most arrogant and the most sensitive, and I think they’d be happy to file lawsuits just for the satisfaction of getting revenge on a big target.

What people get upset about at Fet is that there’s no good court for locking out abusers in the kink community, and they want Fet to be that police force.  And yes, Fet is almost certainly allowing abuse to thrive by refusing to allow abusers to be named on their site, but I’m not sure the community would be better served by having Fet slapped with a bunch of court cases and going under.  Fet’s already been in financial trouble a few times – PayPal infamously doesn’t allow you to pay for porn with it, and they’ve gone through several issues finding a bank who a) accepts credit cards, and b) will work with a porno place – and I suspect for all of their reach, they’re more of a shoestring operation than anyone would care to admit.

So the problems we’re seeing on Fet are real – but a lot of that is spillover from a culture that marginalizes kinky behavior to an extent where there is no effective help.  There’s no real government assistance if you get abused, no organizations that won’t be scorned by society, no friends or family you can turn to for support outside the community.  Kink is an inbred outpost, and Fet reflects that sad reality.

I want FetLife to be doing more to prevent abuse, I do.  They should be. I think they often don’t do enough, and the things that happen in the shadows are shameful. Painful. Unforgivable.

But then I think about the isolation when I first logged in – that immense difficulty of finding friends.  That was a purposeful design, it was a good thing that protected my anonymity until I chose to “go public” with my kink… and it had the unfortunately backfiring effect of leaving novices to stumble into predator’s lairs.

I try to imagine ways a social networking site could fix that, and still retain the critical mass of active, engaged, and satisfied customers that it would remain useful as a community. Because the size of FetLife is what makes people so critical of it – it’s huge, with hundreds of thousands of members, and the very reason people think it could be used for good is because it’s that successful.  If FetLife had 750 members total, well, it could be the best in the world at rooting out predators in its midst but then it wouldn’t actually catch that many of them.

And I don’t know how I’d fix that.  And I’m glad it’s not my full-time job to figure out how to try to engineer a social network that makes up for all the sad flaws for how we, as a society, marginalize kink.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

The “book birthday” is a lot like an extended drug trip.

“I’m used to bad reviews,” I shrugged.  “I’ve had like forty short stories published! I’ve read lots of criticism on ‘em.  I’ll be fine.”

Then my first book review was three stars, and I flipped out all evening.

See, there’s a big difference between a short story dropping and a novel from a traditional publisher landing.  (It’s almost certainly different for self-published people.)  A short story is a tiny thing; you get the acceptance, you make the OMGYAY announcement, a couple of people link to you, the magazine publishes, and Lois Tilton tells you you suck.

A novel is like a rumbling freight train.  There are hundreds of book bloggers discussing whether they’re going to read you.  Hundreds of websites announcing your book is inbound.  Goodreads has this nice little page reserved for you, and it fills up.  People you don’t even know are expressing firm opinions about you.

Short story PR feels personal. Novels feel like God is looking down at you and She is expecting damned good things.

And the thing I foolishly hadn’t considered is that a novel is all you.  If people don’t like my story in Asimov’s? Meh. It’s sandwiched between six other stories, and surely they’ll like one of them.  I’m not gonna take out Sheila Williams’ editorial career in one fell swoop.

This novel?  That’s my name.  People bought it entirely based on what I produced.  If they don’t like it, all that dislike falls on me, and it affects my career, and so about two weeks into the process I was huddled under the covers meeping and asking Gini my God why did I do this.

Fortunately, I got some early reviews that told me that some people got what I was trying to do.  Which let me breathe.  I never expected Flex to be a massive hit, but I did hope that some segment of people would love it for what it is.  It’s not trying to be great literature, but it’s got a piece of my soul in it and I hoped that soul-fragment resonated with at least somebody.  Which, even if this thing tanks utterly now, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

Still, having your first book is a lot like having your first kid.  You pay way too much attention to every flutter.  You check on it way more often than you should.  (Please don’t ask Google how many times I’ve looked up “Flex Ferrett Steinmetz.”  Their servers are embarrassed on my behalf.)  It seems huge, swelling to fill your world, and like a newborn really it’s one of thousands out there – you just hope it’s something special.

Just get to your release date, I said.  If you can make it to 3/3/15, you’ll be okay.

And there again, I was marvelously stupid.  3/3/15 was the release date.  That was when all the PR I’d scheduled would peak, but…

3/3/15 was merely when most of the largest PR-fireworks would go off.

That was the start of when people would read the book.

So last night was a happy flurry of texts and Tweets from people saying, “I’m halfway through!” “I’m 23% in!” “I loved the intro!”  And that was good, but I realized that the book birthday was merely a start and now I get to watch it grow.  More reviews will come in.  The attention will be more diffuse – thankfully – but I’ll be getting reactions for months afterwards, and that’ll be cool.  As it is, the reaction from folks who read my blog has largely been of the “ZOMG” variety, so I’m pretty sure at least you people reading this blog here will like it.

And speaking of reading it…

If you haven’t yet, I found out today that Dirge Magazine is holding a FLEX read-along@IAmKatyLees will be reading Flex and chronicling her reactions on Twitter, and then post weekly reactions on Dirge.  And if you haven’t bought a copy yet, they’re even holding a giveaway!  So if you’re making your way through Flex, you can do so in good company.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Your background helps drive your strengths and weaknesses as a writer.  If you grew up in the Deep South, you’re probably going to have a good handle on describing the Appalachians.  If you grew up in lily-white Connecticut and never explored, you’ll probably have issues capturing a multicultural environment.

And my novel Flex has an interesting small failure, created by my own background.

Now, if you’re not familiar with Flex (and why would you be? It just came out yesterday! Get reading!), there’s three people who are the central family: our lead character Paul Tsabo, his ex-wife Imani, and their daughter Aliyah.

I’m getting some preliminary confusion as to what ethnicity Paul is.

Aliyah, his daughter, is clearly described as black: “His daughter appeared in her bedroom doorway, clad in her pink-and-green Kermit-hearts-Piggy nightgown. She clutched the prosthesis protectively against her chest. She had her best pouty face on, somehow adorable beneath her mop of tangled black curls – a messiness Imani would have combed flat, but Paul liked to see his daughter’s wildness made manifest. Against his daughter’s soft brown body, his artificial foot’s sharp carbon-and-titanium profile looked like a blade.”

That’s pretty clear.

Things gets wobblier when I describe his ex-wife Imani: “Imani, stylish as always, wore a long tan coat with seven onyx-black buttons. It looked both businesslike and regal, which suited her – an Egyptian princess’s stiff bearing.”  In this case, Imani’s probably black thanks to a Swahili name and an explicit call to her Egyptian heritage, but… I don’t explicitly reference that.  It’s a lazy inference.

So what’s Paul?

Paul’s ethnicity is not described.  (Well, there’s one brief referent about a third of the way in to “Paul’s hairy Greek skin,” but that far in you’ve already got your own image of Paul Tsabo, bureaucromancer.)

There’s plenty of description of Paul’s body – he’s an amputee, he’s scrawny – but I don’t really reference whether Paul’s black, or white, or what.  Which is a failure mode of me being a white guy, and buying into a culture where “white” is seen as the norm: I went “Well, most people have both legs, so I should mention that Paul is missing his right foot.”  I went, “Well, most ex-cops are pretty burly, I should mention that Paul’s kinda short and not muscular and had to work his ass off to pass the physical exams.”

And buried in a tangle of assumptions I should prooooobably unpack further was, “Well, most people are white…”

Now, that confusion only exists in the first place because I believe in multiculturalism, and as such I put a multiracial family at the heart of the book.  Honestly, if I’d just had a family of three white people, nobody would have been confused – and there’s a thought that fills me with discomfort.

Now, this flaw is subtle and doesn’t torpedo the book – mainly because the characters are written as people, with strong personalities, and race takes a back seat when the opening scene involves Aliyah stealing her father’s artificial foot because he’s fallen asleep on her again.  But it is something I’ve gotten some questioning on, and though Flex is a professionally-published novel that’s been getting some very strong reviews, that doesn’t exempt it from me going, “Hrm.  Coulda done that better.”

I’m a white guy who grew up with white guys.  I’m not used to explaining my own heritage; it’s kind of a trivia fact for me.  Hey, I’m Irish and German!  That means I drink a lot, ha ha!  Doesn’t affect my job chances at all, though, and the cops still love me.  But that means that when I write about race, even in the quasi-idealized racial world of Flex (and that’s a whole other essay in and of itself, on choosing to write a fantasy-ideal version of racial dynamics versus a more realistic version, and how that all boils down to the effect you’re striving to achieve in fiction), I often miss a beat.  I should have realized that Paul, too, needed his own identifier early on, because I’d established two black characters in a family and then left this nebulous gap when it came to Paul.

That causes some mild confusion, and regardless of how you feel about racial politics, “Confusion” is never anything you strive for as a writer.

That’s a weakness in my style injected straight from my background. I’m not going to flog myself over a detail like this – I’ll just put it in the large hopper of “Things Ferrett needs to improve upon,” and move on.  A lot of writers are all like, “I don’t wanna write about race.  What if I get it wrong?”  Well, here I am, botching it up a bit, and most people still seem to be enjoying my book.  The complaints, if you can even call them that, boil down to “So what’s with Paul…?”

So. In case it comes up, Paul is Greek, his ex-wife is black (actually a mixture of Egyptian and Swahili ancestry), and Aliyah is biracial but for all visual intents and purposes is black.  But if you read Paul as black?  I wouldn’t be offended.  And in the next book, I’ll do a little better at explicitly establishing ethnicity (and hopefully do it without anything as clumsy as “Paul examined his swarthy Greek skin in the mirror…”), and as such level up.

That’s all there is, man.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

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