Last week’s random thinks.

Here be thoughts that stuck in my brain over the last week. They aren’t quite big enough for their own posts but too big for me to ignore, so I’m sharing them here together.

One

I got into a great conversation with a friend about Ann Leckie’s Ancillary series. (IT’S AMAZING OMFG GO READ IT IF YOU CAN.) Specifically, we chatted about the characters Breq & Seivarden, & our different take on their genders.

I read both of them as male in my head, or at least as “not female” despite the default pronouns of the dominant culture in the book being she/her, and despite descriptive cues in the text that show Breq is not male. (It’s complicated. My research indicates she’s agender.)

Seivarden is described w/facial hair and other physical/traditional male characteristics, so I’m sticking with that being a reasonable take, but how do I get from a character being called “she” to a read of “he?”
Is my internalized acceptance of patriarchy that sneaky? Am I that brainwashed?

NOPE. It’s the Q. The name Breq is unisex, but (in the US anyway) names that end in a hard K sound are assigned to boys far more often than girls (350+ to <20) so my brain migrates to “boy name” in the absence of overwhelming description. Regardless of pronouns. Otherwise I generally default to reading characters as female/agender — my mental visuals for most characters in that trilogy are…androgynous like the pyramid aliens in Stargate. Now that’s a thing you know about me.

TWO

Presidential elections are different.

I can have nice, rational discussions about politics and principles right up until people start talking about “voting their conscience” by not choosing a candidate or going with any third party candidate in a presidential election.

Think your favorite local libertarian should be school board president? Great! Vote’ em in! Want to be represented by the Green Party in your state legislature? Brava! Check that box. Really want representation to take off? Start pushing ranked-choice voting at all levels of office.

But presidential elections are different. The existence of the Electoral College plays merry hob with our already-weighted “most votes wins” system, and THAT means when it comes to presidents, you either pick one of the two leaders, or you might as well vote for whichever of that top two has less support going in.

It’s math, and numbers, and I’m not explaining how it happens here, I’m just venting. If all this is totally new to you, I recommend fairvote.com as a good starting point and also all the Schoolhouse Rock America Rock videos. Yes, really.

If we end up with a United States dictator in November, I’ll blame very frikking person who didn’t vote because their candidate “got cheated,” and every joker who thought it’d be hilarious to vote for Kanye because “sure, Trump’s bad but Biden’s a rapist and they’re all equally awful, it doesn’t matter who’s in charge?”

I’m gonna be permanently pissed off at alla y’all if the US ends sliding into civil war and full-on civic collapse like I wrote into my Restoration series, because that IS what will happen if we let the kleptocrat-in-chief steal our country out from under us.

Vote. Vote like the future depends on it, because it does. It always has. Now ‘scuse me, I’m going to chase some kids off my lawn.

Text: On Undecided Voter​s: "To put them in perspective, I think​ of being​ on an airplane.​ The flight attendant comes​ down the aisle​ with her food cart and, eventually,​ parks​ it beside my seat.​ “Can I inter​est you in the chick​en?​” she asks.​ “Or would​ you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broke​n glass​ in it?”

To be undecided in this elect​ion is to pause​ for a moment and then ask how the chick​en is cooked.” 

--David Sedaris
this is about undecided voters, but it has bearing on the 3rd party/conscience voter argument too.

Three.

I have spent my whole life being uncomfortable with feminist organizers for reasons I had a hard time pinning down.

Once I hit college I flat-out refused the label because I really didn’t see eye to eye with the students who ran those groups there. They called homemakers/stay-at-home-moms traitors to the feminist cause, women who enjoyed their sexuality in the “wrong” ways sluts, and women who didn’t want to do it all weak. Basically, they had this weird idea that “equality” meant “we get to decide what’s right for ALL women,” which meant they got to define whether other women were “feminists.” And…uh…NOPE.

I didn’t get around to reading a lot of pivotal feminist texts until my 40s & 50s because I was so turned off by the exclusionary snobbery, judginess, purity tests and racist bullshit that floated around the movement like a toxic cloud.

And that pisses me off on the regular, because feminism is critically, objectively important. Societies should guarantee women the same choices and opportunities as men at every level and in every forum. So if someone wants marriage and kids and a career, or one, or the other, if they want to flaunt their sexuality or wrap themselves in chastity, ALL those options should be open. THAT is feminism.

I’m glad that younger & older, wiser, more energetic women than me stuck with it, kept shoving aside the bullshit spewers and are redefining the movement.

TL;DR: I’m really bad at being a nice white lady feminist.

That’s all for now. Until later. Next week, probably. Unless I get excited about how well Sharp Edge of Yesterday is coming along and decide to gush about it.

Books In Progress, And Other Happenings

Thing the First:

Rough Passages WILL be releasing as a collection this year. Hopefully at the end of October because I’d like to have copies for WindyCon (which I will once again be attending as a helper at the Games Plus table with a little display of my own books.)

First new book release in over two years means promoting said book on social media & elsewhere. It means begging for review readers. I means shouting this book’s praises to the rafters and the sky. It means asking brave, loyal, amazing fans, to go that step beyond reading it yourselves to sharing  it with more friends, co-workers, acquaintances, total strangers, and mortal enemies. It will mean talking to people. 

And that’s hard. I am not a Peppy Person. I don’t rally troops. Cheerful, pushy perkiness gives me hives.  I’ll ask nicely and often for support and sing my book’s praises with honest, passionate enthusiasm–but I know myself well enough to admit I’ll get crabby after banging my head against the apathy wall once too often.

Why mention that downer? Full disclosure. I do not paint smiley faces around slashes in my heart to make the pain look prettier.  I might cut off at the knees anyone who suggests I should minimize my troubles and “look at the bright side” instead. It isn’t a healthy coping strategy. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Mute or disassociate as needed.

So I beg you, bear with me as I stumble through the trials of a New Release Phase in my own uncomfortable way, coping with sarcasm, bitter humor, and occasional flailing.

Thing the Second (a cheerier thing, I promise)

I’ve been keeping this one under my hat for almost a year.  I’m helping a friend publish some books she wrote for her grandchildren.  It’s taken 10 months of false starts and setbacks, but I finally feel confident enough about the project’s success to share a little bit about it.  <cue confetti & balloon drop>

The books range from simple 8-10 page picture books on topics like counting and animals to a couple of  delightful tales written at about the first-grade reading level.  They’re heartwarming and adorable, and –importantly–  beautifully written.

The sticky part was that the books were hand-written in journals or constructed with photocopies & stickers.  Cleaning digitizing the content alone  is no small challenge.  I gave formatting at try . (Mistake. Big mistake. HUGE.)  A artist friend with graphic design experience offered to help but got sidesiped by technology issues and job demands.

Serendipity stuck at Dragon Con. I met a wonderful book designer, we hit it off, and now she’s digitizing and polishing up Grandma Mitzie’s awesome words and illustrations to the shine needed for print publication. They’re going to be real books soon, available to the whole world for parents to buy & read and for kids to hold and enjoy.

Thing the Third

I aim to finish Heartwood by the end of October. Why set myself a dreaded deadline? Well, for one thing, I always set myself deadlines. I just ignore them when they fly by. For another thing –biggish news!

I have an outline for a new novel I plan to write during NaoNoWriMo this year.  Sort of. I don’t do word counts, so I can’t really NaNo. But I also don’t usually do outlining, so why not double-down on the wackiness? I’m tripling it, really, since I’m working with a writing partner on this project–a partner who gets final say on the story’s eventual shape. It’s not at all my usual “chip at the ideas until strands of story emerge and then weave them together” approach.

I figure why not tackle the new fresh thing in a new, fresh way? Yup, I’m stretching artistically.  New challenges. Excitement. Good times.

No, I haven’t been replaced with a pod person, I swear. I’ve wanted to do NaNo since its very first year.  Business travel and the demands of the retail cycle in general made it nigh-impossible the first few years, and after that NaNo started to feel like a big commercial enterprise defined by social interaction and burdened with an ever-increasing focus on metrics and reporting.  Metrics and reporting are not fun, socializing is hard work, and I have nothing to prove. Zero appeal.

Doing it my own way, writing with a simple end-of-month completion goal in the privacy of my own writing cave–that’ll be my kind of fun.

Now you’re up to speed on everything that’s going on in my authoring world.

 


Not tired of my words yet? My published works are available on Amazon and all the other usual online retailers.

Science-fiction thrillers, science-fiction romance, and science fantasy, full length novels and shorter works. So many choices! 

A Grumble on Suspenders & Belts

Subtitle: a mini-rant on redundancy. 

 Lately I’ve seen a lot of writing-related posts consigning repetitive description to the Bad Writing Dung Heap. Here’s my contrarian take on the topic: redundancy isn’t A Bad Thing.

Picture someone wearing tights, a peasant skirt, a kicky overskirt plus a belt and scarves. (Assume underwear.) This might look awful or spectacular depending on the viewer’s personal tastes, but no one would call it “redundant dressing.” Any one or two items on the list would cover all necessary parts,  but the selections together make a larger fashion statement.

The same principle applies to writing. No, really. It does. If someone’s story seems sluggish and cluttered, the writer might be doing a lousy job of saying what they mean. It might also be a bad match between my taste and the creator’s aims. Descriptive repetition and exuberant adjective use are not always villains.

Critiquing, workshopping, and developmental editing can all buff the rough spots off writing. The processes are all based on the same premise: making a story better equals increasing its appeal to more readers by applying proven presentation standards. That’s the justification for polishing out everything that does not “serve the story.”

Here’s the challenge: smooth isn’t always better, and better isn’t always right. Some writing is downright grotesque. Some stories are so full of wordy bumps that I can’t see a glint of the precious core within. Bad writing is ugly. Polishing off extraneous bits can reveal inner beauty.

Problem is, great writing can be ugly too, or seem so on first read. Think of all the brilliant writers (and musicians, artists, etc.)  who have the same backstory. They fought tooth and nail for the integrity of their work. Endured rejection after rejection. Pushed back against criticism after criticism delivered with all the best intentions. All the True Originals had to hold firm against a world that insisted their things needed changing, smoothing, and polishing until the originality was gone.

Here’s my reading litmus test for “is it me, or is it bad?”  If find myself thinking, “That was a rough read, but it improved as I went along,” I must conclude there was nothing wrong with the writing in the first place.  NOTHING.  The way it was written was a new experience. My brain had to work to learn a different story process. Once I got used to it, I stopped noticing.

I’m a critical reviewer who often reads clumsy, awkward, painfully hard-to-read writing.  I express my opinions.  If I’m critiquing a work before publication, I feel I have an obligation to point out lumps that don’t appeal to me. But the emphasis must always be on that qualifier. To me. I do not have the right to say, “The author needs to change the way they do this too much or that not enough.”  

(disclaimer: “this & that” refer to matters of structure, phrasing, dialogue, and so forth. Flaws like multiple spelling errors per chapter, basic grammar and punctuation mistakes,  factual inaccuracies…that’s a whole different ball of worms.)

The never-ending declarations of “This is bad, and I know what I’m talking about” get under my skin because we writers should know better. We know the creator alone decides if their work is broken or the product of a broken mold because we are creators.  No one had to express their ideas the way someone else likes to read them. It’s a simple principle.  In practice, as some people gain experience they become invested in their way being the best way. And so I read remarks like, “Well, sure, you can do it that way, I suppose, if you want,” All of them carry the powerful implication that only a fool would want to do the thing.

A lot of immensely popular, critically acclaimed writing leaves me cold. It sounds choppy and harsh in my head, and the predictable variations on the same old archetypes bore me. I like my prose to stand center stage with frills on, where it belts out an aria or two and does little dances. I like to build stories like Neuschwanstein Castle, all kitschy and mashed up. So that’s what I do.

Reading my books is like visiting The House On The Rock on a rainy Saturday in August. They’re crowded with weird distractions and full of unpleasant strangers who interact without introduction, and the signs never take you where you expect. The stories can be exhilarating or baffling, but they are never easy reads nor conventional ones. NO, I don’t think I’m brilliant. I don’t have the ego to believe myself A True Original. But I reserve the right to say, This weird prose? It is beautiful to me.

And that is why I am  careful about assigning value judgments to the creative choices of others. And why I rant about the phenomenon every so often. Like this.

Thanks for reading.