Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Body of a Mother

Most of these aren't safe for work.

Why Writing Colorblind Is Writing White (a rant)

As a writer, you may write colorblind. You may pull out all the color and race and cultural tags for every single one of your characters, and thereby prove that they could be of any race!

Sure. Let's go with that. Nobody in your book has a skin color, or any sort of physical description at all.

You really believe your reader's not givng your characters a physical description? You think that one of the first markers they make, after size and gender, won't be color? Pigment? One of the first things we, as largely visual creatures, fixate on in order to tell one person from another in a culturally diverse society (if everyone's the same color, no, we won't fixate on that as much; then it becomes about size and hair cuts and clothes, but if your society isn't monochrome, we're going to see color. Is your society monochrome?)

Come now.

Let's leave aside the fact that by ignoring a character's race, you're choosing not to deal with a lot of the potential conflicts inherent in a story where you have people of wildly different backgrounds coming together. And by "race" I don't just mean looks, either. I don't just mean pigmentation, though that's a marker we all fixate on because it's one of the most easily perceived, right there next to clothing choices (hence, burquas and veils, top hats for "gentlemen," wearing beards, turbans, kippahs, etc).

Clothing choices, of course, are *choices.* Cultural practices, except perhaps circumcision and tribal scarification, can be cast off by those trying to "fit in" with the predominate culture.

Permanenent things like color, hair type, any sort of ritual scarring or permanent body modification like footbinding, etc., cannot.

I'm going to say that again:

You can't take away these cultural markers, this indicators of uniqueness, of culture, of ethnicity, of "difference" (or "sameness" if the culture is in the majority). More than that:

You can't take away what these things mean within a society (barring long, long years of progressive work to change stereotypes or the actual political or social position of people who share these characteristics).

The great thing about being a writer who chooses to "write colorblind" is that you can totally wipe your hands of all responsibility. Just like this (I realize I'm being harsh on Scalzi here, but this pissed me off). I mean, you're not being racist. The world in your head is totally diverse! It's your readers who are racist if all they see is pale people (or dark people, or polka dotted people)!

Scalzi's situation may be unique, or made purposely unique, by the sort of world he works in. He says that in the Old Man's War universe, race doesn't matter that much. He seems to be positing that happy colorblind utopia we're all gunning for, and that a lot of people seem to think we actually live in ("Oh, ha ha, I just don't see race! Or gender! I just see people! I'm a humanist!" You're full of shit).

The problem with writing in "race-neutral" (what is that? Gray? Beige?) terms is you get the same problem you run into when you write in gender-neutral terms. As people raised in a racist, sexist, society, we're going to norm a lot of stories, a lot of people, as white males. There are certainly ways you can code this differently, and every reader brings their own unique set of indicators to the reading experience, but I think the vast majority of people are going to sit down and code your world in whitewash unless they get some indication that it's otherwise or they bring something non-majority to the table.

We have a default setting we've been programmed with, and it's the default setting we've been pumped full of since birth: stories about bands of white brothers, fathers and sons, heroic male conquerors, Columbus, rich white presidents, men of Science, great white male writers; the men who run the world are white. The important people are white. We're reading about important people, right? Unless we're reading some kind of hippie women's story set in some jungle where people don't speak plain English.

Am I exaggerating? Very slightly. Certainly we learn about women. Marie Curie (quick, tell me what time period she lived in? No?). Virginia Wolf. Indira Ghandi. The Girl in that movie. You know, The Girl in every movie? Come on, you know her so well. She's that *one* girl in *every* movie that's chockfull of 10 male main characters and a slew of male secondary characters and some female prostitutes for the drug scene. You know, The Girl.

But these are presented to us as exceptions. "Oh yes, there were these people too." (there was "the Girl). In February you learn, "Oh yes, there are these black people too." (usually it is "The Black Person," ie Martin Luther King)

To be honest, I still know more about Columbus and the heroic Pilgrims than I do about whatever tribe it is helped the Pilgrims not starve to death. No, I don't even know the name of the tribe (did it start with a P?), but I could tell you the ships the heroic pilgrims sailed on.

Sure, I could look it up, but I'm talking about knee-jerk knowledge, knowledge so deep it's become part of your subconscious, the stuff you learn by rote and exposure and have seen so much that it's become unexamined truth.

These are historic holes, ways we view the world, that have been shaped by race and cultural and power and gender. The race and gender and rich land-owning elite in charge (I recently learned that some of the first US taxes were lobbied heavily by landowners on a number of everyday goods in order to keep the government from taxing land) determine what we care about and what's important. We can fight against that, and learn more, and question everything, but we have to fight those unexamined truths every goddamn day.

I would love to ignore all of this stuff. I would love to pretend it didn't exist. I would love to say it's easy for me to write a matriarchal society where every single secondary character's pronoun comes out smoothly and easily as "she." I would love to say that I don't have to keep a running tally of how many times I try to use the word "pale" when describing main characters who really don't get all that pale(r), or that I don't have to keep a check on how many characters in my primarily brown-and-black world end up disturbingly pale.

Yes, it gets easier to do, over time. You code new paths through. You make new realities.

But first you have to question and breakdown and challenge the old ones.

And you're not going to do that by shrugging and telling yourself you're just writing a monochrome world.

I suppose, of course, I could just ignore everyone's hair type and skin color and cultural practices and pretend they live in a whitewash world where everyone is colorblind (which really means "Everyone is white."). But if I ignore that, I ignore the history of these people. I ignore the struggles that they have with one another and with other people; other cultures. I ignore historical disputes and historical differences. I ignore the fact that certain foods are taboo to some people and loved by others, so they can all eat happily together without commenting on it. I lose conflict. I lose richness. I lose truth. Nobody thinks somebody else is going to blow up a building or try and mug them or must be a member of the ruling class based entirely on the food they're eating, the way they wear their hair, or the color of their skin.

Perhaps it's easier to write a world this way, no doubt. No doubt it's a much easier world to live in. But it feels to me like a very fake sort of world, a very lackluster, colorless world.

A Shadow in Summer: Now in Paperback



You can now pick up a cheap copy of Daniel Abraham's A Shadow in Summer on bookstore shelves.

I did not lust after this book with ravenous passion of a bel dame, but I did enjoy much of what he did with it. My review/rant is here.

Please support Series Fantasy That Doesn't Suck.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Sword & Sociology

As I've been ready Tobias Buckell's Ragamuffin, it's gotten me to think about what it is that makes fiction really great for me. Some of this I covered before when reviewing some of VanderMeer's work, and the same issue is hitting me again with Ragamuffin, only in the opposite way.

See, so far this is a nice action-packed little dialogue-and-fight-scenes book, and there was this big rolicking chunk of it that I really enjoyed before this current lull (I'm over halfway done now), but... there's seriously something missing for me. It's got the kick ass female protagonist, and the interesting worlds and characters who are actually not white! and not Christian! Which is great!

But.

It's falling into the same trap that I see a lot of SF books get accused of falling into, which is the: gee gosh bang wow look at all these neat ideas!

Oh, yeah, and there are these cool machine-people-superheros, but they don't really care about anyone or themselves, because they are mechanically enhanced and have very little angst.

See, the problem with creating characters who don't care about anybody and don't reflect on their lives or tell you anything about them... it's hard to love them.

I want to fall in love.

And the people, if not actual robots, end up being rather robotic, emotionally. Some of that I can get because they're weirdly old and partially mechanized, but to me, it smacks of a real conscious desire to ignore the emotional and social ramifications of these sorts of technologies (I mean, look at Carnival! Uber-tech and characters who have intense emotions and huge backstory and everything! It can be done, see). What do really old people dream about? What's their relationship with thier bodies like? What do they think about? Do they even care about people? Do they go through cathartic experiences, or is it all just one long day, and if it's just one long day, what does that *feel* like? What does it *feel* like to be retrofitted to save humanity? Do you ever get drunk and hate yourself? Actively hate yourself, not just pass it off as being "nerves"? Do you still believe in what you're doing?

Because here we have this plot clicking along, this very classic end-of-the-world-savior-from-tyranny thing, but... there's no subplot. There's no emotional core to this story. There's no emotional hero's journey, just people hopping in and out of machinery and neat ideas (which are neat, don't get me wrong). But at the end of the day, I'm getting the feeling that it's going to be one of those books I go, "Well, that was fun," and set aside and forget about. The emotional ramifications of these techologies seems to be sitting somewhere on the backburner and handwaved. Some of this issue might be because we start headhopping early on and it's a short book, so we can't really follow anybody's journey the whole way in any kind of bulk.

But.

I realize that a lot of this is just personal preference - I want to know what the protag *feels* about the fact that she gave up her womb to be a weapon for humanity (what significance is attached to this womb? Hers or her societys? You may think that's a dumb question, but if you think that, you're seriously suffering from an atrophied imagination). I want to know how it *feels* to be a clone. Is this one of those clone-belief systems where they're like robots, or where they're really like siblings? Did they grow up together? Did they laugh and play together? What did she lose when she lost them? Do mechanized people have dreams and memories? Is it really in the best interests of tech to erase or supress "non esstential" memories? What do our memories give us? Can they motivate us? What do we lose when we lose memories? No tech is perfect.

What does it mean to be a man or a woman in any of these societies? Are women "equal" or are wombs more prized and women made even more subserviant because most of humanity is subserviant to an alien race? (I would argue that, historically, you'd find that women are abused most when they're part of a slave system, because they get abuse from their masters and from the frustrated men of thier own species - or would they? And why not, if so?). This is one of those societies that does that weird handwave "well, we'll have women starship captains but we won't ever really talk about sexism" things. There's some passing references to racism, but most racism is speciesism (sp); ie humans are beasts who've recently been kinda sorta "emancipated" just like slaves after the civil war ("yeah, you're free but we own everything and you still have to work for us!").

At Clarion, somebody said what I actually write are "Sword & Sociology" stories. The magic is sort of wishy-washy whatever maybe sorta, there's lots of blood, but mainly what I'm about is how these settings created these social practices, and how these practices shaped different aspects of the society and the people in them. Beliefs about religion and women and men and honor and dignity and wombs and what it is to be a man (and if it even matters) and who's in charge and when and why and the significance of sand... that should all be in there. Your society doesn't exist outside of or removed from the technology. Everything it does, including the ways that people think and feel and the personal relationships and conflicts they get into, are going to be informed by these beliefs and practices.

But when you've got primarily dialoge and fight scenes book, awesome and exciting as those are, you end up writing a book about people that it's much more difficult to fall in love with (particularly if you head hop a lot) and who might be interesting, but not interesting enough to remember afterward because you don't spend enough time with them and don't go on an emotional journey with them.

I'm not saying that's happening with this particular book (the shrug, whatever aftereffect), cause I'm not done yet and a proper review is coming, but I have a bad feeling about it. Which really sucks, because I picked this book up and put it back down three times in the bookstore and then came back and finally bought it because I was afriad somebody else would buy it; I wanted a book about Nashara (the ass-kicking heroine), but Nashara's now cloned herself into a ship and more than half the book is now from other people's POVs, and gosh-gee-whiz-bang ideas aren't enough to keep me jumping up and down about it.

We'll see how it goes.

Spoilers



Also, the Titanic sinks.

Remember, you were warned.

Why Am I So Tired?

Things are good-crazy, but that means there's a lot of work to do, and man, sometimes it makes my brain hurt.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Ragamuffin

pg 105

"All ten of us were women, Jamar. We gave up our wombs and in return were fitted with quantum computers running intrusion devices that can overpower lamina and make it extensions of our minds. It would be like being one with your ship, but anywhere. Your mind replicates, copying itself endlessly until you have control of all it is in contact with."

He looked at her, face pained. "Your wombs?"

"I saw what happened to the other nine when they attacked the Hongguo who intercepted our ship. They destroyed the Hongguo ship, but their bodies died as they took over the Hongguo ship's lamina. It's bomb. You can't unexplode it, and when it happens, you are that lamina. You're no longer human."

Wait a minute. HAS HER WOMB BEEN REPLACED BY A BOMB? (is this the only place they could put it? A womb is not really a huge organ, you know. Did they take out her pancreas, too? Why not her pancreas? And her appendix? And half of her small intestine? Surely she lost a lot more than her womb? And why, as a clone, would she attach any significance to her womb? But then, how does their brand of cloning work? Do they birth their own clone babies in wombs or vats? This is what happens when there are big chunks of missing backstory)

Oh, you can bet I'm going to be writing up a review of this one.

Gummi Bear Death!

KEWL (yes, I'm supposed to be working... can you tell?).

One-Sentence Stories

When sharing music becomes foreplay, you know you have something beautiful.

He knows to keep an eye on my hands, as the length of my finger nails is in direct proportion to how content I am with my life.

You never wrote back, and today I stopped expecting you to.

Night after night I stare at my phone in anticipation until I realize you're too busy doing blow in strange people's houses to bother with me.

More here.

Why Star Wars Fans Hate Star Wars

One of the best fan rants ever:

Maybe I’ll put it like this. To be a Star Wars fan, one must possess the ability to see a million different failures and downfalls, and then somehow assemble them into a greater picture of perfection. Every true Star Wars fan is a Luke Skywalker, looking at his twisted, evil father, and somehow seeing good.

Purported American Apparel Tag



From here. Real or not, I'm still waiting for a day when this is a given, not a privilege or an employer's recruitment bargaining chip.

Indeed!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Garbage In, Garbage Out

I've been working on some requested edits for God's War this week. Revising can be a hell of a lot of fun when you get feedback of the "I'd like more of this! and this! and this!!" variety. Not so fun when you get the "I'm not sure why this doesn't work, but could you make it work?" variety.

These are fun edits.

One of the biggest writing lessons I've learned over the years is that if I want to write good stuff, I need to absorb an incredible amount of media, and whenever possible, a heap of real-world traveling, socializing, listening to others' stories. And it needs to be varied. And it needs to different. And it needs to be good.

I used to think that writers and "creative" people were just these natural geniuses, and everybody else was a bigger genius than me and that's why I had to work so hard but they just pulled all this stuff out of their heads that was New! and Different! and Kewl! and they SOLD it!

It may still be true that there are wacky brain-full geniuses out there who pull this stuff out of thier asses, but what I've found is that I'm more likely to spit out stuff of the kind of quality and variety that I absorb. One of the reasons I majored in history is because I believed it would expose me to more stories than I'd get as an English major (I figured I was already reading all those books - history would force me to read different kinds of stories), and being a better writer is one of the reasons I'm a crazy credit card traveler. Traveling, for me, is like a drug. I get high on the very idea of all the great ways I can use all the material.

If I spend a lot of time reading Dragonlance novels and watching bad tv sitcoms, I'm going to write something that comes out like a bad Dragonlance novel sitcom (it may have been all very well and good to write Dragonlance back in the day, but there's nothing new or fresh about it now; if you think there is, you're probably just new to the genre, or very young).

Garbage in, garbage out.

I didn't realize how much I did this until I had somebody asking me a bunch of questions about God's War: how did I come up with the bug magic system? The setting? The holy war ideas? The word "bel dame"?

And you know, when you pick out ideas like that, I can tell you where I got them individually (as a whole, tho, I'll have to tell you it's Schenectady, of course).

The bugs came from living in South Africa in a - quite literally - coackroach-infested flat that was also full of geckos and flying ants - swarms of flying ants - on occasion. It wasn't like visiting Disneyworld where it's hot outside and maybe you see a big moth and then you go back into the air conditioned superplex. No, there was no air conditioning. There was no fake superplex (OK, there was the Gateway mall , let's be fair. But basically, there was the Gateway mall and then... everything else). Bugs were just sort of a fact of life. I'll never forget walking past this huge house one day that was covered - completely covered - from roof to sidewalk with thick plastic sheeting. The vans out front announced the fact that this house was being fumigated.

Bugs, man.

Bugs were a fact of life.

And where does "bel dame" come from? "Bel Dame" is actually an ancient word from Biblical times (Assyrian? Babylonian? I forget now) that meant a person who was hired by a family whose relative had been killed in order to apprehend the person who committed the crime and collect "blood debt" - either by killing the person or getting their family to pay the other family blood money in lieu of, well, blood. (it also is reminescent of "belle dame" - a beautiful woman or beautiful mother. And "bel dam" - an old woman or a witch). It was reading a book about the practice of ancient blood debt that gave me the foundation for the bel dames and ideas about swapping blood and organs for bread.

Everything else came from books, from media. I did a library search at the Northwestern University Library and made a list of books I was interested in; they were all about ancient Assyria, Iraq, Iran (ancient Peria), guerilla warfare, Islamic history, Islamic women, Islam in general, warfare in general. Jenn would pick these up for me from the Northwestern library ten at a time, and I'd go through them like I was writing another Master's thesis.

I started trying to teach myself Arabic. I started dying from diabetes.

I wrote the opening line for the book, "Nyx sold her womb somewhere between Punjai and Faleen, on the edge of the desert," a few weeks after I got my IUD, and was experiencing so much blood and pain that I just wanted to rip the fucking fucker out. IUD + dying of diabetes means you're going to start writing some pretty fucked up shit about the body and one's relationship to the body.

Those themes get hit even harder in book two. As do themes about loss, dependence, death, and rebuilding.

It all goes in there, one way or another. I still write down particularly witty quotes or witty plot devices from books and movies. I spent last night collecting all of the extra quotes and details and interesting characters pieces that I hadn't managed to get into the book the first time. Now, I can go through and check them all off when I've added them.

My fourth disk of Rome is now in the mail. I just finished reading A Thousand Splendid Suns, and re-reviewing In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs. I'm still hip-deep in William T Vollmann's abridged version of the classic morality-of-violence epic, Rising Up and Rising Down.

Today I picked up a copy of The Kite Runner and Ragamuffin. I'm going through my book of Insects and my book of Poisons to pull out some details about bugs and get some inspiration for fleshing out my biological weapons.

This stuff doesn't come from nowhere.

And I guess, really, it shouldn't be any surprise. What makes good writers isn't just being able to put down a sentence. If writing a good book was easy, we'd all be bestsellers and/or award winners and everybody would've finished a book and every one of them would be this wacky, unique blend of media and life experiences.

But that doesn't really happen.

I remember reading Perdido Street Station for the first time in South Africa. It wasn't, I thought, a great book. The plot was a mess and I wasn't particularly drawn to any of the characters. But it was wild and messy and fucked up, and the stuff on the page raised the bar for ideas in the genre, in fantasy, for me. Elves and swords were all very nice and good. Genocide and feudalism were fine. But this was something else. It was pushing toward that other place, that someplace that was really different.

And it's been my goal, since Clarion, to push the envelope. To take everything I do and push it just a little bit more, twist it in the opposite way that I'm inclined to twist it. I don't ever want to get charged with "a failure of the imagination" again.

If you want to keep getting better, if you want to be really different, you have to do that the whole way. You have to challenge yourself. You have to stop eating garbage. You have to pull in all the stuff you love, you admire, the stuff that twists up your head. And a lot of is, yes, a great deal of it, is going to be about you. All that emotion, all those experiences, are funnelled through you. It takes some courage. And a lot of hard work.

You can certainly make a living not doing that, but that's not the reason I got into writing genre fiction.

If I wanted to make a decent living, I would have become an investment banker.

Do I Even Want to Total Up All These Chipotle Receipts?

When the house (including the bathroom and kitchen) is busted down and out for replumbing and rewiring for a week, just how many times did I go to Chipotle?

Man, this is a big stack of receipts. I need to get back on budget.

I also need to sit down and re-budget based on my new salary. Pretty much the only change, though, should be allotting more for credit cards and less for meds...

Real Age Calculator

Even with diabetes, this odd little hippie test insists I shall live until 90.

This is mainly because all of my grandparents and great grandparents are in their 80s and 90s.

Diabetes genes + Logevity genes = me.

I have no idea what the "real age" part of this test means. Apparently, I have the body of a 10 year old. No idea.

(via jlundberg)

Friday, July 27, 2007

Ancient Egyptian Prosthetic Toe



Purely aesthetic or completely practical?

These are the thoughts that keep me up at night.

The Fountain: Two Sentence Reviews

Man must accept death.
Woman must die.

or:

No Plot.
Pretty Pictures.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Becoming Insurance Savvy

I know nothing about insurance. Really, nothing. My crash course in how my insurance actually worked was my second day in the hospital, after having come out of a coma 24 hours before, when a woman from the hospital’s billing department called me and asked what my insurance information was. At that point, I couldn’t feel my feed and my head still felt like it was, literally, full of molasses. Luckily, Jenn had my wallet handy, and I read my information to them over the phone.

A woman with a clipboard was back the next day, while I sat in a puddle of urine from a leaking catheter and a smear of my own blood because my period has started, and said, “You do know that you have a rather high deductible. Can you pay us something right now?”

“Sure,” I said. But I think that at that point, Jenn and the wallet had left, and I was on my own, and I figured I would pay part of that to shut them the hell up as soon as I got the bill.

Because I’d never bothered to submit any of my receipts to my insurance provider. With a $2500 deductible, you just figure you’ve got exactly what I had: catastrophic insurance. Something that’s only useful if you get hit by a shovel, but everyday stuff, all of my antibiotics and gyno costs and birth control costs and the doctor’s visits, I’d just pay all of those out of pocket. I was young and invincible, so I didn’t feel I had to pay much attention to health insurance.

All that changed on May 15th of last year.

I received a $28,000 hospital bill and a slew of other, unrelated bills. The doctors who treat you aren’t actually employed by the hospital. They charge you bills in *additional* to the room and board and machine costs the hospital charges you. So there was a $600 cardiologist bill, a $500 endocrinologist bill, a $400 ambulance bill, and all these random bills for tests, lab tests, I didn’t have any idea what any of these tests were for. There were X-ray charges from when the cardiologist ordered that I get a chest X-ray because I was having trouble swallowing. The endocrinologist later figured out all I had was thrush caused by bacteria from the oxygen tube, and treated it with some $4 antibiotic that I was charged $20 for.

All of these bills were submitted to my insurance company. I had to pay my $2500 and 80% of hospital bill, but after I shelled out 6-7K or so for meds, supplies, my portion of the hospital bill and assorted 80%s of the other bills, they finally started to cover 100% of everything. I’d reached my out of pocket limit, apparently. I wasn’t aware that I had one. I thought I’d always be paying my 80% after my deductible.

With my catastrophic plan, I didn’t have to worry about a primary care doctor or in and out of network or anything like that, I figured, because what was the difference between covering 100% and covering 80% when you were shelling out $2500 a year regardless before you saw any benefit from it?

But, now.

Well, now I have another slew of insurance choices, and tricky things like choosing an “in network primary care physician,” which I’ve never bothered to do before. Why would I choose a “primary care” physician? If it was gyno related, I’d go to a gynecologist. When it was a sore throat, I’d go to a walk-in clinic.

Now I have to see the gyno, an endocrinologist every three months, a podiatrist (recommended) once a year, and the usual vision check every year, plus, of course, anything that comes up as far as complications or additions goes (sore throat, pelvic pain, bronchitis, etc). I go to the pharmacy for meds at least twice a month (I have to pick up testing strips at least that often, and I *should* be getting insulin once a month, but I keep trying to make it last longer than it should).

What this means is that I’ve finally reached the point where I finally have to fully and completely deal with America’s fucked up, confusing, incredibly inefficient and debilitating healthcare system. I have to choose something called a “primary care” physician if I want 100% of my costs to be paid, but it can’t be a truly useful primary care physician for me, like an endocrinologist. It’s going to end up being somebody who does the work of a walk-in clinic and prescribes antibiotics for sore throats.

My new endocrinologist only agreed to see me so long as I was clear that she would *not* fill the role of my primary care physician. She refused to be listed as such, even if, my some strange coincidence, the plan I was a part of had her name on it.

There are a lot of really confusing things in here, and they’re worded really awkwardly like this one under the list of “Limitations and Exclusions” for my new health plan. It says, “Unless stated otherwise, no coverage will be provided or paid for or on account of:” and number 4 is: “Prescription drugs, including insulin and syringes, vitamins, unless medically necessary for a medical condition and nonprescription drugs or medicines, except for diabetes supplies.”

What?

I had to read this three times before I realized they weren’t saying, “We won’t cover insulin.” They were saying “we’ll only cover insulin if it’s medically necessary.”

Which is fine, but that’s a really fucked up way to phrase that, and it made me really apprehensive for about three minutes.

Why is insurance coverage so hard? This shouldn’t be rocket science. This shouldn’t be hard. If you’re sick, you should be able to get better. You should be able to choose the best way to get better; the best doctor, or the most convenient doctor. You should be able to pay your $20 co-pay for anything. Fucking *anything* and go home and get better.

These policies have been written and created to provide the least amount of care possible to the healthiest number of people possible. Which might make a lot of money for somebody else in the end, but is going to ultimately result in a lot of unhealthy and ultimately dead people who aren’t any good to anybody.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

HIRED

As of tomorrow at 8:00 am, I will officially be an employee of the financial services company downtown, working (officially!) as a document, technical, and copywriter.

Benefits start first day.

I'm not allowed to disclose how much I make according to the Employee Handbook or I'll be fired, but I'll say it's more than I made as a temp in Chicago but less than I made as an employee in Chicago.

Basically: I'll be making just enough.

WITH FIRST DAY BENEFITS AND $20 PERSCRIPTION CO-PAYS~!!!!

I Have the Sweetest HR Manager

They were doing July birthdays today, with cake, and the HR Manager went out and got a sugarfree pie.. just for me.

I still have to take a shot for it, but it's less likely to give me a headache.

How terribly sweet.

Digging In

OK. Here we go.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

This Probably Works Better When You're Not Really Self-Conscious

As I expected, associating "Good" and "Vabbenif" happens a lot more quickly in my lizard brain, but then, as shown, associating the pale figure with *anything* was something I did a lot more than with the dark figure. Try it for yourself.

At least, I think that's how I read these numbers ("0" was average. But... Um, I'm not sure what "average" meant. Anyway, this is what it said):

Good and Vabbenif=0.04
Bad and Vabbenif=-0.42
Good and Reemolap=0.213
Bad and Reemolap=0.164

(stolen from ABW)

A Scrap of Land and 2 Dollars in a Coffee Can

Stephanie's Old Man's parents, Nancy and Brian, are in town this week doing home repairs. They're amazing. They're replumbing and rewiring the whole house. Last night, Nancy and Stephanie took acetone and sandpaper to all the cabinets in the little kitchen to prep them for new paint and new doors.

Today I came home to see Nancy finishing up the paint. I went to the worn, stained old sink to wash my dishes and found that.. the sink was white. "Holy shit," I said. "How the hell did you get that out? This sink was *brown*! I thought they'd have to replace the whole thing!"

The lighting and medicine cabinet have been yanked out of the wall in the bathroom. Brian's adding a much-needed outlet in the kitchen.

I came home early, after my ultrasound appointment, feeling surly and sorry for myself, raging at all the weight gain, my out of control body, angry at lab techs who can't tell me anything, just push and prod and pat me on the head and send me on my way until they write up a "report" in "two or three days." I was angry at my credit card debt, my reliance on others. I was angry at the fuckhats at the temp agency who refuse to negotiate my contract. Angry, full of despair, sorry for myself.

I came home and saw the house re-ordered, all this great work being done, life going on. Life going on, regardless. Life. Beautiful, exquisite life.

"When Stephanie gets home," Brian said, "we'll go to Home Depot and pick up some new light fixtures for the bathroom."

Real light fixtures in the bathroom. That work.

Stephanie came home not long after, and Nancy spoke with her in the kitchen, updated her on the work, and Stephanie wandered through the house, marveling at the changes.

A few minutes later, Stephanie came to the door of my room, red-faced and teary-eyed, and said, "I'm sorry, I'm feeling really sappy right now. Can I tell you I love you and give you a hug?"

And, me being me, thinking this is some new disaster, I say, "Oh gawd, are you OK?"

"Oh yes," she said, "I was just driving home in the car after a crappy day at work, and this song came on, you know, this song where this guy talks about how much he hates his stupid job and hates life and things really suck and then he says, `but I have this scrap of land and a couple dollars in a coffee can,' and says how lucky he is to have these things, just these little things. And then I started to think about my diabetic roommate and my husband who's allergic to air and I come home and my in-laws are here fixing my house out of the goodness of their heart, and I own a house, and I have this stupid dog, and I just got so happy, and I felt so lucky, and I want to give you all a hug because I'm stupid and sappy."

And, god help me, I started getting teary-eyed too, and I gave her a hug.

We have so much. We are so goddamn lucky. Because the other thing I thought about, again, on the way back from the hospital, was mortality. How I keep hanging on. How I still want more. More of this. Of the scrap of land and the house repairs and the stupid job negotiations and words to write and slapfights to get into. I want so much more of it.

And I know, everyday, how lucky I am for every one of these moments, whether I'm fat or thin or dying of ovarian cancer or diabetes or whatever. I have a sappy friend from highschool and her husband who's allergic to air, and their bad dog and their hugely kind-hearted, generous relatives, and words and words and words. I love my job. I love my books. I love the people in my life. Even the ones who are far away. And I want so much more of it.

Perhaps that's where all of my frustration comes from with the continuing health issues, the constant fight for one more breath of air, one more shot. Sometimes I wonder if I'm fighting for more than my share. I keep thinking that my continued existence is somehow tempting fate, fucking god, swearing in the face of death. Every minute more I fight for feels like one minute more I didn't deserve.

And I want it nonetheless.

It's just all so beautiful.

For August

Dissonance

Life just keeps going, doesn't it? I suppose that's the definition, but yeah, boy, it just marches on regardless.

Sometimes it's just stunning, how that is.

Are You Allowed to Criticise the Fiction of a Writer You're Sleeping With?

Gee, I hope so.

In a discussion over at Torque Control about a review of the October/Nov 2006 issue of the Mag of SF/F, one commenter pointed out that, as writers/industry pros who knew the writers of these stories, we weren’t looking at the critiques the reviewer made objectively. We were concentrating on the critique the reviewer made of the writers and not of their writing.

I agree that we were far more interested in the critiques of the writers than we were of their work, mainly because there were some public facts about the writers that the critic got wrong, and she made some assumptions about those writers based entirely on their stories.

So, sure, when somebody makes incorrect or weird assumptions about people you know, you’re going to be like, “Um, whaaa…?”

But the criticism of our response was an interesting one, because it made the assumption that writers are going to object to critiques of the writing of people they know and be more lenient in their own criticism of those writers’ stories.

I thought about that for awhile, because it’s true that critiquing a writer’s work gets harder the more you know them. To some extent, it also gets easier: “Aha, yeah, here’s that bullshit lazy thing they always do. I’m going to call them on it again.”

But it does also mean that you’re less likely to tell your buddy, “Hey, you’re a misogynist asshole and the race relations in this book suck, you racist pig!” (which I would probably do far more readily, yes, to someone I didn’t know). What I’m more likely to say in response to a writer I knew whose work I saw had some of this lazy, likely inadvertent stuff in it is, “Uh, you realize all the women in your story just want to get pregnant. And I realize that’s very noble and good, but they come across like happy pod people, and this isn’t a story about pod people. And why is the only race/culture distinction made in this book based entirely in the characters’ skin color? There are going to be other slurs people will use. They’ll assign characteristics to the peoples of those cultures/races. Also, in your narrative voices, saying `the white people and the Yupsuks’ is ignoring the race of the white people and setting it up like `white’ is some kind of universal norm race. That’s fine from the POV of a character from that culture, but if you’re being pure narrative, it’s probably `the Kols and the Yupsuks.’” Etc.

Now, that’s *private* critique. In public? Yes, it’s harder for me to post here about writers I know whose work I either hate outright or just don’t get but who I get along great with in person and who I think are great people. I tend to avoid posting about them, mainly because it’s not worth the time. There are better, more deserving folks to skewer and better, more deserving books to talk about constructively.

But you know? Critique is half my job, as a writer. I critique myself and my buddies I call them on weirdly sexist stuff and plot holes and flat characters and stereotypical characters and “why is the only gay guy in the book evil?” stuff. It’s my job, as a writer, to call other writers on their shit, and I fully expect other writers to call me on mine (“Kameron, why the hell is Nyx raped in this book? You’ve set up a society where any guy who did that would be fucking crucified. Is this just another slapdash `look how evil my bad guy is!’ characterization.’ Oh. Um. Yes. Yes, it is. And out the gratuitous crap goes).

There are writers I like quite a lot who’s stuff I hate and whose stuff I love. I love a great deal of VanderMeer’s stuff, but that didn’t keep me from getting into an argument with him about his lack of female background characters in his earlier work (I need to finish reading Shriek, actually; I know the protag is female, but I’m curious about those female background characters…). I also think Daniel Abraham, as a fellow, is about twelve kinds of awesome, but that doesn’t mean I love his books with an undying passion and believe they’re the best thing since sliced bread (but there’s some good stuff in there). There are all sorts of writers I love dearly on a personal level whose stuff underwhelms me to the point where I don’t actually make an effort to pick up their books (and yes, I feel really awful about it).

I love the vast majority of Carol Emshwiller’s stuff, but that doesn’t mean that I think she’s a radically feminist writer. I quite enjoyed Carnival, but I don’t think it was a perfect book (I don’t even think The Hours is perfect – if only because of that shitty one last connection bullshit thing at the end - and I’ve read it at least 20 times. Seriously. 20 times. Of course, I’ve never met Michael Cunningham).

Then, of course, there are writers I know who’s attempts at feminist fiction make me snicker (David “I could *so* write you!” Brin), or whose fiction (some of it) I enjoy but whose politics I hate (Orson Scott Card). Being an ass in real life doesn’t mean you aren’t a good writer and doesn’t mean I won’t like your fiction (I am a huge fan of Hemingway. But then, I’ve never met Hemingway either). And being a kewl person who I love dearly and want to hang out with doesn’t mean I’ll like your fiction.

I love Maureen McHugh and she is eight kinds of awesome. I still get vaguely annoyed at the endings to all of her books.

I’m also reminded of reading a review of an Elizabeth Hand novel written by John Clute. Why yes, even writers who are sleeping together can be critical of each other! (I have a certain someone’s scathing review of God’s War saved for posterity. I intend to auction it off at WisCon in 20 years).

In fact, writers have a long history of saying really mean things about their friends’ work (Algonquin Roundtable, anyone? Expat writers in Paris? Hemingway and Fitzgerald were best friends and best enemies). In our industry, we call that Clarion, Blue Heaven, Sycamore Hill, Milford, Viable Paradise, Odyssey, the bar, and the bedroom.

I know that, the more writers I get to know, the more self conscious I am about posting about their work, but I’d like to think that if somebody I knew wrote something I took serious issue with (as opposed to just it not being my cup of tea) that I’d post about it. I certainly post about books I enjoy and hit the points I think are weak in addition to the stuff I think is good. I love Nicola Griffith’s Aud books, but I think that travelogue to Scandinavia in The Blue Place was, pacing-wise, really weird and awkward.

Writers are not perfect people and they’re not perfect writers. One of the things a lot of writers, fans, reviewers and publishers yearn for is really great criticism in the genre. We don’t get enough of it. It’s probably one reason why we’re so interested in reading fan reviews of our work and the work of others (because, let’s face it, we’re all fans), and it’s one reason why we all get so disappointed when we read lazy and/or incoherent rants about our work (I had someone review a story of mine who got the title wrong. The review went downhill from there. It was a “positive” review of my story, but that doesn’t mean it was a “good” review. And this was a review posted in one of the genre’s secondary review sites. I’m hungry for good criticism as much as anybody).

None of us want to write in a vacuum. As a writer, you want to have an audience. You want to be read. You want discussion, passionate debate. That’s the whole point behind sending it out instead of keeping it in a drawer. There are certainly writers who despise criticism and/or who don’t take it well, but I’d wager that many-to-most of us really welcome it. We want to get better. We want people to call us on our bullshit.

We want a dialogue.

It’s why we write.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Clipping

I work for a minority-owned company, and it just so happens that the majority of our franchisees are also minorities and women (I love the stupid word "minorities" to mean "not white!" because, you know, you put together all of the "not white" people, and suddenly, they're not so much a minority, but Let's Not Think About That and then there's that "and women" addition, like women make up 20% of the world or something. Anyway).

So one of the things I have to be aware of, even more than my "liberal" sensibilities call for, is the inclusion of women and Everybody Else in things like, say, visual representations. Because how incredibly stupid is it to whitewash the whole world, not only on the basic, you know, human decency "because it's not right" level, but on the actual real-world holy fuck, that's a PRETEND WORLD you're telling people to buy into level?

I'm currently in the process of moving our ops manual into an online format, and I couldn't *believe* (or maybe you would...) what a fucking pain in the ass it was to find clip art of black men and women, Asian men and women, or just women all together, doing something really active and powerful.

It took me several days of working through the clip art galleries before I started to realize that, yes, actually, those images are *there,* sort of. They're just harder to find, because even though they're there, I'm having a lot of trouble seeing them. Why am I still seeing a universe of white people?

And I realized as I was setting out images for different sections, thinking, "OK, there's an image of a black man here, and I have a woman here, and an Asian woman here and... oh god, is that too many women? Are there too many pictures of women and minorities? Is this going to scare off white guys?"

SERIOUSLY. I thought that.

I thought, "But WHAT ABOUT THE POOR WHITE MEN???"

Here I was getting stuck in the 1/4 rule: any time women make up 1/4 of the room, you assume half the room is full of women. Same with any character who's not slice-of-wonder-bread white. And when there's *more* than 1/4... well, then THEY'RE TAKING OVER, OH NOOOOSSS!!!

What I find fascinating is how well we've all been trained to keep making sure that the fragile white male ego is protected, like it's so incredibly impossible for white men to relate to the humanity of women and men of other races.

How condescending is that, to create an entire structure, an entire subserviant class, whose duty it is to look after the fragile white male ego? If men are really *that* fucking weak, then patriarchy is some fucking joke.

And yet here I am, thinking, "OH NOoOOoooSsss! The poor white men!"

Gawd.

One of the things I try and tell people is that we're all racist. We're all misogynist. When you live in a racist, misogynist culture, you pick these assumptions and stereotypes up as easily as breathing; you're trained to maintain the status quo. What it means to be a decent human being is to be aware of these prejudices and to fight them, fight them, fight them. Because none of it's true: it's all a bunch of bullshit.

The world WILL NOT END if 3/4 of every piece of clip art shows a black woman and an Asian man and a Hispanic woman and an Indian man being powerful.

In fact, the world might look a little better for it.

Reading Wikipedia in French

I've been busting up on my French for awhile now, trying to get in at least a few pages or lessons or some kind of exposure to it at least once a day. It's been a goal of mine to be able to get around in French for some time now, but it was one of those things I just never made the time for. Some of that was because I assumed I'd need to take a another community college course, and I never had enough time or money to fit that into my crazy Chicago life.

I'm not sure at what point I realized I was passable enough to stop buying the "intro to French" refresher books and to move on to the French verb conjugation books, but it happened sometime after I got to Dayton.

Learning another language is a lot like learning to read your mother tongue for the first time. It's a lot of frustration and banging your head against the desk and trying to figure out why it seems to be so *easy* for other people, and then, almost like magic, after persistent head banging, something clicks in your head. It's like this whole time, you've been wearing out this groove in your brain, and one day you realize it's there, and the words start to click together. And then once you have those words, you can guess many of the others based on context.

I remember thinking that reading was a really magical process, this idea that you could set down words and thoughts for other people to see and understand, and then *you* could learn to see and understand the words and thoughts of others. And learning another language is a lot like that for me. I mean, sure, I took my two years of high school French like anybody else, and my grandmother's from France, so I can "la lalaala la" with the best of them, but the minute they asked me to start doing past tense, it was like my brain hit a huge, hard wall. And everything stuck. It got hard, I balked, and the idea of pushing past that wall hurt my head just to think of it.

Now it's a matter of wearing down the wall. It's not like I'm taking a sledge hammer to it. It's like I have this hammer and pick, and sometimes these big blocks come out, but mainly it's just me chipping away.

When things are slow at work, I used to cruise Wikipedia or write, but the last few weeks, I've replaced English-language Wikipedia with French Wikipedia, just to get me some more exposure.

And what put me in mind, again, of this whole process was reading the beginning of the entry on "Impression à la demande." And I'm sitting here reading "La principale caractéristique de l'impression à la demande est dans la possibilité d'imprimer un seul exemplaire à la fois, contrairement à l'impression traditionnelle (Offset) qui oblige un tirage minumum de centaines d'exemplaires à la fois." and thinking:

"OK, it's about books. Making one example. "Seul exemplaire." Is this about first editions? No, it's "one example" something... one example.... "à la fois."

One example at a time...

And I realized I was reading about print-on-demand publishing (which I would have learned anyway by the end of the article regardless because they use the English terms, but bear with me). But it was funny, because it was that one phrase that did it, that made the whole article click for me and threw light on what the rest of the passage meant (with help from a handy French dictionary as well, of course). It's like finding a linch pin, sliding it into place, and things start to go click click click.

I remember being very frustrated when I first learned to read. I learned in the first grade, and I felt like I was learning oh so slowly, far more slowly than everyone else in class. My mom says some of my frustration likely came from the fact that I was ready to read long before I actually learned how; it's just that nobody taught me and I didn't think to try and teach myself. Once I started picking away at it, all it did was make me frustrated and angry.

I grew up being told that I was smart, and so believing that I was smart, but for some reason, I believed that being smart meant that things came easily and naturally to you. You would be like my friend Matt, who was reading fourth-grade level books in kindergarten and skipped a grade because he was so smart. This was what smart was. Because of that, I started to believe, in school, that I just wasn't smart enough. That there were only so many things I was good at, so I should try to concentrate on those and not do the hard stuff, since if it was hard, it meant I wasn't good at it. Those things made me feel so stupid, and who wants to be stupid?

This is really dangerous thinking for a kid to have, and I'm not sure where we get this impression, since I can't remember my parents or teachers saying "smart people don't have to work hard." I think it's more along the lines of an assumption we get, as kids, when we're told, "Oh, you did well! You must be really good at this." Instead of, "Oh, you did well! You must have worked really hard on this."

To some extent, I started to learn the problem inherent in this belief with writing. Sure, I had a natural affinity for it, but natural affinity only takes you so far. You'll be the best kid in class up until you break out of your local highschool and/or community college classes, and then all the sudden, what you've got doesn't cut it (and if you start subbing stories early, as I did, you realize really quickly that you're competing against a huge number of people who work far harder and are way better than you are). So when I subbed stuff at 15 and it all came back in rejections, I realized I was going to have to work a lot harder, everyday, and it's that concerted practice that's gotten me to this point, not raw talent. Part of my experience of growing up, of becoming an adult, has been learning how to have the guts to branch off into areas where I'm not so good, where I don't have a "natural" affinity, where things are hard. I'm always picking apart parts of my writing that I'm not good at. GW was about learning how to write good dialogue. I'm not focusing on plotting. I find the thing I'm worst at, and pound my head against it for awhile, until something starts to stick.

At some point I realized that there were a lot of things I wanted out of my life that I wasn't magically good at. I was going to have to work harder.

I find it baffling that it took me so long to figure this out.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Why Do I Always Overcorrect for Whole Wheat Pasta?



Why? Why? Why?

I love my graham crackers and all, but when food is medicine, it's just not as fun to eat, particularly when you're up feeling woozy past your bedtime.

Blarg.

I would like to magically be able to tell my body to stop eating my pancreas.

Rome

Why is Cleopatra a drugged out, sex-crazy, slightly dimwitted pale-skinned whore with no hair?

It's Like It's a Real Book or Something!



Halfway through Black Desert. It's at about 45,000 words, that point at which, which you print it out, it almost feels like you're writing a real book.

Repeat after me:

Draft by October! Draft by October!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Numbers for the last Four Days

145
83
91

93
94
67

126
94
91

131
69
135

These are a lot better than they were back when I was trying to squeeze every last drop out of my expired insulin bottle, but not as good as I'd like them to be (under 110, baby!).

Really, the insulin is the only difference. I continue to eat and work out more or less the same as I'd been doing a few weeks ago, but the last four days before I finally packed it in and got new insulin, things looked more like this:

147
80
168

116
141
112

170
128
57

169
64
317

As you can see, it took that 317 number to freak me out enough to finally make the switch.

(and even then, it took some time to get things back under control. Even with the new insulin, I spent another week like this:

175
145
175

145
126
74

170
96
145

122
68
186)

It's a good lesson, though. When your numbers start to go off - even by "only" forty or fifty points, and your insulin is nearly three months old, it's the insulin, not some wackjob bodily process or those onion rings you ate last night. And, I think, it's a good lesson for me, too. Bad insulin takes a while to get out of your system. Changing it right away doesn't mean immediate results. You're already swinging high, and your body has to find equilibrium again.

It's weird how those hills and valleys work, like throwing a pebble into a pond.

Ranting About the Short Form

Because really, it never gets old.

Around the House

Steph's in-laws are here for the week to work on the cabinets and the plumbing in this 1940s-era fixer-upper.

Steph and the Old Man have a really great coffee maker that's shiny and kewl and makes the best coffee ever, but it had been taking progressively longer and longer for the coffee to brew. Steph's mother-in-law, Nancy, noted this and brewed the thing with - get this - vinegar, in order to dissolve all of the deposits in the machine.

After a thorough brew with the vinegar solution and two more brews with regular water. the thing works great.

Here are 61 other little-known uses for vinegar.

(by the time I leave this place, I'm going to be a regular home handywoman - who can cook too)

Mmmmmm

There's not much better than a little Lebanese and North African cooking.

The "I'm Fine!" Emergency Visit

Final Cost:

$836.75

On the one hand: it's better than being dead.

On the other hand: they spent 4 hours and charged me $836.75 to tell me that there was nothing wrong with me.

And people wonder why poor people never go to the doctor until they're literally bleeding and falling over on the floor?

This is why.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Heh Heh

No End in Sight

Yes, everything you feared was true.

Because "Women Have no Freedom at All"

The protagonist of one of Portugal's most gripping courtroom dramas has died after almost 20 years in which she fooled everyone, including her live-in companion, that she was actually a male army general.

With her general's uniform complete with medals, Maria Teresinha Gomes cut a dashing figure as the respectable and charming General Tito Anibal da Paixao Gomes. What started out as a costume for the 1974 carnival, knocked up by a tailor in Lisbon, soon became the defining aspect of an invented personality. The general was only occasionally seen in uniform, but even in his civilian clothes he had a distinguished martial air about him that was enough to convince almost everyone.


I love that women are still "getting away" with this. I'm not so hot on the idea that it's still more often than not a necessity in order to ensure one's freedom more than an innate impulse to pose as a man.

Who thought my MA dissertation could look so sexy?

Just applied for this job (despite the fact that they want me to have a Swiss work permit. heh. Honestly, I love applying for all these UN-related jobs in Geneva. It's a real kick to my ego, even if nothing ever comes of it).

It inspired me to open up my MA dissertation for the first time in years and pull out a chapter to use as one of my writing samples.

Hot *damn* that dissertation looks fucking sexy when I get to use it to apply to jobs where it's actually, you know, relevant.

Wow

I just asked our graphic designer to send me a PDF copy of the final versions of the last two brochures I've been working on. One is a Services Proposal we prepared to give to another financial services company to pitch a partnership with them and another is a trade show brochure advertising our franchising opportunities.

OMG they look great.

And I totally wrote all of the text for these, yo.

I think 27 isn't a bad time to finally become a real writer.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

One for the Road

Writing Challenge of the Day

How to make bit characters interesting who are loved and adored by your secondary character but who are going to get killed in about, oh, three chapters.

I mean, I know *he* likes them quite a lot, but, you know, *I* don't want to get attached, because then they'll try and figure out a way to live.

AND THEY MUST DIE.

THE PLOT DEMANDS IT.

I really gotta stick to this plot thing if I want this damn book done by October.

Dammit.

Oh Gawd

I just received an email from our mailroom guy addressed to "Mrs. Hurley."

Oh gawd.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Holy Crap I Just Totally Laughed Out Loud at This



This week must be even longer than I thought.

Hurdles

Why is it I find it so difficult to write happy family scenes? I mean, I actually had quite a wonderful, happy childhood. It's not like I don't have material to draw from.

I think I just don't find happy childhood scenes all that interesting.

Today's Song, Stuck on Repeat

The National - "Slow Show"

Standing at the punch table swallowing punch
can’t pay attention to the sound of anyone
a little more stupid, a little more scared
every minute more unprepared

I made a mistake in my life today
everything I love gets lost in drawers
I want to start over, I want to be winning
way out of sync from the beginning

I wanna hurry home to you
put on a slow, dumb show for you
and crack you up
so you can put a blue ribbon on my brain
god I’m very, very frightening
I’ll overdo it

Looking for somewhere to stand and stay
I leaned on the wall and the wall leaned away
Can I get a minute of not being nervous
and not thinking of my dick
My leg is sparkles, my leg is pins
I better get my shit together, better gather my shit in
You could drive a car through my head in five minutes
from one side of it to the other

I wanna hurry home to you
put on a slow, dumb show for you
and crack you up
so you can put a blue ribbon on my brain
god I’m very, very frightening
I’ll overdo it

You know I dreamed about you
for twenty-nine years before I saw you
You know I dreamed about you
I missed you for
for twenty-nine years

You know I dreamed about you
for twenty-nine years before I saw you
You know I dreamed about you
I missed you for
for twenty-nine years

(hot damn I'm finding some great sounds via Whiskey From a Wire. Bless Nick for posting that link. I'm completely addicted)

So

Is it Friday yet?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Little Something for the Space Pirates

The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics has announced the discovery of a mass of crystallized carbon formerly known as star BPM 37093, now known as the biggest diamond in the galaxy, fifty light years away from Earth in the constellation Centaurus. The diamond is estimated to be 2,500 miles across and weighs approximately 10 billion-trillion-trillion-carats – a one, followed by 34 zeros.

Do You Ever Get the Feeling...

That you're just way too sensitive about certain personal push-button topics?

I suppose that's to be expected, but I'd love to be stone cold enough for stupid stuff not to bother me so I could speak about it rationally.

Or even, at this point, make fun of it.

Because really, at this point, it's just all really fucking funny.

Today's Song, Stuck on Repeat

Bikini Kill - Rebel Girl (boy, that video is hilarious)

That girl thinks she's the queen of the neighborhood
She's got the hottest trike in town
That girl she holds her head up so high
I think I wanna be her best friend, yeah

Rebel girl, Rebel girl
Rebel girl you are the queen of my world
Rebel girl, Rebel girl
I think I wanna take you home
I wanna try on your clothes oh

When she talks, I hear the revolutions
In her hips, there's revolutions
When she walks, the revolution's coming
In her kiss, I taste the revolution

Rebel girl, Rebel girl
Rebel girl you are the queen of my world
Rebel girl, Rebel girl
I know I wanna take you home
I wanna try on your clothes oh

That girl thinks she's the queen of the neighborhood
I got news for you, she is!
They say she's a dyke, but I know
She is my best friend, yeah

Rebel girl, Rebel girl
Rebel girl you are the queen of my world
Rebel girl, Rebel girl
I know I wanna take you home
I wanna try on your clothes

Love you like a sister always
Soul sister, Rebel girl
Come and be my best friend
Will you Rebel girl?
I really like you
I really wanna be your best friend
Be my Rebel girl

Monday, July 16, 2007

I'll Just Type a Little Faster

One of the toughest things to deal with, having a chronic illness, is how many other things that that one illness affects. I went a really long time before getting diagnosed doing a lot of harm to myself. I was, effectively, dying, but it was taking me an incredibly long time to do it. I hear other stories from people about type 1 diabetics who just felt really thirsty and were losing weight for a couple months, and because they were younger, it was one of the first things people tested for, and viola, yes, there it is: congratulations, you’re dying.

It was the shovel to the head, yes, but it wasn’t four days in the ICU.

And with me, I went such a long time; seeing one doctor after another, trying to figure out what the hell was wrong with me (and I’ve read of this happening to other t1s diagnosed after 25. Once you’re in you’re 20s, people are less likely to test for it when you come in complaining about, say, thirst and yeast infections), and in the meantime, a lot of stuff was breaking down. My doctor told me that the reason it took me so long to die is because, yes, I was in such good shape. My body was slowing moving through all of my defenses, slowing burning through and shutting down systems one at a time until I finally went into seizures.

There are things already that I know don’t work as well as they used to. There are things that work a lot better now that I’m not dying quite as quickly (mmmm insulin). But to some extent I am, in fact, dying. Oh sure, we’re all dying: I’m just going to do it a little bit faster than most other people, and that’s a tough thing to come to terms with, especially for “I’m a kick ass brutal woman Kameron.”

It’s hard to say, now, but I’m doing everything I should be doing and my numbers are good and I’m not using expired insulin, so why am I having all of these problems? And it’s like: because it’s a chronic illness. It’s an immune disorder. It’s not one thing. It’s not like some kind of localized disease that eats your foot and stops at the knee. It gnaws at everything. Everyday. And some days, when you’re not looking, it gnaws more quickly than others.

Sometimes I get melancholy about it. It’s such a strange thing, when you look death so close in the face and then spend every day that much closer to it. I think about all sorts of things, about how all of these moments, each moment that I’ve gotten after getting sick, is like a stolen moment. It feels like something precious and extra. Even during my worst days, that feeling is still there. That feeling like I’ve died already, like this is yet another new life. Another incarnation.

But in this incarnation, things are a lot harder. I recognize that and I’m dealing with it, but sometimes, I know, I despise it for being so hard. I get angry and hopeless and scared and I wonder if all these stolen moments are worth it. It’s a silly, fleeting hopelessness.

Because all I have to do is look out at the world, at all this, everything I’ve got, everything I’m building and rebuilding, and I feel so lucky; lucky and cursed, because I want so desperately to make all of these moments count. Each and every one. They’re so goddamn beautiful, and they go by so quickly, just slip right past you, while you’re eating dinner, turning off your computer, reading before bed. They happen and they’re gone, and that’s one less heartbeat you have to carry out the rest of your days with.

I feel now a lot of how I felt in South Africa. It’s this sort of heady, dizzy fear and joy; this drunk feeling like you have to burn through every moment so brilliantly, so brightly, because you’re not sure what’s going to happen next; around the corner, back at the house, in your car. You don’t know if this is going to be the last moment; you’re not sure if somebody’s going to snatch it away from you if you’re not careful. And oh, god, that feeling of uncertainty, of fear, of brightly burning moments, is overwhelming. Some days you’re not sure if you can do it, if it’s even worth going on, because of all that fear. Other days you cling to life with a fierceness that terrifies you. Not yet, you say. Not quite yet. Just one more breath. One more heat beat. Let me have just one more.

So I’m still stumbling blindly around, trying to figure out what’s wrong with me, what else this illness effected, what more I can do to stare down death another day. My hope is that at some point the worst will be over. My despair is that it’s true that I’m dying just a little bit faster than everyone else.

Which means, of course, as Asimov said: I’ll just have to type a little bit faster.

And live a little bigger.

Wishlist

This is the first thing I'm getting when I get real insurance coverage.

The more I hear about it, the more I love it.

Now I just need someone to cover that $800 up front and $345 a month.

I'm Sorry, This Still Bafflies Me

Titanic is still the highest-grossing movie of all time. It's made nearly 2 billion dollar worldwide.

If you look at the other movies in the top 10, they're all part of series: LOTR, Spiderman, Pirates, Harry Potter, hell, they even made a bunch more Jurassic Park movies.

But the thing is, Titantic is now 10 years old and nobody's really tried to make a huge rip-off. I mean, sure, you can't (thank God) do a sequel, but where are the people clamboring to make a gutsy-woman-leaves-her-crap-fiancee-during-time-of-major-action-catastrophe-and-finds-her-strength movies?

Sure, there's The Notebook, but again: it's her husband telling the story, and it's framed as being his story. You get maybe half the story: you'll get the romance part or the action part, and still, STILL, ten years later, we're not getting that strong woman's story from the woman's POV, the sort of silly fourteen-year-old-teen-girl fantasy story with the bad dialogue that I went to see 11 times (and which did, indeed, assist me in finding the strength to break off a bad relationship).

So if Hollywood's really so interested in making gobs of money, where are the Titantic knockoffs? Or have they just all been so bad that you don't hear about them? Or have they been half-hearted attempts that tell the guy's half of the romance or lose themselves in swarm and forget the action?

What's so scary about kewl action stories about women who actually wear actual clothes, have no-strings sex, and get to spit in their abusive fiance's face?

I mean, I would pay money to see that.

I would pay money to see that eleven times.

And, obviously, a hell of a lot of other women would, too.

(NOTE: though it does look like Kate and Leo are pairing up again after 10 years, which I find almost as surprising as the fact that nobody's made another woman-kicks-ass-disaster-romance movie)

How Far Could You Walk in a Day with a Treadmill at Your Desk?

Yeah. I love this thing. Honestly, there's nothing so mind-numbing and sluggish-making than 8 hours at a desk.

It's completely contrary to how I'd like to spend my day, but here I am, writing all day at work, and coming home, briefly spending half an hour on the elliptical, and then... sitting down and writing all night.

Not the best way to get around.

Too Old and Awesome to Read Harry Potter?

But you're going to read it anyway?

Why, the internets have provided a solution! Just slap on one of these handy-dandy book jackets!


They will make it look like you are reading something for OLD, AWESOME people!



Sunday, July 15, 2007

One for the Road

Blogs I Love

"So about a year later, when he came over to my house and uttered the simple phrase, "So. Wanna get married?" I was a little surprised, but it felt right and I said yes. We kissed goodbye and he left to go castrate some calves."

I swear, it's like reading a novel about cow wrangling and great food. It's like an Annie Proulx story without all the angst.

Novel Gazing

Tim's got a post up where he looks at the first lines of his novels, and it got me curious at to what all of mine looked like. No doubt there's a hell of a lot of other huge differences between where I was when I wrote my first book and where I am now, but first lines are good snapshot.

And so: Novel Gazing

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The Cat-Eyed Queen (originally titled, The Queen of Gwenedyned. No, don't ask me to pronounce it). Written sometime in 1991/1992. About 30,000 words. Almost, but not quite, a YA novel. At 12, this seemed like a perfectly reasonable way to start a book:

The girl ran through the hallway of the castle.

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The Thief Queen (originally titled Quill). Written sometime in 1992. 22,000 words, so more like a novelette than a novel, but I wrote it like a short book. Look at me learning to write interesting, though still cliched, first lines! This was about the time I was starting to read Writer's Digest:

Fear had always come first.

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Marianna. Probably written in 1993. Unknown word count. I used to write up all of my books long hand, and this one I never loved enough to actually type up. This one starts out just as dull at Cat-Eyed Queen because it deals with the same girl who was running through the castle, and she tended to having boring get-gos:

Yolanda looked out of the little window.

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Quilliam. Written in 1993. 45,000 words. This was the first and last time I tried to write myself into a book as a character; the "historian" of all things, though I don't think it occurred to me at 13 that I was going to major in history. Anyway, the historian was pretty boring, as indicated by this first line:

Faiten sat down, pen in hand, paper ready.

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The Queen's Gunpowder (originally titled Faiten). Finished this in 1994/95 sometime. 70,000 words. You can tell I had a subscription to Writer's Digest at this point...

You knew something was going to happen.

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Rogue (originally titled Driamyne). Wrote this in 1995-1996. 90,000 words. What can I say? I was bad at description. I needed the practice:

Blistering sun scorched the golden plains, battering down at the flat expanse rolling on for as far as the eye could see.

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Silver Fire. Wrote this from 1996-1999. It was the first attempt at what would become my huge-crazy fantasy saga. I initially planned 15 books. After bad experiences with Jordan and Martin, I've decided I can do it in 5. 160,000 words. I no longer had that Writer's Digest subscription:

"Do you remember shadows?" the voice murmured; his father's voice, deep and afraid.

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Brutal Women. 2001-2003. Based on a short story I wrote at Clarion. I wrote the first half, maybe 40-50K, and tried to sell it by sending out the partial to editor slush piles and assuring them it was done. The ones who did reply form rejected it out of hand. Still one of my favorite first lines, tho:

Nalah buried her babies in the cold silt somewhere between the mountains and the sea.

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The Dragon’s War (originally titled Beyond the Shadowed Sea, To the Dragon's Wall and The Dragon's Wall). 1999-2005. This was a ground-up rewrite of Silver Fire. Literally, I tossed out the first book and wrote another book with characters whose names sounded sort of similiar and who ran around a place with similiar geography, but the rest was a new book from the ground up. I had some interested agents, one of whom requested several rewrites, but I could never get it to a place where anybody wanted to buy it or sell it. First draft: 200,000 words. Final draft submitted to editor/agent folks: 119,000 words. Not a bad little first line, but it took me six years and 80,000 dead words to get there:

The invaders came in on the morning tide, and drove before them a sea of roaches.

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Over Burning Cities. 2004-present. Book 2 in the 5 book series that starts with The Dragon's War. I have five or six chapters and an outline. It's on hold until I can sell The Dragon's War.Yes, I stole the idea for this line from the first line of Ash. Also one of my favorite first lines:

They would say her scars made her beautiful, and what the cats had left of her half-breed face was wholly Dhorinian.

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God’s War. 2003-2007. 90,000 words. Yes. This is my favorite first line EVER:

Nyx sold her womb somewhere between Punjai and Faleen, on the edge of the Desert.

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Black Desert. 2007-present. Sequel to God's War. I'm about halfway done, and hoping to have a draft to first readers by October:

The smog in Mushtallah tasted of tar and ashes; it tasted like the war.

Who needs Writer's Digest now????

What does this summary of first lines have to tell me?

I've gotten a fuck of a lot better, yo.

Can't wait to see what I'm writing in another ten years...

Tree Trimming!

Oh, the joys of home ownership....

Yesterday, one of the big tree branches out front came down, so Steph and the Old Man bought a chain-saw-on a stick and Steph's brother Josh came down for the day and made an afternoon of it.


Josh is real excited by this manly stuff...


But that chainsaw-on-a-stick is heavier than it looks.


When all else fails, just try and yank the fucking branch off.


Tessa found us all very amusing...


Cutting things down got kind of fun... let's cut down some more stuff!


Josh wants a record of his manliness....


Now Josh attempts to cut down a branch with the careful guidance of the Old Man...


And... holy crap does that branch come down!


He's just got something in his eye...


Oh yeah, it was a little close for comfort. Can you tell we're all from Battle Ground?


Surveying the damage.


Damage!


It's a family affair.


Time to clean up.


Seriously, look how manly he is! (do I get a dollar now, Josh?)


The old man asks me why I'm not "getting to work." As you can see from these photos, I did fuck all. I talked to my boyfriend and worked on Black Desert. I'm a writer, you know.


But I did sort of pretend to haul some things to the curb.


Ah, yes, look at that tree! Still a mess, really, but a better mess. Really.


Josh is cutting things! It's so manly!


I was going to put in a picture of Josh's ass here, as it would show how manly he was, but I'll settle for this one.


A job well done (in a manly way!)

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Marie Antoinette

Where's the love, honestly? I remember seeing the preview for the Kirsten Dunst/Sophia Capploa production of Marie Antoinette and thinking it was a great concept. You've got that whole "royalty as rockstars" thing going on, with a modern soundtrack and a story of cloistered indulgence and opulance. Versailles is very much its own world, shuttered up away from everywhere else, and it abides by its own rules and customs (it's very Gormenghast in that sense).

The strength of the film is in the first, say half to two thirds of the movie where Marie Antoinette shows up and tries to be "good" without any real sense of how to do that at 15 except please everyone and buy a lot of lap dogs, and then, after three years of talk behind her back, the figidity of her husband, and the loss of her family, goes on a lavish spending spree and seeks to insulate herself from whatever the hell else is going on in the world. Which is what everyone else at Versaille is doing.

I admire films and books that can convey feeling through the use of words and images; feelings are not things that are easily translated. You can't say "so and so was sad" or show someone being sad, but that doesn't neccessarily make the viewer/reader *feel* sadness. Good stuff sets up words and images in such a way that you can actually summon up a particlary feeling in the viewer or read: the sense of loss, the desire to bury oneself in excess.

I enjoyed the film; I liked the way that Coppola made sure not to show anything going on outside of Versaille. Versaille is the whole world, the petty court games and snide talking behind others and political games, and knowing that, you can understand why the people inside acted as they did (and, of course, the whole bullshit idea of Versaille was created as a way to keep all the nobles busy trying to curry favor instead of plotting behind the King's back, and this movie reminds us of why that strategy worked so well).

The trouble is that there seemed to be some kind of self-consciousness on the part of Coppola that made her throw in these half-hearted lines for Marie Antoinette to pretend she's really interested in poor people and politics. The problem is, there's so little dialogue and the emotional heart of the movie *so* has nothing to do with the people of France and Dunst delivers these lines so woodenly that they feel like half-hearted additions, like, "I want to show that she's not an idiot or a total hedonist, but I'm not sure that she wasn't. I mean, it's not like she doesn't *care* about what's going on, it's just not part of her world. But, I mean, she's aware of it. But... um....."

The actual pacing of the movie starts to suffer about the time she starts having kids, and then there's the rapid slide to get to the end of the movie and half-hearted attempts to "age" Dunst which are silly and don't work because it's not like she really looks old or gains weight or anything. I was wondering how they would pull off the ending, because once she and Louis get in the carriage to flee from Versaille, I recalled that there was several more weeks of tag played between the family and the people of France before they were actually beheaded. What Coppola chooses to do is to show them leaving Versaille the first time, before the mob stops them and turns them back, and there it just sort of... ends.

Sure, it's a half-hearted ending. She's supposed to have gotten older and wiser and gotten some kind of conscience by now, but we don't actually see that journey. The first half or 2/3 I can understand: I understand how a young girl thrown into a foreign court where she's despised and has a frigid husband can lose herself in the excess. The journey they didn't do so well in conveying was how she and her husband learned, over time, to hold some sort of affection for one another and for France, which means that in the end, when they tried to just wave their hands and pretend that had happened, I had a tough time believing it.

All that said, I'd recommend this movie. I think Coppola did some great things with the ideas, the emotion, the soundtrack (and there's also some great stuff in there about how the foreign women gets blamed for everything that's wrong with the country; ah yes, always blame the woman), and though the pacing's off and it starts to lag toward the end, it's really worth it for that daring, breathless run there for the first 2/3.