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


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.