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Hugos 2015: Final roundup

We interrupt our regularly scheduled 2015 Clarion West Write-a-thon series to bring you the final Hugo roundup. Sponsor me, sponsor another writer, or learn more about the Write-a-thon

With the deadline closing in at midnight on Friday July 31, I had three novels left so I decided to race them. The first to drop out was the Jim Butcher. I like urban fantasy, but have never really warmed up to the Dresden Files books, and this was no exception. The next to go was Ancillary Sword. I couldn’t really warm up to it, either, but the interesting SF ideas made it a stronger contender. The clear winner was The Three-Body Problem. I was completely sucked in by the cultural revolution stuff, fascinated by how much it resembled made-up dystopias from SF history.

Somewhere in the middle of the remaining nominees, it all turned to a big mush.

I’ll confess — I’m one of those fans who tends to sit in the Hugo awards ceremony audience squirming a bit, wondering “WHY are there SO MANY categories of things? And what the heck is a semiprozine anyway?” I usually think of the fiction categories as the “real” categories and gloss over all the ones for things like best editor, best fanzine, best fan writer, best professional artist, etc.

This year, it was explained to me that “semiprozine” originally meant “Locus, so it will stop winning best fanzine every year.” This year I also found out that Beneath Ceaseless Skies is apparently a semiprozine, so that easily got my top vote.

I was excited that Julie Dillon was nominated, after seeing her work at Norwescon. The other artists were slated, but unlike many of the fiction nominees, they didn’t strike me as a bad joke. Julie Dillon was still the best, though.

There were a couple more slated novelette nominees I didn’t mention in previous rundowns — Analog stories that I was pretty “meh” about, but they weren’t offensively bad. I read Analog sometimes out of a sense of tradition, because I’m nostalgic about the days when I was a teenager and my dad subscribed to all three major SF magazines. But Analog never produced my favorite stories of the bunch, and they still don’t. I think they’re going for a specific SF aesthetic, and it’s not one that appeals to me very often. (The sad-n-rabid slatemakers seem to like it, though.)

With the sad-n-rabid domination of the fiction categories this year, the short and novelette categories were disappointing, but the novella category was absolutely dire. I don’t know if that says anything about novellas specifically — are there fewer to choose from in a given year? — or if it’s totally random that the rabids decided to overload the novella category with an LD50 dose of John C. Wright.

I read most of his nominated work. But I couldn’t bring myself to even try reading the final novella. Whenever I contemplated it, I could feel a small vulnerable part of myself, the part that loves stories more than anything, cowering in the corner whimpering “no more… please.” No doubt, this image would please the author of the rabid slates, whose intent was clearly to force-feed us Wright’s fiction until we choked.

Well, okay. Here’s your victory: knowing that at least one Worldcon fan went from “I have no idea who this guy is” to “this guy acts like a jerk online and his stories are terrible.”

Why did I even try to read so many of the slated works? Two reasons. One, is that if I want to have an opinion about something, especially if I suspect it will be a negative opinion, I want it to be an informed opinion. I think of this as the Twilight rule. It bugs me when other people express strong negative opinions about a work based solely on reputation and the regurgitated thoughts of others, so I try to avoid doing that myself. The other reason, is that people reviewing and talking about the nominees incited my curiosity. Often, this curiosity was of the morbid variety — could it really be as dreadful as it sounds?

The answer is yes. Yes, it can. In fact, it can be even worse than it sounds. It can be a malign and revoltingly non-Euclidean loathsome perversity.

Even if they were well-written and non-offensive, having three “related works” nominations that are basically ego projects by writers of no particular distinction would be a travesty. But this year, we get not only the rather dull “Letters from Gardner” by Lou Antonelli, but also the execrable “Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truth” by John C. Wright, and…

…and this — the wet, stinking bottom of the garbage barrel — “Wisdom From My Internet” by Michael Z. Williamson. It’s probably the laziest thing I’ve ever seen offered to the public as a book — an ugly assemblage of random dumb quotes from some guy who couldn’t be bothered to turn them into essays. Is the “Wisdom” part meant to be a joke? Is the “My Internet” part meant to be a joke? Is the “nominated for a Hugo” part meant to be a joke?

Maybe it’s supposed to make Wright’s stuff look better in comparison, but in that, it fails. Something genuinely good can shine out of a pit of dreck like a gold ring lost in a septic tank, but something mediocre-to-bad just looks like more sewage.

If Brad Torgersen — number one cheerleader for the alleged “merit” of the slated works — was truly hoping that this slate would convince the majority of Worldcon fans that we have been unfairly overlooking the brilliant work of more conservative SF authors, he has failed so spectacularly that it seems to require a recalibration of the notion of failure.

Instead, he seems to have demonstrated that conservative SF writers can’t write, and conservative SF fans have no taste. I don’t think that was his intent, and I don’t think it’s true, either. Rather, I think his view of what constitutes a “conservative” SF writer or fan is skewed and very narrow — you’re an unjustly ignored conservative genius if you’re part of his crowd, and a dirty social justice puppy kicker if you’re not. As many people have pointed out “cronyism” is the only explanation for the composition of the slates that doesn’t fall apart on the specifics.

In this, Torgersen’s decision not to openly distance himself from the even more narrowly defined rabid slate was a huge mistake. By broadly defending the “puppy” slating initiative, he creates the impression that he has no problem at all with one writer and one minor publishing house dominating the nominated works.

Let’s get real about that — if NEIL FREAKING GAIMAN had six whole works on the final ballot, it would look ridiculous, and he’s a rock star married to another rock star. How dishonest do you have to be in order to pretend it’s totally legit will-of-the-people stuff when one guy nobody’s really heard of squats in six of the slots, like a bulbous, beslimed toad?

I’m now convinced that the chief of R.A.B.I.D. knew all that, and never actually thought of this as anything but a mean-spirited joke. His intent all along was to de-legitimize the Hugos as an award, possibly an act of aggressive sour grapesing after finally realizing that he’s a lousy writer and worse editor who’s never going to get one in the usual manner. He has sometimes pretended that his intentions were originally something other than “burning down” the Hugos and that this is only something he is threatening to do in future years, as retaliation for “No Award” in slated categories this year. But I think “No Award” was always his intent, at least in novella.

Come on, just look at the stories he picked.

Finally, one thing I have learned in all this, is that most of the time I can trust my instincts and quick-flash impressions. If I start reading something and find myself inclined to toss it aside right away as garbage, if I later go back and read more carefully, I almost never end up changing my mind — I just assemble a longer and more detailed list of reasons for why I think it’s garbage.

Slush readers of the world, I salute you, in spite of all the times you’ve broken my heart. But reading the Hugo packet should not feel like reading the slush pile.

Originally published at Goth House: Julie McGalliard lives here. You can comment here or there.

Hugos 2015 roundup: Part 3

We interrupt our regularly scheduled 2015 Clarion West Write-a-thon series to bring you another Hugo roundup. Sponsor me, sponsor another writer, or learn more about the Write-a-thon

Some more Hugo reads in no particular order:

Title: Reduce Reuse Reanimate

Author: Carter Reid

Category: Graphic story

Slated: Sad and Rabid

Premise: Zombies

Where it grabbed me: Zombies

Where it lost me: The art isn’t distinctive or expressive. Also, I didn’t notice any actual… you know, characters. Or stories. In fact, the content seems astonishingly low-narrative for something nominated as a “graphic story.” I saw a lot of drawings of celebrities as zombies and disconnected, mean-spirited jokes of the “my ex wife is LITERALLY a monster!” and “my mother-in-law is LITERALLY a monster!” variety. Sexist, dumb, and hackneyed.

I should note that the nominated work is a print collection that was not included in the Hugo packet, so my opinion is based on a random sampling of the material at the website. It’s possible that the material in the collection is substantially different and I would have had a different opinion of it.

Did I like it? No

Does it deserve Hugo? HAHAHAHAHAHA…. No.

Title: Guardians of the Galaxy

Category: Dramatic long form

Slated: Sad and Rabid

Premise: A bunch of wise-talking galactic criminals get arrested, then team up to try to save the galaxy.

Where it grabbed me: Colorful and often funny. Han Solo as a talking racoon. Groot.

Where it lost me: A lot of the time it felt hollow and dishonest, like a reasonably successful imitation of an entertaining movie rather than an actual entertaining movie. I could feel my buttons being pushed — sometimes it worked anyway, but it left me feeling manipulated and vaguely resentful. And it’s kind of a problem when the only person with a real character arc is a mostly-CGI walking tree who says only “I am Groot.”

Did I like it? Not really.

Does it deserve a Hugo? Maybe.

Title: The Dark Between the Stars

Author: Kevin J. Anderson

Category: Novel

Slated: Sad and Rabid

Premise: Based on the part I read, an intergalactic custody dispute following a divorce.

Where it grabbed me: It didn’t.

Where it lost me: The first chapter hits the hammer on “my ex wife is a stupid bitch” pretty hard, which put me off right away. Then the next chapter is from her point of view, and I was hoping it would recast the first chapter in an interesting way, but it didn’t, and didn’t really do anything else that was interesting, either. Then the next chapter is from an entirely different person’s point of view, and it’s also not very interesting. Then the next chapter, and the next, and so on. Before long I’d met half a dozen different people and didn’t care about what happened to any of them. I realized I was nearly 50 pages into the book and was still waiting for something interesting to happen. That’s the point where I gave up trying.

Did I like it? No

Does it deserve a Hugo? No

Nominee: Cedar Sanderson

Category: Best fan writer

Slated: Sad and Rabid

For your consideration: A handful of blog posts from the website Mad Genius Club, in the Hugo packet

Argument for: I have no idea

Argument against: The first included post wasn’t well-written or interesting, so I started to skim right away and was just about to toss it aside when I hit this:

Rather than letting stories stand on merit, works are being recognized for their ‘message’ or for being written by the minority-du-jour. Readers are beginning to cue in on this, and to avoid certain clues when they shop for a book. And one of those, I found when I published Pixie Noir, is a hint of either “strong female character” or female writer. Not because they think either is a bad thing. No, because they associate both of those with message fiction, and like a puppy who has had his nose rubbed in a steaming pile (more than once!) they aren’t going to make that mistake again.

Why is this a bad thing? Because it may be that women are actually destroying genre fiction.

Stop. Blink. Reread. “Destroying genre fiction”? Are you SERIOUS — Wait, is this essay the source of the titles of the “[blank] destroy science fiction” anthologies?

Her whole narrative here is bizarre. She makes it sound as if women are a minority who have only recently started writing genre fiction, as if women (and not men) are well known as the primary writers of “message” fiction, as if the presence of a “strong female character” (whatever that means) is broadly seen as a reliable clue as to the message-i-ness of a work, and as if the people who avoid such works on the grounds of their message-i-ness are such a major force that their displeasure is capable of destroying genre fiction.

(Also, that “rubbing a puppy’s nose in it” thing? Don’t do it. It doesn’t work.)

This was so weird that I read more carefully for a while, hoping I could figure out why anybody would write such an absurd thing. Who exactly were these female writers of “message” fiction? Who were these “strong female characters” who were capable of destroying the genre? Who were the readers who were working so hard to avoid this “message”? Where were they registering their displeasure? Was there any hard data, such as sales figures, to demonstrate what effect any of this was having? I mean, surely it must be a very large effect, if she could talk about it literally destroying the genre — right?

Spoiler: you don’t find out.

What you do find out: she will admit to liking some female writers of science fiction. You know, the really popular ones everybody likes, such as Lois McMaster Bujold. She likes her husband, and seems quite proud of herself for this, apparently regarding it as something very remarkable. She enjoys being a girl. She wrote a book called Pixie Noir that has a sexy lady on the cover. Other women embarrass her.

Yeah, hon, I know the feeling.

Hugo verdict: Not on your life.

Title: Grimm: “Once We Were Gods”

Category: Dramatic short form

Slated: Sad and rabid

Premise: In a world full of people (wesen) with a physically animal (or other) nature that normally remains hidden, a grimm is like a mystic cop, and we follow the adventures of a grimm who is also an actual cop in Portland. This particular episode is about an Egyptian mummy that is actually an Anubis wesen in “woge” mode where their other nature is manifest, so he was mummified with a dog’s head.

Where it grabbed me: I’m a fan of the series, and Egyptology.

Where it lost me: This particular episode struck me as an average, not particularly memorable wesen-of-the-week outing.

Did I like it? More or less.

Does it deserve a Hugo? Not really.

Title: The Plural of Helen of Troy

Author: John C. Wright

Published in: City Beyond Time / Castalia House

Premise: JFK goes to a time-traveling noir detective to try to save Marilyn Monroe, who is also Helen of Troy, from himself.

Where it grabbed me: The early scenes where he’s trying to establish the setting of a city beyond time show some promise.

Where it lost me: It lost me a little bit when it introduced the detective, because all of a sudden the narrative voice changes and starts lurching awkwardly between “hardboiled wise guy detective story” and “trippy, would-be lyrical SF.” Then it got to the introduction of The Girl — you know, THE girl, the one who is Marilyn Monroe and also Helen of Troy and probably Salome and basically any woman who ever inspired a bunch of horny dudes to do something particularly ridiculous on account of her hotness. This bit is awful on a whole different level, managing to combine offhanded racism, patronizing sexism, fantasies of violence, and bad, overwrought prose into a nauseating spew of partially digested word chunks. And it goes on and on and on, for endless bilious paragraphs.

Here’s a sample:

Just watching her sway in silhouette across the window was enough to launch a mortar in a man’s knickers.

Did I like it? Hell to the no. In fact, it ought to be jailed for egregious offenses against the art of literature and the English language. It ought to be buried under the steaming ordure of an overloaded port-a-potty getting suctioned out after Jazzfest. It ought to be… eh, ignored.

Does it deserve a Hugo? A MULTIVERSE of no. Is there perhaps an anti-Hugo we can give it? An SF version of the Razzies?

Title: Orphan Black: “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried”

Category: Dramatic short

Slated: No

Premise: A collection of experimental clones struggle against people who want to exploit and harm them. Sometimes these people are other clones.

Where it grabbed me: CLONE DANCE PARTY!!!

Where it lost me: I hadn’t seen the show before, and the nominated episode, the season 2 finale, was advancing a lot of ongoing story arcs I didn’t have any background in.

Did I like it? Yes. I liked it enough to start watching the show from the beginning.

Does it deserve a Hugo? Maybe? I wasn’t sure how well it held up as a standalone episode, but given that it interested me enough to go back and watch the whole show, that alone might prove Hugo-worthiness. Also, did I mention there was a clone dance party?

Title: Championship B’tok

Author: Edward M. Lerner

Published in: Analog

Category: Novelette

Slated: Sad and rabid

Premise: I dunno. A guy plays chess with an AI and there are aliens called Snakes. That’s about all I got out of it.

Where it grabbed me: It didn’t.

Where it lost me: Not aggressively terrible, just not engaging.

Did I like it? No.

Does it deserve a Hugo? Probably not.

Title: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Category: Dramatic long form

Slated: None

Premise: The “good guys” organization of SHIELD has had a secret cell of HYDRA “bad guys” deeply embedded since Nazi days. They finally make their move, and use a mysterious figure called The Winter Soldier to create mayhem. Captain America, Black Widow, and a new hero with a cool flying rig team up to stop them.

Where it grabbed me: It’s a well done fantasy action movie. The three primary heroes are engaging.

Where it lost me: It’s one of the Marvel Universe films, and that makes certain aspects of it a little predictable. When I first saw it, I wasn’t yet tired of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But now I’m getting that way. For example, pure ennui is probably going to keep me from seeing Ant Man. That current feeling taints my evaluation of the movie.

Did I like it? Yes.

Does it deserve a Hugo? Not exactly. I want to see the Hugo go to something more original, with a stronger SF premise.

Title: Edge of Tomorrow

Category: Dramatic long form

Slated: None

Premise: As the Earth fights off an alien invasion, a military man who doesn’t want to get involved in on-the-ground fighting irritates the wrong general and wakes up as a private. He’s sent off on what turns out to be a suicide mission. But he wakes up the next day — right back where he started. Turns out he’s been infected by alien blood, which allows him to relive the same day over and over. He teams up with a woman who previously had this ability, and together they try to make this one day count by taking out the lead alien, which will end the invasion.

Where it grabbed me: It’s really well-done. The script is solid, the aliens are scary, and the two leads, played by Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, are engaging. In fact, it’s the perfect Tom Cruise movie. If you like him, he’s on screen the whole time. If you don’t like him, he gets shot in the face a lot.

Where it lost me: It didn’t.

Did I like it? Yes.

Does it deserve a Hugo? Yes.

Originally published at Goth House: Julie McGalliard lives here. You can comment here or there.

The Shadow Workshop [5]: Joy of deadlines

Part of the 2015 Clarion West Write-a-thon series! Sponsor me, sponsor another writer, or learn more about the Write-a-thon

http://www.gothhouse.org/blog/the-shadow-workshop-ants-housework/

Returning to my notebook observations after the first Shadow Workshop:

I sometimes put barriers up that are wholly artificial. Like, “I have to finish this thing before I work on this other thing.”

If you’re like me, you’re constantly juggling a lot of different projects all at the same time, and have a to-do list that never seems to end. Right now, sitting here, at the end of Clarion West Week 5, there are at least a dozen different things I ought to be doing, for various intensities of “ought.”

I don’t always mind that, not really. I joke that I like to stay busy because it keeps the existential angst at bay, but actually, yeah, kinda. It’s not entirely a joke. When I was a kid, reading was my go-to minute-by-minute purpose. Nowadays it tends to be something I fit into the margins of my day — bus rides and other wait states.

Everything gets double-parked. I watch videos while cleaning up the house, listen to podcasts and music while walking or doing the more boring type of computer work, plot stories in yoga class. But I still doubt myself. Is this the exact thing I should be doing right at this moment? Is there something better or more important or more useful that I could be doing instead?

That’s why I like deadlines.

A deadline is a non-artificial barrier — finish this deadline thing before working on these other non-deadline things. A deadline gives me focus. I don’t flail around wondering what the best and most important thing to be doing right at this moment would be. Instead, I know what my priorities are — the things that help me meet the deadline. I have a clearly defined course of action with a clearly defined endpoint. Deadlines can be a little stressful, but usually they’re the right kind of stress for me. And if I meet the deadline, victory!

A week ago, I stumbled across the Mothership Zeta call for “fun” stories, realized I had a story that I thought would fit, and resolved to revise and submit before the end of their deadline, which was yesterday. And I made it! Victory!

This victory was facilitated by my Write-a-thon goal to revise and submit a few short works, since I had spent the previous four weeks devoting some time to hunting through my (shockingly poorly organized) computer files trying to identify the latest versions of finished works. (Seriously, past self, what on earth were you thinking?) It meant I knew what I had.

Still, I ended up pushing the deadline more than I anticipated — I thought I would spend a few hours revising the story and send it off later the same day. Instead it took me all week and I got the submission in with only 3 hours left to go, minutes before heading off to another obligation. Part of that is because I couldn’t find the somewhat revised version that I could swear I remembered having worked on, and instead was editing based on a first draft. (Past self, why is your writing so… in need of fixing?) But that’s one of the things about deadlines. It forces a confrontation between what I imagine I can do, and what I can actually do in the time allotted.

It’s possible to spend infinity amount of time revising a story, or zero amount of time revising a story. Somewhere in there, hypothetically, is the “perfect” amount of time revising a story. But unless you have written a perfect story, how will you know you have spent the perfect amount of time revising it?

A deadline answers that question for you.

The actual Clarion West workshop had weekly deadlines for “a story, any story.” But most publications have deadlines too, often for a more specific kind of story — a certain length, a certain sub-genre, containing certain elements.

Both are useful.

It may not always seem that way — but deadlines are good.

Originally published at Goth House: Julie McGalliard lives here. You can comment here or there.

“Are you a plotter or a pantser?”

I was asked this while sitting at the Clarion West booth at Emerald City Comicon. I first saw this dichotomy outlined in a post on the NaNoWriMo blog. (NaNoWriMo = National Novel Writing Month, where the challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November.

“Plotter” or “planner” is fairly obvious — somebody who plans out a novel before starting to write it.

“Pantser” refers to “seat-of-pants” meaning, you just start writing and see what happens. It’s kind of a funny way to describe oneself, really. “Pantser” isn’t even a word. (Although it does have “pants” in it, which makes my inner 10-year-old giggle.)

By inclination, I’m a pantser. Soooo much a pantser. What I live for is that moment when the spark hits the tinder and the story goes FOOM! and even though I’m a fast typist, I’m still not fast enough to capture the words as they zing around in my head.

I like the writing part of writing — the act of putting words on the page, capturing dialog and description and action and weird world-building details. I like stumbling across the perfect phrase and the unexpected character insight. I like to be surprised. I like to feel like I’m taking dictation from the universe.

I also like the paragraph-level revising part of writing — the act of striking and smoothing and tweaking and rearranging and reading sentences out loud so I can taste them and see if they need more black pepper.I like writing to be visceral. I want it to feel like slam-dancing at a punk rock concert or starring in a Mad Max movie.

PEDAL TO THE METAL, BABY, BLAST THAT FLAMING GUITAR AND LETS GOOOOOO!!!!!

So, you know, writing as a rush, an ecstatic experience. That’s the fun part. And who wouldn’t want life to always be the fun part?

There are probably writers who pants everything for their whole careers and never have to change because it always works for them. (I get the impression Stephen King is a bit of a pantser) But for me, it had turned into a trap. I’ve talked before about my sophomore slump — after successfully pantsing one novel, all my follow-up attempts seemed to die around the 40,000 word mark.

I even intuited that the problem might be one of planning. I tried to write a few novel outlines, based on examples I had seen online. These examples were very dry and formal — this chapter, this happens, next chapter, this happens. It wasn’t fun to write the outlines. It wasn’t fun to try writing books based on these outlines. And they still died, a particularly ignoble death, right around 40,000 words.

Plotting was a bust, so I went back to pantsing.

During Clarion West, I was writing short stories. It seemed absurd to try plotting something that’s only 3500 – 5000 words, so I did it once, and when that story wasn’t better or easier to write than the others, I didn’t try it again.

!!!PANTS FOREVER!!!!

After the workshop I wrote a second novel (pantsed of course) which I was just about to think about revising and sending around, when I started working on this idea I had about werewolves. It started as a kind of unwieldy short story that I didn’t want to stop writing. I kept on writing (pantsing all the way) until I had a first draft of a whole novel. It took about a year, more or less as expected.

But it was terrible.

Okay, maybe not terrible-terrible. But… boring. Trust me, when I find my own words boring, everyone else will too. I’m the most sympathetic audience there could ever be for my own writing. (At first, anyway. After a while I start to hate everything I’ve ever done, but that’s just Writer Angst.)

So I thought about it and made some notes and read a few “how to write” books and figured out where I went wrong (so I thought) and wrote another draft. Still mostly pantsed, but the first draft was my roadmap this time, and it only took about two months to write a draft that wasn’t quite so boring. So that version became my “shape it up and try to sell it” text, and that went on for a few months, including some very helpful critique sessions and first readers, and all of us agreed on one flaw: it started a bit slow. And that’s no good when you’re trying to sell a first novel, is it?

That’s when I enlisted the services of Anne Mini, as a professional fresh set of eyes to help me with the submission process. We had a very nice brainstorming session, and it was her idea to begin with a flashback to the character as a teenager. So I wrote that. We both thought it was a big improvement. But then I couldn’t seem to bridge the gap between the flashback and the present day, and she suggested setting the whole thing when the protagonist is a teenager and making it YA.

Nooooooo, I wailed to myself. I can’t rewrite it agaaaaaaaiiiiiiinnnnnn…..

(Engine in brain turns over, sputters to life.)

But if I did, it would look like…

So I wrote an outline.

Actually, I wrote a synopsis. A synopsis is this thing — it’s kind of like a narrative abstract of a novel — anyway, you’re supposed to write one when you’re trying to sell a novel, so I had a lot of practice trying to write them, even though I felt like I was always wretchedly bad at it. But those were synposis for books I had already written. This one — where I hadn’t written the book yet, but had a wealth of material to draw on — just seemed to fall into place.

When I wrote a new version of the novel according to the synopsis, that went pretty well too. There were things that weren’t in the synopsis, and things that diverged from the synopsis. But overall, having the synopsis helped a lot. It was like trying to navigate a strange city, and for the first time I had a map.

So what was the difference between my synopsis and the outlines I tried earlier? The synopsis was a narrative in its own right. It focused on the dominant conflicts and story turns — this happens, but then this complicates things, so this other thing happens, and that makes it worse, so the protagonist does this. None of that specifies where the chapter breaks occur. It doesn’t note number or length of scenes, or insist that the scenes happen in a particular order. It implies, but doesn’t spell out, secondary conflicts.

When I tried to write outlines previously, it was more like following a series of Mapquest instructions, without actually having a map. Turn left here, turn right here. And that can work, probably, if the instructions are accurate and you don’t make any wrong turns and your way is never blocked by construction and you don’t have the world’s worst sense of direction. But I need more than a set of instructions. I need to know where I am.

So I had discovered that just heading in a particular direction with no idea what the terrain looked like was fun, but I often got lost and didn’t know how to find my way back. Outlining a series of rigid directions wasn’t fun, and I still got lost. A narrative outline helped keep me oriented in space, so that I didn’t waste so much effort tromping through the blackberry vines just to get to a brick wall.

A narrative synopsis can take a while to write — and it can feel like you’re not being very productive when you spend weeks and weeks working on something that needs to be, at most, about 3,000 words. And it won’t fix every problem. I finished a draft of the Waking Up Naked in Strange Places sequel (still looking for the right catchy name) based on a narrative synopsis, but I still didn’t like it very much, so now I’m writing a new synopsis before tackling version 2 of the book itself.

I don’t regret the time I spent pantsing, the hundreds of thousands of words spilled, because it was practice. And I still think I’m often going to pants first drafts of novels, on the theory that you have to explore the territory before you can map it. But I’m never going to try to write a final version without a synopsis again. And that’s why I describe myself as a reformed pantser.

Originally published at Goth House: Julie McGalliard lives here. You can comment here or there.

Hugos 2015 roundup: Part 2

Some more Hugo nominees I’ve read, in no particular order:

Title: Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium

Author: Gray Rinehart

Published in: Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show

Category: Novelette

Slated: Sad and Rabid

Premise: A dying man tries to free a human colony from its alien conquerors by arranging to be buried after death, a custom the aliens find abhorrent.

Where it grabbed me: The writing isn’t bad, and I liked the details on the human-alien interaction.

Where it lost me: It’s talky and the characters feel generic. Also, I was never fully convinced by its central premise — the alien horror of burial ends up feeling arbitrary and not entirely satisfying, a made-up solution to a made-up problem.

Did I like it? Kinda?

Does it deserve a Hugo? Maybe?

Title: One Bright Star to Guide Them

Author: John C. Wright

Published in: Castalia House

Category: Novella

Slated: Sad and Rabid

Premise: A gray middle-aged man who spent his childhood in Narnia, except it’s not called Narnia, is revisited by his old friend Tybalt the talking cat, and set to the task of rounding up the old gang to defend England from a magical threat.

Where it grabbed me: Well… it has a talking cat.

Where it lost me: This one stayed interesting for a couple of pages, but once the cat shows up everything turns to a mush of mismatched fantasy concepts and stilted would-be-poetic writing. Every sentence is drenched in superfluous words, and not one of them ever seems like the right word. It’s impossible to follow the action, believe in the characters, or take any of it seriously.

Did I like it? No, although its sheer what-the-hell-ness was sometimes briefly entertaining. Like, apparently one of the old gang has gone over to the other side, which is demonstrated by the fact that he traded the sword-that-was-broken for a Plague Doctor mask, forced a girl get an abortion, and made his college fraternity brothers sacrifice a goat then cavort around it naked and cutting themselves like something out of a medieval anti-witchcraft pamphlet, and… oh, it just goes on and on. And on. And on. It’s a novella, you know. I started skimming. I think at the end the cat comes back from the dead and gives the protagonist a theology lecture.

Does it deserve a Hugo? You’ve got to be kidding. Maybe a spot at the next Turkey Readings.

Title: The Goblin Emperor

Author: Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette)

Category: Novel

Slated: No

Premise: The very much unfavored half-goblin son of the emperor is thrust unexpectedly into rule when his father and older brothers are killed in an airship accident.

Where it grabbed me: The first chapter or so, while the premise is being set up, is engaging.

Where it lost me: Once they get to the palace it turns into a court intrigue fantasy, a type that almost never works for me, no matter how well-written. About fifty pages in I gave up.

Did I like it? I wanted to like it. It’s a friendly, likable book. But… court intrigue bores me, there’s just no getting around it.

Does it deserve a Hugo? It might. “Good but REALLY not my thing” can be hard to evaluate.

Title: A Single Samurai

Author: Steven Diamond

Published in: The Baen Big Book of Monsters

Category: Short Story

Slated: Sad only

Premise: A Samurai rides on the back of a mountain-sized monster and tries to figure out how to kill it.

Where it grabbed me: Some of the monster and destruction imagery is effective.

Where it lost me: A lot of it feels very generic, and the Samurai culture bits aren’t convincing.

Did I like it? I didn’t hate it. But I read it and instantly forgot about it.

Does it deserve a Hugo? No.

Title: On the Spiriual Plain

Author: Lou Antonelli

Published in: Sci Phi

Category: Short story

Slated: Sad and rabid

Premise: On an alien planet where the strong magnetic field keeps dead souls hanging around as ghosts, a human chaplain leads one soul to freedom.

Where it grabbed me: It seemed like a cool premise

Where it lost me: The writing is flat and full of tedious explanations of abstract concepts. I would have enjoyed something that really explored what it felt like to live in a world full of ghosts, but didn’t get that here. Nothing much happens in this story except that we’re introduced to the premise. There’s no conflict, no surprises, and no depth to its exploration of the concept.

Did I like it? No.

Does it deserve a Hugo? No.

Title: Big Boys Don’t Cry

Author: Tom Kratman

Published in: Castalia House

Category: Novella

Slated: Sad and rabid

Premise: A damaged war machine AI contemplates her “life” as she is about to be dismantled.

Where it grabbed me: It didn’t.

Where it lost me: The writing didn’t jump out at me as being bad or incompetent, but it failed completely to engage my interest. I started it three times, and every time, by the second or third page I realized that my brain had already wandered off and I had no idea what was happening.

Did I like it? No.

Does it deserve a Hugo? Probably not.

Title: Flow

Author: Arlan Andrews Sr.

Published in: Analog

Category: Novella

Slated: Sad and rabid

Premise: In a post-apocalyptic world that has come to vaguely resemble the setting for a Conan story, an iceberg dealer floats his wares to the warm lands and… I dunno, stuff happens I guess.

Where it grabbed me: It didn’t.

Where it lost me: The first few pages were promising as setup, but then it gets to the point where something should start to happen, and nothing happens. Two guys wander around while one guy tells the other guy about their culture. It’s like the world’s most boring walking tour. I think the protagonist irritates some priests at one point but by then I didn’t care and was finding it impossible to pay attention. It also really bugged me that women are called “wen” for no obvious reason, while most words haven’t changed. Was it supposed to be some clue about the nature of the apocalypse? Was there a meaning that I missed? Or was it nothing more than a freakishly obvious and peculiar way of othering female characters?

Did I like it? No.

Does it deserve a Hugo? No.

Originally published at Goth House: Julie McGalliard lives here. You can comment here or there.

Hugos 2015 roundup: Part 1

I’ve been reading the fiction that came in my Hugo packet and, with the vote deadline looming at the end of July, decided it was time to corral my scattered thoughts. In no particular order, here are some things I’ve read so far:

Title: Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal

Author: written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt

Category: Graphic story

Slated: No

Premise: A teenage daughter of conservative Muslim immigrant parents struggles to reconcile her different worlds, a struggle that becomes infinitely more complicated when she gets super powers and becomes the new Ms. Marvel.

Where it grabbed me: The art is lovely. The characters are engaging. Overall it’s a very warm book, where it’s obvious she and her parents love each other even while they’re arguing.

Where it lost me: In structure it’s very much a by-the-numbers superhero origin story, and adheres to most of the dominant conventions of the costumed hero sub-genre.

Did I like it? Yes.

Does it deserve a Hugo? Yes.

Title: Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery

Author: written by Kurtis J. Weibe, art by Roc Upchurch

Category: Graphic story

Slated: No

Premise: In a fantasy world based (humorously) on D&D campaigns, the Rat Queens are a team of four adventurers with foul mouths, troublemaking ways, and mad fighting skills. This angers someone in the town, who tries to get them killed. But who is it?

Where it grabbed me: Imaginative and sometimes very funny.

Where it lost me: The Rat Queens are engaging at first, but by the end of the book, they were starting to feel very one-note, and their personalities weren’t distinct enough from each other. Also, the art is weak. Good character design, but then we see those characters in a limited range of poses, expressions, and camera angles. Plus, their environments are simple and lacking in depth and texture.

Did I like it? Kinda-sorta?

Does it deserve a Hugo? Kinda-sorta?

Title: Saga Volume 3

Author: written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples

Category: Graphic Story

Slated: No

Premise: Two people from different species fighting on opposite sides of an intergalactic war fall in love and have a baby. They intersect with a variety of fantastical characters and situations in their attempt to avoid being captured or killed by those who disapprove of their relationship.

Where it grabbed me: Beautiful art. Compelling story. Vast imagination.

Where it lost me: I was very conscious of having been dropped into the middle of a complicated ongoing story.

Did I like it? A whole bunch.

Does it deserve a Hugo? A whole bunch.

Title: Sex Criminals Volume 1: One Weird Trick

Author: written by Matt Fraction, art by Chip Zdarsky

Category: Graphic Story

Slated: No

Premise: A woman who literally stops time when she orgasms hooks up with a man who does the same thing. But when he pushes her into helping him revenge-rob a bank, they discover that they are far from the only people with this ability.

Where it grabbed me: I liked the voice of the viewpoint character and ended up feeling deeply for her emotional state. The moody art and emotionally mature feel reminded me of why I liked reading Vertigo comics in the 90s. The premise sounded cheesy and I was ready to find it gross. But instead it’s honest and thoughtful.

Where it lost me: NOWHERE.

Did I like it? YES YES YES YES YES

Does it deserve a Hugo? YES YES YES YES YES

Title: The Day the World Turned Upside Down

Author: Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Lia Belt translator

Published in: Lightspeed

Category: Novelette

Slated: No

Premise: One day gravity reverses itself and everything not attached to the ground starts being flung out into space. A man who is upset that his girlfriend left him makes a dangerous journey through this upside-down world to return a goldfish.

Where it grabbed me: Some of the imagery is striking.

Where it lost me: I had difficulty picturing what things looked like, most of the time. The story isn’t careful about use of terms like “up” and “down” and has a tendency to go into metaphors and abstractions at exactly the wrong moment. Also, I hate-hate-hated the viewpoint character. He’s a self-pitying misogynist jerk.

Did I like it? Not really.

Does it deserve a Hugo? No.

Title: Turncoat

Author: Steve Rzasa

Published in: Riding the Red Horse

Category: Short Story

Slated: Rabid only

Premise: The AI in charge of a battle spaceship develops a conscience for some reason and switches sides in the middle of combat.

Where it grabbed me: It didn’t.

Where it lost me: Early on it goes into a tedious techno-dump and never recovers. If you read the title, you already know the “twist” ending. If you have ever read or watched any science fiction ever, you will have encountered every single one of its concepts many times, by people who did it better.

After skimming it and tossing it aside, I was inspired — by at least one person seeming to like it sincerely — to go back and read it more carefully in case it had merit I missed the first time. But, no. The more carefully I read it, the worse it got, as the inconsistent voice, thin characters, obvious cliches, dull info-dumps, and vaguely-imagined environment quickly smothered the tiniest spark of interest. It fails in every way a story can fail.

However, this does increase my confidence that if a story doesn’t grab me relatively quickly, it never will.

Did I like it? No, not at all.

Does it deserve a Hugo? Not even remotely.

Title: The Parliament of Beasts and Birds

Author: John C. Wright

Published in: The Book of Feasts & Seasons

Category: Short story

Slated: Rabid only

Premise: A fable-ish fantasy about animals gathering after the fall of humans. Excuse me, the fall of Man. A bit of a rehash of C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle

Where it grabbed me: It didn’t.

Where it lost me: Early on, I realized I was in the hands of a writer with the unfortunate combination of literary pretensions and a tin ear. I skimmed the rest and it didn’t get any better. Ponderous, self-important, and dull.

(Also — and I mention this as an aside, because I don’t think it influenced my evaluation of the story overall — while The Book of Feasts & Seasons doesn’t especially bother me as a title for a collection, and “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds” doesn’t especially bother me as a title, for some reason I find the combination extraordinarily grating.)

Did I like it? No.

Does it deserve a Hugo? Absolutely not.

Title: Totaled

Author: Kary English

Published in: Galaxy’s Edge

Category: Short Story

Slated: Sad and Rabid

Premise: In a world where medical care is based on projected economic earnings, a catastrophic accident leaves a researcher as, basically, a brain in a jar. She struggles to communicate with her partner to accomplish one final research breakthrough before her mental functions shut down entirely.

Where it grabbed me: I liked the details on her attempts to communicate with her partner, and the final scenes, where she’s losing herself, were touching.

Where it lost me: It completely fails to engage a large part of its SFinal premise. The fact that they live in a world where people get “totaled” provides the mechanism by which the viewpoint character ends up as a brain in a jar, but after that it doesn’t affect the story at all.

Did I like it? More or less.

Does it deserve a Hugo? Eh… not really. I think the failure to fully engage its premise is a pretty big flaw in a Hugo nominee.

Originally published at Goth House: Julie McGalliard lives here. You can comment here or there.

Part of the 2015 Clarion West Write-a-thon series! Sponsor me, sponsor another writer, or learn more about the Write-a-thon

Writing six stories in six weeks means six ideas, right?

At least, that’s what I thought during my do-it-yourself Clarion West shadow workshop. With a deadline only I cared about, and nobody critiquing the stories but me, I still put in a good faith effort to write six stories. But only one of them ended up being a finished story of the type that I might hypothetically submit for publication somewhere. The others were a collection of scenes and notes and fragments. I kicked them around until the end of the week, then moved on to trying to think of something else.

But when I was at the actual workshop, I did something completely different. If I worked on an idea for a couple of days and it just wasn’t coming together, I came up with a new idea. And if I spent a day on that one and it wasn’t working either, it was time for ANOTHER new idea. Then, if that one failed too, with the deadline looming, I would go into a panic spiral of poking at the first one again, then the second one, then the third one, then casting about wildly for something completely different, something, anything…

And then I’d have something. And it would be a story — maybe not much of a story, but still, an actual story. And I would turn it in.

I learned something I should have already known, which is this: ideas are cheap.

That can be weirdly hard to accept, sometimes. We seem to have a cultural notion that ideas are precious and rare, like jewels. People ask where you get them, or worry about them getting stolen, or try to show them off at parties, like engagement rings. Just look at my beautiful idea! Isn’t it shiny? See how it catches the light?

Maybe this is because we know that magnificent things start with ideas. Before you can build that invention, or write that story, you have to have the idea for it. When you work backwards, an idea that really pays off can look like some divine universal force tapping you on the shoulder and saying, “Ah-hem! Here is this thing you need to do. Trust me!” It looks like a straight line of causality. Have great ideas — work really hard — have great thing to show for it.

But ideas are more like cherry blossoms. Beautiful, certainly. But most of them fall on the ground without ever becoming fruit. Nature doesn’t invest everything in that one perfect blossom that’s going to become that one perfect cherry. Nature is profligate. Nature snows down cherry blossoms in abundance, on the general principle that some of them will become fruit, and some of the fruit will become new trees.

From the creative end, the idea that never pays off can look an awful lot like the idea that makes you rich and famous. We revere Leonardo da Vinci for his beautiful drawings of fantastical inventions — but he never actually built any of them. (We think.)

If one idea is failing, it’s okay to move on. There’s going to be a next idea. Maybe the idea that you abandon seemed profound, and your next idea seems kind of ridiculous, but that shouldn’t matter. In order for an idea to be brilliant, you have to use it to write a brilliant story. Which is finished. The finished part is very important.

On the other hand, if you start and abandon ideas by the dozens without ever finishing anything, that’s not going to work either. Because the thing that both extremes have in common, is that you don’t finish writing the story. Did I mention that the finished part is very important?

So how do you know when to give up on an idea, and when to keep on trying to make it work? For me, it came down to recognizing the difference between the idea for a story, and the idea of a story.

What do I mean by that? An idea for a story is something that, when you kick it around in your head, starts to generate concrete story bits: scenes, characters, dialog, plot points. An idea of a story is more like a vague notion of how you want it to turn out. You know, do you want literary prizes, or pulp success? Do you want to write the next Harry Potter, or the next “great American novel” (TM) ?

You can take certainly the abstract idea of a story and start turning it into an idea for a story — when you write something for a themed anthology, for example. But you have to find some way to bridge the gap between “it needs to be about garden gnomes” to “here’s a story about garden gnomes I want to tell” before you have much hope of turning out a finished piece.

For me, the difference between “idea of” and “idea for” could be subtle. I would have all these scenes that I could imagine having written — and, you know, I have a pretty vivid imagination. So it would seem as if these scenes already existed somehow, in the creative ether, and all I had to do was figure out how to write them. And they would be elusive and tantalizing, hovering juuuuust beyond where I could reach. I knew I could write them if only I figured out how — if only I ran at the problem enough times from enough different angles.

But it was like those amazing ideas that come to you in dreams, where they seem like the best ideas you ever had, if only you could remember them. But your sense that these ideas are so fantastic is part of the illusion. You dreamed you had a wondrous idea, which is entirely different from actually dreaming a wondrous idea.

All that said, sometimes it’s true that you can’t write a particular scene right this moment, but you could write that scene at a different moment. How many times should you try to write the scene before deciding you can’t? And deciding that if your plot really requires that scene, you have to change your plot? And then deciding that if you have to keep changing your plot because you keep inventing scenes you can’t write, that maybe you’ve gone wrong somewhere more fundamental, and the whole idea is a bust?

Exactly three times.

Ha, just kidding.

Really, I can’t tell you. It’s something you can get a sense for, though, and that’s where the tight deadlines and real group accountability of Clarion West helped me. With forced practice, I started to be able to tell the difference between an idea that was really an idea, and an idea that was just the notion of an idea.

And that leads me to my topic for next time — Confessions of a Reformed Pantser.

Originally published at Goth House: Julie McGalliard lives here. You can comment here or there.

Part of the 2015 Clarion West Write-a-thon series! Sponsor me, sponsor another writer, or learn more about the Write-a-thon

For my second Write-a-thon topic, I want to tackle the last thought in my notebook:

Sometimes I like my work. Sometimes I hate it. I don’t know which time I’m correct.

When I did my shadow Clarion West, I knew that there was one thing a real student would get that I didn’t get: critiques. What I didn’t know was that giving critiques, and listening to the critiques of others, was actually the more significant experience. (Discussed here in last year’s Write-a-thon post, The lifelong workshop.)

Prior to the workshop, I think I had a fuzzy image of an idealized crit session lurking somewhere in the back of my mind, and had the equally inchoate notion that Clarion West would magically provide it. I thought it would tell me the answers to all my questions. When is my work good? For real? When it’s bad, how can I fix it? How can I take this collection of creepy scenes about ants and turn it into a story?

The problem is, no crit group will ever actually tell you that. You give them a story, and you know you spent the first few scenes just noodling around trying to figure out what the story was, and you hope they won’t notice, but they always do. You give them a story without a real ending, hoping either that they won’t notice (they do) or that they’ll be able to tell you how to end it (they won’t.)

You hope they’ll all either love it or hate it, which will give you the definitive answer about whether the story is any good. But instead, what happens is that everybody is “meh” about it except for one person who just loves it. And for all you know, if you do send it out, you will happen to snag that one editor who feels exactly the same.

But, you know, probably not.

A crit group can help you a lot, but they’ll never be able to simply tell you what to do. They can’t tell you how to end your story. They can’t tell you what your story is about. They can’t tell you if it’s worth trying to get it published. They can’t tell you how to fix that one bit that you already know is a problem. What they can do is make suggestions and give impressions, and if you’re lucky, the lightbulb goes on in your own head, and now you know how the story ends, or what it’s about, or how to fix that one bit, or whether it’s worth it.

Ultimately, no matter what anyone ever tells you about your work, it’s your work, and you’re the only one who can do it. That’s the point, right? Isn’t that why you’re bothering in the first place? You can’t assume you’re going to be better in some ultimate objective sense than the great writers already doing it, but you can be better at writing the kinds of stories you write. On some level, you believe that’s worth doing, or you wouldn’t be here.

On some level. But on other levels, you doubt yourself. Why am I doing this? Why am I bothering? Why do I think it matters? And sometimes we get the external validation that seems to confirm our sense that it matters — a story is published, or praised — but those doubts always return. Maybe Stephen King never doubts his chosen path, because it’s made him gazillions of dollars, and he’s famous. (But you know, I bet he does doubt. Sometimes.) The rest of us? We doubt.

I tend to see this in existential terms, as a crisis of faith. And my answer is to give myself the existentialist pep talk: if nothing matters anyway, you might as well try to make art. It might pay off. And even if it doesn’t, well, it’s not like you’re worse off.

The Shadow Workshop, where you’re writing alone in your room, though — it’s not always the best place to rekindle your faith. That’s why religions have meetings.

It’s also why I do the Write-a-thon. It’s not only a chance to give back something to Clarion West, it’s also a ceremony, a ritual, a way of reminding myself why I think any of this is worth doing.

Originally published at Goth House: Julie McGalliard lives here. You can comment here or there.

The Shadow Workshop [1] : Ants & housework

Part of the 2015 Clarion West Write-a-thon series! Sponsor me, sponsor another writer, or learn more about the Write-a-thon

Memory is funny. I would have sworn that the first time I tried my own do-it-yourself Clarion West Write-a-thon was the first year I applied, but didn’t get in — 2002. But I also keep notebooks, and discovered that my memory is faulty. My first “Clarion Rejects Write-a-thon” was actually in 2004, which was the second time I applied but didn’t get in.

My goal was to write six short stories in six weeks, which was the Clarion West Challenge as I understood it. I did manage to write six — things. Most of them weren’t stories so much as a few promising scenes pointing at the inkling of a notion of an idea that could, in theory, turn into a story.

One was about ants. I remember, it was a dry June, and ants swarmed out of seemingly every crack in the sidewalk, as if the ground underneath were made of ants — the entire planet, nothing but ants. I still think about that image in summer when the ants come back. It was memorable. But it wasn’t really a story.

At the end of the six weeks, I wrote a few observations in my notebook:

  • Domestic responsibilities take up a lot of time, even when I deliberately try to slack off on them.
  • The impulse to goof off rises when I’m not excited by my idea. When I am excited, working on the idea is its own reward.
  • I like writing dialog.
  • I sometimes put barriers up that are wholly artificial. Like, “I have to finish this thing before I work on this other thing.”
  • Six weeks is longer than it seems at first.
  • Sometimes I like my work. Sometimes I hate it. I don’t know which time I’m correct.

After that first Write-a-thon attempt — unofficial, unannounced, unknown to anybody but me and my husband — I felt sort of let down by the process. I wasn’t sure if it was worth it. I couldn’t tell if I learned anything. I had those little observations in my notebook, true. But were they really of any value?

Yes. And no. I think I learned more than I realized at the time. It took attending the actual workshop a couple of years later to show me what I’d learned — to enable me to talk about it.

Last year, my essay theme was “What did I learn at Clarion West?” This year, my essay theme is “What did I learn during my do-it-yourself Clarion Rejects Write-a-thon that I didn’t know I’d learned and couldn’t express until after attending Clarion West?”

But that’s pretty long. So I’m just going to call it the Shadow Workshop, because that sounds kinda cool.

Since it took me a ridiculously long time to write the above introduction, I’m going to jump right into the first topic, which is the first observation in my notebook:

Domestic responsibilities take up a lot of time, even when I deliberately try to slack off on them.

It reminded me of this:

“a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

During the original Shadow Workshop, I tried to have a room of my own. Paul’s room was the only truly private room in the house, since my own bedroom was the access point for the bathroom, so we cleaned it out to be a writing space. I appreciated the effort, but found it a little depressing to be in there. It was small and cramped and dull, and I didn’t notice any immediate benefit from the privacy. Maybe Virginia Woolf was wrong. Maybe I should go back to writing in the kitchen.

But then, when I did go to Clarion West, I discovered something much better and more powerful than a mere room of one’s own:

NO BLOODY HOUSEWORK

I suppose it should have occurred to me. But in all the stories I’d heard about Clarion West, it had never come up. We talked about what it had: the critiquing, the socializing, the in-jokes, the pressure, the breakthroughs. We never talked about what it didn’t have. You know, things like housework.

The last time I spent six weeks without housework, I was a college student, and unable to fully appreciate it, as I had spent the first seventeen years of my life without doing much in the way of housework. In fact, I had to do more housework in college, because I had to do my own laundry for the first time. My college experience was one of being eased gradually into domestic adulthood. First you live on campus and you have to do your own laundry, but somebody else is still cooking for you.

Then you live off campus and have to do your own cooking, but you’re young and your body is forgiving and for months at a time you can get away with eating things like ramen or packages of Kraft Dinner mixed with tuna (from a can) and green beans (from a can). There’s four of you in the house, plus steady dates, plus friends wandering in and out, and somebody is probably cleaning the bathroom more often than is strictly fair, but it’s difficult to tell who. Plus, you’re moving every couple of years, which tends to keep things from getting too disgusting. More importantly, it means that you can successfully put certain kinds of things out of your mind, because you know you can deal with them when you move out.

But then you pair off, getting married or otherwise long-term partnered (BRIEF WOOHOO ABOUT SCOTUS PRO-MARRIAGE-EQUALITY DECISION YEAH!!!!) and for a while things get very nice and cozy. The bathroom stays a lot cleaner. Maybe you start eating vegetables. But that domesticity has a dark side. When there are only two of you — two adults — if only one of you is really cleaning the bathroom or cooking or doing dishes or keeping up on the recycling, that becomes starkly obvious. You can’t take comfort in putting things off until you move anymore. For one thing, you might live in the same place for five, ten, fifteen, twenty years. And even when you do move, things don’t change in the same way, because you have the same roommate.

Not only that, but as you get older, housework of all kinds gets more complicated. More bills, more history, more planning, more things to manage. You take care of children, or elderly parents. You buy a house, sell a house, lose a house. Get a job, lose a job, look for a new job. Go back to school. Accumulate assets. Cash in assets. Make plans. Make new plans when your old plans become impossible. And everything, everything involves so much paperwork.

Where was I?

Oh yeah. Domestic responsibilities.

So the thing about Clarion West is, for six weeks, you get away from all that. All you really have to do is pick up after yourself, and do your own laundry, and write. (And critique, but I’ll get to that in a future essay.) Six weeks is probably the ideal amount of time for that. Plenty of time to get away from your usual headspace, but any longer, and your life would start to catch up with you.

But even getting away for a week, or a weekend, can accomplish some of that. You could try a retreat, or a summer camp, or a weekend by yourself, or anything.

(Not a cruise, though, unless it’s a cruise specifically for writers. I found that on our Alaska cruise, the boat seemed to be deliberately engineered so that finding a quiet place to think for any prolonged period of time was well-nigh impossible, as I discovered during a previous Write-a-thon )

It’s not just about not having to do housework — it’s also about not being surrounded by the tactile reminders that housework is a thing that needs to be done. So you can say to yourself, “well, I’m simply not going to clean the bathroom for six weeks,” but then if the bathroom starts to get squicky, the mental pressure builds up and eventually cleaning happens anyway, but grudgingly, accompanied by angst.

You can shove all incoming papers into a drawer, but if you pass the drawer every day you stare at it knowing it’s full of papers that you have to deal with, and that knowledge squats in your head, growing like a tumor. Inside your own house, you’re surrounded by a chorus of nagging, gibbering ghosts. Clean this. Sort this. Put this away. Decide what to do about this. Past and future demand that you provide an accounting. Mop up your regrets. Clear a space for your hopes. Get to work.

Our brains are plastic, and helpful. They get better at whatever it is we ask them to work at. That’s why it can be so important to get away — to go to a place where writing, and thinking about writing, is the only work you have to do.

 

Footnotes:The Brain that Changes Itself, a non-fiction book that literally everyone should read.Rainforest Writers Village, my favorite writing retreat.</p>

Taos Toolbox, Viable Paradise, and Cascade Writers, three highly-regarded SF&F workshops that are shorter than Clarion West.

Clarion West one-day workshops

Camp NaNoWriMo

Originally published at Goth House: Julie McGalliard lives here. You can comment here or there.

I decided to read this one when a friend wanted to talk about it, without prejudicing me by indicating exactly what bits she wanted to talk about.

(This is probably one of the top five ways to get me to read something. Piquing my curiosity and promising me that we’ll have an interesting discussion about it afterward.)

So I read it. It wasn’t terrible, although the first few paragraphs are really weak and it’s possible I would have tossed it aside without the additional impetus of a friend wanting to talk about it. But once I got to the hook, it sucked me in enough for me to actually finish it without a struggle.

But overall it didn’t work for me, even though I’m partial to stories where weird things happen for no reason. Last year’s Hugo winner, “The Water That Falls on You From Nowhere,” was a perfect example. That story made me believe in the impossible through great attention to the concrete sensory details of its strange phenomenon, well-considered parameters for the phenomenon itself, and action strongly driven by people reacting to this new strange thing in their world.

“The Day the World Turned Upside Down” has a premise that is much harder to believe in. As soon as I was introduced to it, I thought, “wait, how would that work, exactly?” and the story never overcomes that initial confusion. Just as a contrast, here’s the opener of each one:

The water that falls on you from nowhere when you lie is perfectly ordinary, but perfectly pure. True fact. I tested it myself when the water started falling a few weeks ago. Everyone on Earth did. Everyone with any sense of lab safety anyway. Never assume any liquid is just water. When you say “I always document my experiments as I go along,” enough water falls to test, but not so much that you have to mop up the lab. Which lie doesn’t matter. The liquid tests as distilled water every time.

That day, the world turned upside down.

We didn’t know why it happened. Some of us wondered whether it was our fault. Whether we had been praying to the wrong gods, or whether we had said the wrong things. But it wasn’t like that—the world simply turned upside down.

Scientists lucky enough to survive the event said that it wasn’t so much that gravity had disappeared, but that it had flipped over, as if our planet had suddenly lost all of its mass and was surrounded by some colossal object. Religious people, unlucky enough to survive the miracle, said that life was give and take, and that God was now, after so many years of giving, finally taking. But there was no colossal object, and being taken by God is a dubious given.

This is actually a pretty good example of what your crit group means when they say “show, don’t tell.” The first example shows, the second example tells. And since our world is a sphere, my first thought is “how exactly does a sphere turn upside down?” and instead of answering that right away, it goes into abstract speculation about gods. The crucial information, that it was “as if our planet had suddenly lost all of its mass and was surrounded by some colossal object” is buried in more random speculation.

Another example, from later on in the story:

She was hanging from the bars, her knuckles white, her legs in the void, and her back turned so I couldn’t see her face. On her arms, two oh-so-bothersome Kroger bags were trying to drag her down.

With extreme care, I raised myself up and opened the upturned window. My heart in my throat, and my hands on the window frame, I leaned out. “Ma’am?”

My voice startled her, but she was afraid to look down, worried that the least little shift in balance might make her lose her grip. “I need help!” she shouted, remarkably calm for her remarkably precarious position.

“What happened?” I yelled.

“It’s Christmas time, all right? I can’t hold on for much longer!”

So, that should be a really tense situation — I think it’s a woman hanging off a piece of playground equipment about to be flung into the void? But somehow it’s got all the wrong details. “On her arms, two oh-so-bothersome Kroger bags were trying to drag her down.” That little “oh-so-bothersome” interjection is really distracting and has completely the wrong tone, almost jokey, while the use of “trying to drag her down” really threw me off — does he mean down or up? And the first time I read it, “It’s Christmas time, all right?” seemed like a completely bizarre non-sequitur, but on a re-read, I think maybe it’s meant to indicate that she’s really invested in these bags for some reason? But if it really is Christmas time, we should have noticed that before now, and if it isn’t, if she’s just lost her mind and started spouting random nonsense, then that should also be clearer.

I also found it annoying that the story kept directing my attention to its metaphors — sheesh, I get it, your world turned upside down when she left you, you’re the fish, whatever. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO KEEP REMINDING US OF THESE THINGS AS THEY ARE SUPER OBVIOUS TO ANYONE WHO HAS EVER BEEN THROUGH FRESHMAN ENGLISH LIT.

Finally, I pretty much hated the viewpoint character, so I was never particularly invested in what happened to him. He comes across as really self-involved and self-pitying, with an ugly streak of sexual jealousy smeared on top. He’s like an insert character for the kind of guys who un-ironically talk about getting “friendzoned” or how they’re such Nice Guys (TM), how could she possibly leave him for that creep?

The only thing that really kept me going was the hope that the extraordinary events of the story would cause him to realize he was a self-involved whiner and grow up a little, but if that happened, I missed it. I think he ends the story with a suicidal gesture, just as self-pitying as he was at the beginning. But it’s hard to tell, because the story goes into abstract rumination mode too often for me to be sure I’ve got the actions of the characters right. Observe:

Back downstairs you were leaning out of the kitchen window, stooped beneath the weight of missed opportunities. You were crying. Below me, on the gangway leading away from you, the ID cards with his picture on them slowly fluttered down. I gazed at you cold-faced. Yes, you needed time for yourself, and yes, I understood you needed to discover who you wanted to be. I understood your desire for a quieter place without promises and confessions. I would even have forgiven you your mistakes. You were my world. But the world had repelled everything. More logic than any human being could comprehend and more human beings than was comprehensibly logical . . . anything but the revolting image of you crying for someone else and the dawning realization that there was no longer any room for me in this reality you had created.

So… what does that look like exactly?

Anyway, this falls into a kind of uncanny valley for me, where it’s not poetic enough for me to accept it purely as metaphor, or well-considered enough for me to really believe in it as spec fic.

Originally published at Goth House: Julie McGalliard lives here. You can comment here or there.

Over the weekend I made an attempt at all the Hugo nominees for short story. I actually finished two of them. They still weren’t exactly Hugo material, in my opinion, but at least they succeeded at being stories.

In one of the many epic discussion threads over at the File 770 Hugo-related posts (which all have marvelous puppy-themed names like “That Hell-Hound Train” or “Soylent Green is Puppies”) a few people asserted that the Sads-n-Rabids didn’t really seem to like their own fiction slate all that much. They argued for the correctness of their tactics, the strength of their personal honor, and the venality of their critics — but they didn’t try to justify the stories themselves.

This prompted one Sad defender to jump in and claim, with apparent sincerity, that he genuinely liked the story “Turncoat.” He vigorously defended it against a dozen people telling him it was crap, anyway.

This made me curious. Was there something good in there that I had missed? Or something that, if not good, was at least illuminating? Something that would tell me what exactly it is that Sad & Rabid types think is “wrong” with the fiction the rest of us like?

So, instead of giving it a slush pile read (tossed aside at first hint of boredom or irritation) I decided to give it a crit group reading — carefully, making notes along the way, with an eye toward how it might be improved, a presumption of good will, and en effort to suppress my native snark.

My notes (based on text found here: https://steverzasa.wordpress.com/turncoat/ ) follow:

Read the rest of this entry »Collapse )

Originally published at Goth House: Julie McGalliard lives here. You can comment here or there.

Fright Night: the remake

The 1985 Fright Night has been one of my favorite vampire movies since college. I knew it was dangerous to see a remake of a movie I love-love-love, but after seeing pictures of David Tennant’s hilariously cheesy (and shirtless!) take on Peter Vincent, finding out that Marti “Buffy” Noxon wrote the script, and seeing nothing but moderately good reviews, I thought, what the hey? I figured I’d be getting a halfway decent vampire movie, if I just forgot this other thing called Fright Night existed.

This is the best thing about the remake, so I’m posting it here. 

I was, sadly, wrong. So very, very wrong.

Spoilers ahead, but suffice to say, my advice to you as a movie fan is, rent a DVD of the original. And my advice to you, Hollywood producers, is stop making all these damned pointless remakes. You could have just asked Marti Noxon to write a vampire comedy featuring high school students, you know? I’m pretty sure it would have been better.
Where to begin with the flaws in this movie? Okay, the title. In the original, “Fright Night” is the name for one of those hosted late-night horror programs on television (you know, the kind local TV stations used to have, and people like Elvira and Vampira hosted). Peter Vincent, who starred as a vampire slayer in innumerable cheap Hammer-esque vampire movies, is the host.
The horror program is integral to the story. Protagonist Charlie Brewster and his girlfriend Amy love watching Fright Night, and when the movie begins — with some hilariously awful vampire movie dialog that proves to be part of the movie on the television — they are making out with Fright Night on in the background. First, Amy gets nervous and tries to cool things down by pointing out to Charlie that Peter Vincent is on the television. Then Amy decides to go for it — all the way — and Charlie is the one who gets distracted, by the sight of new neighbors moving what looks like an elaborately sculpted coffin into the house next door. Amy storms out in a rage.
This is, structurally, a fantastic opening scene. We get introduced to the major characters, conflicts, and themes very economically. It tells you exactly what the movie is going to be about. Also, it’s funny and there’s a lot of tension.

The log line for the movie could be something like, “Life imitates art when a teenage horror fan becomes convinced that his next door neighbor is a vampire.”

The fact that Charlie, and later Peter Vincent, become stars in the real-life version of the kind of movie they obsess over is, you know, the *point*.

Now, those hosted horror programs were already dying in the 80s — in fact, that is also part of the point. Peter Vincent is a has-been, a sad and tired and lonely man way past his prime. In fact, at first, he is willing to get involved with these crazy kids only *because he needs the money*.

In the new movie, Peter Vincent is a cheesy Vegas magician who does a horror-themed show called “Fright Night.” Tennant is fine in the role, and whenever his character is on screen the movie livens up considerably. But it doesn’t thematically tie into anything else. Charlie doesn’t start out as a would-be magician obsessed with Vincent’s show, for example. The idea of life imitating art — which in this case could have been tied to illusions rather than movies — is completely missing. Also missing is the buildup of tension and suspense as Charlie becomes convinced his neighbor is a vampire, while he is unable to convince anyone else.
The log line is more like, “A teenage boy fears for his life when a vampire moves next door.”

I hope it’s obvious why that’s not as interesting.

Also, maybe it’s just me, but I think Peter Vincent as a has-been struggling to maintain what’s left of his dignity is a million times more interesting than Peter Vincent as a wealthy asshole at the top of his game. The movie shows him as an intemperate drinker, but plays it only for laughs, and pretty mild laughs at that. (Among its many sins is the fact that this movie just isn’t very funny.)

In the original, one of the interesting things going on is the way Charlie has had a one-way hero worship relationship with Vincent for many years. And Vincent is clearly torn between being flattered and irritated by that every time he interacts with Charlie. In this movie, Charlie and Vincent don’t have a relationship at all. Charlie simply finds out that Vincent is an occult enthusiast and tries to enlist his help. Which, naturally, he doesn’t give. Then later he does.

BECAUSE A VAMPIRE KILLED HIS PARENTS.

(My name is Peter Vincent, you killed my parents, prepare to die!)

Okay, what? Seriously, the sprinkling of Buffy-style occultism and supernatural melodrama does not work at all in this movie. It’s jarring and weird and feels tacked-on. Fright Night is supposed to be a classic straight-ahead vampire movie. Like Dracula.
Oh, yeah, and another thing. The original Fright Night kind of follows the general story and character templates of Dracula. This movie doesn’t. But it doesn’t follow anything else either. It’s missing that elusive, but fundamental, spark that makes something a story instead of a bunch of stuff that happened.
And the sexual tension is gone. Just — gone. There’s one scene where Charlie (now a bland ex-nerd trying to escape his nerdly past) and Amy (now a bland and improbably hot popular girl) are making out and they have a discussion about the fact that they haven’t had sex yet. But it just comes across as a point of trivia. Oh, they haven’t slept together. Whatever. They don’t recreate the pattern of rising heat, then fear, then the vampire coming between them, which drove the first movie. They don’t have arguments and then make up. In fact, there is no discernible emotional relationship between them at all.
I repeat again. There is NO SEXUAL TENSION in this movie.

Charlie doesn’t have a voyueristic fascination with the vampire’s activities. The vampire doesn’t feed on classy and attractive hookers. The vampire doesn’t seduce Amy. He doesn’t seduce Charlie’s friend Ed (now the nerdy childhood buddy Charlie is embarrassed by). Amy doesn’t come into her own as a sexual being only after her encounter with the vampire. The vampire doesn’t have a casually homoerotic relationship with a ghoulish (but funny) live-in minion.

Okay, let’s talk about the vampire. In the original, Chris Sarandon absolutely nails the vampire as elegant predator with human intelligence. Many of the scenes are driven by a cat and mouse between him and Charlie, where the vampire owns the situation and Charlie is obviously in way over his head. The original has a fantastic nightmarish scene where the vampire is chasing them, and they run and run and run and he just kind of saunters along casually, and yet he is always right behind them.
This movie has only one scene that feels like that, where Charlie is testing whether the whole “not being invited” thing will really keep the vampire out of his home, while the vampire is still trying to pretend to be human, and they have this creepy awkward tense conversation while Charlie gets beers out of the refrigerator and the vampire stands just outside the kitchen door. It’s pretty much the only scary scene in the whole movie.

So that’s the remake. Bland protagonist, bland monster, bland girlfriend, no driving story, no thematic consistency, no emotional impact, no sex, no scares, and almost no humor.

Why have I read so many moderately positive reviews of this movie? It’s just baffling.

Originally published at Goth House: Julie McGalliard lives here. You can comment here or there.

Note: I started writing this months ago when it was new and a bunch of my horror-fan friends were rolling their eyes about it in social media. But I stopped when I didn't have a good concluding paragraph. But since I am going to be at Crypticon next weekend (May 22-24, 2015) I thought it was a good impetus to dust off some of my horror-specific unposted essays. Enjoy!


Ripley is not impressed with your evidence or your conclusions.


What does it say about you if you enjoy horror movies? (Other than, you know, the obvious. That you enjoy horror movies.) Alice Robb's New Republic article purports to reveal yourself to yourself, like one of those "which secondary character from the third season of Buffy are you?" quizzes that your friends take and then post on Facebook.
Movie-goers spooked by the acclaimed horror film The Babadook are in good company:

This article is not actually going to be about The Babadook. In fact, this article has the distinct whiff of a trunk article that was sitting around waiting for a slow news day and a sufficiently timely lead-in.

Furthermore, all of the cites in the article are so fusty (the most recent is from 2003, the oldest from 1985) that I suspect it's been sitting around for a long time. So why publish it now?
Read more...Collapse )

Note: I started writing this months ago when it was new and a bunch of my horror-fan friends were rolling their eyes about it in social media. But I stopped when I didn’t have a good concluding paragraph. But since I am going to be at Crypticon next weekend (May 22-24, 2015) I thought it was a good impetus to dust off some of my horror-specific unposted essays. Enjoy!


Ripley is not impressed with your evidence or your conclusions.

What does it say about you if you enjoy horror movies? (Other than, you know, the obvious. That you enjoy horror movies.) Alice Robb’s New Republic article purports to reveal yourself to yourself, like one of those “which secondary character from the third season of Buffy are you?” quizzes that your friends take and then post on Facebook.

Movie-goers spooked by the acclaimed horror film The Babadook are in good company:

This article is not actually going to be about The Babadook. In fact, this article has the distinct whiff of a trunk article that was sitting around waiting for a slow news day and a sufficiently timely lead-in.

Furthermore, all of the cites in the article are so fusty (the most recent is from 2003, the oldest from 1985) that I suspect it’s been sitting around for a long time. So why publish it now?

William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist, has called the Australian film the most terrifying movie he’s ever seen. “It will scare the hell out of you,” he warned his Twitter followers.

That doesn’t sound like an enjoyable experience — and for many of us, it’s not.

And for many of us it is. The end. Obviously William Friedkin considers it high praise, as would most people who enjoy horror movies.

Psychologists have shown that viewing horror movies induces physiological changes consistent with a “fight-or-flight” response.

Right. Horror movies provide an adrenaline rush. Is this surprising to anyone? It’s like trying to make a big deal out of the fact that people scream on roller coasters. If you don’t like roller coasters it might seem strange to hear all these people who are supposedly having a good time screaming at the top of their lungs, but — you know. Roller coasters are like that. (Yes, I also love roller coasters.)

In 2003, scientists found that healthy men and women had a significantly higher heart rate and a higher concentration of stress hormones like cortisol in their blood if they watched The Texas Chainsaw Massacre than if they sat in a quiet room.

Something about contrasting The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with sitting in a quiet room strikes me as weirdly hilarious. I mean, wouldn’t you have to contrast The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with the experience of watching a movie that isn’t horror? Wouldn’t literally any activity give you more stress than sitting in a quiet room?

horror movies can even be fatal. A woman in Kansas died of a heart attack during the crucifixion scene in The Passion of the Christ. For a Taiwanese man with high blood pressure, Avatar was the last straw.

Okay, random anecdotes aren’t usually considered much evidence for anything, but do you notice something else?

THESE ARE NOT HORROR MOVIES.

You could make a case for The Passion of the Christ being horror, but it wasn’t marketed that way, and its audience was not presumed to be horror fans. In fact, it garnered a huge following of evangelical Christians who loved the movie because of what they saw as its religious message.

And Avatar? Seriously? If you ranked non-horror blockbusters of the last ten years in order of “most like a horror movie” to “least like a horror movie” Avatar would be down near the bottom. It’s a day-glow pastel movie about blue cat people and psychedelic dinosaurs. It’s kind of exactly the opposite of a horror movie.

But what does it say about you if you love violent or scary films?

Yes, what does it say about you? But also notice — “violent or scary.” Violence in the movies isn’t limited to horror. Fans of horror and fans of violent action movies might have a certain amount of overlap, but it’s by no means one hundred percent. In evidence, I give you the most consistently terrifying sub-genre of horror, which is also the least bloody: the ghost story.

You’re more likely to: Lack empathy

Oh, really? How do you figure?

a 2000 paper [..] administered personality tests to 233 undergraduates and asked them to reflect on a memory of watching a horror movie on a date. [..] Students who scored higher on measures of empathy [..] were more likely to report negative responses like sleep disturbances and feelings of distress.

So — a study from more than 10 years ago — on a relatively small number — of college undergraduates — who saw horror movies while on a date — found that the more empathetic students — recalled reacting more strongly to the movie.

It’s hard to find such a paltry study as compelling evidence of much of anything, but it doesn’t support her thesis anyway, because horror fans are self-selecting, and might well be self-selecting from the subset of people with higher empathy and more distress. Remember, horror fans consider “scared the hell out of me” as high praise. My estimation of the quality of the first Saw movie went up when it featured prominently in a bad dream I had later. If I watch a horror movie and it kind of freaks me out and I have to turn on all the lights and wish I’d watched it with other people around, that’s going to be a movie I praise highly and recommend to others.

Maybe that seems weird, if you’re not a horror fan. But “intent to scare” is the number one basic defining characteristic of horror, and “not scary” is a common negative critique of horror-genre films given by horror fans.

Her underlying thesis seems bizarrely counter-intuitive: that people who like horror films the most are the ones who aren’t frightened by them. But would you assume people who liked comedies the most were the ones who didn’t laugh?

You’re more likely to: Be aggressive and thrill-seeking

So… horror fans are basically sociopaths, is that what you’re trying to say? Anybody who likes fiction about serial killers is automatically suspected of being kinda like one in real life? That seems to be where she’s going with this.

1998, psychologists [..] showed 470 eighth-grade children [..] violent cartoons. After each scene, the students had to indicate, on a scale of 1 to 10, whether they found the scene funny, thrilling, or violent. They also asked the children’s teachers to evaluate their students’ personality traits—and found that children who thought the violent scenes were thrilling or funny were likely to be perceived as more aggressive and excitable by their teachers.

Not horror movies. Not horror movie fans. Not adults. Not recent.

This wasn’t the first study to give horror-movie junkies something to worry about.

Hold on. If horror movie fans really are a bunch of borderline sociopaths, why would we worry about whether or not we’re a bunch of borderline sociopaths? That doesn’t follow at all. People who genuinely lack empathy don’t care that they lack empathy. That’s part of lacking empathy.

Or is she trying to suggest that if you are that rare creature, a completely empathy-full horror fan, you should be wary of the other people in the theater with you, Scream 2 teaser style?

A little thought experiment. Your car has broken down out in the middle of nowhere on a dark, scary, rural road. Which type of person would you prefer to stop and offer you a ride? 1. A Gamergater, 2. A Quiverfuller, 3. A member of Congress, 4. A horror fan.

Because I’m going with #4.

In 1985, psychologists [..] asked over 300 undergraduates about their movie preferences and looked for correlations with other personality traits. The students who sought out horror movies were more likely than others to say they would like to watch an autopsy being performed, would attend gladiator fights if they could travel back in time, and would slow down to watch a car accident.

Undergraduates again, but at least this one starts by identifying actual fans of horror movies. In 1985, though. Unless that’s a typo, I’m guessing that we’re reading about a study from 1985 because nothing more recent made the same point. (Lazy Googling could also explain it.)

But even so, that particular collection of three things seems a bit odd. Based on a lifetime of being in traffic, I would venture that everyone slows down to watch a car accident, which means that horror fans are just more likely to admit it.

Did they ask these college kids what their favorite thing to do if they traveled back in time would be, and they spontaneously came up with gladiator fights? Or did they just ask “would you want to attend a gladiator fight if you could travel back in time?” and they said, “okay, sure, I’d do that.” Anyway, there have been a number of movies about gladiator fights, and I can’t think of a single one that was actually a horror movie, so the connection seems a little dubious.

Finally — having helped run the Seattle World Horror Convention in 2001 — I can confirm that horror fans are indeed likely to be highly interested in watching an autopsy being performed, or at least, watching a film of an autopsy being performed. But not one of the people at my convention struck me as wanting to watch the film because they were “aggressive or thrill-seeking.” They wanted to watch it because they were curious.

Maybe the writer of this essay thinks it’s freaky that somebody would be curious enough about what autopsies are really like to want to watch one. But if so, every medical student in the country is just that freaky.

You’re more likely to: Be a man

Well, if I already know I’m not a man, what am I supposed to get out of this? Am I supposed to suspect that maybe I am secretly a man because I like horror films?

Consistent with the stereotype, men seem to experience — or at least admit to experiencing — fewer negative emotional side effects of horror films.

Again, working off the assumption that people like horror movies because they don’t find them scary.

You’re more likely to: Be a man accompanied by a frightened woman

Oh, well. That sounds terrible. That sounds like real serial-killer stuff.

In an experiment in the 1980s,

The 80s again.

a team of psychologists led by Dolf Zillmann had 36 male and 36 female undergraduates

A small number of undergraduates again.

watch a horror movie in opposite-sex pairs; each viewer had to evaluate their companion’s desirability before and after the movie, and answer questions about their experience of the film. Men were most likely to enjoy the movie when paired with a woman who was distressed by it, and least likely to enjoy if the woman was unperturbed.

This anecdote is structured so that we’re meant to picture some straight-up sadistic dude who likes the movie because it’s frightening to the woman next to him, because what he likes is to see women in real life being frightened.

But when the genre of the movie is horror, people reacting in terror in the theater with you are “proving” it’s a better movie. It’s why laugh tracks were invented — to make people think comedies are funnier, to tell them it’s okay to laugh. A frightened companion tells you it’s okay to be scared.

During The Sixth Sense, there was this guy who would kick the back of my seat whenever something scary happened. Usually I hate people kicking the back of my seat, but during that movie, I was fine with it. People yelping, cringing, and generally freaking out is a good thing during a horror movie. That’s how you know it’s working.

It didn’t make the woman more attractive, though: both men and women judged their companions as less desirable as “working mates” if they showed distress.

Oh, well. Okay then. So dudes who like horror movies aren’t actually malicious lunatics who want to take women home and torture them in their basements? What a relief.

The clear message of this essay is, “if you like horror movies you are a bad person and should feel bad about yourself,” but why is that the message? Who is this for? Why was it written? It has the sleazy, manipulative feel of a vintage Satanic Panic article, without the religion.

 

Originally published at Goth House: Julie McGalliard lives here. You can comment here or there.

Ain’t nobody’s business if you don’t

I know, I know, you’re probably getting bored with Hugo-related content by now. There has indeed been a lot of it, with blog posts back and forth, epic comment threads, and the occasional Sad mastermind or defender popping in to explain himself.

But there are a couple of sentiments that have been cropping up, which I wanted to address, because I think they are a sneaky way of attempting to tell people how to vote this year. And that pertains to Happy Kittens.

The first notion goes something like this: “no matter what, it’s YOUR JOB to read everything on the ballot and seriously consider giving it a Hugo.” Often this assertion has a follow-up similar to: “otherwise you’re doing an injury to the spirit of the award MUCH WORSE than slate voting!”

This might be driven by a sincere evangelical impulse, an earnest conviction that if everyone would only read the work in question, they would be taken with its brilliance and completely see what the Sad Puppies are all about. If so, that’s almost cute. Still wrong, though. But I suspect there is another motivation at work — an attempt to shame non-Sads out of ranking their final ballot against slate works they don’t want to read.

But you are under no more obligation to read a work before voting than they were before nominating. Yes, I’m sure there are Sad apologists who will leap in to claim that of course every single one of them read absolutely everything on the slate before nominating the slate. To which I can only say — HAHAHAHAHAHA. No, really, pull the other one. It’s got catnip bells on it.

But even so, that doesn’t constitute an actual obligation to read before voting. Your own sense of honor or fairness or respect for the award might demand it, of course. But that’s your call. Sads can’t reasonably insist that knee-jerk slate voting is okay but knee-jerk anti-slate voting isn’t. Live by the slate, die by the slate.

Nobody reads literally every SF&F work published in a given year and then makes their Hugo selection from that. We read what we’re inclined to read, and go on from there. The same principle applies to the nominees. I have no reason to read something I don’t want to read just because it was nominated for a Hugo.

In a normal year, being on the ballot at all would constitute a recommendation of quality — something to provide that extra little nudge to get me to actually give it a whirl. This year, meh. I’ve already seen what the Sads consider worth nominating, on last year’s ballot. I was not impressed with their choices.

(On a bit of a tangent, but, I wanted to address one comment left by Brad Torgersen: “Mr. Sandifer, if you truly believe that a book like ANCILLARY JUSTICE or a story like ‘The Water That Falls On You From Nowhere’ did not benefit from a tremendous groundswell of affirmative-action-mindedness, you’re not paying attention.” Well, right back atcha, bub. Do you seriously expect me to believe that last year’s Sad voters nominated a story like “Opera Vita Aeterna” for its merits and not because they were cackling with malicious glee at the thought of irritating a bunch of Social Justice Warriors by honoring the racist, misogynist, and all-around terrible excuse for a human being who wrote it?)

So, this year, I can already tell you that I intend to merrily skip past anything I’m not otherwise inclined to read. And there are a lot of reasons I might not want to read a work. Because it doesn’t seem interesting. Because the first paragraph or so doesn’t grab me. Because I have already tried that writer before and didn’t think they were worth my time. Because the writer is a notorious bigot. Because I’ve seen that name posting in Sad-related comment threads and was not impressed with their logic, writing skill, or personal qualities.

I feel perfectly justified in skipping whole categories, if nothing in that category looks worth reading, and voting for “No Award,” because seriously, if nothing in the whole category even looks worth reading, “No Award” is what ought to win. I also feel perfectly justified in considering Sad nominees that look interesting, and voting “No Award” if I still don’t think the work deserves a Hugo.

In fact, I feel perfectly justified voting in favor of non-Sad work that I wouldn’t otherwise have voted for. (For example: usually I don’t even bother to consider the fan artist category.)

We are all free to read what we want and vote how we want.

Don’t let any Sad Thing tell you any differently.

I don’t know if that’s actually salmon the little cat is eating. I like to imagine it’s salmon. It turned out to be ridiculously hard to find a good image of a kitten eating salmon where both the kitten and the salmon looked appealing, so eventually I settled on a cute kitten rather than appetizing salmon. 

The second issue that has come up — and this seems tied more closely to this year’s exciting new Sad splinter group, the “Rabid Puppies” — is vague threats of some dire retaliation. That if “No Award” wins in any Sad-dominated category, they will ensure that there is NEVER AGAIN a Hugo given in that category. I have even seen the suggestion that we should give them what they want — which appears to be a couple of token Hugo awards, I guess? — and maybe they’ll go away.

Basically, they’re making an attempt to swagger into the joint with a bunch of fedora-wearing toughs who smack their billy clubs in a suggestive manner while saying, “Nice fandom you got here. Be a shame if anything should happen to it.”

This is quite possibly the most toothless excuse for a threat I have ever seen. What exactly would the Rabids do in order to ensure that no Hugo award is ever given again in that category? It’s not like they have magical powers or anything. So I’m pretty sure that the only way they could even attempt to make good on that threat is to do exactly what they’re doing this year — flood the nominees and then the votes. Which I’m pretty sure they’re planning to try again anyway. So where’s the threat?
We don’t even know how successful the second part of that — the voting part — is going to be for them. Worldcon has gotten a torrent of new supporting votes since the announcement of the nominees, and some of the bwuh-huh-huh-ers in comment threads have suggested that this is mostly Rabid sympathizers, but until the votes are counted, we won’t know. And if they do manage to flood the voting, they probably will get a couple of token Hugo awards, so why try to threaten me into doing it?

Plus, making good on that threat requires them to keep it up year after year after year after year after year. Do they really have the patience and dedication for that? I mean, if they do, I guess I would be impressed, sort of, in a way — one rarely sees that level of truly pointless obsession outside of an episode of Hoarders. It has the same jaw-dropping qualities. “Dude, you realize, you’re sleeping on a a PILE OF TRASH?”

Not only that, but keeping it up year after year after year is going to require money. Actual real money. Which makes it a bit different from your usual gamergate-style trolling and harassment campaign — those require only obsessive dedication to a poorly articulated cause, not having much of a life outside of that cause, and a complete lack of empathy or sense of proportion. But gamergating the Hugos requires shelling out money for supporting memberships.

I saw one would-be supervillain claim, in a comment thread, that no amount of money was too great, that he would pay hundreds just for the privilege of pissing off a bunch of nerds.

Seriously? As if pissing off nerds is hard to do? And you’re willing to pay actual money for the privilege? Real honest-to-God money just to revel in the sense that you’re irritating people? That’s… that’s weird, dude. How can you not see that’s weird? And also pathetic. Most people have better things to spend their money on. Also, I’m guessing that you have no trouble at all going about your daily life and irritating people in person for free.

So what was your point, again?

Further, if they really do have the stamina to keep this up year after year, the Worldcon committee probably will tweak the rules in order to ameliorate the power of slate voting. Oh, sure, their threat might be meant to imply that they intend to insert themselves into that process. But doing that would require not only paying a token amount and casting an online ballot, it would require actually showing up at Worldcon business meeting.

Think about it. Paying for an attending membership, traveling to wherever Worldcon is held, and sitting through an actual, real-life, talking-to-people meeting — not anonymous blustering behind an Internet pseudonym. And they would have to do this more than once, as it takes more than one year to push through a rules change. And they would not only have to attend, they would also have to either persuade people to their side, or attend in the same kind of proportionately overwhelming numbers they used to push through the original slate of nominations. And they would have to act like adults the whole time — behave themselves well enough not to get kicked out of the convention for things like harassment, or vandalism, or generally disruptive behavior.

It just doesn’t sound very likely, does it?

Even assuming all that — assuming they have the long-term commitment it would take to actually wreck the Hugos forever — still I would rather never award another Hugo in any category, than vote to award one to something that just plain doesn’t deserve it.

In my opinion, of course. Your opinion too. As always. Happy Kitten happiness is achieved by everyone making up their own minds, and voting accordingly.

Also, by giving them salmon.

Originally published at Goth House: Julie McGalliard lives here. You can comment here or there.

Happy, happy kittens

This post is about the so-called Sad and/or Rabid Puppies, and if you need background on exactly what that is, please refer to this IO9 article. In my own post, whenever I attribute motive or reasoning to Brad Torgersen, Author of Sadness, it is based on this very thorough analysis of Torgerson’s own essays on the topic, from a writer who declined to be included on the Sad slate. (Thanks to Janna Silverstein for the link.)

It’s a happy kitten. I thought you’d like it. 

The short answer is that Torgersen appears to be under the impression that the Hugos used to honor the Sort of Thing Brad Torgersen Likes, but for the past ten years or so, have been honoring more and more examples of Not the Sort of Thing Brad Torgersen Likes. Further, he seems convinced that this is due to some shadowy cabal of atypical fans who vote based on something other than merit, acting in concert to nominate Not the Sort of Thing Brad Torgerson Likes, so that the only way to thwart their influence is collective action in the opposite direction.

The Sort of Thing Brad Torgersen Likes appears to be rousingly populist space adventure tales with no obvious literary pretensions and either no discernable social or political message, or if any message is detectible, it should be a right wing, libertarian, or bigoted message.

His campaign was a devastating success, in part because there WAS no shadowy cabal of atypical fans who vote based on something other than merit until Torgersen and his fellow travelers set about creating one. So, with the Sads all voting more or less in agreement, and everyone else simply voting as usual for whatever they happened to want to vote for, the Sads swept the Hugo nominees this year.

Even without the rumors I heard about the Sads, I would have known something was up when I saw the list of Hugo nominees. Usually, the nomination list is full of  writers, works, and publishers with a bit of “buzz,” things that trigger a vague sense of “oh, my friends were talking about that” or “oh, I’ve been meaning to read that.”

But the 2015 nominees are dominated by boring-looking stuff by guys I’ve never heard of, which seems like a strange accomplishment from a dude whose complaint about the Hugos includes them not being populist enough. I mean, one of those guys I’ve never heard of, John C. Wright, is nominated in every short category, and THREE TIMES in the novella category alone.

It looks fishy, basically. You don’t have to know anything else about it for it to look fishy. If it were MY OWN NAME appearing all those places, I would still be rather appalled and inquire as to whether the votes had been counted properly.

Even if the Sads didn’t technically break any rules, they obviously broke something — and I fear that what’s broken is the Hugos themselves, which might in turn break Worldcon.

Torgersen, by assuming (falsely) that the Hugos had somehow become deliberately politicized in a way he didn’t like, and in striking out against this imaginary foe, has very possibly created exactly that foe. Because with the Sads voting as a block, anybody who seriously opposes the aim of the Sads — a transparent attempt to elevate work based on right wing political identity rather than artistic merit — will have a strong motivation toward forming a voting block of their own — the Happy Kittens, perhaps.

And so, it might be that every year from now on is going to be Sad Puppies vs. Happy Kittens and suddenly Hugo voting becomes as nasty and dysfunctional as our US national politics. But in politics, we keep on in spite of that, because we don’t have much of a choice. The Hugos are purely optional — we do them because they are supposed to be fun, a celebration of science fiction and fantasy art and fandom. If the whole thing gets too icky and contentious and disturbing and unpleasant, a lot of people — the nicer people, the people who care more about art than about “winning” — might end up staying home, deciding it’s not worth it.

At that point, the Hugos and Worldcon might limp along for a while primarily as a haven for a certain kind of ultra-reactionary fan, but with no sense of larger-world prestige behind them. When people in the future talk about Hugo winners, they’ll have to preface it: was that one of the Real Hugos, or the Sad Hugos?

Then they’ll die out, because a philosophy based on exclusion is inherently doomed. No more Hugos. No more Worldcon. Fandom will move on to less literary conventions, like Emerald City Comic-Con, which already have the greater numbers, or more literary conventions, like World Fantasy.

The end.

Now, that’s an “if this goes on” dystopian scenario, which any SF fan ought to understand is largely a thought experiment — and also which any SF fan ought to know has been a central part of SF for a very long time. (Does the title 1984 ring a bell? )

The phenomenon of SF getting “taken over” by a bunch of highfalutin’ literary types, and also by politicized left-leaning “social justice warriors,” is hardly new, no matter what Mr. Torgersen and his cabal of Sads seem to think. I was raised on Original Series Star Trek, for heaven’s sake. It doesn’t get more central to traditional SF fandom than that, does it? TOS is nearly fifty years old, old enough that there are now fans of longstanding who grew up with Star Trek: The Next Generation as their default Trek. And TOS was noticeably anti-war, anti-racism, and chock full of metaphors about progressive 60s politics — usually flattering to the progressive side of things. (Although they seemed a little ambivalent about hippies, and nobody seemed to have told them about feminism.)

Further, Star Trek happened only after a movement in SF known as the New Wave had started, in which writers such as J.G. Ballard and Ursula K. LeGuin brought a new spirit of literary and social experimentation to the field.

It leads me to wonder not only what Torgersen and his Sads think they are going to gain from all this, but what their actual grievances could possibly be. Obviously he’s responding to something he thinks has changed in SF since he first got interested in the field, but everything he complains about was already a well-established part of SF when I started reading it as a kid in the 70s. Brad Torgersen was born in 1974. He’s younger than I am. He can’t play the “original fandom” card on me — if anything, the dude should be getting off MY lawn.

However, when I think about Hugo-related changes that might have come about in the last 10 years, compared to the changes that started 50 years ago, it comes down to greater diversity — more non-US Worldcons and more nominated writers who are not straight, white, cisgendered men.

That doesn’t speak well of the Sads’ true motives.

Of course Beale/VD with his own related “rabid puppies” slate, doesn’t even pretend that it’s about ethics in journalism, I mean, about the actual merit of the work. Mr. VD is very open about having decided that he derives perverse pleasure from the choice to be evil on purpose. But the real supervillains would laugh him out of the club for his stunted imagination and mediocre intellect. (“That’s your big, evil plan? You want to make a bunch of nerdy science fiction fans cry? Dude, are you twelve?”)

Last year, I knew that some of the nominees were Sads, and gave them a go anyway. (Morbid curiosity and a perhaps misguided sense of fairness drove me to it.) It turned out the stories that won (no Sads) were excellent (“The Water that Falls on You From Nowhere,” “The Lady Astronaut of Mars”) or fun (“Equoid”) and the Sads were either professional but dull, or actively horrible. (VD makes Stephanie Meyer look like a prose genius, and I am not kidding. Or exaggerating. Except that it might be doing a disservice to Meyer.)

This year, most people who think deeply about such things — John Scalzi, for example — are recommending that everyone vote and make liberal use of the “No Award” option in categories where nothing that has been nominated really seems worthy of the honor.

Next year?

Well, after some consideration, I think Happy Kittens should be a thing, for real. But it shouldn’t be a single recommended slate where I, or Scalzi, or whoever, tries to wield the power of block voting. The kittens don’t want that. Anyway, they’re kittens. Are you familiar with the expression “herding cats”? It means trying to herd a creature that, by its fundamental nature, resists herding.

No, Happy Kittens is just a campaign to make sure that everyone who wants the Hugo award to remain an award that means something, gets out there and nominates what they want to nominate. We call our movement the Happy Kittens just to remind ourselves of what happens if we don’t participate.

I didn’t nominate this year. I’m betting a lot of the rest of you didn’t either. Maybe, like me, you’re perpetually behind on your reading, and felt it was somewhat improper to nominate stuff you hadn’t read just because your friends wrote it and you already know your friends are awesome writers, or to nominate the “best” when you’d only read one thing that even qualified. Maybe the deadline for Hugo nominations is just the kind of thing you easily lose track of, like political primaries or mid-term elections.

But not participating implicitly means that you trust the people who do participate to represent your interests. In the case of the Hugos, prior to now, that trust had never seriously been violated.

According to the Tor site, the total number of nomination forms was 2122

We can beat that.

Originally published at Goth House: Julie McGalliard lives here. You can comment here or there.

Happy, happy kittens

This post is about the so-called Sad and/or Rabid Puppies, and if you need background on exactly what that is, please refer to this IO9 article. In my own post, whenever I attribute motive or reasoning to Brad Torgersen, Author of Sadness, it is based on this very thorough analysis of Torgerson’s own essays on the topic, from a writer who declined to be included on the Sad slate. (Thanks to Janna Silverstein for the link.)

It’s a happy kitten. I thought you’d like it. 

The short answer is that Torgersen appears to be under the impression that the Hugos used to honor the Sort of Thing Brad Torgersen Likes, but for the past ten years or so, have been honoring more and more examples of Not the Sort of Thing Brad Torgersen Likes. Further, he seems convinced that this is due to some shadowy cabal of atypical fans who vote based on something other than merit, acting in concert to nominate Not the Sort of Thing Brad Torgerson Likes, so that the only way to thwart their influence is collective action in the opposite direction.

The Sort of Thing Brad Torgersen Likes appears to be rousingly populist space adventure tales with no obvious literary pretensions and either no discernable social or political message, or if any message is detectible, it should be a right wing, libertarian, or bigoted message.

His campaign was a devastating success, in part because there WAS no shadowy cabal of atypical fans who vote based on something other than merit until Torgersen and his fellow travelers set about creating one. So, with the Sads all voting more or less in agreement, and everyone else simply voting as usual for whatever they happened to want to vote for, the Sads swept the Hugo nominees this year.

Even without the rumors I heard about the Sads, I would have known something was up when I saw the list of Hugo nominees. Usually, the nomination list is full of  writers, works, and publishers with a bit of “buzz,” things that trigger a vague sense of “oh, my friends were talking about that” or “oh, I’ve been meaning to read that.”

But the 2015 nominees are dominated by boring-looking stuff by guys I’ve never heard of, which seems like a strange accomplishment from a dude whose complaint about the Hugos includes them not being populist enough. I mean, one of those guys I’ve never heard of, John C. Wright, is nominated in every short category, and THREE TIMES in the novella category alone.

It looks fishy, basically. You don’t have to know anything else about it for it to look fishy. If it were MY OWN NAME appearing all those places, I would still be rather appalled and inquire as to whether the votes had been counted properly.

Even if the Sads didn’t technically break any rules, they obviously broke something — and I fear that what’s broken is the Hugos themselves, which might in turn break Worldcon.

Torgersen, by assuming (falsely) that the Hugos had somehow become deliberately politicized in a way he didn’t like, and in striking out against this imaginary foe, has very possibly created exactly that foe. Because with the Sads voting as a block, anybody who seriously opposes the aim of the Sads — a transparent attempt to elevate work based on right wing political identity rather than artistic merit — will have a strong motivation toward forming a voting block of their own — the Happy Kittens, perhaps.

And so, it might be that every year from now on is going to be Sad Puppies vs. Happy Kittens and suddenly Hugo voting becomes as nasty and dysfunctional as our US national politics. But in politics, we keep on in spite of that, because we don’t have much of a choice. The Hugos are purely optional — we do them because they are supposed to be fun, a celebration of science fiction and fantasy art and fandom. If the whole thing gets too icky and contentious and disturbing and unpleasant, a lot of people — the nicer people, the people who care more about art than about “winning” — might end up staying home, deciding it’s not worth it.

At that point, the Hugos and Worldcon might limp along for a while primarily as a haven for a certain kind of ultra-reactionary fan, but with no sense of larger-world prestige behind them. When people in the future talk about Hugo winners, they’ll have to preface it: was that one of the Real Hugos, or the Sad Hugos?

Then they’ll die out, because a philosophy based on exclusion is inherently doomed. No more Hugos. No more Worldcon. Fandom will move on to less literary conventions, like Emerald City Comic-Con, which already have the greater numbers, or more literary conventions, like World Fantasy.

The end.

Now, that’s an “if this goes on” dystopian scenario, which any SF fan ought to understand is largely a thought experiment — and also which any SF fan ought to know has been a central part of SF for a very long time. (Does the title 1984 ring a bell? )

The phenomenon of SF getting “taken over” by a bunch of highfalutin’ literary types, and also by politicized left-leaning “social justice warriors,” is hardly new, no matter what Mr. Torgerson and his cabal of Sads seem to think. I was raised on Original Series Star Trek, for heaven’s sake. It doesn’t get more central to traditional SF fandom than that, does it? TOS is nearly fifty years old, old enough that there are now fans of longstanding who grew up with Star Trek: The Next Generation as their default Trek. And TOS was noticeably anti-war, anti-racism, and chock full of metaphors about progressive 60s politics — usually flattering to the progressive side of things. (Although they seemed a little ambivalent about hippies, and nobody seemed to have told them about feminism.)

Further, Star Trek happened only after a movement in SF known as the New Wave had started, in which writers such as J.G. Ballard and Ursula K. LeGuin brought a new spirit of literary and social experimentation to the field.

It leads me to wonder not only what Torgersen and his Sads think they are going to gain from all this, but what their actual grievances could possibly be. Obviously he’s responding to something he thinks has changed in SF since he first got interested in the field, but everything he complains about was already a well-established part of SF when I started reading it as a kid in the 70s. Brad Torgersen was born in 1974. He’s younger than I am. He can’t play the “original fandom” card on me — if anything, the dude should be getting off MY lawn.

However, when I think about Hugo-related changes that might have come about in the last 10 years, compared to the changes that started 50 years ago, it comes down to greater diversity — more non-US Worldcons and more nominated writers who are not straight, white, cisgendered men.

That doesn’t speak well of the Sads’ true motives.

Of course Beale/VD with his own related “rabid puppies” slate, doesn’t even pretend that it’s about ethics in journalism, I mean, about the actual merit of the work. Mr. VD is very open about having decided that he derives perverse pleasure from the choice to be evil on purpose. But the real supervillains would laugh him out of the club for his stunted imagination and mediocre intellect. (“That’s your big, evil plan? You want to make a bunch of nerdy science fiction fans cry? Dude, are you twelve?”)

Last year, I knew that some of the nominees were Sads, and gave them a go anyway. (Morbid curiosity and a perhaps misguided sense of fairness drove me to it.) It turned out the stories that won (no Sads) were excellent (“The Water that Falls on You From Nowhere,” “The Lady Astronaut of Mars”) or fun (“Equoid”) and the Sads were either professional but dull, or actively horrible. (VD makes Stephanie Meyer look like a prose genius, and I am not kidding. Or exaggerating. Except that it might be doing a disservice to Meyer.)

This year, most people who think deeply about such things — John Scalzi, for example — are recommending that everyone vote and make liberal use of the “No Award” option in categories where nothing that has been nominated really seems worthy of the honor.

Next year?

Well, after some consideration, I think Happy Kittens should be a thing, for real. But it shouldn’t be a single recommended slate where I, or Scalzi, or whoever, tries to wield the power of block voting. The kittens don’t want that. Anyway, they’re kittens. Are you familiar with the expression “herding cats”? It means trying to herd a creature that, by its fundamental nature, resists herding.

No, Happy Kittens is just a campaign to make sure that everyone who wants the Hugo award to remain an award that means something, gets out there and nominates what they want to nominate. We call our movement the Happy Kittens just to remind ourselves of what happens if we don’t participate.

I didn’t nominate this year. I’m betting a lot of the rest of you didn’t either. Maybe, like me, you’re perpetually behind on your reading, and felt it was somewhat improper to nominate stuff you hadn’t read just because your friends wrote it and you already know your friends are awesome writers, or to nominate the “best” when you’d only read one thing that even qualified. Maybe the deadline for Hugo nominations is just the kind of thing you easily lose track of, like political primaries or mid-term elections.

But not participating implicitly means that you trust the people who do participate to represent your interests. In the case of the Hugos, prior to now, that trust had never seriously been violated.

According to the Tor site, the total number of nomination forms was 2122

We can beat that.

Originally published at Goth House: Julie McGalliard lives here. You can comment here or there.

>Evernote Camera Roll 20150227 193041

Hey everyone! Waking up Naked in Strange Places, my first novel, is officially released April 2 — that’s tomorrow! I’ve been working hard trying to brainstorm ways to promote the book. If you are interested in helping me do that, I think you’ll find the methods below easy and fun.

  1. Buy an extra copy of the trade paperback. Gut the interior pages, leaving you with just the cover. Whenever you are reading in public, no matter what you are reading — a different book, an e-book, a bus schedule — wrap the WUNISP cover around it, so that it appears you are reading my book…
    …forever.
  2. Get a friend to read the book aloud to you and live-tweet the experience, but be sure to avoid spoilers. So your tweets will be things like “OMG the most amazing thing just happened! Never saw that coming! #ReadingWUNISP” or “When that one character did that thing with the thing? AWESOME. #ReadingWUNISP”
  3. Buy a bunch of extra copies of the book. Hang around outside evangelical churches when the services let out, and try to give them copies of the book, explaining how it changed your life.
    1. Get a handful of friends to help you do this. Bonus points if one of you plays the guitar and you all sing werewolf hymns.
    2. No, I don’t know what werewolf hymns would sound like. A lot of AROOOOOO noises, probably.
  4. Walk around naked carrying a copy of the book. Make sure it is prominently displayed in any photographs taken at your arrest.
    1. Bonus! When the police interrogate you, at first, claim that you read my book and it somehow hypnotized you into thinking you were a werewolf, and that’s why you were naked in public.
    2. Give at least three days for the controversy over “people who really think they’re werewolves” to get totally out of hand and my book proclaimed a menace, then admit you were just kidding.
  5. Interpretive dance.
  6. Everywhere you go, whenever you see somebody taking a picture, photo-bomb them with a copy of my book. Weddings! Funerals! Christenings! Ribbon-cutting ceremonies! Press conferences! Awards shows! Mug shots! International peace summits!
    Really, there’s no bad place and no possible way this could go wrong.

Originally published at Goth House: Julie McGalliard lives here. You can comment here or there.

Hey everyone! Waking up Naked in Strange Places, my first novel, is officially released April 2 — that’s tomorrow! I’ve been working hard trying to brainstorm ways to promote the book. If you are interested in helping me do that, I think you’ll find the methods below easy and fun.

  1. Buy an extra copy of the trade paperback. Gut the interior pages, leaving you with just the cover. Whenever you are reading in public, no matter what you are reading — a different book, an e-book, a bus schedule — wrap the WUNISP cover around it, so that it appears you are reading my book…
    …forever.
  2. Get a friend to read the book aloud to you and live-tweet the experience, but be sure to avoid spoilers. So your tweets will be things like “OMG the most amazing thing just happened! Never saw that coming! #ReadingWUNISP” or “When that one character did that thing with the thing? AWESOME. #ReadingWUNISP”
  3. Buy a bunch of extra copies of the book. Hang around outside evangelical churches when the services let out, and try to give them copies of the book, explaining how it changed your life.
    1. Get a handful of friends to help you do this. Bonus points if one of you plays the guitar and you all sing werewolf hymns.
    2. No, I don’t know what werewolf hymns would sound like. A lot of AROOOOOO noises, probably.
  4. Walk around naked carrying a copy of the book. Make sure it is prominently displayed in any photographs taken at your arrest.
    1. Bonus! When the police interrogate you, at first, claim that you read my book and it somehow hypnotized you into thinking you were a werewolf, and that’s why you were naked in public.
    2. Give at least three days for the controversy over “people who really think they’re werewolves” to get totally out of hand and my book proclaimed a menace, then admit you were just kidding.
  5. Interpretive dance.
  6. Everywhere you go, whenever you see somebody taking a picture, photo-bomb them with a copy of my book. Weddings! Funerals! Christenings! Ribbon-cutting ceremonies! Press conferences! Awards shows! Mug shots! International peace summits!
    Really, there’s no bad place and no possible way this could go wrong.

Originally published at Goth House: Julie McGalliard lives here. You can comment here or there.

By special request — an essay ranting about Christian Rock!

I first encountered Christian Rock when I was 12 years old, right in the middle of a very chaotic thirteenth year. (Yes, I just now realized that the year you are twelve is your thirteenth year. Oooooooooo! Superstitiousness!)

My thirteenth year went kinda like this: junior high; menstruation; zits; hair turning into some kind of extruded strawlike substance about which nothing could be done and which my fellow seventh graders seemed to find the most hilarious and mockable thing they had ever seen; moving a thousand miles away; a different junior high; living with friends of the family and being subjected to an inconsistent patchwork of rules and expectations from two sets of parents right when my adolescent brain was starting to chafe under the notion of adult authority of any kind; a third junior high; my mother’s father diagnosed with lung cancer.

All that, and I was twelve. So, you know, I didn’t really know how to deal with any of it.

Read the rest of this entry »Collapse )

Originally published at Goth House. You can comment here or there.

And even Octavia Butler

I’ve been struggling to articulate anything useful about the recent events that started with the Grand Jury decision not to charge Ferguson, Mo. police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown. Silence might make it appear that I have no opinion, and I do. In my opinion, it is not a good thing that American police seem to behave increasingly like an occupying force subduing a hostile foreign population, and that there is such an obvious racist component both to the original police misconduct, and to our collective societal reaction to it.

I do believe most police officers are basically decent people trying to do their best at a tough and dangerous job. The problem is that, when something goes wrong with law enforcement — when cops turn out to be trigger-happy racists, or abusers, or rapists, or even just make a deadly serious mistake — nothing happens. No accountability, no effort to fix anything, no acknowledgment that there’s even a problem.

So, we have cops who get in the habit of looking at all the ordinary citizens walking around out there, and see everyone as a potential criminal, and treat them accordingly. And you have the ordinary citizens looking back at the cops and seeing the exact same thing — a potential criminal. Except, what the citizens see is a potential criminal who is heavily armed and almost certain to get away with it.

So, the hostility and fear escalate on both sides.

In 1990, I flew to London for the first time, and ended up sitting next to a very nice English couple who gave me pointers about their homeland. One of the things they told me: “British cops aren’t like American cops, dear. British cops are your friends. You can go to them for help if you get into trouble.”

Think about that for a minute. Everybody’s white. Everybody’s wealthy enough to be on a plane. I’m female. And still, they expected that as an American, I would not see be inclined to see police officers as friendly and trustworthy people who would help me if I needed it. And they were correct.

Nowhere is the role of American police as a hostile occupying force more apparent than their response to protests. From Ferguson, to Occupy, to the WTO protests in Seattle, to Kent State, to the Civil Rights marches, we see a pattern of repression and brutality on the part of law enforcement in response to citizens attempting to exercise their Constitutional rights to freely assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Further, this pattern is highly partisan. Agitators for progressive causes get put down aggressively, injured and even killed, while teapartiers, frenzied bargain-hunters, or people getting a little out of hand celebrating a sports victory are tolerated. The police might be there as a presence, but nobody gets pepper-sprayed.

The message this sends to the American people is clear: we, the cops, will beat you down with impunity, and if you make a fuss or object in any obvious way, we’ll bet you down some more. Everybody should be outraged by that. Everybody should be joining in the call for greater police accountability. The police especially should be in favor of this — all that mutual hostility makes their job a lot harder.

But in the past couple of weeks I’ve seen a lot of pushback on the idea that there’s even a problem that needs fixing. Some of this is plain old-fashioned racism — people who more or less openly admit that they consider black Americans to be less human than other Americans, so as long as the cops are only killing black people or hippies, they’re okay with it. But there’s also a fair bit of “I just want to get on with my Christmas shopping” apathy, ignorance, and denial.

It can be hard to face full-on the injustices of the world — not only do they make us feel vulnerable, but if we have any conscience at all, we might start to feel burdened to actually do something about them. So people take refuge in the just-world fallacy: There’s nothing wrong here, and if anything bad happened to anybody, it was because they brought it on themselves through unwise behavior that I would never engage in, in fact, that no reasonable person would ever engage in, and if I just keep on the way I’ve been doing, surely I, and all the people I care about, will remain completely safe and prosperous in this best of all possible worlds where everything always works out for the best.

The just-world refuge isn’t available to everyone equally. You have to be able to convince yourself that the injustice doesn’t touch you, that the people it happens to are “other,” over there, not like you, not a part of your life, your tribe. And if you think racism doesn’t enhance people’s ability to do that — to convince themselves that black Americans are “other” — well. I have some Internet startup stock to sell you.

I know that some of you out there spouting egregiously racist nonsense are just attempting to put a thin veneer of “logical” justification on top of your sneering racism, and there’s probably no point arguing with you. But some of you probably fall into the ignorance/denial category, the just-world-fallacy category, and for your benefit I’m going to tell you a story about Octavia Butler.

(Apologies in advance for any details I might get wrong. Human memory, as you may know, is highly untrustworthy. Which is a good reason for things like lapel cameras.)

Octavia Butler was the guest of honor at the first Foolscap science fiction convention in 1999. I knew her as a highly respected name in science fiction literature before the convention, and at the convention met a person who was delightful in every possible way — wise, dignified, kind, funny, and smart. Her guest of honor speech remains one of my favorite things I’ve ever seen at a convention.

During that speech she told a story about attempting to spend a hundred dollar bill, a birthday present from her mother, at a Pasadena grocery store. But instead of accepting this cash as legal tender for all debts public and private, giving her change and moving on to the next customer, this grocery store reacted as if she were a thief or a drug dealer. They called out security to hustle her off to a back room where she was detained for hours. I believe she was never physically injured, although the threat of that hung over the detention. I think they might have kept the money, though. They certainly didn’t apologize.

One of the audience members, outraged on her behalf, spoke up about how they would never put up with such treatment. And Ms. Butler responded — with gentleness and patience, but also with a look of exasperated weariness in her eyes — “That’s because you’re white.”

She didn’t use the word “privilege,” but when I did encounter that word later, I already knew exactly what it meant. Some people resist the idea that there is such a thing as privilege, often because they think of it as extra cool stuff that you get, and not as a lack of having to put up with ridiculous and horrible stuff that nobody should ever in a million years have to put up with. They don’t think of the ability to stand up for your rights without fear of getting killed as a privilege, because it shouldn’t be. Everyone should be able to do that.

But they can’t. And that is a problem we need to deal with.

I’ve thought about her story a lot over the years, every time I read about a black Harvard Professor who gets thrown in jail for no obvious reason, or the many stories about law-abiding black citizens who get arrested, hurt, and even killed for doing innocuous things like driving a car or asking for help after a car accident.

The pattern is clear: security, law enforcement, and many ordinary white citizens see a black face and assume first that you’re a dangerous criminal. End of story.

Octavia Butler was, in any objective sense, the least likely criminal you could ask for. She was more like your favorite High School English teacher. There was no reason other than systematic racism that would cause a Pasadena grocery store to assume that she was a criminal who had obtained that hundred dollar bill through unlawful means.

The next time you’re inclined to think that the police must have had a good reason to assume that a particular young black man was a dangerous criminal who, though unarmed, posed such a serious threat that it was quite reasonable for the police to have subdued him with lethal force — think about how they treated Octavia Butler.

It shouldn’t look reasonable anymore. It should look like the actions of a deeply flawed, deeply racist system that needs serious reform.

Originally published at Goth House. You can comment here or there.

A ritual sacrifice, with pie

For the first time in my life, nobody invited me to a traditional family Thanksgiving dinner. My parents went to Los Angeles to spend it with my brothers’ families, which has been their habit ever since the adorable nieces were born. Paul and I thought that surely, somebody in Paul’s family would host — because they always have before. We’ve been dating since 1988, and until now, every year has brought us to some branch of his family for the annual ritual sacrifice with pie.

So I woke up this morning with no idea at all what to do with myself. I had morning insomnia, which is that thing where you wake up ridiculously early for no reason? And it pretty much never used to happen to me until I was on the north side of forty, so it makes me grumpy both as an irritating thing to happen, and as a reminder of the inexorable press of mortality.

Then I watched The Fault in Our Stars (rented from Scarecrow) because I just finished the book. I still can’t decide if a gut-wrenching three-hankie movie about the inevitability of death was the best or the worst possible way to deal with my emotional funk. (The Fault in Our Stars is about attractive young people who fall in love and then die of cancer. Happy Thanksgiving!) The scene when doomed Augustus pre-hosts his funeral so that he can attend was so hauntingly like Jay Lake throwing his own wake so he could enjoy the party, even if nothing else in the movie resonated, that bit would have gone through me like a Chumash knife.

After my eyeballs recovered from the weeping, I spent some time looking at Facebook and other social media, but the steady stream of Thanksgiving-related messages started to seem not cheery, but overwhelming and vaguely depressing. Did I have to “like” every “Happy Thanksgiving” post? Did I have to “like” anything? Would people feel neglected if I stopped giving them electronic ego validation? I mean, clicking “like” is just about the easiest thing you could possibly do, and yet it started to feel weirdly burdensome. There was just too much, too much everything. I couldn’t sort it out. I wasn’t feeling thankful. I wasn’t sure what I was feeling.

Still at a loss, I engaged in a bona-fide Thanksgiving ritual for me: watching “Pangs,” the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Thanksgiving episode. This year, for obvious reasons, the thing that really resonated was Buffy’s slightly irrational determination to gather around all the family she could manage, and have a proper Thanksgiving feast. In a way, it’s an important marker on the road to adulthood — the first time you have to make a holiday for yourself. It forces you to decide how you feel about it. Do you care if you celebrate or not? Which rituals mean something to you? Maybe it’s a little weird that I could get so late in my life without it ever coming up.

During the BTVS episode after “Pangs,” I fell asleep on the couch. I woke up about forty minutes later, certain deep in my heart that what I really needed was cranberry sauce — the kind you make from fresh whole cranberries, not the canned kind you can slice. (Although it always amused me that my brothers called the canned variety “dog food.”) I grabbed a shopping bag and headed out to the QFC to irritate the clerks working on Thanksgiving.

Once outside, I realized how awful and grumpy and sorry for myself I had been. I’m not at the true center of any tragedy just at the moment, yet still have a sense of overpowering gloom as tragedies accumulate within my radar: friends and family with medical and other worries, the people who keep leaving us, the events in Ferguson. Any sense of thankfulness on my part — it would have seemed almost — selfish, in a way. You know, it’s easy to tell the universe “thanks” when your life is going all right, isn’t it? But what about everyone else? There is suffering out there, real hardcore suffering, and the big tragedy in my life is that nobody else invited me over for dinner. As if I don’t know how to cook.

I determined that I was going to do more than make cranberry sauce. I was going to get all the necessary Thanksgiving items. Potatoes for mashing. Sweet potatoes for cooking in any manner that does not involve marshmallows. Dinner rolls. Eggnog. I was even going to get a TURKEY, damn it! I was going to get the smallest turkey they had and I was going to cook it myself! Yes! And if they had a potato ricer, I was going to get that! Yes! A potato ricer!

(Note: I did not see a potato ricer.)

One question at the heart of The Fault in Our Stars is this: are we more correct to be resentful over the inevitability of loss and pain, or grateful for having ever been here at all? Gratitude — thankfulness — is certainly a more pleasant emotion, but it can seem like a lie. We get these perfect little moments of grace, where everything in the universe feels right, and then — that’s it. That’s what you get. Whatever you love, it will be gone someday, and so will you. Does it matter that you loved, or were loved? If it did matter, how would you know?

The oppressive fog of my malaise lifted a bit as I walked through the park near our place — it’s a sad little park, strangely designed, with too much gravel and not enough trees. But it’s still a park. I passed a line of people in dark coats standing outside the Target building and thought, “did they open a soup kitchen for Thanksgiving?” Then I realized they must be people waiting for “Black Friday” deals, which brought the gloom back. What could you possibly get at Target — or Best Buy — or anywhere — that would make it worth standing in line like that? On a holiday? It did make whatever I was going to do with the rest of my day seem better. I might be wasting it on Buffy reruns and ennui, but it could be worse.

QFC was neither empty nor terribly busy, and the employees did not act particularly irritated to be there. They seemed pretty cheerful, actually. I still felt guilty for implicitly being the reason they had to work on a holiday. But maybe, given that they were there anyway, it was better not to be bored. I bought a turkey breast portion, which was half the size of the whole turkeys. I bought all the other things on my mental list, and walked home, frozen turkey carcass swinging in one hand, shopping bag over the other shoulder.

The Internet suggested that I could roast a turkey that was still frozen, so I did that. First, I coated the outside in dry rub from my Memphis Blues Cookbook. I had been so impressed by the results of that same dry rub on chicken grilled over fire, I was convinced that it was a magical substance that would render any poultry thus anointed indescribably delicious.

Cranberry sauce was super easy. Water, sugar, cranberries, and boiling.

Mashed potatoes was also easy, because I bought Yukon Gold potatoes, and it’s hard to go wrong with those. I used a hand masher. I don’t think a ricer would have given me better results.

The turkey roasted for 3 hours at 400 degrees. Most online advice gives 350 as the ideal temperature, but after running it at that temperature for a while it didn’t feel right somehow, so I kicked it up a notch. It was frozen, I was impatient, and I felt like the dry rub would help protect it. It came out very close to exactly how I wanted.

If I do this again, I will probably get a whole free range turkey from the co-op. And a meat thermometer and a bigger pan, and maybe one of those basters with the yellow squeeze bulb purely in honor of my grandfather, who used one of those to fuss over the turkey all morning every Thanksgiving of my childhood.

My grandfather was the first person in my life who I lost to cancer. I was thirteen. I wish I could say that he taught me how to cook a proper turkey, but he didn’t. We kids were never expected to help with dinner except in extremely minor ways: prepping the brown-n-serve rolls; opening a jar of olives; putting out napkins. I can’t tell you any of his secrets for perfect turkey. All I really remember is that baster with the yellow squeeze bulb, and his palpable joy as he tended the roasting bird.

For no reason that makes sense, cooking the official ceremonial foods actually did make me feel better about things. And now I have the most important part of any Thanksgiving feast: leftovers.

Originally published at Goth House. You can comment here or there.

Oh, did you hear? After Tuesday’s vote, the Democrats are, like, over, man.

Just like the Republicans were, like, over two years ago.

But it’s not as if all the people who elected Obama in 2012 changed their minds or ceased to exist in 2014, any more than the people who voted for George W. Bush twice just vanished in 2008. (Some of them changed their minds, sure. But not all of them.)

In this election, as in most other conservative electoral victories, they won because more of them voted, not because more of them exist. So — why is that?

Most structural impediments to voting, such as stricter ID laws and limited poll times, are consciously designed to favor the right by targeting the poor and the young. But that doesn’t seem to explain the whole of it. Age is a huge factor, with older voters more likely to turn out and also more likely to vote Republican. But why ARE older people more likely to vote? Is it generational? Because they’ve got the time on their hands? Because their cohort does it? Because they’ve lived in the same place for twenty years and know where the poll locations are? Because voting — a square, dull, good-citizen kind of thing — is tied to emotional maturity?

I don’t know. But I do know this — I consider any ostensibly liberal, progressive, or otherwise left-leaning person who expresses a sentiment like “oh, don’t bother voting, you’re just supporting a corrupt system” to be either a secret Republican mole or a complete dupe of Republican moles.

Hey, you know your complaints about Obama? That he’s too centrist, too corporate, too willing to attempt cooperation with Republicans? Do you realize that right-leaning voters frequently had exactly the same kind of complaints about George W. Bush? Do you think it ever kept them from voting for the man? Or for any other Republican?

Of course not. Because Republicans might have no idea how reproductive biology works, but they know how political influence works. They know that voting is the start, the minimum, the first thing you’ve got to do.

I understand not being able to vote because your state or community or life circumstances make it too difficult. That’s a totally different issue, and a very important one we need to address.

But simply choosing not to cast a vote? Talking down the act of voting as a futile one for liberals? You’re doing Republicans’ work for them. Republicans love to hear you talk like that. They’re practically cackling like supervillains to hear you talk like that.

It’s a devil whispering in your ear. “Yes, yes, you’re absolutely right, progressive-minded voter. Voting won’t make any difference. Both major parties are exactly the same. A minor party cannot win. The political process is messy, frustrating and corrupt, and that renders it flawed utterly beyond redemption. You’re entirely correct to give up on it. The only possible solution is to burn it to the ground and start all over again. Go on — just keep dreaming of the glorious revolution that will surely come to save us all. Someday.”

Conservative evangelical Protestants actually do believe, literally, that we’re just marking time on this planet until the glorious second coming will redeem us all. It never stops them from voting.

If you can’t bring yourself to suck it up and vote the lesser evil, you’re helping the greater evil win. Is that what you want? No? Then vote, darn it. If nothing else, doesn’t it motivate you to know that right wingers want to keep you from voting? Don’t you want to piss of Karl Rove? I know I do.

The media narrative has, for all of my political memory, skewed heavily Republican. A Democratic win is always treated as some kind of an aberration, as if they just got lucky somehow, and inevitably accompanied with much cautionary hand-wringing about the need for “bipartisanship.” But a Republican win is always treated as straight-up “will of the people.”

Except, it’s only the will of some people — old people, white people, wealthy people, conservative people — but when those are the people who actually vote, well, what can you do? (Vote. Duh.)

The media clearly wants the conversation right now to be “So, why have literally all the voters everywhere now embraced the Republican message? Have they finally forgiven the Republicans for George W. Bush? Is it because people have jobs again after the 2008 economic meltdown which Bush in no way contributed to? How important was it that the Republicans successfully avoided making any obvious ’47%’ or ‘legitimate rape’ gaffes this election cycle? And since obviously literally everyone has decided that Obama sucks and they all really regret voting for him twice, is it true that he should just resign right now for the good of the country, because of course that’s always what presidents do when their party loses power in the mid-terms? I mean, totally. That’s always what happens. Remember when George W. Bush resigned in 2006?”

But the conversation we need to have is, “So, why DON’T young people vote during mid-terms? Why IS US voter participation so low? Why IS the most reliable voting bloc also the most conservative, so that their views and interests are consistently over-represented in US politics, when they don’t reflect the true will of a majority of citizens?”

Sometimes it feels like electing Democrats, and then trying to get any progressive change accomplished, is like rolling the same boulder uphill again and again. Some of this is probably just the second law of thermodynamics at work — positive change is harder than destruction, and both are harder than doing nothing and letting things go to hell on their own.

Does that have something to do with why the people who would vote for Democrats, if they voted, are less likely to actually vote? Is there something in human psychology that favors destruction, and are Republicans the natural beneficiaries of that? Or does the difficulty of positive change, compared to negative change, make progressive voters more likely to get emotionally worn down and give up?

Whatever it is, I think it’s very clear that Democrats and liberals need to do a much better job with lower-profile races — state legislatures, governorships, etc. — and off-year elections. We can get people to vote for charismatic Democrats like Obama and Elizabeth Warren, but we’re never going to have people like that running for all races everywhere. A lot of Democrats are boring wonks, just like Republicans.

What happened to Howard Dean’s “50 state” strategy anyway? Can we get that going again? And expand it? Make it not only a 50 state strategy, but a thousands of counties strategy, an every year strategy, an every race strategy?

I’ve seen it suggested that one problem Democrats faced this year, compared to 2012, was the lack of Obama’s GOTV effort, which involved very direct ways of helping people vote — driving them to the polls, providing babysitting, helping them get whatever ID was required.

Is that what it’s going to take every year?

Then maybe we have to do that every year.

Originally published at Goth House. You can comment here or there.

Let me introduce you to your nightmare

Monday morning my back was kind of sore, and I realized it was probably from going through the Georgetown Morgue the night before with Paul, Ulysses and Carol. I think I spent the whole time in a very tense, crouched position, hence the sore the next day. So it was a little bit like slam-dancing to Schoolyard Heroes at Bumbershoot -- my inner 14-year-old-boy loved it, but the rest of me is probably way too old for this stuff.
Enter if you dare...Collapse )

To the beloved departed -- I miss you. We all miss you. Happy Halloween.

(Cross-posted at gothhouse.org but the script file fails randomly on a fairly regular basis. http://www.gothhouse.org/blog/let-me-introduce-you-to-your-nightmare/ sigh.)

Two thousand years, eight million people

A two-week trip to London is almost long enough to start getting blasé about being surrounded by spectacular Victorian buildings, any one of which would be a showpiece in Seattle.

Beatles Tour
For example, here we are waiting for the Beatles tour to start. Ho hum.

Is it long enough to get blasé about the walk from the Tube stop at Tower Hill, where you migrate along with the crush of people stealing glances at a view that includes a massive fragment of the original Roman wall and the hulking medieval menace of the Tower of London in the background?

London - Wall and Tower from Tower Hill
Meh.

Nope. I could probably live in London for years and never truly get blasé about that.

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Originally published at Goth House. You can comment here or there.

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