Dilettantes

So I’ve been cleaning and thinking, two very bad habits of mine, particularly while combined. And what I was thinking, specifically was this: when did the SF/F field become the play ground of Social Justice Warriors? Why and how did they get entry, cache and power as gatekeepers?

Someone in an earlier post blamed Heinlein and Stranger, but he was wrong. Heinlein was doing what he did very well: flowing with the times. Almost everyone with a really long career can and does that. Most people don’t have long careers because they’re creatures of the moment and of one obsession. Hence, for instance, when a great big fad fades, it takes most careers (horror, spy thrillers, for ex.) in that subgenre.

New Wave was already there at least in proto-form when Heinlein wrote Stranger, and hippies already had an interest in science fiction, or at least in science fiction as it pertained to “new consciousness” and creative sexual arrangements. (They were never so much with the colonization of new planets or really interesting civilizations. I spent most of the seventies reading their idea of a colonization novel, in which every person who was interesting or morally upright in the book went mad and died despicable deaths.) (And no, I’m not going to look up the precise chronology, but I know the movement was there before stranger.)

And yep, some of it was an academic movement. Science fiction had acquired enough popularity the professors got interested and decided to redeem it. This meant attempts to make it respectable which in the way that academics interpret the worth of literature involve infusing it with Marxist values. Never mind.

However, even trying to be academic and self important, that movement hadn’t descended to the level of vacuous self-satisfied smugness of the SJWs (who always remind me of a toddler on the potty saying “Mommy, I pooped!)

More importantly though, one must ask why the field was open to this type of invasion and why the destructive people could take over, further weakening the field until it was so weak that what would a few years ago be considered rank amateurs writing and publishing their own stories can have better results than those people in NYC, in lavishly staffed publishing houses.

The answer is: follow the money.

No, seriously. Humans are many things, but one of them is creatures who work for a combination of three things: self-satisfaction, monetary recompense, and social positioning.

Years ago, when I hit a low point in my career and was incredibly burned out, I bought a book on how to combat the burnout. It said the perfect storm of burn out was created by: low remuneration, low status and workload out of one’s control. (The only thing it advised was to change careers, which is something writers don’t do easily or indeed at all. So I threw it away.)

I’ve found over time that their assessment of why people work is true. Also you need a lot of money to compensate for low status, and if you have low income, status will be sought.

Got that?

Now consider that in the golden age of SF – let’s say the 30s to the 50s – authors were paid advances of around 5 to 10 k and that nowadays they are paid advances of around 5 to 10k, or at least that’s the range if you are a midlister. The darlings, of course, can make more, including millions, but that’s rare enough. Most of the fine flowers of SJWdom seem to be making 25 to 50k a book. But then they are expected to write a book no more than once every two years, and often much more. You do the math.

In the thirties, or even in the fifties you could support a family on something between 5 and 20k a year, depending on the size of the family and how lavish your lifestyle.

In the eighties, you might be able to do it on 20k a year (two books for your average midlister) depending on where you lived and how.

In the nineties… well, let me tell you, you probably needed at least 3 of those 10k advance books EVERY YEAR.

After that… Well, there was the year I wrote six books, and I netted way less than that, because some of them had 5k advances, and the others had delayed payment.

I grew up in a village. I smiled a little yesterday when Charlie said that for the woman to “have to work” was shameful even in the early sixties. It was shameful in the village, too, but “work” meant factory work, menial work, or work outside the home 9 to 5.

The truth is, I didn’t know any woman that DIDN’T work, and bring in at least half of the household income. (Mom brought in 90% of it for much of my early childhood.)

It took all of Dan’s finesse and fast talking to convince me it was okay to stay home and write, even when I was making hundreds a year (94 to 98.) The only reason I even considered it was that I had very small kids and I had seen enough daycare raised children not to want that for mine.

I once had an hilarious conversation with mom on the subject of what constituted “suitable work for a lady.” All I really remember was that she thought “buying and selling” was genteel enough but, say, painting walls wasn’t.

Dan and I who knew nothing about the field in recent years assumed (of course) that the superstars were few (they always are in a creative field) but that most people were making a living, at least if they wrote more than a book, wrote well enough to keep being published, etc.

So when I got my first advance for 5K I thought “well, it’s apprentice wages. Once I prove myself.” And indeed, my second book I got 10k. And there it stuck. (Right now, if you count indie, I average 12.5k per book. But with indie I have hope. I’ve heard stories.)

And then… I went to my first convention. All the writers – and most of them were women – fell into two categories: those who had a day job and had no expectation of quitting; and those who were supported by someone else.

I was raised in the village. And also I’m slightly insane. So I tried to write enough to bring in half of what Dan made. (Making what he made was a forlorn hope.) I sort of managed it, though I’ve fallen behind. However, my income is needed and vital (which is why I need to stop getting sick, etc, and get with the program) and so I continued. BUT my job was neither prestigious nor well regarded (well, maybe among you lot ;) ) nor was I treated like I was making a valuable contribution. All the publishers but Baen treated me as fungible and also as an annoying part of the process of getting THEIR book out. Calls went unanswered. Warnings of the sort of “that cover will give people the wrong impression” went ignored. Even minor things like “do I have a pub date?” was treated as a great imposition. Proposals that had been requested might go unanswered for a year. IN NO OTHER FIELD (except maybe music) ARE SUPPLIERS TREATED THIS WAY.

Yes, I know, midlist, therefore low value. But is it? Midlist used to be the bread and butter of the craft.

Before houses stopped paying enough that writers could consider themselves workers, with a career.

Career means something you do for money; something that builds; something that responds to application and effort; something that allows you intrinsic satisfaction and a degree of respect.

None of these apply to writing.

And so the people it attracts are either people who don’t need the money or those who use writing SF as a way to bolster their real career which is either in academia or in society. I.e. these people can’t get the satisfaction of working for money, so they work to be admired. And the best way to incite the admiration of their circles is to parrot the cause du jour. In the eighties it was feminism, then it was gay rights, and now I’m reliably informed we’re going to trans rights, because it’s a tiny minority and therefore more rarified. I want to drop a marker here and say I totally owned that territory with Ill Met By Moonlight way back in the early oughts.

They can’t work for the money – though given some academic salaries, it’s probably a nice boost – so they work for “attaboys” (or mostly attagirls.)

The incidence of bullsh*t in the field goes up in proportion that writing stops being a real job and starts being a hobby, pursued for either the admiration of the writer’s circle or help in the writer’s real job.

This means pulling ever further (leftward) into “fighting for the underdog” – provided the underdog is one approved of in the goofier parts of the first world, and not, say, women who get their genitals mutilated in the third world.

And there you have it. How the SJWs conquered science fiction and took it down with them. And of course, the fact that they have the Mierdas touch and that everything they touch loses public favor/interest, means that there is less money in SF/F and so less money to pay (always) the writers. Which in turn brings even more dilettanty dilettantes to the table and takes the field further into the carpper.

And so it would have continued, if it weren’t for indie which is giving SF/F a much needed shot in the arm. Of course it means the SJWs will also get more and more shrill in proportion to their lost power.

I predict we’ll reach supersonic whining levels within ten years.

I suggest we kick them while they’re down and make them fight for the awards and prestige they crave. Also, that we point at them and make duck noises.

So, go forth. If you can, sign up for a supporting membership so you can nominate non SJWs for the Hugos. (Think of the poor dears having to wonder if they’ve rigged the process ENOUGH to keep out those low prestige barbarians!)

And if you can’t, keep reading and writing the good stuff.

Keep making money. Money in the field will make it so declasse that it will drive away all the darling dilettantes. Catch them being associated with vile lucre.

Let’s make SF/F popular again. Let’s drive the dilettantes back to their beloved garrets where they can starve in genteel poverty, knowing they’re better than us.

Do it for the children — and the puppies

Be the Bojum! -Charlie Martin

Be the Boojum -Charlie Martin

For the last couple of days, there’s been a bunch of discussion prompted by a tweet by John Scalzi to the effect of:

Scalzi's tweet

I normally ignore Scalzi and the other SJWs. They’re clearly the sort of penny-ante fascists who congregate in the elective posts in community theatre, school boards, and homeowners’ associations, who like being able to lord it over a bunch of other people but don’t have the balls to actually run for something important. In any case, I no longer aspire to be an SFWA member, and I no longer think writers are somehow special, except perhaps in the sense employed in “special education” or the “special bus.”

I mean, I’m a writer; how special could they be?

But what has started to gall me is the arrogant ignorance of some of these damn kids.

Not to long ago, Sarah did a piece in Book Plug Friday that had its start in the somewhat silly notion that science fiction or fantasy hadn’t had many female writers until very recently. My reaction was basically “sure, kids, whatever”, but Sarah and one of the Diner-zens did the research and discovered that in fact the majority of award-winning writers for the last 20 or 30 years had actually been women. People of vaginitude. Oppressed womyn under the heel of the patriarchal publishing establishment.

Thinking about people I’d known personally: Connie Willis. Marion Zimmer Bradley. Karen Joy Fowler. Joanna Russ. Other big names, like Ursula K LeGuin, C. L. Moore, Leigh for Gods’ sakes Brackett, who not only wrote SF but wrote what I think may be the best screenplay of all time, Rio Bravo.

Ah, but they didn’t address sexual roles — well, no, Joanna Russ’s The Female Man. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness — except that wasn’t, somehow, really “groundbreaking” enough. (Hey kids: I was there. If you don’t think LHoD was groundbreaking, it’s because you’ve been plowing and replowing that same patch of ground that LeGuin took the arrows for breaking.) Marion Bradley’s Darkover books, especially the later ones, that have everything from gay and lesbian relationships to group-sex sex magic.

Or, of course, John Varley’s Nine Worlds stories, where characters change sex more or less on a whim — and subtly change their behavior to match.

The thing is, these kids think there really wasn’t a “past” — everything they might read was written, essentially, now, in a world with exactly their sensibilities. This is creeping in, I think, from the outside world of politically-driven literary criticism.

The paradigm for this is criticism of the most vehemently anti-racism and anti-slavery novel of the 19th century, in which the main character literally resigns himself to eternal damnation — and not in some cute, ironic, hipster sense, these people believed with all their hearts in a literal place of eternal torment — in order to help his friend escape slavery.

Only this book is now condemned as “racist”.

Why? Because one of the main characters is named, consistent with practices in the antebellum South, and in contrast with the continuing goodness and loving kindness of the character, “Nigger Jim.”

Well, get a clue kids. In another 120 years, Mark Twain will still live, and your great-grandchildren will need a genealogy to know your names.

So now we hear that old SF was “sexist”. The women do make a lot of sandwiches in The Skylark of Space, and Dorothy Vaneman Seaton is the damsel in distress at the start of the book.

Now go read the copyright page, kids. Or Wikipedia. Skylark was written between 1915 and 1921, basically a hundred years ago — and still Dorothy Vaneman pulls a gun on a murderer and is not just a musician, but has a Doctorate.

Go look up some other novels written during the First World War. Find me another one that was more “feminist”.

Along the same lines, it was a point of some controversy that apparently at some point shortly after LeGuin’s marriage to Charles LeGuin, Robert Heinlein said to Professor LeGuin that since they were married and he had a job, if she didn’t want to continue writing, she didn’t have to.

In all honesty, given Heinlein’s own troubles with stopping writing — it produced an effect he compared to “another attack of pulmonary tuberculosis” — I suspect this was not a serious suggestion. But grant, for the sake of argument, that it is. Then we have a man who was born in 1907, advising a young married couple sometime in the late 1950’s, that if the woman doesn’t want to work she doesn’t have to.

For Gods’ sakes, kids, have you never watched even one episode of I Love Lucy? As silly as it sometimes was, Ricky goes to his job, while Lucy stays home and cooks, wasn’t just a sitcom setup. It was the goal to which most adults of either sex aspired. If mom “had to work” is was a shame and a sad thing.

(And another little aside. This is about the time Atlas Shrugged was written. We read it now and think nothing of it, but Dagny Taggart being an engineer and a railroad executive was immensely unusual. Transgressive, even. It was probably more shocking than her having multiple lovers and being a little kinky.)

The point is, to judge the attitudes and morés of 100 years ago by what you think now is childish and silly and ignorant.

The problem now is that the silly children have taken over the fifth grade class and are trying to duct tape the teacher to his chair. (Yes, his. Remember when there were male grade-school teachers?) The solution is for the adults to say, “Isn’t that cute?” and then exert control again. But how?

It’s actually pretty easy.

Number one. Don’t buy dumb books. The last time — or was it the time before — the new upstarts were called “New Wave writers” and the “old wave” writers were eventually having trouble, not because their books didn’t sell, but because editors didn’t buy. Now, go pick up the Dangerous Visions books. There are some absolutely stellar stories there, like “Gonna Roll Them Bones”. There’s also a lot of pretentious crap. The New Wave writers made fun of Star Wars and Star Trek. Well, Star Wars is still around, and a lot of those writers ended up writing Star Trek novels for the money. Or getting fellowships. (Obligatory Harshaw quote: “A government-supported artist is an incompetent whore.”)

Number two. Do buy good books. Unlike during previous academic-publishing fads, this is easier now, because publishing no longer has gatekeepers. As hard as the gatekeepers are fighting to regain their supremacy, e-publishing has made it impossible. So write for indie, read from indie, find the books you like and tell others. This is a really new industry and we don’t quite know how to do it, but eventually someone with some funding is going to find a way to promote indie effectively.

That’s the boojum the trad pub world is worried about, anyway. They know that when people can reliably find and buy fiction they want — instead of the fiction they’re supposed to take like good little boys and girls, grimacing at the taste — the trad-pub writers and editors will softly and silently vanish away.

Number three. Make more Sad Puppies. But let me suggest one addition: Nominate indie.

Be the boojum.

Puppy Sadness Has a Cure

Sad space puppies need consolation

First of all an update on the Sarah: exhausted but improving.  For the next month I’m going to be doing more than I should physically, but the fact we’re finally doing something about getting the house up for sale cheers me up.

It’s very weird to live in a house that doesn’t “fit” and to be fair, it did until the boys got big and needed office space.  It’s not a matter of size, either, as lacking space for specific activities.  I mean, the house gets messy, because you’re trying to find places to do things, etc.

However, something is being done about that, so hurray.

Meanwhile I bring you news of great puppy sadness.

But first let me tell you about this little girl in Portugal.  Okay, not that little. If she were in a language that permitted it, being five seven and around 120 lbs at thirteen in a country where four feet and a little was considered great for a girl, would have got her called Two Ton Tessie.

At any rate, that young woman fit in about as well as an elephant at a regency ball.  But she had books.

Specifically what she read was science fiction.

This was difficult because in Portugal, at the time, there was ONE imprint and it put out ONE book once a month. Not only was this relatively slow for her reading speed, it was very fast for her money speed.

However, she still bought the books, even when it meant going without lunch, or starting a neighborhood newspaper in a mad bid to make some money.

And some of the books she always bought, other than Heinlein, Asimov, Bradbury, Simak and later Mccaffrey, were collections of Hugo and Nebula winners.

I remember clearly a finals week, when I was so tired and out of it, I bought the Hugo winners volume in the store across from the school, and then read it while walking to the train, because it made me feel human again to have these thoughts that were not the type of thing they taught in school.

Would it still work that way?  I think not.  Science fiction has been taken over by academics.  This is not the same as being intellectual or even “literature” whatever the heck that is.  I mean I think AIMING for the later two is insanity, because that’s not how literature really works — the only person who can judge if your work is literary is your millionth reader in the year 220.  And he’s not born yet — but one does not, whatever the other side (rolls eyes) thinks write with one’s mind turned off.

On the contrary, the hope is to write science fiction that is fun to read but leaves behind lingering thoughts — say a lot of Heinlein’s books.

Somehow, the current luminaries in my field think the only way to make SF/F worthwhile again is to make it as boring and dreary as my school lessons back in the day. And the only way to ensure SF doesn’t die is to write characters of every shade of victimhood into their books.  And write them being victimy victims.  Because that will attract… victims…

I’m not sure what the thought is, really.  That young Portuguese woman I was back then didn’t care if her favorite books were written by or featured only blonds pasty enough to feature at the head of a Viking raid.  In fact, she didn’t mind all the names were in English.  It just gave her this odd idea that in the future she too would have an English name.  Weirdly, this was correct, though not intended thus.

Back then I read for the fun, the ideas I couldn’t find elsewhere, and the idea that the future would be interesting and not an endless pounding of Marxist tripe.

The last time I went to a bookstore in Portugal, I couldn’t find an sf/f section (though there was some paranormal romance in the general area.)

Apparently making sure there are more people who look/sound like Portuguese hasn’t helped make the books popular with the new generation there.  Judging by what I see around here, it doesn’t do much for kids here either.  Well, perhaps sanctimonious goody-two-shoes kids.  But not… normal kids.

As for the Hugos…. brother, I stopped buying the books about ten years ago, when I realized I’d stopped reading them five years before.  I even tried to read one, and it reminded me of the thing a colleague of mine says it’s a bad idea to write “The working class got up, was exploited and went back to bed.”  Only in this case it was the Transgender lesbian pagan handicapped woman woke up, was vicitimized and went back to bed.  Over and over and over again.  Though some characters were purportedly male, for variety.

And this is why the puppies are so sad.  They need more good stuff to read.  I wanted to give you a GIF post, but I’m still too tired.  Maybe tomorrow.  However, cry no more, because the inimitable Larry Correia has done a GIF post. (YAY.)

So, I’m going to quote broadly from his instructions:

This year we will be expanding the suggested slate to include several other authors, artists, and creators who are usually locked out by the SJW voting block. The men and women of Sad Puppies want to get more fans involved, even if they’re the *wrong* kind of fans. We want people to vote based on what they loved and enjoyed, not on what sends the approved message or checks the right box.

You need to register now in order to be able to participate, but your actual nominations are not due for some time. In the comments feel free to suggest other eligible works that you think we should take a look at.

And please tell your friends. Help spread the word, because only you can stop PRS.

EDIT: For those just joining us who missed last year’s controversy, here is a recap of what happened when a bunch of barbaric outsiders got nominated:  http://monsterhunternation.com/2014/04/24/an-explanation-about-the-hugo-awards-controversy/

Remember, for your $40 membership, you not only get to nominate books that don’t suck but you get those books to read free with your voting packet.  So go forth and nominate!

Copying from Larry again, because I haven’t had coffee yet:

 If you’d like to nominate good books, stories, and related works for the Hugos so that the biggest award in sci-fi/fantasy isn’t just a Social Justice Warrior circle jerk, you need to get yourself a supporting membership to Sasquan before the end of January.

https://sasquan.swoc.us/sasquan/reg.php

Go forth and votify — and nominafy (shut up, totally words!) so that little girls yet unborn think of the Hugos as cool and interesting again, and not as the same sort of boring Marxist pap their professors push.

 

 

The Culture of Motherhood -Cedar Sanderson

The Culture of Motherhood-Cedar Sanderson

Without mothers, the world would not be the place that it is. And yet, in our self-hating society, motherhood is denigrated, despised, and belittled. Mothers are mocked for becoming mothers, and then challenged to perform beyond human limits. When they fail? Mocked again. It’s enough to make you wonder why they bother.

Let’s put this into perspective. Only a very small portion of the world’s societies demand that a woman keep maintaining a career while trying to raise her children. As a result, neither the children nor the career get full justice. But in our society, should the mother choose her children over her career, then she is ‘giving in to the patriarchy’ and this is a shameful thing in the eyes of those who ought to be supporting her.

I am not saying that motherhood means mewing yourself up in the house with the children, your husband the only source of adult human contact… that would drive most people mad. I remember those days, and how helpful the internet was. I also was helping start up, then running full time, a successful small business from the time my first child was still in diapers. The phone and the internet made it possible for me, and had I been able to drive, I could have done even more.

With the technological advances of our society, there really is no more reason for a mother to need to leave home. And yet there is more pressure every year for her to do just that, to leave her children with minimum-wage daycare workers, and go off ten or more hours a day to pursue a career.

In a conversation elsewhere, a story was told, set in the late sixties or early seventies, of two men talking. One had recently been married, and the other was congratulating him, teasing him a little on his good luck… and commenting that now the new wife would be able to stop working and focus on raising a family. The teller of this tale in the modern era was horrified. The worst kind of harassment, it was proclaimed, to subdue this poor woman to merely having children.

But let’s look at this again. At one time, O my Children, men were expected to take care of their families. If they did not, they were expected to creep off into the night in shame. For the newly-married groom in this conversation, to be unable to allow his wife the support so that she could, if she chose, stop working and have fat happy babies which she could put her whole attention to raising… would be a bad thing. So the other man was not condemning the woman to a slattern’s life of dirty dishwater and enforced slavery.

Because she had the ability to choose. And that is what we are taking away from the young women of today. We are altering the culture of motherhood in such a way as to leave girls with an unspeakable choice: family, or work. Could they have both? Yes, but chances are they will be pushed into a career that means they must choose between one or the other, and whichever they choose, they will be made to feel guilty about it.

I am a mother. For the first twelve years of their lives, I was able to be at home with them, running a business, yes, but still there constantly. When that became untenable, I was still able to support them. But then I had to work out of the home, two or three jobs at a time. I know both sides of the coin, and I know which I would choose if I could do it again. But my eldest daughter is learning in her high school classes that if she wants to have a baby and pursue a PhD at the same time, that’s a wonderful goal, and she should do it. I’m biting my tongue and trying not to discourage her – she is brilliant, and hardworking, but she has no idea what babies or work or even really, school, entail. She’s going to have a very difficult time if she tries that path.

And here’s the final thing I have to say about the culture of motherhood these days. We are losing the extended family. Only, perhaps not in the way you might think. Where once the grandmother (or both grandparents, but men have ever lived less long than the tough old women are granted) was an integral part of the family, helping raise the little sprouts, giving the mother some breathing room, they are now… not. Families are often scattered. But even more I am seeing a trend where mothers, unable to bear up under the pressures placed on them to work, have children, and dispense with a steady caring man in their life: they give up. I know several families, and I am sure you do as well, where the grandparents are now parenting again. I know of one where the great-grandparents are, as none others are capable of taking care of an infant.

We face an epidemic of broken families. We have for a long time, I know. But I think back to that long-ago conversation, to a man’s promise to support and love his wife, implicit in the joking with another man. How twisted we have become, that it is now possible to say that is harassing a woman, to tear her away from her family, force her to work, remove her supportive partner from loving her through all the trials of motherhood… is this a good thing? When did mother become a bad word?

Beware Writer

I’m sort of fried this morning — I will be entertaining guest posts, if any of you dreams of starring at ATH (your name in lights.  Or at least in WordPress!) — because we’re trying to get house ready for sale by my surgery date on March 16th.  (It’s not that there is anything major wrong with the house, but there are myriad little unsightly things.  My younger son said “Can’t we wait to paint till we have an offer?  If the buyer wants it painted, then we paint!” I had to explain the process of attracting a buyer.  Forgive him Lord, he’s an engineer.)

So…  Here I am packing and putting away excess books, and moving furniture to clean behind, and somewhere in the middle of this, the writer brain complains.  And starts making up carp.

See, we’re cheap (As I’ve said before — right? — writer and mathematician money only goes so far, even if the mathematician’s money is steadier) so instead of buying moving boxes to store books, etc, for … well, probably a year? — we’re watching craigslist ads and rushing out to grab boxes.

Unfortunately these boxes come with names and notations (actually as a side note, I found out why they are so expensive.  These boxes have notations of three moves, and some of the boxes that are recycled — Amazon, sharper image, etc, are from as far away as IL.)

There is a set of boxes that’s labelled Stormie.  Her brother has a perfectly normal name, Ethan, and I kept wondering why name a girl Stormie.  No, look, I understand creative naming and what have you, but teen girls?  Stormy enough, don’t encourage it.

So …

I was thinking about it, and suddenly, there she was.  You know, Stormie.

There she was, in the coffee shop, dressed head to toe in black leather.  It couldn’t be anyone else.  A beautiful face, the kind that could have posed for an angel in a renaissance painting, but it was framed in wild, black hair.

She wore too much makeup but not in a way that said “hey baby, baby.”  More in a way that said “My mascara warns you I have a knife collection.  And I don’t mean for cooking.”

I siddled into the seat opposite hers, feeling sheepish. She barely looked up from her double espresso extra grande.  There was a tear tattoo at the corner of her right eye.

“Stormie?” I asked.  “Stormie Jones?”

She nodded.

“That job?”

“Yeah.  You tell me what to rub out, I rub it out.”

I clear my throat “Er… are you sure?  It’s a difficult job.”

“Look, Mister, my parents named me Stormie.  My brothers are Ethan and Alan, and my sister is Lilly, but I’m Stormie.  You grow up with an eighties song being sang at you, you grow tough.  No job too difficult.  I want to rub things out, see?”  Suddenly I realized she was smoking, as she stubbed her cigarette on the table.  I looked around nervously.  I didn’t think you could smoke at starbucks, much less burn their tables.”

I really needed the job done.  “Er…” I said.  “Then, well, on Wednesday.”  I pass the address card to her.  “Here at three pm, for the price agreed.”

She looks at the card and sneers.  “I will be there.”  She pockets the card and swaggers out.

I watch her walk away and think, “Surely this is too big a production for hiring a cleaning lady.  But I really need that dirt scrubbed out.”

— and now you know that if you put up a craigslist ad for free moving boxes, you should add “Not to writers.  Not under any circumstances!”

 

Baby I like your Style — a blast from the past post January 2008

*I’m alive.  I have internet access at home.  It’s a new service, though, and it’s SO secure that I am having trouble doing things like pull mail.  I have my hotmail up, though, and would appreciate guest posts which I’d like to go heavy on for about two weeks, while we get house ready and books finished.  This post might be too writerly, but I find it fascinating that I was even back then suspicious of the Nebulas and other prizes.*

Unless life, death or the end of the world as we know it — and then only if I don’t feel fine! — intervenes, the next few weeks, months and possibly — intermittently — years will see me posting semi-coherently on my theory of writing and style.

Good writing is a lot like art. I know it when I see it and it’s highly personal. I’m sure it’s the same for most of us, except those people who take their directive from a higher source in the form of received wisdom. For those this whole thing is much easier — good writing is whatever the authority says.

I wish I could — in good conscience — bow down to the Nobel committee, the Nebula voters, the critics, the “people who know better” TM. But the fact is, ultimately, either as a writer or as a reader, I don’t like to be told what to think, and — to my clear and informed mind — with a few exceptions, most of the decisions of any award committee — yes, that does include the Oscars — seems like the entire group went into a room and smoked a truly gigantic bong possibly while sniffing glue. There are exceptions — there are always exceptions — but even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

And as for going with “what sells” these days so many things influence the market, from distribution to hype, that I have trouble finding any solid thread of “good” in what tops the blockbuster lists. And these days when books are almost universally — Baen excepted — taken out of print in a year, there’s very little room for sleeping hits. You either get the push to be everywhere at once or… you don’t. This means bestsellers tend to be books that someone in NYC — and for mega bestsellers someone very big in NYC — put muscle behind. All that is required past a certain level of push is that they be halfway decent. In fact most of them do not command my attention for more than ten minutes. Possibly this is because I am an unabashed reader of genre literature.

Why should I even care what’s good or how to evaluate style? Good question. (The bright boy on row five gets a star!)

As a reader, the blunt answer is that I don’t. Why should I? Refer to the top for the fact that “I know what I like.” Meaning I buy what I like, I read it. If it’s really, really satisfying, I re-read it. And I move on to the next book, sometimes coming back to re-read things I enjoyed. Simple. No theory involved.

The problem comes in as a writer. I don’t know if I’ll ever be a bestseller. Heck, I don’t know if I’ll ever have an audience that I can’t count by removing my shoes. Don’t care. I do care about being GOOD.

Look, this writing thing is a compulsion. There is no sane reason why anyone should do this, and, despite occasional vehement denials to the contrary, I am sane. Pragmatic, even.

So why am I getting up early and going to bed late and spending my weekends researching the lives of long-dead people, or reading yet another depressing tome on how societies come unglued? I mean, I could be out, refinishing some furniture, going for walks with the boys and generally terrorizing the known world or at least the neighborhood.

I’ve now tried to give up writing DOZENS of times. About half of them before I was ever published. The rest… well… about twice a year. I confess that for health reasons, one of the more serious considerations I gave it was last year, while my hormones were acting up. But I was considering giving up on everything else, at that point, breathing included. Everything was too much effort.

Allergy meds will also stop me from writing. In fact, one four-hour dosage will damper the need for three or four days. And yes, I have considered becoming addicted to benedryl. But overall, it doesn’t seem to answer.

So, I’m writing. I’m writing blindly and without any expectations of ever reaching a significant enough audience for my writing to make any difference. I’m writing as an act of faith that yes, there is something beyond us, some grand plan, if you wish, or at least some loosely scripted outline, and that my writing fits in there somewhere. Perhaps a fragment of it will fall in the hands of someone at some point and that will trigger something. (How specific is that, uh?)

But for me, for my own peace of mind, if I’m going to spend this much time doing something and devoting myself to a craft, then by BOG I’m going to make it good. Which brings me to what is good.

This is where I should explain that, like most writers I know, I’m a serial and compulsive user of “how to” books. It did not help with my habit that the single most influential and important book of my career — Dwight Swain’s Writing To Sell — came my way at a library sale in a box of discarded books that I bought for $5.

I buy “how to write books” on the recommendation of friends; because I find them used atop a neat table at the local thrift store; at library sales; on the recommendation of total strangers at Amazon. Remember that scene in trainspotting where the guy said something about diving into a toilet in search of drug? Well… I wouldn’t go that far. But I would probably pick up the torn, walked-upon pages of a writing book off the sidewalk, in the hope that here — here at last — there would be something to make it all clear to me. SOMETHING that would tell me “GOOD” and “BAD” and separate the two widely. Something I could memorize or practice and learn, so I would never write anything bad again and all my stuff would be gold.

Yes, yes, the sane part of me is aware this is illusory. The sane part of me, that has favorite writers, knows very well that I wouldn’t cross the street to read some of Heinlein’s books, while I would walk across a knife-covered room for others. And Heinlein is, admittedly, my favorite author. The same could be said for all my favorites. Pratchett, Heyer, Christie — EVERYONE of them. Some books are gold and some are “uh. What was he/she thinking?” So it is inevitable that some — or most of mine — will be that way to my fifteen or sixteen devoted readers.

However, hope springs eternal (which is why most of human intellectual achievement is devoted to cutting it down like kudzu) so I keep searching. And sometimes, sometimes, I even convince myself I’ve found something. Rarely but it happens. Sometimes I can almost believe if I stand on my left foot and utter three times before writing “No bad description shall pass these fingers” the result will be pure, refined gold. And sometimes I believe if I go through my manuscript and strike out every use of the word “pool” the book will be wonderful.

Again, these moments of unalloyed credulity are rare in me. But in the middle of the night, alone in your head with the books to be written… well, to quote Leonard Cohen (Another of my bad habits) “It’s lonely here, there’s no one left to torture.” So my mind turns on itself and searches for something to anchor to.

My last foray into attempting to do something about my writing is what brought me to this post and to the ones that will inevitably follow. It was actually several months ago. For reasons that were — after all — apparently physical, I found myself writing in a totally “joyless” way. I could write, and I knew what to do. I even knew what my characters were going through. And I sort of “liked” them. But it was like perceiving it all through a veil and none of it brought me any joy. For all the enjoyment I derived out of it, I might as well have been driving a truck.

Now, of course, sane people would have said “You’re just tired.” And that was part of the issue, though the tiredness had its roots in illness. But when writing is a compulsion, you can’t just walk away whistling and have a grand time. I take my alphasmart or at least a notepad — if I’m really forcing myself to relax — on any vacation of more than two days. And it’s fairly sure that I’ll wake up on the second or third morning, notepad in hand, scribbling an outline or the opening lines to a short story.

Right now, in addition to the books under contract — and two woefully late — I have notes for four that are still in the conception stage and about three more that are in that nebulous stage at the back of my mind, where I know they are waiting, but they haven’t yet given me more than a concept or a one-line pull. And an endless collection of bits that came to me on vacation.

So, “just tired” didn’t cut it. It was clear to me I was going to write for the rest of my life and, not knowing I needed meds, I wanted to figure out how to make it fun again. So I bought several books. One of those I bought was “From Where You Dream” — because I felt that’s what I needed. To make my writing more spontaneous again. To pull, literally, from my deep-dreams.

But the book, despite its lovely title, proved less than useful to my situation, at least. He’s all over “immediate writing” which anyone who has asked me for writing help knows I am as well. Immediate writing means removing as much of your “after thoughts” from it. As Pratchett would put it “The first sight and the second thoughts.” He stigmatized as wrong and bad every time you gave anything a character thought — rather than just what they felt or saw. At least he did by the middle of the book, which is when I gave up on reading it.

Now, this “human as a camera and collection of stimulus-reaction” might fit a behaviorist view of the world, but I was never a behaviorist. (“Every time a dog salivates, a Pavlovian rings a bell” — RAH) And this method of writing things concentrating mostly on direct sensations/events is DOUBTLESS the easiest way to draw a reader in and keep him focused.

But the key there is “mostly.” And how much “mostly” is depends on what you’re writing. I argued the other day with a friend who complained about David Weber’s long “infodumps” by pointing out that given the complexity of what Weber writes, and the history/sociology/science that he must bury in each book, the infodumps are, paradoxically, the least painful way of doing it. In fact, I can’t imagine anyone writing sf or other-world fantasy without resorting to some interior thoughts, some infodump, some tuck and pin to give the impression of the much larger canvas. (This is NOT a defense for belly-button gazing books! Things still must happen. And your character must be minimally competent in dealing with them, not just crying over them. One thing is being the underdog, the other the annoying b– well, you get it.)

Still, being a writer and therefore having the self-confidence of an overboiled noodle, at the point when it starts falling apart, I worried about this. And I worried about this for days. I worried that my books were what this man said every book by someone who reported “thoughts” and not primary impressions was: Very bad.

I knew he was wrong — intellectually — and I knew that a certain amount of thoughts and other facts needed to come in beyond stimulus-response. Unless all I wanted to write was about our very mundane, everyday life. For THAT this writing style is perfect. (And if you like reading that, what are you doing, reading my blog?)

But it wasn’t until today, while I was turning it over in my mind that I realized how wrong he was — not just wrong, but criminally, hideously wrong. It is true that for most situations you need an immediate style of narration, infodumps or not. BUT for some a deflected style of narration is BEST. Needed in fact.

Okay — say I have a character — Gulliver Bright — in a terrible situation. He’s in a room with no other door. The bad guys are closing in on him. There is nothing he can use to defend himself.

If I write it like this:
They’re coming for me. Gulliver looked around wildly, at the smooth walls of the room he was in. Nothing. No way out.
From down the hall came the footsteps of his approaching enemies. As soon as they rounded the corner, he would see them. And they’d have a clear shot at him. Sweat dripped into his eyes. His gut clenched in a tight knot. I must find a way to get out.

You KNOW that not only is Gulliver fully aware and in possession of his faculties, but that he WILL somehow find a way to get out. But now suppose I want to foreshadow something different. Suppose that before running into that room Gully was wounded or perhaps drugged, and I want to signal to you that distancing from reality, that sense that the world is, as it were, running away from him. He might not know it. And I’m in his head. So, how do I signal to the reader that the character is off his rocker, and that this “will not end well” TM?

How about this, (which in the opinion of that theorist ranks as very bad writing indeed) —

They were coming for him. Gulliver knew it. Around him, the walls rose smooth and unbroken. He realized that he had no way out. There was nothing he could do. In his mind’s eye, he could see them, even as he heard their footsteps starting to round the corner of the hallway. Once they turned the corner they would be able to shoot him and there was no way at all he could defend himself. He felt sweat drip into his eyes. He felt his gut clench in a tight knot. He thought that he had to find a way out.

(And the next sentence for that would be something like “And then time ran out and the world went black.” But you get my point.)

And this got me thinking that I might actually have a theory of how to write. And what’s good and what’s bad. And why. Whether that’s true or not… who knows? I will be doing these entries, to be honest mostly for me, to codify the stuff at the back of my brain. But I don’t mind if all fifteen of you listen in…

So… with that in mind, see you next time.

Sarah

On the Run

So, this post is horribly late, mostly because I slept through three alarms, and then had to make it to place with access. I shall post then go back home to pack/clean/other fun stuff.

It’s been a very tiring process, I’m dying to sit down and write, but every time I sit down I fall asleep.

Anyway – for those hoping to see me at Cosine, I won’t be there. It’s not that I didn’t want to go – I did. It got me out of lifting heavy things, even if I might go to sleep on some panels – but we must get this house ready for sale before I go have surgery on the 16th, and we’re dealing with 12 years of not very rational accumulation.

(Is accumulation ever rational? Yes. Most of our book collection, for ex. Is rational. The problem is when we moved to this house Dan was suffering from untreated apnea, and I couldn’t sleep because of the noise (I can’t use earplugs. I have very short ear canals. I also can’t sleep without him in bed. You see my dilemma?) so we packed in a zombified state. (It could be argued we bought the house in a zombified state, since it was clear from the first it didn’t fit what we need to do in it. Like having an area for my office that worked.) So we moved a LOT of er… carp. A lot of it. After we moved I got tired of opening boxes and staring at contents that made no sense, not only in association but in having been brought over at all. I finally either gave up and stored the boxes, or the stuff got unpacked and randomly distributed (which is worse.) On top of that, the fact the house never fit us means that there are bizarre things in places that LOGICALLY they have no business in, like manuscripts in my embroidery area, or craft books in my research shelves. There’s also the fact the last 12 years have been very busy and full of change. When we moved here the boys were pre-teens. Their interests have changed immensely. Ours too, if not as fast. There are things picked up to try a hobby I never had time to try out; there’s stuff picked up for the kids that should have been discarded years ago, but we were busy so it ended up in basement or attic. It’s a mess.)

We’ve made arrangements not to be here when we work. (I’m not being coy. All will be explained eventually. There are reasons not to be too explicit. Trust me.) This is so the house can be shown without interrupting my work/kids studying, etc. This is where I’m remoting from. Meanwhile there is stuff (work related) to be moved there. Stuff to be stored. House to be cleaned, painted, polished.

Don’t ask if I’m overdoing it. If I don’t overdo it, it won’t get done. I intend to sleep for two weeks after surgery.)

So, I hoped to make it to at least two or three panels, but Dan says no, because he can’t take me over and besides we need the car. (Hey we all wanted to start an exercise program, right?)

Back to cons – I hoped to go, but the truth is the panels I was in were rather a puzzle.

Look, I’m not going to diss con organizers. They do hard work, unpaid. I organized a con (not sf/f) once and it can drive you nuts.

The problem is this: because of my issues with moving/staging and health and writing, I am the worst of guests. I never answer the “do you have ideas?” and “what panels would you like to be on?”

I used to, I did, before life got so crazy. And I grant you that trying to dig out of the last two years of nothing makes my life particularly crazy, but at this point con organizers should assume that if you are a working/professional writer you’re not going to have time, on a random Tuesday, to go peruse their list of panels and tell them what you want on. We’re most of us, at this point, dual writers, with writing only a part of our duties and all of them time consuming. At any rate, if it’s a largish con, you won’t have any idea if your editor will want to take you out and when.

I understand but despise the tendency of con panel organizers to favor those authors who are Johnny on the spot with answers to “What panels do you want to be on” and “which panels would you like to see?”

This is probably because I end up most of the time, in the panel on coffee on alternate worlds, straight across from the masquerade, but there is a point to it, nonetheless. As in, if you favor the authors who answer fast, you’re going to favor a lot of the newbies and never has beens, because those are the only people who have the time to answer.

OTOH even as it annoys me, I realize there is no reason for con organizers even locally to have my bio by heart (none of the local huns organize cons) and to realize how ridiculous it is NOT to put me on the panel on invented languages. If you’ve never heard me (i.e. if you’re new) you will have no idea Sarah Hoyt isn’t white bread middle class American with perhaps an English degree. You certainly won’t know all my early training was in linguistics.

The problem though is that the result are poorly staffed panels that end up giving a poor experience to the watcher. One of the worst blunders is putting an old pro in with six rank newbies. Either the pro takes over of the newbies decide to prove their better and shut the pro down. Both are a bad show. Then there’s putting someone who broke in 15 years ago in the “how to break in panel.” (No, not this con. This con’s choices were … odd, not bad, precisely. And no, that’s not why I’m not attending.) The industry changes so fast it’s not actually any use for the person to be there. Or say the fact that for ten years after my Shakespeare books were out of print I was ONLY put in the Shakespeare panel. (It’s not that I don’t like Shakespeare. It’s that when I was writing mostly urban fantasy and mystery, this was bloody useless to me.)

My ‘favorite’ panel, however, (and a panel on panel disasters should be a perennial at every con, because it’s ever new) was when I went to my second (?) mile hi as a pro and asked to be put on the dragon panel. I was after all writing Draw One In The Dark and I have a “thing” for dragons anyway.

So… the panel starts, and I keep trying to pull it to fiction, because the other people want to talk about “real dragon sightings” and the cover up on the existence of dragons, and I was supposed to moderate. Ten minutes in, I realize to my horror not only do these people believe dragons are real but SO DO THE AUDIENCE. I shut up. Went to my mental happy place. Had a little nap.

This was an example of doing everything right (I’d picked that panel, so had the other people) and it all going South.

I’ve been giving all this some thought while carrying boxes, so pardon me if the following is irrational or at least has sore arm muscles… I mean… well…

First, what are cons for? For the organizers, a successful con attracts a lot of fans who have great fun and get to interact with their favorite writers. Therefore writers are a necessary evil, and you certainly don’t have time to carefully read and parse their biographies, much less look up their oeuvre.

For writers, cons are for publicity. No. That’s about it. It used to be about interacting with fans, but now we have the internet. Which also helps with publicity. Getting face to face with favored fans is fun, but not essential.

Now if the balancing act of “fun con” and “publicity” is right then it’s worth for the author to burn writing time to go, and it’s worth for the con to have the writer there.

But this should be done with minimal effort.

Lunacon when I attended had a guest questionnaire. (Okay, they also wanted you to choose panels, but it was okay, as they had a checklist on line and didn’t require me to deal with PDF which my machine is apparently allergic to.)

It occurs to me that a well-designed guest questionnaire could save both sides grief and – to boot—make it a more fun con.

Thus a guest questionnaire would go something like this:

Name:

What are you? (Author/artist/fan.)

How long have you been (whatever.)

(That part is important, because even if the stupid writer asks to be on the dragon panel, if all the other panelists are cryptozoologists, this probably won’t end well. At least you can go back and say “the situation is this. Are you sure?”)

Then an area for writers:

What is your education background, if any?

What do you write, mostly?

What work would you particularly like to promote? What genre/subgenre/setting?

What are your hobbies?

Favorite writers-

Best friends in field-

People you’d rather not be on a panel with? You don’t have to tell us why and we won’t tell.

Topics you’ll cut us if we put you on?

Do you wish to be on funny panels or not?

Do you have any panel suggestions?

What panels are you sick and tired of being on?

 

Those questions will allow you to distribute panelists the best you can. Again, this con was not that bad, and it’s a good thing the topics were a little off, since I’d have to not go anyway, but to me (because I know me. They don’t) it was bizarre that I was put on a “reading classics” panel (my classics are different from everyone else) but not on the invented language panels before it. It was even odder that neither Dan nor I were on the epublishing panel, but Dan was on a panel on female main characters (not that he has anything against them. He often writes them, even. Just not in novels.) A questionnaire like the one above would make things easier. Con organizers, just remember, all writers are lazy and flakey, so make the questionnaire interactive online. If we have to open things and save things on our computers it will all go paws up.

Okay, and now it’s back to the salt boxing, cleaning, fixing mines. YAY. Not.

Ya’ll be good and continue NOT painting the blog purple. Your restraint is appreciated.

 

A Stranger Reflection

*Some housekeeping stuff before the post.  As most of you know, by now, I’m having internet connectivity problems.  I’ve been posting from a remote location where I can access the net, which explains why my answers here come in clumps all at one time.  Today (I’m writing this yesterday, so I almost said tomorrow) I might not be able to reach this away-point, since — for those of you not on the net right now — Colorado Springs is getting clobbered with snow, and getting here today meant that we risked life and limb, and we wouldn’t have done it if my husband didn’t need to remote-into-work which is even further away.  All this to say if I’m not on today, I’m okay and nothing happened to me, and I’ll read the comments when I get online. In further “housekeeping”, my friend Brad Torgersen has asked me to remind you of some Sad Puppies, who need consolation.*

But there has to be someone like me in the story, otherwise, how can I like it?

Yes, the SJWs ARE the gift that keeps on giving (and giving, and giving, and giving – they’re so generous) as far as this blog is concerned.

You see, the SJW who was sensitivity-bombing Brad Torgersen’s thread the other day was saying that we don’t have LGBT, Women, People of Interesting Nationalities, Little Brownz Peoples People of tan People who are barely darker than I People who are not extremely pale in science fiction and fantasy because we don’t write for them. It’s sort of a faith in “if we write it, they will come.” It’s a little dopey faith, but very, very sincere.

You see, the reason – supposedly – that we don’t have more people of tannitude and different sexual options, or women (and OMG are they crazy on that one. We have nothing but women. In fact our ranks are the opposite of my son’s advanced engineering classes) is because we don’t write enough of them.

Okay, to begin with shut up. They honestly believe this, and maybe it’s true in their universe. It clearly isn’t true in ours where since the pulp era science fiction has been THE place where “Other” was sexy.

Let’s forget that part, since I’ve tried to point out to them that in terms of writers my age or slightly older women are actually in the majority (the result of the fact that writing became a profession in which it was very hard to support a family. So it became the profession of the secondary earner in a relationship, thereby giving the advantage to women and gay men who often work part time or less demanding jobs so they can be the homemaker and child raiser.)

They just scream no they’re not. The same way they scream that Heinlein only wrote women as homemakers and that no woman ever got an award before 2010 or so.

Let it go. It’s like straw-Larry Correia, a despicable creature that exists only in a parallel universe. (That guy is a d*ck.) Straw-Heinlein in the other universe wrote sort of Gor with more spaceships. And women had their fingers broken when trying to pen winning science fiction before 2010. And worldcons used to feature big bonfires in which any person with a complexion darker than porcelain was burned at the stake.

Let all that go, and let’s go back to the premise: we have to attract readers who are not straight white men by writing about people like them first.

I first ran into this type of belief when I wrote my first short story. I showed it to some friends, and was shot down with “There is no character I can identify with.”

To be fair, it was a very short horror story and all the characters were profoundly unpleasant. To be unfair what our friend really meant was “there is no character I can get in the head of” but he THOUGHT this was because there was no character LIKE HIM.

I think that’s what people originally meant by “there must be a character you can identify with” – it was, there has to be a character into whose head I can get and about whom I give a d*mn. Only some people take it to mean “there must be a character this age, this orientation and this coloration, before I’m interested in reading.”

This makes perfect sense, since at eight, when I fell in love with Have Spacesuit Will Travel, I was a little boy living in middle America with a Math Professor father, right? Oh, wait… Or at eleven when I loved Out of Their Minds and subsequently fell in love with Clifford Simak’s work. I must have been a middle aged man living in Wisconsin.

Other books/works/ writers I enjoyed, in no particular order at that time and leaving out a vast number: Pearl S. Buck, Enid Blyton, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Mark Twain, Thomas Mann Jack London…. If all of them had characters who were little girls growing up in Portugal in the early seventies, I must somehow have missed them.

The thing is that it has always puzzled me the idea that to enjoy a book/movie/play you must have a character in it who is just like you.

I read books written long before I was born, about events and characters lost in the midst of time, and I do enjoy them.

First, there is the universal human experience in them. And then, of course, there is the ability to be someone else for a while.

I believe my experience is closer to universal than the idea that a character like me must be in every book, otherwise people like Jane Austen and Shakespeare would have been long forgotten.

More, the funny thing about the “if you write it they will come” argument is that, on its face it’s an argument for more white middle class people in science fiction. And just about every other genre too.

The majority of readers come from that vast American amalgam that is considered white (something more to do with upbringing than coloration) and middle class and lives in suburbs and works nine to five jobs, and…

So if you needed to have a character like the reader in order to attract the reader, our works would feature more and more (and more, and more, till an order of moritude is reached) people like that, so we can be bestsellers with the readers that exist now. We would not put in any Thai, one legged gay men in order to attract Thai, and handicapped and gay men to our books. That would be sort of the equivalent of going to the local lake, which you know to be stocked with carp (duck) with shark bait, in order to attract the odd shark who might swim in through the possible canal linking the lake to the sea.

In the same way that Thai, handicapped gay guy might be burning for books with characters like him, but he’d have to go to the bookstore at the right time, in the right place to find your book on the shelf (I think the window is now two weeks after publication.) He’d have to be in the mood for science fiction right then. And he would have to like your work, above and beyond the Thai, one legged gay guy thing. AND if all the stars align? You found yourself a fanatical reader. One. Unless he’s got the wealth of Croesus, you’re still going to starve.

But fortunately this is not true. Fortunately the readers divide evenly between those who want to read about stuff they’re familiar with, and those want to read new and exciting. Science fiction has an overwhelming preponderance of xenophiles. They like the new and different. (Of course, most of what they’re served is people like no one wo ever existed outside a college class on Marx whining about oppression, but never mind that.)

So I can (and will, later) write a novel about a completely alien human culture and its interaction with humans who have been gene-spliced with aliens. And sell it. And have you guys all excited to read it. Kind of like the story of alternate world where we’re at war with shape-shifting dragons. Not like us, and I almost guarantee there won’t be anyone who checks the boxes – race, creed, etc – for many of you. But I understand ya’ll still want to read it (right?)

Yeah, these characters will touch the human universals, and be understandable and identifiable-with as humans, but that’s not the same as being exactly like you, yes, you, Mr. Smith of Parishfield Kentucky, who is a medium beige, likes dogs and drag racing and plays football on weekends, while maintaining a rich side-life as a crossdressing cat-fur who goes by Fluffy.

I can’t even imagine someone who reads fiction only in order to read someone like himself. It makes me think of those stories for kids where, for a fee, they put your children’s name. My inlaws, with good intentions, sent one of these to #1 son one Christmas.

Granted he was 5, so this might have seemed like a good idea. OTOH they had met him. perhaps the horror of the encounter had refused to process (At three and a half he red-penciled the picture books my poor MIL bought for him, under the principle that no grammatical mistake should go unpunished. I’m not sure which was worse, that he felt the need to mark them or that he was right.) It confused him immensely. It was about – he said – some dopey boy named Robert Hoyt who had adventures with cartoon characters, and he wanted his misapprehension corrected right away. He didn’t know why the author was maligning him but he wouldn’t be stupid enough to step into cartoon land or whatever other action of the imaginary Robert galled him.

Anyway, perhaps some people are so devoid of imagination that they need to put themselves, exactly themselves, in a character’s place. As in, they can’t even dream their own Mary Sue dreams but need someone to write them for them.

But I don’t think so. I think this is one more delusion of mostly white, mostly upper middle class, mostly over-pampered and over-educated women who engage in “social justice” work. They are so totally devoid of comprehension and empathy for anyone not exactly like them, that they think that everyone else, particularly those poor brownz people who tan – like me, say, or Larry Correia – must be like them in that. Obviously the reason the poor dears aren’t reading is because no one is writing people like them!

And if you think that is a terrible place from which to stand in order to support diversity in the field, you’re absolutely right. Like people writing aliens in fur suits, these people write white, female college professors in LGBT or brown skinned suits.

That is why these characters are always miserable, because, well, if the SJWs were them, they would be!

People who are just like me? Oh please. I’ll continue reading and writing people who are different enough from me to be fascinating, whether in an interesting or terrifying way.

Because I write to experience other people’s minds. Not to be locked in my own.

Baffle an SJW. Find a book with a very odd character and read it! Bonus points for enjoying it! I recommend Dave Freer’s Bolg PI stories. I dare you.

 

Being Yourself As Hard as You Can

In one of the Tiffany Aching books, Terry Pratchett gives as a formula for success in life “Being yourself as hard as you can” and spending time doing what you’re good at. He said it was very sad that most people never found what they were good at.

This advice sounds deceptively like “follow your bliss.” It’s not. It’s more “find your vocation.” You have a set of unique characteristics that can fit optimally with some profession. If you find it, and use your skills to best effect you’ll be very successful.

Sometimes, some of us – cough, me – feel like everything that’s happened to us and everything we’ve gone through was to prepare us to do whatever our avocation is well. (Well, in my case I’m not finished. I’m sure there’s something I need to experience that will make me a good writer. I wait in eagerness. Or actually not, since these learning experiences are usually unpleasant.)

The thing is not that way of course, but the other way around. Having a set of experiences has prepared you to find something you can do better than other people.

Yes, that sounds like “one is the same as the other” but it’s not. Take Larry Correia, for instance. (Carefully. He’s rather big and you might not be able to lift him.) His knowledge of fights and firearms prepared him to write action better than any other living author.

Now you can choose to believe that being an author was G-d’s plan for him, and G-d guided him through his more fighty experience so Larry could do this well. It’s fine if you believe that. I do. Mostly.

OTOH you know we humans are very good at not being guided into the things we’re “supposed” to do – that’s why we get along with cats.

Hence our path is sort of a drunkard’s walk, composed of (if you believe in it) the intent of a higher power (or the pressures of society. Whatevs. I’m easy.) and our own mistakes, willfulness and “oh shiny” moments.

Which prepares us ideally to snatch at an opportunity to do something the drunkard’s walk has trained us for, when it comes along. Which brings me to…

I’ve been reading Tom Bailey, Story of a Bad Boy by Thomas Bailey Aldrich. It was one of my very favorite books in childhood, and I haven’t read it since becoming a mother. Reading it now is both fascinating and surprising.

First of all, the easy-breezy style holds up well, still, and I rather enjoy it. But second, its being the story of a boy’s childhood just around (I think) the Centennial, it’s eye opening and enlightening.

At one time the grandfather of the protagonist says “what a rascal you are, just as I was at your age, forever tumbling from scrape to scrape.” It’s largely how I was too, as a tomboy, if on a slightly less grand scale, since we didn’t have a coastline near the village, nor cannons to fire. Because that’s some of the stuff they do: go sailing in a storm, fire a cannon, set fire to a coach…

At best, in our day they’d be considered juvenile delinquents. At worst, they’d be medicated/counseled/confined.

Thing is, on a less grand scale, we did much the same sort of thing my friends and I. We got bamboo from the filed next to the school (Stealing) and had mock sword fights that left us covered in bruises. We carried on wars and vendettas around the adult supervision, which would now be described as gang activity. We explored the old Roman mines. And yep, we stole fruit, and caused havoc.

They were more extreme, but those were also more dangerous and frankly boring times (we had books and limited TV) They had to do SOMETHING.

Which brings us to: part of finding something you’re good at, something you can excel at is the “finding.” And the only way I’ve figured so far to know what you’re good at and will enjoy is to do a lot of things and fail at most of them.

For instance, given I like outdoor activity and am by nature restless, I might have thought I was suited for sports, except for the incidental fact of two left feet and the left hands to go with them.

Which brings us to: in older times people could find that they were bad at, and isolate what they’d like to do with their lives/might be good at by trying things at play as kids. By the time we hit our twenties, most of us had a pretty good notion of our limitations, be they “I’m not actually that coordinated” or “I can’t lead people out of a bucket with a really large opening.” Or “I don’t like working in close proximity with others because they’re all poopy heads” or….

Nowadays people don’t.

Most people. I for one gave my kids plenty of unstructured time and plenty of leeway to explored their inclinations and abilities. (This sounds ever so much better than “I was writing so they got away with tons of carp.)

However most of their classmates had lessons and play dates and sports days and museum days and… And never got to try things on their own and fall on their own faces.

As tight on money as we were, one of the things we made a point of was “get them the materials and get out of the way.” What I mean is if they thought they might want to do art, we’d get them materials and lessons, and then let them continue or lose interest. (The exception to this was piano lessons because the older insisted they were too expensive – at the time we were paying two mortgages – so he’s self-taught and will always have certain weaknesses. Weirdly, of course, that’s one thing he’s continuing to pursue.)

Or course, this also applied to astronomy, biology (we found a great deal on a microscope) and chemistry (that one was fun. Why do little boys like explosives? Never mind.)

Anyway, when the first kid entered college and we went to the parents’ orientation, I was shocked to find that they were talking about kids finding themselves. In college. At that price. “You might come in with an undeclared major.”

This falls under my shock at that chick’s article a while back as to why you shouldn’t get married at 22, because “you should be going to Europe, and you should be doing this and that….” Most of the thing she thought you should do were stupid, or at least things you should have got out of your system in your early teens. And the big ones? I’d done them by 22. Which is why I got married then.

What I mean is – and I’m sorry if I’m scattered. We’re trying to change internet service because the current one is the “family togetherness program” mostly characterized by us spending all our time going from room to room going “do YOU have reception?” It’s not going well. Before we can have new system we need to have a guy come out and do a thing. Until then this service is more down than up. And we’re trying to clean/pack/stage house for sale. So I feel like my head is… not fully on – we’re both overprotecting children and (in consequence) delaying (or thwarting in extreme cases) their self-discovery process.

Yes, learning who you are is difficult and often painful, but it is essential before you decide what you want to be. And I mean that in all senses. The decision of whether you want to be married at all or not, for instance, starts with the playing house of childhood. Childhood and adolescence are supposed to be a trying on of hats.

But we don’t want our kids hurt and society has grown less tolerant you boys exploration, which yeah, can be destructive.

So we’re turning out twenty year olds who don’t know who they are and what they want to be.

Some of them find out but by that time they’re in their thirties. Or later.

(Now a caveat here. Odds have always been a bit like this, often characterized by a succession of different professions because we a) are interested in a ton of things and b) get bored easily. So we careen from thing we’re trying to thing we’re trying, and might never find what we’re really good at, unless we make an effort. But that’s almost a stigmata of our people, not something that should possess society at large.)

The problem is that although we’re living longer than our ancestors, we’re not living THAT much longer. Some processes are still inescapable.

By thirty, your visual acuity is going, and some of your other senses are failing. By forty I felt like someone had yanked my batteries out. No longer could I spend all night writing and still function the next day. Fertility goes. And agility and…

Of what use is it for you to decide you want to be a surgeon in your forties, when you’ll never have the coordination for it, and when after extensive preparation, you’ll have maybe five years useful practice?

Of what use is it for you to decide you want a large family at 50 – if you’re female?

Worse, put things off often enough, and you get in the habit of just drifting. More and more I’m running into more and more people who have five degrees but are working at a convenience store late night, because nothing was quite right.

Childhood and adolescence are better suited to this sort of exploration because you heal faster, both mentally and physically. You can try being a thing, and move on.

The more we restrict those early life periods, the more we are stuck with adults who really have no clue where their limits are or even what is feasible as a grown up way of making a living. (Hence people with masters in puppetry shocked – shocked – they can’t make a living.)

There is a French song with the line: “Talent is needed to be old without being an adult.”

If that’s the case, our society is growing more talented.

It’s a waste of both time and – eh – talent and it creates a vast number of malcontents aka “radical losers” who fit nowhere.

I’m afraid we’ll pay dearly for it.  Far more dearly than some coaches set on fire, or even the occasional childhood death from a boat trip in a storm.

Tilting at Windmills

Cultural movements have a certain life cycle. If you read enough history, you see it. Because humans are the same all through history, the history of ideas that excite people tend to follow the same points.

It starts with enthusiasm and iconoclastic elan. That is the idea is so strange and far fetched for that society that only people who arrive at their positions by difficult individual thought and decision think it’s a good idea.

In fact, people who think this is a good idea, might get called names or ostracized.

Then slowly the idea gains converts. When it’s new and vibrant, the converts will be young and also vibrant, the movers and shakers of the society.

If the idea is not completely insane, it will then become more and more accepted, as these young and vibrant people gain power.

But if it is still moderately insane – say Marxism – and won’t work in the real world, when tried, it will then become ossified. The only people who still believe in it are the ones who were too old to change when it proved non-viable, and possibly a whole bunch of youngish people who were taught the idea as a legacy, inherited from parents or grandparents (or in the case of Marxism teachers) and who refuse to evaluate it on its merits, because then it might prove wrong, which would force them to go against received tradition, which none of them is prepared – emotionally – to do.

This is when you get the rump end of an ideology, the straggling, delusional end.

It was about something like this that Cervantes wrote Don Quixote.

I read Don Quixote when I was seven or eight, and I’ve watched one of the movies. It left very little to no impression. (I have the same problem with Foundation. No idea why.) So my memory of what it says might or might not be true.

However, if I remember, Don Quixote read a lot about the age of chivalry and decided to be a knight errant, at a time when knight errants were well and truly gone. He then proceeded to go over the country side, mistaking various signs of modernity for long gone mythical enemies. So for instance windmills were thought to be giants.

There have been, I know, because I studied them, various interpretations of Don Quixote, including that he was mad, or that he was just playing a game. Faced with a world that had escaped the framework in which he was prepared to understand it: a world that made no sense and gave him no status, he chose to go into the country side and battle imaginary monsters.

This gave him an illusion of control over a world to which he could no longer adapt.

Yesterday, while on facebook, reading a link that Brad Torgersen had put up, relating to the Hugos and science fiction (I didn’t have much time on the net yesterday and it will be spotty all week, mostly because of access/connectivity issues as we change services) the thread got invaded by a young lady (ah! She wouldn’t like that appellation) lecturing us on how the use of Social Justice Warrior was wrong and shaming, and it meant we were all wing-nuts or something.

The funny thing is the longer the thread went on the more she revealed herself for a stereotypical SJW. She believed science fiction needs to be more about underrepresented races/LGBT/other because “people can only identify with characters like themselves” for instance.

Also, of course, she didn’t answer my comment that I often have gay characters, but somehow I get more grief from SJWs than the right wing people. With a few and rather nutty exceptions, right wingers might say “I don’t like this type of thing” but they don’t call me evil, a Nazi or stupid. All of which the SJWs call me for doing gay characters in a way that’s not “progressive.”

That’s because it’s not really about writing the other, for them. It’s about writing the other as a Marxist class, in which each individual is a widget, tainted with class guilt or accruing class credit due to what the “class” is considered and what it has suffered historically.

Though Marxism has proven itself a thoroughly unviable economic and social theory, by impoverishing some of the world’s richest countries and filling graves with over 100 million humans, they learned it as the frame work through which to see the world.

They can’t see the world in any other way. And anyway, if they managed to adapt to this “Marx is dead and so are his theories” world, they’d have to break ties with the old power structure, which would mean they would be cast adrift in a world with no ties and no clear guide to right and wrong.

So instead of trying to adapt, instead of seeing what’s before their eyes: a world that’s unimaginably rich with possibilities; where Marx might be dead and we might be going through a rough patch, but the future of humanity is full of possibilities, where men and women are for the first time freed to be themselves in anyway they want to be (short of the truly impossible) where more people are fed than ever before, where even the “poor” in developed countries live better than kings, they choose to tilt at windmills.

The windmills they’re tilting at are the thoughts and artworks of those who don’t subscribe to their philosophy.

Like Don Quixote they’ll do some damage to whatever stands between them and the monsters of their imagination.

They’ve already done considerable damage to ever field they’ve taken over: education, arts, government, entertainment, even religion.

But in the end, those fields will recover. Partly driven by need to circumvent the damage they cause, people have created other avenues, other means to these pursuits.

The rest of society is routing against the madmen (and madwomen) shouting and throwing fits while charging at the windmills.

But the dying rump end of socialist-communist-Marxist-Leninism can’t do anything but keep charging.

Charge all you want. We’ll repair the windmill sails and life will go on, except for the occasional nuisance of yet another scare-crow would be knight, calling itself the triple lie – social justice warrior: any justice is individual. Punishing individuals for their ancestors actions or the actions of those who look like them is by definition INJUSTICE. As for warriors, they couldn’t fight their way out of wet paperback – sticking a lance through a working part.

And eventually the dying rump will be gone, too ineffective to even annoy us.

And we – and the windmills, which are good and useful portions of society – will go on.

In the end, we win, they lose.

Be not afraid.