Category Archives: Uncategorized

Homeland

No, I’m not going to talk about the department.  Yes, I remember how panties in bunch people got because they thought “Homeland”had Nazi connotations.

Of course we’re talking about people who think the seal of the speaker of the house is a Nazi symbol, at least when the speaker is a Republican, and who try to explain away that they didn’t jump all over little Nancy Of The Gavel Walk because “the way Paul Ryan draws it it’s flatter and it looks more Nazi.”  You heard it here first. Only art teachers know Nazis. Considering how many of those idiots were my esteemed colleagues, our field must be in way more trouble than I thought.  If that wasn’t the classic “roll over and die” maneuver, I don’t know what was.

Leaving aside all that nonsense, there really isn’t a better way to express the concept, or at least not one my only-one-cup-of tea brain can figure out.  (I’m trying to change to tea because coffee for me — no matter what my boss at insty thinks! — requires sweetener and I’m trying to cut down on sweetener because it still gets insulin response.)  At any rate for the Germans it was Fatherland, which is closer to the word Patria I grew up with.

When I was eight years old, I knew when I grew up I was going to be a writer and live in Denver.  So far so good, though it took twenty years to make it the 100 miles from the Springs.

I was having breakfast this morning, looking out the sunroom windows as the city lights in the distance flickered off, and the sun painted the sky a delicate pink, and an overwhelming sense of being home came over me.

In my young days I liked traveling.  I’m getting settled in my old age, and part of the reason the last two years were so difficult is that I like my comforts.  I like my breakfast routine: feed the cats, boil the eggs, and usually make the coffee.  We’ll see how tea works.  Even when I drank mostly tea I tended to drink coffee in the final push of a book, when I was working sixteen hour days.

Okay — I’m obviously more scattered with tea — back to the subject.

I loved the village when I was little.  Not just “I love living here” — in fact I often didn’t — but I loved the smell in the air, the quality of the light on certain days.  I loved the smell of the vineyards when they ripened.  I loved fireflies in summer evenings.  I loved the rhythm of the seasons.  And some how it was all tied up with grandma and my dad.  Of course I loved them and they loved the place passionately.  (Weirdly, my brother, who was less attached, never left because he can’t bear to.)

I’ve talked before about the time I spent after I moved to the US, missing Portugal: the village, my regular haunts in Porto, the markets, knowing where to find things.

When I go back all that is gone.  The village has become a dormitory community for Porto, thanks to the highway and widespread car ownership.  The funny thing is that they still call it rural.  Let’s put it this way, though there are still some fields under cultivation, the prevalent high rises and malls make it about as rural as downtown Colorado Springs and less rural than Aurora — I remember shopping for apartments with Robert before he started medschool, and we’d take a wrong turn and suddenly there were fields and cows — or in American terms, not rural at all.  They’ve paved over the pond where bamboo grew, and where dad used to walk me to watch fireflies and make flutes.  They’ve paved over where we fed the ants.  The woods are reduced to tiny squares. And masses of “Strangers” came in, so it’s rare to see a face I recognize.  Most of the people who moved in don’t even realize I exist.  They think my mom, like her sister in law, had only one son.

I’m not complaining.  It’s not my right to complain.  I lived there a shorter time than I’ve now lived in Colorado, and that’s a fraction of the time I’ve been in the US.  No.  I daresay even the stack a prol apartments are better places to live than the low, conjoined little houses most people lived in.  Apartments have toilets.  And running hot and cold water.

And I’m not complaining that Porto has become a touristic Mecca, which, considering it has the general climate and look of London I’m sure is for the history and the monuments, or perhaps because now people are painting the houses in primary colors (never when I was little) and Northern Europeans think it’s a poor-man’s Caribbean. Though I’d hazard it’s mostly the wine.

My kids loved Porto, and they’d have hated it as it was when I loved it: grimy, gritty, workaday, with nothing for tourists, the sort of place that — but for a lack of diners — would have made a great setting for a noir movie. (It still rains more of less all the time, except at the height of summer, a dispiriting, weepy drizzle.)

And if you read the paragraph above you’ll find I loved it.  I loved it  because, coming from the village, it meant freedom.  No one watched your every movement in Porto.  Oh, sure, crazy men might follow you on the street calling you names, but at least you didn’t have the village gossips concoct fantastic tales about your secret love affair just because you felt like wearing a more daring shade of lipstick. It also meant books.  It meant at least four bookstores, within easy distance of the train station, and later a lot more, as I discovered the alfarrabios, the used book stores.  Used bookstores doesn’t describe it, or not precisely.  There is a difference between used bookstores in the US — stores in the US in general — and alfarrabios, which were often the two bottom floors of a family home, so there was no urgency in making every inch pay.  So books came in, got put somewhere, generations changed.  They never even bothered changing the prices.  Some of my early in-English reading happened because I found a nook at the back of an alfarrabio (from the fact that rag is farrapo, I wonder if the word is arab for rag cellar, and the book thing just accrued to the profession as books came in) where they had early twentieth century, leather bound English language books.  I read all of H. G. Wells that way. (And most of  Twain.  And Dickens, though I don’t remember Dickens because I never liked him.  And other writers I don’t remember.  I wonder what English-speaking lost soul sold them to the store in the first place) And now I wonder what the heck happened to those books, as I suspect they were first editions.  I suspect I lent them out and lost them.

And speaking of feelings of home and nostalgia, I still get mushy at the memory of that nook, which even at early twentieth century prices took me years to explore and buy out.  I’d go in and sit on the floor, and look through the books to decide what to buy.  The ceiling was too low for me to stand up, but at the end of the little nook there was a grime-encrusted dormer window, which filtered the light in all yellow and hazy.

Oh, and Portugal had Chinese restaurants, and museums, and movie theaters, things I still like in a cityy.  No, not sure why, it’s just who I am.

Most of the alfarrabios have closed, possibly because real estate is at a premium in the far more prosperous cities, and these bookstores were like the ones Pratchett describes, where the owner wears carpet sleepers and reacts to your trying to buy his book like you’re kidnapping his child.

I still have some of those feelings of “home” for specific places in Portugal — it just so happens those places don’t exist anymore, nor the people who made those places special — absent the charming idea that heaven stores all the dearest places of the heart, I’ll never see them again.

How did this extend to “homeland” To patriotism?

I tried.  I tried really hard.  I even managed to convince my sister in law, who of course, hadn’t known me from childhood.

Look, if you had stacked places “Portugal or Spain?” even now I’d say Portugal, only because Spain is that horrible mix of the familiar and the “what the heck?” and even if Portugal has become more so, the past 30 years, it’s not that bad.

But there was never a song in my heart when I referred to myself as “Portuguese”: the best way I can explain it is to say it was like my birth name.  I hated being called by my birth name, and my closest friends had a dozen nicknames for me.  It wasn’t so much that I hated the name.  It’s an okay name and fine for everyone else, but it didn’t “fit”.  I felt like I was impersonating someone of that name, and there was an automatic cringe-and-duck which I don’t feel the slightest need to do when anyone calls me now.

The same way, referring to myself as Portuguese was wrong.  I found out in my teens, when I started visiting friends for long periods of time, that my family REALLY wasn’t that Portuguese.  Not noticeably.  Or at least not normal Portuguese.  Dad loves the country, but it’s an intellectual love.  He loves the history of the country.  He can and does describe medieval battles vividly and poetically when we visit the sites (including to my sons, as I’m struggling to translate that fast.)  He does know the kings and queens of the past, as though he’d been their elementary school friend.  And dad loves the village.  Because he was there for the transformation, he doesn’t realize, I think, how little of the village I knew is left.  Or if he does, by the time I was born it had so changed from his village, that it doesn’t matter.  He talks of the place where he and his friends played a prank, and in his eyes — like a man long-married seeing his wife as she was when he met her — it’s the same place.

But my family doesn’t behave like other Portuguese families, and I can’t even tell you why.  The day to day is different.  At Liberty con, I complained of my shoes pinching and an author of Portuguese ancestry said her grandmother would have told her it was a punishment for the sin of vanity.

My family lacked that all pervasive Catholicism, that view of “you deserve punishment for looking good” and the most my family would have said would be “didn’t they have the shoes in your size?” (Which was a common problem, when I was young.)  My family didn’t eat the same foods, or have the same manners, or… It was almost like I’d been raised in a foreign enclave in the middle of Portuguese society.  Those early forays into visiting friends made me feel even more alien than I normally did.  All the more so because I couldn’t betray ignorance of customs or behavior, and had to pick up and play along as best I could.  After all, I was a native.  (Since I’m as good at picking up on hints as most of you, you picture the disaster.)

Much as I loved the history dad told, I always felt like a  little alien.  Then I took to English history.  At some point, on this blog, someone berated me for not writing more books based on Portuguese history.  There’s tons of reasons for that, including that the audience would not have any resonance with Portuguese history, so it would take a lot more work to make it meaningful.  I intend to borrow some things — most of them royal life episodes — for a space opera series, eventually, but that’s because I can give them their own background and meaning then. What he was missing was that beyond all that, I do love English History and started learning it at an early age, and reading it for fun.

There will always be a vaguely anglophile part of me.

In my teens I fell in love with America.  It was an intellectual love.  I loved the principles and the ideas of the founding.  I loved that America comes as close to a classless society as humans ever have.

Note this was long before my mind decided I was going to live in Denver and be a writer, and I knew about as much about Denver as I did about being a writer: really, nothing but I’d seen on TV and you know how accurate that is.  And no, to this day still I can’t answer you “why Denver?”

Most Portuguese — I was explaining this yesterday to a friend, trying to get across why Deportugal is an unlikely thing, and why Portugal will cling to the shards of the US as long as they can — love Portugal on the “home” level.  They love the landscapes, the customs,  the language, those traditions I never fully shared.  They are however at best ambivalent on the “homeland” the more abstract level.  They will get crazy in love with Portugal when supporting it in a soccer match, for instance, and that’s about the only time you’ll see anyone flying the flag.  My mom was shocked when she visited (in July) that almost every home flew the American flag.  In Portugal there are various jokes made about the flag, and the national hymn.  Part of this is that they were changed so often in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  Part of it is that patriotism is not only not pushed in the schools, but is considered vaguely shameful  (yes, they’re trying to do the same here.)  The twentieth century international socialists diagnosed “nationalism” as the cause of Nazi atrocities because they couldn’t face that SOCIALISM was the actual problem  (it can kill you fast, it can kill you slow, it can kill you hard or it can kill you softly, but in the end socialism, like its communist cousin, will kill you. It’s just it’s slow in most places, and people don’t notice.)  So patriotism was treated as a bad thing.  Even though most Portuguese loved living in Portugal day to day, they had no intellectual affection for the notion of the country.  It’s a bad way to live.  The EU relieved this psychic tension by giving most of them the chance to immigrate without immigrating.  They were now allowed to consider themselves “citizens of Europe” while still loving their little corner of it fiercely.

I understand it, because my love for the US started with only the intellectual level.  Oh, it was strong.  I think I kissed the gentleman who first looked at my green card and said “welcome home.”  I’m sure I hugged him.  I remember his shocked face.  And I always kiss the ground when returning from abroad, a ceremony I taught my kids, because ritual is important.

But for years, the slant of the light was wrong.  The feel of the air was wrong.  The morning sounds were wrong.

I don’t know when that changed.  After I left the Carolinas for sure.  And yeah, part of it is that the rocky terrain and the sparse pines look more like the area around the village when I was little, though the village was (you might have got that feeling) way more moist than the high desert.  And way less mountainous..

But casual poking around at my ancestry revealed people from so many different places (the North of Portugal was  a sort of dumping ground for English ne’er do wells and troublemakers — before England had colonies for that purpose — and the napoleonic wars left enough French and English blood strewn about to considerably confuse things. That’s without counting imports from the PORTUGUESE colonies.) that I really don’t see a link between land and blood, or between “my ancestors lived in this kind of climate, it’s the right climate for me.”  In fact, all of Portugal was characterized by the Germans as “mud people” since Portuguese genetics were a mess (Why, thank you.  Hybrid vigor, sonny! Also, all people are a mix from  Ur of the Chaldeans onward, mostly due to “humans will sleep with anything.”  Apparently even hominids, given recent findings. If you think otherwise, your knowledge of history is funny.  Also deficient.  [And no, the DNA tests aren’t very exact.  They’re, as older son, the one who knows human biology puts it “mostly bogus.” He could probably explain why to you.  He’s explained it to me, but my eyes glazed over.)

No, I’ve found that loving where you live is more a matter of habituation and perhaps of individual taste.  I loved Denver the first time I saw it.  It survived even the winters (and I hate cold.)  Why?  I don’t know.  Why do you love certain kinds of features and not others?  Unless you were raised in a very insular place it’s not “Because they’re like the faces I know.” There is more to it.  I loved redheads before I knew they existed.  that is, the first one I met rendered me speechless and I followed the poor guy around like a lost puppy, which considering I was twelve and he mid-twenties must have been a great annoyance.  My kids’ tastes in girls are almost opposite. Why do they like what they do? Who knows?

In the same way I liked Denver on sight.  I liked the light and the air, the noises of the city.  I like Colfax before it was safe.  I liked the way the city sprawls, more horizontal than vertical, and the open feel of it.  Who knows why?

I can tell you why I love America: the principles of the founding, the constitution, our struggle to bring into being something that has never existed before — a society where all are equal before the law.  (I’m not mad crazy about the push-pull when one side insists on equality of outcome, but humans aren’t perfect and I suspect it’s inevitable.)

I can’t tell you why I love my corner of it.  I just know I do.  Having breakfast in the sun room early morning, with the park and the trees to my right, and the lights of Denver slowly fading in front of me, eclipsed by the rising sun, is a feeling of … being home.

I’ve always loved the “land” part, the principles, and even the boisterous can-do of the nation, the way we don’t take no (or sometimes even yes) for an answer.  I loved it before I came here.

I’ve loved Colorado since I first saw it, which is the reason we haven’t moved even as Californians moved in and messed up our polity.

In this house, I feel like I have the best of Colorado, and the two unite into a feeling of “just right.”

It’s good to be home.  This home, in particular, but the state and the country too.  It’s good to love my homeland, and to feel absolutely no compunction to cotton to people who think that patriotism is a bad word.

I raise my cup of tea to my homeland, and hope the disease of international socialism that invaded the weakened mechanisms of Western Civilization post WWI can be flushed from the system, before it destroys us all.

Let’s work to make it so.

Almost the End of The World

Somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, a young mother looks past the kid learning game on the computer.  “I’m sorry, Princess.  I just need to– just a minute.”  She pulls the tiny chubby hands away from the keyboard and looks intently at the image.  “Oh, this is not good right now.  I can’t deal with it right now.”

********
In North Carolina, an accountant looks at the blog comments and calls out to his beloved spouse, “Dear, is Foxfier trying to pick a fight with me, or is this a code?”

CACS rushes to the computer and looks at it.  She gets a pad.  “I see, let me check a couple of anime references…”  Half an hour later, she hands RES the notepad.  He blanches.  “I see.  Well. There’s only one thing for it.  Wayne Blackburn must be told.

**********

Wayne thinks long and hard, and then writes a seemingly innocuous email to Bobtheregistered.

*********

Bob the registered gets off Baen’s bar and sighs.  “This won’t end well,” he says to himself as he sends a message off to Emily Nelson.  Who reads it, discusses it with Steve and says “So, what do we do? We can’t send Nemo.  I refuse to risk him.”

“I know, but I think I can write some code that delivers the message.  Let me see, who would it be safe to send to?  Do you think Herbn will get it?

********

A day later, Herbn pauses in the middle of reading a kindle book.  No, this paragraph definitely doesn’t belong.  How did it get there?  Is it time to let 60 guilders know?

*******

Three days later, Shadowdancer opens a jar of vegemite, and finds a folded paper inside a carefully sealed bit of plastic.  She opens it and reads the message from 60 guilders.

She calls Dorothy Grant on a carefully secured line.

*******

“I see,” Dorothy says.  “Pass word onto Dave Freer, I’ll rally Alma Boykin.”

**********

Meanwhile Orvan Ox, on his delivery route notes that a certain house has a flag displaying three daisies hanging from its front porch.  It would be normal in Spring, but in January, really?
He gets on the phone and calls roommate “Call Amanda Green,” Ox says.  “Tell her to pass on the word and get ready  It’s a real one.”

********

In a small house in TX, Amanda Green opens the trapdoor on the floor and gets out the equipment that’s been waiting this day. She makes a comment on Suburbanshee’s blog and hopes Banshee gets it.  Did she get that word play about St. Catherine’s birthday jsut right, that banshee will get “Wheel in the sky?”

********

Joel gets the message from Banshee’s encoded email and starts plotting access to a tall roof.  The problem is carrying the weapon through New York City.  Everyone is so suspicious these days.  Maybe he can disguise it as a flowerpot?  Oh, yeah, and he has to get a message to Kate.
After long thought, he sends her a postcard showing the Empire State Building, with a single sentence “The butterfly sings.”  That should do it.

******

In Pennsylvania Kate Paulk is getting the secret equipment assembled in the outbuilding.  “Bugger if they get away with this.”  Almost casually, she dials David Pascoe and tells him “The kilt is purple.  I repeat, the kilt is purple.”

******

David Pascoe rescues a crucial piece of the weapon from the baby girl and glares at it.  He has to assemble it before the toddler finds another use for the parts.

********

Drak Bibliophile sighs, then starts removing his books from the bookshelves.  Why had he thought it would be a good idea to put it behind the shelves?

*********

‘Nother  Mike in Japan, is trying to remember where he hid his equipment.  Oh, yes.  He’d put it in the classroom, disguised as a student project.

*******

Around the world, Cyn Bagley, Alpheus, William Stoddard, Francis Turner,  Mary Catelli, Eamon,  C. Taylor, Uncle Lar, Caitlin, Dr. Mauser  and TXR and many, many others set up their weapons, and look at the messages they received, make sure they have the right coordinates and struggle to program them in.

*****

Deep in her secret laboratory, Sabrina Chase checks the calculations.  “D*MN it,” she says and sends a hurried correction through the grape vine.  Stephanie Osborn receives the correction and adds solar activity effects.  Then corrects the corrections.

******

At Pete’s Kitchen, having a seemingly innocent dinner with the Denver contingent, Sarah asks Kortnee “Did anyone tell Chris Chupik?”

*******

In the frozen wastelan…. we mean civilized parts of Canada, Chris gets a phone call from Captain Comic.  He’d earlier failed to get a message sent by moose, because there are no moose in his neighborhood.  Really, what do you people think Canada is, eh? And some people thought that Bieber was disproportionate aggression.  Ah! I’m glad we send you Bieber. Yes, I am that heartless. He thinks all this, but aloud he says,”What?  Again?  ALL of us?  Are you sure?”

“Sarah said the carp fly at midnight. She used that phrase at instapundit last night, too.”

“Yeah, yeah, right code.  Oh, damn, I planned to write tonight.”  As he gets off the phone he thinks, “I bet no one has told Kirsi.  I’d better call Finland.  Us great white North people have to stick together.

***********

Five hours later, as the alien ship approaches the Earth, it is hit by coordinated rays from the secret weapons long ago distributed, secretly, to the seemingly normal readers of an unassuming little blog.

*****

A few minutes ago:

Sarah struggles to her blog.  These emergencies really need to stop being so tight.  You’d think the galactic alarms would get tripped before yet another invader is less than a month from attacking the Earth.  Coordinating a defense all over the world is not easy.

But hey, the Huns did it again.  She makes coffee by touch, because her eyes refuse to open until the second cup.

Better put up a seemingly silly post on the blog, to let everyone know the danger is past.

No one will suspect such a far-fetched thing is real.  It’d be like suspecting us of having gone back to change history after that horrible election.  No one would ever believe any of this drivel.

Good work, everyone.

Morning After Regrets

So, I’ve been reading less because I REALLY need to do the final push on Darkship Revenge, a) before something else goes wrong with my body b) so that my publisher doesn’t kill me.

But I’ve still been reading, because, well, one needs to go to the bathroom, and read something (even if just a couple of pages) before going to sleep.

Mostly I’m reading from KULL both because until I turn books in we’re semi broke (not broke/broke, but being careful) and because, well, I am not paying close attention to the books.  Not right now.

Because books are from KULL, it is easy to start reading and then put it down without thought, and move on to another one.

I’ve done a post on MGC on Wednesday about stopping points.  This post is about how I didn’t stop, even though the book’s worldbuilding makes as much sense as American Rednecks drinking gin and pounding hapless paleontologists.

But I do have morning after regrets, and a sort of nauseous feeling I did something awful.

This post is to explain both the mistakes, and why the book seduced me.  If we’re going to break the stranglehold of the left, it is important to know how to keep people who disagree with us (or in this case who think this is from another universe) reading.

As a side note, this book is not self published, but put out through an Amazon imprint, which just shows you the new forms quickly get like the last.

So, first the sin count and why they’re sins:

The South is so exotic, it’s another planet covers most of these sins.  This pisses me off, as I’m fairly sure most Southerners are still human (my friends excepted.  They’re SUPER HUMAN) and also having lived in the South, yep, there are differences, but again, the basic rules of life end up being the same.

1- The entire book hinges on four generations of a family being put in a madhouse and killed there.  The most recent one escapes.

This is present day, and she’s supposed to be involuntarily committed to a mad house and disappear.

Oh, hum.  Yeah, sure thing, Bob.  Beyond impossible now.  But let’s get back to that, “involuntarily committed for generations, then killed there” and no one ever got curious, and the family is still political and really big.  Uh uh.  It’s also implied the family is (of course) conservative.  Apparently these people haven’t met our press.

Anyway, there is an explanation for this.  It’s stupid.  Moving right along.

(On a side note, I ran across this while reading a book on — of all things — Porto.  There was some home for upper class emotionally disturbed women that operated in the eighteenth and nineteenth century.  I’m okay with the idea parents and husbands used this to get rid of inconvenient women (not kill them, but put them away) SOMETIMES.  I’m even okay with the idea that things we consider pretty normal were insanity in those days, like, you know, consistently talking back.

It’s the assumption that it was ALWAYS used to get rid of rebels and perfectly sane women that gets under my skin.

[Let’s unpack this, shall we: So women never get unstable, or are a danger to themselves and others?

So, you’re saying that in a more rigid society, being completely outrageous shouldn’t get you put away?  You’ve never lived in a traditional society if you don’t get that achieving outrageous behavior means something has already gone seriously wrong.  Well behaved women might not make history, but crazy-behaving women and men simply don’t survive in REALLY traditional societies.  Look to the middle east if you have doubts.

Also, there were the same type of limits on men as on women. SURE different limits.  But men could get put away just as easily by acting outside society’s norms.

This is probably the subject for another post, but in our anything-goes society it’s hard to picture that one already needs to be wrong in the head to let one’s freak flag fly.  And yet, it’s true.

I’m not saying it’s right, I’m saying it happens in different cultures — I’m also not sure that our “no madhouse, let homeless people widdle on themselves and talk to invisible people on street corners” is more compassionate, but that’s something else — and that the stupid assumption that a madhouse for women or a woman sent to any madhouse is just “brave feminists being oppressed” is idiotic and provincial.  Mrs. Lincoln might have been a “brave feminist” — she wasn’t — but you can’t avoid realizing, if you read primary sources, that she was nuttier than a fruitcake. Possibly for one of the many reasons that made madness among women more common in the past: lack of hormonal therapy, frequent miscarriages, frequent emotional shocks with children’s deaths and in general a far HARDER life than our feminist flowers can even imagine, much less endure.]

Beyond all that, again, two/three generations in a row dying in a madhouse, in a political (particularly a conservative) family, the press would be all over that like flies on sh*t.)

2- The plot only hangs together, to the extent it does, because all the police in Alabama are in the pocket of the kkk.  Yep, still.  Because “in Alabama these things never go away” or some such bullshit.

Let me put it right here, right now, that yep, the KKK had a lot of power in some places, 20s and 30s.  The elementary school my kids attended (In Colorado) has a cornerstone stating the building was donated by the KKK.  When I attended my older son’s college graduation, the dean read a letter about how when the KKK controlled state government, they tried to get the college to kick out “all Jews and Catholics” and when that didn’t work they cut funding to the college.  The letter he read was the dean’s response, and it amounted to “Dear KKK influenced state government, these are my middle fingers.”  Only it was much more polite and beautiful than that, because the dean wasn’t me.

So I know the KKK was, historically, a force to be reckoned with.  Historically.  Right now they are a dying and tiny movement, no matter how much the left keeps trying to resurrect them.  (They were a leftist movement anyway.)  The idea they have that kind of influence in Alabama amounts to thinking the south is a place like in that story of rednecks drinking gin and beating on paleontologists because… no reason.

This is the South as seen from NYC.

3- Continuing with the South as seen from NYC: a not inconsequential part of the plot hinges on some girl having climbed a water tower naked (in the thirties) claiming her brother was sleeping with her and she was pregnant.  When she threw herself down, she only broke an ankle (let it go) and was confined to the madhouse, where they kept the baby after she was born because… cheese.

Okay a) It is NOT normal, in the South, even in isolated communities for brothers and sisters to sleep together.  That’s a calumny put about by pseudo cosmopolitan idiots.  b) I think it’s based on the fact that in isolated communities cousin marriage is tolerated, whatever the law says, because, isolated.  Some idiot made a joke about incest, and the pseudo cosmopolitan idiots swallowed it hook line and sinker and have been propagating it forever.  c) it happens.  It happens in all human tribes from isolated mountain communities to the pseudo-cosmopolitan-enclaves.  It just happens.  RARELY.  d) when it does happen, the traditional communities are much better at dealing with it than the big cities.  (Terry Pratchett whose environment in childhood seemed to be much like mine had it right about the “rough music”.) Yeah, in a big city, in relatively affluent circles, I could see finding a way to put the girl and the baby away and never talk about this again, while the brother went on to probably do it again.  In a traditional community?  Oh, hell no.  Everyone knows everyone else’s business and trust this woman who grew in such a community (and one arguably more patriarchal than anywhere in America) something very bad would have happened to that brother, while the girl would have been allowed to forget or pretend that it had just been a traveling salesman.  Or more likely someone would have taken the baby to raise (usually a distant relative) and it wouldn’t have been mentioned again how that baby was conceived.  But that guy, if he didn’t get away and stay away?  He’d have suffered a mysterious accident, or committed suicide by beating himself to death with a half brick.

You see, traditional communities are already relatively inbred by force of circumstances.  They can’t afford to let this kind of thing happen.  No, they are not geneticists, but they have the traditions of generations.  And whatever feminists think, it’s usually the guy who pays in this case.  (And in most cases of this sort, it is the guy who should.  Though, yeah, there are exceptions and we know some historical ones, where it was mutual consent)

4- We are in the head of an unreliable narrator, a woman just out of treatment for drug addiction, who keeps stealing pills and putting them in her purse (although she doesn’t take them) but we’re supposed to believe her version of the story in a murder mystery.  Sure, it can be done, but in this case given the other problems of the book, I’m still working out how all this could be her insanity.

5- Women in the south so crazy!  This is another of the “sins against flyover country”.  While I’ll admit that the South like Portugal has a tradition of “romantic crazy” in which very smart or misunderstood geniuses are supposed to be a little nuts, it’s still too much to expect us to treat as perfectly normal that the main character sees things.

6- Her brother alternates between sounding like a more or less reasonable, occasionally unpleasant politician and trying to kill her.  0 to murder in ten seconds.  And we’re supposed to buy this character, and that he functions well enough to be in politics.  Also, that during an active political campaign, NO ONE WOULD BE TRACKING HIM WITH CAMERAS.

7- Oh, yeah, even though she identifies at least the family of the most recent murdered girl as being Catholic, the book keeps talking about how she was a snake handler with a crazy evangelical sect.  Even though a Latin Catholic prayer has been passed down through generations of the family, one of the boys is in the KKK — in fact, the author seems QUITE unaware that the KKK targeted Catholics as much as black people — and in the whole, I’m forced to assume this person thinks that the Catholic church and one of the snake-handling evangelical churches are one and the same.  This is at best really bad editing and at worst completely delusional ignorance by someone so far from religious belief as not to realize there are SECTS and different branches of Christianity.

Proceeding from those kicks to reality, there are about a dozen minor ones.  And yet, I read the book.

So, why did I read it?

1-It starts with an intriguing title.  This book is called Burying the Honeysuckle Girls.  I was going to download and read at least a sample, given that title.
Let’s dissect it, shall we: Burying: perfect for a mystery cue.  Honeysuckle — brings with it a sensory load of sense and taste. Girls — signals women in peril, which is a subset of thrillers.  Honeysuckle-girls together projects an ethereal fragrant image.

It’s a seductive title.

Compare that to a mystery title for a mystery and did download but read only a few pages, because the language is clunky, and the name of the detective distracting:

The Heiress of Linn Hagh, the second book in the Detective Lavender series.  The title is completely non-alluring and not descriptive.  Heiress does not signal murder mystery. Linn Hagh is a bad-sounding combination.  And detective Lavender sounds like it should either be a gay mystery or a Chinese mystery.

I am not disparaging that last.  While the story threw me out, it apparently appeals to many people, as it sells well and has excellent reviews. (Good for them) but even one hint of bad world building in the first page and I’d put the book back, since it doesn’t seduce me, and the title promises nothing special.

2- The first person voice is convincing and lyrical.  We’re in the head of a woman recovering from addiction and just released from a half way house, and she feels “real”.  The character is there, present, and even when she does crazy shit like steal pills, you want to believe her, and you sympathize with her.

3- The stupidity comes on slowly.  In the first chapter her family seems fairly normal.  The strangeness between the Catholic church and the snake handling evangelical church is not evident till almost the last chapter.

4- In the first few chapters the family dynamics make sense and are heart-wrenching: the father dying of Alzheimers, the sister in law who wants to believe the girl is recovered from her issues, the brother who gives her the benefit of the doubt, and all along, the woman who is unreliable and somewhat unstable.

As part of this they turn on her too fast and somewhat unconvincingly, but I kept reading because, well, she had an history, maybe they had a reason, etc. (Turns out no, the entire family behaves like they’re bipolar, all through the book.)

We don’t find out till the middle of the book that the misfit-love-interest is working for her brother.  BTW from that point on he’s not fully convincing, and her getting together to him in the end is oh, um.

3- Though the plot conclusion is not satisfactory, the clues laid out, etc, are intriguing.  You only realize the idea of all these murders isn’t believable AFTER you’re done reading.  So, fast-moving, intriguing narration and intriguing clues will keep you reading, because you think there will be a pay off.

4- While there is obviously feminist stupidity in this book, the writer herself might not realize it’s there.  It’s deep laid beliefs in things like women could just be put in a madhouse and no one would ask questions.  Or murders in a little town aren’t talked about. Or these men FROM OUTSIDE THE FAMILY who kept marrying the girls in the family, all connived in their murders and never protested I guess because all men naturally want to murder all women.  BUT IT WAS NEVER STATED UPFRONT, it was buried in the text, and thus it never came up and smacked you in the face while you were reading.  It only did so afterwards. By the time you realize how preposterous it is, you’re done reading the book.

So, in conclusion, if you’re selling a world view, it’s probably best if you’re going to sell a point of view, if it’s so deeply laid-in that you don’t know it’s there.  However, if you don’t have that, at least try to hide it in the plot and the playing out of the story.  Hint, to you it will feel like you’re not putting any message in at all, because these are the things you believe.

A good or at least fast paced story will hide a multitude of errors, and a lot of sins and keep the reader reading.

However if you want THIS reader to read your next one, and not to have morning-after regrets, doing a modicum of research helps.

Yes, I know, comedians, other books, and all the right people have assured you that the South is like this.  However, it helps to actually go and look and talk to the locals, or read biographies of people who grew up there and who aren’t trying to ingratiate themselves with the glitterati.  And if you grew up there (I honestly didn’t read the author’s bio) it helps if you get out of your circle of Yankee transplants and would-be sophisticates and talk to people you think are beneath you.  No, really.

Also on the “southern women so crazy”, I put up with the visions because I NORMALLY read fantasy, so I’m willing to take a bit of weirdness in my books.  BUT the author never explained why the voice character sees red ravens and streaks of gold.  I guess all Southern women are crazy or mystical or stuff.  (Maybe all women.  Maybe they psychically talk to plants.  Who knows.)  Which doesn’t help with morning-after regrets.

You guys know I never do a harsh review and name the book.  This is not a harsh review.  This is how despite defects (and they’re massive) the book kept me reading.  And it has the reviews and ranking to prove it kept a lot of people reading.

Go you and do likewise. Seduce the reader, even if she knows better.  Only you, do enough research, and make the plot tight enough to make sure she doesn’t regret it in the morning.

Crime, Spite, and Everyone’s Plight – by E. Marshall Hoyt

Crime, Spite, and Everyone’s Plight – by E. Marshall Hoyt

The world is full of sick individuals.

A lot, actually. I just forget, sometimes.

Today is one of those days: by pure chance and slight boredom, I checked out the trending tab on facebook. It’s the most unreliable course of information, prioritizing the sexuality of a fictional character over a man getting robbed.

Of course, since it is supposedly based on user posting and involvement, maybe it’s the still the fault of the mainstream media and its rigid effect on the common person’s perspective. In either case, even when they do pop up a news story, facebook adds their own snippet of what the trending word is about, and many a time this has been clearly bias. Descriptions of Trump, for instance, are commonly bombastic and vile, and usually defensive of whatever asshat of the week thinks that being related to Trump is reason enough to attack or verbally assault a person.

It’s stupid, but, it’s also to be expected from facebook “reporting” at this point. Needless to say, I thought I couldn’t be any more surprised by anything that’s considered a trending matter.

It turns out I was wrong.

I saw the name Montel Williams trending. Now, more importantly, considering I don’t know who on Earth this man is, the description of “Montel Williams lashes out at accused Facebook Live torturers” certainly caught my eye, along with a snippet telling me that Mr. Williams is a TV personality and Navy vet. Certainly 3 things immediately came to mind: One, who’s stupid enough to not only post video but livestream video of their crime? Two, what in the actual fuck is wrong with people that they thought this was okay? Three, what’s the catch?

Here’s the thing, maybe I’m a bit jaded, but not only is “news” dominated by click-bait titles and misleading perspectives, but often times it has a habit of aiming its sights on the wrong target, or even worse making light of a single tree while missing a whole forest of information. What I found out, however, is about twenty levels more fucked up than I could have thought.

I’ll give you a breakdown- 4 teens, one of which was connected to the victim by the unfortunate circumstance of being his classmate, all kidnapped and tortured the victim and live streamed it. By torture, I mean torture. Cut at his scalp, put lit cigarettes to his skin, kicked and beat and verbally abused him to top it off. He was found shambling around outside near where he was beat, was taken to hospital, where the police then caught wind of the video. Now, what I mind interesting is that every article that popped up focused on one particular thing- The fact that the victim, atop everything else, was special needs.

Don’t get me wrong, that does indeed make it worse. In the grand scheme of victimization, being literally disabled and having a crime perpetrated against you is actually awful in every sense. It doesn’t go into what his disability is, but I can safely say, given the circumstance, that doesn’t even matter. He could be deaf in one ear for all I care and this is still an awful crime (Edit: it appears he suffers from mental health issues, which could be what we all deal with- depression, or something far worse). But- and it took following a single user’s post that lead to an article that linked it- I finally found out what Montel Williams had to say.

It was pretty on the nose, starting with “Life in Prison. No Parole,” and everything in it was justified. What caught my eye was the fact that his second sentence started with “Whether this is a hate crime is a distraction and irrelevant” and later contained “It’s bigger than racism (saying F*ck white people is racist by definition).” Needless to say I liked the cut of his jib but, wait a minute- what does this crime have to do with races at all?

Ah, that.

It took a little more digging, but let me fill in the missing pieces: The four perpetrators were black, and during the beating (As can be seen in the not-so-lovely video) yelled “Fuck Trump! Fuck white people!” at the victim while delivering some thankfully non-fatal beating to him.

Again, don’t get wrong, the victim being special needs is fairly news-worthy, and it’s still awful, but- and I hate to politicize this event in any manner I really do- but why was the fact that this is very clearly a hate crime not relevant?  Why does facebook and roughly 90% of all articles not find this to be important information? It must be reiterated, I agree with Mr. Williams, this is far worse than is worth the efforts to concentrate on it being a hate crime, it’s horrendous and the color of anyone’s skin is almost irrelevant when something this grueling goes down.

But, I’m still keenly aware that if the races were switched, and the criminals were saying “Fuck Obama!” instead of “Fuck Trump!” not only would CNN suddenly find more than 2 minutes to cover it, but every news station would have it be their morning story, with an hour long segment to discuss it. People would be not only saying it’s most certainly a hate crime, but at least 25 college thesis papers would be written off the incident, to further their hypothesis on the growing and worsened racism of America, and how it’s as bad as when blacks were still slaves. There would screaming and grating of teeth, and you’d hear about it for weeks.

But instead, we have people like CNN’s Don Lemon, who has literally said “I don’t think its evil” in response to the incident, instead blaming “bad home training”? What in the actual fuck? No, don’t lie, if the roles were reversed that would be far from the first thought in your mind Mr. Lemon. But because it’s a crime committed by black teens, you for some reason think they need to be made the victims in this situation, their actions the fault of their raising. That itself is no surprise it’s hardly the first on-white violence I’ve seen where some CNN pundit has declared it’s basically “Not *that* bad”.

Still, this sort of shit isn’t acceptable, because we saw this right after the election- riots, protests and city self-destruction all over an election. Not even any action taken as president, but over an election. I said it then and I’ll say it again, but I don’t recall any actions taken that are close to that back in 2008 following Obama’s election. Trust me, we would have heard about it, the media would have grabbed it up like it was a suitcase full of unmarked bills and started raving crazy about crazy right wingers. Yet, I noticed a deafening silence from the media during the post-election riots, and certainly no concentration on the multiple hate crimes that took place. I certainly saw a lot of defenses for these actions but very little actual reporting.

To some extent, it’s kind of simple how we got here. I’ve seen it develop, in the way the “news” reports events, to the way events are reacted to. Over the course of the Obama administration, demonization of white criminals perpetrating on-black-violence is common, wherein black violence has been ignored or immediately defended by the administration. It’s a whole situation, of course, the current culture brought on by hundreds of events leading up to today. But evil crimes should be simple. There shouldn’t a question that they’re wrong. There should be no defense, no forgiveness and no explanation great enough to make up for the actions of the perpetrator(s).Yet here we are.

Here we are in a deeply divided nation. As much as many liberals would like to say it is, this division is not because of the election of Trump, not because he won when they didn’t expect it, creating lines between people. It’s not because anything any Trump supporter has ever said, the most vile of which has been attacked by all people, regardless of politics. Simply, despite the god-like image they attempt to project upon the man, this sort of insanity is very simply because of the Obama administration. Entire forms of humor and friendships dwindled away at over time, the first question asked about any crime or any actions of someone with darker skin being shifted to “Was it because of the white people?” slowly but surely. The sort of books and movies that get promoted, the way you’re supposed to talk, the safe spaces you’re supposed to have because of those feminine feelings that society has clearly deprived you of expressing. Everything in the culture is different than it was in 2008- and it’s no surprise. 8 years changes a lot. Yet, I can say with certainty almost all these changes to the culture have made deeper lines between people, based on their race, gender and even sexual preference. Not even because of repeated, massive and nation-wide attacks against any particular group- other than perhaps verbal, but no one was killed from being insulted too much- but because people have been encouraged to identify themselves differently.

No longer is Joe a hardworking roofer with an odd obsession with Seinfeld, he’s a white, middle class, straight male. No longer is Alice an exotic babe with brains and looks to boot, she’s a discriminated against Mexican immigrant who doesn’t subscribe to the misogynistic views of society, and is in a sexual relationship with Jack. Jack once was a quirky theater major but is now an advocate of how evil white people are- while reflecting the sun off his ghost-like skin- and is currently in the middle of transition to the 5th gender of Twatwaffle, which uses cat pronouns.

This societal division, encouraged and nurtured by the current (And thankfully out the door) administration has divided people into their groups, and made way for the sort of culture that lead to the deep divides we experience today. Liberals surely noticed these divides, they just chose to claim “It’s because Obama is black, isn’t it?” to every criticism of him, worsening these problems but failing to see it’s not the unexplainable (And non-existent) racism of the right but in fact their own prejudices.

This crime against a disabled man is awful. But, I also believe it’s because our society made way for the conditions where these teens thought it was okay. They live streamed it, were proud of it, and thought it was justified because for 8 years of their lives they’ve been convinced that by virtue of their skin color, they are always in the right. They likely believe that racism can only be achieved by white people, sexism by males and bigotry by conservatives. They thought this was fine because in some ways, society has told them they’re invincible and exempt from criticism, all because of their skin color. They thought there would be no repercussions because they have their community, their teachers, their news channels, and even their president ready to defend them at a moment’s notice. Even now, their race is not important to any news station, the incident not interesting enough for most mainstream sources, and the crime not of the right “colors” to encourage a statement by Obama.

As I said, I do believe that is crime is evil, regardless of the people involved or what they are. But I think it’s important to notice what people think is important about the crime, and how the obvious motive of race is not worth a even a footnote. I think it’s important to know this because crimes like this can still happen, because the motive that drove these criminals, is the same motive that drives millions in their daily actions, and it’s probably only a matter of time until someone else takes it too far.

I hear that, despite all this, the teens were indeed charged with hate crimes and additional felony charges, and I guarantee they thought that they could never be charged of a hate crime. I hope these years in prison teach them a few things about the world, and what it’s really like past the coddling they’re received. Additionally, my thoughts go out the victim, hopefully he recovers not only physically but mentally from this incident, and he has my support in light of this truly evil act.

Men and Women

When I was little, periodically, a scream echoed over the village.  I don’t think I could give a description of that scream that would make you hear it, but I think it might be the sort that gave rise to legends of banshees.  It was a high, piercing lament, without words, an ullulation that carried for miles, so primal that it always sounded more or less the same, without one being able to distinguish who made it: young or old, man or woman.

I was over ten when I found out those cries were heralds of sudden, unexpected death.  The scream — usually a series of them — came out when a little boy was dragged over from the washing river and laid dead in front of his mother; when a woman fell and hit her head and expired in front of her husband; when a husband got run over and his wife saw his bloodied body.

It never happened when the death had been a long time coming, and rarely when the dead person was elderly.  No.  It was usually the sound one made when shock and grief, mingled, tore out all pretense of civilization, all disguise, all “what will they think.”

I confess it was normally a woman’s thing, or assumed to be, though twice at least mom told me it had been a father, a husband making it.

Like Miss Marple, I’m very glad I got to live in a village, a place where there wasn’t much point pretending about fundamental things, and where one could see human nature for what it was: human.

The other side of this was that we didn’t have movies.  Sure we had books.  And we had rules (usually in books of rules) on how men behaved and how women behaved.  And we tried.  But we didn’t have filmed lies constantly before us, creating a vision of “normal”.

Think about it.  In movies, a woman gets bad news and she cries (usually in a dignified way.)  The man will hold on, looking stoic, and then after people leave will sweep everything from his desk and throw a chair around.

That one is so bad, that I’ve taken to downgrading any manuscripts that come across my desk when I’m judging a contest, in which someone sweeps everything off his desk in anger because his dog died, or he just got jilted.

I don’t even think the movies have managed to teach any man to react that way.  I’ve never seen a man do that, angry at a sudden death.  (Unless he caused it, or unless he’s angry at whomever caused it.)

My dad — my family in general, because we had a position, one micron above the rest of the village — didn’t cry in public.  I don’t know if we’d have keened the sudden death knell because, thank heavens, in my time there there were no such.

I don’t remember seeing my dad cry, but I suspect he did, when he was alone.  I know for a fact he never swept things off a desk in lieu of anger.

People who have been raised in a society of restrained emotions, where people only show emotions in movies, and that’s highly choreographed and according to cliche, not reality, don’t know that there isn’t such a thing as “a male reaction” and “a female reaction” much less one rigidly enforced by “society” a society they imagine goes back through time, to primitive days.

There are dignified and undignified ways to behave, and in a society like the one I grew up in — highly patriarchal, yes — the male was the pillar of support of the family, and was expected to act strong.  The same way, its being a class-divided society, it was thought vulgar for people of some education, like my family, to display emotion in public.  I remember how hard it was when my grandfather died, to walk down main street, knowing all eyes were on me, and to keep my face impassive.

I will say there’s  a lot to be said for that, for keeping your demeanor even, for taking the blow and acting like a pillar of strength when others are depending on you.  I’ll even say there’s something to be said for men to behave that way.  For many — evolutionary — reasons families with fathers (and we’ve found that it’s better if families have a father in them) still look to them for strength for everyone.  And if you’re a woman and the head of the family, studying the responses advised for males traditionally is not a bad idea, either.  The reason the strong silent stereotype evolved is the “strong” part.  When tragedy hits, people like to believe — even though at heart sane ones know we’re all people — that there is someone strong enough not to succumb, someone they can lean on.

That’s why throughout history, in most of the world mankind evolved entire court protocols, so that people didn’t see that the royals, the people they depended on to keep society together, could break and cry like mere mortals.

But it is important to remember that’s the protocol.  Royals, if you read their biographies, are still human, and any number of them have unleashed the death knell.

Men and women are still human, too.  They are different.  My son, whose undergrad degree is in human biology, informs me that the different hormones shape our growth from the womb outward.  Our brains are different, our muscle-skeletal structure is different, and yep, our emotional response is different.

A friend I have reason to trust told me that men have an underlying fund of anger, the whole time.  (Which makes a man, I think.  Or maybe I read too much politics.)  I don’t think most women do.  (Hey, I’m myself alone.)  I’m told by medical friends that testosterone does give you more violent impulses, but it’s not so much that.  It’s more that it makes your thoughts more direct, clearer, stripped of subtlety and layering.

And right here you know these are not absolutes, because if I could, for five minutes, think in as layered a way as Dave Freer, I’d count myself fortunate.  Hold on to that thought.  It comes back later.

Our different evolutionary histories trained women to be those who watch children, a less violent, less dangerous, more social and certainly more verbal activity than the hunt men engaged in.  Women’s jockeying for position is different too.  It’s a dance of appearance and undermining, of verbal aggression and verbal bond-building.  Men tend to be more direct and immediate, to find their hierarchy with fists.  That is, they were, in the natural state.  Or in elementary before the social engineers took over.  I remember being in elementary, in an all-girls’ school next to an all-boys’ school, looking across the fence at the boys fighting and horsing around and thinking “I wish we did it that way, instead of with false friendship and gossipy knives in the back.”

But the thing is, that though I understood boys and girls were different, I didn’t imagine they were a separate species.  Villages didn’t allow that.  We were all too much in each other’s pockets.  I knew boys cried, I knew women displayed aggression.  Heaven save you if a pack of fishwomen ever come after you, and I mean that.

I knew we were different, but not so different, and usually not so different from birth that it justified a hatred of one of the sexes, or even a notion that if we could just be the other sex, all our problems would be fixed.

I knew, couldn’t avoid knowing, that at the end we were all human, and that the human mold allowed for infinite variation, regardless of what bits you had dangling.

There was no way to avoid knowing that, when my very masculine father, the one who never cried in public, the one who told me to stop lamenting because legionaries didn’t cry, was the nurturer in the family.  It was hard not to realize, pretty early, his horror of having me cry was that my cry hurt him.  And if you were really hurt, he would hug you, impart his strength to you.  If you were sick, he’d come and visit you, and — in my case — fix my covers so only my face showed (at least in winter, in our unheated house.)  He called it making me a little mouse in a hole, which was strangely comforting.

It wasn’t till I was in the US that I realized some people were really confused, not only about what men were and what women were, but how they reacted throughout history.  I heard a friend give a lecture in which she said — with a straight face — that women had had to evolve different mechanisms “because we couldn’t show anger, it wasn’t allowed.  Throughout history, men could go to war or go hunting but women couldn’t show anger.”

I didn’t cackle like an hyena.  There were several things men and women could not do, but those rules were usually not paid much attention to when it came to the fundamentals.  Men can let out the primal scream, and women —  just don’t get between a woman and her children and threaten her children in any way, okay?  Not women who haven’t been trained by movies into thinking all they can do is cry.

But more than that those roles she was mentioning weren’t neolithic roles, or even medieval roles, or the role of anything before an age of such abundance that women of a certain class were shielded from the realities of the world.  Women did fight, even peasant women in the village.  It usually involved a lot of hair pulling and slapping, but sometimes knives came out.  Like all women they were more dangerous than men in a fight, because they fought underhanded, with less show and more deadliness.  (I think men evolved rules of “fair fight” mostly because they had to — you had to keep the trust of the hunting group, after all, or you couldn’t function together.)

And while few women hunted (though it happened) women did get to kill things, as much as men did.  They usually slaughtered animals kept for food.  And neither of them did that as a way to deal with anger.  That’s the “desk sweeping” thing all over again.

It takes a very sheltered woman who learned from movies how men and women react to think that men would go hunting to “disperse anger” (anymore than doing any other violent exercise) or that women were not supposed to disperse anger violently.  (The exercise thing works, btw.  A few times, when very furious, I hand-scrapped and wax the wooden floors of the Victorian we lived in. It gives all those fight or flight hormones somewhere to go.

Medical friends assure me that testosterone makes logic and links between facts easier, but estrogen makes memory easier.

I told my son this made no sense whatsoever. After all, in my family, my brother is the one who memorizes things best, and I am the one who correlates odd facts to come up with something  sometimes brilliant, often odd.  My son said that yeah, but we were people with eidetic memory or close to it and your brain works completely differently in those cases.  He also said that even though hormones influence your thinking, it’s all in the way you use it, so you often see women who have worse memory than men, or men who reason slower.  The only inference about hormones that can be made is for the very same individual.  I.e. if you’re a woman and have testosterone for whatever reason (the reasons are limited) you’ll find that your reasoning improves.  And if you’re a man and take estrogen, it will give you better memory (and here I want to to register that having seen medical students drink from the firehose of information, I’m shocked the male students aren’t mainlining estrogen.)

But that’s the entire point.  Humans are individual. It’s a thing humans do.  And while we can make broad statistical categories, there is no such thing as perfect females and perfect males, or if they do they are a statistical anomaly.  And regardless of what movies show you, women don’t cry and men don’t sweep their desk in anger.

At the base of it, when emotion surprises you, when it’s raw and primal, you both will react the same way.  Same species.  When things are less shocking, you both modulate your answers in ways that have worked for the species for millennia.

So called feminists who think without men the world would be very peaceful and nurturing have never met real women, unfiltered by society and have grown up too comfortable and cozy to know what they, themselves, are capable of.

Pain is pain, anger is anger, grief is grief.

Yes, there are different ways of expressing it, and men tend more towards one (or at least to appearing stoic in public) because it’s their duty, and women tend more towards another (the nurturing thing is part instinct and part training) because it’s their duty.

None of which tells you anything about individuals and their responses, nor about the underlying currents of raw emotion in either sex.

Men and women are not widgets conveniently packed in a can that says “will react this way under pressure.”  They are people.  And people means individual and unique.

And thank heavens for that.

 

 

Alpha and Omega – by Stephanie Osborn

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Excerpt from

Division One book 1,

Alpha and Omega – by Stephanie Osborn

* * *

* * *

“I don’t get it,” said Romeo from his seat in the training observation room. “Y’all didn’t put ME through all this testing crap. Creativity testing and obstacle courses and puzzles an’ junk. I know we’re shorthanded an’ all, but…what gives? It’d be way simpler an’ quicker to just put her through the old testing.”

“We’re getting ready to start up a new department,” answered Fox, across the small conference table from Romeo; next to the younger agent sat his new partner, India. “Echo’s already agreed to head it up, while you were laid up with the leg. Good to see you off the crutches, by the way.”

“Damn good to be off ‘em. Still hobblin’ around a little, but that’ll go away eventually; ‘s why I’m keepin’ a cane handy for a while. So tell me about this new department. If you can, yet.”

“I can. It’ll be a kind of combination SWAT team and commando unit. Teams from this department will take the point whenever we have the really dangerous situations—the interstellar terrorists, the galactic invasions, things like that. We think, with her background, she may have what it takes to make it in this department. We sure as hell can’t send her back where she came from. She seems intrigued by the idea, at least. And no family complications to worry about. Single, only child, birth family gone in a car accident.”

“But, Fox, what if she can’t hang?”

“I don’t know yet, Romeo. We’ll cross that bridge—”

“We won’t have to,” interrupted Echo, coming into the testing observation room and moving past the table around which the others were seated, directly to the observing window. “She’ll make it.”

“But how do you know?” asked Romeo. “‘Got a feeling’?”

“Yup. Same one I had about you, junior.”

“WELL, the lady’ll hang, then.” Romeo sat back in his chair, satisfied.

“Damn,” muttered India.

Echo shot her a hard look, then returned his attention to the observation window overlooking the course.

“Have we started yet?”

“No,” Fox answered. “We’re still getting set up. And we were waiting for you.”

“I’m here. Let’s get rolling.”

“Done.” Fox hit a button on an adjacent control console.

Romeo, Echo, and India watched as the observation window, as well as a hooded monitor on the command console, showed several aliens of various types entering the obstacle course. Romeo gasped as he recognized a Betelgeusian giant arachnoid, possessing, by his estimate, a good fourteen-or fifteen-foot leg span—accompanied by several Division One agents sporting flamethrowers, lasers, blasters, and disintegrator rifles, entering the course. Two heavily-armed guards in black armor moved into position at the entrance. Romeo and India noticed then, with a shock, that they were FACING the course, as if the concern was from something inside.

“Hope she’s not afraid of spiders,” Echo remarked offhandedly.

“Hope she’s not afraid of death,” Romeo murmured to India. “Shit.”

* * *

Megan came into the observation room just then. She was wearing black workout leggings and sports-bra top, but the rest of her attire was somewhat odd: menswear-style black lace-up dress shoes, a black tie, a dress leather belt, and a pair of the special goggles-cum-sunglasses strapped to one hip. An unusual device, like a large plastic bangle bracelet, was fastened around her right ankle. Sensors attached to her head and torso connected to a small transmitter pack on her back. Echo met her and led her to the command console.

“All right, Megan,” Fox began, waving a hand at the view in the monitor, which now only depicted a door and two guards, “this is the obstacle course. When you go through that door,” he pointed to the image of the guarded door on the monitor, “you will enter the first of a series of six rooms, each of which has various…impediments…to your progress. Your objective is simply to reach the exit of room six as quickly as possible. The tracking device on your ankle will enable us to monitor your progress. You may make use of anything on your person, as well as anything you find along the course. In addition, you may select from one—and only one—of the items on this side table.”

Megan eyed the monitor display in detail before Fox led her over to the table. On it was an eclectic collection of items: a Phillips-head screwdriver, a small glass bottle, a pair of wire cutters, a coil of rope, a pen knife, a jar of cheese spread, a pocket-sized Winchester & Tesla Mark II death ray, a packet of facial tissues, and a chocolate bar.

Megan was in no rush. She scanned the table carefully, considering, as the four Division One agents watched. She looked herself up and down, fingering the items she already carried. Echo watched as she flipped over the tie and checked to see what was on the label. He smiled inwardly, pleased as he followed her mental processes, realizing he understood how she thought. Finally she reached out, picked up the pen knife, and clipped it to the belt at her waist.

Echo raised an eyebrow in carefully-hidden surprise and looked at Fox, who returned his gaze unemotionally. Romeo and India watched the whole scene in amazement.

“Ready, then?” Fox asked Megan.

“As I’ll ever be.”

“All right. Follow me.”

As Fox led Megan out, Echo turned to the console, put on a headset, and began entering commands. Romeo and India walked up to the observation window, and Echo hit a button. Blast shutters on the window began to close.

“Sorry, kids. Can’t watch this one; you’ll have to go through this yourselves soon enough.”

“Oh, joy,” India muttered.

“You can monitor her progress on this schematic.” Echo hit another sequence of commands, and a panel opened on the wall. It showed the layout of six variously-shaped, interconnected rooms, a number on each room.

“How are you gonna evaluate her if you can’t see what she’s doing?” Romeo asked him, as he and India sat back down at the table, across from the schematic.

“I didn’t say Fox and I couldn’t watch. I’ve been through it. You haven’t. Yet.”

Fox re-entered the room. “She’s ready, Echo.”

“All right, then.” Echo handed Fox another headset, then keyed the microphone switch. “Megan? GO!”

* * *

The door opened, but Megan was in no hurry to charge through it. Any obstacle course that had a funky-looking little weapon like that strange pocket-sized ray gun as one of the equipment options was not one into which she intended to go running headlong. Let alone the armed guards stationed around it. So she eased around the left side of the doorframe, surveying the room from the threshold.

How odd, she thought, as she scanned the room; it looks like an ordinary study: hardwood floors, bookcases lining the walls, cozy fireplace on the far side, with a wing chair and decorative wrought iron side table next to it.

A heavy walnut desk with granite top stood in the center; a lamp and crystal decanter sat on one corner. Waterford crystal, it looks like. An EXPENSIVE study, then.

The door into the next room was in the far wall, to the right of the fireplace.

She stepped forward into the room.

* * *

Romeo and India watched the display as the first block lit up with a big red ‘1.’ Echo and Fox leaned together over the screened closed-circuit monitor.

“She’s in,” Echo observed.

“Aaannd the timers have started,” Fox noted. “Both of ‘em.”

India and Romeo exchanged glances…and thoughts. BOTH of ‘em?

* * *

Megan had taken no more than two steps into the room when she heard a faint, almost inaudible click off to the left. Quickly spinning, she saw bookcase holograms fade away to reveal a blank wall with horizontal slits halfway up. Oh shit, she had just time to think. She dropped flat on the floor as a flurry of projectiles whistled through the space she had occupied fractions of a second before.

Suddenly the fireplace roared, belching a tongue of flame into the room. She rolled to her right, out of its reach, in the barest nick of time. Another projectile barrage opened up. Scanning the room, she swiftly combat-crawled over to and under the desk, where she caught her breath as she analyzed her situation.

* * *

“She actually heard that,” Echo remarked in surprise. “Damn. I knew her ears were pretty sharp, but wow.”

“Pulse, one-twenty and steady; blood pressure, 130 over 90,” Fox read off the sensor readouts. “Respiration, twenty-three. High left hemispheric encephalographic activity. Trigger the plasma jet, Echo.”

Romeo and India spun around and stared in dismay at the two calm men. Plasma jet?!

* * *

A faint whine was the only warning Megan got before the plasma cannon behind the right-hand wall opened up. She crouched farther back, under the desk, until its initial salvo was complete. Then, in a momentary lull between projectile bank, flame-throwing fireplace, and plasma cannon, she reached up with her right hand, over the desktop, and grabbed for the decanter she had seen there. Miraculously, it was unbroken, having been below the level of the projectile barrage. She unstoppered it and sniffed the decanter mouth. Brandy. Perfect. She put on the special glasses.

She timed her next move carefully. In the split-second after the projectile weapons fired, while the plasma cannon built to discharge again, she emerged from her cover and flung the stoppered decanter with all the force and accuracy she could muster, straight at the plasma gun, then she turned and pushed with all her might against the back of the desk.

The desk slid across the polished floor just as the crystal decanter crashed into the now-firing cannon…and exploded. The improvised Molotov cocktail melted the circuitry and ignited the fuel tank, sending a geyser of flame out into the center of the room. But the desk was no longer in the center. Instead, it was now overturned, with its substantial polished granite top largely blocking the flame-throwing fireplace.

Megan held her breath, closed her eyes, and crouched in the desk’s opening until the flames from the plasma cannon subsided and the current round of projectile barrage ceased. Then, slightly singed, she scuttled on elbows and knees behind the wing chair. She overturned the marble-and-iron side table, heedless of the useless trinkets which tumbled off it, and caught it up in her left hand, holding it by the wrought iron pedestal. Using the tabletop as a shield, she moved up into a crouch, ducking behind it when the next round of missiles opened up.

“Aahh! Dammit!” A ricochet off the nearby marble mantelpiece winged her right shoulder. But she had reached the exit door. Still shielding herself with the table, she tapped the door handle warily with her right hand; no booby traps. She opened it; stepped sideways to her right…

* * *

Block 2 of the schematic lit up.

“Pulse, one-thirty and rising; BP, 135 over 92; respiration twenty-five. Hemispheric activity high and equally dominant,” Fox called out.

“Staying calm, thinking fast and getting creative. Great. Fox, did we get the fumes vented properly?” Echo asked, glancing over his shoulder at the two younger agents, so very intent on the largely-blank schematic, with a grin. Good idea Fox had, letting them see only a small part of the test. Ups the ante for ‘em, and gives us a chance to see how THEY react to the pressure.

“Yeah, no problem,” Fox responded. “Didn’t want it building to potentially dangerous levels, anyway.”

* * *

Fumes? What kind of fumes? Romeo and India sat staring, unbelieving, at the schematic while listening to the two men. WE’RE gonna have to go through this?

“How’s she doing?” Echo asked.

“If she maintains this pace, she’ll equal the record,” Fox responded.

“Dayum! Who set it?” exclaimed Romeo.

“I did, about six months ago,” Echo remarked, offhanded, his attention never wavering from the lithe figure going through its paces on the monitor.

* * *

This room was a formal dining room, of all things, complete with chandeliers and elegantly-set banquet table. Funny notions they have about obstacle courses, Megan thought. Whatever she had been expecting, so far this wasn’t it.

Megan discarded the side table and moved cautiously into the room, on the lookout for booby traps now. Her nose caught it first: an acrid, pungent odor. Then she saw the wisps of vapor rising from the floor.

“Acid!” she cried out in horror. The flooring was being eaten away underneath her.

Do they really want to kill me? I didn’t think that Echo-guy would’ve…but at least they would be rid of an eyewitness. Damn. Is this all just a set-up, then? An excuse for knocking me off? I am in such trouble…

An adrenalin-propelled standing leap took her to the near end of the banquet tabletop, irrespective of china and crystal, which tumbled this way and that, shattering. The way out, an open archway, was at the opposite end of the long table, but the opening was far out of reach of her ability to jump. The floor was now out of the question; large holes were starting to appear in it, a bubbling fluid underneath. She looked up.

The row of chandeliers ran almost the entire length of the oblong room, and were of the ornate Victorian candelabra style. Jumping up, Megan caught onto the one overhead and swung on it, tugging, testing. Strong enough, but not far enough, she thought, easing back down to the tabletop. If they only hung a little bit lower…

Abruptly, the table dropped out from under her, lowering by a full six inches, as what was left of the floor gave way. Megan lost her footing and fell, smashing china and sliding across the polished wood, over the edge. Digging her fingernails into the wood, she halted herself, her bent knees mere inches from the acid that now pooled around the bottom of the table. She slowly clawed her way back onto the tabletop. At least now I know how deep the acid is…

Suddenly, she whipped off her tie and belt. She threaded the leather belt through its buckle, making a loop, then used the pen knife to enlarge the last belt notch. Replacing the pen knife securely on her hip, where it clipped to the waistband of her leggings next to the glasses case, she quickly threaded the small end of the silk tie through the hole in the belt and knotted it firmly, jerking it hard to test it. Then she ran to the far end of the tabletop. She didn’t know if it would hold, but there was no time to change her mind. The table legs were starting to disintegrate now.

“Hope the farm skills are still with me,” she muttered as she swung the makeshift lasso.

The leather loop caught a prong of the chandelier, and Megan jerked it tight. Backing up as far as her improvised rope would allow, she made a running start, then swung forward.

No time to check the next room, she thought as she swung through the air. I just hope I hit the door opening straight, or this is gonna hurt bad…

“BANZAI!” she yelled as she reached the top of her arc and let go, flying head-first, arms stretched out in front, hands fisted, through the open doorway.

* * *

“Wow. Nice Superman jump,” Echo noted with a grin.

“Yeah, I liked it too,” Fox agreed, nodding.

Romeo and India just stared at the two men in consternation.

* * *

As soon as she was well through the opening, Megan realized she was in a bad way. Landing hard, she rolled, looked up, and blanched. At the far end of the room crouched a giant, hairy, black spider-like creature, with a leg-spread of at least fifteen feet, in a huge cage. To Megan’s horror, the front of the cage began to slide slowly up.

“Spiders. Dammit. I hate spiders. Why did it have to be spiders?” she muttered.

* * *

Alpha and Omega (Division One)

First in an ongoing series about the adventures of Alpha Line available now for preorder on Kindle with a release date of January 10, 2017.

Buy here

Alpha and Omega
© 2017 Stephanie Osborn
ISBN 978-0-9982888-1-9 (print)
ISBN 978-0-9982888-0-2 (ebook)
Cover art © 2017 Darrell Osborn
Fiction
First electronic edition 2017
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent publisher. All trademarks are property of their respective owners.
This is a work of fiction. All concepts, characters and events portrayed in this book are used fictitiously and any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental.
Chromosphere Press
P.O. Box 3412
Huntsville, AL 35810
www.chromospherepress.com

Meme-tic

Of all the ways people have come up with to avoid thinking, I like memes the most.  They are so ridiculously easy to fall into.  You see the words, you see the picture and you go “ah ah, that’s so true.” Even when on a minute’s reflection it makes no sense whatsoever.

I think in a way it follows the same pattern that proverbs followed in more ancient cultures.  My dad was a great believer in proverbs and some of the ones he would pull out at all times or no time were old enough I later studied them in Latin.

While proverbs were ways not to have to think or short cuts around thinking, they weren’t, by themselves, pernicious.  When you think “A dollar saved is a dollar earned” it might give you the strength to avoid buying whatever cute thing just caught your eye, by reminding you how hard it was to earn that dollar.  BUT its effect is not bad.  It makes you in fact more likely to succeed in life.  The same with “Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy wealthy and wise.”  It might not do any of those things (False advertising for the win) but in the times when it was coined it kept you from going out drinking with the boys till all hours, which at least avoided your getting sickly broke and acting foolish.  So it was almost the same thing.

Proverbs are in a way, the encoding of societal wisdom into short cuts to lead people into ways that have worked before.

Memes are similar, but you have to remove societal wisdom and put in “the commanding forces of culture and mass media”.

Look, I’ve posted here before how hard it is to acculturate, and even sometimes when you want to fit in to a new culture, it feels like dying.  Humans, by preference, don’t think everything anew.  They bring with them mechanisms of habit and tradition and, well, culture.  Things are supposed to match what you were taught.

And that’s just the problem.  For four generations now, most people were taught Marxist/progressive shibboleths as though they were the revealed truth of the universe. Even teachers who don’t realize that’s what they’re teaching tend to drip through concepts like class struggle and the idea history comes with an arrow pointing at a progressive future, and even the idea of the Government as a benevolent entity that solves all things and fixes all things, from society to science.  Of course most of all the educational-industrial complex sells the idea that it’s wonderful, indispensable, and you should definitely give it way more of your money.

The problem is that when people go out into the world, they keep being forced into situations where this isn’t true, and where their nose is rubbed into the fact that what they were taught is nonsense.  Some (most perhaps) avoid thinking about it or acculturating by becoming bitter and cynical and deciding the world is irredeemable because it doesn’t match their head-picture.  And some fight back with memes.

Memes are perfect for this, because, like proverbs, they have the feeling of revealed truth and therefore stop the discomfort of having to face, you know, real reality which doesn’t match received culture.

Yesterday someone posted a typical one of those.  It was something like “People considering homeschooling should ask themselves if they would cut their own hair.”

A minute’s reflection (and five minutes of pointing and laughing) reveals the falacy in that.  I don’t know about you but the main reason I have never cut my hair is that I can’t see all around my head, and I’m not good at thinking in three dimmensions and reversed, so a mirror won’t do it.  What the heck this has to do with homeschooling YOUR KIDS is beyond me.  You could say “people considering learning by themselves should ask themselves if they would cut their own hair” — it still doesn’t make any sense, but I could see where you could say “you have blind spots, which you won’t investigate because you’re uncomfortable” (like the guy posting this, say.)  It would sort of make sense, even if not really (since most of us have taught ourselves a considerable amount of the specialized knowledge one needs for one’s job, because no school teaches it.  Hint, no, creative writing classes don’t teach you to be a writer.)  Or you could say “If you are considering homeschooling, ask yourself if you would cut your kid’s hair.”

Of course the reason he didn’t do that is obvious.  This particular “stop thinking” meme was about defending credentialism and people who’ve been “trained” to do this or that being superior to simple parents.  But the truth is that every parent has cut his or her kids hair once or twice and many do it all the time.  Take for instance when we were really young and broke and couldn’t afford anything but supercuts.  Some of those trained professionals aren’t as good as an untrained parent.

The same is true for homeschooling, where kids who are homeschooled, unless they are unschooled, where the results are mixed, are consistently better at… well… school things than our school taught kids.  (Yes, I know the canard this is due to parent involvement.  This canard is to try to get parents to volunteer more at schools.  Let me tell you, no, it’s not true.  Yeah, parental involvement like we did it, where we taught the kids at home after school works like homeschooling because DUH we’re teaching the kids, the school isn’t.)  This is because our schools have decided to emphasize “fitting in” “obeying” “playing the game” and “not sticking out” over learning.  In fact, many elementary school teachers will candidly tell you (particularly if your kid is gifted) that their main job is to “level” the kids so they’re all more or less at the same point before they enter middle school.  This explains why they worked so hard at getting both my kids to unlearn reading in first and second grade (didn’t work with the older, almost worked with the younger.)

The meme gets around that, and it is very popular because — even though it takes no time at all to demolish — it stops the pressure to acculturate and makes the person seeing it feel better and like their “truth” trumps reality.

Other memes that are as grating include the one about Jesus being a socialist, because you know, “though shalt take all your money and give to the government who will take some of it and give to the poor, but mostly use it to grow a massive and repressive bureaucracy” said no gospel, ever.

Then there’s the meme about how all whites here are illegal immigrants, a piece of nonsense that doesn’t take in account Neolithic-level civilizations don’t have borders as we understand them, and that if anything the fate of the Amerindian tribes would make us clamp border controls so tight not a mouse would get through.  This meme works on the “ahah, you’re also a poopyhead” system that every idiot learned in elementary.

This also explains why the right isn’t as good at memes.  We’ve not under terrible pressure to acculturate, because reality by and large accords with things like cause and effect, responsibility for your actions, longer time preference, and the broken nature of man.  So we really don’t need pseudo-clever memes that get around thinking and stop us feeling bad.

And it tells you that when you see memes, or an “everybody knows” that was coined after the nineteenth century, you should pause and examine it.  Because it’s been produced by a culture afraid of itself, it’s not likely to be a “useful workaround” but a palliative against acculturating to the real world.

In the end, we must all live in the real world.  (I just work elsewhere.)  Avoiding adapting to it is not a survival strategy.

 

We’ll Have To Shake The Magic 8 Ball Again

So, to begin with and much to my shock, I DO have a brain.  Yeah, you could have knocked me with a feather.  Up till now I thought I thought with my belly-button lint.

First of all, there are two thingies in the brainy.

The first one is a meningioma.  Pretty sure it formed exactly where I hit my head hard when I fell on ice 3? 4? years ago.  It’s PROBABLY not cancer, because it’s somewhat calcified, which doesn’t happen to cancerous varieties.  OTOH if it continues growing the mass effect (size pushing on things) could be an issue.  Or it could not.  It might very well grow so slowly that nothing is needed on it for the rest of my life expectancy.  That’s fine.  if it needs surgery, the good news is that it’s in “a good place” that’s “very accessible.”  We’ll continue monitoring every few months.

The second one is “white matter abnormalities.”  

These are probably demylianation events.  Not for sure, but LIKELY.

This means either Multiple Sclerosis, or “Weird autoimmune attacking your brain.”

Being that this is still me, I’m going to suspect “weird autoimmune.”  (Couldn’t it attack something less vital, like my pancreas?  Never mind.)

In either case, we’re still on the very early stages of whatever it is, and it was therefore good that Dan dragged me in, even if it’s just my body trying to kill me as usual.

IF I get a positive diagnosis on either MS or “weird autoimmune crap” it can be held at bay with medication till I die a natural death, or stop needing my brain, whichever comes first.

The next shake of the magic eight ball involves blood and spinal fluid tests in a week or two.  So in a month I will know more about this.

Until then, I write.

Delayed Post and yearly plan

Hi guys, the post won’t go up till this afternoon.  I have a doctor’s appointment in a little over an hour and need to get ready.

I’m hoping very hard the appointment will tell me this is nothing, and I feel sure that’s what they’ll say.  Which means I feel stupid about having slept VERY badly.

So, because I slept very badly and can’t think of anything to write about, I’ll give you the plan for this year:

Right now I’m closing in on finishing Darkship Revenge.  Yes, I know it’s taken forever, but that’s because the more you interrupt a novel, the harder it is to keep it together.  And this novel got interrupted by year from hell… five times, and I’ve had to reconstruct lost parts three times.  I’m now just making sure everything hangs together before I send it to Toni.

After that I’m doing the novel with Kevin Anderson, the one I’ve been researching in the background for three months.  I can never remember the title, because it’s long and complicated, but it’s something like “Lewis and Clark and the magical territories of the West.”  At any rate, enough to give you a general idea.  And after that, G-d willing and their telling me it’s nothing today, I’ll be doing Guardian (all I have right now is a couple of chapters.)  Because in my head that’s tangled with Dark Fate, I’ll be doing a lot of that on this blog then.

When Guardian is in, I’ll be doing the Dragons trilogy, the one I’ve excerpted here before.  That will get flung at Baen for good or ill.  If they want it, it’s theirs.  If they don’t, it goes out indie, probably mid-summer.

I’m going to try to finally finish The Brave And The Free to go indie the fourth of July.  No promises, as I can’t be sure of my health.  BUT I’m going to do my d*mndest.  Now that I’m no longer depressed, it should be possible (worst novel to write while depressed, since it takes place in a total police state.)

I also have, newly reverted, all of the furniture refinishing mysteries, and TRULY I can do one of those in a week (it’s how they were all written) so I’m going to try to release them all (Jack Wylder made AMAZING covers for them) and then do the fourth “A Well Inlaid Death”.

Also reverted, and edited, but needing my go-over is the entire magical British Empire Trilogy.  I’ll be working on that and the mysteries in the evenings, in lieu of a life, though I still want to take date night with my husband and probably “reading Sunday” once a week.

To the long suffering fans of the Musketeer mysteries, Musketeer’s Confessor is almost done, and would have been out in December, if I hadn’t collapsed in the shower and then entered a roller coaster of doctor’s appointments (most of it to tell me I’m healthy, except there is a thingy in my brainy.  Apparently.  Two thingies actually, which seems like an embarrassment of riches.)  I need to write the final third and do a thorough edit.  As I said, thank G-d I don’t have a life, and the boys seem to be settling into lives of their own, in which they don’t need much of our time.  At least they seem to be so after the holidays.  No promise on date, but I’ll try to get it into your hands ASAP.

The same for Rogue Magic and Elf’s blood and probably Witch’s Daughter, all of which are substantially written.  Witch’s Daughter, like Darkship Revenge got impacted because of a move just in the MIDDLE of it.  But once I have the Baen work in, I’ll return to it and it should be a quick run through, though a little awkward, since it’s a YA.

There’s two secret projects, which you’ll know about when I tell you they’re done.  I suppose they’re both, if you squint, mil sf, but the first is a reprise of the first world I ever created and which I couldn’t sell, because it was too weird for words.  Weird is easier when you have craft.

There’s also collaborations with two sons, the biological elder, and the adopted (at thirty or so) eldest.  The first is “Harry Potter in Space” and the first book is The Curse of the Gypsy Child.  The second is Signals in the Storm, a military fantasy.  It was started at Liberty con three years ago, and then both of our lives got weird.  But it is a priority now.  Both will be flung at Baen and if not accepted brought out indie.  (Though I might offer them to Wordfire first.)

I’ll be — G-d willing — attending three cons, and hopefully at Denver comicon.  The first con is CoSine in Colorado Springs, at the end of January, then there’s Liberty con and I hope Dragon con, which will be a first.

Now go on, yell at me about crazy schedule.  Oh, yeah, to leave room for fiction, I’m ONLY doing three new articles here a week, the rest will be guest posts or excerpts or other, lighter stuff.  Hope that’s okay.  I mean three columns a week is more than professional columnists do, right?

Oh, yeah, I’m hoping to do something with PJM again, which means I need to send them a proposal.

Now let the yelling begin.  And keep your fingers crossed this brainy thingy is nothing, or the schedule gets upended again.

 

 

The Builders And The Wreckers – a Blast From the Past Post from 1/4/2012

*This post is mostly about writing, but it isn’t REALLY.  I’ve said for years that the main difference between us and the left is that “We Build” — while they mostly wreck.  I grant you a lot of the reason they wreck is that their prophecy promises that if our system falls perfect communism ensues.  But I think it attracts the sort of people who like to wreck.  Like the critics I mention here, they are people who feel incapable of creating or dwarfed by others/the past, so they must tear that down, because in a flat landscape their little molehills look like mountains.  I think this is ULTIMATELY why they must tear down every great figure of the past, in our field and others and why — who the heck said it?  I have no memory — the left takes over an institution, guts it, then wears the skin demanding respect.  I think at the heart of it is this wrecker instinct. – SAH*

The Builders And The Wreckers – a Blast From the Past Post from 1/4/2012

Recently there has been some furore over a review of Dave Freer’s Dog and Dragon.  After Patrick Richardson posted his excellent and quite accurate review, not only did a gentleman (note I use the term loosely) feel the need to throw a big hairy hissy fit over the fact that no good fantasy has been written in the last twenty years and that since his writing idols wrote all possible plots twenty years ago no new ideas could be written BUT another gentleman (again a very loose term) felt the need to write an entire article on the grammar and typos in an UNCORRECTED ADVANCE READING COPY.

This is not designed to highlight the fact that some gentle– oh, heck – some cranks didn’t like Dave’s book.  The first didn’t read it, and the second read it looking for things to throw snitt-fits about.  Also, since the first took the time to comment on how wretched that Pratchett creature is, I think Dave should be rather proud of hanging with the good people.

No, this is designed to illuminate a type of person all of us, published, unpublished, wanna bes and serious workers at the word-vine will come up against, whether we want to or not.

Reading the screaming hissy fits above, what struck me was the pointlessness of it all, and it reminded me of an incident back when my husband and I were very young (a condition that’s often covalent with stupid, but in this case it was a good-stupid.)  After about six years of infertility treatments, when we were twenty eight we decided to take the option that had been suggested by everyone: take a long vacation.  Dan took a month unpaid break and we went to Portugal to get away from our normal environment for a while.  (This didn’t quite work as we didn’t conceive then, but we conceived shortly thereafter, so perhaps it was delayed effects?) A lot of this time was spent at the beach and one day in a fit of silliness, we decided to build a sand castle.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that an excess of geekness made this a whole day project and therefore caused us to build turrets and ramparts and an artesian fountain in the courtyard.

Towards the end of the afternoon, as we were finishing, we noticed a group of kids glaring at us – by which I mean glaring.  I wondered if it was a cultural thing since adults in Portugal rarely play in public or do anything that seems less than dignified.  But I was wrong.  As soon as we packed and turned our backs – and I mean, before we had gone three steps – the group attacked the little castle screaming and gleefully destroying it.

To this day I’m baffled by this behavior.  Yes, I know tearing down the castle is part of the fun when you made it for that purpose, but this wasn’t it.  They acted as if the castle were evil and had offended them in some way.  Besides, the castle wasn’t that type.  It was the type that I’m always delighted to come across, usually as the waves are starting to take it, and examine what people did and how.

I didn’t understand their anger or their impulse until years later, when I was trying to write for publication and we had a writers’ group.
There was a gentl– oh, heck, a crank – in the very first formation of our writers group who started every critique with “To begin with, this didn’t work for me.”

Now, I will be the first to note that when that group started, almost nineteen years ago, we were all green as leeks and twice as wet.  Sometimes, by blind groping, one or the other of us would produce a fully functional short story, but most of our poor efforts were truncated, deformed and went lurching into the night of unpublishable.

That said, none of us deserved the critiques this critter gave.  After that hopeful start, he would go page by page noting every time we’d misplace a comma (yes, dears, it IS a wonder he ever got through critiquing my stories.)  Then he’d open with something sweet like “Your grammar is a mess too” after which he would give us every single typo that might be misinterpreted as a grammatical mistake.  (What, you never left an apostrophe before the s in a plural?  Then you’re lucky.)  From this he would proceed to tearing down your character’s motives.  One of my characters, who was confused and rather paralyzed by a situation got classed as “supine”, doubts were cast on the character’s masculinity and, oh, yeah, do not dare in any circumstances to have a character who is anything but heterosexual because then the critique would include YOUR moral shortcomings.  This, by the way, even if the character was an alien from a species with three genders.

By the end of this spittle-flecked tear down, most of us would feel like never writing again.

Curiously, this person rarely brought anything in.  When he did it was usually a short short of such a startling lack of originality as to sound like the slush at any hundred magazines.  While competently written for the most part, the stories would provide plenty of fodder for those of us who wanted to go after commas or typos and, oh, yeah, by the way, the moral implications of some of these just-so stories, if you wanted to explore them, were … uh.

Fortunately he was so in-your-face poisonous that the rest of the group – fumbling and inexpert though we were – got together and decided we could not take it anymore.  As such, we tried to gently give him hints.  When that didn’t work, we changed the meeting time and day and place and told him the group had dissolved.  After which the group continued with what he had stigmatized as a “love in” – amazingly, we didn’t want to tear each other or even each other’s stories to shreds.  Who knew? – and shortly thereafter (two, three years) we all started getting published in turn.

Since then I have met variants of this gentleman everywhere, from local writing groups to reviewers.  They are not all as openly poisonous as this person or even the commenter and “reviewer” mentioned above.  Those are openly wreckers and though their motives might puzzle those of us on the creative side of the equation, their aggression and poison is as obvious as that of those kids on the beach.

Some commenters and reviewers are semi-reasonable and will be taken seriously at least for a while.  Take the “published author” who joined our group five years after this incident (she had a book published ten years before and had written nothing else.  We failed to take in the implications of this, because, duh, young and stupid.)  She was not so nakedly transparent in her tear downs, but she would say things that we felt we should understand, and which paralyzed us just as effectively, such as “Your story has no engine” or “your grammar is a mess” or… all of it with no specific examples.

I can honestly say she delayed our learning a good three years, until she left the group, after which we started writing more and getting published more again.  And it wasn’t until I had sold my first novel and told her about it that I realized she’d been just like Mr. “To Begin With This Doesn’t Work For Me.”

I realized it at that point because it was obvious.  First, she couldn’t process that the book had SOLD, even though I told her that first thing, and it was WHY she’d asked me to send her the manuscript.  Second, she simply didn’t GET it.  Third, she tried to tear it down as she had things in the workshop.  Her note back started with “You’ll never sell this book” and then told me that the story had no engine and that it read like a romance (a withering criticism coming from her) because of all the interior dialogue and the feelings.

Later on, through gossip (this field gossips) I found out the reason her career was benched was that, having been selected for a collaboration with Anne McCaffrey, she’d told Anne that her plot was all wrong and that she couldn’t plot.  Even Anne, who had a reputation as a gentle mentor, couldn’t take that.

BUT that in a way is almost endearing because it shows you how strong the compulsion is, to the point of being self-destructive, and how little it has to do with a wish to advance one’s career or even to help one’s fellow writer.

And that is where we must start to understand the wreckers.  I never knew those kids on the beach, though I wouldn’t be surprised to find any number of them are now hardened vandals – though frankly that wouldn’t make them much different from their age group in Portugal, the whole thing having to do with lack of jobs and possibly lack of supervision – but every other …  Let’s call them “Wrecker” I know is an unhappy, bitter person whose problems extend to far more areas of life than writing.  They’re also, almost to the last one, startlingly unproductive in terms of creativity, though claiming that they are “artists” or “creative.”  Oh, and when they do “create” the stuff tends to be pap and so generic as to need a white wrapping and a bar code.

That is part of the problem, I think.  These are people who were brought up thinking they were creative geniuses.  They have tried to be creative, have fallen short of their own ideals and want to – no, need to – tear down anything else anyone else builds, to salve the gaping wound in their ego and self esteem.  Unfortunately, they feel drawn to environments like writers’ groups where they’re forever reminded of how short they fell of their own expectations, and that frustration fuels their anger at anyone else who dares create and PARTICULARLY at any work that is particularly good.

Because these people infest the creative professions and often take over writers groups, and because in the new age of self-publishing they are gravitating to “reviews” I will give you a way to recognize them, deal with them and counter them.  Like vampires they can be relatively harmless if you know how to deal with them.  Like vampires too, they seem to be incurable.  At least I never heard of a single one who reformed and started creating.  It seems like once the wrecking urge sets in the pleasure of destruction feeds upon itself, and creation becomes impossible.

I will however also give you a way to combat your wrecker tendencies, in case you feel yourself going that way.

How To Recognize A Wrecker

1 – minute critiques of a story, even if you asked explicitly for an overall feel.  (You are excused if it’s your first time betaing, you’re overwhelmed and try, desperately, to do something useful.  We’ve all been there.)  If you asked for plot coherence and you’re getting typos, you’re either in the presence of a wrecker or your critiquer couldn’t find his/her own *ss with two hands and a seeing eye dog.  The later is curable, the first isn’t.

2 – Critiques that go beyond the manuscript to your personal traits, sometimes descending to over-the-counter Freudian.  This can range from “you know, I could never write a character that cowardly.” which subtly implies you can do that because you lack moral fiber to the fist-in-face blunt “I see you have another dumb character, just like you.” to the implication they know you better than you know yourself “Ah! Another species with three genders.  I wonder what that means about your sex life.”

3- Pointless nitpicking and sweeping generalizations.  You’ll get for instance that “your character lacks consistency” which turns out to be that at one point in your manuscript you wrote down he was blond instead of saying his hair was brown.  (Possibly because you heard “blond” off the corner of the room as you were typing.)  The critiquer will open with something like “your character kept changing and I had no idea who he was” and you think “Oh, I messed his personality” and it turns out to be something totally irrelevant that you can fix by changing a word.  Or “Your grammar is attrocious in this manuscript” and it turns out you have a dozen misplaced commas. *(Commas are a favorite nitpicking thing for wreckers, partly because they’re so easy to get “wrong” that each House has a different comma manual.  More on that at the end in footnote.)

4 – Stunning failure to produce, or really trite output, while, at the same time being deeply involved (often increasingly involved) in critiquing and reviewing and seeking out every opportunity to do so.

5 – Failure to be pleased with or admire anything they read since late adolescence or anything that is not universally considered a classic.  Even a few of those will bring out the sneers.  These are the people who sneer at Agatha Christie or well, tell Anne McCaffrey she can’t plot.  Yeah, I know my opinion of Dan Brown doesn’t bear repeating, but I’m willing to admit he must have done SOMETHING right.  (Just don’t pretend it was historical research, mkay?)  And I don’t care enough that people love his stuff to devote TIME to tearing him down.  There are many, many books I don’t like in the world.  I’m too busy writing MY OWN books to give much of a hang, frankly.

6- A new but consistent trait is the call for gatekeepers in publishing.  These people, as reviewers, rant, moan and bitch about the need for someone to keep the “sludge” out of the sacred halls of publishing.  This is particularly puzzling since by their own admission, publishing hasn’t produced anything worth reading for twenty years.

Yes, critique is important, but if you find the critique is both sweeping and detailed and always negative, you are in wrecker territory.

If someone’s critiques routinely shut you down, take a look at what you’re actually getting: is it important stuff you couldn’t get otherwise?  Some insight or detail that you’d never have seen (like in A Few Good Men Sanford noticed inconsistencies relating to clothing which I’d never noticed and were actually important.  Or Patrick went out of his way to research the behavior of a punctured oxygen tank.  While these are detail-oriented they are USEFUL.  And neither of them opened the critique with “First of all, what universe do you come from?” or “You have some serious inconsistencies” or… you get the point.)  Or is it an accumulation of nitpicky details and inconsistencies, some of them not real (a contest judge kindly informed me, for instance, that my vocabulary wasn’t up to par because when I used stolid, I meant solid – i.e. the judge didn’t KNOW stolid, so she assumed…) all presented in a way to make you feel dumb and incompetent and to elevate the critiquer to authority?

If the second be aware that this is a person who NEEDS to believe him/herself an authority.  The things to understand are the following:

1- this person can’t create.  Either he or she started out that way, or he or she has become that way, but in either case, he or she can’t create.  When in the presence of something that they feel is better than what they could do (which in terminal stages of the disease is EVERYTHING) they are driven to assuage their wounded ego by showing they’re better than the creator and giving themselves justification.

2- if his/her fury is particularly fierce, your work must be particularly good.

3- You MUST cut them out of your writing process.  Leave the group, or if the entire group complains, have him/her leave; stop giving them beta copies; stop reading their reviews.  Even totally misguided critique can cause the type of self-doubt that makes writing grind to a halt.  And if you become frustrated enough you could turn into a wrecker yourself.

This is another way in which wreckers are like vampires. Stay in a group full of them long enough and you will turn into one.

Part of this is learned.  You learn to see “flaws” because you’ve heard them pointed out so often, and, of course, in group critique sessions you want to prove you’re competent, even if you have all those “issues” they keep seeing in your writing.

Part of it is psychological.  By tearing down your confidence (however small.  Most writers have a hole where their confidence should be) they destroy your ability to create or to show what you create.  And then you have to salve your self-esteem by tearing down others and showing that really, it’s not just you…

IF you find yourself having wrecker- behavior: you find that a story is making you pick at flaws and point out everything the person did wrong.  Or you find yourself incensed at a story…  Walk away from that story.

Look, there are stories that will p*ss you off.  Some even written by friends.  There are published, award winning stories that make me froth at the mouth.  This usually has more to do with their theme or plot than their execution.

It is better to excuse yourself in those cases, than to vent your misguided fury on little things.  Because the wrecker behavior is an habit.

There is another thing – particularly with those you mentor – sometimes someone will write a story so startlingly and wonderfully perfect that you want to find a flaw in it SOMEWHERE.  It is a form of envy too, and a form of assuaging your wounded pride.  Don’t let it.  It is common, but it is wrong.  Just keep in mind that writing ability/careers criss cross.  The mentor today might be the pupil next time.  Compete only with yourself (unless you’re competing to produce MORE which is valid.) And rejoice when your friends make a big leap in craft.  Or, if you can’t rejoice, keep it to yourself and go and practice your own craft.

While I don’t advise staking wreckers, they are exactly like vampires.  They can no longer walk in the light and the sun, and they’re trying to drag you down to their own bitter state.  Let them go their own way, and you go on creating.

* Commas are a favorite target of wreckers.  Most of us – except me, and there are reasons for that – think we know how to place commas.  Most of us can advise people to diagram sentences or some other solution.  The thing is that, except for extremes, commas are highly individual.  We can safely say my mother – who uses them in lieu of periods, which she reserves for the end of the letter or essay, I suppose to signal the missive is over and you should avoid continuing to read what’s not there (and yes, we all tease her about this.  She ignores us.) – is wrong.  We can also say I tend to overuse commas.  (The reason I do so is that my first instruction in punctuation was in romance languages.  The way you separate clauses and parentethicals and emphasize bits of the sentence that English language doesn’t.  And even though I know the rules for commas in English, the instinct to use them is older than that.  I can “glue on” comma sense by doing grammar exercises obsessively in my free time.  And I would if I didn’t have so much else to do.)
But even for native speakers, commas can be QUITE individual.  If they weren’t then each house wouldn’t change them in different ways (Baen tends to add commas to my writing, while Berkley takes them out to the point that some sentences are incomprehensible in my opinion.)

Being subjective, commas of course attract wreckers like honey attracts flies.  In fact an obsession with critiquing your commas), (unless you’re Amanda, to whom I’ve given control over mine because I KNOW I need a minder and she’s generally sensible on those 😛   And note, though she teases me as I do my mother, it’s NEVER a tear down) is a sign of a wrecker.  Particularly if that’s all they find, or almost all they find, and if they make a big deal out of it.