Sunday, June 30, 2013

Idea Garage Sale: Being There. Or Not.

For years, I thought our family was waiting to change planes at D/FW airport on the day John F. Kennedy was shot.

We were not. I had conflated a couple of different family stories and tied them together with general historical knowledge to come up with a single coherent narrative more interesting than reality.

Because that's what I do. Only on this occasion I had no idea I was doing it and was accidentally lying to people, which is never my intention. I was also being sort of precognitive, as I was in fact waiting to change planes in D/FW the day of the Oklahoma City Bombing.

A lot of history has happened during my life, and I'm seldom there for it. It happened again this week - I could have been in the gallery at midnight shouting behind Wendy Davis, but I wasn't. I could be in Austin on Monday, rallying again, and have the feeling I ought to be - but the world spun around my head a little this morning and I bet I don't. I sometimes feel bad for not being a history-making sort of person, even in the mass-movement background sense. If I can support a cause by clicking links, signing petitions, and occasionally donating money, I will; but my attempts to hit the streets always fizzle. Moving with large groups of people - I can't do it. But that's not the point of an Idea Garage Sale, and the point is this:

We are all alive in history. We don't have any long perspective on it, and many of us who are interested in history find current events annoying and exhausting. That's because we can't get closure on it, and because so many people who are into current events, particularly the kinds of people who start petitions and lead rallies, are pretty annoying and exhausting, themselves. (Well, they have to be, don't they?) But current events become history more quickly than we guess; and we begin unconsciously making story of them long before they are suitable for "historical novel" treatment.

What happens if you stop being unconscious about this process?

I have done this once, in Switching Well. The concept didn't work if I didn't anchor both ends of the story firmly in a specific place and time; and the only possible way for me to anchor the "modern" end properly was to set it during the time I was writing it. But that time hurried away at time's usual relentless pace, so I had to diarize intensely, observe things I would normally have noted in passing, follow the news, and generally pay attention to things I otherwise would not have, in ways I otherwise would not have. Even by the time Switching Well was published, its "present" was two years in the past; and now, twenty years - twenty years! - after its first publication, it is the story of two girls swapping places from one point in the past to another point in the past.

And this is a strength because, even though I came across causes worth fighting for in the course of writing that book, I didn't fight for those causes in the book. Ada and Amber weren't in position to reform the child welfare systems they got caught in. They could only deal with them, and do a good turn to one or two other people. Which is all most of us ever manage. If people who read the book internalize some awareness of the perpetual inadequacy of child welfare systems in the United States along with the rhythms and textures of daily life in 1891 and 1991, good. It will be because I told the truth as plain as I could tell it and they did the rest.

You can tell the truth, too. Look back in your life. What bits of it rise up and become history, and what were you doing then? What's happening now that will become history by the time you can finish writing a book? How is that history working away to change your life even as you ignore most of it?

What literary capital can you make out of that, setting passions and causes aside, and viewing it from four feet above street level, where a child protagonist's eyes are?

Stop trying so hard to be universal, for a minute, or a book. You will only ever achieve the universal through the particular, so sort through your life. What are your particular parts of history? What happened to you in the cracks between the big events?

What could have happened?

Friday, June 28, 2013

This week's accomplishments

One query in the mail.

The front walk cleared.

It doesn't look like much. And next week I'll need to send out another query. And in a few months you won't be able to tell the walk was ever cleared. And let's not talk about the back yard sidewalk.

Finished = Dead. So this beats the alternative.

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Spreading the joyous news, and an observation

First of all, the really important thing: We're getting one more Diana Wynne Jones book after all! She wasn't finished and hadn't left any notes but there was enough of it that her sister gave it a shot. And then apparently started channeling her or something; we'll see.

Excuse me while I jump up and down some more.

Okay, I'm back. And I have sent out another query today.

I could probably get more queries out there if I didn't stress over each and every one, changing the pitch and the synopsis and the query and the everything every single time, so that the process at minimum takes two days.

But the thing is, the synopsis and the pitch get better, very gradually, over time.

As I move on to agents that are more and more long shots...

Life is rough, so let's not think about that. Let's think about getting a new Diana Wynne Jones book in 2014!!!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Idea Garage Sale: Sandwich Generation

Chalk one up for real life: the local independent newspaper ran a feature with blinking red lights all over it this week, about a woman whose mother was accused of hiring a hit man to murder her father, and whose son is in prison for murdering her daughter.

She does a lot of volunteer work. She used to do a lot of drugs. She's had to face in real life a lot of things that most of us get to work out safely within the confines of a work of fiction; and she's had to transcend conventional responses like revenge, loyalty, and even forgiveness.

For someone living such a situation, writing a novel about it would be unthinkably painful. Writing out the facts would be difficult enough.

But for someone not living in such a situation, writing a novel about it would be almost the same as a white person writing a story about a person of color: potentially fruitful, clearly necessary, and potentially insensitive and casting more heat than light.

If I were to do this, and I have no intention of it, I'd have to change up the details and the plot so that Charity Lee and her family could relate to the characters, but not feel too closely identified with them. How to go about this would be a crucial writing problem.

As an aside, this week I also checked out Caroline Cooney's final (?) Janie book, Janie Face-to-Face. The Face on the Milk Carton came out in 1990. So we should all be aware that, if you go into these dark corners of the news, if you send your imagination behind the headlines and imagine yourself into an emotional space that the circumstances of your life have, thank heaven, spared you - you may never come all the way out.

Which may be good for your career.

But may trap you.

And either way is kind of scary.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Brevity Sucks. But Achieving Brevity is Fruitful.

I'm writing a one-sentence pitch.

No, really.

I know it looks like I'm updating my blog and my simblr and catching up on newsgroups and running to the post office and rubbing cat tummies and staring hopelessly at the jungle aka my yard and wondering how to tell the oregano from the horseherb at this stage and reading e-mail and - but the backbrain is on it and I can't focus too hard on anything else while it's working.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

The trouble is, the plot is complex and fantasy and backstory-heavy and the character arc is gritty-realistic and not foregrounded because Galen doesn't talk about his inner life or even admit he has one so back off Jack, let's talk about something important, like Anything Else. And the entire story is Galen's POV. I hadn't realized till I started trying to distill it down to one enticing line how masculine Galen is, and by "masculine" I don't mean macho and tough and all that BS, I mean needy, inarticulate, and deeply embarrassed. I mean he wants to Fix Things without talking about them. I mean desperate for someone he can trust enough to Protect and Serve. I mean convinced that it's nobody's job to take care of him and if he doesn't look bulletproof, if he doesn't do everything exactly right, if he ever admits even to uncertainty, he'll be rejected and left to rot alone.

You know that self-abnegating, angel-in-the-house, everyone-else-first, I-have-no-needs thing women do? Galen does the male equivalent of that. The big difference is that women will talk about the fact that they do it and men won't.

And so far figuring out all this is no help whatsoever in creating a pitch line. Because the pitch line will work at the same level at which Galen is willing to talk about things, the surface level about turning into a vampire assassin in a high-fantasy setting and completing the job and dealing with the consequences.

And how to cram all that into a sentence without sounding merely silly? That is the question.

Excuse me, I have to go check newsgroups and e-mail and pace and find out what the cat wants and eat chocolate. The debt the publishing industry owes to the ready availability of chocolate is staggering.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Back in the Mailroom Again

Here's a little blast from the past: I have a manuscript waiting to be mailed, from the post office, in a box.

One of my market guides alerted me to this (non-genre, non-YA/MG) contest for a short story collection, and it has no fee, and I have a bunch of old short stories that don't suck but are still looking for homes in this strange new market, so I rounded 'em up, organized them, and sent off my entry in the literary lottery. I will probably never hear from this particular manuscript again, but the potential profit-to-effort ratio is way more in my favor than usual and things can't happen if you don't give them a chance. I don't know why they want hard copy but I'm fine with that - the fact that I prefer an "outmoded" (i.e. perfectly functioning, comprehensible, and non-annoying) word processor isn't an issue in hard copy!

The stories in question are half genre and half mainstream (or literary; I've never been sure of the difference), they're pretty good, and I was able to arrange them in a way that creates a dialog of themes between the fantastic and the realistic. At least, I could hear one and if the judge can, too, so much the better. The oldest was first drafted in the mid-eighties, the newest in 2011. A surprising number of the older stories have middle-aged or old people as POV characters; one of them never came together till I aged into the correct viewpoint character's head; some draw directly from my own life and a couple prefigure things that have happened since I wrote them. I paired them according to obvious themes - marriage; mothers; adoptive fathers; crime - but the inobvious themes connect across the pairings. The title is Brief Lies because I think that's the perfect name for a short story collection.

I might get $15,000 for it. I might get zip.

That's the kind of business this is, y'all. Formats, genres, track records, procedures - you adapt to them from moment to moment. You revise stories and revise them again and grow into and out of themes. You write a story and it comes true, sort of; you toss off a joke and it comes circling back to hit you in the face. You send them out and get rejections and send them out some more until you run out of places and then they sit, for years, until an opportunity comes along and you haul them out and sort through them again, and you just keep trying.

But you never succeed, because if you're a success you're all done. You will never be a success. At the same time, you will never be a failure. Not while you live. While you live, you're just a writer, writing, and mailing, and e-mailing, and attaching, and if you have to attach it to a sled dog's collar to comply with the guidelines, you do, because if you don't comply with the guidelines, the person with the money will not give you any. He may not anyway, but you give the person with the money every possible chance to give you some and if he doesn't - then if he's contractually obliged to do so you go after him and if he isn't, you shrug and forget about it.

You can't afford to stress about this stuff.

You just do it.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Idea Garage Sale: Other Loves

So I'm working on a synopsis of a YA book, paring it down to two pages and now I get to make those two pages interesting, and the thing is, there's no "love interest" in this book. The protagonist, who is male, has an intense personal relationship with a foster-sister but it's not sexual and cannot be sexual - he recoils from the idea of it, because of her history. He has an (unspoken) crush on another female character but it's not something he's ever going to act on. And he's got a lot of other crap going on in his life and, though he spends some time thinking about sex (of which he has little to no experience) he doesn't think about romantic love. There's no room for it in the story.

And that could be a problem, selling this thing, because our culture is aggressively romantic. You only have to look in the fandoms to see that we want our close personal relationships to be romantic and if they aren't in the story, we'll invent them. Any close male/female friendship will be cast as a romance by fans (and usually by the source, if it's a series and goes on long enough), which is explicable as heterosexism rearing its ugly head; but the fans will also ship male/male friends, partners, colleagues, and particular types of enemies; and female/female ones, on those rare occasions when they get the chance. One reason for the rarity of female/female friendships of the Holmes/Watson variety seems to be (but I haven't run statistics and this could be perceptual bias) the tendency of People Who Make Decisions to see them as "dykey," as if there were something wrong with that.

Personally I think we could use more girlfriend bonds in media along the lines of Holmes/Watson or Kirk/Spock, and of course I think we need more variety in our romantic pairings, too. But I am not comfortable with the projection of romance into every pair bond, or the universal treatment of The Romantic Relationship as the single most important one in life; and certainly not with the automatic equation of love with eros. Eight-year-olds should be able to hug each other without being mentally married by the adults around them; adults should be able to love children and express it with asexual physical contact without squicking everyone around them; a man should be able to look after his mother in her old age without everyone assuming that she's controlling and stunting him; and adults and teens should not feel that lacking a romantic partner is the same thing as lacking the emotional core of their lives.

The centrality of the romantic relationship to life is a recent invention, coming in with companionate marriage (of which I thoroughly approve, being in one; but if I weren't I bet I could find other emotional outlets), but you'd never know it reading historical fiction. Although the great love stories of the past tended to be tragedies, and in many cases should be read as warnings against letting one relationship consume your life, historical fiction, and fantasy fiction using the imagery of the past, overwhelmingly subverts that cultural reality. Lovers tend to be sympathetic protagonists and the tragedy arises, not from their stubborn persistence in clinging to each other in the face of all the reasons not to, but from the wickedness of the opposition and oppression of a hidebound and tyrannical society. As if our own society were any less hidebound and tyrannical in its way!

We do see, especially in sword-and-sandals and horse-opera types of stories, brothers-in-arms scenarios in which romantic relationships are backgrounded by the simple expedient of backgrounding all the women; I need hardly say that this is not a satisfactory corrective. I wouldn't mind seeing the background of one of those epics brought to the fore; see what the women are doing while the men muck about making what is assumed to be the important plot (but which is generally a frenetic destructive chase after goals that, even if achieved, lack the strong emotional payoff of a good romantic plot). If the men are out searching for treasure or revenge or some damn thing and only coming home to get laid and swap out their laundry, the women, if they have any sense at all, will be doing the things that build and maintain a society - not only raising the children, but building the infrastructure, creating and maintaining the traditions, producing the food and material goods, and forging the emotional bonds that keep us healthy as individuals.

So I think what I'd like to see is some world-building that rearranges priorities so that the reader can internalize a non-romantic relationship as the important one. If a society is matrilineal, the important male authority figure in a child's life may be the maternal grandfather or uncle(s), not the father; and the emotional bonds that trump all others may be between siblings, or children and grandparents. The core familial relationship of mother/child may be less sentimental, more practical, and/or more honest. Can we go there; can we recreate a mental medieval universe in which nets of obligation are more important than personal relationships, and believe in characters who find emotional fulfillment that way?

And can we sell it, if we do?

I think it is incumbent on historical novelists to at least give it the old college try; and I think SF and fantasy authors would benefit a great deal from the effort, anyway.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Patience and Persistence

It's one of those weeks that disrupts discipline. We all have more important things to do than we have time to do them, so it happens. So you step back a couple of steps, but if you keep going, you get everything done. Sure, it takes awhile. Longer than you want it to. Even when you control all of it, and face it - you never control the whole process of anything.

I took K, who is 9, to the Alamo yesterday and then we had trail mix and sandwiches in the water garden across the plaza and walked down the Riverwalk. I pointed out an old work place to her, and the plaque about Bowen's Island, and this reminded me of B. She was my friend while I worked in that place, even though she was an executive and I was five years in an entry-level position. I'd temped under her and we talked about writing and she was partly responsible, I think, for my getting the entry-level position. It wasn't her fault I wasn't cut out for a day job. She did a lot of work gathering information on the history of the site, including collecting some artifacts uncovered during work that was done on the building during the time we were there. She wanted the company to put out a booklet, but they would only let her put together a display. It was frustrating for her. She also wrote fiction, and wrote well, but there was a disjunct between what she wanted to write and what a publisher would be willing to take. That sort of thing happens a lot.

Anyway, we walked on past my old workplace to the Tower Life Building, which K has often admired and of which she'd like to go to the top, which isn't happening. However, I took her on inside so she could see the lobby, which looks more like a little church than a lobby, and where the old brass mail chute is still in use, and the man at the front desk gave us a stapled handout with the history of the site on it.

I recognized it. B's name wasn't on it, but it had been based on her work.

She had other things going on in her life (including the illness that killed her) and made choices that resulted in her never writing for publication; and the decisions of other people prevented the full realization of the potential of the writing she did at the junction of her professional and her creative life. But the work was out there. It kept going.

We stand tall on the shoulders of giants; we also stand tall, and enable taller standing, if we form part of a pyramid of short people.

That's how the world works.

Patience and persistence are easier when you internalize that. At least, I find it so.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Idea Garage Sale: The Item of Doom

So you're in a perfectly ordinary pleasant public park and you get a sudden intense sense of doom and despair. You find an object that seems, by experimentation (!) to be the source.

What does that mean?

In the real world of individual experience, this sort of thing generally means nothing at all. One day the object's there, giving off an Atmosphere of Dread; another day, it's not. Somebody knows more; but it's entirely possible that this person doesn't even know about the Atmosphere of Dread.

The object might have been part of an attempt at a curse ritual; either as part of an actual magical practice (and don't think for a moment that no one is attempting to practice magic in South Texas!) or as an emotional release mechanism. Or it might be part of a game, either a child's make believe or a LARP. It looks like a good place for a LARP, though if you go to a park regularly you'd probably notice if it's often used by people in costume throwing spell packets at each other and hitting each other with boffer swords. In which case, the feeling of dread comes, not from the object, but from the observer; which puts an entirely different spin on events and this is the point at which "storymaking mode" detaches entirely from reality, if we are wise. It is not our business to speculate about the real person who wrote the post, but to start building a character who can be in a story, borrowing this piece of experience as a launching pad.

I've always been interested in the people on the fringes of the story; both in the story, and in real life. If the plot of a fantasy novel involves a storm called up by magic in the real world, I wonder how it's affecting the people who aren't in the story; the neighbors, the people passing through, the mailman trying to deliver the mail in preternatural darkness full of howling storm monsters. And when a storm comes up unexpectedly or has unusual features, a part of my mind wonders who summoned it up, and why, and what dramatic events the people the story are about are engaged in, and in what ways I might intersect with and get drawn into the plot.

What if that thing was a curse object, and in the interim between visits, either the curser repented, or the victim located and destroyed it?

What if, before they could do so, it were carried away?

Whose story is it? That's the first question. Answer that, and it will affect how the magic of the curse works; why the curse was cast; and what the results are. My own inclination is to have an innocent bystander carry it away and make the spell go all wonky, so that the closed circuit of the person who cast the curse and the victim of the curse is opened, and magic begins to ricochet around the neighborhood; and to mount the story on a tripod of viewpoint character - curser, victim, and innocent bystander.

But that's far from the only way to handle it.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Dialog with a Protagonist

Peni: So, Galen, I was skimming for the synopsis and I realized, we never find out what's up with you. You know, backstory.
Galen: Eh, nothing to tell.
Peni: You were in foster care and desperately unhappy and alone when you found Bethany cutting herself and tried to suck the bad stuff out of her. Why were you in foster care? Why were you so desperately unhappy and alone?
Galen: Duh, I was in foster care! Look, I don't have the big dramatic story. Not everybody in foster care does. Sometimes you just never catch a break and life sucks. Not a big deal.
Peni: It was a big enough deal for you to enter into Bethany's whole self-destructive bad karma fantasy and get emotional satisfaction out of "sucking out the bad stuff" with the blood.
Galen: Look, nobody wants to hear my whole life story, all right? It's boring. Go here; no, go there; no, not enough funds for that, go over there; start this program - no, that one - nope, no program for you, you're not bad off enough.
Peni: That was it, wasn't it? As bad as you felt, it was never a big enough crisis for anybody to take the time to deal with it.
Galen: Yeah, well, nobody ever raped me, either. I don't mind not having the crises. Crises suck.
Peni: But you always had to deal with the crises of people around you, and without one, it was never your turn to get your needs addressed.
Galen: I didn't want them addressed. You know what happens to people whose needs get addressed? They get jerked around. Because nobody cares about them, not really. They care about keeping the blood out of the carpet. They care about making the screaming stop.
Peni: By "they" you mean the people in charge, right? The social workers and foster parents and so on. Because obviously you care. You were doing your dead level best to help Bethany.
Galen: Yeah, and I screwed it up and now I had to leave her alone in a hospital. I want a sequel, bitch. I want to fix that. She's crazy as a bedbug and I had to leave her there so she didn't die but they aren't going to fix her any more than I did. Let's talk about that!
Peni: I'm not writing a sequel to a book I don't even have a contract for. We're not talking about the future. If you want a future, you've got to work with me. You've got to give the reader/editor/publisher a hook. They won't buy into you if there's this big gaping hole in your backstory. Where exactly does this rescue fantasy you're trying to live come from?
Galen: Make something up. I got nothing. Make sure you throw in an alcoholic and some child abuse. Audiences love child abuse by alcoholics.
Peni: Audiences hate being lied to.
Galen: So, a junkie maybe?
Peni: Who gave you the Bat Out of Hell disc?
Galen: What makes you think I didn't jack it like I did the Swiss Army knife?
Peni: You only jack things you believe you need. And besides, it's an old, old disk. It came out in 1979. Why the hell are you still listening to it? How'd you even keep it nice so long, living like you did?
Galen: It's not the original. I had to jack it more than once. 'Cause I like it, so what?
Peni: Where'd you hear it first?
Galen: Oh, ages ago, I had this foster mom, she'd listen to it. Only house I was ever in that wasn't too crowded. She'd play it full bore and we'd play air guitar and we had this dance we did - you know that bit "if I gotta be damned you know I wanna be damned dancin through the night dancin through the night dancin through the night with you?" We had a dance to that, her and me and the other kid. She was fat - oh, boy, she was enormous, but she could dance and it was fun, you know? It was kind of a kick in the head when I got bigger and figured out what's really going on in that song. But I just like it.
Peni: Why'd you leave that house?
Galen: Oh, she was in this accident. Couldn't do it any more.
Peni: What kind of accident?
Galen: I don't know. Nobody ever told me.
Peni: What?
Galen: I don't know, all right? The other kid and me got home from school and there was this social worker and he had our stuff and said Sharon was in an accident and we had to go to the shelter. And we didn't even go to the same shelter. And we didn't get to pack our own stuff. She had given me a copy of the disc and we both had this player we were allowed to use, but we didn't get to take that with us. The guy who took us away didn't believe us when we said that stuff was ours. And nobody I asked ever knew what happened to her, so after awhile I stopped asking.
Peni:...That sounds pretty huge to me. Having somebody taking care of you and then poof, you're somewhere else and you never even know if she's alive or dead.
Galen: I don't know whether any of my other fosters are alive or dead, either.
Peni: Do you care?
Galen: Shit, no. Look, don't get all sentimental on me. Compared to almost everybody else I was ever around, that's nothing. She wasn't my real mother and I wasn't, like, her favorite kid ever or anything. She might have passed me on eventually, anyway.
Peni: Or she might not.
Galen: Yeah, well, that's life, you know?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

I Don't Need to Share Details Here; You Know How It Is

I had something in mind to talk about today, but now I can't remember what it is.

Now all I can think about is the fact that it is much, much easier to write a 76,000-word novel and revise it than it is to write a one-line pitch for that novel.

It is also really, really easy to come up with other chores that are more urgent than writing a one-line pitch. Excuse me, I think the dryer's stopped.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Idea Garage Sale: Tweeting the Revolution

So I'm looking at my tumbler dashboard, which is a pretty steady diet of YA lit and sim stuff, with occasional LGBT matters thrown in as it relates to those things (and a baby falcon cam because BABY FALCONS), and one friend of mine who got tired of maintaining separate venues for all her interests has informed me on fandoms I didn't even know existed and various causes in which she is actively engaged and to which I am sympathetic, by putting it all on her tumbler. And suddenly yesterday in the middle of updates on sim families and baby falcons and sharing of creations and stuff about literary scouts and book launches, there's this string of bloody pictures about what's happening in Turkey, with urgent requests to reblog and get it all out on as many social media outlets as possible, so as many people as possible who, like me, are going along not thinking about governments making war on their own citizens (over a shopping mall?!) under the cover of a news blackout, will nevertheless find out about it.

And I don't reblog it because of my policy to go very, very lightly on the political causes in public fora. I've seen too many people in whom I am interested for their creative work go completely off the rails over causes they feel strongly about; not that I don't think they should feel strongly, but that there's a time and a place and a right way. The very few people who come to my tumbler aren't coming there to find out about world events.

At the same time, I felt bad about it; because this is truly terrible and the ability of the people in Turkey to punch through the news blackout (and call for help when gassed on the subway) by using their social media and portable electronic devices is transcendent. It's certainly a lot more important than what happened in my game yesterday.

And at the same time, because I am who I am, I'm wondering where the story hook is.

Okay, obviously these events deserve documentary and fictional treatment - documentary to record the facts and fictional to help people who weren't there process them at an emotional level. But it's too early for that. Events are still ongoing, too volatile to impose narrative structure on them. Journalists (those who still practice true journalism) can cover the story as it develops, but producers of fiction and the sort of non-fiction that enables us to get a handle on what happened will have to wait their turn. And possibly get involved directly first.

But the elements of what's going on in Turkey - the peaceful protest treated as a terrorist threat, the top-down violence, the social media amateur journalism, the activist response, the nearly-passive response of people like me who did in fact reblog (did they stop there, feeling they'd done their part? Did they become galvanized into new activists? Will they start promoting hamhanded and unfeasible solutions that will only make things worse in the long run, like US military interference?) - all those things can be broken down, separated out, embodied in characters, and placed into an analogous fictional framework. Into an oppressive regime on a colony planet. Into the Dark Lord's Realm in a fantasy novel - how would we feel about the orcs if we got tweets from protestors in the depths of the breeding pits of Mordor and Isengard? Scaled down to fit into a high school, or even a family. Turned upside down as the offspring of the powers in charge learn how corrupt the places they're supposed to fill are.

Is it shallow of me, that this is where my brain goes, automatically?