Thursday, February 27, 2014

...does the villain not want Pelin to talk to Lady Pommeroy because she can't control that?

Or do I just not want to write that scene because I don't know what Pommy has to say?

(Also, should next week be the one I whip that story about the emotional garbage collectors into actual publishable shape, or should I keep hammering at this?)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Andre Norton Nominees, 2014

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Holly Black (Little, Brown; Indigo)
When We Wake, Karen Healey (Allen & Unwin; Little, Brown)
Sister Mine, Nalo Hopkinson (Grand Central)
The Summer Prince, Alaya Dawn Johnson (Levine)
Hero, Alethea Kontis (Harcourt)
September Girls, Bennett Madison (Harper Teen)
A Corner of White, Jaclyn Moriarty (Levine)

And of these, I have read exactly none. Well, I know what my next civic duty is - tracking them down and reading them. Voting closes March 30, so there's time pressure.

Oh, and the other Nebula nominees were announced, too; but this is the only category I care about.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Idea Garage Sale: Genderswapping the Oldies

We're all genre-savvy and sophisticated these days. We know the rules, we understand the games, there is nothing new under the sun. We can let ourselves get bored, or we can play with it. Our choice.

I've seen a post going the rounds on tumblr (unfortunately I can't trace it back to the original publication, because it's not cited on the tumblr post everybody's reblogging - get your act together, y'all!) about what happens when a script is performed with all the actors reading women's roles and all the actress's reading men's roles. (The guys start whining about how much their parts suck, that's what.)

I look at this and I see several creative opportunities. One, of course, is to stage or rewrite some classic work, genderswapped. Otherwise, play it straight. How is Pride and Prejudice different if Elizabeth Bennet is rich and proud, Fitzwilliam Darcy poor and prejudiced; or if Georgette Wickham is a woman with a past and Charlie Bennet and George Darcy are naive boys? How do we feel about Edwina Rochester keeping her mad husband in the attic and John Eyre returning to her after she's lied to him and very nearly entangled him in a crime? What sort of an America produces a male Scarlett O'Hara and a female Rhett Butler? If the protagonist and title character in The Devil Wears Prada are male, how do we react to them?

Another possibility is to be meta about it, and write a story about the process of pulling the genderflip. It is not unusual for acting groups, from high school drama to community theater, to have more female than male participants; so isn't this a logical way to address a shortage? What if a high school puts on a genderswapped production of Macbeth, for example? The guys would have nothing to whine about, because the scant female roles in that are doozies; but they also put the whole question of gender power and politics on the line. I have faith that high school girls who can pull off Macbeth, MacDuff, Malcolm, and Banquo can be found in most drama departments; but the high school guys who can play Lady Macbeth and the witches? Who can get their macho attitudes and privileged assumptions under control enough? What if the drama department's Stereotypically Required Gay Guy gets the part - can he resist the urge to camp it up? What does the principal say? How about the parents and the booster clubs? What if the reason the school play can't get guys is that the football coach won a turf war in a small school with limited resources? What if the Drama Club is one bad night away from being cut altogether?

That'd be interesting. I'd read that.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Side Trip's Over

Well, that was enlightening. Two non-chapters, one about fifteen pages, one fifty pages, double-spaced, which felt like practically nothing written each day and even the bits that might get copy-pasted into the story at key points when he starts getting his memory back will have to be rewritten from his POV. And what's the end result?

I don't know. Way too far from the end.

But some things I had assumed happened, didn't, so I'll have to rewrite those references. And some things that hadn't occurred to me at all happened. And the Duke and Lady Pommeroy have a very different sort of relationship than I assumed, and then General Cascip kind of blindsided me but that's all right, I have a good trajectory now...Plus lots of names and ages and relationships and wow, big brother has a girlfriend, who knew? Not me; and not, haha, the villain so her oversights are piling up and will crush her, crush her eventually! Because every mistaken assumption she makes is a weak point in the memory spell.

And the core truth of Pelin's emotional arc took me to a place I don't want to go but always knew I'd have to. I've danced around the edges of this so many times. Is this the time it takes and I really work through it?

Don't know. Too soon yet.

This is why authors make crappy dinner companions, y'all. Our heads are crammed with this cryptic stuff that no one else has enough inside knowledge to discuss, until the book's finished, at which point we've moved on.

(Looks around, sees neglected stuff piled up, sighs, goes to lunch.)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Difference between Pro and Amateur

People who don't write for a living have odd ideas about editors.

I run into this in fandom all the time. People who are talented and do good work, and people who are not talented and do crap work, alike, recoil from the idea of editing, much less the process. Criticism is just hurtful, meaning either that the work is no good or that the critic is stupid and doesn't understand it.

This places people who occupy editorial spaces in fandom - the monitors of fanfiction websites, for instance, or those hosting custom content for games - in an awkward position. I was recently asked to contribute a sim to a Sims2 fan-based project, and the moderator not only asked permission to run the transgender sim I submitted past a trans* simmer for comment, but was apologetic and embarrassed about asking for changes based on her input. Yet this was only a mild and necessary form of editing, applying creative teamwork to the problems raised by attempting to have a transgender sim at all. (I love this game, but the gender binary assumptions in the coding are rigid.) By contrast with the long editorial letters, manuscripts full of sticky notes, e-mail disputes, and repeated rewrites I expect when preparing a book for publication, the exchange was brief and untroublesome.

I have never dealt with a difficult editor (though I've heard horror stories); yet I've variously cut a book by about a quarter of its length, rewritten an ending five times and cried every time, dug my heels in the sand and refused to budge on one point and given up without a murmur on a dozen others in the same work, gone back for more research, dropped chapters, added chapters, and changed viewpoints in response to editorial input. Sometimes the editor knew better than me and sometimes she did not. In all cases, she brought a pair of fresh eyes and was a great help in presenting the story's best possible face to the world. My name is the one on the work; but the end result owes a great deal to the editor, and each of these books belongs to the editor as well as to me. They have a stake in it, a right to share pride when it does well in the marketplace and disappointment when it does not. And this relationship with the editor holds over into my non-professional creative life, too. My chief playtester for Widespot made significant contributions to its final form; and I could not act as game master to a table top RPG without the assistance of other members of the group helping me out with the math and their grasp of mechanical points of the game in a crunch.

The isolation and autonomy that so many amateurs and fans treat as normal seems alien, cold, unreasonable, and both arrogant and insecure to me. To assume that your work is inviolable and can benefit from no one's advice is arrogant; to be too sensitive to hear and benefit from advice is to be too insecure to improve. The work has its own integrity, separate from the worker's ego, and though the worker is the final arbiter of what is and is not good for it, she does not always, or even often, have all the tools or information necessary to make it the best it can be until she gets input from others.

This is separate from the relationship between creator and audience, though the line gets blurry. An editor is generally a part of the audience at whom a book is aimed; they would not do the job so effectively if they were not.

Many creators who aspire to nothing beyond fannish accomplishments have professional attitudes; yet it is not the norm, and editors in fannish contexts have their work cut out and often seem to doubt that they have any right to do their jobs. It is not often that the opposite is true; that amateur attitudes enter the professional world. I would say that a lot of the time, when you run across someone who produces publishable work and does not publish professionally, the problem is not in the existence of unreasonable barriers to professional publication (as many self-publishers loftily assume), but in the creator's assumption that he should not have to deal with those barriers, that his work has an inviolable right to acceptance by virtue of existence.

Sure, traditional publishing has its weak spots. The marketplace is heavily biased toward certain demographics, labors under some unwarranted assumptions, and requires a lot of shaking up. But the editorial process itself? That's as valid as it gets. That's basic. Without it, publication cannot achieve its full potential. And the rest is just the way the world is. We must all make battering rams of our heads to make our way sometimes.

If you think like an amateur, you will remain an amateur. If you think like a pro, and behave like a pro, you will eventually produce pro-quality work.

Whatever work it may be that you do.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Idea Garage Sale: Post-Valentine's Day Sale

I don't read romances, though I like a love story in with my other kind of story as much as the next person (and spend a surprising amount of time dating my sims), but that doesn't mean I can't come up with romance story ideas, so in the wake of V-Day let's spit a few out. I leave it to the genre aficianados out there to determine whether they're viable in the market place, or have been done to death.

1) A workplace Valentine; a florist and a chocolatier who have to work punishingly long hours and are both exhausted and sick to death of traditional Valentine merchandise want to bring romance into (or back into) their lives together, so have to come up with non-traditional methods tailored to each other.

2) A retirement home Valentine: love is in the air among the widows and widowered, the sick and the well, the golden couples and the committed lifelong singles.

3) My nerdy Valentine. Damon gave me pink polyhedral dice. How do other people who fall well off the bell curve of marketed responses express their affection? To be played straight, not for laughs, because in the end, we're all nerds about something.

4) My incompatible Valentine. The bickering couple with gobs of chemistry find true love - with other people, split up, and become excellent friends.

5) My dystopian Valentine. The zombies are abroad, the economy has collapsed, starvation and worse stalks the land. Love is still essential - but is there any place for romance?

Ideas are easy. Writing is fun. Understanding the market, recognizing which ideas are worth cultivating when - that's hard!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Tax Time Again

We go see the accountant tomorrow. How romantic. It took me all day to put my ledger in order.

That's about a half hour of math fleshed out with 3.5 hours of avoidance behavior. (Mornings don't count. Mornings are writing time, not bureaucracy time.)

I made a profit! Three figures! This is important since if you take too much of a loss too many years in a row you get downgraded to "hobbyist" and lose your status.

There. If I can do taxes, you can too. Get started. And stop whining. Taxes pay for libraries! (Mind you, they don't pay enough for libraries...)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Imperfection is Inspiration

So, we went with our friend W to see Knights of Badassdom, a horror comedy set at a LARP, last night, and on the whole liked it. Though far from perfect, it did capture a certain fannish feeling and left me missing my original gaming group, the guys I held hands with to keep from getting separated in the crowd at the first Star Trek movie, and hoping that they all got to see it, too. It was internally consistent and did not have me amusing myself with the desperate moviegoing games of "predict the upcoming plot development" or "predict the dialog." On the whole, it presents LARPers (at least, fantasy LARPers; the paintballers were dismissed as "rednecks" and shown as deliberate jackasses who were, in one case, even willing to abuse positions of public trust in order to ruin other people's fun) in a positive light. Most of the characters were more or less likeable. I don't think I've been in a movie during which the entire audience cheered wildly with one voice since the original Star Wars (which I saw when it came out), but it happened last night.

And may I just mention how awesome it is that one of the kings was in a wheel chair, the protagonist party's badass fighter was a little person, and one of the gamemaster's assistants was a practicing Jew never seen without his yarmulke; and that these things were all treated as ordinary and not worthy of remark or emphasis just like in real life?

Of course, this makes the movie's failure of the Bechdel Test even more annoying...

So now I settle in to another movie game - the Post-Viewing Rewrite. W stayed the night with us, so we spent a lot of breakfast discussing what would have been in the movie had we written it, and sorting out what bits probably were in it originally but got trimmed for length. (The movie is a good twenty minutes too short.) Don't worry, I don't intend to go on and on about it.

Suffice it to say that a movie W and I scripted on the same topic and with the same basic plot would have been structured very differently and had a much more interesting climactic battle set piece (without losing the Huge Moment of Awesome that prompted that all-audience cheer), by spending five minutes apiece earlier in the movie on establishing a small number of parties of secondary characters, showcasing their individual approaches to fantasy combat during the first day's quests, and then showing them using these same techniques - not to defeat the monster, but to slow it down and cover the escape of fellow-players who aren't equipped even to do that. A team which relies heavily on the use of shield-walls, for example, could bullrush it and knock it down (probably losing a man with each attack) or even pin it for a short period; while a party of wizards who have developed their aim, distance, and accuracy in throwing spell packets could annoy and distract it with hurled rocks and possibly other improvised weapons. Some rules lawyer would probably also start trying to work out what its weakness was, possibly raiding a well-stocked car or park maintenance facility in search of some suitable chemical vulnerability.

I have no doubt in my mind, by the way, that in real life this is indeed what would happen. Many LARPers are military or ex-military, and even among civilian LARPers the marine mentality is strong. An attacked LARP group would rapidly self-sort into "civilians" and "protectors," and the protectors would not think twice about risking their lives to fill that role.

The Post-Viewing Rewrite is, in my opinion, one of the benefits of the not-quite-successful work of art. I console myself with it sometimes when I feel I'm getting a little far from my areas of expertise. When I was researching The Music Thief, I was constantly conscious that I'm white as rice and had a lot of nerve writing a Hispanic protagonist, much less one interested in conjunto and Tejano music. But the book refused not to be written, the universe kept throwing research opportunities into my lap, the Hispanic people I discussed the work with ahead of time were all enthusiastic. And I figured, worst case scenario, some Hispanic child for whom "author" is an alien career goal thinks: "This is all wrong! When I write my book -"

And then write it. That would be well worth writing a flawed book in public. I would rather write a deeply imperfect book that prompts someone who might otherwise live and die without discovering her own creativity to write something better, than write a perfect book which leaves the audience feeling that there's no point trying, it's already been done, and done right.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Idea Garage Sale: Carlota and Maximilian

Yesterday I had a child visitor and we agreed that this was a good opportunity to go to a museum. Her favorite local museum is the Witte, and when I looked, I saw that, though their big exhibit on extraterrestrial life won't open until the 22nd, they had smaller exhibits on magic lanterns and Maximilian and Carlota. This excited me.

My young friend is nine, so it didn't surprise me that she didn't know who Maximilian and Carlota were. My husband is from Georgia, a state with a history not much influenced by the history of Mexico, so it didn't surprise me too much that he didn't know who they were. But nobody else I've mentioned it to did, either; which is the sort of thing that makes you wander around muttering about educational systems and so on.

Because, holey cheese, Marie Antoinette is dull as dishwater compared to Carlota, and Madame Bovary's fantasy life (not to mention the lengths she'd go to in support of it) was banal. You could make a movie of this story that makes Gone with the Wind seem restrained, probable, and unproblematic.

The bare bones of the story are, that after gaining freedom from Spain, President Juarez of Mexico annoyed the French a great deal by repudiating the oppressive debt, mostly to French interests, in which the previous regime had mired the country. Sensing an opportunity, the most conservative (and richest) faction in Mexico persuaded Louis Napoleon that the people of Mexico would just love to have a European monarch. Since America was a bit too busy fighting its own Civil War to enforce the Monroe doctrine, Louis Napoleon arranged for the job to be given to his granddaughter and her husband, a Hapsburg who should be easily controllable. Under the impression that they were crossing the ocean to liberate a grateful populace from mob rule, Maximilian and Carlota went blithely off to become Emperor and Empress of Mexico, and spent a short time throwing lavish parties, supporting local industry, and attempting to implement what would, in fact, have been some pretty good reformations of economic and social life had they been able to implement any of them. President Juarez was a long way from out, the Mexican population were disinclined to trust a couple of conspicuously wealthy foreigners with absolute power, the conservative faction wanted figureheads rather than rulers, and Louis Napoleon was soon as badly annoyed with them as he was with the Juaristas.

The link above overlooks some of the most interesting angles of the story, brought out in the exhibit we saw yesterday. Like, the fact that Maximilian often retreated to a hacienda and left Carlota in charge; that Carlota called him a coward for considering abdication and made an eloquent speech about the duties of monarchs; that Maximilian spent a lot of time having his portrait made and also got one of his mistress in an attitude and costume intended to match one of his, while Carlota's portrait was knocked out by an inferior artist; that the sounds of battle could be heard over the music of some of their balls; that the battle commemorated today as Cinco de Mayo was a Juarista victory in these conflicts.

As is true of so much of Mexican history, it's hard to pick out any heroes who are not also villains, or villains who are not also heroes. As is true of so much of women's history, it is hard to find the real Carlota underneath the fantasies projected onto her. Did the stress of work and frustration at being refused aid by everyone who had gotten her into this mess really drive her mad, or was this a case of the twin patriarchal forces of government and medicine joining forces to silence a woman who was too vocal and capable for comfort? How much of her royal image - the loving wife, the benevolent beauty - a calculated effect? What was the deal with her husband's mistress? I couldn't help noticing that nowhere in the exhibit was there any sign of them producing a potential heir - and a good thing, too, but in the nineteenth century that begs a number of questions.

It is precisely these difficulties that give the story so much potential. No one could hope to produce the definitive fictional treatment. It would support an opera, an epic movie and even more epic mini-series, two or three conflicting novels. It's the kind of story that could be fruitfully revisited time and again, reinterpreted to address the concerns of different generations.

At least read the non-fiction book that just came out!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Writing Too Much

I have found out so much writing scenes that won't be in the final book! What people look like, who they're in relationships with, how old they are, how long those relationships have gone on, exactly what mistakes the villain has made in constructing the false memories and therefore a great deal more about the villain's character and frame of mind and the misperceptions at the base of the mistakes.

If it takes time, it takes time. It's not as if I don't already have five manuscripts going begging.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Idea Garage Sale: Urban Fantasy, Squared

So anyway I'm reading this anthology called Weird Detectives, and there's this story in it by Elizabeth Bear that I find uncomfortable for reasons that are neither here nor there at the moment, but when the upper-class white wizard/detective in the story tracks down a lower-class Hispanic supplier to get a specific component needed to deal with the threat, she sizes him up and asks him where he and his were when the threat was confining itself to her neighborhood. A question he acknowledges as valid but which is not followed up in the story. Perhaps it is elsewhere in other works about the same character.

But I was shocked to find that I hadn't noticed before how overwhelmingly true it is that low-fantasy and urban fantasy stories mostly involve white magical people dealing with threats to white mainstream people from white people. Ethnic magic may or may not be used and referenced, and urban fantasy particularly may have lots of people of color in supporting roles, but think about it - when was the last time you saw a black or Hispanic or Asian master vampire or protagonist vampire hunter? (Okay, I can think of one. Plus Blacula.)

Or a white master vampire preying preferentially on lower-class people of color?

Or tribal Little People instead of imported European fey in an American setting?

Yet it is absolutely true that if you live by preying on humanity, you will target (like any predator) the most vulnerable members of a population; and in America, the most vulnerable members are the poor, and the most vulnerable poor are people of color living in large concentrations. Crime, even horrible crime, in those neighborhoods does not attract the mainstream public attention that serves to protect the public. A vampire who preys on people who won't be missed, like the serial killer who does the same, will be operating in low-income neighborhoods and feeding off people of color. Heck, if he's old and rich enough (as so many of them are) he may even regard them as legitimate prey and in no way a stain on his character, whereas he would think less of himself if he went after middle-class high school students or people with ancestors from the Mayflower.

In which case, the independent supernatural task forces would logically be made up primarily of the people who are most invested in those neighborhoods.

Why shouldn't a street gang recognize that a supernatural threat is operating on their turf, and go after it?

Why shouldn't the people operating or using the Salvation Army soup kitchen, or the local Goodwill, or the Planned Parenthood clinic, or the flophouse be the ones noticing that disabled vets are turning up dead with non-needle holes in their veins, that one particular up-and-coming gang only comes out at night, or that recent immigrant single mothers all tell the same weird story of this guy who paralyzed them with his eyes?

Why isn't the curandera operating the botanica as the covert nerve center of the supernatural underground?

Why not?

I'd read any one of those books. I'd watch any one of those series, or at least give it a shot. I'd buy that ticket. Wouldn't you?