Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Welcome to the Dystopia

So. The electors didn't save us (it was never very likely, but this is 2016 - probability was not a limiting factor and if they'd had any guts they'd have done it) and we're living in a dystopia with an incompetent con man at the helm appointing neo-Nazis and profit pirates, incidentally encouraging devotees of every systemic evil that we've been papering over since the country was founded to come out of the woodwork and do evil by the light of day.

Well! This is not the first time the bullies have been in charge of the classroom, and we do not lack historical examples for how to behave. Unfortunately, most of them involve the most privileged hunkering down and collaborating or hiding and leaving the work of making things better to the major sufferers, who are pretty busy being oppressed and surviving - or not. A lot of people will die and someday the privileged will look back and say: "Hey, we survived, it wasn't that bad" and get angry at any one who tells us that the systemic problems still linger and if we'd look past our privileged noses and admit that, we might finally be able to dismantle dystopia.

Millions of stories are about to go down. Many will be tragedies. How many will be told?

It's hard for an artist to know what to do in these situations. Few of us have much in the way of margins in our lives, or resources to devote to dismantling the structures of horror rising up around us. We don't make much money, often have multiple jobs (the day job, the creative work, and the family work; possibly also the bureaucracy work of getting the help you and yours are entitled to), and our talents may not be well-suited for activism or actively rescuing the people who are getting thrown under the bus. It's a certain amount of work even seeing and recognizing a chance to do someone some concrete good. Jews are asking their gentile friends now "Would you hide me?" and they aren't the only ones with reason to ask that question; but I must number myself among those whose answer is: "I would, but I don't think my attic is really habitable and I'm not sure how to make it so."

I'm a dumpy little white lady who writes books for young people but can't land an agent and is therefore in a long dry spell. I have health crap, I have no energy and a dodgy memory, I have a single-income family and the car is officially dead; but I know I'm still better off than a lot of people are going to be at any given time in the next four years. (I hope, only the next four years; I know that's not realistic, but some of us have to be optimists to get out of bed in the morning.)It cannot be enough to click and reblog and send occasional small donations to a handful of important activisms, to tread water and keep stuff in the mail and maintain an escapist little simblr and grumble to my friends. But what more can I do?

And do I even have the right to keep writing and trying to sell stuff, when it's so clear to me that what publishers should be doing over the next four years is dropping all their cis-het-white-abled writers in favor of amplifying marginalized voices? Seriously, if every artist of any kind who met that description stopped producing work for the next four years, and the amount of media published remained the same, the level of representation for people who don't meet that description would increase more than the level of cis-het-white-abled representation would decrease, with a considerable net gain for the world at large.

These are things that we must all consider. What privileges do we have? Is there a way to leverage them into the service of the unprivileged? Are we terrible people if we do not go to rallies because we simply cannot face the crowds or stand long in the cold, or are too afraid of tear gas?

Which privileges are we denied? Do we deserve to have them if we don't fight for them? How do we know a right from a privilege?

Back in middle school, I heard a family friend (who would have vigorously denied that he was racist) say (in effect) that "Negroes" had done a lot of things for "Society" and deserved not to be discriminated against, but "Mexicans" did nothing for "Society" and could be excluded, marginalized, and looked down on, guilt-free. I was not brave enough to speak up against a grownup, but we were living in West Texas at the time and I was aware enough of my surroundings to think: "But without Mexicans, there is no Society here."

And this is the bottom line, this is what the con man and his cronies and those who put him in power don't realize - we are all Society. Those who survive the next four years will be diminished by the loss of those who do not - and by the loss of the voices that fall silent in order to survive.

It is our responsibility to diminish this Society as little as possible - to help others to survive, and this is important.

But it is also important to keep making a Society worth preserving. To contribute our little mite, no matter how trivial it may seem, to a world that is not unrelieved misery to live in. To encourage others to create, to empower those less privileged, and to get the attention of those more privileged. To amplify the whispers of others and to make ourselves heard amid the raucous shouting of those who think that they are Society and that anyone who is insufficiently like them has to earn the right to exist in their shadow.

Resist by existing, if that is all you have the energy to do.

And if you must die, die loudly. Make it count.

Thursday, December 15, 2016


The problem with the tracking sequence isn't that it's circular, or too long, or ends in anti-climax. It's that I'm not using it to make the Caves threatening enough, and everyone is much too calm.

Not sure how to do that, but you can't solve a problem till you recognize it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Happy Birthday, Louisa May Alcott

She'd have been 184 today, and she got a Google doodle, an honor I'm sure she'd be into if she understood it.

As for me, I'm at the stage of revision where the lesbian western is awesome, brilliant, and sure to win all the awards; only to be censored and become a rallying point for civil rights activists everywhere! Otherwise, I'm just fiddling while America burns and I can't bear it.

But - and I think we all need to bear this in mind - although there is no excuse for watching your country's ideals go up in flames and water cannons as if it were nothing to do with you - our ordinary daily pursuits do have value even in times of despair. The arts help us cope with reality far more often than they provide a place of irresponsible escape.

And it doesn't have to be traditional art, or paid art, to do that. Shortly after the election I was informed that someone had downloaded Widespot specifically to provide a healthy distraction from the fear and hopelessness felt in its wake. Lots of people turn to fanfiction in times of crisis - fanfiction being full of the specific content that people in crisis feel most need of, but are least provided for by the media.

And the afghan your aunt knitted for you is warmer than the throw you bought at Sears. It just is.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Morning After the Election

Social injustice is like depression.

It's always there, lurking. You clear it in your immediate vicinity for awhile, but you know it's still out there affecting someone, and you know it will come back to you, and you know that it's frequently fatal. It feels like no progress is ever made.

But progress is made, so gradually that we don't notice until we compare a sufficiently distant past with the present. More people understand more about the causes and processes that create the condition than ever before, and are constantly working to improve our tools to combat it. It is more curable than it ever was, though less curable than it will be. It is more preventable than it ever was, though not as preventable as it should be. Failure happens again and again and again, but success can't happen without the risk of failure.

You can't control anyone else. You can't always control yourself. But you can do more than despair. Keep the manuscript in the mail. Take your meds (as long as you can get them). Donate if you can, march if you can, stand firm if you can. Vote in the little elections as well as the big. Speak when It wants you to shut up and die.

If you can do nothing else, choose kindness at every opportunity life gives you for cruelty. It's the only way to reduce suffering, your own and others.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Back in the saddle again?

Sorry, no ideas for sale today.

But I just thought I'd check in and say I'm working on the lesbian western again, despite weirdness with the sleep schedule and other factors.

Mind you, this is the easy kind of work - revision. Can I face the hard stuff, the querying and the hunting down of people to query? That remains to be seen.

But it's good to be with Len again. And I can't query till revision is done, so this is a start.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Idea Garage Sale: Looking Back

Yes, I'm still alive. And I have mysteriously received this brief list of historical novels published in 2116, concerning the anniversary of so very much. Of varied quality, what they have in common is 20/20 hindsight - either the protagonist, or the narrator, keeps throwing a backward-glowing light on events, finding significance and drawing conclusions that those of us living through them couldn't because we lack the context of what's coming. From that direction, it all looks inevitable. From this direction, nothing looks inevitable, or even probable, as we bungee-jump into the future.

Pokemon Bro - A middle school transboy must confront his own latent misogyny when girls face off against boys in the neighborhoodwide race to "catch 'em all"
Coup de Theater - The members of a theater troupe in Ankara get through the night of the coup in various ways, their stories and personalities intertwining with the play they're rehearsing to throw ironic light on near-future Turkish history.
Battle of the Thames - A black comedy centered on (and improving on) the watergoing shenanigans of campaigners for and against Britain's remaining in the European Union, soon to be a major holomotion picture with an ensemble cast of big names, all of them prettier than the people they'll be portraying.
Traffic Stop An unforgiving but ultimately hopeful story of police brutality, racial injustice, and indomitable courage. The protagonist is an idealistic African-American policeman.
Su Vota es Su Voce - Originally written in Spanglish, a romantic comedy about a political blogger and the campaign manager she hounds for information, set against the background of the American primaries. Contains several significant anachronisms.

This has been such a weird year; and we're only half done with it.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Idea Garage Sale: Mice in the Alien Museum?

You have, of course, had story dreams, brilliant plots and situations that melted away and/or turned to nonsense as you woke. If you cultivate a certain habit of mind, you will start working on turning them into usable stories before you even wake up, and may even stave off the disappointment of realizing that it wasn't, in fact, brilliant for several minutes after waking. The one I had the other day sprawled out in so many directions that the viewpoint-I in the dream pulled out paper and started putting down notes, as fast as I could, and quickly came to realize that it sprawled way too much. I'd have to cut out 3/4s of the potential to make it a book; and all of the characters to make it an RPG campaign. But, as I woke and started putting my brain in order for the day, I realized that what I had here was a perfectly viable computer game scenario. Something I don't have the skills to develop, and insufficient force of will to learn at this juncture.

Or perhaps I should say that my creative engagement with the idea does not reach the threshold necessary to give me the force of will to learn. The subconscious doesn't care in the slightest whether you have the practical skills necessary to make the vision it hands you into something approximating reality. If it did, far fewer people would produce a sufficient number of works to gain the necessary skills to produce them (because the only way to learn this stuff is to do it, and you need an idea urging you on).

Anyway, the dream involved a small group of people who had been in some sort of aircraft (something orange and vaguely resembling a space shuttle) when it crashed in some isolated rocky frozen location. Deprived of all their communication technology and lacking almost all survival gear necessary to survive there, when they spy a set of Cyclopean metal doors set into a snowy cliff-face they have no hesitation about getting through them, though they assume it to be a secret installation of some government's. (Bypassing the security of these doors would presumably be the first challenge to solve in the game, but the dream hand-waved it, as all the Good Stuff was on the other side of the doors.)

Inside, they find themselves in a vasty shadowy warehouse/museum style place, full of computer banks and displays and stored modern human artifacts, all oddly mundane, but neatly labeled in a weird alphabet. Everything a modern human needs to survive is in this place, though arranged according to some inexplicable system, so that washers and dryers are on opposite ends of the place and there are no chairs anywhere near the tables, etc. Moreover, the place is frequented by Cyclopean metallic bipedal figures, who may be cyborgs or exosuits or straight-up robots, who are apparently maintaining the facility, but whose movements make no intuitive sense. Moreover, they don't seem to be using familiar senses - they can't detect a human running between their feet, but may inexplicably home in on one holding still behind a refrigerator. They are alien, truly alien - the survivors of the crash can't find a point of commonality that makes their behavior intuitive in any way.

The characters were all civilians who had deep distracting backstories and personal motivations that provided a lot of the sprawl my Viewpoint-I notetaker was trying to cut out. The game would ideally offer a selection of character avatars who could be played solo or in groups, possibly with AIs that could (simlike) run uncontrolled to allow a player to head-hop if she chose, all with individualized backstories and abilities that would affect gameplay. Pregame prep would involve choosing your team of survivors (I don't think the setting would lend itself to single-avatar play - you'd need to be in two places at once too often, given the hugeness and the lack of human-logical spatial connection among the exhibits), or perhaps being assigned one randomly and having to figure out how to make the best of it. You could have a lot of mini-adventures and puzzles, but the main three plot problems to solve would be:

1) Rescue/escape - using the materials at hand either to communicate with the outside world, or to repair the orange shuttle and leave.
2) Survival - as effective mice in this environment so full of useful stuff, yet so poorly designed from the point of view of human survival, dodging aliens whose behavior is bizarrely inexplicable.
3) Figuring out what in tarnation the aliens are doing here. Are they hostile, benevolent, or neutral? Are the scientists, soldiers, automata, reality TV stars? And what is the appropriate human response to whatever it is they are doing?

The biggest storytelling challenge here would be to establish the alien abilities, logic, and purpose in such a way that all the counterintuitive stuff in the warehouse's arrangement and the bipeds' behavior becomes logical when the character finally figures out the correct angle of view, without destroying the alien vibe. The chief coding problem would be to transfer that kind of logic to the AI, so that it behaves in a consistent manner that appears inconsistent.

I don't even play this kind of game. How in the world did I come to dream about it?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Warp Drive!

No, seriously, it's working!

It's too late at night to discuss this in depth. I'm just going to leave this hear for people to get their space opera geek on.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Idea Garage Sale: Intrepid Girl Reporter!

So my husband sent me a link this week to a story of a 9-year-old intrepid girl reporter who scooped adult reporters in breaking a murder story, and took some heat in the comments section for it.

And of course my first thought was: "Whoa, book!"

Possibly series, because Intrepid Girl Reporter is a premise that can keep right on giving.

The author of this theoretical book/series would do well to sit down and work some stuff out ahead of time. The very first question is: What kind of tone to go for? Because there's no question that a comedy/adventure 9-Year-Old Girl Reporter would get better marketing and fewer challenges than a realistic contemporary or suspense 9-Year-Old Girl Reporter. But there's no room for the murder in the comedy/adventure book, and the realistic contemporary or suspense book would get much the same reaction from the gatekeepers as this little girl is getting in the comments section. Do it well enough, you might get awards; do it not quite well enough, or (even worse) do it well enough and be let down by your publisher and marketing department, and all you'll get is grief, banning, and vitriol.

Because we live in a world that is hysterically determined to pretend that 9-year-old girls would be safe if we could shield them from the knowledge of bad things. Which is BS, especially considering what happens to so many real 9-year-old girls who are living in poverty, or in affluent cages, or hospitals, or refugee camps, or INS holding pens, or -

Well, you get the idea. I'll spare you the rant.

But you won't be able to spare yourself your own rants as you look into the kind of news that a 9-year-old could report, and observe the kind of abuses that they're subjected to in the name of preserving their innocence - I'm sure most of the people who came down on her in her comments section felt self-righteously certain that they were only trying to protect her. You will get angry in the process of working up the material for this book, even if you go the comedy/adventure route.

A lot of questions need answering before starting Chapter 1. Is the focus on solving a mystery, or on doing her self-appointed job? A reporter's life is a series of stories moving by at breakneck speed, many of them unresolved; but a book, even one that is structured as a string of anecdotes, needs some cohesive structure. Will this be a plot structure, or a character structure? What resolution will signal the end of the book? Will such a resolution provide a solid platform for construction of another book, should you want to go the series route?

Either way, What motivates her? In real life, 9-year-old girls are perfectly capable are deciding out of the blue that they were born to report the news, and then making it happen. In a book, this is artistically unsatisfying and will be read as poor characterization. She needs, if not some specific precipitating event, a backstory and character arc that "explain" the reporter vocation. If she's an Asperger's kid who has found that the structure of formal interview situation makes talking to people more interesting than uncomfortable, or if she has some deep mystery in her own life which she plans to solve once she's got enough experience in tracking down The Truth, or whatever, the audience will Get It - but you'd better talk to actual Asperger's kids, or have a pretty good idea of The Truth of her deep mystery, or you're getting called out.

What about her parents? Not just any set of parents will support and encourage any vocation, let alone one that involves knocking on doors to interview strange adults, in a child this age. Parents exist in the background of children's stories, and cannot be allowed to supply motivating forces or solutions; but they should not be shadowy nonentities either.

Finally, you'd need a clear picture of her community and her place in it. "Realistic contemporary" versions of the story with identical premise and plot would have very different effects, if one is set in a middle-class suburb in Ohio, one in working class Houston, and one in affluent gated community in Connecticut. In any of these settings, the heroine would have very different relationships to the community she was trying to serve, if she went to private school, public school, charter school, or was home-schooled. Her resources and challenges will vary with her setting and social position, as will her supporters and her detractors.

Or, you could do some investigative reporting, find out the real story of the real little girl (which will be messy and full of loose ends because life's like that), and write a non-fiction book.

But I really think that's her book to write, eventually, don't you?

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Idea Garage Sale: Miscellany

I'm still here, in a weird place creatively and not at all to be trusted with the responsibility of a query. But have a few scattershot ideas scrounged from the universe.

Natural scientists who routinely tag themselves like the animals they study. No, seriously, there's scientists who do this. (I read it on Tumblr so it must be so! Or at least it can be rendered plausible, which is all the story really requires.) Obviously, this is a murder mystery.

Vampires doing scientific work in hostile environments. How do the pressures of the Marianas Trench affect them? How do they fare in the darkness of space?

Someday, society transcends capitalism (which, face it, does not work for the majority of us; if we lead lives of quiet desperation, the economic system we try to live in bears a huge part of the blame) and realizes that there's enough wealth in the system for everyone, not just those who are good at manipulating money, to survive and pursue lives free of the fear of poverty. What does that society look like, really? Resist the morphic field that pushes you to turn it into a dystopia, or a utopia for that matter. Who does the system work for? Who does it fail?

All systems, after all, fail somebody.

Consider your favorite fairy tales and myths from the perspective that all the different forms of gender expression and sexuality have always existed as a normal part of human experience. Which myths, tropes, and archetypes, which stories, bloom with unexpected possibility if we go looking for those experiences in them? Was Daphne asexual? Are the fairies intersex? How did Hercules feel during the time he spent disguised as a woman? Was it really a disguise?

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Idea Garage Sale: The Troll and the Other

So has anybody written a thriller about net trolls yet?

Trolling is not a new phenomenon, as any teacher or performer can tell you. There's an irreducible number of people who feel that enthusiasm is ridiculous and get some sort of satisfaction out of baiting people. I'm not talking about giving people enough rope to hang themselves, which can be a useful service - I'm talking about poking people until they holler for one's own amusement.

Once upon a time, this could only be done face-to-face, which inevitably made it personal and potentially risky. Then the advent of news media made it possible to use op-ed pages and hoaxing to poke people at one remove. But the internet brings trolling into the realm of the casual hobby - it is now possible to annoy more people than ever before, with less effort. Social media, e-mail, websites, comment sections - stir the pot and laugh at how angry people get, feel the power of your idle nastiness, without any danger of being hit on the nose or becoming persona non grata in every venue in town (because town is infinitely large and you can always move on). It's wholesale, impersonal bullying, and it's practically consequence free. Even if it advances to cyberstalking and illegal activity, if you choose your victims well, no one's likely to be able to bring you to book for it.

But what if you poke the wrong bear one too many times?

The same qualities of the internet that protect you from the wrath of your victims, make you vulnerable to the skilled user who decides to turn the tables on you.

Thrillers do not necessarily require a sympathetic protagonist; personally I prefer them because if I'm going to be spending time with them I want to be able to root for them. Nor do I personally enjoy stories that are raining vengeance down on the head of the evil protagonist; they leave me with a nasty taste in my mouth. But the obvious angle here is the troll as protagonist. Maybe it's someone who targets people for what she believes are moral reasons - I don't suppose many of us would feel too bad about a troll whipping up the social media of the KKK into foaming frenzies. Yet it should be clear from the outset that this is an excuse, and that her moral superiority to her targets is problematic at best. She has proper activist outlets available to her, of which she does not avail herself, and she's apt to go for the motes in the eyes of others while ignoring the beam in her own. In her real life she feels powerless, and rather than taking real-world action to correct this, she takes out her feelings being an anonymous internet bully.

For best results, her situation should be a hard one; her weakness and cowardice should be of a sort and in a style that will rouse the audience to say "yes I see but," not "oh get off your butt and do something about it." She is redeemable, but has a steep character arc and some hard lessons to learn before the audience will be ready to embrace her.

So we have someone who smothers fragility in smugness and seeks self-esteem in emotional sadism because she doesn't know any other way to get it. Probably there's something/someone she truly cares about besides herself - a sibling, perhaps, or a pet or a friend. She is young because trolling is a young person's game. She has a lot of time on her hands, much of which she might prefer to spend doing something else but for some reason (disability? Restrictive life circumstances?) is trapped at her computer instead, and trolling relieves her frustration. And she eventually takes that frustration out in the wrong venue, on the wrong person.

Most people, when they realize they're being trolled, are content to shut the troll down - block the username from private space; petition to get it banned in a public, moderated one; turn off anon posting; simply stop replying. But our protagonist hits someone on a very sore spot indeed; and this particular person is the troll's evil double, only more so. Someone with a similar base personality, possibly even a similar base situation to the protagonist, but someone who has concluded that the best defense for the squishy miserable self is a strong offense. Threats are not walked away from - they are turned on, and annihilated.

At first it's fun, going head-to-head with someone playing the same game; but it's not a game to the Other anymore, it's deadly serious. Other is very, very good at finding people's buttons, much better than Troll, and Troll soon finds that having your buttons pressed with unerring accuracy, repeatedly, is no fun at all. (The reader is allowed to think "Serves you right" at this point.) When she finds herself weeping after a hit that strikes at the core of her situation she tries to detach.

But that's not good enough for Other. Hacking her social media, identity theft, online spying - things Troll would never have thought of doing because they'd destroy her sense of moral high ground are fair game for Other. Real life consequences start to accumulate, and her initial situation becomes steadily worse.

The threat that forces her to stop retreating and taking pot-shots from the shadows is not likely to be to her directly. If we are too cowardly to stand up for ourselves, we pretty much have to bottom out to do it; if cowardice is paired with low self-esteem, we are likely to assume that bottoming out is no more than we deserve. No, what forces her to turn is that thing/person/pet she truly cares about. Because of course the Other finds out what that thing/person/pet is, and goes for it.

We will be brave and effective for those we love, even when we wouldn't raise a hand to save ourselves.

She will need to learn new skills for this. She will need to confront herself and the depth of the resemblance between herself and her persecutor. She will probably need an ally, and for maximum impact this should be someone she has no right to expect help from, someone she's bullied, who knows who she is and what she does and whose first response is to say: "Serve you right." Someone who will show her what generosity looks like.

It is not necessary for the ending to, strictly speaking, be happy. If Troll finds a core of true worth and breaks out of her old behavior pattern, she does not need to destroy Other. She can even be destroyed (in one sense or another) herself. Work out what she loves and the nature of Other's threat to it, and the emotionally satisfying climax, in which perhaps she loses and wins at once, or wins by changing the definition of losing (she and Other having shared a twisted set of rules between them) will emerge naturally.

The thought of writing all this makes me tired, though.