Sunday, August 30, 2009

Recommended reading: two totally badass essays on marginalization in SF/fantasy

As you might have guessed from my post on writing the damsel in distress, I'm not really comfortable writing about big issues - when it comes to sexism, racism, religion, or anything that raises people's hackles, really, I get flustered. I write about these things best through fiction, and when asked to address them directly, my answer usually tumbles out as something on the level of "Sexism bad, tree pretty." So I have a deep admiration for people who can write beautifully about these subjects.

One of those people is LJ user rawles, whose post "Now that we've got that clear, and you know that I'm not here..." addresses the Uhura/Spock relationship in the new Star Trek movie - the fan backlash, the presumption that putting a strong female character in a romantic relationship lessens her power, and the continued dearth of strong black female characters on the screen. To quote: "OMG. A black girl is fucking Spock."

That essay reminded me of Catherynne M. Valente's "Let me tell you a story" post, which in addressing the RaceFail debate attempted to explain why it's so important that characters of marginalized race/gender/sexuality/class/etc. are positively portrayed in genre fiction. "Stories," she writes, "teach us how to win through, how to perservere, how to live. [...] This is what stories do. They say: you are worthy of the world, no less than these heroes." And if there are no heroes like you in the stories you take in?

I think these two essays are saying the same thing in two very different ways: that seeing that reflection of ourselves in the fiction we take in is vital - perhaps especially in genre fiction, which deals in stunning heroics and symbolism. I'm familiar with Cat's search for heroes like myself in stories and with rawles's "OMG A [BI/LESBIAN] GIRL" gut reaction when I actually find one (Hi, entire female cast of Torchwood). They both put it into words a helluva lot better than I could.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

One last question

Or Your Money Back has been a test run for me in a lot of ways - Can I write a novel that takes less than 100,000 words? Can I write a stand-alone? Can I write something with a romance plot at the heart of it? The answer to all of these so far seems to be "Yes," but there's one more important question that I'm just getting to the bottom of, a week after putting down the first draft: Can I finish a book?

It's not the same as "Can I finish a first draft?" That I know I can do. I've done that three times now. The thing I wanted to know most, going into this project, was what happened when I put a story down for good. I've never done that before - not with an involving, novel-length thing. Prior to OYMB, what I'd written were installments of a fantasy trilogy (AKA The Beast That Ate My Adolescence) that I'd been working on for upwards of a decade. Because there was always another novel coming next in that series, I never had to really say goodbye to the characters. So I'm doing that now, for the first time.

I've lived every day with Seb & Co. for the last three months. They were welcome, quiet roommates, and now that I don't have them to focus on, I feel very slightly lost. You know that moment after you wake up from a really nice dream, when you're reaching to catch onto it but it's already gone, and you're a little disappointed? It's like that. Which is fitting, for this particular dreamy little book.

Apparently the answer to "Can I finish a book" is: yes, I can. I'm waking up from this book, stretching, scratching, yawning out morning breath.

So, new day. What's next?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mmm, fresh manuscript.

Fresh beta reader first draft copies are sitting on my desk.

They're currently pristine, neatly bound packages with a lovely heft and a crisp paper smell.

In a few weeks, they'll come back to me marked up, dog-eared, and probably - knowing one of my beta readers - stained, with pieces of the binding missing.

I can't wait.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Where it's at

I'm hanging out on my deck right now, reading this novel I just finished for the first time. The swinging bench from the yard got hauled up here last night, so with just a blanket and an extension cord, I have a totally swank little outdoor lounge going on.

I brought the dog's favorite pillow outside for him to lay on, but he had other ideas.

Back to reading.

Spinning megapost

This is what I've spun in the last few weeks. It's pretty far from my usual color palate, which is a trend I've been noticing with my spinning. With knitting, I always choose yarns that fall into my normal palate; with spinning, I'll take whatever's in front of me, color be damned, so long as the tactile experience is nice.

All of these are experimental yarns, in one way or another.

This is my first non-wool/wool-blend yarn:

It's that Coppermoose "Cherry" ingeo, leftover from Kate's stash. It came out to be a 2-ply fingeringish weight, and although the yarn is very stiff, I think it'll make a nice drapey fabric - though not a whole lot, as it's only 196 yards. I was watching a lot of Scrubs while spinning it, and the color almost exactly matches one of Carla's scrubs sets, so I'm calling it "Don't worry, Bambi, Carla will take care of you."

This is my first attempt at a super-fine yarn, which ended up being my first really consistent fine yarn:

I was going for laceweight with the remains of my BFL from Detta's, but when I Navajo-plied it it came out to about 188 yards of a light fingering weight. It's the squishiest, softest, most silky and lovely thing I've ever spun, and I love it so much I think I lose brain cells every time I look at it. The name is "Platonic Cuddles" after a scene on Alias.

This was going to be my first soft single, but uh...

It came out not soft. Kind of crispy, actually. I don't know if I'll use it for anything, but it's at least 50 yards of sportish weight merino. The fiber was also from Detta's, in the "Bittersweet Chocolate" colorway. Now it's just "Well, crap."

And this is my first art yarn:

The contents: "Sunny Peach" merino from Coppermoose, black and cream antique lace, a friendship bracelet, and a handful of dangly heart and teardrop shaped beads. It's about 42 yards of superbulky/thick and thin 2-ply with really uneven plying, and it's so ridiculous I kind of adore it. It required an equally ridiculous name: "Honeybee Wedding."

Eventually I want to be able to do things like this. I had no desire to ever knit with art yarn until I started spinning, and now all I want to do is grab random decorative baubles out of Goodwill bins, toss them into yarn, and make weird scarves.

So that's what I've been doing with my TV time.

Friday, August 21, 2009

I kind of like this book.

This has been the view at my kitchen table for the past two days:

The first draft of Or Your Money Back is done, with the following statistics:

69,536 words
12 chapters
191 pages, double spaced with 1" margins

Lots to celebrate tonight. And I'm celebrating with bargain pinot noir, chocolate stout, Alias, and cracky Supernatural fan fiction. Y'know - like a grown up! Courtesy those things and Kiah's camera, here is my new dust jacket-esque photo:


(Oh, and happy 100 posts to this blog! Thanks for reading.)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

General update

Eyeballs-deep in work and novel WIP right now, so I might not have a proper entry here for a bit. Here's the gist of my current projects:

Writing: OYMB first draft is coming along nicely. This weekend I smacked a character in the head with a baseball bat and got my protagonist into a car on the way to Climactic Plot Events. Current status: 52,481 words, 9/13 chapters. I've got a couple days' worth of pay saved up, so I'm going to take two days off in the next week, lock myself in my apartment, and plow through the end of this book Misery-style. (But with an elderly terrier instead of Kathy Bates.)

Knitting: OH DEAR GOD. I can't work on any one project for more than a few minutes without getting fidgety like mad. It's infuriating. I've gotten a few inches done on the back of my Sylvi coat, a few rows on my Garter Yoke Cardi, a little bit of a scarf, a little bit of a sock, a little bit of another sock - and the list goes on. I've never been terribly project monogamous, but rotating a small army of knitting projects every five minutes is just ridiculous. Maybe it's because I've been so project monogamous in my writing lately, and my brain is staging a creative coup.

Spinning: Getting better. I've got a handful of little finished projects that I don't have pictures of. Here's one back when it was on the bobbin:

Also, I think I managed to infect my friend Lisa with the spinning bug, and I've got a pound and a half of bulk fiber en route to my apartment right now. Some of it has tencel in it. I'm excited.

Art: What? I've been doing art? Holy crap!

False alarm, I'm just dicking around with my oil paints.

Domesticity: I've been doing a ton of stuff in this realm lately, so I figured I'll count it as a project thing. In the last couple of months, I've been learning to cook and bake, and I've been decorating a little (the Supernatural motel room themed bathroom is on hold until I find the proper shower curtain, if you're wondering).

This weekend, my former roommates moved in downstairs, so I finally got my kitchen table back and completed my kitchen! Am unreasonably pleased with my doofy 50's-tastic table and its classy DIY decoration. (The flower is fake, the vase was a hand-me-down from a former roommate's mom, and the table runner is a modified obi from a costume I wore to an anime con a couple years bac.)

I've learned to make a couple of tasty recipes. The tastiest by a wide margin being Blueberry Boy Bait, which I made for a second time yesterday. Here's Kiah demonstrating how awesome Blueberry Boy Bait is.

And the finished Bait.

And that is what's up with me.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


In between other things today, I've been doing research for the novel WIP. Among the things I've learned today:

* Most baseball bat related deaths are due to either intentional attacks or pitchers getting hit in the head by high-speed balls.

* In Taiwan, you can buy baseball bats made specifically for self-defense. It's illegal to own a gun there, but you can own a "home defense bat."

* According to Texas Penal Code, you can't be prosecuted for assault with a deadly weapon for beating someone with a baseball bat - baseball bats do not count as "deadly weapons" because they were not designed for that purpose. (The Taiwanese man on that self-defense forum might disagree.)

* Controversy surrounds metal baseball bats and law suits have been had against their makers, but no official studies have been produced thus far to prove that they are, in fact, more dangerous than wooden bats.

* Aikido can be used to subdue an attacker with a baseball bat. (And look really badass in the process.)

* I am not the only writer on the internet looking to kill or seriously injure a character with a baseball bat.

By the way, for those playing at home, the current novel stats are:

Chapters: 8/13

Words: 46,879/70,000 (and starting to think this may be a shorter novel than planned, which is new for me!)

Monday, August 10, 2009

August 9th, 2009

I took the day off my WIPs yesterday to hang out with an old friend. (My true dork colors are about to let loose, so shield your eyes.)

August 9th is sort of a personal holiday for me. It's the birthday for Tiern, the protagonist of the fantasy series I've been working on since I was fourteen. Some years I celebrate it with ice cream cake and friends and readings of horrible high school fiction, some years I just hang out by myself and reflect. It's not really a birthday celebration for the character himself - although last year there was a splendid duck-themed cake that would've just killed him. For me, it's a day I set aside to celebrate writing.

Writing makes me happy. It often makes me flail my arms and squeal like a teenage girl. It's a thing I want to spend the rest of my life doing, whether I eventually get paid to do it or not. I figure something that brings that much joy and meaning (not to mention opportunities to act like a doofus) into my life is a thing worth celebrating. So every year I celebrate it on the birthday of the character that got me into the craft in the first place.

I had put Tiern's story down in May to focus on the current novel WIP, and it was refreshing to get back to him for a bit. I spent the day eating foods with too much ketchup, knitting, and giving myself free reign to work on whatever story I liked - which, at the end of the day, got me one weird little vignette from Tiern's POV and three pages of notes for a massive revision for his entire trilogy. Apparently having these few months away from his story gave me some perspective. Even though I won't be getting back into that project for a while yet, I'm more excited about it than I've been in years.

In short: I'm a dork, big revisiony things are in the works, yesterday reminded me why writing makes me flail about, and here, have that vignette thing.

An Inventory for World-Saving, by Tiern Sqiiks, age 19

If you’re planning on saving a world, you’re gonna need a few things. First off, music - music is vital. Have you ever seen an epic battle scene in a movie go down without music? Shit, no. Music sets the mood. It swells in your chest, reminds you you’re alive, and gives you a beat to move to.

What I’d recommend is investing in an mp3 player with a long battery life. Preferably something with snug-fitting earphones - the last thing you want is to have to adjust those while you’re in the middle of things.

You could team up with an Audio Illusionist, of course, but they’ve always got their own agenda for their psychic soundtracks. Do you really want to save the world to Queen’s Greatest Hits? (If you do, I know a guy who’d be happy to help, but you should know that “Don’t Stop Me Now” loses its energizing effect after four or five times around.)

Next, you need comfortable footwear. Don’t wanna be crunching over the bodies of the fallen in boots you haven’t broken in, right?

I’m kidding. Not about needing good shoes - because you really do need those - but about walking on the dead. If someone falls in the fight, I don’t step on them. I’d recommend you not do that, either - it’s disrespectful. If you gave your life for a cause, right or wrong, you wouldn’t want someone tromping all over you in their nasty hand-me-down hiking boots, would you? Thought not.

And I do recommend hiking boots. They’ve got about the right balance of ankle support, treads, and material weight for any activity. ‘S why I hardly ever wear anything else.

You need a good bag, of course. This should be a given. What you put in it is more a personal preference.

I pack my laptop. I don’t need to, really, and I’ll probably never have the time to go online, but it’s a matter of comfort. I know it’s there if I want it. You might be the same way. Maybe you’ve got a book you like to read once in a while, or a sketchbook or something. If it won’t weigh you down too much, if you can fit it, bring it with you. It’s okay.

You’ll want to bring a toothbrush and toothpaste. Trust me, it’ll help.

You should also pack some kind of multi-tool. If you don’t already own one (and why wouldn’t you? Look, if you don’t, just go out and get one right now, because they’re damn useful), you can pick one up at any hardware store. Pliers, knife, and bottle opener functions, at least.

Which reminds me - beer. You should really have some, for the night before. You can substitute a cola if it’s really not your thing, but I highly recommend a beer. Don’t think the choice over too much - even if it’s that cheap piss they sell at the gas station, it’ll still be the best thing you’ve ever tasted.

Anything pertinent to your world-saving plan can be kept in your bag. Maps, notes, walky-talkies, whatever. I’ve only got a sacred book, held together by duct tape and kept in a gallon freezer bag next to my laptop in case of rain. Freezer bags are a good idea, but get the kind with the color-changing zipper. No store brand crap. It’s not like you’re gonna need your money, anyway.

A weapon is a necessity, obviously. Something to defend yourself with until you’re really in the thick of things. If your multi-tool has a good, lockable knife on it, that might do. I keep a handgun in the pencil pocket of my backpack, just to be safe. It’s weird, carrying something like that on you when you’re not used to it, but honestly, it gets to be a comfort.

Now, here’s where somebody else would tell you to bring a change of clothes. Personally, I think that’s bullshit. Bringing a change of clothes is like tempting fate. It tells the universe that you think you’re such hot shit you’re gonna pull through this needing nothing but a fresh pair of jeans. If you’re packing a bag for this sort of thing, you should know the universe’s sense of humor well enough by now to know that’s not a good idea. Bring a full change of clothes, and you will die, bloody and screaming. Bring just the underclothes and shirt, and you’re still leaving yourself open to an ironic death. You can maybe get away with socks, but I wouldn’t risk it.

I’m sure you’ll want to bring pictures of loved ones or mementos or something. You might feel ridiculous packing those, but don’t. Almost everybody I know does this - even the ones who make a family field trip of saving the world. You need something to ground you to that life behind you. Plus, you don’t want to be left out when everybody’s sitting around the night before the big bang, reminiscing over who they’re here protecting.

You don’t want to be that guy who’s brought nothing with him. I know that guy. He’s filled with strategies and plans - and you need those, too - but his heart’s hollow. That’s one thing you can’t have with you, if you’re planning on saving a world: a hollow heart. You won’t make it. You’ll fall and get a face full of some asshole kid’s hiking boots.

And you need to want it. The whole package deal: dying for the sake of others, losing everyone you love in the process, seeing the ugly underbelly of the world you’re trying to save, all of it. You need to want it more than anything.

This is where most of us fail. There’s the occasional crazy bastard or hardcore masochist who’s all-in, but aside from them, we’re doing this wrong. No one wants to lose that much. Most of us would rather hang out with our families at the end of the world and die loved. Stories talk about champions who step forward in times like these to willingly give everything for the greater good. I’ve never met one. You’ll never meet one. They don’t exist. There’s just you and me and our worn out boots and our bags full of personal artifacts. So if you’re not a masochist or a crazy bastard (or, I guess, one of those fictional champions), you’ll want something to pull you through this. Nurture a vendetta. Sell your soul. Get a death wish. Lose everyone early on so the choice is easy - or hell, I don’t know, grow up watching too many cowboy movies and build yourself a nice cozy delusion of heroism.

Anyway, the point is, you need things. You can’t just go rushing into a world-saving scenario without taking a proper inventory. Grab some scrap paper and write all this down. Put ticky boxes next to the items. Assemble a proper to-do list.

And if you really don’t have the time to prepare for this? Then at least grab your boots, a photo, your music, and your tooth brush. The first two will keep you moving, the third will keep you sane, and the fourth - well, dental hygiene.

So do what you can. Fight as best you can. If your best isn’t good enough, at least you’ll have clean teeth and a proper soundtrack when the world ends.

(Happy birthday, Tiern.)

Saturday, August 8, 2009

'Cause I'm wanted, dead or aliiiiiiive

Last night, I had my first spin-in. It was me, Kate, the curmudgeonly muppet-dog, and season 3 of Supernatural. Kate brought her Ashford Traditional and demonstrated her absurd speed demonry on the wheel, and I got through at least 700 yards of spinning - easily my most in one sitting.

Dog tried to help. His enthusiasm was appreciated, but his methods were questionable. Mostly he just sat in the middle of whatever we were trying to do.

I got half of my stash of "Cherry" Ingeo spun up at a pretty consistent laceweight, which I'm looking forward to plying.

At 6am, after pizza, energy drinks, ice cream sundaes, and surprise cake from one of Kate's friends, we finished the season. And I finished this:

Colonial/corriedale/bamboo blend from one of Copperpot's "Sweet Jasmine" rovings, about 250 yards fingering-ish weight from 4 oz. I'm calling it Metallicar.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Permission to Write the Damsel in Distress

I've been thinking a lot lately about female characters - specifically, how difficult they can be to get right. I've always had trouble with this aspect of writing, probably because I've always been interested in reading feminist perspectives on literature, so I've wound up with every criticism of popular characterizations of women I've ever heard playing on repeat in my head. The moment I start writing a scene with a prominent female character, the chorus strikes up.

Portraying a female character as weak is demeaning to women.

She should kick ass and not need anybody's help.

But she can't kick too much ass, or she's obnoxious.

And she can't have too much sex because that makes her a temptress.

But she should own her sexuality because women's sexuality has long been repressed in literature.

But she can't actually need men, because that would make her weak, and portraying a female character as weak---

Lisa needs braces!

Dental plan!

Around it goes. Critical voices are eager to put limitations on what you should and shouldn't write about female characters, because female characters in fiction are held up as representatives of their non-fictional gender, the world's view of women, and/or the author's gender biases. It doesn't matter if they're in an everyday high school setting or hurtling through space in a bio-mechanical spacecraft: female characters get picked out as symbols for real-life gender issues. Male characters, on the other hand, are largely left alone to be read in the context of the story.

If I were a fictional character with a vagina, I would be pissed. I'd be marching about with signs reading "My bits don't dictate my characterization" and "I am not a stand-in for your societal issues!"

Author Sarah Rees Brennan has an excellent post, "Ladies, Please!", that deals with the balancing act of making a kickass female character. (It's well worth checking out even if you're not a writer - the woman is hilarious.) I do love the sort of female character she describes - strong, capable, and kickass without overshadowing the rest of the cast - and I've taken that entry to heart on previous projects.

My problem right now is, I'm working on a story where the most important female character is distinctly not kickass. She's living sequestered in a house by a man who basically owns her, legally, she has almost nonexistent independence, and in the end, she will very likely need honest-to-god Prince Charming style rescuing.

I love this character. She's smart, sarcastic, creative, and manipulative in a way I admire. But she's a Damsel In Distress, so everything I've read about writing as a feminist dictates that I shouldn't be writing her. I should be writing a character who's stronger, more independent, who can break herself out of the cage that's been constructed around her.

Every time I write a scene with her in it, I think, Is it enough that she wants to get out? Is it enough that she's got her own interests and strengths in spite of her lot in life? Will they take away my feminist card if she's not the one with the baseball bat in her hands when her oppressor takes a hit to the cranium? In essence, I've been asking myself: Is it okay to write a female character who doesn't kick ass?

And some might disagree with me, but after debating this with myself and the chorus for a few months, I'm gonna say yes. Because as much as I would love to present to the world a novel with an ass-kickin', name-takin' heroine who can be held up as a literary feminist icon, that's not this heroine. And that's not this book. This book is about characters who need help. They've been abandoned, abused, and misled, and they have to learn to rely on each other to make things better. Everyone will have moments of personal strength, but Luca, hiding in her basement, will never come out swinging the literal or verbal battleaxe, ready to dispense justice.

If this post is windy and muddled, it's because this is one of those issues that I'm still not sure quite how to address. It frustrates me deeply that I feel like I have to ask my own permission to write a character who makes sense for the story I'm working on, just because of her gender. This is my attempt to write it out so I can stop the Chorus of Conflicting Opinions from ringing out every single time she shows up on the page.

I'm writing a female character who doesn't kick ass. And I'm cool with that.

The interesting part will be watching how other people react to her.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Plying machine

Yesterday afternoon, all four bobbins for my wheel were in use. By late evening, I had three empty bobbins and three new skeins of yarn.

From left to right:

* 70 yards sport-ish weight Navajo plied corriedale from my Knitty and Color "Mariner's Revenge" roving

* 154 yards bulky two-ply corriedale, also Knitty and Color, "Mariner's Revenge" and "Kermit" plied together (my first wheelspun ever)

* 50 yards thick and thin two-ply "Bitter Chocolate" merino from Detta's Spindle, spun up and plied in one sitting to go with my BFL thick and thin from earlier (I'm going to tackle colorwork and make myself a mighty cunning rustic hat for this winter.)

My favorite of the bunch is probably that first little skein. It's my first attempt at Navajo plying anything, and I'm completely in love with the things this technique does to color transitions. It is clearly some type of fiber sorcery, and I am totally in favor of that. I think I'm calling this skein "Ariel's Trove," because I'm still full of the Little Mermaid references due to OYMB referencing it a lot.

All of these yarns were spun up and plied while watching Scrubs on DVD. It's the perfect show for me to craft during, because I watched every episode about five dozen times in undergrad but haven't watched any of it in a couple of years - so I know it all by heart, but I've forgotten the exact order of things, which makes the jokes funny again. But I've been doing so much spinning in front of Scrubs that I think I've hit the Scrubs-Sanity barrier. I've been calling my dog Chocolate Bear since dinnertime yesterday, and I can't seem to stop.