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My drug of choice is writing--writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Blood Sucking Fiend

Since I seem to actually be sticking with blogging about my ongoing vampire LARP through a writer's perspective, it's probably time to give those posts their own sub-menu. I will likely expand this description in the future if I stick with this project for longer.

Introduction: Seems I'm going to be in a vampire LARP again.
The Myth of the Rag Tag Group
You Forgot About Pain
The Wallflowers Have Ears
A Problem of Motivation

Friday, February 27, 2015

Leonard Nimoy In Memoriam (Personal Update)


If you know any geeks at all in your life, you know that Leonard Nimoy died. It was all over all my social media when I woke up. I would love to tell you that celebrity news never affects me, but this one hit me where I live.

See, there was a time in my young adult life when I was riddled with A.D.D. (but didn't know it), and I thought I was a terrible person and a fuck up in life because I couldn't seem to get my shit together when it came to remembering when to be home or doing homework or practicing. My parents and teachers kept demanding to know why I didn't just apply myself a little more, and I had no answers. I didn't know why I was SO damned bad at concentrating. I was obviously just kind of useless.

I felt like I cared about things, but when it came time to act, I would constantly mess them up. After years of being told "Why don't you care about this?" eventually you start to wonder if you really do. How could anyone who cared be so easy to distract? How could a sincere intention not to talk in class or come home late or end up daydreaming while doing homework fail if I weren't just a fuck up?

A lot of my young life was spent feeling pretty worthless.

What I didn't know was that I had a brain that was working differently. That my diagnosis at five of hyperactivity wasn't just some funny doctor's reason for why I was a bad kid. My mom was working tirelessly behind the scenes to beat off every teacher and administrator who wanted to get me on this new drug called Ritalin. No one ever really explained to me that it wasn't my fault.

My sophomore year in high school I was given the Star Trek 5 Movie boxed set. (Six would come out on VHS later that year.) I watched them over and over and over and over. I didn't realize what was happening at the time (I do now) but with Star Trek going on in the background I could THINK better. I could focus for longer. I could remember things. My mind didn't seem to slip away from me quite as easily. I could even sit down and write....for hours.

Even at that age, I wanted to be a writer, and perhaps the greatest thing I discovered was that if Star Trek was humming in the background I wouldn't be so damned distracted by everything. I would sit and write and it would just keep coming out.

Star Trek made it possible for me to write.

The perceptions I have of that time in my life are clouded with angst and hormones and nearly twenty-five years ~coughcoughcough~ of memory. I got grounded all the time because of my grades, and though I look back on an absurdly privileged existence, at the time I was deeply vested in the "My life sucks" milieu.   

However, there was a very real way in which Star Trek was a profound comfort to me. The way bibliophiles at that age sometimes describe books as friends, I felt about Star Trek. I would put them on and feel my mind calm. They didn't judge. They didn't wonder why I sucked. They were always the same story, so I could miss something and it would be okay. For at least a year, I probably watched one of those movies almost every day. While they droned in the background (and little known to me, calmed my distractible brain to a point where it could concentrate) the world would not seem so insurmountable. With the possible exception of Star Wars, I may have seen the Star Trek movies more than anything else as a kid.  (Especially 2, 4, and 6.) Literally hundreds of times each. 

I don't have a lot to say. Eighty-three is a good run, and I had a feeling when he was admitted to the hospital with chest pains that we were going to get this news. About half of the original actors have passed now, and those that haven't are in their seventies and eighties. Actors are mortal even if they give us something of themselves that will last forever. 

But I am undoubtedly sad. 

Nimoy's final tweet.
Now where did I put those tissues...

I know Nimoy was so much more than Spock. I loved his book I Am Not Spock and his photography projects were a profound display of the best of humanity. He fought for pay equality back in the 60s when people just didn't do that. In fact, he was a writer as well, publishing two very successful autobiographies. But like many geeks of my generation he got "locked in" to his role in my mind before I understood the difference between actors and their characters, and I almost have a hard time seeing him as anyone but Spock. 

My Facebook feed exploded with the "my friend" quote or "live long and prosper" or the funeral scene from Wrath of Khan (which I can't even handle right now) but here's the one that has meant the most to me as I've navigated social justice and entered a world in which empathy, compassion, and a ceaseless struggle against human nature has taken center stage from the endless vicissitudes of overly rational thinking:

"Logic is the BEGINNING of wisdom, Valeris, not the end. "


[ETA-As this sort of became it's own article as I wrote it, I moved the original status report beginning to the bottom. Feel free to skip this part.]

  • I'm finishing up something for Ace of Geeks today. If you want to know the moment it lands be sure to follow me through one of the "All Updates" media. In the meantime, I give you a blast from the past about the movie Ender's Game, and why I might never see it. (I still haven't).
  • I didn't remember anything going on from my last save in Skyrim (apparently I am supposed to assassinate someone--what???), so I had to restart it in order to do my ongoing research to continue my Skyrim Articles. I'm about half way to where I was in the main quest line and my eyes have not started bleeding yet. I must try harder!
  • Since The Contrarian is a part of the Top Secret New Zealand strike team (that you didn't hear about from me), I have been delighting in the fact that when I clean things, they stay clean. (If that's not a sign you're old/have kids, I don't know what is.) Hopping up to get that post up yesterday meant that I had to skip cleaning or patrol, and with no heroes in town to do patrol for me, it had to be cleaning. It's pretty sad when you're really looking forward to getting to some cleaning, but welcome to my life. 
  • And then there's this last thing–news I woke up to, which affected me more than I care to admit and made my early morning writing too raw and personal for blogging:

Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Year of Diverse Authors (Cue Literary Frenzy)

There's an article that issues a challenge going around my Facebook these days. K.T. Bradford has challenged readers to focus on marginalized authors for a single year.

Of course it's the blogging world so the easiest way to get hits is not to write the title as a challenge of inclusion, but actually one of exclusion. Oh and put a slash through a wildly popular artist's most popular book. That's always a way to whip up some rage clicks.

Fortunately, since this is the internet, no one rose to the bait. Here in the blogoverse, that sort of cheap trick to rile them up gets less traction than a station wagon on a muddy mountain backroad. Everyone was calm and collected, they read the entire article (which was actually pretty awesome) before commenting, and they kept in mind that it is the mark of an educated mind to entertain an idea without embracing it. They did this because on the internet, responses are measured and reasonable.

Shortly after this, the sun came up in the west and Pope Francis revealed that he was Jewish.

No, what actually happened is that people lost their fucking minds. In droves. Like some zombie movie where humanity is the real monster. (God forbid challenges be...you know....challenging.) While not even every response was as reactionary as "The Social Justice Warrior Racist Reading Challenge," which I refuse to even link because exposure to it will require anyone of conscience to exterminate all human life, even those who generally care that publishing is whitewashed and feel like they should maybe do a little more about it bought guns into their fortified basements with their canned goods, and grew thick survivalist beards. Packs of feral children roamed the streets. War was upon us.

Of course some claimed it was just the tone. "'Challenge' sounds like it's from authority," they said.

The word "challenge" didn't seem to bother anyone when people were pouring buckets of ice over their heads.

"If she hadn't said 'I challenge you...' and instead had said, 'I discovered something interesting when I spent a year...' the reaction would be a lot different."

Actually, I agree with this.

The reaction would have been a lot different.  In fact, that is demonstrably true: the reaction WAS a lot different because this was already done. Bradford's original article even linked the first piece (a fact I'm sure everyone noticed since they read the article before knee-jerk responding to just the title). So we can actually compare the reactions side by side.

And yes, it's true. The reaction IS a lot different.

Notice how no one is talking about that article? Notice how no one is linking it? Notice how far fewer conversations have been sparked? When social justice issues are confronted in a non-confrontational way, the only thing they accomplish is being easy to ignore. No one ever nicified their tone enough to make their marginalization heard.

So let's unpack these knee jerk reactions just a little.


"Of course this bothers me. Just as long as I don't have to give up anything."
But I'M a cis, white male author. What about MEEEEEEEE?

Yeah, so am I. (Technically the cis and the white part involve some passing, but I don't deny my privilege when it comes to my writing.) Did you actually think we would achieve equality without having to give up some of our institutional advantages? I stand to lose from this if someone takes a break from my blog for a year. I still think it's a great idea. Look this isn't about excluding our privileged asses. Our voices are far, far more places than we have any right to be. This is about consciously incorporating those voices which are generally lacking. I'm not diversity. I'm the opposite of diversity.

Anyway, don't worry about it so much when it (for once) goes the other way; our systematic advantages have and will continue to work for us in a way that no year of reduced readership will possibly impact.

Besides, anyone who's seen my proofreading knows I don't really read myself anyway. ~rimshot~

But what about X author? I just can't live without him.

I know series are crack, but let's get some perspective here. We're talking about reading OTHER great things for a finite amount of time, not swearing off Dresden or Taltos for eternity. Hell you could probably read MULTIPLE years of such authors between GRR Martin releases. *rimshot*

Look this is a challenge not an edict. You decide your level of engagement. Mix it up if you want. Let yourself read your guilty pleasures but promise a "make up" book. Do it for a month and see if you want to "renew your contract." Do it by ratio instead of time (four diverse books to "earn" a cis het white male author). Add other axes of marginalization like disability or poverty. I'm a particular fan of the, "I'm making an exception for blogs/I'm making an exception for Chris Brecheen" house rules I heard yesterday.

Me? I'm planning on giving myself one or two "cheat" books each month, and then extending the exercise by 30-40 years.

Why would we put this prejudice crap over skills. A good story is a good story. Why should I judge authors by their external makeup. It's not about skin color. That's what MLK said! I have a dream, motherfucker.

This isn't actually about skin color or plumbing or sexual orientation or gender identity as such. This is more about life experiences than "external makeup" (although the world certainly tends to provide people with particular external makeup very different life experiences than those cis, het, white males). Cis het white males experience the world with the feeling that they are the "default everyman" or "just a person." With other voices the world makes them very aware of their identity and it shapes the way they write. These voices are tragically less represented and so an average voracious reader may have to make an effort to seek them out. It would be more analogous to reading British lit for a year if you only ever read American authors or giving your favorite genre a break to see how other genres work and feel. (Which is also a good idea, by the way.) Marginalized writers' lives are different, they write in different ways about slightly different things.

Being absolutely colorblind actually reinforces the status quo.

I just read what I enjoy, okay! I judge writers by their skill.

Who in the fucking world suggested you read books you don't enjoy? Who said these writers weren't skilled?

Seriously?  You can't find anything you enjoy that isn't cis, het, white, male?  Like are you saying, you don't like Divergent, Hunger Games, Dream of the Red Chamber, And Then There Were None, The Alchemist, Anne of Green Gables, To Kill a Mockingbird, Valley of the Dolls, The Thorn Birds, Norwegian Wood, The Kite Runner, A Wrinkle in Time, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, The Life of Pi, Nancy Drew, Twilight, The Vampire Chronicles, Out of Africa, Little House Books, Rainbow Magic, The Joy Luck Club, The Southern Vampire Mysteries, True Game, The Picture of Dorian Grey, The Importance of Being Earnest, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Mrs. Dalloway, In Cold Blood, The Hours, American Psycho, On The Road, Angels in America, Wicked, Kiss of the Spider Woman, The Color Purple, Leaves of Grass, Our Town, The Salt Roads, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Butterfly Effect, Frankenstein, Kindred, Shadow over Avalon, Beloved, Sula, The Disposessed, Left Hand of Darkness, Who Fears Death, Nights at the Circus, Vorkosigan, Oxford Time Travel, Hainish Cycle, The Patternmaster Series, Company Wars, Paradox Series, Imaro, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, ...

~deep breath~

...or maybe even Harry Potter?

None of them? Seriously?

If there's honestly nothing not written by a white, het, cis man that you could possibly enjoy, I apologize for wasting your time. You are clearly an outrageous transphobic, homophobic, misogynist racist, and I didn't mean to disturb your delicate world view.

If what you actually meant is that you don't think about who writes what you consume and enjoy, that is entirely, ENTIRELY the point of the exercise. To find good writing by people with slightly different world experiences.

How in the world are we supposed to be able to tell what race or sexual orientation an author is?

Jesus Literally Titfucking CHRIST are you listening to yourself? "How ever will I discover such arcane information. If only I had access to the greatest repository of human knowledge in all of history (ever) on my cell phone then perhaps I could discover the answer to this perplexing mystery."

Far be it from me to suggest that a struggle for equality might warrant fifteen seconds on Google, but....  No wait. My "Be it's" are not far from me at all with this one.

And while it is theoretically possible that you might not be able to figure out if Xrandombookx is written by an author from a typically marginalized voice, but it should be a breeze to Google "women authors" or "authors of color" and come up with a reading list. Shit, I enjoyed making my reading list. I probably tossed three years worth of books onto that TBR pile.

If finding out who wrote a book is actually too much work, then you may sit down. You're excused. This exercise is too much. Don't hurt yourself.

But it's HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARD!

For when sound is required.

It's really not.

What it is, is subversive. And that feels like "difficult," until you take a closer look, because it's not what we're used to. (Like saying that keeping track of fifty or sixty words that are used as slurs is really hard, and you should not have to remember anything more than the N word,"Kike," and a couple of others to be golden. Meanwhile you've memorized The Holy Grail in its entirety including when the guy in the dungeon is clapping along to the song.) You literally only have to find out if an author is a woman OR transgender OR LGBTQ OR a person of color. You only need ONE of those things. It is actually ridiculously easy.

The point is to break out of your typical thinking and reading patterns and see what happens when you enjoy a diverse set of viewpoints for a sustained period. If that didn't involve some minor discomfort, ask yourself why you're reacting so powerfully to it.

I could make up a reading list of Bujold, Cherryh, Morrison, and Butler that I could enjoy for a year without breaking a sweat. It might feel a little unfamiliar (which is the point), but it's not hard.

I am completely incapable of working the Google.

19 Must Read SF/F Books by Women of Color
Non Male/Non White Author Recommendations
Best 100 Books By Women
Best Gay Authors
25 Favorite Authors of Color
YA-Friendly Books By and About Transgender People

And there's always Wikipedia.


Or don't.  That's an option, you know. Just DON'T DO IT. Say "no thank you," and go on about your day like you would if someone invited you to do their all-grapefruit diet. I'm sorry if your head feels itchy because of your that's-not-a-moon realization that at an institutional level you might be of part of the problem.*

But these excuses don't actually hold water at all, and you can just politely decline without coming off like you're protesting too much.

*Just kidding. I'm not really sorry.


NOTE: If you'd like to support me as a writer, I welcome that support as I have skyrocketing rent and insurance like everyone else and might like to live in my own tiny studio some day instead of sharing a two bedroom with three people, but PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE don't "fund" my social justice writing in a vacuum. (My political snark I don't mind getting paid for, though those thoughts often dovetail.) I don't do the social equality part of my writing for money. I have my reasons for not being able to be a full-fledged "social justice advocate/activist/writer/warrior," and I refuse to be making a paycheck off of these struggles that are not mine. I'll do these Social Justice Bard posts and call out privilege on my Facebook no matter what. I promise. If the gestalt of my writing appeals, great, but if you only want to see more social justice posts, please donate to the causes themselves (BLM, SPLC, Planned Parenthood, Equality Now to name just a few) or writers–particularly women of color–who are writing about their own struggles and without whose hard work I would never be able to articulate such ideas. Thank you.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Best Heroine Poll (Quarterfinal 2)

Our first quarterfinal is done and our next is ready to rock.  

There will be seven names on each quarter final poll. After a week I will take the top four from each. Those four names will go on to the semi-finals in a poll with eight names each. From those I will take the top five each to go on to the final poll. Here are the remaining names. I've included the book or series they're unless their book or series unless the book or series is named after them (and there isn't really another character they cold be confused for). Also, I used Google as best I could, but if you see any mistakes on this list please let me know.

These are the winners from the first quarterfinal poll.

Killashandra Ree–Crystal Singer
Eowyn–Lord of the Rings
Vin–Mistborn
Jo March–Little Women

Morgaine, Jane Eyre, Rachel Morgan: thank you for playing. We have some lovely parting gifts for you.

Four our SECOND quarterfinal round the following names will be on the list.

Laura Ingalls–Little House Series
Katniss Everdeen–The Hunger Games
Janie Mae Crawford–Their Eyes Were Watching God
Charlotte–Charlotte’s Web
October Daye
Cordelia Naismith–Vorkosigan Saga
Alanna of Trebond–The Song of the Lioness Quartet

The rest will show up on future quarterfinal polls.

Everyone will get three votes (3). The top 4 will go on to the semi-final round. Before you simply vote for your favorite three, consider that, as there is no ranking of those three votes, each vote beyond one dilutes the power of your choices a little more. So if you have a genuine favorite--or pair of favorites--it's better to use as few votes as possible.

The poll itself is on the left side at the bottom of the side menus. Long. Black. Sleek. Thin, but with some girth. Awwww yis.

Please don't forget that Polldaddy (the program that runs the polls and tabulates the results) will log your IP address for only a week. After that, you can vote again! Since I can't really stop people, I might as well work it into the system.

Vote early! Vote often! Drive around town voting from every library. Call your friends. Hit up Reddit. I can't stop it, so I might as well encourage it. It's all traffic to me.

Here are the remaining nominations:

Anne Shirley–Anne of Green Gables
Lyra Belacqua–His Dark Materials
Elena Michaels–Bitten
Phèdre nó Delaunay Kushiel’s Dart
Susan Calvin–I Robot
Polara–The Belgariad
Trisana Chandler–Circle of Magic
Honor Harrington–Honorverse
Rachel Morgan–The Hollows
Ramona Quimby
Keladry of Mindelan–The Protector of the Small
Matilda
Lisbeth Salander–Girl With the Dragon Tatoo
Hermione Granger–Harry Potter
The Wife of Bath–The Canterbury Tales

Best Heroine Quarterfinal 1 (Results)

Stay tuned because the Quarterfinal turnover needs to be fast, so the next round will be up later today.

Good thing I'm not counting pages or this Eowyn thing would not fly. ~glares~


A Sanderson sub-Reddit picked up our poll so Vin got a lot of love. I was amused to see this push Jane Eyre off the list (well, maybe a little horrified) but this is how these things go. I just publish the results.

So say good-bye to Rachel Morgan, Morgaine, and Jane Eyre. Everything from Killashandra Ree up will go on to our semifinal poll. And don't change that channel because the next round of quarterfinals will be up in just a few minutes.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Best Heroine: Reminder To Vote


Edit- I'm not sure if I'm still getting traffic from the Sanderson sub-Reddit.  (~waves~) But Vin is currently getting CREAMED on the semi-final poll. She's even losing out to Charlotte of Charlotte's web.

Today I'm working on some stuff for the other blogs I write for, so I just wanted to take a quick moment to remind people to vote. The turn around on the Best Heroine quarter final polls is going to be very quick. (A week slips by faster than a "Tachyons" explanation in a Star Trek time traveling episode.) Tomorrow I will be tabulating the results and putting up the second round quarterfinal poll. So please take a moment to vote if you haven't. Things are still pretty close.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Character Driven Zombie Stories (Mailbox)

Character driven vs. action driven.

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer each Friday.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. Long questions are awesome because they make short answers still seem like a full article, and I am very lazy.]     

Luna asks:

I was reading the article below and wondered if you had any thoughts on whether a story can be both character and action driven?

Character-Driven or Action-Driven?

I'm writing a 'team' type story, and while trying to avoid the cliche's that come with that, I am also trying to stay true to the fact that each character comes at problems differently. Some characters go on instinct, which seems to require an action driven scene, while others are more character driven, but I'm not sure if 'genre rules' give much room for that.

Can a car chase even be character driven?


My reply: 

Who else would be driving?


Okay, Luna, take some deep breaths because it sounds like you're worried about a non issue. This is the kind of crap that has been brought to you by the monocle-wearing, brandy-drinking "real art" snob motherfuckers who have spent their entire cultural existence being wrong about what history would canonize as good art. Right in their wrong faces.

It's a damn shame that I had to pick between compelling
characters and compelling plots.
Oh wait.....
The problem with this dichotomy–character vs. action (sometimes called character driven vs. plot driven)–is that it's a false dichotomy that is set up by the "Literary-fiction-is-real-art" crew to try to explain some of their baser prejudices against speculative fiction. Unfortunately there aren't "rules of genre" that cover plot vs. character and there are tremendously good examples of character driven genre stories.

Who the fuck cares about what these fossils think makes for good literature? Lit students and other fossils, that's who.

First of all the article. The article is pretty good, if a bit unfortunately named. It does seem to actually acknowledge that character vs. action is more of a continuum and that an author may lean one way or the other, but that both skills are important to a good author and that the best authors know how to do both. Think about the best authors you have read? Did they lack cohesive plot OR compelling characters? No, of course not. You need both. And there's some good advice about how to punch up plot if your story is just swimming in interesting characters but nothing seems to happen or how to deepen your characters if you're just having an ensemble move from one event to the next.

As far as instinct and an action driven scene, or the "rules of genre," I think there's some confusion about what is meant by "action." This doesn't mean action like the genre of movie called action where someone jumps from a car to a helicopter and punches out the pilot before a big explosion so that they can disarm the bomb that's going to blow up Los Angeles. That's a different meaning of "action." In this case, it just means any kind of story generation that occurs from outside the character. The characters are reacting to external events rather than pushing the story forward with who they are.

Let's look at two zombie stories–you can't get much more genre than that.

We are complex metaphors for the loss of individuality in contemporary Americana,
and more recently the fear of the inexorable spread of pathogens.
And if you don't agree, we will eat your brains.

Story one involves six survivors. They are stuck in an apartment complex. They are constantly being surprised by zombies and ending up in fights with zombies that jump out at them. A couple of them die, which is troubling to the rest but they get over it quickly in the next attack. They end up stumbling upon a gun lover's apartment who readily joins them, they end up armed and decide that they have to leave the complex to go find help. They get a big truck from the carport downstairs (after fighting the zombies down there in a battle that causes a multi car explosion that kills another one of them), fight their way out of the complex, one more dies on the way out, and the three survivors drive off into the unknown.

Typical story. The zombies might have some very interesting canon explanation. Maybe the fight sequences are very well described. Possibly this story might have a lot of people who like it as a fun romp. But notice how the characters are just reacting to their environment. Everything that happens, happens TO them. Even the guns they find, they just stumble upon accidentally. Except for the decision to leave, they aren't really moving the story. The story is moving them.

Story two also involves six survivors. Two are brothers who are roommates and are crazy devoted to each other. Three others are in a love triangle (one woman, two men very jealous of each other). And one is a woman who is always trying to prove herself as just as capable as men. They are also stuck in an apartment complex.

There are a lot of fights about what to do and how they're going to get out of it. These fights are furious yelling matches. The brothers want to wait for help, each fearful that the other will get hurtr. The two men fighting for the woman's affection are clearly wanting to seem proactive and brave to impress her, and the woman who wants to prove she's better than men seeks to up them. As they all end up trying to one up each other's bravery, they take more and more chances. They end up in fights with zombies but only because they keep poking around in empty apartments and dark corners to show that they're not afraid. At one point during a fight one guy in the love triangle has the opportunity to save the other guy, but doesn't (because then he'll get the girl). Guy two dies. The woman trying to prove herself goes into the indoor pool area and ends up followed out by several zombies. The brothers end up helping her, but one of them is bitten and turns into a zombie himself. Brother two can't accept this, and ends up defending the zombie. They strap it to a bed and a lot of tearful scenes happen where they try to talk to brother two but he won't listen. Meanwhile the woman (who has been dropping hints that maybe she knows what happened to her other suitor) and the surviving suitor have a sex scene where they end up finding a nest in their quest for privacy. They barely escape. And the woman who is trying to prove herself goes looking for useful shit in empty apartments and finds a survivalist guy with guns who at first tries to keep her from going back to the group. He turns out not to be a creepy rapist, domestic abuse, scary survivor type but just a dude who loves guns and knows that the more people are trying to survive, the more attention they'll attract. He also wants to wait. Grudgingly he agrees to help her and her group, but it all goes wrong when he finds the zombie strapped to the bed. Oh HELL no! He and the brother have a fight (fists and everything) over zombie brother's fate. While they do this the woman who the two guys were fighting over quietly kills the zombie brother with an iron spike to the back of the head. Brother two is simply beside himself with rage. Now it doesn't matter. Nothing matters. He starts taking stupid chances to as long as he can kill zombies. After much furious debate they decide that they should go to a local military base. With one brother dead, and the other uncaring the main voice of "stay here" is silenced. They go down into the car complex. Zombies show up because they're all over the outside areas. A huge firefight ensues. Guns poke holes in gas tanks and brother two ends up running INTO a cluster of zombies near a bunch of cars in a pool of gasoline with a lit flare screaming about revenge. Boom. Now zombies are pouring in through the hole in the wall from the explosion. The four survivors give into a truck, but as they start to pull away more zombies show up and start swamping the car. They're being overwhelmed. The woman the two guys were fighting over pushes the OTHER woman (the one that's always trying to prove herself) off the truck to distract the zombies. It works. She and her lover and the survivalist drive away. The guy who "won" the woman has become disgusted with her, and the survivalist is pretty sure they've just signed their death warrant. Fin.

Same basic story right? But every single thing that happened was driven by the characters' motivations and choices. They basically killed each other (or themselves)–they just happened to use zombies to do it. In the second story, the characters are driving the action. It's always their choices and their motivations that are pushing the plot forward, rather than the plot pushing them. That is what changes a fun romp into something that could possibly be a really good zombie story. There's human condition, grief allegories, glimpses into the dark side of humanity, love. If this were written well, and the characters deepened further, it would probably become a very positively regarded contribution to the genre.

Without changing the basic structure, we made it all about the characters.  That's what character driven means. It has nothing to do with how many action sequences you have.

Usually.

So if your character gets into that car for reasons that make sense, for reasons that THEY have chosen (rather than things happening TO them) and maybe they're a little bit of an adrenaline junkie or are desperate or their motivation is otherwise explained, then you can absolutely have a character driven car chase.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Profs

Head one: Writing is the fountainhead of true artistic bliss.
Head two: And you suck at it.
Head one: But I can guide you through how to bring all those feelings to life.
Head two: Because right now you suck at it.
[This is an ongoing process to clean up the tabs up at the top of the blog. This is the latest sub menu of Cast and Crew.  Everything in italics will disappear in a couple of weeks.]  

Janusprof

The single most amazing professor(s) I've ever had for the craft of fiction. They made us work and made us work hard, and I learned more from them in a class than I did in 15 weeks of some other instructors. Janusprof was amazing. However, I probably should have sensed trouble brewing when they told me that all students were required to spend one hour in the iron maiden each week having their "pretentiousness bled out."

As I learned more than I ever thought possible about craft, I also knew that Janusprof was slowly killing Cathamel's will to live by turning up the volume inexorably on my internal critics. Janusprof was the air on a New England shore--refreshing, crisp, exhilarating, invigorating, possibly even inspiring but...ultimately corrosive over time.

Fluffyprof

Fluffy prof never did get around to really making us work. Usually we just sat around her class feeling things. Once she had us feel things about all the feeling we had been doing doing, and then had us freewrite about how feeling those feelings about all that feeling we'd been having made us feel. Academic rigor was not something terribly important in Fluffyprof's classes.

Englishprof

With the exception of Janusprof, and in a plot twist that surprises no one who actually writes, my literature professors taught me more about how to actually write than most of my creative writing instructors. Forcing us to read five or ten times as much as the Creative Writing classes and do close reading analysis for our essays turned out to be a better examination of how to use words to achieve effect than all the touchy feely advice about writing after dark and finding the heat. English prof came in two forms: everyone else and Sara Hackenberg.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Witching Hour When Magic Works (Revision)


[A revision of one of my earliest articles.]

I am very, very nocturnal.

I've never met anyone as fully nocturnal as I am. I regularly go to sleep after dawn and wake with only a few hours until sunset. In the winter sometimes this can be positively unsettling--especially given how much I enjoy being in the sun. (Yeah yeah, ironic. I know.)

I don't particularly have any trouble being diurnal if I want to be as long as I get my eight hours somewhere. I've had classes at eight in the morning before at both SFSU and at work, and while I wasn't particularly chipper to have my alarm going off at 5:30, I could function just fine if I'd gotten to bed by 10.  Right now, of course, I'm caring for a one year old who wakes up at 7am with a giggle. But left to my own devices, my schedule slides into the night, and almost every vacation while I was in school ended with a concerted attempt to get myself back to some semblance of human time. Honestly, I don't know how vampires deal with logistics. Paying their bills and scheduling dental appointments must be a titanic pain.

I guess they floss their fangs really well.

My mom was actually an early bird while I was growing up, and imposed an 8pm bedtime until I was well into my teens to keep me from becoming a little child of the night. When she finally loosed me from the fetter of "bedtime" we dealt with some friction for a while because I was acting like a typical lazy teen who slept until noon, and she felt like she had to be the typical mom who told me that no one ever made a million dollars by putting work before success in dictionaries that are early to rise...or maybe I'm messing that cliche up. It was only after I pointed out that I wasn't actually particularly lazy, that I had been up until four, I was getting the same eight hours as always, but that they happened to be shifted to a much later slot.

I may have also simultaneously pointed out that my step-brother was the one sleeping ten and twelve hours a night, so could she please bother him. She finally stopped kicking my door open with a bellowing "Okay kiddo!"--not that she stopped playing Steely Dan at 100 decibels in the next room.

I almost wish I weren't an only child. Throwing siblings under the bus is awesome!

The night is when Cathamel really turns up the juice for me. I can sit and write at any time, but when everything is still and people are asleep and my mind is humming from the day's events--that's when ideas just kind of flood out. A lot of writers talk about writing first thing in the morning, but my thoughts are often turned too inward at that time for inspiration. Everything is meta--and when I do morning writing regularly, it turns into hundreds of pages of how I WANT to write, plans, soul searching, and navel gazing ABOUT writing, but with little actual prose.

At the end of the day I am almost trembling with ideas. Inspiration built up through the day of "wouldn't that be neat" and "that could be a story" and it's almost like I'm a whistling tea kettle by the time I sit down.

Writers (even famous and successful ones) don't really agree on much. They sort of think writing is magic rather than process. Talk to them, and you'll get this feeling that they're talking about casting a spell or some kind of religious ritual or something, and so when they get quoted, there's usually this sense of absolute indelible truth, and not so much a sense of "Hey, there's this thing that works for me."

Most writers are nothing without their affectations. They cling to things like "a certain pen" or "drafting on paper". (Or an anthropomorphic Asian dragon.) On its own this isn't problematic. Depending on how you define "magic" we create our own magic when we shape our world with only our minds, if our minds weren't powerful forces, there wouldn't be placebo effects in medical trials. Just because something has a perfectly rational, scientific explanation doesn't mean it's not magic..

Okay, technically that's EXACTLY what it means, but describing something as vague as creativity requires artistic license and shit, so have some damn wonder and romance about the fucking universe, will ya?

If someone thinks their special pen or special writing time is what works, it does. Because that's how we tick when we believe. The problem I see with writers is that they forget how personal such magic is. They forget that a ritual is their own and that their muse visits them--and others have their own muses and rituals. They project their own proclivities into other writers' rituals about writing, even though much of that advice would have mutually exclusive contradictions if not patent absurdity.

No writer has the keys to the kingdom about the creative process, and certainly no writer has the keys to the kingdom of YOUR creative process.

Writing in the morning is a good example. It works for a lot of people. It even worked for me at other stages in my development. I can do it.  I often have to because of how my life works.  But sometimes it's just not the same kind of creative flood as writing at the end of the day--especially in the still of night with my brain humming from the day.  Listen to some writers go on about it, and you might think that morning writing is the only possibility. For anyone. Ever. Despite the fact that thousands of published, famous, and brilliant authors have written at night after they worked a long day in the cannery or after they put the kids to bed.

Young writers are particularly vulnerable to these traps.

They're always asking authors about their process, not in a way that you think they might gain some illumination or edification, but as if they will somehow unlock the secret ritual that will make them successful. I swear to god, I once sat next to a young woman who wanted to know what color ink a poet used, AND SHE TOOK NOTES WHEN HE ANSWERED HER.

The problem is....you can't use someone else's magic.  It's theirs.  It would be like using someone else's prescription glasses. The rituals of a person are as unique as their fingerprints or facial structure.

Another person's magic won't work for you.

Discovering ritual spells like this is a personal process of individual power. There's wisdom to be gleaned from a writer who reveals something you've never tried before, or in seeing diversity's rainbow when it comes to how differently the creative process...well PROCEEDS in different people, but at the end of the day working the magic during your own personal witching hour is what it's all about.  Try their ritual to get an idea, but you're only learning how other people cook, so one day you can write your own recipe.

If you're going to believe in magic, you have to play by magic's rules. Your mind is the real power, and you're trying to trick it into unleashing some of its potential when and where you want in a placebo-like way while it tells you to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. That means you can't use someone else's affectations and tricks. That would be like using another shaman's totem. Your mind may well be savvy to such things. You have to find the affectations and tricks that work on YOU.

I hate to dispense advice as trite as "do what works," but among writers that can be a welcome relief to the usual fare, and it probably needs to be said. Write an hour a day or six. Write on the bus. Write after dark. Write first thing in the morning.  Write last thing before bed. It doesn't matter as long as you find what works.

For you.

Because when you and your muse stop grinding against each other and go Wonder Twin powers on your writing, that's when the doors fly open and nothing will ever be the same. But that can't happen if you're stuck trying some other writer's magic. If you want to TRY writing on stone tablets at high noon because that's what Biznekio DeKlackicus did, more power to you, but don't be afraid to say "Sod this" if it's not working.

Learn to cast your own spells.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Flips and Flops (Personal Update)

Super heroes fly in style.
Sidekicks (if they get monetary clearance at all) fly Southwest.
Working on getting the Hall of Rectitude packed up and onto their plane to New Zealand in just a couple of hours. Which means watching The Contrarian. Sonic Gal could easily pack in just a few seconds, but she's been trying to fight some crime over on Telegraph and 38th Street right up until the last second they have to go.

And when Sonic Gal does something "right up until the last second" it's literal.

I'm going to fluff today (hur hur), and post what I was working on for today on Tuesday next week. (I'm not sure I want it to survive a "Weekend Launch.") Because if I try to finish this up today, either Uberdude is going to miss his flight or The Contrarian is going to end up French kissing an electrical socket. Besides, I want every last second possible for hugs and kisses because as much work as raising a mind control psychic superhero with possible villain tendencies, I am going to miss this kid like mad starting about fifteen seconds after I've dropped the gang off. I might be the one who bursts into tears when he Skypes me.

Anyway, tonightI have to play Skyrim until my eyes bleed.  FOR THE BLOG!!!!!

Also, as an aside that I wish were more hypothetical, if you don't know how fast Sonic Gal can punch you in the throat if you start singing "Leaving on a Jet Plane," consider yourself lucky.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Coming Storm

The entire Hall of Rectitude has been called away to a major disaster in New Zealand. I can't get into deets because it's one of those "unsuspecting public" things, but it's a big deal. Unfortunately the budget is a little shoestring, so "No Sidekicks" was a non negotiable point. So The Contrarian gets to go to fricken New Zealand, but not me. Typical.

The Emeryville comitatus is going to be pulling on-call doubles to patrol the Temescal and I'm on spotter detail. It's your usual Chris-does-all-the-actual-patrols, "Just call us; do not engage," bullshit. Typical.

Anyway, silver lining to this shit smorgasbord is that without Contrarian-watching shifts and in a house that will stay clean for a damned minute, I'm going to be able to get a lot of writing done. I've got big plans for the next two weeks including wrapping up some fiction, at both the whimsical and effort-heavy writing level. The next parts in a handful of long-neglected series including the glossary and our latest series post about starting your own blog. Plus there are at least two posts coming that I think are going to be pretty good. And don't worry; I haven't forgotten that I'm a Social Justice Bard.

Also....I'm going to do something I just can't do with a one year old running around the house. There just hasn't been time. Because I love you guys... Because Part 1 and 2 were so popular.... Because it's been almost two years....

I'm going to play Skyrim until my eyeballs fricken bleed. I'm doing this so I can finish the article I started like three years ago, but before I write it, I'll have to play the ever loving SHIT out of that game. I will do this for you. For the blog. For the BLOG. For the BLOG!!!  FOR THE BLOG!!!!!

And if you for some reason don't know what that's from....go to 40 seconds in.

And yes, I do need stalkers.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Cultural Appropriation (Mailbox)

Artists and Cultural Appropriation

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer each Friday.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. And I'm not above not REALLY answering your question but doing about ten paragraphs of changing the subject.]   

Eric asks:  

I know better than to call you names, so please don't take this the wrong way, but I'm honestly curious if you diverge at all from the usual social justice positions. Is there any topic you find yourself on the other side going "man those guys are crazy!"? I agree with most feminism stuff, but the far left makes me nuts with their "cultural appropriation" police, especially as a writer who wants to write about other cultures. How do I do that if it's not appropriation? Should I be feeling guiltier?  Asking for a friend.

My reply:

Relax, Eric. Unless you write anonymous entitled screeching nast-o-gram hate mail, you're probably safe. I'm always going to be snarky because that's just who I am, but I'm not going to order a full salvo of B-5000 Snark-O-Tron artillery batteries to target your face unless you richly deserve it. Which usually means snotty and anonymous.

A lot of my friends and fellow social justice brigade disagree quite often. QUITE OFTEN. Oh Em Eff Gee do we disagree quite often. Anyone who thinks we're all lock armed and singing Kumbaya in the name of equal equality hugging is either not spending enough time actually listening to us talk to each other or is some unrepentant, overt racist who has actually gotten us all to agree on the fact that they suck (and not in the eye-contact, lots-of-enthusiasm way).

I'm not saying that's you, Eric, but if you find yourself disagreeing with the left even though you are on the left, you're in good company. I'll buy you an Otter Pop and we can commiserate with bitter patchouli-slathered, pagan tears.

To answer your question, yes, I do sometimes get hit from the left and don't always agree with the person doing the hitting. For example, income inequality is a huge part of social inequality, so some of my friends are straight up Socialists. (I don't mean the "coming-after-rich-people's-3%-tax-break," "Democrat-you-don't-agree-with," "call-Obama-that-to-be-edgy," "I-don't-like-the-A.C.A.," "I-am-a-Republican-who-doesn't-really-know-what-that-word-means" kind of socialist. I mean the honest to shit, really real "each-according-to-their-need" kind.) Personally, I am more like a pre-Regan era progressive tax liberal who is horrified at growing wealth disparity, but doesn't necessarily think there is no merit in fair trade enterprise. We don't agree. And sometimes they think by calling me an explosive rainbow of synonyms for "stupid," I'll come around, but for some reason it doesn't quite work.

Just a week ago there was considerable Facebook infighting over the Grammys and a lot of good, thoughtful, smart people disagreed. Some did so reasonably. Others decided to mount their war-steed drama llamas and ride them hard onto the fields of battle. Plus, if that's not bad enough, just about every discussion around here involves someone attempting to crown themselves the Lord of Words™ in order to demand contrition that their definition of certain terms (and no other) be used.

The noble steed of the "Teachable Moment Knights"

Like most groups made up of humans, social justice peeps break down into complexity and nuance upon closer examination. People are vast and complicated and every single one of us has years of back story, so there's pretty much no chance that any generalizations are going to hold under scrutiny, certainly not anything as absurd as all agreeing about every approach to social justice.

I find that being an artist often plays into my unwillingness to be morally absolute. When the social justice posse is jumping up and down and screaming for a lifetime boycott on some show or personality or writer or something because they once did something problematic, I focus instead on the better moments or strengths. Sarah Silverman pissed off the trans community (and they were right to be pissed) and sort of non-pologied for it. It was a seriously problematic and ass move on her part, but that doesn't mean her comedy has never done anything for feminism or that she's a terrible person.

Maybe part of my compassion is because I know I'm going to make mistakes in my writing and in whatever public persona exists, and I hope that no one decides never to read me again because my first novel fell into the pitfall of a sexist trope, because of a character of color I could have done a better job portraying, because my satire didn't come across and someone thought I was serious, or because I called someone a "stupid dick" in a moment of pique and double down on my right to be ableist and transphobic when I'm upset. We're all going to step in dog shit, and unless we unapologetically live there, it seems like everyone will also create beauty, be on the right side of other issues, have admirable causes, grow and evolve, and rise to their potential. We seem more willing to forgive characters for murder in our favorite books and shows than real people for thoughtless words. (Often I hear this expressed as "They do more harm than good.") If we only allow ourselves to like artists who are always "right" about every issue, we will never really be able to enjoy anything.

Often artists are willing to see the humanity in someone who holds some sort of repugnant point of view, and that seems to greatly upset others who want to declare them persona non-grata. It is easier to declare an enemy an irredeemable evil monster. Artists tend to know everyone has evil and good in their hearts--that the best people are some stripe of asshole, and the worst people are sometimes sublime. I am no exception to this weird, freakazoid tendency to analyze the calculus of factors that goes into an "evil" action. I hold to moral ambiguity and nuance when it comes to humanity far longer than most, and very few aren't distinctly troubled if I voice that lack of black and white. Even when I have my mind firmly made up about the ideas involved, my judgement rarely falls on humans in an absolute way.

It might sound noble, lofty, and perhaps a bit romantic in theory to be such a non-judgemental  artist about people's humanity ("oh how DEEP he is!"), but it isn't in practice. In practice, I lose friends who are disgusted that I won't castigate as much as they'd like. When I'm suggesting that a complex myriad of factors, including US foreign policy, may be at part complicit in creating the kind of wild unstable desperation that just led a troubled young man to fall into a personality cult and feel that a horrifically immoral act of terrorism was the only way to affect change, and I'm saying that because I have a very deep and profound difficulty simply calling "them" the evil bad guys, it truly causes people offense. They read past the "horrifically immoral" and get right to the part where I'm clearly not doing enough hating.

At least, when the people involved are not white, that's true. My nuance is welcome when whites do horrible things. But maybe that's a different topic for a different day.

As an artist, in particular, I probably have some pretty complicated ideas about cultural appropriation seeing as all art is theft. Wearing cultural clothing in an affront to its sacred context (like Native Indian headdresses) or dressing up like an ethnic stereotype for Halloween is pretty clear cut asshole appropriation behavior, but enjoying ethnic food because you like it (not because it makes you look cosmopolitan or as part of a quest for a "genuine" ethnic experience) is pretty clear cut okay, but in between those two points is....well, everything else. Everything from music to a personal style to art. Some people even get upset if Americans use chopsticks. And those middle points are not so easy.

Context is vital and I think it's one of the reasons it's so hard for even the best meaning people to come up with a code of conduct that always applies. Pretty much nothing always applies. Someone who doesn't know that people from India are a bit hurt by westerners wearing saris and the exoticification of what amounts to an enforced dress code (rather than a fashion) is different than someone who doesn't care. An artist who is incorporating other cultures into their arts in a way that perpetuates a legacy of theft and monetization of that culture is very different than an artist who cites their influences explicitly and makes sure that any collaborating artists get some limelight. Kreayshawn's "blackcent" comes from growing up in Oakland and having mostly friends who speak the same way, while Iggy Azalea grew up in Australia and is clearly putting on airs.

Don't even get me started on belly dancing. Lord, I'm not even touching that one.

I have a friend named Kwame who is a psych professor at an HBCU and has a pretty good starting definition: "The use of someones culture for gain, while simultaneously robbing the people who created it or have to live it from benefiting from it, or simply being oblivious to that." Though even Kwame admits that it's only a starting point and that there are exceptions.

You almost have to feel the difference between cultural exchange and cultural appropriation. There's just an honesty and a sincerity and a generosity toward the culture being exchanged. It's analogous to a neighbor with "just-in-case" keys borrowing your lawn mower. If they bring it back, knock on the door, tell you they would have asked but you weren't home, and fill the tank, you're probably not going to be upset. If they just swipe it and never say anything, leave it out in the rain, and get pissed when you mention it, they're assholes. Same action. Same mower. Same borrow. But the vibe is just totally different.

While I would never (ever) say that any use of cultural icons (or worse, people) is acceptable merely as a prop that "ethnicifies" the performance, that simply stealing X culture's art and making money off of it isn't skid-mark move, or that an empathetic understanding of the cultural implications of something one is using isn't a better way to honor humanity than simply stealing what you like, I will say that I think that word often gets used a little prematurely when it comes to something an artist finds exciting, compelling, inspiring and is driven to recreate, build on, juxtapose intentionally, or incorporate into a synthesis of new creative energy.

We wouldn't have Les Demoiselles d’Avignon if Picasso had not been fascinated by African masks. We wouldn't have Van Gogh or Monet's impressionism if not for their fascination with Japanese art. We wouldn't have Toni Morrison's works if she hadn't been compelled by the African tradition of telling stories from one's own cultural point of view...which was an emulation of the the writer Achebe (and which was an utterly radical idea at the time, and completely alien to British and American Lit). Entire movements of art would disappear if it were not for their exchange with other cultures. Entire generations of artists would never have become phenomenal if they didn't syncretize what they found compelling from their own culture and others.

Perhaps worst of all, we wouldn't have the Batman/Joker Scream.

The idea that we should all stick to our own cultural back yards when we create something completely new leads to its own constellation of problems. White people just doing "white people shit" in their art is problematic for other reasons. (Not the least of which would be other than maybe Celtic music and Riverdance, what does that even fucking mean? Even country music has Aaron Nevile and Cleve Francis.) Then we would have a lot of people (correctly) pointing out that white people's art was whitewashed, and "Why can't those white artists incorporate some diversity?"

It's better to understand how the levers and pulleys of privilege and systematic racism work than to try to deem certain art forms as unavailable for exchange. So while I think that Eminem winning a Grammy has more to do with his popularity among an affluent white audience (and the Grammy's weakness for commercially popular music) than the absolute quality of his album, I wouldn't go so far as to say that white people should never rap, and I get a little itchy around those who do.

If white people are influenced by black artists and seek to create their own music of that genre, that's awesome. If their creation of that music is given more attention by whitewashed gatekeepers, that's a big, big problem, but not necessarily the artist's fault. If they deny their influences, steal music without attribution, or act in a completely inauthentic way by adopting ethnic mannerisms as a way to seem more legitimate that's an asshole move.

The problem isn't that we're borrowing from other cultures, the problem is that the power dynamics so often go one way and artists who are at the top of social hierarchies have more leverage to injure without repercussion. Yes, Elvis got rich because white DJs would play him but not the original artists, and he should have been paying royalties to Big Mama Thorton (among others)–and we should never ever forget that.  But no, I don't think that Elvis should not have sung what his heart clearly burned to sing, what inspired him, what moved him.

I will say this though:

If a whole community is telling you en mass that you appropriated their culture, you just "left the lawnmower out in the rain," and you need to apologize.

I don't want to get too much more specific because like I said, there's definitely shitty and there's definitely okay and everyone draws the line at different places in the wide chasm between them. The more specific I get, the greater chance that someone will take umbrage. It's complicated, but no I don't "toe the party line."

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Who is the BEST Fiction Heroine? (Quarterfinal 1)

Who is the best heroine in fiction? 

It's time for our February poll. And holy hells is this one going to be a doozy.

Thank you to everyone who nominated heroines and seconded others' nominations. Thanks to you, we have a very robust poll. And by "very robust," I mean we're going to need to do semifinals.

And quarter finals.

Quarter finals means that this poll will probably go through March and into April as various favorites slug it out. It also means you'll want to check back regularly since I will only run the quarter final polls a week each.

There will be seven names on each quarter final poll. After a week I will take the top four from each. Those four names will go on to the semi-finals in a poll with eight names each. From those I will take the top five each to go on to the final poll. Here are the names. I've included the book or series they're unless their book or series unless the book or series is named after them (and there isn't really another character they cold be confused for). Also, I used Google as best I could, but if you see any mistakes on this list please let me know.

Anne Shirley–Anne of Green Gables
Lyra Belacqua–His Dark Materials
Morgaine–Morgaine Saga
Janie Mae Crawford–Their Eyes Were Watching God
Elena Michaels–Bitten
Killashandra Ree–Crystal Singer
Phèdre nó Delaunay Kushiel’s Dart
Charlotte–Charlotte’s Web
Jane Eyre
Susan Calvin–I Robot
Polara–The Belgariad
Eowyn–Lord of the Rings
October Daye
Trisana Chandler–Circle of Magic
Vin–Mistborn
Honor Harrington–Honorverse
Cordelia Naismith–Vorkosigan Saga
Rachel Morgan–The Hollows
Ramona Quimby
Alanna of Trebond–The Song of the Lioness Quartet
Keladry of Mindelan–The Protector of the Small
Jo March–Little Women
Matilda
Lisbeth Salander–Girl With the Dragon Tatoo
Laura Ingalls–Little House Series
Hermione Granger–Harry Potter
The Wife of Bath–The Canterbury Tales
Katniss Everdeen–The Hunger Games

A roll of 3 on a six sided die means that I will put every third name on the list until I reach seven titles.

Morgaine–Morgaine Saga
Killashandra Ree–Crystal Singer
Jane Eyre
Eowyn–Lord of the Rings
Vin–Mistborn
Rachel Morgan–The Hollows
Jo March–Little Women

The rest will show up on future quarterfinal polls.

Everyone will get three votes (3). The top 4 will go on to the semi-final round. Before you simply vote for your favorite three, consider that, as there is no ranking of those three votes, each vote beyond one dilutes the power of your choices a little more. So if you have a genuine favorite--or pair of favorites--it's better to use as few votes as possible.

The poll itself is on the left side at the bottom of the side menus. It is black and will be rather long. (Hur hur.)

Please don't forget that Polldaddy (the program that runs the polls and tabulates the results) will log your IP address for only a week. After that, you can vote again! Since I can't really stop people, I might as well work it into the system.

Vote early! Vote often! Drive around town voting from every library. Call your friends. It's all traffic to me.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Reminder

Just a quick reminder to those who follow the blog closely that Writing About Writing's staff observes all bank holidays. I can't get anyone to come to work. They say outrageously greedy things like, "Double time is still only ten cents an hour, Chris."

Whatever.

Anyway it's for the best The Brain and Uberdude both took off on patrol to employ all the new tricks they learned at Crime Fighting Con, and left me with The Contrarian all day. It's been a crazed and busy weekend, and hopefully I'll be back up and running by tomorrow.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Sparkly Vampires

Jackass- Jackass once decided that his anti-academic tantrum about analyzing literature instead of doing a book report on it was so important he was going to shit himself right in the middle of another student's oral presentation. That student was me. Jackass didn't think college students needed to analyze how an author's word choice created tone, or do any close reading at all, and instead we should just reflect on how a plot summary tickled our fee-fees. (I concluded this based on his own oral presentation a few days later.) Jackass seemed to think we were in a book club instead of academia and thought close reading was for chumps.

I even looked at him and said "If you don't shut up and let me finish, this is SO going in my blog."

Ta DA!

Peter "Willbehuge" Retentious (Retentious, P.)- Seemed like he was everywhere I looked while I did my undergrad. He showed up in every class, and sometimes it seemed like he was to my right and to my left. P. Retentious liked to talk about how much money he was going to make once he was let loose on the publishing world with his better-than-Stephen-King zombie story. Once he even said Shakespeare sucked--"especially at poetry." I had to resist putting my desk through his head.

Pete, Rabbit.  Usually called R. Pete- A direct descendant of the god of Obnoxiousness, and one of my first lessons in being zen on the internet. When I watch someone have essentially the exact same fight over and over again with everyone with whom they come in contact with, and involving the same basic miscommunication (and in which everyone is always "misunderstanding them"), I know that it's probably not my writing that is at fault.

Once, in a particularly petulant forty-eight hour span, I watched this guy plow through every friend he had, most of his internet acquaintances, and even grouse about the same happening in his meatspace life. That's when I fired up some popcorn, and realized there are just some people who are their own worst problem, and are really truly not mine. Honestly, I've just smiled and glided past so many hotheads since then, I almost owe this guy thanks.  Except...you know...he's a complete mother fucking pedant jackass, ass-hat, dillhole, and after his eighth dramatic flounce unfriending and crawl-back, I told him to go ahead and stay gone.

The Professional- Took the time out at a deceased friend's wake to make absolutely sure I knew he had succeeded at writing for a living whereas I was still trying to finish up my CW degree. Boy, I sure felt like the smaller person that day. Yep.

*By which he really meant editing anthologies of other writers, but whatevs.

The Turncoat

Breakups are hard enough, but there's always that one person who sidles up to you with the concerned face and then whisks away to report everything you've been saying to your ex.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Updated Update Schedule for 2015

Writing About Writing will try to post something every day. 

Writing About Writing also consists chiefly of one guy with lots of fake people running around behind his eyeballs, and will periodically fail (sometimes spectacularly) at this goal.

Sometimes it might be a few inspirational quotes or a great Youtube video about writing, or just a picture of me screaming at the stress. I will even attempt to schedule a little something during vacations. It's not that I think my regular readers are twisted into coils of stress and hydrochloric acid, waiting for any possible update. It's just that in the world of blogging, content is king.

I can't promise that nothing will ever go wrong, what with all the intergalactic invasions and evil mystery hackers and such that W.A.W. fields in a typical week, and I usually miss a couple of posts when I go to Burning Man but we will try.

I must also, unfortunately invoke the "toddler excuse." (That sound you just heard was everyone without kids scoffing and everyone with kids saying, "Yes, I do understand there ol' chum. Quite." I'm writing for two blogs, writing forty hours a week most weeks, teaching, and I'm the househusband for my family. There will come days when I look up a half a second too late, only to find that every piece of every board game we own is in a huge pile in the middle of the floor. That might be a day where I get my post up late in the evening or switch out a heavy day for an inspirational Youtube and a couple of funny writing macros.

And I'm not talking about a pile made up of the little hat from Monopoly
and some Hungry Hungry Hippo marbles here.
There is a monthly schedule I follow where I try to rotate in and out through the various running segments here on Writing About Writing. Even in a given month, you aren't likely to see something from each category, but it keeps me from doing fifteen listicles in a row and not writing a prompt for months on. I was going to post that schedule here but it'll be better to keep it in my head since anything I write will immediately become wrong the minute the schedule starts.



Here are a couple of things you can count on though:

MonMailbox! On Monday I will usually run the mailbox. (Ask me anything about writing at chris.brecheen@gmail.com) This enormously popular segment runs weekly (partially because the questions inspire me, but mostly because it's enormously popular and I'm an unrepentant page view whore). As long as I have questions, I will do it every week. There is a non-zero chance that if I start getting more questions (and the finances of W.A.W. support more hours writing and fewer doing day jobs) that I'll bump up to twice a week.

Tues- My goals for 2015 including having a bigger article on Tuesday. Probably it will be off or on until I find my "sea legs." I would love to tell you that I will always get a good post up on Tuesday because I diligently used my time during the weekend to draft articles and didn't waste a moment of it. I would love to tell you that you can count on me to be regimented and disciplined with my time. Unfortunately it might be hard to tell you this, seeing as I will be trying to say it through the tears of laughter.

Wed- Lighter fare.

Thurs-  Seriously by Thursday I'm out of any headway I made over the weekend and I taught a class the night before. It's going to be Cotton Candy City.

Fri- On Fridays I usually put out a "meaty article" (as in heft not shitty erotica euphemism).

If there's been a run of passive aggressive sighs in the kitchen from Unsupportive Girlfriend or my weekend involved the words,"I'll just play this Bethesda game for an hour or two and then I'll totally be productive and get back to writing," Tuesday through Thursday might involve shorter articles or jazz fingers.

Articles? How about these amazing
JAZZ FINGERS!!
Of course if you really want to hedge your bets for a good run of articles, a groupie threesome the weekend before will likely motivate me to write for hours, and turn into a week of exceptional productivity. No? Fair enough. Catch as catch can then.

Weekends: Generally, on the weekends, I'm working on whatever is going to go up the next week. Posts that go up on the weekend will usually either be pretty fluffy or more of my "slow burn" articles. (That's an article that probably won't be popular at the time but picks up a steady trickle of traffic from search engines.) Weekend numbers are depressing (especially on Sunday) so I'm not really going to waste a good article tossing it up when no one is going to look at it.

In theory I will give you more than two solid articles a week, and some weeks it's four or five, but some weeks I'm hanging on to life like a cat caught in a screen door, and this new schedule is theoretically supposed to help with that.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Questions Needed

Do you have a question about writing (or maybe art [including other art forms], reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and yes even possibly social justice, especially as it pertains to those things)?  

Did I maybe not answer your question completely, and you want to follow up?

Have you sent me a question and I never answered it? (Because my brain is a desolate wasteland with oases of incredibly dense eclectic nonsense in which an old e-mail can easily go missing for years.)

Are you a question, and you need a place to stay where you will be welcomed and not judged, and maybe even find that special answer you've been looking for all your life?

Something something something somatic satiation of the word "question"?

We're about to ramp up to two mailboxes a week (most weeks) here at Writing About Writing. Your questions inspire me to write about topics I've been thinking about and often been meaning to write about but just haven't gotten to the sit-down-and-word point. They are inspiring and stimulating, and they tend to do consistently better than most of my other posts.

I have a LOT of questions in the hopper right now and at the rate I'm going they build up faster than they go away. However, if I go up to two mailboxes a week, it won't be very long until I'm OUT of questions in the hopper. And that's when I start cannibalizing Facebook comments and random conversations. Then I start walking down the street and accosting innocent people for questions: "I SAID ASK ME SOMETHING ABOUT LINGUISTICS!" It's all bad.

That's where you come in. Save random people on the Oakland streets from being accosted and forced to come up with questions about craft and process by sending me your questions!

Send your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com and I will answer them (if they are at least peripherally about one of the topics above....or possibly the answer would be hilarious). I will include only your first name unless you request your full name, a pseudonym, or total anonymity.